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Article 39 - Archaeology And The Bible (Part 2)
Archaeology and the Bible
Part II - Inter-Biblical Period and New Testament
A span of some 400 years separates the history of the Old and New Testaments. During this time the pen of inspiration was laid down. However, the history of the Jewish people continued. Great struggles for independence are found scattered throughout this period as the Jews tried to break out from under the rule of both Greek and Roman empires.
As Jewish groups attempted to resist foreign rule, they were often forced into seclusion. These groups felt compelled to make and keep records to preserve Jewish heritage. As time has passed, archaeology has discovered some of these records. The significance of these findings is the fact that Old Testament scriptures were preserved. The best known example is the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Beginning in 1949, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in jars which had been hidden in caves at the ancient location of Qumran on the west side of the Dead Sea. Carbon-14 dating has put these leather Scrolls at between 100 and 200 B.C.
One importance of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the fact that, having been written between the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C., they outdated the oldest known extant manuscripts of the Old Testament by about 1000 years! Before their discovery, many Bible critics claimed that some of the books of the Old Testament had been written after 100 A.D. Obviously, that argument was quickly put to rest.
Another important feature of this find is the fact that they contain portions of all the books of the Old Testament with the exception of Esther. What a remarkable discovery and one that still amazes the archaeological world.
Still another important aspect of this discovery is that the book of Isaiah is found complete, essentially as we possess it today. It is on seventeen sheets sewn together -- a ten-inch high roll reaching 24 feet in length.
The various rolls and fragments were found in eleven different caves:
Cave 1: The complete roll of Isaiah, a second role of Isaiah from chapter 41 on and fragments of earlier chapters, a commentary of parts of Habakkuk, a paraphrase of Genesis 5-15, and a thanksgiving psalm.
Cave 2: 100 fragments of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Job, Psalms, and Ruth.
Cave 3: Various fragments of the Old Testament.
Cave 4: Parts of every book of the Old Testament except Esther, fragments of 13 scrolls of Deuteronomy, 12 of Isaiah, 10 of Psalms, 6 of Exodus, and 5 of Genesis as well as commentaries on Psalms, Daniel, and some of the minor prophets.
Caves 5 through 10: A wide variety of fragments too numerous to list.
Cave 11: A small roll of Psalms and 2 copies of Daniel.
MATTHEW 2:1 etc. - Herod the Great
Evidence of Herod's kingship in Palestine under Roman rule has been discovered by archaeology. Herod was known for his building achievements. A fortress he had built at Masada near the Dead Sea reveals his elaborate bath house. (Nelson's Bible Encyclopedia, p. 56) Another of his fortresses called Herodium, which contained large gardens and bath houses, has been discovered just south of Jerusalem. (Alexander and Millard, op. cit., p. 139) When Herod accepted Strato's Tower as a gift from Augustus Caesar at a city on the Mediterranean Sea, he renamed the city "Caesarea" in honor of the emperor. (Thompson, op. cit., 304)
Matthew 2:22 - Herod Archelaus
Geat numbers of coins honoring Archelaus have been found at various places in Palestine, especially at Jerusalem, Jericho and Masada. (A. Reifenberg, Ancienct Jewish Coins, pp. 20, 45, 46)
Matthew 4:5 - Herod's Temple
Herod's temple, built by Herod the Great, begun in 20 B.C. and destroyed in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., has been located. (Alexander and Millard, op. cit., p. 122) From Great People Of The Bible And How They Lived, we read: "When Herod the great rebuilt Jerusalem's temple in 20 B.C., he erected a great retaining wall to extend the temple's base. Taking thousands of workers many years to build, the huge wall was made of limestone blocks - some of them over 30 feet long." (op. cit., p. 358)
Matthew 8:28 - Tombs in the Country of the Gergesenes
When Jesus arrived by boat on the western side of the Sea of Galilee, he was confronted by one who was possessed with multiple demons. This was in the country of the Gergesenes (Gadarenes - cf. Mk. 5:1; Lk. 8:26). This man is said to have lived among tombs (caves). Are there such tombs in that area? Yes. Archaeologists have long since discovered these tomb-like caves. Michael Avi-Yonah, of the Hebrew University, has pointed out that these tombs still exist and can be clearly seen even to this day. (The Word Of The Bible, The New Testament Pictorial Dictionary, p. 36)
Matthew 9:10 - Publican
According to the New Testament, Publicans (tax collectors) were a part of the Jewish culture of the first century. They were Jews who worked for the Roman government collecting taxes from their fellow Jews. That they were a part of the Jewish world during the first century A.D. is well documented by many sources. Among other findings, C. M. Cobern points out: "Several papyri have been found concerning the extortions of tax collectors, and they bring vividly to mind the popular feeling that there must have been against Zacchaeus, as well as against Matthew, who was also a tax collector." (The New Archaeological Discoveries And Their Bearing Upon The New Testament, p. 29)
Matthew 12:9 - Jewish Synagogue
Synagogues were places of Jewish worship and teaching and were an important part of Jewish life. Many of these have been found among the ruins of cities in Palestine and throughout the ancient Roman world. One of the best preserved synagogues is located in the city of Capernaum, a place where Jesus himself often dwelt. No doubt, Jesus taught at this very location. (Alexander and Millard, op. cit., p. 122)
Matthew 14:1-3 - Herod Antipas
Antipas was the Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded. The prison where this and other executions he ordered took place, is now known to be the fortress Herod the Great built at Machaerus. (cf. Matt. 4:10) (Alexander and Millard, op. cit., p. 138)
Matthew 14:3 - Herodias
Though mentioned briefly, this woman, whom the Bible states was married to Philip but who became the wife of Herod Antipas (cf. Mk. 6:17), is known outside the Biblical record. That she lived has been confirmed by the Jewish historian, Josephus, who gives the following sordid picture of the Herodian lifestyle. "Herodias was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great...They had a daughter Salome, after whose birth Herodias, taking it into her head to flout the way of our fathers, married Herod, her husband's brother by the same father, who was tetrarch of Galilee; to do this she parted with her husband." (Antiquities, p:2)
Matthew 17:27 - Piece of Money (Stater)
The Bible expression "piece of money" is from the Greek word STATER. This was a silver coin worth about 75 cents. It was this coin that Jesus told Peter he would find in a fish's mouth. Many of these have been discovered by archaeologists throughout the ancient Roman Empire. They bore the images of various political figures as well as animals.
