Tennyson tells us that King Arthur established the order of the Round Table. A table without a head or foot, where all were equal in their commitment to justice for all and might was for right. His dream drew knights from all over England and Europe and the effects of it were felt all over the land so that women could walk out in the evening alone without worry, doors were left unlocked,  the roads were cleared of robbers and tyrants were overthrown.
But just when things were flourishing, the greatest knight of them all, Lancelot, set his eye on the king’s wife, Guinevere and she on him. The wickedness became known and Lancelot rode away only to return when he heard that the knights had demanded that Guinevere be tried for treason. She was tried and condemned to death but Lancelot came and rescued her and carried her off to France where she entered a convent. The knights and Arthur raged and for a while there was nothing but inflamed pride and vengeance in their hearts and so they sailed to France, to make war against Lancelot and his forces.
Arthur is broken-hearted and dispirited. The dream had failed, the purpose had died. The great sin of Guinevere and Lancelot had also exposed the underlying sin of all of them when violence, vengeance and bitterness reigned and offended pride had proved stronger than brotherhood and forgiveness.
In the musical adaptation the king is putting on his armor in the dawn of the day of battle when he hears a rustling in the bush; it was a boy about twelve who had stowed away on one of the ships—to kill the enemy and be a knight, he said. Arthur wanted to know why he would want to be part of an extinct fellowship. Had he ever met a knight, was his father a knight or had his mother been rescued by a knight? The answer to all these questions was no, so what did he know of knights? Only the stories he had heard, the boy said, and when the king asked him what stories, he spoke of justice for all, the round table and might used in the service of right. As the boy spoke the astonished king was mouthing the words with him.
Stories! The story of the dream had kept the dream alive. The stories of righteousness and justice for all kept the vision alive in the heart of a boy who’d never even seen a knight. The deeply depressed and weary king gained new heart and energy and knights the boy Sir Tom of Warwick with a commission to go home and grow old telling the story of the meaning of Camelot. Part of his instruction was this:
Every evening from December to December
Before you fall asleep upon your cot
Think back on all the tales that you remember
Of Camelot.
Ask everyone if he has heard the story
And tell it loud and clear if he has not
Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one bright shining moment
That was known as Camelot.
At that moment an aide comes to remind the king that they have a battle to fight and win but the king, all smiles and optimism, assures his companion that their victory already stands before them in the heart of a boy who cherishes the story and what it means; a boy who will tell it everywhere he goes. What happens at the approaching battle is now irrelevant.
The massive truth on which all great fiction is built is that God’s great purpose for the human family was and is accomplished in and through Jesus Christ and that it is God’s wisdom by the foolishness of a preached message—a Story—to redeem the world (1 Corinthians 1:21). The victory has already been won and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Church’s mission is to learn and love and be shaped by that message about God’s dream and purpose that cannot finally be thwarted and keep that Story alive in each new generation.
Truths associated with the Gospel must be taken seriously, congregational structures must be taken seriously so that assemblies (God meant them to exist!) can function as assemblies that are how the living Lord Jesus is made concrete and visible in societies (these are Jesus Christ making Himself present in congregational form—Romans 16:16). But undergirding all these and others, the foundation on which all these and more are built are the breathtaking truths about God, His incarnation in and as Jesus of Nazareth as He has come to redeem and bring a new humanity to glory—a glory He eternally purposed. These are central to the Gospel of God (Romans 1.1 and elsewhere) People are not brought to salvation in Jesus Christ by a correct understanding of the “qualifications” of deacons or anything of that order, though we must pay attention to these things.
In ultimate truth, the world isn’t saved by science or philosophy or political reform or a correct understanding of all the ways believers are to respond to God however needful these are and no matter how true it is that these are instruments of God at His pleasure. The human family is saved and all things in heaven and on earth are reconciled to God and find their ultimate state of blessing in Him about whom the Story is told.
And the victory over the world is gained in the name of Jesus Christ through those who cherish the Story and will not let it be forgot (1 John 5:4-5).
Preachers and teachers and the entire church of God (the “fullness of Christ”) have a commission and a destiny—to tell and live out the Story about GOD and consequently about us!
(Holy Father, draw us to believe that the war against the Enemy has truly been won. Win us to believe, even if we don’t understand very well, that the telling of that Truth is the way you have chosen to save this world. Convict our schools, preachers and teachers that to know you and your Holy Son is eternal life. Fill our pulpits and classrooms with those who do more than pursue truths here and there but who are rich in and fervent to teach nothing other that Jesus Christ, crucified and raised. Give us teachers who glory in nothing but the cross and what it means in light of the One who slew the world there. Get them to give us something to tell! Fill and thrill your People with that cosmic good news, for the poor oppressed world’s sake, for our own sake that we might leave here and come to you not unhappy servants, and for your own dear sake who merits all our happy admiration and worship. This prayer in His name.)

The Case of Eutychus By Wayne Jackson


The Case of Eutychus

By Wayne Jackson

As Paul was concluding his third missionary campaign, he, along with eight traveling companions, came to Troas on the western coast of provincial Asia.  Here they waited for seven days, finally meeting with the saints of that city on Sunday.  It may have been early evening when the assembly convened.  At some point the brethren ate the Lord’s Supper, meditating upon the Savior’s death.  Also, the great apostle discoursed to the brethren at length, prolonging his presentation till midnight. Luke, who was in the company, vividly described the scene.  He says there were many “lights” (lampas, an oil-burning vessel) where they met in a room that was on the third floor.  Some have questioned the relevance of this allusion to “lights,” suggesting that it is much too trivial to be worthy of a document that professes to be inspired of God.  In response, however, we may observe: 1) This may provide background information for what follows, i.e., the sleep of the youth who fell and was killed (the fumes perhaps generating drowsiness); 2) It may serve to inoculate against the false charge, later cited by Tertullian (Apology c.8), that the early Christians met in darkness where they practiced strange rituals.
As Paul extended his speech, a young (neanias – signifying between the ages of approximately twenty-four to forty – Arndt, 536) man named Eutychus was borne down with “deep sleep.”  Suddenly, he fell from the window to the ground below.  The Christians rushed down, doubtless to render assistance, but alas, the lad was dead.
Or was he?  Some appear to be not so sure.  The late William Barclay, who served as Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow, says that when the crowd ran down the stairs, they “found the lad senseless,” but Paul calmed them, asserting that his life was “yet” in him (163).  Note the “yet”; it hints that the young man did not actually die.  The late F.F. Bruce, of the University of Manchester, in one of his books, wrote the following:
Luke remembered the occasion vividly because a young man of the community in Troas, Eutychus by name, was overcome by sleep while Paul was talking and fell down from the third-floor window-ledge where he had been sitting.  He was knocked unconscious by the fall and his friends feared that he was dead, but Paul hurried downstairs and embraced him (perhaps applying some form of artificial respiration) and assured the others, to their great relief, that Eutychus was still alive (p. 340).
Richard Oster is a Bible professor at Harding Graduate School in Memphis, Tennessee.  In his work on the latter portion of the book of Acts, Oster describes the fall suffered by Eutychus, and then adds his editorial comment:  “. . . if the youth was in fact dead.”  He subsequently mentions that there was a delay caused by Eutychus’ “injury” (108). The comments above either explicitly state, or strongly imply, that Eutychus did not die at all; he merely was injured.  It likely will remain a mystery as to why some writers feel so disposed to surgically remove certain miraculous elements from the New Testament, or at least to cast doubt on them.  The following observations are quite in order.
(1) Luke, a physician (Colossians 4:14) on the scene, unequivocally says that Eutychus was “dead” (9).  Was he not, as an eye-witness, in a better position to judge the matter than a modern commentator, some nineteen centuries removed from the event?
(2) When Paul addressed the situation, he simply said:  “His life is in him.”  He did not say:  “His life is still in him,” or “His life is yet in him.”  To add those words to the sacred text manifests a tampering with the Word of God.
(3) Luke later comments that Eutychus was brought “alive” (12).  One usage of this term is to describe “dead persons who return to life become alive again” (Arndt, 336; cf. Matthew 9:18; Mark 16:11; Acts 9:41, etc.).  If the lad had merely been injured, why stress that he was “brought alive”?  To merely mention that the youth was brought again to the assembly would have been entirely sufficient.  Weren’t they all alive who returned to the upper room?  What was special about this youth?  He had been dead!
(4) When Paul was stoned at Lystra on his first missionary journey, Luke records that the apostle was dragged out of the city.  He adds that the Jews were “supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19).  The point is this.  Had Luke wanted to present the idea that the saints in Troas merely “supposed” that Eutychus was dead, when in fact he was only injured, he certainly was capable of expressing that concept, as he did in chapter 14.  But that is not what he wrote in chapter 20.
The resurrection of Eutychus brought “comfort” to the saints in Troas for two reasons:  1) It authenticated their religion as genuine.  Only god can effect a resurrection.  2) It demonstrated that the grave is not the end of human existence.  The Creator is able to bring life out of death.
Arndt, William & Gingrich, F.W. (1967), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago).
Barclay, William (1955), The Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press).
Bruce, F.F. (1977), Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Oster, Richard (1979), The Acts of the Apostles, Part II, (Austin: Sweet Publishing Company).

