Monday, August 16, 2004

JOHN THE BAPTIST CAVE . . . FOUND?

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As a member of the LDS ("Mormon") Church, I try to keep up on current events in biblical archaeology. However, this sort of thing doesn't seem very impressive to me:
AP: Group Discovers John the Baptist Cave
Aug 16, 11:36 AM (ET)

By KARIN LAUB

KIBBUTZ TZUBA, Israel (AP) - Archaeologists said Monday they have found a cave where they believe John the Baptist anointed many of his disciples - a huge cistern with 28 steps leading to an underground pool of water.

During an exclusive tour of the cave by The Associated Press, archaeologists presented wall carvings they said tell the story of the fiery New Testament preacher, as well as a stone they believe was used for ceremonial foot washing.
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"John the Baptist, who was just a figure from the Gospels, now comes to life," said British archaeologist Shimon Gibson, who supervised the dig outside Jerusalem.

However, others said there was no proof that John the Baptist ever set foot in the cave, about 2 1/2 miles from Ein Kerem, the preacher's hometown and now part of Jerusalem.

"Unfortunately, we didn't find any inscriptions," said James Tabor, a religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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Both Tabor and Gibson said it was very likely that the wall carvings, including one showing a man with a staff and wearing animal skin, told the story of John the Baptist. The carvings stem from the Byzantine period and apparently were made by monks in the fourth or fifth century.

Gibson said he believed the monks commemorated John at a site linked to him by local tradition.
Color me skeptical, but carvings representing a guy wearing animal skins located in a cave venerated by monks who lived 4 or 5 centuries after-the-fact just doesn't strike me as impressive evidence.

I think Christians are sometimes too inclined to rely on archaeological or other forms of secular evidence to validate religious claims. There's even a hokey outfit called Wyatt Archaeological Research (replete with a museum) that claims to have found evidence for everything from Noah's Ark to Sodom and Gomorrah to the Hebrews' crossing of the Red See to the Ark of the Covenant (Indiana Jones is, according to reports, green with envy).

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for looking at religious claims in their historical context. But I just don't think the mysteries of the universe will be proved by pottery shards or excavated mummies. Belief in God will always, I think, be fundamentally a matter of faith.