Matthew 18:28 - Penny (Denarion)
The Biblical "penny" is from the Greek word DENARION. It was also made of silver and was worth about 15 cents. This coin bore the image of Caesar (cf. Matt. 22:19-21) and is very common in the findings of archaeology.
Matthew 23:15 - Proselyte
The word proselyte referred to Gentiles who had been converted to Judaism. That this word was used is verified on an epitaph found in a first century tomb near Rome. Written in Latin, it reads: "Mannacius to his sweet sister Chrysis a proselyte." (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 64)
Matthew 23:37, 38 - The Destruction of Jerusalem
The destruction of Jerusalem came in 70 A.D. Since most of the books of the New Testament were written before that time, the actual destruction of the city is not mentioned there. However, we find in the New Testament the Lord's prophecy of this destruction (cf. Matt. 24:15-22, 34; Luke 21:20-24). That it occurred is a matter of history. Again, from the writings of Josephus we have a detailed account of this event. In addition, many monuments and inscriptions stand as reminders of Jerusalem's fall at the hands of the Roman army. The great Arch of Titus in Rome, built in honor of general Titus who commanded the Roman army in Palestine, is the most outstanding of such reminders. (Alexander and Millard, op. cit., p. 123)
Matthew 25:3, 4 - Wedding Procession
In Matthew 25, Jesus related a parable centered around a Jewish wedding. Implied in the parable is a procession for which young maidens were waiting in order to enter the wedding feast. That this was actually the practice in ancient Canaan is supported by the discoveries of archaeology. The procession took place with singing and music with neighbors and friends joining in the merry making.
The following description explains how such a wedding took place: "Having reached the house of the bride, who with her maidens anxiously expected his arrival (bridegroom), he conducted the whole party back to his own father's house....On their way back they were joined by a party of maidens, friends of the bride and bridegroom, who were in waiting to catch the procession as it passed....Then the inhabitants of the place pressed out into the streets to watch the procession....At the house a feast was prepared to which all the friends and neighbors were invited....The festivities were protracted for seven, or even fourteen days....The guests were provided by the host with fitting robes and the feast was enlivened with riddles and other amusements." (Unger's Bible Dictionary, pp. 698, 699)
Matthew 26:2 - Crucifixion
The Bible explains that Christ was put to death by execution. The description given there is dramatic. (cf. Matt. 27; Mk. 15; Lk. 23; Jn. 19) Both the hands and feet of Jesus were pierced with nails. Was this the means of execution in that day? Not only do we have the testimony of early historians, we also have tangible evidence of this. Jackson explains: "On Ammunition Hill in northeastern Jerusalem, an ossuary (stone box) was found containing the bones of a young man named Johanan, who had plainly been crucified. This find has been dated between 6 and 66 A.D. A crease in the radial bone revealed that he had been nailed in his forearms...The ossuary also contained the heel bones still transfixed by a 4-1/2 inch iron nail. The leg bones had also been shattered as in the case of the thieves who were crucified on either side of the Lord (John 19:31,32)." (op. cit., p. 43)
Matthew 26:3 - Caiaphas, High Priest
That such a priest as Caiaphas lived is a fact that cannot be denied. The Jewish historian, Josephus, speaks of him, explaining that he was appointed by one Valerius Gratus and then later disposed by Vitellius, the governor of Syria. Josephus refers to him as "Joseph who was called Caiaphas." (Antiquities, 2:2, 4:3) In 1990, a remarkable archaeological find gave support to what Josephus recorded. In a first century collapsed burial cave near Jerusalem, an inscription was discovered on a tomb which read, "Joseph, of the family of Caiaphas." The remains are said to be those of a sixty year old man. Of such a find as this, Steven Feldman of the Biblical Archaeology Review said: "The absolute evidence is never there, but it's about as strong a link as you can find." (Nashville Tennessean, November 15, 1990)
Matthew 26:7 - Alabaster Box
This "alabaster box" belonged to a woman who anointed the head of Jesus in the home of Simon the leper. (cf. Mk 14:3) This container ("alabaster cruse" - ASV) was a flask used for carrying expensive oils. Avi-Yonah observes: "Heavy duties levied on these expensive commodities rendered their price to the consumer many hundreds of times dearer than their original price. Because they were so very costly, such unguents were carried in vessels with very narrow openings from which they were decanted drop by drop. Of this kind were the vessels called alabastron." (op. cit., p. 70)
Matthew 26:15 - Thirty Pieces of Silver
No other amount of money is better known than the "thirty pieces of silver" for which Judas betrayed Jesus. (cf. Matt. 27:3) Called the DRACHMAE, it was made of silver and was worth about 20 cents. This is the type coin that was lost (Lk. 15:8, 9) and that was used to measure the cost of the burned books (Acts 19:19). That this coin was used in the first century has been established by archaeology. (Wright, op. cit., pp. 378, 379)
Matthew 27:2 - Pontius Pilate
Because of his connection with Jesus, Pilate is one of the best know figures of history. It was before this Roman governor that Jesus was sentenced to die (cf. Matt. 27:26). However, is there any external evidence that such a man lived? Again, the spade of archaeology has made remarkable discoveries. Coins have now been found which bear his name. In addition, at Caesarea, the Roman capital of Judea and Pilate's official residence, his name has been found on a large inscription. (Wright, op. cit., p. 374)
