Mar 30, 2011
Today, I came across a followup on Yahoo! News regarding the 70 credit card sized lead codices which were found in Jordan and thought to be of Christian origin. Many are quick to call this discovery equivalent (or even superior) to the Dead Sea Scrolls. While the jury is still out on just how important (and more importantly how authentic) these codices are to the archaeological and religious world, they are garnering an extremely high interest.
I happened to look at my Google Analytics report for today, and my site visits looked like a parabola. As of 5:00pm today my blog had received over ten (10) times my normal visits, 90% of which hit my site because they were looking for information on the lead codices. My highest entry page was my post on the lead codices, which raised the question as to whether they were Kabbalistic in origin as some have reported, or Christian as most seem to be favoring.
Anyway, back to the followup. According to this article, the codices seem to find an affinity with first century Christianity. It states,
Philip Davies, emeritus professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, told Pigott he was “dumbstruck” at the sight of plates representing a picture map of ancient Jerusalem. “There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city,” Davies explained. “There are walls depicted on other pages of these books, too, and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.
Quite a description. But is it too good to be true? Only time will tell. I would love to hear your thoughts…
Mar 23, 2011
In Israel, a new archaeological “discovery” of sorts is buzzing and making bold claims that they may be the next “Dead Sea Scrolls.” They include a collection of scrolls as well as 70 lead codices (ancient scripts bound in book form, rather than as scrolls). However, we have conflicting reports on the nature of these “newly found” artifacts. They are owned by “Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they have been in his family’s possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago.” Although there is still a lot of skepticism surrounding these artifacts, there are some strong voices that are willing to attest to their authenticity, wanting to avoid another possible Shapiro Affair.
Christian or Kabbalistic?
Right now we seem to either have two camps on the theory of origins and contents of these manuscripts. However, this may be a result of the various text which may be present among the collection. According to one source, these manuscripts “could hold a contemporary account of the last years of Jesus.” According to another source, they appear to be Kabbalistic with references to Bar Kochba and Shimon bar Yochai, and “the nature of the content indicates a magical incantation style of writing.” Both reports confirm that the manuscripts are not just comprised of Hebrew or Greek text, but images and symbols which are in need of deciphering. Some of these codices are also said to be sealed and have created speculation that they may possibly be “secret writings referred to in the apocryphal Book of Ezra.”
How can these theories be so divergent? Just look at the early theories surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls, and all of the controversy and imagination that has lead to cloak & dagger speculation in the last half a century, including John Allegro’s laughable “The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross.” When indecipherable manuscripts come to light, it seems sensational imagination rules the roost.
One legitimate reason for the diverse interpretation may simply be there are multiple types of documents contained within the cache, not dissimilar to the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The different scholars are merely examining two different texts, which contain seemingly polar information. The quick evidence I see for this is the one article’s description of the codices, compared to the photo made available in the other article (the photo I have included at the top of this article). In the first article, the codices are described as being “tiny credit-card-sized volumes.” However, in the photo you can see that this particular codex is much larger than this.
Either way, we will have to wait and see what turns up by way of translation and authentication. Either way, it will be an exciting journey. Hopefully, the reports will be out sooner than later, and the texts of these discoveries will find their way to the public much sooner than the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Cairo Geniza Fragments or the Oxyrhyncus Papyri.
Update: Further Reading
I have just been made aware of these other (and more extensive) articles on this discovery:
Also, here is another (better) image of a codex:
Lead codex with cryptic text and images visible
I have posted my first follow up here.
Mar 2, 2011
Though scientists and scholars are still debating the exact shade of the ritual blue, the dye used is modeled after a 2,000-year-old textile, above, and is produced from sea snails found in Israeli waters.
According to new research based on a discovery of an existing fragment of a Jewish garment from Masada, scientists have resolved the debate that the biblical blue (tekhelet) of the priestly garments and the ritual fringes (tzitzit) worn by every Israelite was made from the Murex trunculus, a sea snail living off the coast of Israel. The Talmud states:
“The hillazon is this: its body is like the sea, it’s creation is like a fish, it comes up once in 70 years and with its blood one dyes tekhelet – due to this it is expensive” (Men. 44a).
Murex Trunculus Shell
It is known from the Talmud as “hillazon,” and is not only responsible for creating the blue of the tekhelet, but also the expensive purple used for royalty.
The dye was also prohibitively expensive to make: hundreds of snails were used to make even a small batch, and some in ancient times claimed it was worth 20 times its weight in gold.
This explains the costliness of this dye in ancient times. It also sheds light on the occupation of Lydia from the New Testament:
And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:13-15 ESV)
From Purple to Blue
Several years ago I remember reading an article somewhere about the discovery of this mollusk as the source of this dye. Those working with the mollusk attempting to reproduce the dye at first were not able to create the “sky blue” which we have today. The color they were able to produce was only purple. By “accident” (Divine providence?) they left a container of the mixture sitting in the sun a little longer than they intended, and when they applied it to the wool, the color was drastically different. Here is an account of this:
But if the snail we collected was identical to the one described by the rabbis over two millennia ago, why did it not produce the proscribed blue for our fringes? Why were we seeing only purple? The amazing answer to this conundrum, which baffled 20th-century scientists for decades, was discovered in the chemistry lab. In order to use this odoriferous dye, the snail extract must be reduced to achieve a solution. When this process is performed indoors, the result is a purple dye. But if, while in its reduced state, the dibromoindigo is exposed to the sun for a few minutes, the bromine invisibly breaks away from the molecule, leaving behind only indigo, the brilliant biblical blue.
According to Ptil Tekhelet, probably the authority on producing this dye, the resulting color of the dye is determined by the amount of ultraviolet exposure it receives.