"THE BOOK OF ACTS" Journeys In Macedonia And Greece (20:1-6) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE BOOK OF ACTS"

                Journeys In Macedonia And Greece (20:1-6)


1. The turmoil over Paul in Ephesus provided an opportune time for him to leave...
   a. He had made plans to go to Macedonia, Achaia, Jerusalem, Rome - Ac 19:21
   b. He had sent Timothy to Macedonia and on to Corinth - Ac 19:22; 1Co 4:17
   c. He had also sent Titus and another brother to Corinth 
       - 2Co 8:6, 16-19; 12:17-18

2. And so Paul left Ephesus and headed toward Macedonia...
   a. After embracing (encouraging, ESV) the disciples at Ephesus - Ac 20:1
   b. At Troas (still in Asia Minor), he found an "open door" to preach 
      the gospel - 2Co 2:12
   c. But not finding Titus, Paul continued on toward Macedonia - 2Co 12:13

[With anxiety over the condition of the church at Corinth, Paul continued
on his journeys to Macedonia and Greece.  Luke records very little of 
this part of Paul's travels, but by harmonizing what Luke wrote with what
Paul wrote in his epistles, we can glean the following regarding...]


      1. Paul preached throughout Macedonia (northern Greece) - Ac 20:2
         a. He had preached in Macedonia on his second journey 
              - Ac  16:11-17:15
         b. When he had established churches in Philippi, Thessalonica,
            and Berea
         c. On this trip he may have ventured to Illyricum - cf. Ro 15:19
      2. Paul found Titus with comforting news from Corinth - 2Co 7:5-7, 13-16
      3. The Macedonian brethren gave generously for the relief of saints
         in Jerusalem - 2Co 8:1-5
      4. Timothy returned to Paul, and joined him in writing 2nd Corinthians - 2Co 1:1
      5. Titus and "two brethren" are sent to Corinth - 2Co 8:16-24
         a. Likely taking Second Corinthians
         b. To assist the Corinthians concerning the collection 
             - 2Co 8:6-8; 9:1-5

   B. GREECE...
      1. Paul spent just three months - Ac 20:2-3
      2. This was his third visit to Corinth - 2Co 12:14
         a. A visit he hoped would not be sorrowful - 2Co 2:1
         b. A visit he hoped would not be embarrassing for them 
             - 2Co 9:3-4
         c. A visit he hoped would not require stern judgment 
             - 2Co 12:20-21; 13:1-3
      3. Paul wrote Romans (about 57 A.D.) from Corinth 
          - Ro 16:23; cf. 1Co 1:14; 2Ti 4:20
      4. Paul's acquaintances and companions while in Corinth
         a. Phoebe, servant of the church in nearby Cenchrea - Ro 16:1-2
         b. Timothy, Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, Paul's countrymen - Ro 16:21
         c. Tertius, writer for Paul - Ro 16:22
         d. Gaius, host of Paul and the church - Ro 16:23
         e. Erastus, treasurer of the city, and Quartus, a brother - Ro 16:23
      5. Paul's plans for when he leaves Corinth
         a. To visit Rome and eventually Spain - Ro 1:8-13; 15:22-24
         b. But first he must go to Jerusalem with the contribution for 
            the needy saints - Ro 15:25-29

      1. Paul's plan to sail straight to Syria was spoiled by a plot
         against him - Ac 20:3
      2. Paul decided to go through Macedonia to Asia - Ac 20:3
      3. Seven travelling companions went on to wait for Paul at Troas - Ac 20:4-5
      4. We will review the seven companions shortly (see below)

      1. At Philippi, Luke evidently joins Paul - Ac 20:5 (note the use of "we")
      2. We last read of Luke with Paul at Philippi on the second journey - Ac 16:11-16
         3. Paul and Luke sailed from Philippi after the Days of
            Unleavened Bread (Passover) - Ac 20:6

[In five days, they arrived at Troas where they stayed seven days (Ac
20:6).  There they rejoined their other traveling companions (Ac 20:4),
at whom we shall now take a closer look...]


      1. Sopater of Berea
         a. A member of the church in Berea - Ac 20:4; cf. Ac 17:10-15
         b. One of those who were more noble-minded? - Ac 17:11
         c. Possibly the same man as Sosipater - Ro 16:21
      2. Aristarchus of Thessalonica
         a. A member of the church in Thessalonica 
             - Ac 20:4; cf. Ac 17:1-4; 1Th 1:1; 2Th 1:1
         b. Who was taken into the theater in the Diana incident at Ephesus - Ac 19:29
         c. Who travelled with Paul and Luke to Rome - Ac 27:2
         d. Described as a "fellow prisoner" with Paul in Rome - Col 4:10
         e. Described also as a "fellow laborer" with Paul in Rome - Phm 23   
      3. Secundus of Thessalonica
         a. A member of the church in Thessalonica 
             - Ac 20:4; cf. Ac 17:1-4; 1Th 1:1; 2Th 1:1
         b. His name means "second"; little more is known of him 
      4. Gaius of Derbe
         a. A member of the church in Derbe - Ac 20:4; cf. Ac 14:20-21
         b. Other men named Gaius in the scriptures
            1) Gaius of Macedonia, who with Aristarchus were taken into
               the theater at Ephesus - Ac 19:29
            2) Gaius of Corinth, Paul's convert and host of the church 
               - 1Co 1:14; Ro 16:23
            3) Gaius the beloved recipient of John's 3rd epistle - 3Jn 1
      5. Timothy of Lystra
         a. The young disciple at Lystra personally selected by Paul - Ac 16:1-4
         b. Who fulfilled special and often dangerous missions for Paul 
            - Ac 17:13-14; 1Th 3:1-8; Ac 19:22; 1Co 4:17; Php 2:19; 1Ti 1:3-4,18-19
         c. A true fellow-laborer in the gospel, none other like-minded 
            as Paul - Php 2:19-22
         d. Co-authored with Paul in writing six epistles - 2Co, Php,
            Co, 1Th, 2Th, Phile
         e. Recipient of two epistles from Paul - 1Ti, 2Ti
         f. As Paul faced death, he asked Timothy to come (which involved risk)
           - 2Ti 4:9 
         g. Timothy himself was imprisoned at some point, but later released - He 13:23
      6. Tychicus of Asia
         a. A Christian from Asia Minor (western Turkey) - Ac 20:4
         b. Sent with the letter to the Ephesians, a beloved brother and
            faithful minister - Ep 6:21
         c. Carried the letter to the Colossians, together with Onesimus - Col 4:7-9
         d. Sent to Ephesus on another occasion - 2Ti 4:12
         e. And possibly to Crete on another occasion - Tit 3:12
         f. Tradition holds that he died a martyr - Holman Bible Dictionary
      7. Trophimus of Asia
         a. A Christian from Asia Minor (western Turkey) - Ac 20:4
         b. From Ephesus, falsely accused as taken by Paul into the temple - Ac 21:29
         c. Left sick in Miletus toward the end of Paul's life - 2Ti 4:20
      8. Luke of Philippi
         a. The author of the gospel of Luke and Acts - Lk 1:1-4; Ac 1:1-3
         b. Who joined Paul on his second journey at Troas - Ac 16:11
         c. Then remained at Philippi when Paul when on to Thessalonica 
            - Ac 16:15; 17:1
         d. Now to rejoin Paul as he passed through Philippi on his third
            journey - Ac 20:5-6
         e. From the use of personal pronouns ("we", "us"), we learn that
            Luke accompanied Paul from this point forward until Paul's 
            arrival in Rome - Ac 28:16

