The Case for Christmas: Chapter 2
Or: Michael Murphy Defends Baby Jesus.
Actually: The Scientific Evidence: Does Archaeology Confirm or Contradict Jesus’ Biographies?
The criminal story to start the chapter: Some asshole killed his family, and evidence from bloodstains and clothing fibers convicted him.
Hundreds of archaeological findings from the first century have been unearthed, and I was curious: did they undermine or undergird the eyewitness stories about Jesus?
Shucks, I wonder what answer Lee Strobel is hoping to find?
To find his pre-approved answers, Strobel interviews John McRay, who wrote Archaeology and the New Testament.
This chapter can be summed up very simply: McRay tells us that archaeology can’t prove the Bible is true, then tells Strobel that some details of Bible places are accurate, and Strobel takes away from this that the Bible is true.
“Archaeology has made some important contributions,” [said McRay] “but it certainly can’t prove whether the New Testament is the word of God. If we dig in Israel and find ancient sites that are consistent with where the Bible said we’d find them, that shows that its history and geography are accurate. However, it doesn’t confirm that what Jesus Christ said is right. Spiritual truths cannot be proved or disproved by archaeological discoveries.”
Okay, that makes sense. After all, just because the Avengers fight alien invaders in the middle of New York City, a real place that exists in reality, doesn’t mean there is really a team of extremely attractive heroes who band together to fight threats to the Earth.
And let’s face it, the fact that there are no Avengers is much sadder than the fact that Jesus never rose from dead.
McRay describes several minor details that were proved accurate in the gospels. (Coincidentally, McRay appears to share Strobel and Blomberg’s opinion that the gospels definitely were written by the guys whose names are on them.)
Another example is Luke’s references in Acts 17:6 to “politarchs,” which is translated as “city officials” by the New International Version, in the city of Thessalonica. “For a long time people thought Luke was mistaken, because no evidence of the term politarchs had been found in any ancient Roman documents,” McRay said.
“However, an inscription on a first-century arch was later found that begins, ‘In the time of the politarchs…’ You can go to the British Museum and see it for yourself. And then, lo and behold, archaeologists have found [sic] more than thirty-five inscriptions that mention politarchs, several of these in Thessalonica from the same period Luke was referring to.”
So, because Luke (or whoever wrote it) was accurate in some details, Strobel does the very thing McRay said he should not do: he concludes that Luke (or whoever) was accurate about everything he wrote:
…like the resurrection of Jesus, the most influential evidence of his deity, which Luke says was firmly established by “many convincing proofs.”
And then there’s John (or whoever), who wrote about the Pool of Bethesda having five porticos.
So, John is accurate about some little details, which obviously means it is accurate in all details, like that little detail about Jesus being the son of God!
And there are other Bible stories that we are told are historically accurate, like calling everyone to go to their hometowns for a census, or…Nazareth existing.
But, as with the last chapter, I just don’t care too terribly much. Yeah, some of these things are interesting in themselves, but they no more prove that Jesus existed, let alone was the son of a god, than the existence of Bath proves that Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney were real people.
We’re on chapter two our of four, but I’m inclined to already call this chapter the weakest of them all: you really, really have to want to believe something to consider that geographical details constitute complete accuracy of an entire group of books.
Oh, and check this out:
I decided to ask McRay a broader question: had he ever encountered any archaeological finding that blatantly contravened a New Testament reference?
He shook his head. “Archaeology has not produced anything that is unequivocally a contradiction to the Bible,” he replied with confidence.
-The Case for Christmas, Chapter 2
“And yet, to date, not one piece of evidence has been unearthed that disputes the Bible’s authenticity.” [said Michael Murphy]
“Whoa! That’s impressive!” someone called out from the back [of the lecture hall].
-Babylon Rising, Chapter 7
They really do all work out of the same playbook, don’t they?