Archive for February, 2014

A Camel Controversy

Camels 1And you thought it was it only impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.

As it turns out, threading camels isn’t the only thing that’s impossible according to some archaeologists.  Domesticating them before the tenth century B.C. also turns out to be quite the trick.  Writing for the New York Times, John Noble Wilford provocatively declares, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis.”[1]  Wilford explains:

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

How does Wilford know that camels had no role in the era of the biblical patriarchs?  He cites a study, recently published by two archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, which employed radiocarbon dating to test some camel bones found in the Aravah Valley.  This study found the bones to be from the last third of the tenth century B.C., which, Wilford notes, is “centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible.”  So there you have it.  Thanks to some late breaking bones, Genesis is discredited – at least the parts that talk about camels.

Now, before we fall prey to camel chaos, a few things should be noted.  First, the Tel Aviv archaeologists, by declaring that camels could not have been used in the way Genesis 24 describes them, are making an argument from silence.  Their assumption runs like this:  because we do not have domesticated camel fossils dating before first millennium B.C., there must have been no domesticated camels before the first millennium B.C.  The Bible must be wrong.  But a lack of evidence does not necessitate a lack of existence.  One need to only think back to 1961.  This was the year the “Pilate Stone” was discovered at Caesarea Maritima.  It had an inscription dedicated to the emperor of Rome at the time, Tiberius Caesar:  “To the Divine Augustus Tiberieum:  Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea has dedicated this.”  Before this stone was discovered, because there was no hard archaeological evidence of Pontius Pilate, many assumed that Pilate was a fictional character, made up out of the sacred authors’ over-active imaginations.  Whoops.  So much for that argument from silence.

It should also be noted that the archaeologists who discovered these bones do not even have complete silence in favor of their argument against camels during the time of the biblical patriarchs.  They only have archaeological silence.  There are extra-biblical references to domesticated camels prior to the first millennium B.C.  Titus Kennedy, adjunct professor at Biola University, notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating anywhere from 1950 to 1600 B.C.  In an interview with Christianity Today, Kennedy explains:

For those who adhere to a twelfth century B.C. or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away …

[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 B.C. … So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 B.C. and in Mesopotamia the same thing.[2]

Kennedy concludes that there were not only domesticated camels at the time of the biblical patriarchs, but before the time of the biblical patriarchs.  Thus, the biblical record is quite believable.  There is no reason that Abraham could not have acquired “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels” (Genesis 12:16), just as Genesis says.

Ultimately, the difficulties with the premature conclusions drawn from this discovery reach much deeper than simply whether camels were around in the second millennium B.C.  These difficulties are summed up in Wilford’s conclusion:

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”

In other words, the Bible cannot be trusted to get its facts straight – at least not all of them.  When reading the Bible, then, skepticism must be given preference over faith.

Finally, if I assume camels could not have been in Genesis based on an argument from paleontological silence, it is only reasonable for me to assume that a Savior cannot rise from death based on medical science.  After all, doctors have long known that dead people tend to stay that way.  Thus, Jesus’ resurrection must have never happened.   But if this is true, then my “faith is futile; I am still in my sins … [and] I am to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).  Wow, that’s a downer.

Let’s hope the archaeologists are wrong on this one.  After all, I don’t really like to be pitied.


[1] John Noble Wilford, “Camels Had No Business in Genesis,” New York Times (2.10.2014).

[2] Gordon Govier, “The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy:  Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels?Christianity Today (February 2014).

February 24, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Michael Sam Makes It Public

Credit: cnn.com

Credit: cnn.com

“Does the NFL have any gay players?” my wife asked me last Sunday.  She was watching a Hallmark Valentine movie where one of the characters, an NFL quarterback, came out as homosexual.  “No, sweetie,” I responded.  “The NFL does not have any openly gay players.  There have been some players who have come out after they left the NFL, but to date, no players currently in the NFL are openly homosexual.”

It didn’t take long for that to change.

The next morning, while I was working out and watching ESPN, there was Michael Sam, former Missouri Defensive End and candidate in the NFL draft, coming out on national TV as a gay football player.   “I am an openly, proud gay man,” Sam told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”  Granted, Sam is not an NFL player…yet.  But his prospects are good.

