Many people ask me why is it important to confirm the historical details of the Bible? The Bible can be broken into two separate areas, the historical, and the divine. Critics complain that if the authors of the Bible could not get the historical facts, the kings, cities, battles, and other details correct, how can they be trusted to get the divine portions correct? If you intend to witness to others about your faith, questions regarding the accuracy of the Bible are certain to come up. Having the proper, and honest answer to questions is essential. I consider this research and knowledge to be just one more element of your spiritual armor Paul speaks of in his letter to the Ephesians. The Bible commands us to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." We are also told to "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." In order to know how to respond to critics and doubters of the Bible's accuracy, we must study and search for the answers. Only then can we fulfill our commitment to know how to answer everyone. We, of course, cannot know all the answers, but by careful study we can learn more, and continue our spiritual growth.

"If I have told you people about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about Heavenly Things?" John 3:12

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Twelve Disciples - Who Were They?

Twelve DisciplesDuring His ministry on Earth Jesus selected twelve men to be His disciples. These men traveled with Him, learned from Him and were His constant companions during His earthly ministry. These are also the men who were responsible for carrying on the work of Jesus after His resurrection and ascension into heaven.  How much do we know about these twelve men who were so critical in the early days of the new church which would come to be known as Christianity? Some of the men we know a great deal about, others are almost strangers.
Here I have attempted to gather together information about these twelve men from various sources. There is a great deal of research to be done and this is just the beginning of this project. and the information below is limited at best. I will be inserting archaeological discoveries which help confirm some of the elements of the information below. While limited, it does offer confirmation of what we believe we know about these men
Andrew - Preached the Gospel to the Scythians and Thracians, which is modern day Georgia and Bulgaria. Tradition tells us Andrew was crucified at Patrae, located in Greece and was buried there
Bartholomew - Went out and preached the Gospel in India and gave them the written Gospel of Matthew, according to Eusebius. Bartholomew was eventually crucified, head down and buried in Allanum, a town in modern day Georgia
James, son of Alphaeus - Very little is known about James. According to Hippolytus James was stoned to death by the Jews in Jerusalem and was buried beside the temple
James, son of Zebedee was also the brother of the disciple John (the one Jesus loved). According to the Book of Acts, Herod the king hand James beheaded. This is confirmed by both Hippolytus and Eusebius
John - is the author of the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelations. John was eventually banished by Domitian to the Isle of Patmos. John is one of the few disciples who did not suffer a violent death, rather he is said to have died in Ephesus.
Judas Iscariot - was the keeper of the money for the disciples. He later betrayed Jesus, handing Him over to His enemies for 30 silver pieces. Judas tried to return the money but it was refused and he later went out and hung himself
Matthew - is the author of the Gospel of Matthew which he wrote in Hebrew and published in Jerusalem. Matthew died at Hierees.
Tomb of St. Phillip
Philip - preached in what we today know as eastern Turkey. He was eventually crucifed, head down, in Hierapolis and was buried there .
Simon, who Jesus named Peter is widely considered the first Pope and the early leader of the Christian movement. Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark travelled with Peter and is often referred to as the interpreter of Peter. Peter was put to death in Rome at the command of Nero. Not feeling worthy of dying in the same manner as his Lord, Peter was crucified head down.
Simon the Zealot - was the son of Clopas and was the second Bishop of Jerusalem after James the Just. The Zealots used terrorist tactics against the Roman's and anyone they felt were sympathetic to the occupying Romans. Their weapon of choice was a Sicarii Dagger they hide in the folds of their clothing.  - It is believed Simon took the Gospel north to the British Isles. Early church tradition tells us Simon was eventually put to death for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. 
Thaddaeus - also called Judas son of James, also called Jude, preached the Gospel to Edessa and Mesopotamia. He is believed to have died in Berytus and was buried there.
Thomas - was a very active missionary and preached to the Margians, Bactrians, Persians, Medes, Parthians and Hyrcanians. According to Hippolutus Thomas died in Calamene in India and was buried there. Hippolytus records that Thomas was thrust through in the four members of his body with a pine spear. All of this after Thomas doubted the resurrection of Jesus and demanded physical evidence before he would believe.

What Happened To The Apostles

James - the brother of Jesus was the first bishop of Jerusalem and is often confused as one of the twelve disciples. James was not an active member of Jesus' ministry until after His death.  It is recorded in John that James did not believe in Jesus but later died a martyr, being stoned in Jerusalem.

St. Paul
Paul - is also often considered one of the twelve but was actually actively opposed to the ministry of Jesus until his conversion. Paul then became perhaps the greatest missionary in the history of the church and suffered numerous trials and punishments during his lifetime. He was beheaded in Rome at the command of Nero. Tradition has it that Paul and Peter died on the same day. Some believe they died on the same date, but a year apart, but there is no confirmation of this tradition.

Tradition holds that Paul's body was collected by his followers and buried in the catacombs along with the body of Saint Peter.  Then in approximately 390 A.D. the remains of St. Paul were moved to Rome's Basilica of St. Paul. The sarcophagus containing St. Paul then vanished, not to be seen again for nearly 1,600 years.

For centuries it was believed the sarcophagus was buried beneath the alter of the Basilica of St. Paul but not until 2002 was the alter explored to see if the long thought resting place for St. Paul was indeed there. After four long years the alter was opened and a white sarcophagus was found. On top of the sarcophagus was a Latin inscription which read "Paul Apostle Martyr".  The inscription and the location of the sarcophagus seemed to confirm this was indeed the tomb of St. Paul. The question remained however, did the sarcophagus contain the bodily remains of the great missionary. The Vatican decided against allowing the sarcophagus to be opened at that time.

The Vatican later changed its position on this issue and allowed further examination by archeologist. Three years after the sarcophagus was discovered, Pope Benedict reported a tiny hole had been drilled in the sarcophagus in order to allow inspection of the interior. The probe found traces of a precious linen cloth which was purple in color and laminated with pure gold. They also found blue colored textile with filaments of linen.  Traces of limestone, protein and grains of red incense were also found to be present. Also there were small bone fragments, which according to carbon dating belonged to a person who lived in either the first or second century A.D.

At the same time the discovery of bone fragments was being announced the Vatican also announced the discovery of perhaps the oldest image of St. Paul yet found. The frescoed image was discovered on the walls the catacomb of Santa Tecla below Rome. It is believed the image was drawn sometime in the fourth century. It depicts a man with a pointed black beard on a bright red backdrop. It was customary for tombs to be carved out of the soft rock within the catacombs and the walls decorated with drawings or paintings.
Tomb of Saint Paul

While it can never be proven the bone fragments within the sarcophagus are those of Saint Paul, all evidence points in that direction. Moved to its hiding place approximately 325 years after Paul's death the sarcophagus remained hidden and undisturbed for the next 1600 years. The sarcophagus is now on display in the basilica. The Vatican has not released a time line for how long the sarcophagus will remain on display. - Related Post - Tomb of Saint Paul

This page is a work in progress and I will be adding new material as time permits.

