The Table Podcast
Gordon H. JohnstonGordon H. JohnstonSteve OrtizDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock

Archaeology and the Bible

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Steven Ortiz, and Dr. Gordon Johnston discuss archaeology and the Old Testament, focusing on what we can learn from archaeological digs.

Understanding Digs: Archaeology and the OT
  1. Archaeology and the Bible
  2. Recent Archaeological Finds
Timecodes
00:14
Ortiz and Johnston shares their experience in archaeological digs
04:19
What can we learn from archeology?
07:41
How does archeology inform one’s interpretation of the Biblical text?
10:08
How does archeology relate to the plausibility of the Biblical narrative?
14:18
What happens on an archaeological dig?
17:33
Stories from archaeological digs and discoveries in Israel
24:00
The importance of cataloguing artifacts
27:21
The importance of volunteer crews in the Middle East
29:37
Archaeology in the media
33:37
Was Noah’s Ark a round vessel?
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. And our topic for today is the Old Testament and archeology. And I have with me two guests, Steve Ortiz, from Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and Gordon Johnston, who is a professor of Old Testament here at Dallas.

And we’re going to consider how – what we call the “realia,” how the things that we find in the ground and on the Earth, and the remains of history that we dig up help us to understand what’s going on with the Bible.

And so, Steve, I’m going to ask you to begin by telling us a little bit about your background in working with archeology, and what you’ve done, what you bring to this conversation in terms of your background.
Steven Ortiz
Well, I’m currently the director of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern. We have three field projects. I’m one of the co-directors of Tel Gezer. It’s a major research project and a major Old Testament site, one of the three cities that Solomon fortified.

I’m a graduate of University of Arizona, a student of Dr. Dever, one of the big names in biblical archeology. And I’ve been going to Israel – consider myself a “dig bum” – you feed me, I’ll dig for you. So, 30 years of experience and probably over 10 sites or so that I’ve been a staff member of.
Darrell Bock
And all Old Testament sites or –
Steven Ortiz
From the modern period, as you know, a New Testament site sits on top of an Old Testament site. So, even an Old Testament archaeologist has to go through modern history, has to –
Darrell Bock
Work their way down.
Steven Ortiz
I apologize for the New Testament scholar to consider modern history the last –
Darrell Bock
We’ll get by Jesus and go back to the Old Testament. I know how that works; so, that’s great.

And, Gordon, what about your own experience in this area?
Gordon Johnston
Well, Steve majors in archeology and minors in the Bible. I major in the Bible and minor in archeology. My training is in Hebrew and ancient Eastern languages texts, ancient Eastern history. And I got involved in archeology about 15 years ago, 20 years ago, in terms of participating in digs. So, I’ve been on about a half-a-dozen digs just as a slave labor –
Steven Ortiz
We like slaves, yes.
Gordon Johnston
– and then as square supervisors. So, my area is in terms of trying to keep my ear to the ground and my eye to the page in terms of what the archaeologists are discovering, and how that relates and impacts the Bible.
Darrell Bock
Okay, you used a phrase that I’ll probably have to interpret for people, and this will help us transition to how archeology works. You said you were a “square supervisor.” Now, I could listen to that and say, “Are you supervising squares?” What exactly does that mean?
Gordon Johnston
Well, and Steve could give more detail on this, when we dig, we’re not just digging down holes to try to find something. You plot out a five meter by five meter square, and you dig down layer by layer. And so, you have people that are digging, and then you have people – square supervisors watching to make sure that things are not being destroyed too badly as we go down and then records what’s being found.
Darrell Bock
’Cause you really have to be very meticulous about how you go down as you go. And so, there’s a lot of care. You don’t just take a shovel and dig down deep, right?
Steven Ortiz
Correct. And this is one of the issues with archeologeans. Even within archeology, we debate, “Is archeology a science? Is it a humanities?” And it’s both. We’re discovering history. So, historians are interested in the archeological record like Gordon is, but then there’s that aspect – the scientific aspect – where the dig itself, we have to control everything that’s coming out, taking careful measurements of the recording system.