      1. In discussing the collection for the saints, Paul mentioned it 
         would be taken by representatives from the churches - 1Co 16:1-4
      2. The intention was to do things honorable in the sight of all men - 2Co 8:18-21
      3. It is most likely that the traveling companions were 
         representatives of the churches they were from in regards to the
         collection for the needy saints in Jerusalem - cf. Ro 15:25-26

      1. That the spread of the gospel in first century was a team effort
         a. Not just the "first string" like the apostles
         b. But many others we might call "God's second string"
      2. Many others served at great personal expense and sacrifice
         a. As emissaries of the apostles, bearing their letters
         b. Whose lives were often in grave danger
         c. Who suffered imprisonment themselves, and sometimes martyrdom
      3. The extra effort to do things honorable in the sight of all men
         - cf. 2Co 8:18-21
         a. Transparent in their dealings involving money
         b. Making sure that they were beyond reproach


1. A quick reading of Paul's journeys in Macedonia and Greece may not
   seem to reveal much at first...

2. But when harmonized with what is recorded elsewhere in the Scriptures...
   a. We can learn more about what happened during this portion of Paul's
      third journey
   b. We can be inspired by what we know about those who travelled with Paul

For seven days Paul and his traveling companions stayed in Troas 
(Ac 20:6).  What happened before they left will be the focus of our next two studies... 
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2013

"THE BOOK OF ACTS" Paul's Ministry At Ephesus (19:1-41) by Mark Copeland

                          "THE BOOK OF ACTS"

                 Paul's Ministry At Ephesus (19:1-41)


1. Paul's third missionary journey began in Antioch of Syria...
   a. Where he started all three journeys - Ac 13:1-3; 15:36-41
   b. As with his second journey, it began by visiting churches 
      established on his first missionary journey - Ac 15:41; 16:1-5;18:22-23 

2. The first major stop on Paul's third journey with the city of Ephesus...
   a. Where he had briefly stopped on his second journey - Ac 18:19-20
   b. Where he had promised to return, God willing - Ac 18:21  

[Paul's stay at Ephesus on his third journey proved to the longest of
any recorded by Luke.  It lasted about three years (52-55 A.D., ESV
Study Bible), and was a very productive ministry by Paul...]


      1. Who needed to be baptized again (see previous lesson) - Ac 19:1-5
      2. Who received the Spirit, spoke in tongues and prophesied, after
         Paul laid his hands on them - Ac 19:6-7

      1. As was Paul's custom when allowed - Ac 17:2; 18:4
      2. This Paul did at Ephesus for three months - Ac 19:8
      3. This was longer than at other places 
          - cf. Ac 13:42-45; 14:1-2;17:1-10,11-15; 18:4-6

      1. As happened elsewhere, Paul was forced to leave the synagogue 
         - Ac 19:9; cf. Ac 18:4-6
      2. He then taught in the school of Tyrannus for two years 
          - Ac 19:9-10; cf. Ac 18:7
      3. During this time, all in Asia (western Turkey) heard the word of
         the Lord - Ac 19:10
      4. Probably through the aid of men like Epaphras - Col 1:7; 4:12-13

      1. Involving handkerchiefs or aprons from his body to heal others - Ac 19:11-12
      2. Prompting Jewish exorcists to try and use Jesus' and Paul's
         names - Ac 19:13-16
      3. The evident contrast between true and false miracle workers led
         many to believe - Ac 19:17
      4. Those who believed were willing to confess and repent at great
         cost - Ac 19:18-19
      5. Thus the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed - Ac 19:20

      1. Toward the end of his ministry, as Paul began making plans to 
         leave - Ac 19:21-22
         a. Purposing in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia
            - cf. Ac 20:1-5
         b. Then returning to Jerusalem, followed by a trip to Rome - cf.
            Ac 20:5-21:17; 27:1-28:16
         c. In preparation for his departure, he sent Timothy and Erastus
            to Macedonia - Ac 19:22
      2. The Diana incident - Ac 19:23-41
         a. A great commotion, brought on by Demetrius and other 
            silversmiths - Ac 19:23-28
         b. In which a mob takes two of Paul's companions, Gaius and
            Aristarchus - Ac 19:29
         c. Paul was restrained by officials from Asia from addressing 
            the mob - Ac 19:30-31
         d. The Jews put forth Alexander, which further enraged the mob
            - Ac 19:32-34
         e. The riot was barely controlled by the city clerk, who 
            exonerated Paul's companions - Ac 19:35-41

[Paul soon left Ephesus and went on to Macedonia as planned (Ac 20:1). 
Luke's account of Paul's ministry in Ephesus records great success (Ac
19:10,20).  But we can glean even more about his time in Ephesus from
other New Testament sources...]


      1. Paul made a short visit to Corinth, his second - cf. 2Co 12:14; 13:1
      2. His first visit was during the second journey - Ac 18:1
      3. His third visit was later on the third journey - Ac 20:1-3
      4. The book of Acts is silent about this second visit, but most
         place it sometime during his stay at Ephesus

      1. A letter to the Corinthians (now lost), only alluded to - 1Co 5:9
      2. Another letter what we now know as First Corinthians - 1Co 16:5-8,19

      1. Timothy
         a. Sent from Ephesus to Macedonia - Ac 19:22
         b. Who would arrive after First Corinthians - 1Co 4:17; 16:10-11
      2. Titus and "a brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout 
         all the churches" (Luke?)
         a. To encourage the Corinthians concerning the collection - 2Co 8:6,16-19
         b. To bring Paul word as to how the Corinthians received the first letter? 
             - 2Co 12:17-18
         c. Whose delayed return would later give Paul concern - 2Co 2:12-13
         d. But who would eventually bring Paul good news - 2Co 7:5-7, 13-16

      1. Sosthenes was there, joining Paul in writing to the Corinthians - 1Co 1:1
      2. Paul had been visited by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus  1Co 16:17
      3. Aquila and Priscilla hosted the church in their house - 1Co 16:19
      4. Paul's sufferings while at Ephesus - Ac 20:17-19; 1Co 15:30-32;2Co 1:8-11
      5. Paul's preaching while at Ephesus - Ac 20:21-21,25-27,31
      6. Paul's manual labor while at Ephesus - Ac 20:33-35; 1Co 4:11,12


1. Harmonizing Luke's account with what is written elsewhere, we learn that...
   a. The gospel spread throughout Asia (SW Turkey) - Ac 19:10,20
   b. Paul's three years in Ephesus was very productive - Ac 20:17-21,31
   c. His influence spread even further through epistles and emissaries

2. Reflecting on Paul's ministry in Ephesus, we glean many things, including...
   a. The importance of scriptural baptism - Ac 19:1-7
   b. The power of the gospel to transform lives - Ac 19:18-20
   c. The resistance of many who put money and tradition above the will
      of God - Ac 19:23-34

May Paul's example of faithful ministry in Ephesus encourage and inspire
us to be faithful in our own service to the Lord...!
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2013

What is the Jewish Talmud? by Alden Bass


What is the Jewish Talmud?

