John Bradshaw - The Historical Jesus
John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Today I'm at the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum on the campus of Southern Adventist University, and I'm joined by the director of the archaeological institute, Dr. Michael Hasel. Dr. Hasel, thanks for joining me today.
Michael Hasel: Great to be with you.
John Bradshaw: As we've talked before about archaeology, we've gone back in time. We've talked about David, and we've talked about Solomon, other great luminaries of the Bible. We've talked about everyday life in the Bible looking through the lens of archaeology. But I wonder if today we could bring it a little closer to where we are and speak about Jesus. What does archaeology teach us, reveal to us about Jesus Christ?
Michael Hasel: Well, it teaches us a great deal about the time of Jesus, and that's often what archaeology can do for us. Sometimes it doesn't give us specific information about events. Sometimes it may not give us specific information about people. But in the case of Jesus, we're going to look at the people surrounding Jesus in the New Testament era, the time of Christ, and some of the artifacts that will illuminate that period and the stories that Jesus told, which, uh, played on everyday circumstances and everyday lessons that people could relate to.
John Bradshaw: My understanding is that it's true that there are certain individuals in the New Testament account that archaeology does refer to and does shine quite a bit of light on. Now, now who would they be?
Michael Hasel: Well, one of them is Caiaphas the high priest. We find both in the book of John and also in the book of Matthew. Caiaphas is referred to as the high priest. He is the one that, uh, initiates, if you will, the plot against Jesus in terms of seeking His life. He was also referred to by the Jewish historian working on behalf of the Romans, Josephus, who is our biggest source for the New Testament era, by the way. Josephus refers to Joseph, the son of Caiaphas, uh, as being the high priest during this time period. And it was a few years ago in the 1990s that excavations took place in preparation for a new garden and park south of Jerusalem. It's known as the Promenade Park today. And there a tomb complex, a family tomb complex, was found dating back to the first century A.D. And in that tomb complex there were several ossuaries, or bone boxes, which is the typical way that Jews were burying the dead at that time. They would allow the body to decay. Then they would gather up the bones and place the bones in limestone boxes that were carved. One of the ossuaries had the Hebrew or Aramaic inscription "Joseph son of Caiapha," or Caiaphas. And many scholars today believe that this was, in fact, the tomb and, in fact, the bone box of Caiaphas himself. It's in the Israel Museum now.
John Bradshaw: Okay. These things are found, tombs, ossuaries, bone boxes. How does an archaeologist go about establishing who this might be or what period it might be from?
Michael Hasel: In this particular case, we have coins that were found in the tomb that dated to the middle of the, middle of the, um, first century. So the coins are the best source that we have in the New Testament period to date things, because they give precise, uh, years on them in relationship to kings. That was a very good evidence. And then, of course, the name itself, which was mirrored in Josephus, and we also have in the Bible. This was a very elaborate bone box. It was beautifully carved, intricately carved. And it came from a very, very prominent, um, individual and seems to fit that kind of person.
John Bradshaw: Now, when an archaeologist makes this kind of discovery, how excited does that archaeologist get? I mean, help me put this in perspective. An athlete wants to win a gold medal or break a world record. And I'm not talking about silly pride here, but, but for an archaeologist to find something like this, is this significant? Is it career-defining? Is it a mountaintop experience? Or is it just another one of those things you come across as an archaeologist?
Michael Hasel: I think it's a mountaintop experience. I mean, to find a name, not just any name, but a name of a very prominent individual who's mentioned in the Bible, who's mentioned in ancient sources, and then to locate that person's tomb is an incredible thing. Let me share with you another story of one of those mountaintop experiences.
John Bradshaw: Sure, please do.
Michael Hasel: Ehud Netzer was a professor at the Hebrew University for many, many years. I worked with him at Masada back in the '90s. And Ehud Netzer was an expert on Herod the Great. He spent his entire career excavating Herod's fortresses and buildings at Masada, at Caesaria Maritima, the port city that Herod built from scratch. And also he worked at Herodium. And as he was excavating there for years, he was looking for the tomb of Herod the Great. Josephus describes his burial in quite some detail. And it took Ehud Netzer, Professor Netzer, 38 years to find that tomb. He wasn't looking all the time; he was working at other sites. But eventually, in his 70s, he went back to Herodium. He began to excavate; he'd already excavated the lower palace. He had excavated the fortress itself, which is, which is this cone-shaped, almost looks like a volcano type of fortress, a huge fortress of the Roman era. And Josephus had reported that Herod was buried at Herodium. And he had looked everywhere else. So what he did, he took apart the entire, um, side of this mountain on which Herodium was built. And there he found a monumental staircase leading up to a tomb. And there inside the tomb, destroyed completely, was a sarcophagus, probably destroyed by the Zealots after Herod's death, a sarcophagus that was even more elaborate than the one found at Caiaphas's tomb, uh, a huge full-size sarcophagus that was later pieced back together. And while it didn't have the name Herod the Great on it, based on the description of Josephus, based on the monumental staircase, based on the ornateness of this sarcophagus, of this coffin, um, we can very likely say that it is the tomb of Herod the Great.
