Unification News for August 2003
Finding the Word
This is the first in a three part series about the Word of God. We won’t focus on prophets and pastors, those anointed to bring God’s Word to humanity. Rather, we’ll look at people who are affected by their ministries.
Many people do their best to live by the Word. They are known, most simply, as believers. Some people spend their lives theorizing about holy words. These scholars are called theologians.
A few people study remnants of the past, including evidence for the Scriptures, and the actual lives of religious founders. These scientists are known as archaeologists, and this month we’ll talk about them.
The major world religions were founded a long time ago. No videotapes of Jesus or Mohammed exist. Some religions even predate writing, so they have no original records at all. Thus, scholars must literally dig for evidence of those lives and times.
In olden days, natural erosion would sometimes reveal the bones of dinosaurs and other unfamiliar creatures. Folks naturally decided these must be the remains of mythic creatures, perhaps a monster slain by Hercules or another hero.
One scientist has shown that a ‘sea monster’ depicted on ancient Greek pottery is a dead ringer (no pun intended) for a known, seagoing dinosaur. It’s not just dinosaurs, either. Arranged differently, the bones from a woolly mammoth look very much like a giant, hulking person.
With the rise of modern science people understood how old the Earth really is, and about the extinct creatures those bones represented. (How modern species arose is another debate entirely.)
Throughout most of history, people showed no interest in the ruins of earlier cities. (Called a ‘tel’ in the Middle East, they’re all over the place. Natural hills have a different name.) Some old sites were quarried for their dressed stones, or looted in hopes of finding buried treasure, but that was all.
A few classical scholars, such as Herodotus (a Greek), and Ibn Battutah (an Arab), showed genuine interest in the past. They traveled far, listening to stories, keeping records, and collecting artifacts.
German businessman Heinrich Schliemann is recognized as the first modern archaeologist. Driven by an obsession with the Homeric epics (plus a dash of greed and showmanship), he determined to locate the lost city of Troy.
That famous city had been regarded as mere legend, but he stunned the world by actually finding it, in what is now Turkey. His methods were crude: he gouged a huge trench straight through the ruins, discarded all but the finest artifacts, then jumbled those together regardless of their area of discovery.
Modern archaeologists dig slowly, within marked grids, keeping every piece of bone, pottery, and other evidence. Chemical and DNA residue is analyzed, revealing clues about ancient climate and diets.
Patient and careful as they are, archaeologists are human, too. There are tenacious factions within archaeology, and fierce personal rivalries. Some people are biblical literalists, others are skeptics, and pretty much everyone has an agenda. Their disagreements encompass theories about the ancient word, but also some very modern politics and policies.
Two of their largest associations are forever at odds. The pages of Biblical Archaeology Review and Archaeology magazine are filled with debate. The former supports amateur diggers, and a limited market for common antiquities. The latter is dead-set against these. Like Indiana Jones, their cry is, "It belongs in a museum!" (Even if it’s going to be stashed in some backroom storage crate.)
They’ve all decried the tragedy of looted museums in Iraq and elsewhere. Even then, their ideas on how to prevent future such looting differ sharply.
Archaeology encompasses the entire planet, but takes on a special meaning when focused on the Middle East.
Christians place tremendous importance on validating the Bible. Many people want to dismiss that book as myth, and self-serving propaganda, thus to slander its adherents.
Atheists go so far as it call it sheer fantasy, but ongoing discoveries won’t let them get away with it!
Seemingly mundane details (especially from the Bible’s oldest books) contain a wealth of context and information. The types of implements used, the price of food and slaves, and descriptions of neighboring peoples, have all proven accurate.
Many inscriptions in Egypt and Babylon refer to the Jews, and name several Biblical personages. The Dead Sea Scrolls validated the age and accuracy of the Old Testament.
Recently, an ossuary (bone interment box) with a startling inscription was found. It reads: James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. Given the population of Jerusalem back then, and the occurrence of those specific names, it’s quite likely direct evidence of St. James, the physical brother of Jesus!
However, because it wasn’t revealed in situ, and as there are so many forgeries extant, it remains very controversial.
Another ossuary, almost as portentous, was excavated by a reputable archaeologist. The inscription shows it likely belonged to the family of Simon of Cyrene, bearer of Jesus’ cross.
The Biblical timeline remains a subject of vigorous debate. Some key dates are fixed by Egyptian and other records, while others have been ‘placed’ all over the centuries. Central events such as the flight from Egypt are said to have taken place over a range of almost 500 years either way -- if at all.
Our Principle contains a fascinating Parallels of History section. The latest translation acknowledges that it follows a literal Biblical timeline, rather than a scientific one. Few modern scholars, including most Christians, think the universe was created in the year 4004 BC. (Even ‘young earth’ Creationists have fudged the date to perhaps 8000 BC.)
Matching the Bible’s timeline to science’s can be a fascinating exercise. It seems to have a logarithmic relationship to the one put forth by archaeologists.
The time of Solomon and David is well known, and both accounts match in almost every respect. Before that, the dates diverge, crediting more, then much less, time since events actually occurred.
The Exodus probably took place closer to 1250 BC (rather than 1600 BC). Noah’s Flood, if the Black Sea flooding theory is correct, happened around 7000 BC.
Adam and Eve certainly lived more than 130,000 years ago, and perhaps twice that long. Bones from physically modern humans were just found in Ethiopia, dating from 160,000 BC. (Please note that a small band of full-fledged, ‘original’ humans would have left few, if any, remaining signs.)
In regard to Eden and the Fall, Rev. Moon has spoken in terms of millions of years! Given the notorious difficulty of translating the Orient’s ‘san’ and ‘man’ numbers into English (and my own deficiency in spoken Korean), plus all the deep symbolism involved, I cannot be certain of his meaning.
What surprises has modern archaeology brought us?
It seems that very ancient societies were somewhat democratic, with a clear division of political and religious leadership. (The Chieftain and the Shaman, respectively.)
The current theory is that, with the founding of cities and their ornate temples, pagan priests gained in power. In response, the secular rulers made themselves into Pharaohs or God-Kings.
To solidify their power, some rulers declared themselves champions of all their subjects, and began to institute specific rights and freedoms. For example, the Code of Hammurabi, which predates the Ten Commandments by centuries.
We moderns apparently gained more from the Fertile Crescent than we did from Egypt. Such as: a Sunday rest, and a religion featuring consubstantiation and a Trinity. But, as Goddess worshippers will tell you with a nyah-nyah-nyah, with a Mother instead!
Pagan apologists claim this belief was the ancestor of Christianity, and even that from which Jesus ‘ripped off’ his ideas. Rather, I would say, it was an early (and somewhat distorted) manifestation of the eternal Principled ideal.
An informed, open minded person can no longer doubt that the Bible, and many other sacred books, are genuine historical documents.
Some scriptures are very old and largely symbolic, while others are quite accurate in their portrayal of the ancient world.
Therefore, the God to which the Bible refers to cannot be denied on its account. Quite the opposite: the story of its people, and even of the document itself, contains powerful evidence of God’s hand. Furthermore, the Parallels of History reveal a clear pattern. Through it all, God remains sovereign.
Next month we’ll talk about theologians, and others who analyze the Word.
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