And most field projects involve several layers of staff. And so, the square supervisor is the one that’s right there, watching everything, recording everything, and it kind of rests on their shoulders. And then you have a field archeologist controlling several square archaeologists, and then you have the director where I’m at, where we don’t do anything except give orders.
Darrell Bock
Okay, so you’ve got to give us a little bit of a taste of the field. Let’s do this in two segments. Let’s talk about archeology in general, what it can and can’t do for us, and then let’s talk about, “Okay, what is a dig like? How does that actually work?”

So, let’s talk about archeology first. You know, some people’s image of the archeologist is kind of –
Gordon Johnston
Indiana Jones.
Darrell Bock
There you go. I had to do it. I mean you knew it was coming. You know, and so, it’s this guy who wears this great hat, and it’s pretty adventurous, and he’s –
Gordon Johnston
They do wear hats – but it’s not very adventurous.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. ’Cause it’s kind of – it’s the quest for the Holy Grail and varieties of things like that. But it actually is a much more mundane process, isn’t it? And what is it that actually we can – we can and can’t learn from archeology?
Steven Ortiz
Well, that’s a loaded question. Yeah, the history of archeology has been treasure hunting. Most people’s perception of archeology is you’re going finding nice treasures. And some of that is true. We’re finding – you know, there’s some important things that help reconstruct history, but the majority of archeology – if you think what archeology does, we’re historians that look at the material culture.

So, where you gentlemen will be interested in the text, in what’s going on here, your iPad, the text, I’m interested in the actual material components of this event that’s going on here. And so, I’ll come, and I’ll study the table, the mics, the coffee cups and try to reconstruct what took place here, where a textual scholar, a biblical scholar, will look at the text itself to reconstruct what happened here.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, except the important thing here that shows the connection between the two, is that what you’re looking at is actually the physical layout of where people lived, the way in which their lives were constructed, if I can say that, what the rooms that they lived in looked like, the utensils that they used, that kind of – that’s actually what you’re finding, and that’s what’s – you’re helping to give a portrait. You’re helping to put, if I can say it, flesh on the bones of what is in a text. Is that – would that be a fair way to think about this?
Steven Ortiz
Yes. I would say more a context. We’re placing that text within its, as you said, cultural context, historical context. Most people, when they read the Bible, they think, “That’s all of history,” and they forget to realize that God’s Word occurred over a long period of time. It occurred in many cultures. And so, it just gives us that reflection of what God did and what He wanted recorded.

But as a biblical archeologist, I’m looking for all the other stuff. Like you said, the living conditions, how people lived – a lot of things that aren’t recorded in the biblical text.
Gordon Johnston
Even things like grain that you find that’s in the ground, or just little skeletons of little animals and things like that which, for most people that are interested in the Bible, would seem to be very trivial, but it helps you reconstruct the culture and the history of what was happening.
Steven Ortiz
And the life – ways of how people lived.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and we’ll come back to one of those examples, ’cause one of the topics we’re eventually gonna get to is camels – not pet camels, but camels and how they’re impacted by this. Okay, so that’s what you’re looking for.

Another impression that often comes with archeology is – and then when I’m done with this, I’m gonna ask Gordy a question, but is that – is it the Bible can be proved by archeology – and I actually think this is one of the – another place where people can sometimes be misled about what archeology is and is not able to do. How do we deal with what archeology can actually do for us, and what can it do for us?
Steven Ortiz
As I said, it gives us the context. It can prove the Bible. It can also disprove the Bible, depending – keep in mind that we find rocks, bones, pottery, and it’s that layer of interpretation, that reconstructing history where we’re all debating. Nobody’s going to argue if you found a rock, or if that’s a piece of pottery. We all agree on that. It’s the significance of all that material culture put together to reconstruct, in this case, a biblical event or highlighting a biblical book.

And one of the problems I have with students, or when I teach Sunday school, is most people have a simplistic equation. They find a verse in the Bible, and they tell me, “Okay, give me the archeology for that verse.”