Matthew 27:33 - Golgotha, "Place of a Skull"
Golgotha is the Hebrew word rendered "place of a skull" and was the identifying mark of the location of the crucifixion of Jesus. That this place has been found is still a matter in question. Several sites have been suggested; however, most archaeologists believe the proper location is on the northern side of old Jerusalem near Herod's gate. (Alexander and Millard, p. 153)
Matthew 27:60 - Joseph's Tomb
Jesus was buried in Joseph's own tomb which had been hewn out of rock, the entrance of which was covered by a stone rolled into place. Tombs of this nature, designed for the wealthy, have been discovered throughout Palestine. Many archaeologists believe the tomb commonly reported to be that of Joseph is, indeed, the tomb where Jesus was buried. This is based on records showing that in 135 A.D. the emperor Hadrian built a temple to Vinus over this tomb. In 330 A.D. Constantine, the first "Christian" emperor, destroyed this temple. In the debris cleared away from these ruins has been found a shrine-stone to Vinus. (Halley, op. cit., pp. 492, 493)
Matthew 27:27 - Roman Soldier
The "soldiers" mentioned so often in the New Testament were, of course, Roman soldiers. During New Testament days, the Roman empire controlled Canaan and maintained garrisons throughout the land. Mason and Alexander point out that: "Soldiers of the Roman legions were needed to keep peace throughout the empire. Not for a moment could the Jewish people forget that Palestine was an occupied country. There were Roman soldiers everywhere." (op. cit., p. 136)
Such soldiers appear often in the history of the gospels and Acts and were also used as object lessons in the epistles. (cf. II Tim. 2:3, 4) Even their individual pieces of armor were used to illustrate the Christian's armor in his battle against Satan (see Eph. 6:13-17). Much evidence of the presence of Roman soldiers in Palestine has been discovered by archaeology.
Matthew 28:12-15 - Stealing Bodies
When the tomb where Christ was buried was found empty, the chief priests and elders bribed the soldiers to spread the false story that his disciples came and stole his body. Matthew states that this was being commonly told even when he wrote the book of Matthew (approximately 64 A.D.).
In view of the above, the historian Seutonius tells that the emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.) had Jews banished from Rome because of constant riots stemming from the discussions about the resurrection of one "Christos," obviously referring to Christ. (Life Of Claudius, XXV. 4; quoted by Jackson, op. cit., p. 45)
That the story of Christ's empty tomb was a problem issue is supported by the discovery of a stone slab in 1930 containing a decree of Caesar (probably Claudius). Called the "Nazareth Decree" it forbids the disturbance of tombs and the removing of bodies. Written in Greek, it reads, in part: "Ordinance of Caesar. It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain undisturbed....If any man lay information that another has either demolished them, or has in any way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them....against such a one I order that a trial be instituted..." It is very likely that this came as a result of the disturbance surrounding the story of the empty tomb of Jesus.
Mark 12:42-44 - Mite (Lepton)
One of the most touching stories of the gospel records is that of the widow who gave up her last two mites. Jesus used this to teach the great lesson of sacrifice. The mite was a copper coin worth about one cent. She only had two of these coins, but by giving them up she demonstrated more faith than the wealthy. This small coin is still being discovered throughout Palestine.
Luke 2:1 - Augustus Caesar
This is the Caesar who lived when Jesus was born and under whose decree Joseph and Mary journeyed to Nazareth. Mentioned only once in the Bible, this man is well-known in the history of the ancient Greek world. His image appears on many Greek coins. His image has also been found on a beautiful ivory, broach-like ornament. (Mason and Alexander, op. cit., p. 133) Also a well-preserved bronze head of Augustus dated before the time of Christ has been discovered. (Hunter and Marsh, op. cit., p. 153). In Ephesus, there is a well-preserved monument referring to the "divine" Caesar Augustus. (Mason and Alexander, op. cit., p. 171) This makes us think of how Christians were later put to death for refusing to give worship to Roman emperors.
Luke 2:2 - Cyrenius, Governor During the Census
We are told that the taxation (census) under Augustus Caesar came during the time when Cyrenius was governor of Syria (including the land of Cana). This governor is wellknown in history as the Roman senator, Sulpicius Quirinius. (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 104) Since a census is known to have taken place in 7 A.D., several years after the birth of Christ, Bible critics at one time said Luke's account could not be correct. However, as Halley points out: "In recent years papyri have been found from which it is learned that Quirinius was twice governor of Syria. It is interesting to note that Luke expressly says it was under the 'first' enrollment." (op. cit., p. 434) Obviously, Cyrenius had ruled as governor two times, and it was during his first term that the census mentioned by Luke took place.
Luke 3:1 - Tiberius Caesar
Tiberius Caesar (14 to 37 A.D.) ruled during the earthly ministry of Christ and the early history of the church. It was, no doubt, this ruler to whom Jesus referred when saying, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." (Mk. 12:17) He was the adopted son and successor of Augustus Caesar. Evidence of his reign is seen in the capital city he built in Galilee and named after himself. Also his reign is borne out by many coins which bear his image. One such coin, on the reverse side, even bears the image of his mother, Livia.
