Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Virtual Museum of Iraq

How would you like to visit ancient Babylon? Okay, so you're not overly excited about traveling to Iraq. But what if you could take a virtual tour there...to see the city as it would have looked in the days of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel?

Sound interesting?

If so, then visit The Virtual Museum of Iraq, a website set up by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This creative site allows you to take a virtual tour of a museum devoted to the history of Iraq.

I suggest you begin by choosing the Babylonian Hall. Once inside that hall, click on name "Babylon" inside the Ishtar Gate. Then select "Video" to take a tour of ancient Babylon as it would have looked at the time of Nebuchadnezzar. After completing your tour of Babylon, browse through some of the other halls in the museum. It will be time well spent!

This is a wonderful example of how a website can enhance our understanding of the past. If you know of other similar projects, send the link to me. I'll post it for others!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Some preliminary analysis has been done on the 70 "ancient Christian books" from Jordan, and it looks like they are indeed forgeries.

In an online article in Live Science, Natalie Wolchover looks at the epigraphical features of the writing on the tablets. She reports that a study of the lettering by a professional Aramaic translator indicates the tablets are an "alphabet soup" of Old Aramaic (from 500 years before the time of Christ) mixed with Nabatean and Palmyrene (from at least a hundred years after the time of Christ). According to the linguist the youngest scripts "date from the second and third centuries, proving the documents could not possibly have been written during the dawn of Christianity."

In the picture to the left you can see some of the writing on the tablet. This is part of the script analyzed by the translator. The article includes a comparative chart that shows the type of epigraphical mistakes made by the translator. In addition to the errors in the script, the article also revealed the origin of the picture seen in the photograph. "The image they are saying is Christ is the sun god Helios from a coin that came from the island of Rhodes."

In my very first post I ended by saying, "So keep following these articles, but use a healthy dose of skepticism until all the details are revealed. As a friend often says, time and truth walk hand in hand!" In this particular case it didn't take a great deal of time before the truth about the tablets being forgeries came to light!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

More Information on the "Ancient Christian Book"

Another article about the alleged earliest Christian book ever to be found appeared today in the London Mail Online News. The article contains several pictures, including one that they suggest might be a portrait of Jesus (see picture on left).

I would encourage you to read the article. It has some additional details about the current owner of the artifacts, and it provides additional helpful information regarding the find.

Does this mean the find is authentic? Not necessarily. None of the key issues raised in my last post have been answered. We still don't know who produced the materials, when they produced them, or what is contained in most of them. Until the pieces are carefully studied, I would take most of the assertions in the article as pure speculation.

One special caution. The reporter for the article is not an expert in the issues relevant to this discussion. Let me share just one example. He notes the articles were discovered in a cave overlooking the Sea of Galilee, near the border between Israel, Jordan, and Syria. That places the find somewhere near the Yarmuk River, which is plausible. He then states the find is "less than 100 miles from Qumran" (fairly accurate), "around 60 miles from Masada" (inaccurate since Masada is south of Qumran while the treasure was found way north of Qumran, near the Sea of Galilee), and "close to caves that have been used by refugees from the Bar Kokhba revolt" (which is also false since most of these caves are near the Dead Sea or in the Judean foothills to the west of Bethlehem and Hebron). In short, the writer doesn't appear to have all his facts correct, and in this case he seems to be trying to use this incorrect data to tie the find to events from the first or second Jewish revolt against Rome. Such a connection is not supported by the geographical location of the find. (Other facts within the documents may someday make that connection, but the location of the find does not.)

That type of inaccuracy doesn't mean the find is false, but it does serve as a caution not to take everything you will read about the find as factual. More study is needed before we can say whether or not this find is truly significant!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Additional Thoughts on "Ancient Christian Book"

A few days ago a story appeared online and in major news sources about an ancient Christian book that was found in Jordan...and that might date to the earliest days of the church.

I put a link to the article on our The Land and the Book Facebook page. While this has the potential of being a major find, I'm concerned about the level of hype being given to the story. Here are some concerns that give me pause.

First, the book was said to have been found in Jordan between 2005 and 2007. If so, why is the book in Israel, and why is the find only being reported now? Is pressure being put on the current owner to relinquish control? Are the current owners trying to increase the monetary value of the find by sensationalizing it? Are scholars trying to raise funds from donors to purchase/study the document? Is a television network trying to build interest in an upcoming "special program" on the find? Any of these are possible. And until we know who is behind the release of the current story, we need to have a healthy dose of skepticism.

Second, is the book authentic? History is full of audacious forgeries passed off as authentic by unscrupulous dealers to a gullible public. The find needs to be carefully examined to determine its authenticity before we get too excited about it?

Third, if the book is authentic, what is its historical provenance? That is, when was it produced, and by whom? Early reports suggest it was written by first-century Jews who fled the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This is possible, but we simply won't know until competent scholars examine the writing style, vocabulary, and other minute details of the find. While some "historical clues" have been offered in the initial articles, they are very sketchy...and very tentative. We're not sure if the book is from the first or third centuries, if it was written by early Jewish believers or by some heretical sect. And the supposed references to Jesus or resurrection might be genuine...or nothing more than two unrelated groups using similar vocabulary. (The first-century Pharisees believed in the resurrection, but they did not accept the resurrection of Jesus. Different groups could use the same vocabulary!)

So keep following these articles, but use a healthy dose of skepticism until all the details are revealed. As a friend often says, time and truth walk hand in hand!