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Homosexual rights activists gain influence in public schools (10/17/04)

Church’s prayer births children’s ministry (10/17/04)

Partner program revitalizes dying church (10/10/04)

Church music festival attracts variety of visitors (10/10/04)

Churches urge compassion for alienated smokers (9/19/04)

Youth ride wooden waves in church parking lots (9/12/04)

A/G, COGIC join forces through inner-city campus (9/12/04)

Christians respond to victimized women and children (8/29/04)

Growing slavic church shares new facility (8/29/04)

Couple embarks on capitol prayer tour (8/29/04)

ADHD requires multifaceted treatment approach (8/22/04)

Small congregation grows — by planting churches (8/22/04)

‘Under God’ stays in Pledge of Allegiance, at least for now (8/8/04)

Church reaches out to those feeling loss (8/8/04)

Churches act pre-emptively to reduce risk of abuse (7/25/04)

Credit cards ensnare record number of Americans (7/25/04)

Church helps out with donated CD, recycled buses (7/25/04)

New wave of pastors minister to emerging adults (7/18/04)

‘Walking Witnesses’ raise thousands for missions (7/18/04)

Healing center offers alternative medicine (7/18/04)

Growing number of Hispanics impact economy (7/11/04)

'Busy' couple finds time for compassion ministry (7/11/04)

Hand-copied Bible leaves 40-year legacy (7/11/04)

Pastor ends hunger strike when strip club promises to sell (6/27/04)

‘Military survival kit’ requests inundate A/G (6/27/04)

Fourth of July outreach draws thousands (6/27/04)

Drivers warned to steer clear of distractions (6/27/04)

Pastors face more counseling demands (6/20/04)

Church uses touch of ‘flavor’ to reach community (6/20/04)

Outrageous self-expression often starts, stops at home (6/13/04)

Runner raises $5,200 for Convoy of Hope (6/13/04)

Euphemisms tempt Christians to conveniently shed sin, guilt (5/30/04)

Funds for Easter play buy groceries instead (5/30/04)

Identity theft threatens millions of Americans (5/23/04)

Spanish speakers face challenges, opportunities in United States culture (5/16/04)

Health experts implore Americans to get fit (5/9/04)

Leaders say Christian faith stems recidivism (4/25/04)

Riders feel at home in Orlando sanctuary (4/18/04)

Churches try to keep human touch with new media (4/11/04)

Christians see Passion as ministry opportunity (3/28/04)

Tutoring improves lives, opens doors for evangelism (3/21/04)

Cybertheft costly — especially for Christians (3/14/04)

A/G women seize new ministry opportunities (2/29/04)

Investment in early spiritual maturity reaps rewards (2/22/04)

Christian families respond to foster care opportunities (2/15/04)

Childless couples grapple with emotional roller coaster, faith challenges (2/8/04)

Few men seek help from abortion grief, guilt (1/18/04)

Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

2003 PE Report stories

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

Christian volunteers unearth ancient biblical discoveries

By Gordon Govier (9/26/04)

For decades, thousands of Americans have used summer vacation time to travel to Israel for archaeological excavations because they believe, as Evangel University history professor James Murphy puts it, that "history is most exciting when you do it hands on."

Biblical archaeology is not just history, and it's not just digging in the dirt. It goes beyond biblical studies. It's working in a field of scientific research where average volunteers as often as highly trained professionals make the most exciting and most important discoveries.

Murphy first decided to go for the hands-on experience in 1996 while an Evangel undergraduate, linking up with a Southwest Missouri State University team headed for Banias, a site on Israel's northern border identified as the New Testament's Caesarea Philippi.

There at the home of one of the largest pagan shrines of Jesus' day, the disciples were told that even "the gates of hell" could not stand against them (Matthew 16:18).

"Archaeology brings that culture to life" says Murphy, who helped excavate a palace that was probably built by Herod Agrippa II a few decades after the time of Christ. That would be around the same time that Agrippa heard the apostle Paul's testimony on a visit to the Roman procurator Festus at the other Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast (reported in Acts 25).

Murphy returned for a second season of excavations at Banias in 1999 as an SMSU graduate student, and is now anxious to give his Evangel students an opportunity to experience the excitement of holding biblical history in their hands.

He remembers the enthusiasm of a middle-aged pastor and his wife who worked alongside him for five weeks during 1999. "To see an ex-Marine digging and swinging that pick and getting so excited when we would uncover coins and things, it's just amazing" he recalls.

It's clear evidence that the biblical text is not just for creating Sunday School lessons or sermons. "It's absolutely grounded in people who really lived, who really existed" Murphy says, "and these are some of their remains."

The frustration for Murphy is that this type of archaeology is difficult right now, given the unresolved tensions between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. Archaeology hasn't quite come to a grinding halt, but the number of American student volunteers has fallen drastically. "I could not see taking a group of students over, at least the way the last few years have been" he says.

The volunteers who have participated in biblical archaeology excavations in decades past have enriched Americans' appreciation of the Bible, says Robert Cooley, president-emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. "In the skeptical age we're living in, it's a sad moment in Holy Land history that this kind of activity has to cease" he says.

After more than a century of exciting progress in biblical understanding through the scientific development of the field of archaeology, the discipline is now going through some difficult times. Part of it involves a crisis of confidence over unproven artifacts, those that did not come out of valid field excavations but instead surfaced in the antiquities market.

The James ossuary is the most prominent example. The inscription on the stone box stirred interest when it appeared to identify the box as the receptacle for the remains of James, the brother of Jesus. Israeli archaeological officials claimed their tests showed the inscription was fraudulent. Doubts have now been raised about other artifacts with a murky past that were previously validated by archaeological experts and put on display in museums.

Critics say the Israel Antiquities Authority is so anxious to make a statement against the legally permissible but morally questionable antiquities trade that it rushed to judgment on the ossuary and some of the other artifacts. They're calling for more tests and more scientific discussions.

"It's the context that's going to give meaning to an artifact, otherwise it's just a thing" says Cooley. That's the ideal for an archaeological discovery. But Cooley believes the current debate is healthy.

"It's always good to re-evaluate prior finds that have been found out of context" he says. "If you don't have that context, then you're open to more subjective factors and misuse of fraudulent indicators. And some of these are coming out on that side of the ledger. If they are fraudulent, let's eliminate them from the record."

Controversies aside, scholars believe Christians know more about the biblical world now than at any time in the past 2,000 years because of the understanding gleaned from archaeology.

"Archaeology enables us to uncover things previously unseen for centuries" says Murphy. Even more intriguing, archaeology is virtually the only source of new facts about the Bible and the biblical world.

But does archaeology prove the Bible? Many scholars say that's not the role of archaeology. Some scholars, in fact, say it's the Bible that proves archaeology.

"I try to look at archaeology as a science, built on theories," Murphy says. A discovery that seems to raise questions about the Bible may look different a few years down the road, after more study and new discoveries.

Murphy's Evangel University History Department colleague Lew Hall exposes his students to Missouri archaeological excavations, where the chronological references sometimes challenge students. Whether in the United States or abroad, archaeologists typically refer to dates that go many thousands of years into prehistory.

But he doesn't see a large difficulty in reconciling science and church teaching. Even when Galileo's astronomical discoveries conflicted with church teaching, that didn't change any of the central doctrines of the church, Hall points out.

"It [the chronology] wouldn't change the vicarious atoning death of our Savior Jesus Christ one bit" Hall says. "You have to stand on faith and believe; I try to give them a rational defense and belief."

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