I am surprised – pleasantly so – by how muted the negative response to Sam’s announcement has been.  Some journalists have hinted that responses could turn negative, but to date there is no swell of detractors decrying Sam as a dangerous degenerate.  By the same token, those who are writing and speaking about him are hailing him as a hero.  Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former linebacker who is currently a free agent, was effusive about Sam’s announcement, comparing him to Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks.  To cap off his feelings concerning Sam, he said, “To borrow from Neil Amstrong, this is one small step for gay men and one giant leap for the LGBTQ community.”[1]  Juliet Macur of the New York Times wrote a manifesto demanding that an NFL team draft Sam.  She begins by writing, “It’s time,” and ends by declaring, “Sam must be drafted. It’s time to move forward. The teams and the league are on the clock.”[2]  For Macur, Sam’s status as a future NFL star is not a matter of his talent, but of a moral imperative that says the NFL must have an openly gay player.

For orthodox Christians, all of this can be hard to sort out.  On the one hand, there is something to be celebrated here.  It is refreshing to see so many display a measured sensitivity to and deep compassion for those with same-sex attractions and those in same-sex relationships.  The gay slurs, gay jokes, and gay bashing of yesteryear have drastically dissipated and, for my part, I say, “Good riddance.”  Such speech is diametrically opposed to the biblical command to love, which Paul says is the fulfillment and summation of all biblical commandments (cf. Romans 13:8-9).  On the other hand, Christians cannot pretend that our society’s sexual free-for-all, which demands not only the toleration of, but the celebration of sexual practices that are far from biblical standards for human sexuality, is nothing more than an issue of civil rights.  Whether it’s Michael Sam touting his homosexuality or Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin exchanging texts about how many women they have slept with and the use of prostitutes,[3] the spacious sexual ethic of our society is simply not something Christians can endorse.  Partly because it’s immoral and Scripturally forbidden, yes.  But also because it hurts, belittles, and objectifies people, which, in and of itself, is tragic, no matter what your ethical worldview.

Ultimately, the loose sexual standards of our society are nothing new.  The path of sexual salaciousness is well worn – not only in twenty-first century America, but in all the societies that have come before her.  But we can choose a different path.  We can choose the path of sexual commitment in marriage while walking “humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).  I pray that we do.  For when we do, we not only live out God’s sexual standard in our commitments, we show God’s lavish love by our humility.


[1] Mike Foss, “Ex-NFL player: Draft prospect who came out is like Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks,” USA Today (2.10.2014).

[2] Juliet Macur, “It’s Time for the N.F.L. to Welcome a Gay Player,” New York Times (2.9.2014).

[3] Adam H. Beasley, “Texts shed light on relationship between Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito,” Miami Herald (2.5.2014).

February 17, 2014 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Let Freedom Ring…Temperately

Beyonce and Jay Z 1It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who wrote, “Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”[1]  Of course, Rousseau’s conception of freedom was one where man was free from all restraints, most especially moral and social restraints. Rousseau argued that man’s ideal state is one where he is not reliant on morals or on others.  Reliance on morals and others rather than self-reliance, Rousseau opined, threatens man’s very survival and existence.

Rousseau wrote his words concerning man’s freedom in 1762.  We’ve been trying to decide whether or not he was right ever since.

Case in point:  Beyoncé’s performance at the Grammy’s.  Anand Giridharadas of the New York Times, in an article on her Grammy appearance, characterized Beyoncé like this:  “God-fearing girl from Texas, scantily clad and sexualized vixen, mononymous superstar and feminist icon, the wife who took Jay-Z’s last name, Carter.”[2]  What an interesting combination of characteristics.  She’s a sexualized vixen and a God-fearing girl.  And both were on display in her Grammy performance.  On the one hand, Beyoncé sang a truly blush-worthy and downright raunchy song in an outfit that defied common decency.  On the other hand, she performed with her husband, Jay-Z, as together they extolled the pleasures of sex within marriage.  Extolling the pleasures of sex within marriage is solidly Christian.  Grinding in front of 28.5 million viewers is crass voyeurism.  Marital intimacy is solidly moral and, I would point out, biblically commanded (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:5).  Dropping your bedroom onto a national stage is a Rousseauian dream.

