The Bible’s Viewpoint
Archaeology—Necessary for Faith?
In 1873 the English clergyman Samuel Manning wrote concerning Jerusalem: “Drawn by an irresistible attraction, pilgrims flock hither from the very ends of the earth. The crumbling walls, the squalid filthy streets, the mouldering ruins, are regarded with a profound and reverential interest by millions of mankind, such as no other spot on earth can excite.”
THE lure of the Holy Land has drawn people since at least the time of Roman Emperor Constantine.* For some 1,500 years, pilgrims came and went, seeking a religious, personal contact with the Holy Land. Yet, surprisingly, it was not until the early 19th century that scholars began accompanying these pilgrims, thus opening the era of Biblical archaeology—the study of the artifacts, peoples, places, and languages of the ancient Holy Land.
The findings of archaeologists have resulted in an increased understanding of many aspects of Bible times. Also, the archaeological record has often harmonized with Bible history. But is such knowledge necessary to a Christian’s faith? To answer, let us focus our attention on the site of many archaeological digs—the city of Jerusalem and its temple.
‘A Stone Will Not Be Left Upon a Stone’
On the Jewish calendar date of Nisan 11, in the spring of 33 C.E., Jesus Christ, accompanied by some of his disciples, left the temple in Jerusalem for the last time. As they made their way to the Mount of Olives, one of the disciples said: “Teacher, see! what sort of stones and what sort of buildings!”—Mark 13:1.
These faithful Jews felt a deep love for God and his temple. They were proud of this magnificent complex of buildings and the 15 centuries of tradition they represented. Jesus’ reply to his disciple was shocking: “Do you behold these great buildings? By no means will a stone be left here upon a stone and not be thrown down.”—Mark 13:2.
Now that the promised Messiah had arrived, how could God allow the destruction of his own temple? Only gradually, with the aid of holy spirit, would Jesus’ disciples fully grasp what he meant. What, though, do Jesus’ words have to do with Biblical archaeology?
A New “City”
On Pentecost 33 C.E., the Jewish nation lost its favored position before God. (Matthew 21:43) This made way for something much greater—a heavenly government that would bring blessings to all mankind. (Matthew 10:7) True to Jesus’ prophecy, Jerusalem with its temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. Archaeology supports the Bible’s record of such an event. Yet, for Christians, faith is not dependent on whether ruins of that ancient temple have been found. Their faith is centered on another Jerusalem, but this one is a different type of city.
In the year 96 C.E., the apostle John, who had heard Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and had lived to see its fulfillment, was given the following vision: “I saw also the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” A voice from the throne said: “He will reside with [mankind], and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.”—Revelation 21:2-4.
This “city” is made up of faithful Christians who will serve as kings with Christ in heaven. Together they form the heavenly government—God’s Kingdom—that will rule over the earth, bringing the human race back to perfection during the Millennium. (Matthew 6:10; 2 Peter 3:13) The first-century Jewish Christians who were to be part of that group realized that nothing they had in the Jewish system of things could compare with the privilege of ruling with Christ in heaven.
The apostle Paul, writing of his former prominent position in Judaism, speaks for them all: “What things were gains to me, these I have considered loss on account of the Christ. Why, for that matter, I do indeed also consider all things to be loss on account of the excelling value of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”—Philippians 3:7, 8.
Since the apostle Paul had the greatest respect for God’s Law and the temple arrangement, his words obviously do not imply that these divine arrangements were to be looked down on.* (Acts 21:20-24) Paul was simply showing that the Christian arrangement was superior to the Jewish system.
No doubt Paul and other Jewish Christians of the first century had specific knowledge of many fascinating details of the Jewish system of things. And since archaeology opens windows to the past, some of those details can now be appreciated by Christians. Yet, note where Paul told the young man Timothy to focus his main attention: “Ponder over these things [having to do with the Christian congregation]; be absorbed in them, that your advancement may be manifest to all persons.”—1 Timothy 4:15.
Commendably, Biblical archaeology has expanded our understanding of the background of the Bible. Yet, Christians realize that their faith is dependent, not on evidence unearthed by men, but on God’s Word, the Bible.—1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
Both Constantine and his mother, Helena, were interested in identifying Jerusalem’s holy places. She personally visited Jerusalem. Many others followed in her footsteps for centuries to come.
For a period of time, first-century Jewish Christians in Jerusalem observed various aspects of the Mosaic Law, likely for the following reasons. The Law was from Jehovah. (Romans 7:12, 14) It had been ingrained in the Jewish people as custom. (Acts 21:20) It was the law of the land, and any opposition to it would have caused unnecessary opposition to the Christian message.
[Pictures on page 18]
Above: Jerusalem in 1920; Roman coin for Jewish use, 43 C.E.; ivory pomegranate in blossom, possibly from Solomon’s temple, eighth century B.C.E.
Pages 2 and 18: Coin: Photograph © Israel Museum, Jerusalem; courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority; pomegranate: Courtesy of Israel Museum, Jerusalem