Luke 3:1 - Herod Philip
Evidence of the existence of Philip, one of the sons of Herod the Great, is found on several coins which bear his image. Also, history shows that as his father, Herod the Great, named the coastal city of Caesarea in honor of the emperor, so Philip named Caesarea Philippi in Iterua in honor of the emperor. (Charles Phifer and Howard Vos, Historical Geography Of Bible Lands, p. 166) He also rebuilt the city of Bethsaida near the Sea of Galilee and named it "Julius" in honor of Augustus Caesar's daughter. (Ibid. p. 135)
Luke 3:1 - Lysanias, Tetrarch of Abilene
Luke's statement that a man named Lysanias was tetrarch (king) of Abilene was at one time ridiculed by Bible critics because the only Lysanias known to history ruled over Chalcis and died in 36 B.C. (Jackson, op. cit., p. 41) However, now it is known that this Lysanias did rule in Abilene at the time reported by Luke. "Two Greek inscriptions from Abila, northwest of Damascus, now prove that there was a 'Lysanias the tetrarch' between the years A.D. 14 and 29." (Ibid. p. 41)
In addition, in Damascus an inscription has been found which is an offering for the salvation of the emperors in connection with the erection of a temple. It was dedicated by a man who was freed by "Lysanias the tetrarch." (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 106)
Luke 19:13ff - Pound
In the parable of the "pounds" the coin to which Jesus made reference was the MINA. Made of silver, it was worth about $20. Such coins dating from the first century A.D. have been found throughout Palestine. One of these, discovered near Jerusalem, bears a horn of plenty, the mask of a heathen deity and an ear of wheat along with the words "Year Four - Public Mina." (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 127)
Acts 5:1 - The Name of Sapphira
In the past, some who rejected the reliability of the Bible claimed that the name Sapphira was not in use during the first century A.D. However, in 1933 several ossuaries were discovered, dated to the first century A.D., on which was inscribed the name "Sapphira." This is evidence that such a name was of acceptable use at that time. (The Haverford Symposium On Archaeology And The Bible, edited by Elihu Grant, p. 84)
Acts 5:34 - Gamaliel, Doctor of the Law
The context implies that Gamaliel must have been an important figure in Jerusalem. He is identified not only as a "doctor of the law" but also as a "Pharisee" and a member of the "council" (the supreme court of the Jews). Many are convinced that this man has been identified. Josephus mentions a man by the name of Simon who lived in 60 A.D. He was the son of a Pharisee named "Gamaliel" from an illustrious family of Jerusalem. (LIFE, Sec. 38. 190, 191) It is likely that this is the very Gamaliel who gave advice to the council regarding their handling of the apostles. (see Acts 5:35-40)
Acts 5:37 - Judas, The Rebel
This man is also mentioned by Josephus, identifying him as the one who led a revolt at the time of Cyrenius during the days of the census (cf. Lk. 2:2). "But a certain Judas, a Gaulanite from a city named Gamala who had enlisted the aid of Saddok, a Pharisee, threw himself into the cause of the rebellion." (Antiquities, XVIII, 1.1)
Furthermore, Josephus again mentions that Tiberius Alexander, who succeeded Festus as governor in Palestine, crucified the sons of one "Judas of Galilee," who caused a revolt in the days of the census. (Ibid XX. 5.2)
Acts 8:27 - Queen Candace
This is another example of the Bible mentioning someone who, until recent times, has remained virtually unknown. Early in this century, discovery was made of a series of queens who lived during New Testament days and were called by the name "Candace."
"Archaeological light on the group of queens called Candace was found by McIver in his excavations in Nubia - 1908-1909. In the Christian period these Nubians still called their queen Candace; they gave her milk to drink, regarding obesity an attribute to royalty. In the British museum there is a large relief showing one of these queens named Candace." (Free and Vos, op. cit., p. 263)
Acts 11:28 - Claudius Caesar
His full name was Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero, the nephew of Tiberius and step-father of Nero. He was a wicked ruler and came to the throne about the time the apostle Paul was beginning his missionary journeys. There is no lack of evidence concerning this man. That he lived is recorded, not only in the New Testament, but in secular history as well. In addition to the fact that Josephus mentions this emperor (Antiquities, XIX. 5.1), archaeology has discovered numerous examples of tangible evidence regarding him. (Hunter and Marsh, op. cit., p. 154 and Mason and Alexander, op. cit., p. 133)
Acts 12:1 - Herod Agrippa I
The grandson of Herod the Great, he was one of the most wicked of the Herodian kings. He was the king who ordered the death of James and the imprisonment of Peter (Acts 12:1ff). Not only is he mentioned by Josephus (Antiquities XIX. 8.2), but a coin dated 44, 45 A.D. has his image with the inscription, "The Great King Agrippa, friend of the Caesar." (Lewis, op. cit., p. 163)
Acts 10:1 - Centurion
Roman centurions were crucial to the stability of the Roman army. They were over large groups of soldiers, generally 100, from which is derived the title "centurion." Avi-Yonah points out that centurions in Palestine were: "....non-commissioned officers who were entrusted with the training and command of troops raised among the allies of the Romans. As in the legions, these old soldiers formed the backbone of the Roman army; they were strict disciplinarians and wielded a stick made from a vine tree with which they are represented on surviving Roman monuments." (op. cit., p. 167)
In England a tombstone has been discovered of a centurion who lived in ancient Britain in the first century A.D. His name was Marcus Favonius Facilis, a centurion of the Twentieth Legion. The well-preserved relief shows him with a staff of vinewood in one hand and a sword in the other. (Loc. cit.)