John Bradshaw: That's the same Herod who ordered that all of the baby boys in Bethlehem be put to death.
Michael Hasel: Exactly. That was the same Herod that died just shortly after the birth of Christ. And, you know, going back to some of the other people surrounding Jesus, what do we know? Well, we not only have Caiaphas, who pops up right at the end of Christ's life, just before His death, part of the plot to kill Jesus, and we have Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate was the prefect of Judea, and in 1961, in Caesaria Maritima, the city that Herod the Great had built, reused as a stone in one of the great, um, theaters there is an inscription that basically mentions the name of the emperor, Tiberius, and then mentions Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea. Part of it is broken, but the letters are all there. We're able to piece that together. So we have the major characters, the major leaders around Jesus mentioned; we have... or found in archaeological record, we have Caiaphas. We have Herod the Great. We have Pontius Pilate. These were the major figures surrounding the life of Christ.
John Bradshaw: If ever you got to the place in your experience where you were wondering if the Bible can ever be trusted, here are many great reasons why you can lean on the Word of God and believe that what it says is valid and relevant and important and true, inspired by God Himself. We'll be back with more in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me today at the Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum on the campus of Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee. My guest today is archaeologist and museum director Dr. Michael Hasel. Dr. Hasel, so far we've spoken about Jesus in archaeology, although we've spoken around Him a little bit, speaking of the supporting cast, some of the prominent figures in the life and times and story of Jesus. But what does archaeology teach us about Jesus Himself? Where do we find references to Christ in the archaeological or the historical record?
Michael Hasel: We find references in several important sources. Josephus, who we've mentioned before, the Roman historian who is actually Jewish, writing for the Romans. He is living in the first century, and he mentions Jesus by name. He mentions Him in reference to events that took place in, in that part of the world at that time. Uh, he's Jewish, and he has no reason, he's not Christian, he has no reason really to, so he's a kind of an independent person who's looking from the outside. We have Tacitus, the senator from Rome, who's well known as a Roman historian. And Tacitus, in his annals, also refers to several events. He kind of lists a string of events that are quite interesting. He mentions Jesus Christ, actually Christ, he says "Christos," and he says "who was put to death by Pontius Pilate". And then he continues to refer to the Christians, uh, who are in Rome at that time.
John Bradshaw: For me this is really significant because I've noticed today there's an increasing tendency for people to say, "Oh, Jesus was a good man, probably. I have no problem with Jesus. I don't know that I would identify as a Christian or claim to be a Christian, but, sure, I can accept that Jesus was this good guy who lived". But here you've got essentially contemporary historians speaking about Him, talking about aspects of His life. Uh, fascinating that Tacitus referred to Him as Christos and that He was crucified by Pontius Pilate. What this suggests strongly is that the Bible narrative is for real. It's true. This Jesus as Son of God was nailed to a cross. And I imagine that what this should do is confront people and say, no, this isn't a theory. Jesus wasn't simply a good man, but perhaps... not perhaps from my point of view, definitely was everything the Bible claimed that He was. And archaeology, the historical record, helps us to see that, doesn't it?
Michael Hasel: It helps us to see that. You know, the primary sources, though, that we really have for Jesus' life are the gospels, the four gospels in the New Testament. When you look at, uh, the articles that we have that are closest to Christ in terms of time, the latest gospel was written about A.D. 80 by John. These were written within the lifetime of individuals who could have witnessed Christ's death, who were there, who could check the, the record, if you will, to see, was Jesus actually born in Bethlehem? Uh, were, were these prophecies that the Old Testament talked about, were they really fulfilled in this one Man? When you have that kind of evidence and you look and you compare, and you see the, the pattern of events that, that they consistently bring out that Jesus lived, that He died, that He was resurrected, that He was seen after His resurrection by all of these different witnesses, I think that's very significant.
John Bradshaw: We know from the Bible account how Jesus died, nailed to a cross. Now, thousands of people were crucified. What does archaeology bring to us with regards to the crucifixion of Jesus, or with regards to crucifixion as a phenomenon in and of itself?