by  Alden Bass

“Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—’then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, teaching as doctrine the traditions of men’ ” (Matthew 15:3-9).
In interpreting the Law of Moses, the Pharisees overstepped their bounds by inserting the traditions of their fathers in place of God’s holy law, and were summarily condemned by the Lord for their actions. Though Jesus preached against this Pharisaical traditionalism throughout His earthly ministry, the Judaism practiced today is based almost exclusively upon it. What Jesus called the “traditions of men” is now known as “rabbinicalism,” and is grounded firmly in the extrabiblical writings of the Talmud.
The Jews believe that two laws were given to Moses—the written and the oral. Both were given to Moses by God at Sinai: the written was engraved on stone tablets, and penned by Moses shortly before his death (Deuteronomy 31:9-13), while the oral was revealed in the conversation between God and the great Lawgiver on the mountain. This second body of law was passed from Moses to Joshua, from Joshua to the Israelite elders, and then from generation to generation as the ages passed. Each generation of teachers “expanded” on this law, which eventually became quite extensive, and added much unnecessary legislation to God’s already adequate laws. It was this orally transmitted law that was advanced and defended by many of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day (Matthew 15:1-2), and then used in their attempts to restrict Him from certain activities on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). The Jews found justification for the oral law in Exodus 20:1 (“And God spoke all these words…”), although this interpretation of the passage is contrived at best.
After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Bar-Kokhba rebellion in the first century A.D., the rabbis who were familiar with the oral law were few in number, and it was feared that there would not be enough Jews left to pass on the great traditions. To remedy this potential problem, Rabbi Judah the Prince set out to organize and record the oral law into a formal body of written law in A.D. 166 (Telushkin, 1991). The oral law, now called the Mishna, was methodically organized. Formerly, if a question arose about the Sabbath, a search would be made in all five books of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), and scattered references would be collected. This was time-consuming and impractical during the time when books were rare, and so Rabbi Judah organized and grouped all related passages into topical sections, along with the interpretations, opinions, and precedents that characterized the oral traditions. Thus the Mishnah, the codified oral law, consists of 63 “tractates” relating to every aspect of Jewish life.
To illustrate the differences in the two types of law, contrast these passages from the Torah and the Mishna. The Torah declares: “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.” This was practiced in a literal fashion for centuries (with the Jews probably sitting around in the cold and dark from Friday night until Saturday evening), until the scribes and Pharisees came along with their new interpretation. These learned men declared that it was acceptable to have lights on the Sabbath, so long as they were kindled before the Sabbath began, and not touched until after the Sabbath ended. This interpretation led to all sorts of little regulations to guard people from accidentally touching the lamp on the Sabbath. One of these was the Mishna regulation “one shall not read by the lamplight”—the reason being, if one were reading by the lamp, one might be tempted to adjust the light, and thereby violate the original commandment (see Browne, 1933, pp. 181ff.).
As the Jewish teachers continued to study and debate the fine points of the Mishna, a body of scholarly commentary grew, which subsequently was called the Gemara. This commentary was combined with the Mishna, and referred to as the Talmud. There are two works that fall under this appellation, labeled by their place of origin: the Babylonian Talmud, and the Jerusalem Talmud. The latter is less intact, and was completed c. A.D. 350, while the former and more respected of the two was completed c. A.D. 550. Today, only one manuscript survives: the Munish manuscript of 1342. These books are of tremendous size, comprising about 6,000 pages in today’s modern print. Alfred Edersheim, noted Jewish scholar, defined the Talmud in this way:
If we imagine something combining law reports, a Rabbinical “Hansard,” and notes of a theological debating club—all thoroughly Oriental, full of digressions, anecdotes, quaint sayings, fancies, legends, and too often of what, from its profanity, superstition, and even obscenity, could scarcely be quoted, we may form some general idea of what the Talmud is (1972, p. 103).
The Talmud is intended to do more than simply restate the law; the material is meant to connect the laws to everyday life, and to give practical instruction. The Talmud presents the opinions of the scholars, and presents their debates over each topic, no matter how mundane or inane. Its purpose was to complement the Torah, but it came to supplement (if not displace) it. Note the tediousness and absurdity of the following rabbinic debate:
Rabbah [a Babylonian scholar] said [that one should not read by the lamplight] even if it be placed [far out of reach, say] the height from the ground of two men, or two stories, or even on top of ten houses, one above the other.
[That is] “one may not read.” But it does not say two may not read together, [for then one can guard the other against snuffing the wick]. Against this supposition, however, there is a tradition that “neither one nor two together” [may read].
Said Rabbi Elazar: “There is no contradiction here. The Mishna allows [two people to read together] so long as they read the same subject. But the tradition [forbids it only if] they are reading different subjects…” (Browne, 1933, pp. 182-183, emp. in orig.).
And so it goes, on and on…
Such Socratic, rambling dialogue is common in the Talmud, and many examples could be cited. Strong and McClintock remarked:
Abounding, moreover, in fantastic trifles and Rabbinical reveries, it must appear almost incredible that any sane man could exhibit such acumen and such ardor in the invention of those unintelligible comments, in those nice scrupulosities, and those ludicrous chimeras which the rabbins have solemnly published to the world… (1970, 10:168).
Underlying the Talmud is the assumption of the perfection of the Mishna, giving this book of human origin a sanctity almost equal to that of the Bible (Douglas, 1991, p. 808). This became necessary for the survival of Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, since much of the Old Law revolved around the Temple. After the House of God was destroyed and the Jews scattered, Judaism essentially had to be rewritten. Observe in this excerpt the great respect given to the traditions, compared to the law in the Talmud:
The spirit of the Talmudic process is expressed in a tale in tractate Baba Meziah. Rabbi Eliezer, a proponent of unchanging tradition—“a well-lined cistern that doesnt lose a drop,” as his teacher characterized him—was engaged in a legal disputation with his colleagues. “He brought all the reasons in the world,” but the majority would not accept his view. Said Rabbi Eliezer, “If the law is as I hold it to be, let this tree prove it,” and the tree uprooted itself a hundred amma, but they said, “Proof cannot be brought from a tree.” Rabbi Eliezer persisted, saying, “Let these waters determine it,” and the waters began to flow backwards, but his colleagues responded that waters cannot determine the law. Once again Rabbi Eliezer tried, asking the walls of the study house to support him. They began to totter, whereupon the spokesman for the majority, Rabbi Joshua, admonished them, “when rabbis are engaged in legal discussion what right have ye to interfere!” So the walls did not fall in respect for Rabbi Joshua, nor did they return to their upright position, in respect for Rabbi Eliezer-and “they remain thus to this day!” But Rabbi Eliezer would not surrender and cried out: “Let Heaven decide.” A voice was heard from Heaven saying: “Why do ye dispute with Rabbi Eliezer; the law is always as he says it to be.” Whereupon Rabbi Joshua arose and proclaimed, quoting Scripture, “It is not in Heaven!” Rabbi Jeremiah explained, “The Law was given at Sinai and we no longer give heed to heavenly voices, for in that Law it is stated: ‘One follows the majority.’ ” God’s truth, divine law, is not determined by miracles or heavenly voices, but by the collegium of rabbis, men learned in the law, committed to the law and expert in its application to the life of the pious community (“The Talmud,” 2003).
Despite the tedious legalese illustrated above, the Talmud does offer pieces of wisdom and learning. “Be thou the cursed, not he who curses.” “The soldiers fight, and the kings are called the heroes.” “The passions are not all evil, for were it not for them, no one would build a house, marry a wife, beget children, or do any work.” One third of the book consists of “clever fables and quaint legends and amusing proverbs” like those mentioned above, and is the essential source for all Jewish culture.
Today, Jews accept the Talmud in many different ways. An old joke says that if you put ten Jews in a room together you’ll get eleven different opinions on it. The Orthodox Jews basically accept the Talmud as authoritative, while the more liberal Reformed Jews reject most of the legislation. Conservatives fall somewhere in between. Nonetheless, it is accepted by all Jews as an important body of tradition and lore.
The Christian can learn a great lesson from this discussion about the dangers of adding to God’s Word. In the case of the Jews, what began as small footnotes to the Word became a body of literature all its own—a body that now possess as much authority in some minds as the written law of God. While there is always a place for scholarly examination and reference in personal Bible study, we must be careful never to accept “as doctrine the commandments of men.”
[The Talmud can be found on-line at http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm]


Edersheim, Alfred (1972), The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Browne, Lewis (1933), Stranger than Fiction (New York: Macmillan).
Douglas, J.D., ed. (1991), New 20th-Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Baker).
“The Talmud” (2003), Jewish Virtual Library [On-line], URL: http://jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/loc/Talmud.html.
Telushkin, Joseph (1991), Talmud/Mishna/Gemara [Reprinted at Jewish Virtual Library], [On-line], URL: http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/Judaism/talmud_&_mishna.html.
M’Clintock, John and James Strong (1970), Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids: Baker).