This blueish dye would have been the same dye Jesus would have worn on the corners of his garments according to the commandment in the book of Numbers:
The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God.” (Numbers 15:37-41 ESV)
This would have also been what the woman “with the issue of blood” would have reached out and touched on the “hem” of Jesus’ garment in Luke 8:43-48, which resulted in her healing.
Feb 23, 2011
Aerial view of the Chamber of the Hewn Stone
Recently, the Temple Institute released the blueprints for the Chamber of the Hewn Stone (the Lishkat haGazit, in Hebrew), the area of the Temple complex in which the Sanhedrin would convene. This is very exciting to see, and makes the possibility of the Holy Temple’s rebuilding somewhat tangible. Even more so is the computer-generated, virtual “fly-through” that they have created as well. You can really visualize what it might be like.
If you’re not familiar with the Chamber of Hewn Stone, it probably because there’s not a great deal of information circulating about it. This chamber was used by the Sanhedrin for judgement. They would hear cases and deliberate upon them in this area.
When Israel became occupied by foreign powers, the Sanhedrin removed themselves from this location as an act of protest, since their power was essentially stripped from them (particularly in the area of capital cases). Although I had thought it took place much earlier, the Jewish Time Line Encyclopedia (p.93) says this took place in 29 C.E.
Some have claimed that this would have been where Jesus would have been taken and tried upon his arrest. However, there are several problems with this assumption, two of which are 1) The Sanhedrin could not try capital cases at night (Sanhedrin 35a-b), and 2) he was not tried by the Sanhedrin proper. He was sentenced before a kangaroo court, which did not legally have the authority to any sentence at all.
Also interesting is the fact that of all of the parts of the Holy Temple which they could have been the initial focus, the Chamber of the Hewn Stone was chosen. Why? According to the Temple Institute,
The Sanhedrin Chamber of Hewn Stone is but a single chamber in the northern wall of the Holy Temple. It was chosen as the initial focus of the blueprint project, not because of its architectural significance, per se, but because of its overwhelming spiritual significance to the world. The seventy elders of the Sanhedrin have been vested with the authority of the seventy elders whom G-d commanded Moshe to appoint in the desert…
These elders are not only judges, but also teachers who task is to ensure that “for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of HaShem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3).
But could this also be a dual fulfillment of prophecy? Psalm 118:22 says:
“This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.”
We know this is in fulfillment of Jesus, the Messiah. However, could it also be connected to the Chamber of Hewn Stone, the literal “stone” which was once rejected now becoming the “cornerstone” of the rebuilding of the House of God? Just a thought…
Feb 21, 2011
Over the last few posts, I have been dealing with topics addressed in Oskar Skarsaune’s book, In The Shadow of the Temple. In this post I would like to address another such topic. In order to do so we must first look at the teachings of Jesus which are relevant to this discussion. They are as follows:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22, ESV)
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28, ESV)
It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV)
Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37, ESV)
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39, ESV)
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45, ESV)
In each of these teachings from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus makes a contrast between what was said previously (or “to those of old”) and his “new” instruction. There are different thoughts as to what he means by these contrasts, but I should like to address one in particular which has been offered by Skarsaune. He begins by commenting,
Jesus, obviously, never authenticated his teaching the way the rabbis did. He never said “I have received as a tradition”. “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22). Nor did he speak like a prophet. He never made himself a representative of God by using the prophetic messenger formula.
He spoke God’s word, he said God’s Law, in his own name. “You have heard that it was said [by God] to those of ancient times [at Sinai], … but I say to you” (Mt 5:21–22, 27, 31, 33, 38, etc.). For Jewish ears, this must have been shocking. They must have asked, “who are you, to set your own authority above that of the Law?”
In Skarsaune’s first statement, he is correct in his observation that Jesus did not validate his teachings as other rabbis. He had no previous authority from which he received his teaching, other than God alone. He taught by his own authority, not in the authority of another.
In Skarsaune’s next observation, however, we hear him speaking aloud the subconscious heart of modern Christian theology. Skarsaune interprets the phrase, “You have heard…” to mean, “You have heard that it was said [by God] to those of ancient times [at Sinai].” Here Jesus states what was spoken in the Law of Moses, and begins to change and to correct these antiquated laws which have become burdensome to the Jewish nation. According to Skarsaune, Jesus is said to set his “own authority above that of the Law.” He later notes that, Jesus “…can deepen, radicalize, even correct the Torah”
With these statements, Skarsaune reveals an unconscious bias towards the supposed deficiency of the Torah, the Word of God previously given to His people. He sees it as needing correction, change, alteration in order to adapt God’s commandments to a new, Christian era. He doesn’t see the Word of the God being as immutable as God Himself. He assumes that the Torah can somehow be modified.
When asked if Jesus abrogated, repealed, overturned, or annulled the Law, most Christians will chime in with an emphatic, “No!” However, in our teaching, preaching and our daily lives, we state just the opposite. We play word games to try to uphold the Scriptures, while at the same time negating them. Skarsaune does this very thing. He attempts to justify his statements by saying Jesus can “correct the Torah; not by abrogating it, not by doing it away, but by making it complete” (p. 333). But this, along with all other similar attempts, is just a word game.
Although there is no malicious intent, this is the same theology that our pulpits and theological seminaries are producing. Through both our bias and our misunderstanding of the Jewish nature of our Master’s teaching we have unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) interpreted the words of Jesus in a way which contradicts the words of his Father. We translate Jesus’s “fulfill” of Matthew 5:17 to really mean “abolish,” even though we deny such a definition. Yet, when we reduce the meaning down to the practical, it has the same result. Our “fulfilling” really means “abolishing.”
More to come…