Michael Hasel: In Jerusalem in 1968, a new, a new development, uh, building development was taking place, and a tomb, a family tomb was discovered with a number of these ossuaries that we've talked about before. And one of these ossuaries contained the name of Jehohanan. Well, that's a good name, but what the ossuary contained was even more important. Inside this ossuary were the remains of a crucified individual. And we have a replica of what today is in the Israel Museum. It is a part of an ankle bone that you see here with a nail. This is the head of the nail here piercing through that ankle bone and extending to the other side of the ankle bone, and then the end of the nail is curved up. Maybe it hit a knot in the, in the wood. Uh, we don't know exactly what caused that, but that might very well be. At any rate, Jehohanan died as a young man, crucified. Uh, it dates back to the first century. So the death of Christ on the cross is not a unique event. But we have evidence for it in the archaeological record. And the only forensic evidence, really, we have of crucifixion in the archaeological record comes from Jerusalem, from this, from this tomb complex.
John Bradshaw: Crucifixion was an especially terrible way to die. Who devised that method? How did, how did that method of crucifixion come about?
Michael Hasel: Well, we have references already back in Deuteronomy, um, which is part of the five books of Moses, the Torah, the Pentateuch, referring to, um, impaled individuals. Uh, that was a little bit different than crucifixion. It was impaling a body onto a stake of some type. We know that the Assyrians practiced that. We have, we have reliefs from their palaces, the palace at Nineveh, for example, in Assyria, where they boast about their conquests of these cities in the ancient Near East. And one of the cities that they mention there is the site of Lachish, which we're currently excavating. And, and in the British Museum you have the series of reliefs, and it shows a number of prisoners or captives that were taken from that city, or perhaps from other surrounding cities, and were impaled on the stakes. So the Assyrians are doing this early on. And then later on we have a, a continuation of this practice as, as the Romans are using crucifixion, which is a slightly different way of death. You're not impaling somebody, but you're hanging someone on a cross. And the method of death is different. You're basically hanging on a cross. Every time you breathe, you have to push yourself up on those nails that are nailing your feet to the cross. In order to breathe, in order for your diaphragm to expand, you're pushing yourself up. And when you lose strength after several days, you finally, you finally can't take a breath anymore, and you asphyxiate. You, you're, you die that way. It was a very painful, very humiliating, and a very long process.
John Bradshaw: And Jesus, knowing that that was what was before Him, chose that route and laid down His life for us.
Michael Hasel: Yeah, it was quite amazing.
John Bradshaw: Amazing and powerful. The life of Jesus through the lens or through the prism of archaeology, the life and times of Jesus, back with more fascinating insights in just a moment.
John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. My guest is Dr. Michael Hasel, an archaeologist who has spent considerable amount of time digging in Israel and unearthing, well, Dr. Hasel, some remarkable things that shine a light on... would you say more Old Testament or New Testament?
Michael Hasel: Well, I've dug at both period sites. I've dug in New Testament period sites like Masada and also up at Dor, which was a New Testament era city that went all the way back to Old Testament times. But I, I consider myself more of an expert in the ancient Near East and the time of the Old Testament.
John Bradshaw: Well, right now we're speaking about archaeology and the life of Jesus. Now, I'm going to read from Matthew 25 and verse 1: "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom", this is Jesus speaking here, "and five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps". Now, as a layman, reading this story for the first or the 101st time, I can't really have an appreciation for what Jesus was describing, but through the lens of archaeology we get to see what Jesus was talking about. Help us understand.
Michael Hasel: Well, exactly. When I was growing up as a kid, you know, I loved going camping with my family. And we would have these Coleman lanterns, these, with kerosene, they would be about this big, and I would just be, as I read the story, thinking about, you know, those kinds of big lamps. The concept is somewhat similar. You put kerosene in the lamp. It lights up. The ancient lamp, though, was much smaller, and everybody who Jesus is telling the story to would have immediately identified with these lamps because they were around during His time. Everybody had many of these in their home. This is the kind of lamp that Jesus was referring to. This is the typical Herodian lamp, that is, the time of Herod, where the Herods, which goes all the way to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, the destruction of Jerusalem.
John Bradshaw: And this here is an original?
Michael Hasel: This is an original. This is an original. This is a simple Herodian lamp. This is not very complex. You can tell it's a Herodian lamp because of this flange spout here. So you put the oil inside this opening here, and the wick would extend out of this opening here and produce the flame. And, uh, this was made out of two halves of a bowl, and then the spout was added to it, and people would have these in their homes in the evenings to provide light.
