Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Spades, shovels, and a swimming good time

For a few decades now, evangelical Christians of all types have been moving away from the tack that says, "Let's authenticate the Bible with archaeology." But back in the heyday of William F. Albright--the real Indiana Jones--it was common to find Bible-confirming archaeological news in the pages of Christianity Today magazine, the vanguard of modern American Evangelicalism.

A lot's happened since then: Albright died in 1971. About the same time, social currents and political events in the United States cast a heavy shadow on previously-trusted authority. Perhaps never again will Americans believe something just because a father figure announced it. (Think: from "Father Knows Best" to "The Simpsons").

Maybe people at church began to notice that whenever a new discovery seemed to confirm some aspect of biblical history, unbelievers didn't rush in to be baptized.

Maybe some began to rediscover that, even in the first century, Christian faith did not depend on or wait for direct access to historical foundations: "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy" (1 Peter 1:8).

And maybe the likes of William Dever, whose more-recent and influential writings on archaeology run counter to Albright's positive interpretations, have put a dent in all the enthusiasm over "something just discovered."

Whatever the reasons, the enterprise called "biblical archaeology" looks a lot different than it did in, say, 1965.

But I have to confess, as someone who grew up going to church and who's now come to some sort of grown-up orthodox Christian faith, I still get a kick out of the occasional story about a team that's recently unearthed evidence that what the Bible casually asserts is exactly the way it was. That is to say, while I don't trust in biblical archaeology news, I do like it.

And here's the latest: the Pool of Siloam. You know, Jesus said to the blind man, "Here's mud in your eye. Now go and wash in the Pool of Siloam"? Well, for a long time it was regarded by some as a metaphor only: the man was sent there by Jesus and, as John 9:7 explains, the name of the pool means "sent."

The strictly-metaphorical understanding of "the Pool of Siloam" fed the idea that John's Gospel has little connection to any real history surrounding Jesus. According to this view, the Fourth Gospel is not the selected biography that modern readers would naturally take it to be. Rather, it's more like a spiritual fantasy, a narrative about Jesus where, unlike in the Book of Revelation, the constant symbolism shows up incognito.

Hmmm. Meanwhile, it turns out that the Pool of Siloam really was there. And you can read about it here. Go ahead, take the plunge.

No comments: