Unearthing the World of Jesus

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Synagogue at Magdala (Photo by Yadid Levy, Smithsonian Magazine)

In January, Smithsonian Magazine ran a great article on excavations at Magdala and Bethsaida that bring new evidence to light concerning the world of 1st Century  Galilee.  Below is an extract; click through the link at the bottom to read more.

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Ariel Sabar, “Unearthing the World of Jesus”

The IAA archaeologists had mucked around on Solana’s 20 acres for a month and found little. “Almost done?” he’d ask, emerging in his clerical robes from a shipping container that served as a makeshift office. “I have a budget! I have a timetable!”

In truth, the archaeologists didn’t want to be there either. Summer temperatures had ticked into the 100s, and the site prickled with bees and mosquitoes. They’d say shalom, they assured the priest, as soon as they checked a final, remote corner of his land.

It was there, beneath a wing of the proposed guesthouse, that their picks clinked against the top of a buried wall.

Dina Avshalom-Gorni, an IAA official who oversaw digs in northern Israel, ordered all hands to this square of the excavation grid. The workers squatted in the mealy soil and dusted carefully with brushes. Soon, a series of rough-cut stone benches emerged around what looked like a sanctuary.

It can’t be, Avshalom-Gorni thought.

The Gospels say that Jesus taught and “proclaimed the good news” in synagogues “throughout all Galilee.” But despite decades of digging in the towns Jesus visited, no early first-century synagogue had ever been found.

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For historians, this was not a serious problem. Galilean Jews were a week’s walk from Jerusalem, close enough for regular pilgrimages to Herod the Great’s magnificent temple, Judaism’s central house of worship. Galileans, mostly poor peasants and fishermen, had neither the need nor the funds for some local spinoff. Synagogues, as we understand them today, did not appear anywhere in great numbers until several hundred years later. If there were any in Galilee in Jesus’s day, they were perhaps just ordinary houses that doubled as meeting places for local Jews. Some scholars argued that the “synagogues” in the New Testament were nothing more than anachronisms slipped in by the Gospels’ authors, who were writing outside Galilee decades after Jesus’s death.

But as Avshalom-Gorni stood at the edge of the pit, studying the arrangement of benches along the walls, she could no longer deny it: They’d found a synagogue from the time of Jesus, in the hometown of Mary Magdalene. Though big enough for just 200 people, it was, for its time and place, opulent. It had a mosaic floor; frescoes in pleasing geometries of red, yellow and blue; separate chambers for public Torah readings, private study and storage of the scrolls; a bowl outside for the ritual washing of hands.

In the center of the sanctuary, the archaeologists unearthed a mysterious stone block, the size of a toy chest, unlike anything anyone had seen before. Carved onto its faces were a seven-branched menorah, a chariot of fire and a hoard of symbols associated with the most hallowed precincts of the Jerusalem temple. The stone is already seen as one of the most important discoveries in biblical archaeology in decades. Though its imagery and function remain in the earliest stages of analysis, scholars say it could lead to new understandings of the forces that made Galilee such fertile ground for a Jewish carpenter with a world-changing message. It could help explain, in other words, how a backwater of northern Israel became the launching pad for Christianity.

But on that dusty afternoon, Solana had no way of knowing this. He was toweling off after a swim when an IAA archaeologist named Arfan Najar called his cellphone with what seemed like the worst possible news: They’d found something, and everything Solana had worked and prayed for these past five years was on hold.

“Father,” Najar told him, “you have a big, big, big problem.”

Read more: Smithsonian Magazine, Unearthing the World of Jesus

Reblogged: Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Theologian (Aardvark Alley)

Martin Chemnitz

My unabashed reposting of other people’s material continues with Orycteropus Afer’s post for yesterday’s commemoration of Martin Chemnitz, the “Second Martin” of the Lutheran Reformation.  See an excerpt below after the jump.

Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Theologian (November 9)

+ Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Theologian +

9 November AD 1522 – 8 April AD 1586

Today marks the birthday of Martin Chemnitz, Pastor and Confessor. We regard him as, after Martin Luther, the Lutheran Church’s most important theologian. He possessed a penetrating intellect and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and the Church Fathers combined with a genuine love for the Church.

Doctrinal quarrels after Luther’s death in 1546 led Chemnitz to give himself fully to the restoration of unity in the Lutheran Church. He became the leading spirit and a principal author of the 1577 Formula of Concord, which settled the doctrinal disputes on the basis of the Scriptures and largely succeeded in restoring unity among Lutherans. Work on the Formula led Chemnitz and others to gather all the normative doctrinal statements confessed by the Lutherans, from the ancient creeds through the Evangelical writings of the 16th Century, into one volume, the Book of Concord.

Chemnitz also authored the four volume Examination of the Council of Trent (1565-1573). This monumental work saw him rigorously subjecting the pronouncements of this Roman Catholic Council to judgment by Scripture and the Church Fathers. The Examination is the definitive Lutheran answer to the Concilium Tridentinum and an outstanding exposition of the faith of the Augsburg Confession.

Reblogged: Gustavus Adolphus II, King and Confessor (from Aardvark Alley)

The Gustavus Adolphus plaque at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

The Gustavus Adolphus plaque at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

Orycteropus Afer over on Aardvark Alley has some great daily posts for feast days and commemorations, especially as regards people important to the history of the early Church and the Reformation.  Today happens to be the commemoration of King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden, who fought valiantly during the Thirty Years’ War “so that the Lutheran Reformation might live.”  He left his mark on Germany and northern Europe during the war, not only extending Sweden’s world-influence (the Swedish Empire became a world power under Gustavus Adolphus’ reign, and stayed so for about 100 years until the Karl XII’s defeat at Poltava at the hands of the Russians under Peter the Great), but also making great gains for the spread of Lutheranism in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  Orycteropus has put up a nice biography of “der Löwe von Mitternacht”, as well as suggested readings for his commemoration.  Read a selection from the commemoration after the jump:

+ Gustavus Adolphus, King and Confessor + 6 November AD 1632

Gustavus Adolphus pioneered the use of fast-firing musketeers and extreme mobility of troops and flexibility in engagements. His artillery was much more mobile than others’ and he treated all branches of his army equally, refusing to favor cavalry over infantry or musketeers over pikemen. Indeed, he cross-trained as many of his soldiers as possible, so much of his infantry could ride and his pikemen could also use muskets.

Yet we Christians, in particular we Lutherans, most of all remember and give thanks for a man who used his intellect and leadership in political and military defense of the religious gains of the Reformation. And while not all in Sweden, Germany, or elsewhere continue to staunchly believe in justification by grace through faith, or to trust in Scripture’s veracity and the truth of the Lutheran Confessions, it’s nowhere the fault of godly King Gustavus Adolphus Magnus.

Suggested Lection

Psalm 146
Daniel 10:18-20
Romans 13:1-7
John 15:9-11

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of Your love in the heart of Gustav Adolf, who inspired his kingship under Jesus, the King of kings, and who led him to bold confession and humble service, grant to us, Your people, like faith and humble service, that we who rejoice in his triumphs may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

King, revolutionizer of the army, natty dresser.

King Gustavus II Adolphus