And it’s like, “It doesn’t work that way.” It’s – you have the world that ancient Israel lived in. You have the recording of those events, God acting in that world, and there’s many layers to get to that level of that biblical text.

And so, today, most biblical archeologists aren’t looking for that one silver bullet that’s going to address the question. It’s like, “No, we gotta look at the whole world and reconstruct it.” And so, you need text guys looking at the texts; you need material culture guys looking at the material culture; and some, where we pull that together, and we’re able to give a picture of how the biblical text was formed in its culture. And then the theologians come along and, “How does that apply to our lives?”
Darrell Bock
So, when you say, “Prove or disprove the Bible,” what you mean is, is that archeology’s generated debates about that relationship. And actually, there’s quite a lot of both gathering the material and interpretation that comes in into those conversations. Is that right?
Steven Ortiz
That’s correct.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Okay, Gordy, now when you think about archeology and what it is able to do for us, or what it’s not able to do for us, how do you answer that question?
Gordon Johnston
Well, Steve has laid it out very clearly. What I try to help the students understand is that philosophically speaking, you can’t prove anything with 100 percent certainty at all. And so now we’re looking at, “What is a relative degree of certainty,” so, we have to have realistic expectations.

People on the far right, and far right of fundamentalism, often are trying to argue that archeology proves the Bible, and they’re just looking for the silver bullet that Steve’s talking about. On the other hand, people that tend to be more negative are looking for things to try to disprove the Bible.

But what we’re looking for is – I think the key is that we try to adopt – we need to adopt detached neutrality, that we come to the text with no expectations, not trying to prove or disprove, but just to lay it out and see where the evidence goes.
Darrell Bock
And your point is that what actually you’re digging up is you’re trying to make sense out of the life that is reflected in the materials that are raised, and then –
Gordon Johnston
And the material that you find doesn’t interpret itself. The stones don’t speak.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Gordon Johnston
And so, there’s always an interpretation, and the same way with the Bible. The Bible’s not self-interpreting. You’re always coming in and asking questions of the text. And sometimes, the archeology might point away from a traditional reading of the text. Some people might think, “Well, then it’s disproving the Bible.” It may be disproving my Sunday school reading of it.
Darrell Bock
Understanding of it, that’s right, yeah.
Gordon Johnston
And then demanding maybe a more sophisticated reading of that text.
Steven Ortiz
For example, you take Joshua’s conquest. In the old days, we’d go, “Okay, Joshua had a conquest. We should find a Pompeii.” And so, archeologists went looking for dead Canaanite bodies strewn around the Promised Land. And it’s like, “Well, warfare is a lot more complicated. When you say you conquered a site, it doesn’t necessarily mean you had death and destruction, and you’re gonna find 90 percent of a site destroyed.

We find burnt mud brick. We find abandoned cities. And we put all that together, and probably the key word, now that we deal with it – and Gordon mentioned it – is historical plausibility. We don’t look for direct proof. This isn’t like logic or science, where you add chemicals, and you determine –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I can’t recreate historical events. They happen once, whereas in science, I get to recreate the circumstances, and test whether or not something works or not.
Gordon Johnston
And we’re not trying to prove, but we’re trying to ask – the question is, “Can we make a sound case for the reliability of the text, that you can take this text seriously?” And when we talk about the Bible, it’s not gonna be able to prove the intervention of God. You can find the right stuff in the right place at the right time, but that doesn’t – archeology can’t put God there in the dirt, in the spade. And what the Bible’s proving is that God was intervening here. So, all we can ask is, “What we’re finding in the dirt, does it match, does it fit, is it the right stuff, at the right place, at the right time, with the harmonization between the Bible and archeology?”
Steven Ortiz
What has helped me is all the CSI movies. ’Cause I can go – ’cause everybody’s seen a CSI movie. And I say, “That’s what archeologists do. We find fragments of evidence, and we reconstruct. We know that an event happened. There was a crime here. There was a dead body. Who did it?”