Miracles - Real or Myth?

Miracle of Healing
Proving the historical accuracies of miracles depicted in the Bible is a very difficult proposition. The only evidence will be the eye witness accounts recorded in the Bible. Since the Bible is the source in question, the recordings of witnesses within its pages must also be in question. There is however a method by which the miracles recorded in the Bible can be given more credibility. In science an experiment must be repeatable if its conclusion is to be considered factual. In a way, we can apply this same standard to Biblical miracles.

While we certainly cannot repeat the miracles recorded in the Bible, does it not stand to reason that if similar miracles continue to take place today, then the stories contained in the Bible should be considered in a different light? If miracles continue in modern times, then why would we doubt there existence in the time of Jesus, or in the Biblical record of Jesus performing these miracles
It is a less than well known fact all alleged miracles concerning the Catholic church are closely investigated by the Vatican. We will more closely examine the Vatican process of documenting miracles later in this section. In somewhat the same line, the opinions of many doctors may also come as a surprise to those who see doctors as people of science and consider them less likely to be people of faith. As well shall see, this is not the case
Do doctors, some of the best trained minds in the world, believe miracles are possible? We must first outline that in this we are speaking only of miracles concerning medical healing. HCD Research is a large marketing firm which does a great deal of work with the pharmaceutical industry. In 2004 HCD conducted a survey of 1087 doctors in the United States. The findings of this survey were more than a little surprising to many
Concerning religion the survey results showed 72% of doctors believed religion was a necessary part of life. While the answer implies 72% of doctors are people of faith, that is not what the question asked. The belief religion is a necessary part of life is not a direct statement of faith. How many of the 72% actually believe in God is unknown. There was however a more direct question concerning faith which can reveal more about the doctors. A full  59% said they had personally prayed for individual patients in their care. 66% of doctors said they had advised patients to pray.
While suggesting the patients pray for their own recover may provide a psychological boost to the patients without any divine intervention, the fact the doctors pray for their patients' is a much more telling number. The survey went on to ask why the doctors advised the patients to pray for their own recover. The reasons were broken down into three areas with 5% saying they believed God would answer the prayer, while 32% suggested it in hopes of the giving the patient a psychological boost. What is somewhat surprising is that 63% of the doctors listed both of these as reasons for their suggestion to pray.
When it comes to miracles, the numbers are heavily weighted in one direction. Of the 1087 doctors 73% said they believe miracles are continuing to happen today. What I found even more surprising was that more than half (55%) of the doctors reported they had witnessed a miracle in their own practice. All in all the results of the survey were very surprising to many. One individual pointed out the general consensus is that the more educated the person, the less likely they are to be people of faith or to believe in acts such as miracles. This survey shows quite the opposite.
In fairness, this may be a good time to remember that third kind of lie, statistics. While there is no indication this survey was slanted or bias, the results of any survey can be influenced by the wording of the questions and the method by which the questions are asked. As stated, there is no evidence or claims of manipulation in this case, and for the time being I believe the results to be a true reflection of this segment of society.
Believing  miracles can and do happen is only a portion of the argument. Can miracles be proven? Certainly all claims of miraculous recoveries are not accurate. Many can and must be attributed to the skills of the medical staff attending the patient. Modern medicine and medical treatments can at times be so astounding it is called a miracle, but unless you are attributing the skill of the doctor to God, the event is not a miracle, at least by definition.
The Catholic church carefully investigates claims of miracles. There are several criteria which must be met in order for the miracle to be considered divine. This criteria, along with detailed interviews of all those involved, including medical providers is carefully examined.
Medical Miracles
 In her book "Medical Miracles - Doctors, Saints, and Healing in the Modern World" doctor Jacalyn Duffin discusses her research into over 1,400 miracles involving medical healings. These miracles were confirmed by the Roman Catholic Church and attributed to certain individuals in order for them to be ordained as Saints. Doctor Duffin covers the material in detail and looks at both the miracles, the doctors, and the process used to confirm the miracles. Doctor Duffin first became interested in the process when she was unknowingly asked to confirm the miraculous healing of a leukemia patient. She assumed from the test results she had been given that the patient had died and there was a law suit of some kind underway. When she discovered the patient had recovered and the reason she had been consulted was to confirm a miracle had taken place, Duffin became more interested in the subject matter. Adding to the intrigue of this story is the fact Doctor Duffin is an atheist. So why would the Catholic church ask an atheist to confirm a miracle, and what would an atheist discover when she began researching over 1,400 confirmed miracles?
One of the most interesting aspects of Doctor Duffin's research is the process used in confirming the miracles. Most people would probably assume the Catholic Church looks only at the divine aspect of the event, but this is not the case. In 1588 the church had a major reform in this area. The reforms demand proof the cure had been the result of a miracle and not medical treatment. In order to achieve this proof the church  tests and investigates each miracle using the best scientific and medical knowledge available at the time.  If there were any possibility the cure was the result of medical treatment the healing was eliminated as a possible miracle. Doctor's, such as Duffin, were interviewed and the medical facts of each case reviewed. Duffin found the investigative process to be very efficient and thorough. The church it seems, looks for the most qualified doctors available in order to confirm the miracle and the relationship of the doctor to the church, or even their personal beliefs, are inconsequential.
It should be noted the 1,400 miracles looked at by Doctor Duffin took place since 1588 and only involved medical healings. Since her interest and expertise was in the medical field she only examined miracles in this area. She spent countless hours at the Vatican researching documents and testimony in each case. It should also be noted she looked at only the cases which were confirmed, many more were deemed to have not been miracles as defined by the church.
For an event to be considered a miracle it not only had to pass close scientific inspection, but had to meet the afore mentioned criteria. In the case of a medical healing the diagnosis of the illness had to be confirmed. Secondly, there had to be some sort of request made to a saint or other figure who would intercede on their behalf. (It is mentioned several times in the book the saints only make a request to God on the part of the sick person and only God has the power to cure them.) The cure must also take place almost instantaneously. This last requirement is yet another safeguard to make certain the miracle is legitimate.
If an illness or injury gets better over a period of time, even if it is deemed not to be the result of medical treatment, it could be a natural healing. For it to be a miracle, the healing must occur so quickly it is obvious the cure was not the result of medical treatment or a natural healing of the body.
What was the final outcome of Doctor Duffin's search? No, she did not become a believer, but she does admit to believing in miracles. She believes the information in the files, the testimony of the people interviewed, and the integrity of the church's process are all honest and in good order.  Doctor Duffin admits she cannot offer a medical explanation for the healings recorded in these miracles. As a result, Duffin finds it unfair to dismiss a person's belief that the healings were done at the hand of God since she can offer no viable alternative which offers better proof.
I have found Doctor Duffin to be a very helpful and considerate person who is eager to share her expertise and opinion with others. I respect her opinions and her skills, so when she states she believes the people interviewed and believes in the integrity and honesty of the system used to confirm miracles, it carries a great deal of weight. Doctor Duffin says she is fine believing in wondrous events which she cannot explain or attribute to medical science. I respect that opinion, and the fine work she has done.
When a person recovers, almost spontaneously, from a disease or injury which would have otherwise resulted in death it seems logical to assume an external force has interceded. When this external force is neither in the form of medicine or surgery another source outside of medical treatment must be given credit. While uncomfortable for many, when all medical explanations have been exhausted, it is only logical to consider other sources. One possible source is an intervention by a higher power, God. While this is difficult if not impossible to prove, any critical thinking mind must allow for this possibility in the total absence of any medical or scientific explanation. Do miracles still happen? Not surprisingly the Catholic church believes they do. Slightly more surprising is the fact the majority of doctors believe so as well, even some who do not believe in God. While it was not addressed in the survey there is little reason to doubt these same, well educated medical professionals, believe the miracles recorded in the Bible were also possible.