Acts 12:1 - Theater at Caesarea
Herod Agrippa I, suffered a violent illness and death (Acts 12:21-13). In addition to the detailed account of this event by Josephus (Antiquities, XIX. 8) the theater in Caesarea (mentioned by Josephus) where king Agrippa fell fatally ill has been found and extensively excavated. (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 170)
Acts 13:7 - Deputy (Proconsul) Sergius Paulus
Luke tells that when Paul was at Paphos on the isle of Cyprus he met and converted a deputy (proconsul) named Sergius Paulus. Is such a man found outside the Biblical text? F. F. Bruce has shown that near Soli, on the northern side of Cyprus, an inscription has been found which tells of a proconsul named "Paulus." (Cited by Jackson, op. cit., p. 47) Also, a block of stone has been discovered on which is written: "To Lucius Sergius Paulus, the younger." (C. M. Coburn, op. cit., p. 539) Another inscription tells of a woman named "Sergia Paula." It is suspected that these were the children of Sergius Paulus. (Free and Vos, op. cit., p. 269)
Acts 14:12 - Pagan Gods, Jupiter and Mercurius
The healing of a lame man caused the people of Lystra to consider Paul and Barnabas gods. They called Barnabas, Jupiter (or Zeus), and they called Paul, Mercurius (or Hermes). The question has been raised, "Were these gods actually worshipped by the people of that region?" Edward Robinson has put an end to doubt about this: "Archaeological light on the worship of Zeus and Hermes...was found on two inscriptions discovered in the neighborhood of Lystra in 1909. One of these monuments was erected to 'priests of Zeus,' and another one tells of two men who, 'having made in accordance with a vow at their own expense (a statue of) Hermes Most Great along with a sun-dial dedicated it to Zeus the sungod.'" (Biblical Researches In Palestine, pp. 48, 49, cited by Free and Vos, op. cit., p. 271)
Acts 14:13 - Animal and Vegetable Sacrifices
Here Luke records the practice of sacrificing animals and plants to pagan gods. (cf. Acts 15:29). That animals and plants were offered in sacrifice to pagan gods has long been established by archaeology. Specific in this text is the mention of "oxen." Remarkably, a coin has been found which bears the picture of a pagan priest leading two oxen to sacrifice. (A. T. Robinson, Luke, The Historian In The Light Of Research, p. 187, cited by Jackson, op. cit., p. 48) Also, a Roman sarcophagus dated in the early second century A.D., pictures the sacrificing of animals and plants before the god Dionysus. (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 175)
Acts 16:19 - Marketplace (Agora) at Philippi
In Philippi, Paul cast an evil spirit out of a young lady. Her masters, seeing the profits they made through her come to an end, brought Paul and Silas into the "market-place" to appear before the rulers. Did such a place exist in Philippi? During research done by the Greek Archaeological Service since World War II, this location, also known as "agora" was located.
"The agora, center of Greek life where the mob scene and judgment of Acts 16 took place, is a large rectangular area 360 feet long and 150 feet wide. On its northern side stood a rectangular podium with steps leading up to it on either side...Although the agora was largely rebuilt during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in the second century A.D., the general plan is essentially the same as it was in Paul's day." (Free and Vos, op. cit., pp. 273, 274)
Acts 17:19 - Areopagus at Athens
The place where Paul addressed the Athenian philosophers was called "Areopagus." It was also spoken of as "Mar's Hill" (Acts 17:22). It seems to have been a prominent location in Athens, but did such a place exist? Indeed, it did. Excavations have revealed the Areopagus to be just west of the elevated Acropolis area, site of many magnificent buildings and temples, including the famed Parthenon temple. The Areopagus rises 60 feet above the valley encircling the Acropolis. Remains of altars, seats, and staircases are still visible. (Thompson, op. cit., p. 398) As Paul spoke to the people about "temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24) he may have gestured to the temples which were in plain view.
Acts 17:23 - Inscription, "To The Unknown God"
Luke had just stated that Paul found the city "wholly given to idolatry" (Acts 17:16). This description has been confirmed by secular history and archaeology. It is now known that in first century Athens there were many thousands of gods with accompanying altars scattered throughout the city. No wonder the Bible states that Paul's spirit was "stirred."
One of these altars was so unusual that Paul used it to teach the true God. It was inscribed with the words: "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD." Critics of a few decades ago suggested that the existence of such an altar was very unlikely; that people of Athens would go to that extreme seemed to be farfetched. However, excavations at the city of Pergamos have revealed an altar with the identical inscription, showing that altars of this kind were, indeed, used in ancient days. (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 180)
Acts 18:12 - Deputy (Proconsul) Gallio
In Corinth, after the hateful Jews created an insurrection, they brought the apostle Paul before the proconsul named Gallio. Archaeology has established that such a man served in that area. In the ruins of the ancient city of Delphi, not far from Corinth, an inscription has been discovered (the remains of a letter from emperor Claudius) in which Gallio, also known as Junius Annaeus Gallio, is named and given the title, "proconsul." (Millar Burros, What Mean These Stones?, p. 86)
Also, of interest is the fact that the inscription puts the time of Gallio's service at 52 A.D. This is another archaeological aid helping to establish the dates of the New Testament record.