Well, you gotta find all the pieces of evidence to reconstruct. And what they do in the courtroom is provide the best picture or reconstruction of what they think happened, based on the scientific data, on rules of evidence, and that’s what archeologists are doing. We’re taking those pieces of fragments and reconstructing it.

Now, in the case of the Old Testament, we’re saying, “Is the Old Testament account historically plausible? Here’s what we know. Does it make sense compared to the pieces of evidence we find on the ground?” And that’s where the debate happens, and a lot of times it happens in the media. And that’s where your audience will see –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, okay. Well, that gives us a feel kind of for what archeology can and something it can’t do for us. Let’s turn to the actual dig itself and what that looks like. So, I’m gonna try and picture this for people.

You walk up to a space, and you think, “Okay, this site we think may have something there.” Okay? The technical term sometimes you hear is a “tell.” So, I walk up, and I’m starting from scratch. What happens on a dig?
Steven Ortiz
Chaos, actually. No. What normally – and Gordon kind of gave the process, what –
Gordon Johnston
We start, though, with the trenches, though. The trial trench of the site.
Steven Ortiz
Yeah. What most people don’t realize is most – these “tells” that you mentioned, they’re just these mounds, an ancient city that’s been rebuilt and rebuilt. And archeologists, major projects probably only excavate about five or ten percent of that ancient city.

And so, the first you want to do is you go like, “If I only have five or ten percent, where do I want to dig?” And that’s when archeologists will set up a grid system. They do a survey based on other sites. So, you kinda go like, “Okay, probably on the acropolis is where the king lived. Maybe we want to dig some up on the acropolis. Let’s look for a low area where we think might be the city gate.”

Gordon mentioned a trench. There’s one section, kind of like a cake. You go like, “Well, let’s give a broad picture of the whole history of these cities, and somewhere we want to kind of dig this trench where kind of like you just see the layers.” Here’s an example here, the backdrop here, of the various cities.

And so, you kind of, as a director, set up five or six areas. We’re going to kind of address all these issues, and part of it’s based on your research design. I’m an Old Testament archeologist. I’m digging Gezer. Well, we have a major Hellenistic city on Gezer. I’m not interested in the Hellenistic period. But I have to be responsible, so, I’ll try to find an area that doesn’t have a lot of Hellenistic overgrowth on it. Otherwise, I’m gonna spend three years excavating a Hellenistic city.
Darrell Bock
Because you can’t get the approval just to dig down to the layer that you’re interested in. If you dig down, you have to work historically all through the layers. Isn’t that regulated to some degree?
Steven Ortiz
Because archeology is a destructive science.
Darrell Bock
Yes, exactly.
Gordon Johnston
And you can’t do it a second time. You never get a chance to look at that square or that layer a second time.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Steven Ortiz
What happens is an archeological team has many scholars involved with it. So, we’d get a Hellenistic scholar who’s interested in that city. And so, we’d say, “Okay, you’re going to publish this,” or, “Your scholarship’s gonna just be on this part of the city. I’m interested in the city down here, and so I’ll be excavating this part.”
Darrell Bock
And you’re talking about – by saying “down here,” you’re talking about, as you work through the layers, you’re actually working through the history from the more recent to the more ancient as you go lower and lower.
Steven Ortiz
Correct.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.— I have all kinds of questions I want to ask now. So, basically, you section this out, and then you very carefully, at least if you do this right, carefully and systematically work your way down a layer at a time.
Gordon Johnston
It’s like peeling a layer off a cake instead of digging holes.
Darrell Bock
You know, I have a picture – I have a picture, at Capernaum I think is where it was taken, where actually – no, it’s Caesarea Philippi – no, Caesarea Maritima, sorry; it’s Caesarea Maritima. I have a picture, and you can see the layers beautifully of clay and other things that take you down. I don’t know – I have no idea how many years I’m looking at when I look at this. It’s right on the edge of where the Hippodrome was. And it’s a fascinating picture, because it illustrates not only the layers, but really how far down you have to go to get to the more ancient site. Sometimes you’re digging quite deep.
Gordon Johnston
Some sites 15, 20, 25 different strata.
Darrell Bock
And how deep would that be? I mean how deep might that go?

