Did Recent Scientific Findings Actually Disprove the Biblical Account of Israel’s Conquest of Canaan?

This is not an anti-science post. I love science. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemical Engineering. I graduated from the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics. I have worked in STEM fields and have taught science to middle and high school students. If I hadn’t gone into the Christian ministry, I would be working in STEM fields today.

Due to all my love and appreciation for scientific knowledge and discovery, I was interested when I saw the following title pop up on my news reader, “Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites,” a recently published article in Science magazine. I was interested to read the article, not because I expected any scientific findings to render the bible irrelevant, but because I wanted to read for myself what had been discovered in the study.

This article, which you can read for yourself in the link above, presents evidence from a UK based geneticist who extracted DNA samples from ancient skeletons buried in the ancient city of Sidon. Then he compared his data to the DNA of modern Lebanese people. This is what the author of the article wrote in summary:

If the Israelites had wiped out the Canaanites as the Bible claimed, the ancient populations wouldn’t have been able to pass on their genes to modern people. Instead, Haber found that the present-day Lebanese population is largely descended from the ancient Canaanites, inheriting more than 90% of their genes from this ancient source.

This would be sound reasoning if the Bible claimed that the Israelites had completely destroyed the ancient Sidonians. But the Bible does not make any such claim. Thus there isn’t so much a problem with science here, but with comparing those scientific findings with the actual data found in the biblical narratives.

In fact, in the text of Joshua itself, which tells the story of Israel’s conquest, we find a description of areas that had not been conquered by the Israelites in their conquest. In Joshua 13 we read this:

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the LORD said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess. 2 This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites 3 (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is counted as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim, 4 in the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, 5 and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, 6 all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. (Jos. 13:1-6 ESV)

So the text of Joshua explicitly says that they were not able to conquer the Sidonians, along with many other Canaanite peoples that remained in the land. As the biblical narrative continues through the books of the Kings, we to find that these peoples were never displaced and continued to live alongside the Israelites. In fact, there were times in Israel’s history that the kings of Sidon had a friendly relationship with Israel and even aided them in the building of their Temple, as we see in Solomon’s letter to Hiram King of Tyre:

Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David. 2 And Solomon sent word to Hiram, 3 “You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the LORD his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet. 4 But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. 5 And so I intend to build a house for the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD said to David my father, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’ 6 Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. And my servants will join your servants, and I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.” 7 As soon as Hiram heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly and said, “Blessed be the LORD this day, who has given to David a wise son to be over this great people.” 8 And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, “I have heard the message that you have sent to me. I am ready to do all you desire in the matter of cedar and cypress timber. (1 Ki. 5:1-8 ESV)

We later find in the last stages of Israel’s recorded history in the Old Testament that the Sidonians were still around to help with the rebuilding of the Temple under Ezra:

So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia. (Ezr. 3:7 ESV)

Remarkably, we also find in the Gospels the Jesus himself visited the region of Tyre and Sidon and met with a Canaanite woman there, who begged him to heal her daughter of demon possession. So we find that throughout the history of the biblical narrative, there was never a claim that the Sidonians, or any of the Canaanite peoples for that matter, had been completely annihilated as the article in Science magazine claimed.

Now, as I stated above, I have training in science and have a deep appreciation for scientific knowledge and discovery. I also said that this would not be an anti-science post. Let me expand on that briefly. One of the main reasons for my interest in this subject is because I am also a credentialed Historical Theologian. When we approach the science of history we are trained to utilize the many sources at our disposal. Written texts are the most prominent. But scientific disciplines such as genetics and archaeology are a very important piece of that puzzle. Thus the reason why I came to the article with a dose of skepticism (the sensationalist title notwithstanding) is because I have already studied quite a bit in the area of Ancient Near Eastern archeology, and have been convinced of the veracity of the biblical accounts.

The study bible I use in my daily bible reading has excellent notes that often discuss the archaeological findings that verify the text. I have also preached through books of the bible, like Amos, and have had my study enriched by sound archaeology that has surfaced regarding the geographies and peoples mentioned. But the main source of my confidence is founded in the influential work by British archaeologist Kenneth A. Kitchen entitled On the Reliability of the Old Testament. In that tome, which approaches 700 pages, he meticulously compares the biblical text with archaeological findings and shows that while the text cannot always be proven through archaeological science, known archaeological findings do not contradict the basic biblical narrative.