Top 10 Bible Archaeological Discoveries Of All Time

"Truth shall spring out of the earth..." (Psalm 85:11)
The words of the Psalm seem to speak of the science of archaeology. From the stones, relics and clues buried beneath the soil and sands come the stories of the past. In some cases, stories related to the Bible. It is always important to realize archaeology is far from an exact science. Rarely if ever do archaeologist uncover a complete picture or record of what once existed. As a result they must piece together information and attempt to fill in the blanks. As more and more evidence is discovered, more of the blanks can be filled with more confidence. I have not included claimed discoveries or discoveries which are in question despite what may seem like overwhelming evidence for their authenticity. These would include the James Ossuary, The Stone Lamp from the Temple, and the Jehoash Inscription. If authentic, these would certainly be on the list, but given the debates surrounding these they have been omitted from this list despite the fact I believe all three to be authentic artifacts.

Number 10 - The Jesus Boat

Jesus Boat
The discovery was made near the Sea of Galilee in 1985-86 when two brothers discovered something remarkable in the mud. The find was the first of its kind and dated back to between 120 B.C. and 40 A.D. There in the mud were the remnants of a fishing boat some 30 feet in length. A recent drought had the water level well below normal, allowing the boat to be seen by man for the first time in almost 2,000 years.

The boat itself was in remarkable condition considering its age. Some 30 feet long and 8 feet wide, it could hold approximately 15 people and was constructed to be propelled by sail, or by four oarsmen. Because of its age, size, and the location of its discovery some have called this the 'Jesus Boat'. While there is no evidence which indicates this was in any way a boat used by Jesus, it certainly represents the type of boat used in the time of Jesus and the type of craft depicted numerous times in the Bible.
While it is unconfirmed and all but impossible to verify, the brothers reported a double rainbow appeared in the sky over the Sea of Galilee at the time of the discovery. Many believed this was a sign from God somehow celebrating or confirming the discovery of the ancient boat. Regardless of the existence of a double rainbow, the discovery remains very significant for a number of reasons.
The Bible depicted a thriving fishing trade on the Sea of Galilee but no ancient boats had ever been discovered. This of course lead minimalist to surmise the stories of the Bible were inaccurate, or written at a later date and contained incorrect data. The discovery of this boat was significant not only because it was the first boat found, but because it matched up so well with the boats depicted in the Bible.

The age of the boat was determined by the type of construction used on the hull as well as seventeen pieces of pottery found in the boat. The pottery matched other pieces found at excavations in Israel making it possible to properly date them. The boat was also subjected to carbon 14 dating. The boat is now on exhibit in a specially constructed exhibit hall at Kibbutz Ginnosar.
It is estimated the boat was used by as many as three generations of fishermen. There are also indications the boat had undergone repairs over the years but was finally stripped of all usable gear and abandoned. It is somewhat interesting that there were a total of twelve different kinds of wood found in the hull of the boat, many of which appear to be in the form of patches or repairs. This discovery is the oldest fresh water boat of any kind ever to be discovered, placing it firmly in our top ten.

(Before moving on I would like to stress the boat was named the 'Jesus’ boat because of its age. No archeologist or scientist I am aware of has ever made any indication or claim the boat was ever actually used by Jesus. While this may seem obvious to some, others assume the name is an indication the discovery is far more than experts claim it to be.)

Hittite Capital City
Number 9 - The Hittite Kingdom
At the number 9 position is a discovery which confirms the historical accuracy of several Biblical references. The Hittites are mentioned in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges and elsewhere in the Bible. Despite these numerous references, critics contended that the Hittites were a mythical people made up by the Bible writers.

These claims were based on an argument of absence. Since no evidence existed outside the Bible concerning the Hittites, then they must not be real and are nothing more than another part of a fictional tale. The critics were silenced somewhat in the 19th century when Hittite monuments were discovered. These monuments were found at Carchemish which is on the Euphrates River in Syria. This proved the Hittite people were indeed real and had some type of civilization large enough to construct monuments. This, as it turns out, was only the beginning.

In 1906 excavations were underway at Boghazkoy in Turkey. This was eventually found to be Hattusas, the capital city of the Hittite people. The city revealed a great deal concerning the Hittite people and their history. Far from being a mythical people, the Hittites were a dominate power in the region and exercised control over much of Asia Minor and the Near East. The empire at times stretched far enough to establish control over Syria as well as parts of Palestine.

Today, the existence of the Hittites is accepted and there is a great deal known concerning their culture, civilization, leadership, art and commerce. This all stands as evidence the Bible was right all along, that the writer's of the Bible were indeed accurate historians. Only after extensive external evidence was discovered were the accounts of the Bible accepted. The Bible is forced to prove itself over and over, which it does quite capably and with some regularity.

Number 8 - The Pool Of Siloam
In John 9:6-7 we are told of a miracle performed by Jesus.

' Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam"(this words means sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.'