Steven Ortiz: Each city’s unique and different.
Gordon Johnston
Jericho, you got all the way back to the Neolithic, which was the first time that you got –

_______ cities.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, but I’m thinking about how large – I mean I visited Jericho. I have a sense of what that would be, but we’re not talking inches here. We’re talking feet and yards, right?
Steven Ortiz
Well, you mentioned Caesarea Maritime. That’s a Roman city, Hellenistic city. They built their harbor, and it can be – five meters can just be one layer of some support structure that they built. And so, some of these sites, you have to use a bulldozer to remove that over-burden.

The example, I’m working at Gezer, I’m interested in the tenth century and the transition to statehood, the Solomonic period. I’ve been there six years, six field seasons, and I still haven’t got to Solomon yet. And people are asking me, “When you get –”

I go like, “Well, I have to remove the Hellenistic. I have to remove the eighth century. I have to –”
Darrell Bock
You’re just killing people.
Steven Ortiz
Yeah, I’m still in 2 Kings; I haven’t to – [laughs]
Gordon Johnston
A funny story, I was at a site, a number of years ago, in which we were excavating at the city gate. There was one square that had gotten down to the late Bronze Age period.
Darrell Bock
Which is?
Gordon Johnston
1550-1400.
Darrell Bock
Okay.
Gordon Johnston
It was the period that – the area that we wanted to go to.
Darrell Bock
It’s B.C. you were talking –
Gordon Johnston
B.C., that’s right. And so, we decided to open up another square right next to it that I was doing, and we all wanted to get down to that level. And we had – the dig I was on, we were doing two weeks at time. My students wanted to just dig down fast, and I said, “We’ve got to be careful, ’cause we don’t know what’s underneath the ground.” And so, I kept holding –
Darrell Bock
And I know you well enough to know that you’re going to be careful.
Gordon Johnston
Yeah, yeah. And I kept holding them back and holding them back. And then we were getting right to the level that was almost level with the square next to us. Our time was over. The next group came in, the following weekend, for two weeks, and they were telling us afterwards, “You wouldn’t believe everything we found. The very first day, stuff started coming out of the dirt.”

And, of course, my crew was mad at me. And I told, “No, you’ve got to understand. We helped them – to set that up. Otherwise we would have destroyed half of the stuff if we’d gone down too quickly.
Darrell Bock
Now, one of the things that we often hear, and I think this – taking the time to do this helps people, is that sometimes what you hear, the way sites are discovered is, is that they’re just building in the city. You know, Jerusalem, in particular, I think, is subject to this, where they’ll dig down, and as they’re digging down for the – to lay the foundation for building a building, or whatever, or constructing a highway or whatever it is, all of a sudden they come across something.

And Israel is very, very sensitive about her antiquities. And so, sometimes that can put a hold on a project. They care that much about their history. Is that –
Steven Ortiz
Oh, yes. And we do the same thing here in the United States. We don’t see it, but every time you build a new road, you have an archeological survey. The only difference is, in Israel, every piece of land has history on it.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Steven Ortiz
So, if you go add a backyard deck, you’re excavating a mosaic or something, and that’s just the nature of the site. Take the Siloam Pool. I mean this is famous; this is where Jesus healed. And they were just redoing a sewer line, and they made this big discovery just by a simple sewer line.
Darrell Bock
And in fact, if you walk there today – I think we’re talking about the same site, you can still see –
Steven Ortiz
Yes.
Darrell Bock
– see part of the sewer running through the site. They had to dig around that; I can understand why. And so, yeah, it’s interesting how you hear about this.

The one that I think about, that I’m most familiar with directly, not because I’ve ever worked on an archeological site, but because I’ve dealt with the hype that has surrounded it, was the Talpiot Tomb. That Talpiot Tomb, where supposedly the found these tombs with the name of Jesus’ family on it was big about a decade ago. But that – they were building apartments. In fact, you go there today, and the apartments are all around it.

