Science in Christian Perspective


Allan A. MacRae, Ph.D.

From JASA 10 (December 1958): 16-18.

Ten years ago Palestine was divided into two parts by the establishment of the new nation of Israel and the joining of eastern Palestine with Transjordan to form the Kingdom of Jordan. These two parts are still nominally at war. Only an armistice has been signed between them, and passage from the one to the other is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible.

Rather strangely the area that Israel possesses includes most of the territory held in ancient times by the Philistines and other non-Hebrews, but coniparatively little of the region where most of the great events of Bible history occurred, while the Arabs of Jordan hold most of the great historic centers of Israelite history. As a result many of the major excavations are being carried on in Jordan rather than in Israel. From the viewpoint of American excavators this has its advantages, since almost everything is very expensive in Israel and labor costs are high, while in Jordan expenses are fairly low and the great number of refugees keeps labor costs down.

In spite of the fact that Israel is thus cut off from reaching so many of the great centers of Biblical history, her people show great interest in Biblical archaeology, and a very active Department of Antiquities has been set up. Often when a road is being constructed or when excavation for a new building is under way, some interesting relics of antiquity come to light, and it is required that the work be stopped at once, until the Department's experts have had opportunity to make a thorough investigation to determine what light if any is thrown on ancient history by what has been discovered, and whether it may be necessary to postpone the construction until further excavation has been completed.

Outstanding among Israeli archaeologists is Yigael Yadin, the son of Dr. Sukenik, a prominent Jewish archaeologist of a decade ago. Yadin, who was formerly chief of staff of the Israeli army, is now showing equal ability in investigating Israel's past.

During the past four seasons Dr. Yadin has directed excavations at Hazor, a great city of ancient Israel which is located in the northern part of the territory held by present-day Israel.

When Joshua led the Israelites into Palestine, one of his greatest obstacles was the northern confederacy, which was headed by the king of Hazor. Although Joshua's great victory led to the destruction of the city, (josh. 11 :10-13) it seems to have risen later from the ruins, for judges 4:3 tells us that "Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor" oppressed the children of Israel for twenty years, until they were freed by the great victory of Deborah and Barak described in judges 4-5.

Solomon rebuilt Hazor (I Kings 9:15). About two hundred years later, the Bible tells us, it was destroyed by the Assyrian conqueror, Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 15:20) in 132 B.C.

These references indicate that Hazor must have been an important city. Yet its location was quite unknown until 1926 when Professor John Garstang, who was then Director of Antiquities for the British Mandate, found a mound about ten miles directly north of the Sea of Galilee, which was so located as to fit the various historical and topographical requirements of the Biblical and extra-biblical references to Hazor. This mound was strikingly different from most others in Palestine, in that there was a large area, north of the mound itself, which was surrounded by a huge artificial rampart of beaten earth, sixty feet in height. Garstang estimated that this area, which he called a "camp enclosure", was large enough to accommodate in emergency 30,000 men with a corresponding number of horses and chariots.

In 1955 excavation was commenced at Hazor by Yigael Yadin, with the help of a large staff of competent associates. The archaeologists were greatly impressed with the size of the area, and decided that it may well have been the largest city in Palestine at one time, with a population perhaps as high as 40,000.

Excavation was carried on immediately in certain portions, not only of the mound itself, but also of the enclosed area to the north, in order to determine whether the latter was merely an area used for camping and for maneuvering of horses and chariots. To their surprise they discovered, only a yard beneath the surface, remains of a well-built city with houses and drainage systems. The floors of these houses were littered with materials that were datable to the 13th century B.C. The later Israelite city was confined to the sixteen acres of the mound itself; the earlier Canaanite city occupied a far larger area.

In successive summers of excavation Yadin has discovered evidences of the great importance of this metropolis of northern Israel between its rebuilding by Solomon and its destruction by Tiglath Pileser. He has also found much evidence of its even greater importance as an outstanding Canaanite city before the time of Joshua. The system of fortification has been found to be extremely extensive and very carefully constructed, giving clear evidence of the fact that the Israelite conquest was no mere foray by a group of desert tribes, but must have been a very extensive and powerful campaign, to have conquered cities with such strong walls and fine defenses as have been found at Hazor and elsewhere.

A very interesting instance of the correlation between Biblical statements and archaeological discoveries occurred in the third season of excavation at Hazor. We have already noticed that Hazor, I Kings 9:15, says that Solomon rebuilt "Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer." At Megiddo a great city gate, 60 feet in length, has been unearthed, and most scholars agree that it comes from Solomon's operations. Yadin suspected that a similar plan might have been followed at Hazor, and on this assumption the excavators outlined on the surface the plan of Solomon's city gate. The workers thought it almost magical when they saw emerging from the dirt under their shovels a gate exactly the size and type that had been predicted. The Biblical statement that Megiddo and Hazor were both rebuilt by Solomon is strikingly confirmed; those scholars who had alleged that the Megiddo gate came from a time later than Solomon are proven wrong; it is even indicated that both gates were built by the same royal architect. Reconstruction of them as they appeared before the invasions, with six chambers, three on each side, and square towers on the external walls, vividly illustrates the glory of Solomon's empire.

Thus in archaeology, as in every other science, discovered facts, if properly interpreted, and Biblical statements, if rightly understood, are always found to fit together, since God is the author of both.

The Palace of Croesus

In a later issue of the journal attention will be paid to the important recent excavations in various parts of Jordan. This time we shall direct our attention to an interesting discovery in a different part of the world.

Every Bible reader is familiar with the letters to the seven churches of Asia, in Revelation 2-3. One of these is the letter to Sardis. Sardis was an important city all through the Hellenistic period, and indeed until its destruction by Tamerlane in 1402. The site has never been lost. It contains striking ruins of Greek temples, finely decorated Greek houses, etc. These have been examined at various times by students of the Hellenistic age, and have thrown much light on the culture and life of that period.

Students of ancient history, however, long to know something about Sardis at an earlier time, when it was the capital of Lydia. The last king of Lydia was the famous Croesus, whose name has become proverbial for great wealth. Yet all the ruins found until this summer were from the Greek period or later. The whereabouts of the Lydian Sardis remained a mystery. Almost the only clue was a statement in an ancient writer that the Sardis gymnasium was within sight of the royal palace of Croesus. And no one knew where the gymnasium had been.

Toward the end of this summer's campaign of excavation at Sardis by the Harvard-Cornell expedition, a marble block was found with an inscription stating that the Roman Emperor Lucius Verus had given a sum of money to the gymnasium. On the assumption that the building in which the block was discovered might perhaps be the gymnasium referred to, the adjoining area was examined with great care, and traces were found under a luxurious Roman house of remains of the ancient Lydian culture. It is to be expected that next year will give opportunity to follow this clue, and, we hope, to learn something about a large section of important ancient culture that is almost unknown as yet.

The kingdom of Lydia came to an end, when Croesus was defeated by Cyrus, the Persian conqueror whom God raised up to free His people from the exile. Isaiah vividly predicted the terrible fear of the nations as they would see the armies of Cyrus approaching, and would look to their idols for help. Greek tradition has preserved conflicting stories of the last days of Croesus, and his wild search for safety from Cyrus. Such passages as Isaiah 41 :1-10 may well find new illustration as their background becomes clearer, as the life and history of Croesus and his kingdom become better known in coming seasons of excavation at Sardis.