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FIRST-PERSON: Fakes & faith amid archaeological finds

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“But wanting their ears tickled, they will not endure sound doctrine.”

The Apostle Paul wrote this warning to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:3) to guard against false teaching, but the exhortation/warning is applicable to the recent sensationalism surrounding archaeological discoveries that support the Bible.

This past year has witnessed the publication of two dramatic inscriptions supporting the New Testament and Old Testament. The first was the James ossuary, the purported bone box that held the remains of James, the brother of Jesus and bishop of the church of Jerusalem. The second is the Joash inscription purporting to recount renovations and repairs to the temple as recorded in Kings. The public and press were quick to tout these as proof of the historicity of the Bible. Recent developments in the saga have placed these objects in a dark light.

The James ossuary initially was subject to scholarly investigation and the results were presented to a conference of biblical scholars and archaeologists in November. The Aramaic inscription was analyzed by one of the top Aramaic scholars. After the publication of this inscription, the Joash inscription also was publicized. The Geological Survey of Israel authenticated both inscriptions.

The authenticity of the Joash inscription was immediately questioned in publications in the Israel Exploration Journal. An upcoming article in Archaeology magazine will state that the James ossuary also is a fake.

There have been some recent developments. The owner of the Joash inscription and the James ossuary was arrested by the Israeli police, charged with illegally selling fake artifacts. Police found an elaborate lab used to produce fake artifacts according to reports in the Israel press.

If the James ossuary inscription is proven to be a fake like the Joash inscription, does this cast doubt on the historicity of the Bible?

Ironically it seems that some Christians feel that they need to support the authenticity of these inscriptions because they are defending the Bible. The proliferation of fake artifacts on the market does not say anything about the truthfulness or accuracy of the historical accounts in the Bible. It only proves that there is a willing public to jump on the bandwagon of biblical archaeology.

The Apostle Paul constantly confronted a church that wanted to view signs and wonders instead of a reasoned faith, which was the hallmark of Paul’s Gospel message.

There will continue to be archaeological data that supports the historicity of the Bible and there will be artifacts that appear on the antiquities market that will be frauds. The popularity of the “Indiana Jones” movies has conditioned people to see archaeology as glamorous with the discovery of exciting finds.

Biblical archaeologists are uncovering and documenting finds that support the biblical account but it is not done by swinging with ropes while saving heroines or dodging giant rolling balls; it is done by the systematic excavation and research of the archaeological enterprise. Unfortunately, this is too labor-intensive and financially difficult for those who want immediate gratification without the cost.

The good news is that a consortium of Southern Baptist seminaries is joining forces to establish a biblical archaeological research program in the Middle East. The work will be done by solid and reasoned scholarship, not the sensationalism of frauds and fakes.
Dr. Steven M. Ortiz, with more than 20 years experience serving as a senior staff member of excavations in Israel, is assistant professor of archeology and Bible at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminar and director of the Archaeological Research Program. To contact Ortiz concerning research and study opportunities, or to obtain more information about the Archaeological Research Program, 1-800-662-8701, ext. 3249, or send e-mail to [email protected]

    About the Author

  • Steven M. Ortiz