The Bible’s Buried Secrets by Dewayne Bryant, M.A.


The Bible’s Buried Secrets

by  Dewayne Bryant, M.A.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written by one of A.P.’s auxiliary staff writers. Bryant holds two Master’s degrees, and is completing Master’s study in Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology and Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, as well as doctoral studies at Amridge University. He has participated in an archaeological dig at Tell El-Borg in Egypt and holds professional membership in the American Schools of Oriental Research, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Archaeological Institute of America.]
Rarely does a scientific program spark interest in the religious community at large. NOVA, a television series noted more for winning awards than stirring controversy, has succeeded in igniting a great deal of discussion about the early origins of Israel and the Hebrew Bible with its landmark, two-hour documentary titled The Bible’s Buried Secrets. Originally airing last year, the documentary covers some of the most pressing issues in biblical archaeology, often coming to surprising and sometimes confusing conclusions.
Producer Paula Apsell said the program, which was in production for more than four years, “represents a mainstream academic perspective on the Hebrew Bible” (“A Q&A With…,” 2008). The majority of modern archaeologists do not believe the Bible is historically accurate, with many arguing that substantial portions of Scripture are legend or myth. This attitude is reflected by Duke University professor Carol Meyers, who said, “most of us start out as naïve Bible readers and take it at face value, not understanding enough or anything at all about how literature was produced in the ancient world where there was no consciousness about the construction of history as such” (NOVA: The Bible’s..., 2008).
Since modern historiography did not exist in antiquity, the prevailing attitude of some is that ancient documents must be approached with a high level of skepticism and even cynicism. This is especially true for documents that are religious in nature. In looking for the “intersection between science and Scripture,” the documentary makes some surprising claims. Unlike sensationalistic documentaries of dubious value, The Bible’s Buried Secrets affirms many biblical events and persons, although it disputes others.


Most Christians today may react with surprise upon hearing the assertion that there was no Exodus or Conquest and that the early Israelites were really native Canaanites. During the last half of the 20th century, mainstream scholarship increasingly adopted the view that ancient Israel was nothing more than Canaanites who developed a culture distinct from the surrounding environment. While documents dating to the period of the Divided Monarchy clearly show a distinct Northern and Southern Kingdom, the earliest period of Israelite history is an academic battlefield.
The single most significant find to date that bears on the earliest history of Israel is the Merneptah Stele. Discovered in 1896 by Sir Flinders Petrie, the monument was originally located in the pharaoh’s mortuary temple in western Thebes. Currently housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the stele mentions the triumph of Merneptah (1213-1203 B.C.) over nine different political groups in Canaan. In this priceless inscription, the pharaoh boasts:
The (foreign) chieftains lay prostrate, saying, “Peace.” Not one lifts his head among the Nine Bows. Libya is captured, while Hatti is pacified. Canaan is plundered, Ashkelon is carried off, and Gezer is captured. Yenoam is made into non-existence; Israel is wasted, its seed is not; and Hurru is become a widow because of Egypt. All lands united themselves in peace. Those who went about are subdued by the king of Upper and Lower Egypt…Merneptah (Hoffmeier, 2000, 2:41).
Dating to circa 1209-1208 B.C., the stele commemorates a military campaign into Canaan at a time when Egypt was still one of strongest military powers in the ancient Near East. With dramatic flair typical of Near Eastern kings, Merneptah boasts about crushing his enemies in Palestine—including Israel. Other political powers in Canaan are mentioned alongside Israel, further suggesting that it, too, is a recognizable entity. If Israel is large enough to be ranked among other established nations, it must have had a sizeable population. There would be little glory for the pharaoh to boast about defeating an obscure group of semi-nomads.
Is Israel nothing more than a group of Canaanites? The manner in which the name Israel is written is worth noting. In the inscription, a hieroglyph known as a throw-stick (used to signify foreign peoples) follows the name of Israel. This sign is followed in turn by a people determinative, a hieroglyph depicting a man and woman sitting down with three vertical strokes (indicating plurality) beneath them. This sign is used to reference a tribal or nomadic people lacking a centralized government. Combined together, these signs paint a portrait that is remarkably similar to the depiction of Israel in the books of Exodus through Judges: a foreign, nomadic, or tribally based people with no king.
The Bible’s Buried Secrets posits that a small group of Canaanite slaves may have escaped from Egypt, providing the kernel for something of a “big fish” story developed into a massive exodus by later scribes. Much of mainstream scholarship would admit this is possible. However, the evidence militates against this idea. Roughly 300 small settlements appear in the Judean highlands in the 12th-13th centuries B.C., dramatically increasing the population of the area. The documentary argues that a collapse of Canaanite city-states left a large number of “have-nots” to strike out on their own, forging a new identity. According to this view, the settlements that many archaeologists label as “Israelite” or “proto-Israelite” are simply nothing more than new Canaanite settlements. There is a great deal of difficulty harmonizing this view with the evidence.
If the settlers are simply Canaanites, why did they take it upon themselves to create a completely new cultural identity? God commanded the Israelites to maintain the difference between themselves and other peoples, including those inhabiting the land of Canaan. They were not to take foreign wives, adopt other religious customs, or make treaties with the native populations (Exodus 23:31-33; 34:12-16; Deuteronomy 7:3-6). This outsider mentality is reflected in one important piece of evidence: there appears to be a prohibition in the new Israelite settlements against pork. In these Judean villages, no pig bones are to be found, even when nearby settlements raised pigs. Kenneth Kitchen notes:
As food, pigs were popular in the Philistine-dominated area in southwest Canaan, were acceptable in the Transjordan…but were seemingly taboo in highland Canaan in the particular region that…is the habitat of earliest Israel in the narratives of Joshua/Judges. The [dietary] practices observed there…do indeed correspond to the limits set by the dietary laws of Lev. 11 (2003, p. 230, bracketed item added).
This restriction on pork is one of the most famous in the Bible (Leviticus 11:1-47; Deuteronomy 14:3-20), but it also serves as an important distinction between the population of Israelite settlements and the surrounding Canaanite culture. While the documentary argues that the Israelites were originally native Canaanites who developed a distinct ethnic identity over an extended period of time, the lack of pig bones in the archaeological record is a sharp break with the surrounding culture. One must explain why these supposed Canaanites stopped eating pork suddenly over a rather broad geographical area.
Avraham Faust of Bar-Ilan University explained in an interview: “The Israelites did not like the Canaanite system, and they defined themselves in contrast to that system” (NOVA: The Bible’s..., 2008). But this assertion goes beyond the archaeological record. It imputes motives to why the Israelites acted as they did, which cannot be located archaeologically and is only one possible interpretation of the evidence. Faust states that the Israelites had an ideology of simplicity, but this observation does not give sufficient cause for why a group of displaced Canaanites developed an identity that was distinct from their neighbors.
The Bible explains the evidence for the differences between Israel and Canaan just as easily, and more reasonably. The same evidence used to support a revolution of the Canaanite “have-nots” could apply equally to a nomadic collection of 12 ethnically and religiously distinct tribes. In contrast to other ethnic groups, Israelite settlements had no temples, palaces, elite residences, or monumental architecture. There is little attempt at artwork—which is consistent with the portrait of a nomadic people, who would not have had time for architectural and artistic pursuits. This lack of artistry matches the description of Israel in the Pentateuch and early historical books.
Some argue that there is little difference between Israelite and Canaanite material culture. The assumption is that the introduction of a new group (the Israelites) would be indicated in the archaeological record by a break in the material culture. Since such a break is not evident, it is assumed that the Israelites did not invade, and were perhaps nothing more than Canaanites. Noted archaeologist William Dever explains:
Archaeologists and anthropologists have developed a few simple, testable “rules” for recognizing when we are dealing with the immigration of new peoples into an area. (1) The new society and culture must have characteristics that are different and distinguishable, usually marked by observable discontinuities in material culture. (2) The “homeland” of the immigrant group must be known, and its culture well understood there. (3) The route by which the postulated immigration took place must be traceable, so that the actual process may be reconstructed. The infiltration/immigration model for early Israel satisfied none of these requirements (2003, p. 73).
While these “rules” are often presented as irrefutable proof against the reliability of the Bible, at least one other group in ancient history left behind little evidence of foreign occupation. Assyriologist Alan Millard points out that circa 2000 B.C. a mass movement of Amorites flooded into the Babylonian empire, taking over a number of cities and establishing their own dynasties (2008, p. 167). This is evident from a large body of written material from the period. Even after this influx of Amorites, the material culture gives no appreciable sign of change. Millard argues that the same thing could have happened with Israel. Since the Israelites were commanded to take over the material culture of Canaan (cf. Deuteronomy 6:10-11), it appears that a nearly seamless transition from the Canaanite culture to an Israelite one is easily explained.
One consideration raised by archaeologists is the introduction of the so-called “four-room house.” This particular architectural feature is so peculiar to ancient Israel that it is called the “Israelite house.” This structure is a typical home featuring a four-room floor plan. Manfred Bietak, the Austrian archaeologist who excavates at Tel el-Daba` (the ancient city of Avaris) notes that he has excavated houses bearing this very floor plan—in Egypt (2003, 29/5:41-49,82-83). If the story of the Exodus is mere fiction, then why is a structure peculiar to ancient Israel, that emerges in Canaan shortly after the time of the Exodus, also found in Egypt in the same region said to have been occupied by the Israelites in the book of Exodus?


