In the last few years particularly, I’ve enjoyed “studying” (I use that term loosely) the Bible’s archeological, geographical, and cultural background…the story behind the story in a sense. Particularly in the realm of biblical archeology, we live in rich times. The discipline of archeology is a relatively new area of academic study. It’s origins, at least in terms of a growing and established branch of scholarly inquiry, lie in the mid-1800’s, with it’s coming-of-age in the early-to-mid 1900’s. As archeology in general became a “thing,” so also did biblical archeology – meaning, the study of what remains of the places, people, and cultures we encounter in Scripture. The purpose of biblical archeology is not to prove the Bible – as if God’s Word needed proving – though it certainly provides a powerful apologetic in addressing biblical skeptics. Rather, biblical archeology (together with the related study of geography and cultures) helps to enrichen our understanding of the Bible; to deepen our appreciation for Scripture’s details, its texture, its context, its truth; and even to enhance our ability to rightly interpret God’s Word. I’m convinced that the discipline of biblical archeology, when rightly approached, is one of Jesus’ good gifts to his church.
By of way of a tangible example, let me share with you just one of the awesome findings of twentieth-century archeological related to Scripture. Do you have any idea where to find the oldest sample of written Scripture extant today? Some might quickly think of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls – the hoard of ancient biblical and extra-biblical manuscripts discovered in the desert alongside the Dead Sea beginning in the latter half of the 1940’s. But even the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls do not preserve the oldest example of written Scripture we possess. Older still are two small artifacts known as the Ketef Hinnom Scrolls (Note: I was reminded recently of both of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Ketef Hinnom Scrolls while watching the first half of a documentary titled, Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy). The Ketef Hinnom Scrolls are two small silver strips originally worn around the neck as an amulet. They were discovered at a burial site in the Hinnom Valley (which runs on the southwest and west of ancient Jerusalem) in 1979, but date originally to the 600’s B.C. A version of these words from Numbers 6 appear etched into the silver: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Today you can see the scrolls on display at the Israel Museum located in Jerusalem.
There are many big thoughts about God that we might think prompted by these small, diminutive artifacts. Not the least is this: Our faith is gloriously old, because our God is eternal! He is the Ancient of Days(Daniel 7:9). Since the beginning of creation, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the covenant-keeping God of Israel, God who became man in Jesus Christ, has never lacked worshippers. Who knows whether or not the bearer of the Ketef Hinnom Scrolls was a true God-fearer, but the words he or she bore around their neck proclaimed truth that has not tarnished with age. Indeed, it has only become all the richer as the Word in flesh lived, died, was resurrected in victory, and ascended to the right hand of the Father! Praise God for a small, beautiful trinket dug out the ground four decades ago!