Acts 18:12 - Judgment Seat at Corinth
This text states that Paul appeared before the "judgement seat" at Corinth. Through the years archaeological research has slowly unearthed the area of the proconsul's judgment seat. This stands as a testimony to the accuracy of the New Testament. (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 182)
Acts 19:23-28 - Diana and Her Temple at Ephesus
The preaching of the gospel exposed the practice of false religions. At Ephesus the worship of the goddess Diana began to be severely affected. There was the danger of worship to her being "destroyed" and her great temple being "despised" (Acts 19:27). The goddess Diana is well-known to archaeology as the great deity of the Ephesians. A number of statues and statuettes have been found, many of them dating to the first century A.D. One such statue made of beautiful marble was found in Ephesus. (Mason and Alexander, op. cit., p. 164)
Also the remains of the temple to Diana, once called one of the seven wonders of the world, have been unearthed. The temple platform was 418 feet long and 239 feet wide. The temple itself was 377 feet long and 180 feet wide and had 117 highly decorated columns 60 feet high. One of them has been reassembled. (Free and Vos, op. cit., p. 279)
Acts 19:29-31 - The Theater at Ephesus
Because of the negative affect the gospel had on the worship of Diana, confusion reigned in Ephesus. While Paul was urged to stay away from the mod, two of Paul's friends were taken to the "theater" to be dealt with. Fortunately, the town clerk was able to quieten them. The location of this magnificent theater has been found. Still in fairly good condition, it was able to seat about 25,000 people. (Free and Vos, op. cit., p. 280)
Acts 21:27-29 - Temple Restriction
In Jerusalem, Paul was accused of profaning the holy temple by bringing Greeks (non-Jews) into it. It was a violation of Jewish practice to bring non-Jews into the temple proper or its inner courts. That this was, indeed, the belief and practice of that time is shown by the discovery of a limestone sign which was posted at the temple in Jerusalem. It reads, in part: "Let no one of the Gentiles enter inside the barrier around the sanctuary and the porch; and if he transgresses he shall himself bear the blame for his ensuing DEATH." (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 188) The spade of archaeology continues to unveil many remarkable findings which confirm even minute details of the New Testament.
Acts 23:23 - Horsemen
When Paul was being taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea to appear before the governor, he was escorted by 470 military men, 76 of which were "horsemen." Evidence of such a rank has been found in many places throughout the ancient Roman Empire. One such case is that of a Roman calvaryman by the name of Augindai. He served in northwest Africa near modern Morocco. (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 191)
Acts 24:24 - Governor Felix and Drusilla
Luke states that the governor of Palestine during this time was Felix. That such a man served in this capacity has not only been established by the writings of Josephus (Antiquities, XX. 7.2) but by archaeology as well. Known as Antonius Felix, a coin bearing his name was unearthed near Caesarea. (Nelson, op. cit., p. 154) Also, his name has been discovered on a clay tablet found in the same area. It reads "Magnificent Felix." (Mason and Alexander, op. cit., p. 169)
Luke also mentions Felix's wife, Drusilla. That such a woman did exist is also shown by the writings of Josephus. (Antiquities, XVIII. 5.4; XIX. 9.1; XX. 7.2)
Acts 25:8-12 - Caesar (Nero)
Knowing he would not receive justice in Palestine, Paul made an appeal to be heard by Caesar himself. Although unnamed, the Caesar mentioned in this text was Nero. It was during his reign of 14 years (54-68 A.D.) that persecution of the church by the Roman government itself began. Nero is mentioned by the historian Josephus. (Wars, II. 3.1; Antiquities, II. 8.1) His name and image also appear on many coins. (A. Reifenberg, Ancient Jewish Coins, p. 49) In addition, his image has been captured on a number of reliefs and statues dating to the first century A.D. (Wycliff, op. cit., p. 524; Lewis, op. cit., p. 146)
Acts 25:13, 22, 23 - Herod Agrippa II and Bernice
Agrippa II was the great-grandson of Herod the Great and son of Agrippa I (who killed James and had Peter imprisoned, Acts 12:2, 3). After Paul made his appeal to be tried before Caesar (Acts 25:11), Festus, the new governor, brought Paul before king Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. After listening to Paul speak about his own conversion, it was this king who said, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28). That both Agrippa and Bernice were actual figures in the first century is testified to by Josephus. (Antiquities, XIX. 9.1 and 2; XX. 5.2) In addition, several coins have been found bearing the image of Agrippa II. (Wycliffe, op. cit., p. 544; Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 203)
Acts 28:11 - Castor and Pollux
Ships in ancient days were often dedicated to various pagan gods. On Paul's voyage to Rome from Melita he embarked a ship with the sign of "Castor and Pollux." It is now known that these were the two mythical children of the god Zeus and were thought of as the patrons and protectors of sailors. Their figures appear on coins found at Rhegium in Italy. (Pheiffer and Vos, op. cit., p 534)
In addition Avi-Yonah says: "The two youths, whose emblem was a high cap with a star above it were popular among the Romans, as they were supposed to have saved the state at a time of grave national danger." (op cit., p. 202). A relief containing such a cap has been discovered at Sebaste in Samaria. (Loc. cit.)
Acts 28:16 - Praetorian Guard
When Paul arrived in Rome, Luke states that he was handed over to the "captain of the guard." This officer was in charge of the Praetorian Guard which was entrusted with the protection of Rome and the emperor. In recent years, a discovery was made near Rome of a relief containing soldiers of this guard during the first century A.D. (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 203)
Romans 16:23 - Erastus the Chamberlain (Treasurer)
In his closing thoughts of the Roman letter, Paul makes mention of a brother in Corinth by the name of Erastus who was treasurer of the city. In the first half of this century, a stone with this name was discovered. Jackson, quoting from Bruce, writes: "In April of 1929, archaeologists uncovered in Old Corinth a slab bearing a Latin inscription translated as follows: 'Erastus, in consideration of his aedileship (commissioner of Public Works), laid this pavement at his own expense." (op. cit., p. 50)
Although it cannot be known for certain that this is the same Erastus mentioned by Paul, the evidence is strong since the dating of the slab is placed at the mid-first century A.D.
I Corinthians 9:24, 26 - Racing and Boxing
Paul here makes mention of two sporting activities which were, apparently, prominent in first century Roman culture. That this was the case is shown by many artifacts picturing men involved in such games. Paul, as a Roman (Acts 16:37), was familiar with sporting events of his day. (Hunter and Marsh, op. cit., p. 228)
I Corinthians 13:12 - Glass (Mirror)
Paul, in showing a contrast between the present vagueness of their knowledge and the complete knowledge to come, refers to a "glass" (or "mirror"). He states that the view through the mirror was "dark" - from a word meaning "obscure." And this was precisely the view provided by mirrors of that day. The view of one's image was not clear as in mirrors of modern times. Archaeology has discovered many such beautiful mirrors made of brass which, when polished, gave remarkable reflection.