Pool of Siloam
For many years scholars said there was no Pool of Siloam and that John was using a religious concept to make his point. Again the historical accuracy of the Bible was in question. In 2004, while putting in a new sewer and drain system, workers discovered large stone slabs as well as steps. When archeologist were summoned they immediately felt the site was significant and began excavations.

The archeologist soon realized the find was in fact the Pool of Siloam as depicted in the Bible. As excavations continued the size and grandeur of the pool was slowly revealed. It is believed the pool stopped being used around the time of the Jewish revolt from 66 to 70 A.D. This is based on coins found near the base of the pool.

Experts point out the pool is located at the lowest point of the city and seasonal rains would wash mud into the pool. When the pool was in use, this mud would be cleaned out on a regular basis. When the pool was no longer maintained, it quickly filled with mud and disappeared from sight. The pool is believed to have been constructed in approximately 700 B.C.

The Pool of Siloam is fed from waters exiting Hezekiah's Tunnel. There are three sets of five steps leading down into the pool area. Archeologist are certain more of the pool remains concealed beneath an orchard and beyond a modern sewer and pipe system which would need to be re-routed for excavations to continue. The property is owned by the Greek Orthodox Church and permission to dig in the orchard has yet to be granted. They do believe this may be the largest ritual bath, or miqueh, ever to be discovered.

Number 7 - Moses Not Illiterate
For decades many scholars disputed the authorship of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). Tradition tells us the Pentateuch was written by Moses, but scholars scoffed at this claim, insisting Moses was most certainly illiterate. There is no need for Moses to be personally insulted by their claims, since the critics do not believe anyone in the time of Moses had learned the craft of writing. As a result they insisted at best Moses may have passed down oral traditions, but he did not author anything.

While believers insist the true author of the Bible is God, critics used this as a point of leverage to pry away new believers or those who were just beginning their search for the truth. After all, if we could not even be certain who wrote the Bible, how can we possible trust it to be accurate? These concerns were put to rest when archeologist made several very important discoveries.

The proof Moses could have indeed authored the first books of the Bible began to emerge in the Near East. From the areas of Egypt and Mesopotamia archeologist found literally thousands of written documents dating back several hundred years before the time of Moses. More than 17,000 cuneiform tablets were discovered near ancient Ebla located in Syria. Some of the tablets include mentions of Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, and David. These along with many more discoveries show the craft of writing was well known and wide spread several generations before Moses. While this cannot be considered proof that Moses did indeed author the Pentateuch, it certainly dismisses the critics basis for saying he could not have been the author.

Number 6 - Altar on Mount Ebal
Mt. Ebal Altar
When the archeological team first encountered our Number 6 most significant discovery they thought they were dealing with a farm house or perhaps a fortified watch tower. After all, they had searched over 4,500 acres of the hilltop and found no evidence of any settlements or artifacts. What they had in fact discovered was one of the most astonishing archeological discoveries ever to be unearthed. On Mount Ebal Biblical history was made thousands of years ago, and now proof of that history has been discovered.

Mount Ebal is the highest point in northern and central Samaria. Atop the mountain archeologist discovered a stone enclosure, which upon further excavation turned out to be a large stone alter and worship complex. The design and construction of the alter clearly showed it was made by the Israelites or at the very least someone who followed their customs. The stones were uncut, not shaped by tools, and the structure used ramps rather than steps. This is in accordance with the laws put down in Exodus 2:23 ...

"Neither shall thou go up steps unto Mine alter..."

After excavating the site over seven seasons, the archeologist came to the determination the site was the alter constructed by Joshua as recorded in Joshua 8: 30-33.

Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, 31 as Moses the with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the LORD had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.servant of the LORD had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the LORD burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. 32 There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses. 33 All the Israelites,

The site is the only such worship center discovered completely intact. No other structures were built atop the alter and there have been no settlements in the area due to the constant state of conflict in the region for centuries. This allowed the site to remain intact and undisturbed, providing a clear image of what the structure looked like, and what it was used for.

The site also contained large amounts of ash and bone. In all 942 bones were examined and were found to belong to goats, sheep, cattle and deer. The examinations, made at the Hebrew University's Department of Zoology, were also able to determine the animals were all male and were approximately one year of age. This agrees with the laws concerning sacrifices as laid out in Leviticus 1:1-3.

The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock. 3 “‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD.

The evidence clearly shows the alter was constructed and used by the people of Israel just as the Bible records it. Perhaps even more amazing is the fact the archeologist discovered an even older alter concealed beneath the remains of the first. It is believed this altar dates back to the time of Genesis when Abram entered the area of Shechem, which is geographically very close to Mount Ebal. It is believed possible the older alter is in fact the alter constructed by Abram (Abraham). It is a certainty Joshua would never have built an alter dedicated to God atop the ruins of a alter used to worship pagan gods. He would however, be very likely to construct the new alter on a location already dedicated to God by Abraham.

This find is the most complete and ancient Israelite center to be discovered. Its location, construction, and use match perfectly with the Bible's record of Joshua and even further back to Abraham. It is a remarkable find which not only proves these segments of the Bible are historical accurate, but helps to confirm the much doubted Israelite settlement and conquest of the region.

Ossuary of Caiaphas
Number 5 - Ossuary of Caiaphas
At a construction site in 1990 a dump truck accidentally broke through the roof of an ancient tomb. The construction was taking place in the Jerusalem Peace Forrest and led to one of the more significant archeological discoveries in modern times. Inside the tomb several ossuaries were discovered. One of the ossuaries had two engravings upon it stating "Yehosef bar Qafa" which translated is "Joseph son of Caiaphas". Experts believe this is the high priest which before whom the Bible tells us Jesus was brought for questioning.

In those days tomb's belonged to families and contained burial niches where the person would be placed immediately after their death. After the body had decomposed the bones were gathered and placed in a stone box called an ossuary. This would allow the niche to be used over and over again. Depending on the family, some ossuaries were very elaborately decorated with intricate carvings. The ossuary discovered here was decorated with carvings of two circles with five rosettes in each circle. The high priest is mentioned in the Bible several times. One such occasion is in Matthew 26:3

" Then the chief priest and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas..."

The ossuary was opened and found to contain the bones of six persons. Testing and evaluation of the bones showed two were infants, a child between the age of two and five, a teenage boy between the age of thirteen and eighteen, an adult female, and an adult male estimated to have been approximately sixty years of age at the time of his death. This last set of bones is believed to have been the high priest Caiaphas mentioned in the Bible. A key figure in the Bible, this discovery helps to authentic the historical accuracy as told in the Gospel of Matthew as well as the Gospel of John and in the Book of Acts.