Dever sums up the modern approach some scholars take concerning David: “Now, some scholars today have argued that there was no such thing as a united monarchy. It’s a later biblical construct, and, particularly, a construct of modern scholarship. In short, there was no David. As one of the biblical revisionists has said, ‘David is no more historical than King Arthur.’” Although Dever does not personally advocate this position, if David and his kingdom were no more historical than the fabled English king and his court at Camelot, one would expect no evidence of his existence. Yet, the program delves into an important discovery that mentions David by name.
In 1993, Gila Cook discovered a stone fragment with writing on it while working at the city of Tel Dan, whose excavation was headed by the late Israeli archaeologist Avraham Biran. Known as the Tel Dan Stele, the documentary dramatizes its discovery, but no drama could adequately capture the monumental importance of the find. Written in Aramaic, the fragment reads: “I slew mighty kings who harnessed thousands of chariots and thousands of horsemen. I killed the king of the House of David” (Millard, 2000, 2:162). The fragment alludes to no less than eight biblical kings. Although some damaged portions must be reconstructed, the stele almost certainly refers to Hazael’s defeat of Joram and Ahaziah at Ramoth Gilead (2 Kings 8:28-29).
The inscription has generated controversy between scholars who believe that David existed and skeptics who would consign the Hebrew king to the realm of myth. Despite several attempts to provide alternate translations, the simplest way to translate it is as the “House of David.” An attempt by historian Philip Davies to translate the line as the “house of uncle” or “house of kettle” was even lampooned in an issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (Freedman and Geoghegan, 1995, 21:02).
While the documentary discusses the Tel Dan Stele at length, it leaves out another source mentioning the famed Israelite monarch. The Mesha Stele, also called the Moabite Stone, mentions the “house of David” (it also mentions the “house of Yahweh”). Found in 1868 in Dhiban, Jordan, this monument commemorates the successful overthrow of Israelite power in Moab during the reign of Mesha (2 Kings 3:4-9). In the stele, Mesha mentions that for 40 years Moab had been under the thumb of Israel, beginning during the reign of the Israelite king Omri and continuing through the reign of Ahab. Moab gained its independence from the Northern Kingdom in battle, during which Mesha ritually sacrificed his own son in full view of the Israelite army.
The Moabite Stone and Tel Dan Inscription independently reflect a contemporary practice of using the formula “The House of X” when referencing other national powers. This can be seen in Assyrian sources which refer to the Northern Kingdom as the “house of Omri” (Younger, 2000, 2:270), a designation which the Assyrians used in reference to Israel for over a century. Similarly, the reference to the house of David should be interpreted as referring to the actual monarch himself.
While The Bible’s Buried Secrets handles the issue of the United Kingdom in a fairly even-handed way, there are some difficulties with the material presented. The program asserts that there is no writing or monumental building from the period and concludes, “[S]uddenly the kingdom of David and Solomon is less glorious than the Bible describes…David [is] a petty warlord ruling over a chiefdom, and his royal capital, Jerusalem, nothing more than a cow town.” Israel Finkelstein, an accomplished Israeli archaeologist who is somewhat notorious for his controversial dating methods, argues, “David and Solomon did not rule over a big territory. It was a small chiefdom, if you wish, with just a few settlements, very poor, the population was limited, there was no manpower for big conquest, and so on and so forth” (NOVA: The Bible’s..., 2008).
Nevertheless, evidence suggests that the United Monarchy was considerable. The Amarna letters of the 14th century B.C., largely composed of correspondence between the royal court under Pharaoh Akhenaten and minor rulers in Canaan, indicate that Jerusalem (called Urusallim) is already a significant city. Other cities, such as Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, have massive, six-chambered city gates bearing the same design, which Israeli archaeologist Amnon Ben-Tor takes as an indication that all three were built during the reign of Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 9:15). In an interview, he explained: “Here we have a wonderful connection of the biblical passages as it shows up in archaeology” (NOVA: The Bible’s..., 2008).
In order to determine the wealth of the kingdom, one must again turn to Egyptian sources. In circa 925, the Egyptian pharaoh Shoshenq (943-922 B.C.) invaded Palestine (1 Kings 14:25-26). His invasion is clear from a broken portion of a victory stele found at the city of Megiddo. The full name of Shoshenq (the biblical Shishak) is clearly visible on one fragment of the stele. According to the Bible, king Rehoboam of Judah bribed the invading Egyptian forces with tribute taken from the Temple and palace treasuries (1 Kings 14:25-26). Apparently satisfied, Sheshonq turned instead to other prime targets in Palestine. Shoshenq’s invasion is memorialized on the Bubastis Portal at the Karnak Temple in Thebes, where he is portrayed along with scores of cartouches bearing the names of places he looted—115 cartouches that still exist, apart from those that have been worn away over the passage of time.
Shoshenq died a year or two after the invasion. His son, Osorkon I (922-887 B.C.), ascended the Egyptian throne and donated some of the plunder to the Egyptian temples. It was customary for conquering kings to donate a portion of the loot to the temples, but the size of Osorkon’s donation sets it apart from all others. His is the single largest donation in ancient Egyptian history, comprising 383 tons of gold and silver. The question left for the skeptic is this: how did a loose confederation of poor, numerically inferior, semi-nomadic have-nots manage to stockpile such wealth? The evidence clearly argues for a kingdom that is small (in comparison to the larger empires of the Near East), but wealthy—the very portrait found in the pages of Scripture.