II Corinthians 11:32 - King Aretas
This king was regarded as a renegade king who, for a period of time, reigned over the area which included Damascus. That such a king ruled has been established by archaeology. Aretas, also known as Aretas the Greek and Harithath, has been found on a coin in Syria. Also, an inscription found in Eboda (southeast Palestine), written in Nabataean, bears the name of king Harithath, (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., pp. 234, 235)
Ephesians 6:5 - Servants
Mention is made of servants many times in the New Testament. The word "servant" is from a Greek word actually meaning "bond-servant" and refers to those who were in complete servitude to their masters. That such a condition existed as described by Paul (cf. Titus 2:9; Philemon 10) has been clearly supported by the findings of archaeology. For example, a number of Roman slave badges have been unearthed. Probably designed for unruly slaves, these badges were chained to the necks of slaves and contained messages from their masters. One reads: "Seize me if I should try to escape and send me back to my master." (Mason and Alexander, op. cit., p. 166) Another reads: "I have escaped, hold me. If you return me to my master, you shall receive a solidum (gold coin)." (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 250)
Ephesians 6:15 - Shod Feet
A part of the armor Paul admonishes Christians to wear is taken from the "shod" feet of the Roman soldier. Archaeology has revealed that Roman soldiers wore shoes that were tightly bound and often contained short spikes for greater traction. Examples of such footwear (sandal-like shoes), dating to the first century A.D., have been discovered throughout the ancient Roman Empire.
Hebrews 7:1, 3 - Melchizedek
One of the puzzling verses of the New Testament is Hebrews 7:3 which states that Melchizedek was "without father, without mother." Different ideas have been put forth attempting to explain the meaning of this statement, most of which are only speculation. However, the discovery of the Tell el-Amarna tablets has revealed valuable information. On one of these tablets an ancient king of Uru-Salem (Jerusalem) writes to the Pharaoh of Egypt, in which he explains that his royalty was not received from his father or mother, but rather directly from the king himself. (Jackson, op. cit., p. 25) It is possible this king is the same as Melchizedek; if not, it is a parallel to him. Whatever the case, the point learned here is that Melchizedek's priesthood did not come by inheritance.
As Jackson says: "This...illustrates the fact that the kingship/priesthood of Melchizedek was not genealogically inherited; rather, it was conferred directly by Jehovah, and in this regard he was symbolic of our King and Priest, Jesus Christ." (Loc. cit.)
I Peter 3:3 - Women's hair style
Peter gave a stern warning to Christian women concerning their appearance. It was not to be an outward show or display, but rather "the hidden man of the heart" (I Pet. 3:4). In ancient days, the most recognizable part of a woman's appearance was her hair. Many women made special effort to display their hair so as to draw attention to themselves. Such was not in harmony with Christian demeanor. The findings of archaeology help us to see more clearly the reason behind the apostle's words.
Sculptures of the heads of Greek women in the first century A.D. reveal the extent to which hairstyles had gone. One example is that of a woman named Julia, the daughter of emperor Titus. She probably set an example for many other women. Avi-Yonah states: "Her hair is dressed as a veritable tower of locks piled high up over her forehead; such a construction could have hardly been held in position without some inside support, probably furnished by false hair. In view of such a style of hairdressing we can understand how (such a practice was)...strongly condemned by the apostles." (op cit., p. 259)
I Peter 3:16 - Christians Being Spoken Evil Of
One of the great problems confronting Christians of the first century A.D. was that of being treated with scorn. This included being spoken against with evil words. That this was commonplace in the Roman Empire is shown by the discoveries of archaeology. A classic example is that of a graffito found in 1856 in one of the guardrooms of the Palatine in Rome near the imperial place. It shows a man worshiping a crucified figure with the head of an ass. The inscription ridicules a Christian: "Alexamenos worshiping his god." (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 216)
I Peter 4:3 - Abominable Idolatries
First century Christians throughout the ancient Greek world were exposed to all sorts of worldly practices. In fact, as stated in this text, some of them had participated in such things themselves. One of the things engaged in was debauchery - or the practice of sensual orgies in religious ceremonies. That such actually took place has been found represented on many artifacts. One example, appearing on a first century vase, shows several young nymphs engaging in an orgiastic dance in honor of the god Dionysus. (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 261)
Revelation 1:12 - Golden Candlesticks
The candlesticks mentioned by John are obvious references to candlesticks of the Jewish religion. (Note: Revelation contains many allusions to things peculiar to Judaism, e.g. Jewish tribes, burning incense, the temple, etc.) That the Jews did, indeed, use a candlestick as a part of their religious practice is shown by its appearance on the Arch of Titus in Rome. (Pfeiffer and Vos, op. cit., p. 528) It has been found on many other objects as well.
"It appears sculptured in relief in Galilean synagogues...on Jewish lamps both from Palestine and the Diaspora, on gold glasses...on bone and ivory carvings and on mosaic pavements." (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 268)
Revelation 2:1 - The City of Ephesus
The remains of this city have been discovered by the research of archaeology. Remains of many of the same buildings that were there during the time of John have been unearthed. Some of its magnificent marble-paved roads lined with altars and columns are clearly visible, as well as baths and temples. (Mason and Alexander, op. cit., p. 164)
Revelation 2:8 - The City of Smyrna
The city of Smyrna was a real place. Known as modern Izmir it has been extensively excavated. Many of its old and rare treasures have been revealed. Among its great storehouse of ancient remains are the columns of the Forum which date back to the early Roman period. (Ibid. P. 72)
Revelation 2:12 - The City of Pergamos
That this city existed in the first century A.D. no one can doubt. The ruins of many of its glorious buildings and theaters have been discovered by the efforts of archaeologists. (Loc. cit.) It is also now known that in 29 B.C. the first temple in the Roman Empire, erected and dedicated to the Emperor Augustus, was built here. (Loc. cit.)