Number 4 - Amulet Scroll
Archeologist sometimes dig for several seasons only to uncover a single artifact, or no artifacts at all. It should then come as no surprise that when a burial chamber is discovered which contains more than 700 artifacts there is a great deal of excitement. This was just such the case in 1979 when a group of students, working with archeologist Gabriel Barkey were examining tombs in the "Shoulder of Hinnom" in Jerusalem.

The tomb was dated to the seventh century B.C. The treasure trove discovered included 150 beads, a rare coin, alabaster vessels, pottery, arrowheads, bone fragments and ivory artifacts. Also found in the cave, which is thought to have been a repository, were 100 pieces of silver. All of these items lead experts to believe the people buried in the tombs were to some degree wealthy individuals. This was significant since the city had been destroyed by the Babylonians and the population of Jerusalem at the time was thought to be all but non-existent.

One of the silver pieces was a tiny rolled up amulet. The amulet contained the tetragrammaton, or the name of God. The letters yod, he, waw, he, or YHWH. The amulet is the oldest non-Biblical source which mentions the name of God. Also on the amulet was the blessing from the book of Numbers.

"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-25)

The amulet appears to have been worn and carried with the person at all times. Apparently the family believed the amulet should continue with him and was placed it in the tomb along with the other artifacts. Given the age of the tomb it is thought the amulet is from the seventh century B.C. or perhaps the sixth century B.C.

Jesus before Pilate
Number 3 - Pontius Pilate Inscription
Pontius Pilate was the fifth governor of Judea and was appointed by the emperor Tiberius in 26 A.D. and removed from power in 37 A.D. by Vitellius, the Roman Governor of Syria. Pilate is mentioned in more than 60 passages from the New Testament. He is also mentioned in the writings of Josephus, Tacitus and Philo. Despite this external evidence concerning Pilate there remained some doubt as to the position Pilate held in Judea. This changed in 1961 when a stone slab inscribed with Pilate's name was discovered.

An Italian excavation was working at Caesarea Maritma under the direction of Antonio Frova. During the excavation they discovered a dedicatory stone. The inscription read Tiberieum/ [Pon]tius Pilatus/ [Praef]ectus Iuda [eae]. Translated this is Tiberius/ Pontius Pilate/ Perfecta of Judea. (Tiberius was the Roman emperor of the period.)The stone, when found was in secondary use and had been partially destroyed, but experts had little trouble reconstructing what the inscription read from the remaining text. The inscription confirmed the title and position held by Pilate at the time of Jesus' hearing and crucifixion. Pilate was removed from power just a few years after the crucifixion of Jesus when Pilate had a group of Samaritans slaughtered at Mount Gerizim.

House of David
Number 2 - House of David
King David is a central figure in the Bible, mentioned both in the old and new testaments. Despite his prominent appearance in the Bible many scholars and critics questioned not only the extent of his kingdom, but his very existence as a living breathing person. David was thought to be a myth, more of a symbol than an actual person and certainly not a ruler of any significant kingdom.
This opinion began to shift in the mid-1990's after Doctor Avraham Biran's team discovered an inscribed stone at excavations at Tel Dan. The group was preparing the sight for visitors when they discovered the stone fragment in a wall. It was quickly obvious the stone was in secondary use and had not originally been intended for use in the wall. Two more pieces of the broken stone were found in the same area and the inscription began to take shape. While more than a third of the original stone has never been found, the inscription on the stone pieces discovered revealed some remarkable information.

The inscription mentions Hadad, Jehoram, Ahab and the House of David. It also speaks of riots, thousands of horsemen, and laying seige. While the age of the stone is uncertain, because of the area where it was found experts know it could not have been placed there prior to 732 B.C. and the stone had obviously been intended as a testament to significant events. It is believed when political changes developed the new leaders did not want to be reminded of these events and had the stone broken, or so it is theorized. It seems quite certain the stone was inscribed well before 732 B.C.

Although the entire stone has not been recovered, and its exact origin is uncertain, the inscriptions give us solid proof David was a real person and apparently a ruler since the stone refers to the House of David. The evidence for David's existence and of his kingdom does not stop here.
In 2005 Doctor Eilat Mazar began excavations a few hundred feet south of the temple mount. While the area had been previously excavated, Mazar was looking for something she believed the original archeologist had missed, or simply had not recognized. As the excavation progressed Mazar's team slowly unearthed a large stone structure. The structure was large, complex, and was believed to be a temple or palace of some type. Mazar points out a temple would have been redundant since there were plans to build a temple on the site where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. She believes the structure is indeed a palace and belonged to King David. According to Mazar the structure is perfectly located to match the location and description given in the Bible. Mazar's group has dated the site to the 10th or 11th century B.C. The discovery further solidifies David's existence as not only a living breathing person, but also as a ruler, worthy of a grand palace.

(Note: Although Mazar dates the foundation and building to the 10th or 11th century B.C. this is not universally accepted. Other scholars want to further study the area before accepting Mazar's dating. There is also questions relating to the structure itself. Some believe the site is actual more than one structure and not a large palace as Mazar suggests. At the time of this writing Mazar was continuing her excavations but three occupied homes sit atop the area she and others most want to explore.)

Number 1 - Dead Sea Scrolls
In 1947 a Bedouin shepherd discovered seven scrolls in a cave overlooking the northwest end of the Dead Sea. A further search found additional scrolls in eleven caves. In total there were more than 800 documents discovered. A dealer attempted to sell the scrolls for the shepherds and it was at that time scholars in Jerusalem began to take an interest.

The scrolls included copies of all but one book of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). The only book missing was the Book of Esther. The find was remarkable as well as important since the scrolls were more than a thousand years older than the oldest copies of scripture currently known to exist. The scrolls included many sectarian documents as well which experts say have helped cast a new light on the era when the documents were recorded.

Research and study continues as experts work with photographs and copies of the documents. These copies are available at many universities around the world and it is almost a certainly the research will continue for several more decades.

There is a great deal of discussion and debate over where the scrolls were written. Some believe the scrolls were brought to the area by Jews fleeing the Romans during the revolt between 66 and 70 A.D. Others believe the vast majority of the scrolls were written in the city of Qumran located very near many of the caves. While there is considerable debate, I believe the evidence clearly indicates the majority of the scrolls were produced in Qumran. While a number of the scrolls clearly were produced elsewhere, the current findings strongly indicate the majority were produced in Qumran and placed in the surrounding caves. It is also interesting that experts now believe the same people who wrote/transcribed many of the dead sea scrolls also wrote/transcribed documents discovered at Masada. It is theorized people fleeing the Romans first went to Qumran, then on to Masada when Qumran was destroyed.