John Bradshaw: Has this one here been used? Can we know that?
Michael Hasel: This one has been used. You can see the discoloration around here. You can see the soot that's still there after all of these years. I have another lamp here that is contemporaneous, the same, from the same time period. This is a much more elaborate lamp. You can see that it, unlike that lamp, which was possibly formed by hand, or not, maybe not done on a wheel. But this one was mold made, and a mold would have been placed over this. Again, two halves, but you can see the very intricate design here, and you can see the very beautiful two clusters of grapes. This is a vineyard with two clusters of grapes on either side.
John Bradshaw: Now, I can understand this being used in a home. But here were some people who went out, that these young ladies went to a place and took, took this lamp with them. Was that practical? I mean..
Michael Hasel: Uh, this is, uh, this is a very practical thing. You know, what is fascinating to me, too, is, in the story, people would have known exactly how long these lamps would have lasted. Because they're all about the same size. The content of oil would have been about the same. We've tested these out... not the originals, but the replicas that we've made, and we can say that the oil would have lasted between an hour and a half to two hours. So we can get an idea of how long the bridegroom in the story that Jesus is telling and this wedding feast, how long the bridegroom would've been delayed in that particular account. And again, they would've really understood the context. They've gone to weddings. They've seen these lamps. They've used them. They would've understood all of that.
John Bradshaw: Now, they took lamps, but the wise ones took oil with them. And they took that oil in something like what?
Michael Hasel: Well, we have this little jar or juglet here, small jar, and with a nice handle. This would've been something that they might have used to take. This is a little large. There are smaller ones as well. But this would've provided the extra oil, perhaps, that they would've needed for any kind of delay.
John Bradshaw: Now, in considering crucifixion again for a moment, the Bible speaks in several places about how at funerals, at funeral gatherings, there were many mourners. Sometimes these were hired mourners to come. What has archaeology turned up for us today that helps us understand, perhaps, some of idiosyncrasies about, uh, funerals in that time?
Michael Hasel: We have found archaeologically some very interesting things that come from that period. Mourners were often hired, actually, at funerals to cry. And their tears were often gathered in tear bottles that were then buried with the deceased. And this is a tear bottle that comes from the Middle East. And you can just imagine these mourners collecting their tears and then placing this in the tomb. Uh, at the time of Christ, we have the ladies coming to the tomb, uh, after the Sabbath has finished. They're coming to the tomb on Sunday morning. And, um, Mary, of course, is the first one that comes. And it's interesting. They're coming to, to see, to mourn, to process what had taken place. And, of course, what do they find?
John Bradshaw: An empty tomb.
Michael Hasel: An empty tomb. So here we've talked about Caiaphas, for example, whose bone box is there. We find Jehohanan's bone still stuck onto a nail that was used for crucifixion. And yet the tomb of Jesus is empty today. And that's the hope that Christianity has through the centuries.
John Bradshaw: The one thing archaeologists will never find.
Michael Hasel: That's right.
John Bradshaw: Archaeology helps us understand that the Bible is a real book, that what we read in there are accounts of real people, real figures, real events, and a real Christ. Today, among other things, we've looked at the reality, the awful, the brutal reality of crucifixion. And we see that Jesus, the Maker of the world, was nailed to a cross made from wood which He Himself as Creator had originated in the first place. He was suspended between the earth and the heavens to die, to die so that we can live. That's an encouraging thought. Jesus died for the whole world. That best-known verse of the Bible says, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life". And you're in that "whosoever". You can write your name there. And if today you believe in Jesus, the real Jesus, the Jesus spoken of by the Bible and supported by archaeology, if you can believe in that Jesus, then you can look forward to everlasting life coming soon. Let that be your hope today.
John Bradshaw: Dr. Michael Hasel, thank you very much. I appreciate you taking the time.
Michael Hasel: It's a privilege to have been here.
John Bradshaw: This has been terrific. Let's pray together; let's do that right now. Our Father in heaven, we are thankful today for a Jesus in whom we can believe. We thank You for a Bible that is built on solid evidence. Now, without the archeological evidence, we would believe anyway because our experience with You testifies that Your Word is true. We thank You that along with the witness of Your Spirit, You have provided ample evidence, many reasons to believe, yes, this is Your book, that the things contained in it are true, and that the hope offered is real. Give us grace to rejoice in that hope, in the hope that Jesus died for every one of us, and that one day soon we will be enjoying the reality of eternity with You at Your home. We pray with thanks, and we pray in Jesus' name, amen.