[K:NWTS 23/1 (May 2008) 55-59]

Book Review

James H. Charlesworth, ed., Jesus and Archaeology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006. 740 pp. Paper. ISBN: 0-8028-4880-X. $50.00.

The amazing recent discoveries unearthed by archaeologists in Palestine enhance even the summaries presented in this superb collection and review of, especially, NT era excavations.[1] Last Fall, Eilat Mazar announced the identification of a wall in Jerusalem which she has assigned to the Persian era contemporary with Nehemiah (445 B.C.); her tentative suggestion that it may be a part of Nehemiah’s wall (Neh. 6:15) is derived from the Persian period sherds which she discovered at the base of the structure. Last Summer, an Assyriologist working at the British Museum published the translation of a cuneiform clay tablet with the name Nebo-Sarsekim; compare the name in Jer. 39:3 of an official in Nebuchadnezzar’s entourage during the final siege of Jerusalem (587/86 B.C.). In the Summer of 2004, even more of the Pool of Siloam (Jn. 9:7) was unearthed in a garden owned by the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem (see our volume, pages 568-70). And Eilat Mazar suggested in 2005 that she had located the foundation stones of King David’s palace in Jerusalem. Should the announcements be confirmed and established, these serendipitous discoveries will constitute a further amazing confirmation of the historicity of the Old and New Testament. Indeed, what hath God, in his on-going vindicatory providence, wrought!!

Charlesworth has assembled an accomplished collection of archaeological and NT scholars in order to provide an up-to-date review of the status quaestionis—Archaeology and the life of Jesus of Nazareth. At the outset, pride of place in this volume must go to Urban C. von Wahlde, for his “Archaeology and John’s Gospel” (523-86). This is an archaeological commentary on every potential site mentioned in the fourth gospel from Bethsaida (1:44) to the Tomb of Jesus (19:41-42). It is an absolutely essential guide to both archaeology and literary evidence in John’s gospel. What a difference a century makes! Remember, just over one hundred years ago, the gospel of John was, by the “assured results of scientific criticism”, regarded as a 2nd (even late 2nd) century product. This liberal fundamentalist idiocy is trashed royally by the details from the archaeologist’s spade—as von Wahlde’s narrative confirms.

Charlesworth sets the tone for this collection of essays with “Jesus Research and Archaeology: A New Perspective” (11-63). Here “Jesus Research” signifies “quest for the historical Jesus research.” At this point in the evolution of this issue, we have arrived at the so-called “Third Quest” for the historical Jesus. (The uninitiated reader should not naively think that this critical-liberal quest is searching for the Jesus that the Bible presents as a historical figure, i.e., that the Bible record of the life of Jesus is historically accurate. Rather, the historical Jesus questors are seeking for is a Jesus of their own reconstruction, i.e., a non-supernatural Jesus or the Jesus of fact [history without myth], not the Jesus of faith [myth=Bible].) Behind us is the “no quest” which ended with Albert Schweitzer’s magnum opus The Quest for the Historical Jesus (1910)—a book which wrote the obituary for the 19th century liberal quest for the Jesus of history as opposed to the Jesus of dogma. Dormant for about half a century, the ‘quest’ was resumed anew by Bultmanian and existentialist-oriented Ernst Käsemann, James Robinson and Co., ca. 1954-80. The telltale mention of existentialist guru, Martin Heidegger (14), is the ‘give away’ that philosophy reduces theology—Jesus, the 1st century existentialist, ‘discovered’ by the new questors. The current “Third Quest” regards Jesus as a marginal Jew from peasant stock. Thus, he is ‘re-imaged’ in Third World categories (demonstrating once more—was there ever any real doubt—that modern critical presuppositions read on to the Biblical portrait of Jesus the dominant philosophical ethos of the era in which the questor himself/herself lives. As Freyne points out, each of these quests for the Jesus without deity, miracles, bodily resurrection, etc. (that is without “canon, creed and church” [66]) took little or no cognizance of archaeological data. (John Meier, leading Third Quest scholar, does not take account of “any recognition of the contribution that archaeology could make to the discussion,” 67.)

While Charlesworth’s post-Barthian dialecticism is occasionally evident (“sometimes archaeology reveals that a section of a [Biblical] text cannot be historical,” 27), nevertheless this volume assembles data which confirms the portrait of the places and times of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the gospels. This includes a zinger on what I regard as mythical Q: “Q is only a modern imagined source, as numerous scholars are now contending” (19). Touché!

In addition to the review contained in this volume, Charlesworth provides a list of summary overviews of modern Biblical archaeology (or, if you prefer, Ancient Near Eastern archaeology) which will provide a compendium of recent information: Ephraim Stern, New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavation in the Holy Land (1993); Eric Meyers, Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East (1997); Avraham Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (1990) as up-dated and revised by Negev and Shimon Gibson (2001). All of these tools may be further supplemented and up-dated by the “Archaeology” section of each issue of Old Testament Abstracts and New Testament Abstracts.