So, they had to – and when they built the building, which is really interesting – when they ended up building the building, they ended up building it in such a way that they can preserve the contents of this site so that now, if you want to see what’s in there, you have to drop cameras in there and that kind of thing. So, it’s interesting – the effort that’s been made by people who are sensitive to this, to try and preserve these spots, if they decide not to dig in them.

But oftentimes, and this is one of the parts of the history that I think people may not be aware of is in the past, some people were just diggers. You know? They just went down and tried to go for what they were going for. And as you mentioned, archeology is a destructive science, so that once you dig it up, and you mess it up, it’s messed up.
Gordon Johnston
Well, Jericho, the early – the last occupation levels at Jericho are just a mess because the first number of digs in the late 1800s, early 1900s, they were just treasure hunting. Didn’t know – the initial dig didn’t even know what the site was, and it was just messed up. And a lot of things that we might want to see just are not available because they didn’t keep careful records; they were just digging, and the whole top layer is basically removed.
Darrell Bock
And this raises another issue that often comes up, particularly when things are announced in the public, and that has to do with it really is important to be able to try, if possible, to catalog where things come from, what is around it, that kind of thing.

And when things just show up in a shop, in an antiquities shop, and it’s undocumented, or a scholar has just handled – as with the Jesus’ wife’s text – and this is a New Testament issue, or actually post-New Testament issue, Jesus’ wife’s text, and we don’t know where it came from, anything about it, all we have is the paper and the ink, we really don’t have much context to sort out exactly what it is that we’re dealing with.
Steven Ortiz
Correct, and it’s important, as we’ve illustrated here, archeology – one of the key factors is stratigraphy, or dating it. We need that object to know what level it came from. Like the Talpiot Tombs you mentioned, these second temple, New Testament era bone coffins, it makes – we need to know if they came from outside of Jerusalem, inside the city, nearby, if they date to 30 B.C. or 30 A.D.
Gordon Johnston
The expression is in situ, where it was located in the situation and documented and photographed. If anything just shows up that was not documented in situ, archeologically speaking, it just has to be discounted because what do you do with it? And there’s a big debate about, “Where’s the trail of evidence?” But it’s unfortunate; you just don’t know what to do with it.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and you see that happening with this Jesus’ wife text because we don’t know – I mean we know it’s a Coptic text. We think we know the papyrus now has been dated to somewhere between the – it looks like the fifth and ninth century A.D. So, it’s a early Christian historical text, or fairly early. It’s actually in the normal range of where some of our manuscripts are found even for the New Testament.

But they couldn’t test the ink, because that would have destroyed the small piece that you had. And they’re just lots of things about it we don’t know. All we have are parts of eight lines. There’s no context around it. We don’t have anything introducing it. We don’t know what the debate is surrounding the affirmation that’s made. We don’t even know if, in the midst of saying that Jesus had a wife, if there’s another part of the section that says, “Oh, no He didn’t.” You know?
Gordon Johnston
This is the problem, because a lot of the sites we want to dig at, you couldn’t really dig with a credentialed excavation a couple months of the year, and those sites just lie open the rest of the year. So, people will come and rob those sites out, and they don’t understand the importance of having it documented. They’re just gonna pull something out of the ground and say, “Here, I’ve got something,” and they don’t realize that they’re really doing a disservice.
Darrell Bock
So, there’s a lot that goes into this. That’s the point. And we’ve been careful taking our time to do this, ’cause we want people to have a sense and a kind of a portrait of how this works and how complicated it can be. And it really is – there really is a lot that goes into managing a dig. You have reason to worry, don’t you?
Steven Ortiz
Yes, I do.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So, is there anything else that we should say about just the structure of archeology or the way digs work that we haven’t mentioned, that should be mentioned as we’re kind of overviewing before we look at some particulars?
Steven Ortiz
Well, one of the main things, especially within biblical archeology or archeology of the Middle East, one of the unique features of the Middle East is the volunteer program. Most digs have professional archeologists, which is very labor intensive, time consuming. But in the Middle East, they’ve used people who are just interested.