While scholars are excited by this information and insight into the time period, it is also very interesting to note the copies of the Old Testament found in the caves match almost exactly the current Biblical translations. This can help us be confident the scriptures we read today reflect the same content intended by the original authors. The majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display in the Shrine of the Book, located in Jerusalem.

Note From Author - This list was put together in late 2011 and early 2012. Since that time there have been a number of very important and significant discoveries made which some believe should be included in any list of this type.

Related Post: Top 10 Archaeological Discoveries of 2013  and  Bible Archaeology Top Discoveries Of 2012

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Nag Hammadi Library - Gnostic Writings

In 1945, near the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi, a major archaeological discovery was made. This discovery is listed by a number of scholars as the most important discovery related to Bible Archaeology in history. The discovery consisted of more than 1,000 pages of written documents sealed in a jar. The pages were assembled in twelve leather-bound codices and some believe they once belonged to the nearby Pachomian monastery. These codices, which came to be known as the Nag Hammadi Library, are currently on display in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

Location of Nag Hammadi
The manuscripts, dated to the third and fourth centuries A.D. are written in the Coptic language and consist of a total of fifty-two Gnostic treatises. The jar was originally discovered by a pair of brothers who kept the discovery secret. They attempted to sell off the manuscripts individually with only limited success due to the fact no one recognized the true worth of the artifacts. The situation was made worse when the mother of the two brothers burned some of the pages of the manuscripts. It is unclear if this was an accident, or if she believed the manuscripts to be evil. Eventually the brothers began to argue and turned the remaining documents over to a third party. After a number of years the true worth of the documents were realized and they were finally all brought together in Cairo in 1975, some thirty years after their discovery.

While the manuscripts contained a wide range of documents, a handful have garnered a great deal of attention over the years. Some of the documents were the inspiration and source for the book and movie, ‘The Da Vinci Code’. There have also been many who claim the contents of these manuscripts were kept out of the New Testament by early Christians, which is mostly true, but the reasons they were excluded is a matter of great debate. Because these manuscripts are considered so important and are so hotly debated, I felt it prudent to discuss several of the documents in a bit more detail. Unfortunately some believe because several of the documents are called ‘Gospels’ they deserve the same level of respect and significance as the Gospel accounts recorded in the Bible. Some of this is due to the misinformation surrounding some of these documents and how some have used them to further their own personal agendas. Due to space and time limitations, I will not attempt to examine all of the manuscripts, nor will I delve into all of the controversies and theories surrounding these documents. I will attempt to provide a brief background for some of the documents as well as its potential relation, if any, to Biblical text. I believe it prudent to begin with a brief explanation of the term ‘Gnostic’.

The Gnostic Beliefs

It is difficult if not impossible to give a brief yet concise description of the Gnostic beliefs. This is due primarily to the fact that Gnosticism was not an organized religion. There was no central core or belief system associated with the Gnostics but rather a group of individual sects which loosely shared some of the same beliefs. If a single statement is required, the Gnostic believed that Knowledge lead to Salvation. They believed the desire to know and appreciate God exists in all men and does not need to be given to man by God.

For a time many scholars believed Gnosticism to be an offshoot of Christianity. This has led some to theorize that the current Christian beliefs overpowered the Gnostic beliefs which of course raises the question of which group truly, or more properly represented and preserved the teachings of Jesus. It is now almost universally accepted that the Gnostic belief pre-dates Christianity by as much as two hundred years. It would eventually lose its followers and cease to exists sometime in the fifth century.

The Gnostic writings of the Nag Hammadi Library are believed to be from either the third or fourth century. They are however copies of manuscripts which were written at an earlier date. Most of the writings were originally produced in the late second or early third century. This makes the Biblical
Gospels on average 100 to 200 years older than the Gnostic Gospels found at Nag Hammadi. By all historical evidence Jesus was a Jew born and raised in the area surrounding the Dead Sea. The Gnostic writings strongly reflect Greek thinking and show definite signs the authors were followers or students of Plato. While the authors may have been aware of Christian beliefs, those beliefs were not what motivated their writings.

It is believed the Gnostic writers would often imitate or copy the writings and beliefs of the religion of the time, whatever religion that may be. When Christianity began to flourish the Gnostics began to revise the already written Gospels and incorporate their own beliefs. These corrupted gospels were rejected by the early Christians and seen as heresy by most.

In many instances the Gnostic writers would embellish the truth and attempt to enhance certain elements of the writings of others to advance their own beliefs. An example of this is “The Prayer of the Apostle Paul”. The Gnostic writings do not match any of the writings we know came from Paul which make up much of the New Testament. Paul even seems to warn about such elements as the Gnostics, or perhaps issues a direct warning about Gnosticism in the closing comments of 2 Timothy. (Covered in more detail below.) The Gnostics did not share the Christian view or belief system and were not a part of the early church. The writings of this group offered no insight into the teachings of

Jesus and were in fact a corruption of the truth contained in the accurate historical documents preserved in the New Testament. It should be made clear these were not accurate reliable Christian writings which were suppressed by the early church leaders in favor of a different message. These were documents prepared to mislead and manipulate people away from the Christian church and into the fold of the Gnostic believers. The early church leaders opposed these writings for a number of reasons, but foremost was the vast degree of inaccuracy and embellishments contained in the writings.

The Gospel of Truth

 This work is believed to have originally been written in Greek sometime between 140 and 180 A.D. While there is some debate, the author is believed to be Valentinus. If Valentinus did not write this himself, it was most certainly created by one of his followers. Irenaeus of Lyons claims Valentinus is the author based on comparisons of other writings known to belong to Valentinus. Most modern day scholars agree with Irenaeus on this point. Irenaeus was also clear in his opinion of this writing, calling it clear heresy. Other early church leaders agreed The Gospel of Truth had no value and was a corrupted version of events and did not represent the teachings or beliefs of Jesus or early Christians.

Valentinus is believed to have been born in Egypt and received his education in Alexandria. It is said he was a candidate for the position of Bishop of Rome, but was passed over. When another was selected Valentinus formed his own group. Valentinus is perhaps the most prominent Gnositc writer and philosopher. He believed and taught in a dual deity, one good and one bad constantly battling for control. Valentinus was also considered an expert or student of the mythical realms and incorporated many of these elements into his works and teachings.

