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Jesus and Archaeology.

Jesus and Archaeology. Edited by JAMES H. CHARLESWORTH. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING Co., 2006. Pp. xxv + 740, illus. $50 (paper).

This volume contains thirty papers presented at a millennium conference in Jerusalem that was organized by Charlesworth (who contributes one paper, a preface, and a conclusion). The title high-lights Charlesworth's interest in demonstrating how "archaeological discoveries can help us reconstruct and understand the life and teachings of Jesus" (p. xxiv). Among these discoveries, Charlesworth lists ancient synagogue buildings dating to the first century C.E., remains in the area of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, and the sites of Nazareth, Cana, Bethsaida, Capernaum, and Sepphoris.

In an introductory essay on "What is Biblical Archaeology?" Avraham Biran states that: "Biblical archaeology may then be defined as archaeology of Bible lands in general and the Holy Land in particular" (p. 2). However, geography alone does not define Biblical archaeology, since this field excludes pre- and post-biblical period remains (such as those from the prehistoric and Islamic periods). Furthermore, Biblical archaeology in Palestine focuses not on the Bible in the Christian sense of the word (which includes the New Testament), but on periods associated with the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament (that is, the Bronze and Iron Ages). In fact, although Biran pays lip service to New Testament period remains, all of the examples he uses to illustrate the intersection of Bible and archaeology come from his own excavation at Tel Dan. Biran provides a good introduction to traditional Biblical archaeology, but it has little to do with the papers in the rest of this volume.

Since it is impossible to do justice to all of the contributions in this volume in a brief review, I highlight a selection of papers. In "Archaeology and the Historical Jesus," Sean Freyne provides a useful review of the history of the field. He notes that the rise of interest in the historical Jesus in the second half of the twentieth century and the establishment of the Jesus Seminar in the early 1980s did not lead to a corresponding awareness of archaeology among historians of Jesus. Instead, interest in archaeology has been limited to a relatively small number of scholars, including John Dominic Crossan and Richard Horsley, whose views Freyne contrasts and evaluates. Freyne believes that archaeology is important for understanding the historical Jesus, but cautions that "[a]t best it [archaeology] can only provide indirect evidence of the way things were with the Galileans whom Jesus encountered, thus adding one more hermeneutical step to be taken by students of the historical Jesus" (pp. 74-75).

In "Recovering Jesus' Mamzerut," Bruce Chilton draws on the Gospels, the Hebrew Bible, and rabbinic literature to suggest that some people accused Jesus of being born of fornication (porneia; John 8:41) because Mary had become pregnant without clearly (or openly) having lived with Joseph. Chilton also cautions that the Gospels cannot be read "stratigraphically" like an archaeological tell, and reminds us that there is no "primitive," "historical," or "authentic" text about Jesus.

Henry Rietz contributes "Reflections on Jesus' Eschatology in Light of Qumran." He notes that the terms "eschatological" and "apocalyptic" are often used in an imprecise manner to describe the Qumran community and the historical Jesus (and his movement). Instead, Rietz proposes using the concept of time to understand the outlook of these groups. He concludes that although Jesus seems to display a cosmic dualism similar to that at Qumran, the cosmology of these two groups did not promote an otherworldly escapism but provided the context in which human actions and events came under divine scrutiny.

John Kloppenborg considers "The Theodotos Synagogue Inscription and the Problem of First Century C.E. the term synagoge referred only to assemblies or congregations and not to buildings. Kloppenborg reviews the literary and archaeological evidence for first-century synagogues and provides an exhaustive evaluation of the Theodotos inscription. He concludes that the Theodotos inscription dates to the first century and not to the second or third centuries as Kee has argued. Kloppenborg shows that other evidence, including a papyrus from Benghazi, demonstrates that by the first century C.E. the term synagoge sometimes denoted a building.

In "Jesus and the Theater in Jerusalem," Achim Lichtenberger argues persuasively that the theater and amphitheater built by Herod in Jerusalem were temporary wooden structures, not permanent stone arenas. This would explain why these two large structures have left no discernible traces in the archaeological record. According to Lichtenberger, the stone theater seats built into one of the Umayyad palaces southwest of the Temple Mount should be dated to the second and third centuries C.E. based on their profile.

In "Jesus and the Herodian Temple Mount," Dan Bahat suggests that the screen bearing inscriptions prohibiting entry to Gentiles marked the innermost limit of the court allotted to the Gentiles or the impure, and that it corresponded with the limits of the pre-Herodian Temple Mount. The laws of purity did not apply to the larger area added by Herod the Great.

In "Miracles, Maleficium, and Maiestas in the Trial of Jesus," John Welch suggests that the chief priests took Jesus to Pontius Pilate in the hope that he might find Jesus guilty under the Roman law of sedition, through illicit magical wonder-working. Welch claims that crucifixion was not an exclusively Roman method of execution, and that it is analogous to suffocation (which was permitted by Jewish law), since hanging usually resulted in asphyxiation. However, the Hebrew Bible (Deut. 21:22) permits hanging the bodies of executed criminals only after they were dead for the purposes of public display. And the Mishnah's description of execution by strangulation demonstrates that it had nothing to do with crucifixion: "The religious requirement of strangulation [is carried out as follows]: They would bury him in manure up to his armpits, and put a towel of hard material inside one of soft material, and wrap it around his neck. This [witness] pulls it to him from one side, and that witness pulls it to him at the other side, until he perishes" (m. Sanhedrin 7:3; translation from Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation [New Haven: Yale Univ. Press], 1988).

In "The Cemeteries of Qumran and Celibacy: Confusion Laid to Rest," Joseph Zias identifies most of the female burials in the Qumran cemetery as Bedouin, leaving an excavated sample that consists almost entirely of adult males.

Two articles, "Archaeology and John's Gospel" by Urban Von Wahlde and "Aspects of Historicity in the Gospel of John" by Paul Anderson, note that although the Gospel of John is the latest of the four gospels and is profoundly theological, it contains a remarkable number of (apparently accurate) topographical references that are not found in the other Gospels, including the Pool of Siloam and the Pool of Bethesda, the Praetorium, and the Litostrotos. The authors conclude that despite its clear theological tone and agenda and the presence of obvious anachronisms, the Gospel of John should not be dismissed as ahistorical. Therefore the Fourth Gospel should not necessarily be considered less authentic than or historically inferior to the Synoptics.

In conclusion, the papers in this volume provide a good overview of archaeology's contribution to our knowledge of the historical Jesus.


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Author:Magness, Jodi
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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