So, like a Gezer, I probably only have a staff of 20, but 40 others are volunteers, students who have never dug before, but are going to the Holy Land. And so most digs are – they’re a teaching program also. So, it’s not like we just get slave labor. It’s like students come over, and we’re just gonna use –
Darrell Bock
It’s student labor, which some people say is the same thing.
Gordon Johnston
Now, this is Steve’s – this is setting up Steve for his advertisement.
Darrell Bock
Go ahead.
Steven Ortiz
But that’s what’s unique, and people ask me – I would love to just dig with a crew of 20 experienced archeologists. Like Gordon gave the example, he had students on a dig. He had to fight them to dig properly. It’s like, “No, no, this is proper archeology. I know you would love to get there, but you have to document it first.
Gordon Johnston
And ironically, the young men, the young college students that are men are usually the ones you have to pull back most, because they’ve got this testosterone raging, and they want to dig down fast. It’s actually the girls that are easier to manage, because they’ll listen to you, and they’ll go slow.
Darrell Bock
I’m not going there.
Steven Ortiz
But that’s one major component of Near Eastern digs, that study component, and it’s unique. And many people that will be listening to this podcast have probably gone on a dig, or are thinking of going on a dig. So, that’s what’s one thing unique.
Darrell Bock
So, if you go, you’re going for a few weeks at a time, and you’re working all day in the heat, and it’s not glamorous. It really is a lot of work, isn’t it?
Steven Ortiz
Yes.
Darrell Bock
So, be prepared, if you’re going to spend your money for your vacation that way, that’s what it involves. Now, so, do you go every summer basically?
Steven Ortiz
Yes, I do.
Darrell Bock
And you’ve been several times in the last several years.
Gordon Johnston
I’ve been a number of times.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, m-kay. All right. Well, that’s kind of our overview. So, let’s transition, and let’s talk about some specific finds. In particular what we’re interested in here is dealing with the hype that comes with archeology a lot of times. And we’re seeing this in New Testament studies as well. So, this is not a problem that’s unique to the Old Testament. And I’m gonna make an observation, and I just want to get your reaction to it.

There was a time in which the way this worked is, you did your dig. You wrote up your study. You had it vetted by people who were – who knew what they were looking at. It was presented to the public in a very scholarly and organized kinda way, and there’s a lot of study that still is done that way.

But it strikes me that in the last 20 to 25 years – I don’t know how much longer this has been – but that we’ve had a lot of things happen that don’t work that way. That basically a scholar has gotten a hold of a site; he’s gotten – or he’s gotten a hold of an artifact, maybe more accurately, or a set of artifacts. And what he has done is rather than go through the normal vetting process and the normal scholarly process, he’s connected with a media organization, of one kind or another, to promote what it is that he’s doing.

He presents his case, not necessarily before scholars in a vetted kind of way, but directly to the public, and we’re off and running. You know, kinda the beginning of the Kentucky Derby, “And they’re off.” And boom, it’s in the public square, and we’re off and running. And we seem to have things backwards.
Gordon Johnston
Well, it’s not done with sinister motivation.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Gordon Johnston
Archeology is very expensive, and money has to be raised. And in many case – and even mustering interest in people being involved in it. So, part of that’s understandable. It’s a way of promoting it. But what happens is, is that sometimes the story in the press gets ahead of –
Darrell Bock
What we actually know.
Gordon Johnston
That’s right.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. So, oftentimes, when we get the hyped event, what we’ll get is the hype first, and then the reflection. And really, we don’t know what we have until we’ve gone through that entire process. Is that a fair way to kind of describe what sometimes is happening today?
Steven Ortiz
Yeah, and you have both. I put out a press release every season, and I hope that Fox News will pick it up, and it’ll hit the – it’ll make me famous, and people want to give money to the dig. But I put a responsible press release out. I don’t sensationalize it.