One of the sections Kitchen deals with is the Israelite conquest. The entire chapter is insightful, but I will make two brief points. The first is that we simply have not dug down deep enough in many of these archaeological sites to get to the time periods where evidence for or against the conquest would be found. Kitchen writes (page 183):

In any modern attempt to trace the effects of the campaigns several points need to be made. First, the text of Joshua does not imply huge and massive fiery destructions of every site visited (only Jericho, Ai, and Hazor were burned). The Egyptians did not usually burn cities, preferring to make them into profitable tax-paying vassals; the Hebrews under Joshua sought basically to kill off the Canaanite leadership and manpower, to facilitate later occupation. These Egyptian and Hebrew policies are not readily detectable in the excavated ruin sites. Second, even when a Late Bronze II settlement is found to have been damaged or destroyed, there is no absolute certainty as to who was responsible (Egyptians? Local neighbors? Sea Peoples? The Israelites?). Third, the identifications of some biblical place-names with mounds known today are not always certain — a wrong identification can bring a wrong result. Fourth, the erosion of an ancient settlement mound through the centuries by natural causes or human destruction can result in loss of the evidence for occupation and destruction of particular levels in a site. Fifth, with 95% of the site undug (as is common), the evidence may still be under the ground.

With this in mind, Kitchen carefully surveys the relevant archaeological data and concludes that the biblical narrative is reliable, “Of these twenty-four entries, only four can be regarded as deficient in background finds for LBII [Late Bronze Age II], and in those cases there are factors that account for the deficiency,” (page 189).

Therefore, with all due respect and acknowledgment for the scientific knowledge and contributions of geneticists, and with full support and hope that they will continue their work to deepen our knowledge of the Ancient Near East for historians and biblical scholars, the particular conclusion claimed in the title of the article recently published in Science magazine cannot be substantiated. The genetic science is sound, no doubt. But the conclusion is erroneous because the overall science (scientia – Latin for knowledge) of the biblical text and relevant archaeological data has not been adequately considered. I look forward to geneticists working with biblical scholars and ANE archaeologists to further the scientific knowledge of the bible in the future.

 

 

Was Jesus Crucified on the Mount of Olives?

View from the Mount of Olives looking west onto the Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock now stands

In a 1996 article in Biblical Horizons, James Jordan makes several observations about the Mount of Olives and it’s significance both in Jesus’ ministry and in biblical theology in general. Now there are several fascinating observations in that article, but one of them particularly stood out to me. There Jordan argues that Jesus was likely crucified on the Mount of Olives. Read the essay here:

I must admit, this suggestion makes a lot of sense and resonates with me. The Mount of Olives figures largely in all the gospels and it’s theological symbolism can easily be articulated due to the significance of olives in the Bible. Many of our modern day designations for places of Jesus’ life are admittedly guesses by scholars, so this suggestion by Jordan is not treading on anything sacrosanct. I must say that given the geography and symbolism it makes a lot of sense. What think ye?

Why Do We Say the Long Ending of the Lord’s Prayer?

A leaf from the Codex Alexandrinus, a 5th century copy of the Bible in the Byzantine textual tradition.

This question came to me from a parishioner: “In the Lord’s Prayer, why do we say, ‘For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,’ if it is not in the Bible?”

I thought it was such a good question, I wanted to share my answer here for everyone’s benefit.

There are basically two issues at play. One is pretty simple and the other is a little more complicated.

First the simple one. Though our modern bibles tend to omit the phrase, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever,” it has a very long history of being used in worship in the church. For example, the Didache is a Christian text written in the first century AD (around the year 90AD) shortly after the Bible itself was completed. Didache has quite a bit in it about worship, and it text has the long ending of the Lord’s Prayer in it. So we know that this line was used in worship from the earliest times.

Also, there is certainly nothing wrong with the phrase. The words themselves come from 1 Chronicles 29:11-13:

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:11-13 ESV)

So, there’s certainly nothing wrong with praying this part of the prayer. It is theologically sound and it is biblical. Furthermore, it has a long tradition in the worship of the church (as long as can possibly be).

So, what is the conclusion? It is fine to pray this part of the prayer and it is also fine not to. It is simply a matter of choice. The one who does not pray it is fine not to do so, and the one who prays it is likewise fine. This is what we call in theological discussions a matter of adiaphora, which is Greek for a choice which is left to one’s discretion.

Now to the second, more complicated, issue. This part of the discussion involves the history of the texts of the Bible as well as the history of the Protestant Reformation.

You ask, “Why do we pray [it] when it is not in the Bible?” Well, the fact that this is not in the Bible is not certain. This is a matter of debate among biblical scholars. Granted most biblical scholars will say that it is not original to the text of Matthew. But this is a guess on their part. A very educated guess based on solid scholarship, yet a guess nonetheless.

You see, the text of the New Testament you hold in your hand is based on two different families of manuscripts. One family is called the Alexandrian and the other the Byzantine. On 99% of New Testament these two families agree. Yet they differ on some points. The ending of the Lord’s Prayer is one of them.