Our volume provides a review of recent excavations at: Nazareth (38); Cana (38-40); Bethesda (40-41, 145-66); the 1st century fisherman’s boat found cased in mud in the Sea of Galilee (41-42); Ramat Hanadiv or Mt. Carmel (42-44, 384-92); Caesarea Maritima (44); Jerusalem (44-46); The Herodium (46-48); Peter’s house in Capernaum (49-50); the Sepphoris Theater (51-55); and more. The volume is thoroughly accessible through Scripture (and other Ancient Texts) and Geographical Indexes (707-40). It even contains a glossary (696-701) of technical terms.

Dan Bahat reviews the excavations that have taken place on Temple Mount in Jerusalem since 1967 (the ‘Six Days’ War’). Bahat’s own superb volume, Ancient Jerusalem Revealed (1994), is up-dated with this article. The recent discovery of a stairway with the inscription zeqenim (“elders”) “south of the southern wall of the Temple Mount” (307) is identified with the place where Jesus talked to the rabbis about his “Father’s business” (Lk. 2:41-50).

John Welch cites Eric Eve’s remark that “there is a growing consensus that . . . miraculous activity formed an integral part of Jesus’ ministry, and should not be brushed aside to leave room for a Jesus who was almost entirely a teacher” (360).

Sean Freyne summarizes the work of Marianne Sawicki (Crossing Galilee: Architecture of Contact in the Occupied Land of Jesus, 2000) in which she charges (liberal) literary critics with “hypothesizing” on the basis of “no evidence” (69). These literary constructions need no “hard facts” data. Thus they reconstruct the texts as the proverbial wax nose, molded to the whim of the reconstructor. Did we ever think that literary critics were doing anything else but (to paraphrase Voltaire) playing tricks on the living by using the artifacts of the dead?

Of particular interest to this reviewer are the articles on eschatology, especially eschatology at Qumran. If Schweitzer assured us of the eschatological context of the kingdom proclamation of Jesus, Qumran has assured us of the eschatological atmosphere of Judaism in Jesus’ era. The late David Flusser is cited as noting that Jesus “is the only Jew of ancient times known to us, who preached not only that people were on the threshold of the end of time, but that the new age of salvation had already begun” (57). For the inaugurated vector of the semi-eschatological era (‘now’/‘not yet’), this is an accurate and perceptive observation. But the nature of eschatology at Qumran remains controverted as the offerings in this volume demonstrate. Emile Peuch (“Jesus and Resurrection Faith in the Light of Jewish Texts,” 639-59) acknowledges the future bodily resurrection of Daniel 12:2. But then he hangs this Jewish eschatological notion on imported Persian/Iranian mythology. How dearly the higher critics bend even desert documents in Israel to Iranian comparative religions methodology! In addition, Peuch is hopelessly confused about the difference between (Greek) immortality and (Christian) resurrection. Ah well, this too shall pass. Henry W. M. Rietz (“Reflections on Jesus’ Eschatology in the Light of Qumran,” 186-205) notes that Qumran was a sectarian, separatist movement. Its eschatology was flat and linear, i.e., attaining the ‘new age’ was just more of the same old same old ‘present age’. Jesus is thus folded into this paradigm and becomes (surprise! surprise!) a proclaimer of transforming “social relationships”. Here we have the higher critics making eschatology serve the political-social agenda of the 21st century critic himself. Jesus’ notion of eternal life with the Father in heaven just will not do!!!

The dust has yet to settle in this attempt to assess sectarian Qumran eschatology. The jury is still out on whether it is mainstream 2nd Temple eschatology or some aberration thereof. But our standard is not Qumran, regardless of the eventual conclusions; our standard remains the eschatology of the Old and New Testament—and that eschatology is wonderfully both present and future oriented through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Craig Evans (338-40) has an excellent review of the Kidron Valley ossuaries, which may contain the remains of ‘Alexander son of Simon’ of Cyrene (Mk. 15:21). Discovered in 1941, these artifacts shed a measure of light on an early Christian family.

Charlesworth prioritizes seven of the most significant recent archaeological discoveries, including the excavation of the Pool of Bethesda (Jn. 5:2-9), the remains of the crucified man (Jehohanan) and the alleged rock on which Jesus may have been crucified. He concludes this volume with a ringing endorsement of the historicity of the gospels: “It would be foolish to continue to foster the illusion that the Gospels are merely fictional stories . . . The theologies in the New Testament are grounded in interpretations of real historical events” (694). Amen! And thank you, James Charlesworth, for this very helpful and edifying collection.

—James T. Dennison, Jr.

[1] Charlesworth’s “Preface” is dated January 2005; much of the data in his volume pre-dates 2004.