I’m tempted to say, “Jesus walked on the site,” just to –
Steven Ortiz
– what I know. But that is not historically accurate. And so, I don’t fault the archeologist for doing something –
Darrell Bock
Doing some promotion like that, yeah.
Gordon Johnston
The problem is that when the press, that they’re often not as nuanced. And when an archeologist will say “might,” or, “could,” the press doesn’t – is not sensitive, and they –
Darrell Bock
They don’t parse sentences.
Gordon Johnston
That’s right, and it gets written up as “it was.” And so, they don’t always understand the nuances, and sometimes it gets overplayed that way.
Steven Ortiz
And there’s some scholars that – like you said, it’s like, “You know what? This is so sensational. I should vet it with other colleagues. This changes history. Was Jesus really buried south of Jerusalem? Is that where his family was when the texts talk about him being from Galilee?” This is so sensational, you should present it with –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, would their family tomb even be in Jerusalem?
Steven Ortiz
And would it be a wealthy tomb? We know he came from a poor family. So, there’s a lot of questions where this should be presented to the scholarly community for them to vet and say, “You’ve –” like the CSI situation, “We’ve heard your case. We think you have the evidence. You’ve presented it. This is – publish this.”
Darrell Bock
Okay, well, let’s go through some examples that are recent that have made the public square. They’ve hit the Richter scale, if I can say it that way. And I think of two, in particular, to start off with – two particular finds that really hit the press the beginning of this year, 2014. And one of them had to do with the discovery of a text that described – I think it was Babylonia, if I’m not mistaken, or actually it was ancient – more ancient than that.
Gordon Johnston
Sumerian.
Darrell Bock
Sumerian, yeah. But it describes the ark as a kind of circle. Now, I’m just a few weeks away from having seen Noah, the movie, so I know, according to Hollywood, that that ark wasn’t round. Okay? The ark that rode in the flood. And, of course, we have several issues here. We have the traditions about the flood that go outside of Israel, and then we have the texts that describe the particulars of that event, which is a widespread tradition across many cultures.

And then we have this particular find. And so, we heard, in the press, all kinds of things being argued about the significance of what this meant. So, I’m gonna – I think I’m gonna start here, because here we’re dealing with the contents of what was found and what’s described as debated. It’s where it fits that gets debated.

So, here I’m turning to the historian amongst us and say, “Okay, so what should I do with this when I hear this?”
Gordon Johnston
Right, well, my first reaction –
Steven Ortiz
And I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I’m not gonna listen.
Gordon Johnston
So, my first reaction, and it was a student that sent me the link initially about this ark – round ark text, I was happy that it was a University of Chicago professor that was talking about this rather than just some hack off the street. But I’m always gonna want to wait until the dust settles.

I never want to just respond knee jerk to a press release, but give it a couple of years, see what everybody says. And especially people that are specialists in the area. Not people, for example, with my level of training. I’m a Bible person first and archeology just by hobby, if you will. Not for us to weigh on, but to wait for the people – the specialists to weigh on.

Now, as far as this text, when you said, “the ark,” the text tells us, The ark is round.” Well, we have to understand how this fits with all ancient Near-Eastern texts about the flood. You’ve got going all the way back to Eridu as the first ancient, Near-Eastern flood text – mmm, 2600-2800 B.C. You’ve got Gilgamesh Epic talks about –
Darrell Bock
The most famous one.
Gordon Johnston
The most famous one. You’ve got Atra-Hasis, which is from about 1600 B.C., and they all seem to be reflecting the same basic ancient Near-Eastern flood account, but the size of the ark grows as time goes on. The length of the time that the waters came down grows. Gilgamesh Epic, you’ve got a seven-story boat. Okay?
Darrell Bock
Oh, it was a luxury liner.
Gordon Johnston
It’s a luxury liner.
Gordon Johnston
A luxury liner, and yet it was built from him – Gilgamesh – I mean the push team tearing down his reed hut. So, the size –
Darrell Bock
Some reed hut.
Gordon Johnston
Yeah, some reed hut. Well, it was seven floors. So, the size – the legends in the ancient Near-East, the tradition keeps morphing. So, if we’ve got one that says it was round, okay, then this is how that tradition went in that text. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the original boat was round any more than it was seven stories high.
Darrell L. Bock
Darrell L. Bock Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 30 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
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