The Bible’s Buried Secrets argues that monotheistic religion did not simply burst upon the scene, but was rather the product of a long evolution punctuated by a devastating exile that drove the Israelites to recognize one God. According to this view, the Israelites had to find a way to explain this catastrophic event, which they believed resulted from their own failure.
The program states the commonly held idea that monotheism was purely a late Israelite invention. The proof for this claim, however, is not so convincing. It is true that an important objection to monotheism in the ancient world was the rejection of the idea that one god could manage the Universe single-handedly. The ancients believed it took hundreds, if not thousands, of gods to govern the created order—from objects as large as the Sun to much smaller items such as tools and farm implements. Religion in the ancient world was often an example of micromanagement at its finest.
The documentary reveals that thousands of small figurines depicting a female goddess have been found in Israel. While there is widespread evidence of a female consort being worshipped in addition to Yahweh, the documentary elevates the archaeological evidence over the biblical text. It is true that the discoveries of paganism suggest that many Israelites accepted polytheism in direct violation of God’s commands, but it hardly proves that they had no concept of monotheism. This is especially true when one considers that no physical representations of Yahweh have ever been uncovered, suggesting that the Israelites had some motivation for departing from the otherwise universal practice of depicting the gods. This departure from convention is easily explained by Scripture (Exodus 20:4; Deuteronomy 5:8-9; cf. Exodus 32:7-8), but has no suitable explanation from a purely naturalistic perspective.
Although people in the ancient Near East were accustomed to a plethora of deities, they understood the concept of a single god very early. Looking back at Egyptian history, there was a time when Egypt had something like monotheism during the reign of pharaoh Akhenaten (1350-1334 B.C.). The “heretic pharaoh” adopted the worship of the Aten (the Sun disc) as the sole god of Egypt, and went so far as to chisel off the plural word “gods” (ntrw) from monuments. This Egyptian version of monotheism dates back to the 14th century B.C., close to the time of Moses. The Hymn to the Aten, composed by Akhenaten himself, praises the Aten with language that sounds remarkably reminiscent of Psalm 104. Another important consideration is that monotheism existed—conceptually, at least—in some of the oldest Egyptian sources. For example, in the Egyptian creation stories, the Egyptians believed there was a time in which only the primordial god Amun existed. Although Amun went on to create other gods in the Egyptian myths, the concept of monotheism existed early in Egyptian thought. The assertion of the documentary that monotheism was strictly a late Jewish invention is untrue.


The Bible’s Buried Secrets handles some of the archaeological evidence competently, but viewers on both sides will be frustrated by the program’s even-handedness. Believers will find that the program upholds the belief that David and Solomon really lived. Believers will be frustrated by the denial of Mosaic authorship and the inspiration of Scripture. Critics will celebrate the program’s treatment of Genesis as myth, but lament the discovery of hard evidence that demonstrates the historical accuracy of the Old Testament.
An important consideration excluded from the program—necessary because it does not fall under the purview of archaeology—is the literary evidence from the Old Testament itself. Historical and archaeological evidence will never converge on all points, so there is a degree of caution that must be exercised when handling these sources. Historical texts from any age of human civilization mention a great deal that will be undetectable in the archaeological record, so the historian must use good sense in evaluating the truth claims of his sources. To this effect, one must ask two important questions: Does the story fit available data? And is the story internally consistent?
The heavy influence of Egypt on the Bible is undeniable. This would not be the case if the Pentateuch had been written later. During the 10th-6th centuries B.C., when Hebrew scribes allegedly invented much of the fictional history of Israel, Egypt was the sick man of the ancient Near East, while Mesopotamian empires were on the rise. It is a cultural maxim that lesser civilizations tend to borrow from greater ones. It makes the most sense that if Israelite scribes were inventing a history for the nation, they would have borrowed from Assyria and Babylon rather than from Egypt, whose glory days were far behind her.
In examining the primeval history of Genesis 1-11, one notices that the vast majority of the text is written in prose with very little poetry. This feature is in keeping with the Egyptian style, which used poetry very rarely. Mesopotamian literature, on the other hand, is almost exclusively poetic. The same goes for Canaan. The three great Canaanite literary works, the Baal Cycle, the Aqht Epic, and the Legend of Keret are all written in poetic style. It is most likely that Egyptian influence on Hebrew scribal practices—which fits perfectly with the Hebrews’ presence in Egypt as recorded in Scripture—affected the prose style of writing in the book of Genesis. God, therefore, inspired Moses to use the Egyptian style to which Israel was accustomed.
More evidence of Egyptian influence throughout the early portions of the Bible might be cited. Hoffmeier (1996, pp. 83-84) has compiled a body of evidence arguing strongly in favor of many recorded events, including such minute textual details as the correct price of 20 shekels for a slave in the early second millennium (cf. Genesis 37:28), the lack of mention of Pharaoh’s personal name (consistent with Egyptian custom of refusing to name one’s enemies [p. 109]), and Moses’ request for a religious holiday in Exodus 5:1, which is attested in Egyptian sources (p. 115). The conquest of Joshua 1-11 is written in the “daybook style” that pharaohs (notably Thutmose III) used to record the details of their military campaigns (Hoffmeier, 1994, pp. 165-179). These details, especially those that are time-sensitive, argue sufficiently for an early date of composition for the Pentateuch.
Many have pointed out that it would be odd for the Jews to have created a fictional history in which they emerge from such ignominious origins. Moses, Hur, and Phinehas all have Egyptian names, and Aaron and Miriam may as well. Much of the priestly material has distinct Egyptian parallels, with the tabernacle bearing an unmistakably Egyptian design (Kitchen, 2000, 16:14-21; cf. Homan, 2000, 16:22-33). While it is clear that the design of the tabernacle came from God’s instructions to Moses (Exodus 26), it does so in a way that is familiar to the experiences of a people living in Egypt during the late second millennium B.C. (and thus would be unfamiliar to peoples in other locations and times, disproving the argument that later authors invented the stories).
These facts evoke several questions: If the Israelites were really Canaanites, why the sharp break between the two in terms of culture, literary traditions, and religious ideas? Why does the Bible demonstrate such familiarity with Egyptian culture, especially if the Pentateuch was supposedly written at a time when the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires, not Egypt, dominated the ancient Near East? Arguments against the Bible usually generate many more problems than they are able to solve. The fact is, the archaeological evidence corroborates the historicity of the biblical text.