The Gospel of Thomas

This is perhaps the best known of the Gnostic writings found at Nag Hammadi. This is not a true gospel as it does not chronicle the life of Jesus or His teachings. It is rather a ‘saying’ gospel. It is a collection of sayings which it attributes to Jesus, some of which clearly are taken from the Biblical Gospels, while others are from an unknown source. It is clear the author was not attempting to write a narrative story or to even convey the teachings or ministry of Jesus and many of the statements appear to be wholly gnostic in origin. It is widely believed the author attempted to use the growing popularity of Christianity to draw more followers to the gnostic beliefs by attributing the sayings to Jesus. With the disparity between the Biblical Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas and the fact the document was written up to 100 years after the Bible text was completed leads most to believe these are an inaccurate portrayal of Jesus and should not be considered in the same light as the Bible text.

The Gospel of Phillip

It is first important to point out that while the title mentions the name of Phillip, he is not the author of this book. The Apostle Phillip’s only relation with this manuscript is the fact he is mentioned in the text. The Apostle Phillip died more than 100 years prior to the writing of this document and no scholar believes the Apostle had any connection to this document.

 While this document covers a number of subjects, the one it is best known for is the subject of marriage. More preciously the possible marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. This of course was the basis for much if not all of the Da Vinci Code which for a time enjoyed a wide and enthusiastic audience. In reading this document you will find references where Mary Magdalene is called the koinonos of Jesus. In some translations this can be taken as wife. It is also used to mean a companion in business, or a companion in faith. While some cling to this as proof Jesus was married, a closer reading of the document tends to disprove this theory.

 As mentioned koinonos can mean a number of things, one of which is indeed wife. However,
elsewhere in this same document the author uses the term wife when referring to a married person. Why would the author use two different terms in the same document for the same meaning? It is clear when the author was referring to a married individual or couple the term wife was used. When the relationship was other than marriage the term koinonos was used. The document does not say, nor should it be interpreted to say, Jesus was married. Most scholars are of the opinion the author used wife to mean wife, and koinonos to mean a spiritual companion.

Some also point to a line from the document which states that Jesus would often kiss Mary Magdalene. Some see this as an indication of intimacy and have added words to the statement which simply are not there. The manuscript reads, (When [] are used it indicates the text is missing and what is there is an estimation or guess as to what might have been written.)

[Christ loved] M[ary] more than [all] the disci[ples, and used to] kiss her [softly] on her [hand].

As you can see if all of the text in the [ ] is removed the text leaves much to the imagination. The best guess is that the meaning was that Jesus would greet Mary Magdalene with a kiss on the hand or cheek. It was a sign of respect to kiss a companion on the hand or cheek when greeting them, and this sentence should not be considered to infer any type of intimacy between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

The Bible tells us Jesus did love Mary Magdalene, so this Gnostic writing offers no new insight or information not contained in the Bible. It in fact reads that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were companions in faith, not husband and wife. Attempting to read anything more into this document would be in error.

The Gospel of the Egyptians

There are two versions of this book. There is the Greek Gospel of the Egyptians and the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians. The primary subject in the Coptic version revolves around the creation of the Earth. The central character is Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. (Hence the term Sethians.) In this book it tells how Seth was incarnated as Jesus so he could release people’s souls from creation, which is seen as evil. They claim the spiritual world exists outside of creation which came into being as a punishment (or evil) which captures the souls. Only through knowledge can a person achieve salvation and escape creation and reenter the spiritual world. If a person could claim to be in the family line of Seth, they were considered to be superior and the elect of mankind.

The Letter of Peter to Phillip

The title of this manuscript is as miss leading as the manuscript itself. The Apostle Peter is not the author of this letter and in fact Peter died more than 100 years before the original of this manuscript was ever written. Most scholars place the original date to somewhere between 170 and 220 A.D. It is clear however from the writing the author had a very good knowledge of Christian beliefs. It is also very clear from these writings the author inserted gnostic materials into text which are clearly not Christian in origin. This letter is another example of the gnostic attempts to corrupt early Christian writings in order to advance their own beliefs. This letter, probably written in Greek, was first produced 100 to 150 years after the death of the person the title claims wrote it as well as 100 to 150 years after the death of the person the title says the letter was intended for.

 The Secret Book of James

This manuscript is believed to have been written in Egypt in the late second century or early third century. The key element of this manuscript was the authors desire to embellish and edit the materials in such a manner as to enhance the importance and position of James. During the lifetime of Jesus, James was not a believer. Not until the death and Resurrection of Jesus did James come to believe in Jesus and become active in the ministry. James would eventually become the first bishop of Jerusalem and some say he played a larger role in the early church than did Peter, considered by many as the first pope.

The gnostic writers attempted to enhance James to draw attention away from Jesus and to their beliefs. While the author of this book had obvious knowledge of the Christian faith, they went to some length to distinguish between the gnostic beliefs and Christian faith. This document offers no revelations and has never been considered historically or theologically correct.

On the Origin of the World

This manuscript provides the gnostic version of creation and ends times. As mentioned elsewhere, the Gnostics believed all creation was evil which served as a trap or holding area for man. Only through knowledge could man escape creation, evil, and return to the spirit world. In an interesting contrast to the Christian beliefs, in the Gnostic version of creation the Serpent in the Garden of Eden is actually the hero, sent to save mankind by providing knowledge and insight. Since the story of creation had been around for centuries prior to the appearance of the gnostic beliefs it seems obvious which version of the text should be considered more reliable, or at least the original.

The Prayer of the Apostle Paul

Written between 150 and 300 A.D. few if any scholar believes this manuscript to have been written by the Apostle Paul. It is just as doubtful the contents are in any way related to the Apostle Paul. This is based on a comparison of the known writings of Paul, included in the Biblical text, with this manuscript. The style and structure of the writings, as well as the message the writings attempts to convey do not match those of the Pauline letters preserved in the Bible. There is no record of this manuscript prior to the dates provided at which time Paul would have been dead between 80 and 220 years.

It is interesting that some Scholars believe Paul wrote a warning concerning Gnostic writings and there attempt to corrupt the true message of Jesus and Christianity. This warning, according to some, is contained in the final paragraphs of Paul's second letter to Timothy. While this could apply to any material that does not come from a reliable and trustworthy source, some believe it specifically speaks to the threat posed by the Gnostic writers and followers..

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:3-5

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter Morning - Evidence Of The Empty Tomb

Garden Tomb
Is there physical evidence regarding the resurrection and the empty tomb on Easter morning? To find the answers we need to examine the details as recorded by eye witnesses to the events. The first item is the story presented by the authorities regarding the empty tomb. -  Fearful the disciples would steal the body of Jesus and claim He arose from the dead as He had proclaimed while living, the Pharisees went to Pilate. In the Gospel of Matthew we are told of their fears, and of the preparations made to secure the grave of Jesus.