Revelation 2:13 - Satan's Seat
Long before the time of Christ, Pergamos was the center of the cults of many pagan gods. So many were their temples, no wonder Jesus described this city as a place "where Satan's seat (ASV - "Satan's throne") is." A classic example of the supposed power of the pagan gods is seen in the great altar of Zeus and Athene. "This building stood on a large terrace overlooking the agora of the city. It measured 120 by 112 feet and consisted of a colonnaded court surrounded by walls on three sides, with an altar in its center. Around the outer wall of the court ran the great frieze, 400 feet long and 7 feet high, depicting the battle of the gods against the giants who attempted to storm Olympus." (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 171). One close-up view of the frieze shows a goddess fighting with a serpent-legged giant (demon). (Loc. cit.)
Revelation 2:18 - The City of Thyatira
This city also has surrendered much of its ancient past. The spade of archaeology has uncovered many inscriptions mentioning trades such as leather workers, potters, bakers, bronze smiths, and so on. (W. M. Ramsay, The Letters To The Seven Churches Of Asia, p. 325)
Thyatira has also been found to be the center of worship to the great god Apollo, god of the sun. No doubt, the true brightness of Christ is contrasted with this sun god - "who hath eyes like unto a flame of fire..."
Revelation 3:1 - The City of Sardis
Since 1958, extensive excavations have disclosed vast amounts of information about this city.
"A large quantity of pottery, coinage, and bronze pieces, numerous inscriptions in Lydian, Latin, and Greek, many types of architecture, masonry, statuary, fine mosaics, and a host of other items...make Sardis one of the most rewarding excavations ever carried out in Anatolia." (Thompson, op. cit., p. 422)
The ruins of the temple of the goddess Cybele, patron deity of the city, have been found. It filled an area 327 feet long and 163 feet wide. Two of its original columns still stand. (Mason and Alexander, op. cit., p. 173)
Revelation 3:7 - The City of Philadelphia
Philadelphia was also a well-known city of the first century A.D. Of the research done here, it has been discovered that it was the center of a wine industry and that the god Dionysius was its chief deity. (Thompson, op. cit., p. 423)
Revelation 3:14 - The City of Laodicea
Archaeology has shown that this city flourished when the book of Revelation was written. Evidence reveals that it was known for its wool trade and banking. (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 239)
Most significant is the fact that Laodicea had nearby hot springs which were channeled into the city, but arriving lukewarm. (Mason and Alexander, op. cit., p. 174) No doubt, it was from this that the Lord drew the illustration, "So then because thou art lukewarm, I will spew thee out of my mouth."
Revelation 3:18 - Eyesalve
The spiritual condition of the Laodiceans was such that, among other things, they were told to anoint their eyes with "eyesalve." That such an ointment as eyesalve was in common use has been proven by archaeologists. For example, a physician named Galen who practiced in the city of Pergamos (Pfeiffer and Vos, op. cit., p. 393) made mention of a prescription which read: "Eyesalve applied by Florus to Antonia the mother of Drusus, when she was in danger of losing her eyesight through applications of other physicians." (Avi-Yonah, op. cit., p. 275) Often, salve was in the form of soap-like bars and would be stamped with the name of the maker and the maladies it was supposed to cure. (Loc. cit.)
Special Notes About Christ
Was Christ ever mentioned by writers that were contemporary with the New Testament? The answer to this is yes. Over the years discoveries of various manuscripts have revealed several non-Biblical references to Christ.
Josephus - For centuries the statement of the Jewish historian Josephus has been used as evidence of an external reference to Christ from the first century A.D. It reads in part: "About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats...he was the Christ...On the third day he appeared to them (his disciples) restored to life..." (Antiquities, XVIII, 3.3)
However, until recently the oldest copy of Josephus used for this (a Greek text) dates back no more than 600 years. Since this text does not seem to be what Josephus would have said about Christ, many scholars have questioned the statement as authentic, assuming that it had been tampered with in previous copies.
With the discovery of an older Arabic text of Josephus, this has been shown to be the case. Dating to the 10th century A.D., this older text reads: "About this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous...They (his disciples) reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion..." This, no doubt, is what Josephus had originally written.
He also mentions Jesus again. He writes that one Ananus "assembled the sanhedrin of the judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who is called Christ, whose name was James." (Antiquities, XX. 9.1)
Tacitus - Roman historian, 112 A.D. (Annals, XV, 44)
Seutonius - Roman historian, 120 A.D. (Life Of Clusius, 25.4)
Secundus - Bithynian governor, 112 A.D. (Letter To Emperor Titus, from Evidence That Demands A Verdict, p. 85)
Thallus - Samaritan historian, mid-first century (Though his writings are not extant, he is quoted by other later writers, especially Julius, 221 A.D.) (Ibid. p. 86)
Special Note on the Gospel of John
There are many Greek manuscripts and versions of the New Testament dating back to the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries. However, the oldest known extant portion of the New Testament is a part of the gospel of John - chapter 18. It is on pieces of papyri and dates to the early 2nd century. (Thompson, op. cit., p. 435)
Special Note on the Subject of Baptism
Mode of baptism - It has been argued that in Jerusalem there was not enough water to immerse 3000 people as recorded in Acts 2. However, archaeology has shown that in Jerusalem there were at least eight pools averaging 214 feet long by 124 feet wide with an average depth of 23 feet, providing more than enough water to baptize 3000 people in one day. (J. W. McGarvey, Lands Of The Bible, p. 201)