First let me tell you about these two families of texts.  By far, most of the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that we (and by “we” I mean the scholarly community) have are of the Byzantine family. The oldest of the Byzantine texts dates back to the 4th century. That’s about as far back as we go with complete texts of the Bible. The Byzantine family is also the basis for the text used in the King James Bible.

Then we have the Alexandrian family. There are far fewer texts of the Alexandrian family and they weren’t discovered until the 19th century or so (when I say discovered, I mean that Western scholars didn’t know about them). Biblical scholars like the texts of the Alexandrian family because they are cleaner (meaning there are fewer variations between them) and they omit some of these section of the bible (like the ending of the Lord’s Prayer and the long ending of Mark). For biblical scholars, shorter = simpler = less contaminated = closer to the original. Almost always when the Byzantine differs from the Alexandrian, biblical scholars will go with the Alexandrian. This is a generalization, but it is normally the case.

So the New Testament you hold in your hand is mostly of the Alexandrian family, while the King James is of the Byzantine. Thus there are the differences.

Now for the Church history part (if you are still with me I commend you!). The Greek version of the New Testament was not copied very much in the West (by “West” I mean Europe, for the most part), because the Western Church relied on the Latin Vulgate as their main biblical translation. St. Jerome translated the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek in the 4th century. Jerome was an excellent scholar, and his translation is pretty good, as long as you can read Latin.

The Reformers understood that most people couldn’t read Latin and their emphasis was to get the Bible into the language of the people. Some of the earlier (before the Reformation) translations of the Bible, into English for example, were done from the Latin Vulgate, which isn’t a horrible thing, but it is one step removed from the original.

At the time of the Reformation there was a parallel academic movement called “humanism” and one of the tenets of humanism was ad fontes, which means “return to the source.” Thus the humanists, whether they were Protestant or Roman Catholic, were seeking to produce a text of the Bible in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Erasmus was one of these humanists who became a Roman Catholic. Luther was another who, of course, became Protestant.

In search of Greek texts of the New Testament the humanists were forced to go to the Byzantine family, because it was all they could find. Thus the earliest modern versions of the Greek New Testament were of this Byzantine type and subsequently the English translations coming out of the Reformation were also of Byzantine type. As a result, they all uniformly included the long ending of the Lord’s Prayer.

We also have to appreciate the church politics going on here. The Roman Catholic worship service did not include the long ending of the prayer. Imagine when the Protestant Reformers discovered that the exclusion of the long ending in the Roman version of the Prayer was not biblical! They certainly were going to include that version of the prayer in their Reformed worship services, now weren’t they?

Also these Byzantine texts were coming from the Greek Orthodox Church. That’s because they continue to use the Greek text of the New Testament as their Bible to this day. The Reformers had some affinity to the Greek Church because, well, they weren’t Roman Catholic. Furthermore, the Greek Church represented a church that was every bit as old as the Roman Church and was at odds with the Roman Church just like they were. So you can imagine why the Protestant Reformers would have some reason to side with the Greeks on this issue. If you read any writings from the Reformation era you will see how bitterly at odds they were with each other.

So, as a matter of liturgical history, the long ending of the prayer was not used in Roman Catholic services but it was in Protestant ones. This is still mostly true to this day.

Fast forward to the 19th century. In the 19th century Western scholars discovered some biblical texts that were different from the texts they were used to. They began to see similarities between these newly discovered texts and saw that they formed a family of texts. This is when they began to call one family Alexandrian (because it comes from Egypt) and the other Byzantine (because it comes from Greece).

Now the picture of the history of the Bible became a little clearer. What seems to have happened with the Lord’s Prayer is that in the Greek East the longer ending was added to the prayer. This did not happen in the Western churches because Jerome (who was based out of the Middle East) likely used an Alexandrian text type for his translation into the Latin. So we have two strands of liturgical history: the Western churches not using the long ending, but the Eastern churches do use it. Thus we see that at a very early date (as far back as we can go) the Byzantine texts have the long ending, but the Alexandrian texts do not.

But who is to say if the Byzantine ones added it, or the Alexandrian ones somehow lost it? Who’s to say that there weren’t two copies of Matthew circulating? Who’s to say which one is correct? We are supposed to confess and believe that the academicians hold the key to the truth on this matter. Yet their own method directly privileges one textual tradition, the Alexandrian, over another and almost always goes with the shorter reading (which almost always is the Alexandrian). They say, and this is not a bad argument, that textual corruptions naturally enter into a text over time. Thus the Byzantine text has more corruptions. Yet because the Alexandrian texts were hermetically sealed in a vacuum they were free from corruption for something like 1,500 years. Think of the woolly mammoth frozen in ice. You can see why they prefer the Alexandrian if this narrative is true.