...Pharisees went to Pilate. "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." "Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)

In the next chapter of Matthew we find the guard mentioned was not a single guard as it reads;

"...they gave the soldiers a large sum of money..." (Matthew 28:12)

So the tomb was guarded by multiple soldiers, sealed, and secured to the best of the Pharisees abilities. Yet on Easter morning the tomb stood empty.

The first aspect to examine are the guards. It is believed these were Roman soldiers. Well trained, experienced, and a part of the finest army in the world, these soldiers were told to stand guard at the tomb. To think they fell asleep or left their post is not logical. We must remember the punishment for such actions would be quite harsh. The high priests were well aware of Jesus' claim that He would rise on the third day and would have made the guards aware of this fact so they would have known when to expect the disciples to strike. These guards were professionals and would have been well armed and capable of defending themselves and their post, which brings up another important point.

Is it believable these guards were overpowered by Jesus' disciples and allowed the body of Jesus to be stolen? These, the same disciples that deserted Jesus the day before, who fled when Jesus was arrested, who were no were to be found when Jesus stood trial before Pilate. These are the same disciples we are to believe now will confront armed guards in order to steal the body of their fallen leader. In that same line of thought, the guards were not killed or injured during the confrontation with Jesus' followers. That in itself is also quite amazing, almost too much to believe. A very brave and noble act by a group of men who fled for their own safety only a short time earlier, leaving Jesus to face His enemies alone. Now they attack and overpower guards but were careful not to kill or injury them in the process.

For a moment let us step back to the report the guards fell asleep and the body was stolen by the disciples. While we cannot be certain of its size, the rocks generally used to seal a tomb were quite large, weighing as much as two tons. It required levers and a number of stout men to move one of these stones. Considering these facts, it is even more remarkable that anyone would believe the guards could have slept through this type of project.

The next method used by the Pharisees to secure the tomb was a seal. This too was believed to be a seal of Rome, which carried the penalty of death to anyone who disturbed it. Again, we are asked to believe the disciples, who had shown such cowardice only a short time before would now take such risks in order to steal the body. At this point it is also important to realize the disciples would not have seen any value in stealing the body of Jesus. How could they profit from taking such a foolish risk as attacking Roman guards and breaking the seal. While the disciples did regain their courage after seeing Jesus, they were still in hiding behind locked doors when He came to them. The disciples were already concerned their involvement with Jesus had put their lives in jeopardy and from their actions when Jesus was arrested it is unlikely they would have knowingly put themselves in more danger at that time.

When all is considered, the story of the guards falling asleep and the disciples stealing the body of Jesus during the night becomes a remarkable tale invented by desperate men who had few other options. The man they had seen as a threat while alive had now risen from the dead and they realized He would be far more trouble to them now than ever before.
Beyond Evidence - Witnesses are Needed
I once heard a lawyer talking about evidence. Forensic evidence was very good, the DNA, the cloth fibers, the fingerprints, and even handwriting analysis. All of these are very impressive to a jury, he said, but there was one thing more the jury wants. The jury wants to hear someone say "I saw him do it!" In this lawyer's opinion, an eyewitness is the ultimate piece of evidence and is given more credibility than all the forensic evidence. I dare say he is not alone in his opinion of the value of an eye witness, let alone more than 500 of them.

In the case of the resurrection, the writers of the Gospels were themselves eyewitnesses to the events, or were recording the statements of actual witnesses. This in itself is impressive, but there is far more evidence, and witnesses.

Once Jesus had presented Himself to His disciples they found their courage and began preaching the news of His resurrection and the promise for eternal life. The disciples did not travel to distant lands to preach this message of hope, they began their ministry in Jerusalem, the place of Jesus' execution and where He was buried. This is significant because had the story of the empty tomb been false, the people of Jerusalem were the most likely to know the truth. Had the empty tomb been a lie, it would have certainly been easy enough for the authorities to point this out and squash the disciples stories. This did not happen, in fact the news spread in a most remarkable and astonishing way. The story of the empty tomb soon consumed the known world, and continues to reach people today, nearly 2,000 years after the event.

Concerning this point, F.F. Bruce Rylands, professor of Biblical criticism at the University of Manchester reports the disciples would have certainly had trouble proclaiming this story had it indeed been false or exaggerated. Rylands wrote;

"Had there been any tendency to depart from the facts in any material respect, the possible presence of hostile witnesses in the audience would have served as a further corrective."114

Paul Althaus wrote that the empty tomb was;

"too notorious to be denied" and as for the early teaching of the disciples concerning the empty tomb, "...could have not been maintained in Jerusalem for a single day, for a single hour, if the emptiness of the tomb had not been established as a fact for all concerned."115

Saint Paul
Saint Paul, an early convert to Christianity, reported Jesus had appeared alive and well to more than 500 of His followers, most of whom were still alive at the time of Paul's writings and could attest to the accuracy of his statements. The disciples themselves were visited by Jesus over a period of 40 days after the resurrection. The disciples said Jesus proved who He was and that He had indeed been raised from the dead by presenting them with many "infallible proofs."

and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

It would seem that had we held a trial concerning the facts involved in the resurrection of Jesus, it would have been a very long trial as we would have had hundreds of eye witnesses available to take the witness stand.

In truth, the tomb was not entirely empty. The gospel tells us that in one corner of the tomb were the grave clothes Jesus had been wrapped in before being placed in the tomb. These grave clothes are much like the empty chrysalis of a caterpillar's cocoon. Jesus had been raised, transformed to demonstrate His power over the tomb, over death, over sin. He was seen in all His new glory by His disciples and hundreds of His followers.

These apostles, disciples and followers had a very strong and undeniable belief in the life, the teachings and the resurrection of Jesus. This belief was demonstrated not only in how eagerly they spread the news about Jesus, but in their willingness to suffer physical torture and even be put to death rather than deny their beliefs. These men and women suffered some of the most horrible deaths possible. They were crucified, stoned, feed to wild animals, be-headed, and torn apart by dogs and other beasts. It is recorded that when darkness fell on these events, some of the Christians would be burned alive to act as torches. They all could have avoided this by denying Jesus and worshipping the Roman gods. They believed so much in Jesus they could not deny Him. This is remarkable, and even more remarkable is that some people believe the apostles knew the story of the resurrection was a lie, but died rather than admit it. To die for a cause or person you believe strongly in, yes that has been done throughout history. To die for something you knew was a complete and total lie and allow thousands even millions of others to suffer and die as well, that is far more remarkable to believe than the resurrection itself.