Friday, March 14, 2008

Book Review: Archaeology & the New Testament

Bible students who want to know more about the backgrounds of the New Testament will find John McRay's Archaeology & the New Testament to be a great reference. This book gives readers a broad and accessible survey of cities mentioned in the New Testament and the archaeological digs in those sites. Even though literary sources provide the most detailed information about culture and daily life in the 1st century, archaeological sources also provide material evidence that Bible students can correlate with the literary sources.

Here are a number of items that will affect my understanding of the New Testament.

1. The discovery of a Latin inscription referencing Pontius Pilate in the steps of the theater in Caesaria Maritima has strengthened my confidence in the historical reliability of the New Testament’s record of Pilate being procurator during the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

2. McRay’s argument for Khirbet Kana being the site of Jesus ministry & miracles recorded in John 2 (rather than Kefr Kenna) has increased my awareness of my need for careful research when teaching others the historical and geographical context of the New Testament (as well as to be careful about what tour guides I might hire if ever I visit Israel).

3. The chapters on Jesus life and ministry, which discuss both the burial tomb of Jesus and the Shroud of Turin has reminded me how easily the line between exegetical historical study of New Testament backgrounds can be crossed and quickly turn into the improper adoration of religious relics.

4. The background study of Antioch has increased my awareness of the importance of the early church in that city. “...with the exception of Jerusalem, Antioch in Syria played a larger part in the life and fortunes of the early Church than any other single city of the Greco-Roman Empire.”

5. The archeological evidence for the self-financed rebuilding of Laodicea after the earthquake in A.D. 60 helps me to understand the context of Revealtion 3:17 better. “Such a proud, self-sufficient attitude is indicated in the Book of Revelation, where the Laodicean church is depicted as saying, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’” (McRay, p246)

6. Again my confidence in the historicity of the New Testament has grown through the background study of inscriptions at Thessalonica that prove the rule of politarchs there. “Critics of the New Testament asserted for many years that Luke was mistaken in his use of the term ‘politarchs’ for the officials of Thessalonica before whom Paul was taken (Acts 17:6). An inscription using this term, however, was found on the Vardar Arch at the west end of the modern Odos Egnatia Street (once known as Vardar Street). The first-century A.D. arch was torn down in 1867 to be used in the repair of the city’s walls. The inscription from the arch, which was subsequently found and is now in the British Museum, begins ‘In the time of the Politarchs...’” (McRay, 295)

John McRay, Archaeology & the New Testament, 1991, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 432 pages, paperback.

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