The apostle Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Rousseau’s freedom was a freedom to sin.  Paul’s freedom was a freedom from sin:  “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).  Rousseau abhorred the notion that man would rely on others.  Paul called Christians to be people on which others could happily rely.

Thomas Jefferson once noted, “It would be a miracle were [people] to stop precisely at temperate liberty.”[3]  Jefferson feared that, left to their own devices, people would all too easily and quickly lapse into “unbounded licentiousness,” running headlong for the unbridled freedom of Rousseau rather than toward the virtuous liberty of Paul.  And this is, sadly, what has happened.

But not completely.

There are still some who understand that true freedom is not so much about the moral bounds you can break, but about the responsibility you can take.  There are still some who understand that freedom is not so much about the selfish hedonism in which you can engage, but about the loving service you can offer.  That’s true freedom.  That’s real freedom.  And, by God’s grace, we can still carry forth in that freedom.  We must carry forth in that freedom.

Anything else is just “a yoke of slavery.”


[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Christopher Betts, trans. (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 45

[2] Anand Giridharadas, “Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Sultry Dance Makes a Case for Marriage,” New York Times (2.3.2014).

[3] Esther Franklin, Thomas Jefferson: Inquiry History for Daring Delvers (Esther Franklin, 2012).

February 10, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

“Look at me!”

Pool with KidsThis past weekend in ABC, I talked about how far too many of us live by the narcissistic credo, “Look at me.”  What children will say to their parents at the pool right before they do a flip or a dive is the same thing we want, albeit we may not say so in so many words.  Instead, it is our actions – sometimes wild and dramatic; other times passive, yet aggressive – that cry out for people to notice.  And oftentimes, our actions produce their desired effect.  Oftentimes, people look at us, even if for all the wrong reasons.

Sadly, having others “look at me” is a desire that not only resides in the hearts of people in the world out there; it is a desire that resides in my heart.  I want people to take note of who I am and what I do.  Whether it’s a Bible study that I lead or a sermon that I preach or a blog that I post, I can quickly become all too curious to know what people think of what I have said or written and if people care.  And if they don’t think highly of what I’ve said or written, or if they don’t care, I can easily become hurt.  After all, just like so many others, I like to be remembered and recognized.  I want people to “look at me.”

One of the most puzzling motifs in the Gospels is what a scholar named William Wrede deemed “the Messianic secret.”  The Messianic secret describes those times when, after a particularly profound and revealing utterance or after some miraculous feat, Jesus warns His disciples not to share His identity or actions with anyone else.  For instance, after Peter claims Jesus to be “the Christ,” that is, the Messiah, Jesus warns the disciples “not to tell anyone about Him” (Mark 8:29-30).

Wrede claims that, historically, Jesus did not believe Himself to be and did not speak of Himself as the Messiah.  Later Christians came to this conclusion quite apart from what Jesus actually said and did.  According to Wrede, the Gospel writers made up these Messianic “secrets” and inserted them into the Gospels as an apologetic to argue for Jesus’ Messianic identity.

Not surprisingly, orthodox Christians take a different view of these secretive statements.  We believe these statements were not later glosses to create for Jesus a Messianic identity He never claimed, but genuine statements by Jesus concerning who He is and what He had come to do.

But why would He want to keep His grand identity a secret?  The general consensus is that Jesus knew many people would misunderstand what it means for Him to be the Messiah, for many of the Jews of that day had visions of the Messiah as a political revolutionary dancing in their heads.  Jesus, of course, was no such Christ.  He had not come to overthrow a government, but to usher in a Kingdom.

Beyond this, Jesus’ secretive statements also seem to reflect the fulfillment of prophecy.  One of the marks of the Messiah, according to Isaiah, is His humility.  The Messiah will not clamor to pronounce before the world His identity and power:  “He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets” (Isaiah 42:2).  In other words, the Messiah will not come to this world announcing, “Look at me!”

In a world where we struggle with the desire to be noticed, there is a lesson to be learned from the Messianic secret.  Jesus eschewed notice, and yet there has never been anyone more noticeable than Him.  His noticeability came through His humility.

Perhaps our noticeability should come the same way.  Perhaps rather than shouting “Look at me,” we should practice a gentle humility.

February 3, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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