By relegating the composition of the first books of the Bible to the 10th century and later, The Bible’s Buried Secrets effectively denies the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. According to the program, the books arrived at their final forms in about the 6th century B.C. Alleged discrepancies in the text are often cited to support the idea that a number of different authors are responsible for producing these works. According to Michael D. Coogan:
The Documentary Hypothesis is a theory to explain the many repetitions, inconsistencies, and anachronisms in the first five books of the Bible. In its classic form, it says that underlying the Bible are several different ancient documents or sources, which biblical writers and editors combined at various stages into the Torah as we have it today (as quoted in Glassman, 2007).
Proponents such as Richard Elliot Friedman confidently state:
The Documentary Hypothesis is still the most common view in scholarship, and no other model has a comparable consensus, but in the end the question is not a matter of consensus anyway. It is a matter of evidence. And the evidence for the hypothesis is, in my judgment, now substantial and stronger than ever (2008).
Friedman rightly argues that fact is not a matter of opinion, but of evidence. But is his evaluation of the evidence correct?
The Documentary Hypothesis, also known as the JEDP theory, states that there are four main documents of which the Pentateuch is composed, along with centuries of scribal additions and subtractions. Until the 17th century, the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was unchallenged. In his 1753 book Conjectures sur la Genèse, Jean Astruc (1684-1766) first proposed that the use of different names for God revealed different documents beneath the text. He did not deny that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, but merely stated that Moses edited several preexistent documents together. Over the next three centuries, scholarship became increasingly skeptical that Moses could have authored the material, pointing to such texts as Deuteronomy 34, which was written after Moses’ death.
Concerning the Documentary Hypothesis, The Bible’s Buried Secrets once again departs from the archaeological evidence. It delves into an examination of the text itself, while making selective use of literary evidence. If the Pentateuch reached its final form in the 6th century B.C., with substantial updating along the way, one would expect it to include updated language. In the 10th-6th centuries, Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Near East. Since such was the case, one would expect a heavy Aramaic influence on the Bible; yet, the Aramaic portions of the Old Testament are infrequent. Furthermore, the Old Testament has virtually no Persian influence, even though Persia dominated Judean culture at the time critics claim the Old Testament was still reaching its final form. While the program states Israel remained ethnically distinct, we find numerous Egyptian loanwords in the early books of the Bible when Egypt was dominant, and Akkadian loanwords are found in the historical books when Mesopotamian empires ruled the Near East. The Bible shows a small measure of linguistic influence from powerful foreign nations, so it is inexplicable that, immersed as they were in Persian culture during the Exile, the Jews would fail to reflect Persian loanwords in the biblical text.
According to The Bible’s Buried Secrets, the Documentary Hypothesis accounts for supposed repetitions and contradictions that are found in the Pentateuch. There is actually a much simpler explanation. Scribes in the ancient world frequently told stories from different perspectives. For instance, the charge of two creation stories in Genesis (1:1-2:4a and 2:4b-25) is readily explained by the fact that the first covers the events from a cosmic-centered perspective, while the second covers many of the same events from an anthropocentric perspective (cf. Lyons, 2002). As for the alleged repetitions, scribes also told stories in similar ways. The three cases of a patriarch passing his wife off as a sister (Abraham in Genesis 12 and 20; Isaac in Genesis 26) are deliberately crafted in such a way as to call the reader’s attention to all three instances. It is in keeping with the Bible’s presentation of its characters “warts and all” by showing the humanity of the “father of the faithful” as being somewhat faithless on, not one, but two occasions.
The JEDP theory runs into another problem. Scribal practice in the ancient Near East was to copy documents with utter fidelity. An artifact that illustrates the scribes’ practice of copying canonical religious works with precision is the Shabaqo Stone. Named for the Egyptian pharaoh Shabaqo, it contains one version of the Egyptian creation myth. The text on the stone has a number of blank spaces (called lacunae) throughout the text. At the beginning of the inscription, the scribe who copied it says the pharaoh found a scroll “as something that the predecessors had made, worm-eaten and unknown from beginning to end” (Allen, 2000, 1:22). It is clear that the blank spaces of the text were deteriorated portions of the scroll. One immediately notices that there was no attempt to edit the document or fill in the blank spaces with additional material. Even if it meant copying blank spaces, the scribe was intent upon copying it exactly as he saw it.
The Hebrew scribes are frequently charged with editing several documents together, weaving them together into what we know as the Pentateuch. Analysis of the language is not friendly to this viewpoint. Scholar Richard Hess cites a number of studies of the Pentateuch in the last two decades that have dramatically undermined JEDP, ranging from computer analysis of the language to careful scrutiny of supposed duplications within the text (2007, pp. 49-59). Converging lines of evidence are making it increasingly untenable as a theory to explain the origins of the Pentateuch. Even so, the proponents of the theory are as tenacious as ever.


The question of the Bible’s reliability is one that directly impacts the life and faith of every Christian. It is difficult to see putting one’s trust in a book that fraudulently claims to be the Word of God. On the other hand, it is equally foolish to refuse to accept the Bible if it bears the marks of authenticity.
The Bible’s Buried Secrets does not attempt to prove whether the Bible is true, or delve into its claims to be divine revelation from God. Rather, its concern is to fit the biblical stories into their historical and archaeological context. It asks why and when the biblical authors wrote what they did. Yet the truth claims of the Bible are inescapable, and the consequences of accepting or rejecting them as the very Word of God are monumental.
Television documentaries of dubious value frequently guide the viewer along a predetermined path of evidence to arrive at a conclusion that is usually controversial. In this journey, viewers are not presented with other points of view or evidence for other sides of the debate. There is a minimum of intellectual cattle prodding in The Bible’s Buried Secrets, although it may be helpful to point out two key problems. First, the claims of the program are presented as hard science. This is true to an extent. All sciences require some level of interpretation, and archaeology requires more than most. The interpreter’s bias and assumptions can play a rather large role in the analysis of the information, which includes synthesizing massive amounts of data and requires dozens of specializations. Since archaeology involves degrees of subjectivity and ambiguity, it is impossible to claim that it proves the Bible to be the inspired Word of God (though archaeology can confirm and verify the Bible’s historical accuracy). The viewer is left with the impression that science can disprove that the Bible is God’s Word, which is equally impossible.
The documentary also limits itself to the intersection between science and Scripture, which means great quantities of other valuable data are omitted. The exclusion of portions of the full body of evidence impacts the conclusions drawn by the program. None of the program’s tenets is uncontested in scholarly circles, and many of the interviewees are decidedly left-wing. There are few, if any, conservative scholars interviewed, and it is not for a lack of believers involved in Near Eastern archaeology. While scholars on the extreme left get little time, believers get virtually none at all.
In one interview, Bill Dever said, “It’s a waste of time to argue with fundamentalists, and this film doesn’t do it. It’s designed for intelligent people who are willing to change their mind.” Open-mindedness is an important virtue, but if Christians are to change their minds about the historicity of the events recorded in the Hebrew Bible, a better case, supported by adequate evidence, would have to be made than the one presented in The Bible’s Buried Secrets.


Allen, James P., trans. (2000), “From the Memphite Theology,” in The Context of Scripture, ed. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger (Leiden: Brill).
Bietak, Manfred (2003), “Israelites Found in Egypt: Four Room House Identified at Medinet Habu,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 29/5:41-49,82-83, September-
Dever, William (2003), Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Freedman, David and Jeffrey C. Geoghegan (1995), “‘House of David’ is There!” Biblical Archaeology Review, 21:02, March/April.
Friedman, Richard E. (2008), “Who Wrote the Flood Story?” NOVA: The Bible’s Buried Secrets, [On-line], URL: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/flood.html.
Glassman, Gary (2007), “Writers of the Bible,” NOVA: The Bible’s Buried Secrets, [On-line], URL: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/coogan.html.
Hess, Richard (2007), Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic).
Hoffmeier, James K. (1994), “The Structure of Joshua 1-11 and the Annals of Thutmose III,” in Faith, Tradition, and History: Old Testament Historiography in its Near Eastern Context, ed. Alan R. Millard, James K. Hoffmeier, and David W. Baker (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns).
Hoffmeier, James K. (1996), Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press).
Hoffmeier, James K., trans. (2000), “The (Israel) Stele of Merneptah,” in The Context of Scripture, ed. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger (Leiden: Brill).
Homan, Michael (2000), “The Divine Warrior in His Tent: A Military Model for Yahweh’s Tabernacle,” Bible Review, 16:22-33, December.
Kitchen, Kenneth (2000), “The Desert Tabern-
acle: Pure Fiction or Plausible Account?” Bible Review, 16:14-21, December.
Kitchen, Kenneth (2003), On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Lyons, Eric (2002), “Did God Create Animals or Man First?” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/513.
Millard, Alan R., trans. (2000), “The Tel Dan Stele,” in The Context of Scripture, ed. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger (Leiden: Brill).
Millard, Alan R. (2008), “Were the Israelites Really Canaanites?” in Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention? ed.
Daniel I. Block (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group).
NOVA: The Bible’s Buried Secrets (2008), [On-line], URL: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/.
“A Q&A With Paula S. Apsell, Senior Executive Producer of NOVA” (2008), NOVA: The Bible’s Buried Secrets, [On-line], URL: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/apsell.html.
Younger, K. Lawson, trans. (2000), “Black Obelisk,” in The Context of Scripture, ed. William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger (Leiden: Brill).