At first glance this sounds good. Yet what are we to do with the church for 1,500 years that had this particular “corrupted” Byzantine text? Was the Spirit absent with the church during this time? It is a complicated question.

In my Bible (an ESV) the footnote says, “Some manuscripts add For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” And in the study note (it is the ESV Study Bible) it says, “This is evidently a later scribal addition, since the most reliable and oldest Greek manuscripts all lack these words, which is why these words are omitted from most modern translations,” (emphasis added).

Now, I think I take issue with that. The oldest? Well, technically maybe. The two oldest and best (and by best here I mean complete) examples of the Alexandrian tradition, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus, both date to the 4th century. The oldest and best examples of the Byzantine, the Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Washintonianus, date to, wait for it… the 4th or 5th century. Oldest? Not by much.

What about “most reliable”? That’s a judgment based on the “hermetically sealed” and “shorter = better” parts we were talking about above. Yet if both the Alexandrian and the Byzantine were circulating at the same time from the earliest of dates 300s-400s (Which is, by the way, when the making of books as opposed to papyrus scrolls became more of the norm. Codex is another word for a book.) who’s to say which is better? What about the argument that the text that “won” should be privileged in a reading like this? There’s no debating that up until 100 years ago the Byzantine text had won, at least among those who actually spoke Greek. The Alexandrian text had for all intents and purposes disappeared and was not a version of the Bible that was actively being used. It was a museum artifact. We have to ask ourselves why the Byzantine came to be privileged over the Alexandrian. What was the role of the Spirit in all of this? Again, complicated questions.

So, you see, the “fact” that this is not in the Bible is not a certainty. It has been in the Bible in the East for 2,000 years. It was not a part of the Bible in the Latin West for 2,000 years. It has been in the Bible for the Protestant West for 500 years. It has recently been again removed from the Bible in the Protestant West.

Back to my point on adiaphora. Whether or not this is in the Bible, it is certainly fine to say it. It is a Protestant tradition to say it, and this tradition connects with the oldest traditions of the Church.

My preference is to say it because it is the more catholic (universal) thing to do, in other words, more Christians over the scope of Christian history, and even today, have said it, so I’ll go with saying it.

But if the church across the street does not say it, it’s OK too. It’s not something to worry a whole lot about, in my opinion.

I bet that was a whole lot more than you ever figured you would get out of that question!

Rethinking Evangelism

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This post is brought to you by a happy accident. Some might even call it providence. The gospel lesson for today is Matthew 5:17-20. By accident I turned to Mark 5:17-20 and here is what I read:

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:17-20 ESV)

I’ve been dwelling on the topic of evangelism a lot lately. Many of us have been a part of one evangelistic movement or another in the past. Many of us have been severely burned by those evangelistic movements. Yet we cannot escape the call of scripture, and of Jesus himself, to spread the good news.

The problem most of us have these days is exactly how we are to spread it. Jesus uses  such care free metaphors in the gospels. The most care free is that of the farmer simply flinging seed through the air. If only evangelism were that easy.

Yet is it not just that easy? Have we made evangelism into something more than it is? Have we made it so large, so unattainable, that only the giants of the faith (and those with social disorders that relieve them of any awareness that what they are doing is supposed to make them and others feel uncomfortable) can do it?

In this text, Jesus tells a man simply to, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.”

So simple. So profound. How do we put this into practice?

This statement presumes that one has friends that need to hear the good news. The first task is to make sure that we are developing friendships among the unchurched, underchurched, and unbelievers. But we don’t develop these relationships simply for the goal of evangelizing them. Jesus calls them friends. This is where some past evangelistic movements have gotten it wrong. We don’t develop relationships soley for the purpose of sharing the faith. This is cheap, and everyone feels dirty afterwords. It’s all rather unseemly isn’t it?

Rather, we want to develop true friendships with folks outside our church and outside our faith, not for the purpose of evangelizing, but for the purposes of having a friend.

But this is where a lot of us who have been struggling with evangelism have left it. I have made many friends who needed to hear the good news. Have I at least done this simple thing that Jesus tells the young man to do?

We need to be bold enough simply to tell our friends what the Lord has done for us, and how he has shown mercy on us. It’s that simple. Yet we are called to do it. And no matter how they respond, we don’t simply move on to the next person or evangelistic opportunity. They are our friends after all, and not evangelistic targets. Friends are in it for the long haul.

This method certainly isn’t the most “effective” nor does it bring in results the way we would like. But isn’t it the most dignifying and respectful to the human person? Isn’t it the way Jesus implies in the gospels? And in the long run, doesn’t it bear the most fruit, fruit that lasts and bears other fruit?

So go out. Make friends. And tell them what the Lord has done for you.