Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Missing Temple - An Argument for the Early Dating of the New Testament

    Of all the hotly debated topics surrounding the Gospels and the rest of the 27 ancient writings that make up what we call the New Testament, none is more controversial than the question of WHEN these books were written.   The basic line of thinking is this:  If the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament books were written while the eyewitnesses of Jesus' life were still around, they are more likely to accurately recount the things that Jesus said and did during His ministry.  If they were written decades later, when most (if not all) of the original disciples were dead, then they could easily contain exaggeration, hearsay, and outright falsehood.  Therefore scholars who believe the New Testament to be true in its claims about Jesus tend to date the New Testament writings earlier in the First Century, while those who are dismissive of its claims tend to date the Gospels and Epistles much later.

   So how big a timeframe are we talking about?  Nearly all scholars, skeptics and believers alike, will say the bulk of the New Testament was written in the First Century AD.  It's impossible to date most of its books any later, because so many second generation Christian writers - the group collectively called the Apostolic Fathers - quote the New Testament in their own writings, especially the Gospels and letters of Paul.  You can't quote something that isn't written yet!  As best we can determine, Jesus was crucified in 33 AD, give or take a year or two.  None of the Gospels were written while He was alive on earth, and since His teachings were  probably transmitted orally for some time, at least a decade or two would have passed before the surviving disciples saw the need to begin writing down His words and deeds.  Conservative scholars will say that the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were written in the late 50's to early 60's AD, while the more skeptical group will contend that they were written in the 80's or 90's AD.  (Oddly enough, both groups agree that the Gospel of John was written last of all, in the mid-90's.  There is strong evidence from the  Apostolic Fathers and early church history that John lived to be a very old man and wrote his Gospel in the last decade of his long life.)

   I would like to point out that, by the standards of ancient history, that is actually a very brief span of time between the events and the earliest written record.  For example, our two principal biographies of Julius Caesar, those authored by Plutarch and Suetonius, postdate his life by over a century, yet no one has contended that they are riddled with mythology and inaccuracies! The oldest surviving biography of Alexander the Great was written over two centuries after his death in Babylon. Still, if Matthew, Mark, and Luke were not composed until more than fifty years after the crucifixion of Jesus, then it is more plausible to say that they embellished His life and deeds than if they were written, say, twenty years later, when eyewitnesses both friendly and hostile would have still been around to contradict any false claims.

   So where does the evidence point?  That is where the Temple comes in.  Herod's Temple was a massive structure that utterly dominated the skyline of first century Jerusalem - a massive, imposing edifice of gleaming marble and gold-plated doors visible for miles around.  Herod the Great had begun work on it shortly after the Roman Senate named him "King of the Jews" in 31 BC.  He did not level the existing temple, built in the 6th century BC by Nehemiah; he simply enlarged it and added onto it until that humble structure was swallowed up by the massive monument to Herod's faux piety.  (Herod was not a full blooded Jew and was not related at all to the royal line of King David, so he made an exaggerated show of loyalty to the Jewish religion hoping to make himself more beloved by his subjects.  It didn't work - he was a paranoid tyrant and the Jews hated him!)

   The Temple was not finished when Herod died around 1 BC, and in fact it was still under construction when Jesus' earthly ministry was going on.  It formed the backdrop of many of Jesus' sermons and debates with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and was the subject of one of his most explicit prophecies.  During the Passion Week, the disciples commented on the fine workmanship and massive stone blocks that made up the Temple, Jesus said to them: "I tell you, not one stone will be left upon another that will not be torn down!" (Matthew 24:2)  No one could believe that such a massive building could be so completely destroyed, and Jesus' criticisms of the Temple were cited against Him at His trial.

    But three and a half decades later, in 70 AD, the unthinkable happened.  The Romans, sick to death of one Jewish revolt after another, descended on Judea with a massive army and laid siege to Jerusalem.  After a year of assaults and counterattacks, they breached the city walls and sacked and burned the entire city.  The great temple of Herod went up in flames, and according to Josephus, who was there at the time, the gold plating of the doors and the Temple's mighty dome melted and ran into the cracks between the stones.  So after the fires were extinguished, the Roman army, determined to leave no plunder unclaimed, pried up the massive foundation stones and scraped the gold off of them, then tumbled them down to the foot of the Temple Mount where they can still be seen today (I've seen them!).

   So here is my point, and I apologize for the roundabout route I took to get here:  the Roman destruction of the Temple was a direct fulfillment of the prophecies Jesus Himself made.  If the Gospels were written after the Temple was destroyed, WHY DID NONE OF THE GOSPEL WRITERS MENTION THEM??  Here was a prime example to point out the judgment of God on the people who crucified Jesus, to say: "and thus the prophecy spoken by Our Lord was fulfilled."  But not a single book of the New Testament mentions the siege of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple.  Not the Gospels, nor the book of Acts (whose story ends abruptly in 62 AD, with Paul awaiting trial in Rome).  Paul's letters, which constantly assert the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old, are silent on this topic - but what better way to drive their point home than to point out that the destruction of the Temple meant there was no more need for sacrificial lambs?  The anonymous Book of Hebrews, whose entire subject is the superiority of the priesthood of Christ to that of the Levitical priests, never once uses the destruction of the Temple to point out that the old priesthood has passed away.

    WHY did the writers of the New Testament pass up such a golden opportunity to point out the accuracy of Jesus' prophecy, and the superiority of the New Covenant?  Defensive skeptics have woven all sorts of literary formulae trying to avoid the most obvious conclusion, but applying Occam's Razor, there is only one logical conclusion: the Synoptic Gospels and the Epistles were written BEFORE the Temple fell, before 70 AD.  That places them, at the absolute most, 37 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, and quite likely a decade or more earlier.  The absence of any reference to the destruction of the Temple in any book of the New Testament is one of the strongest arguments that can be made for the early dating of the New Testament text - and the early dating of the New Testament is one of the strongest arguments for its historical accuracy.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Some thoughts on gratitude . . .

 Happy Thanksgiving to all my loyal readers!

      I must confess, after publishing three original short stories during the month of October (plus a neat guest post from a dear friend), I felt a bit burned out and didn't write much of anything here or anywhere else during November.  Not that I didn't think of ideas; but none of them panned out into an actual blog entry.  So here I sit on Thanksgiving Day, after what has been a bit of a rough month, financially and otherwise.  But rather than dwell on the challenges of life, I thought today would be a good time to think about all the things I have to be grateful for.

    First and foremost, I am thankful that my faith has seen me through another year!  It's not that I never have doubts; I have come to the conclusion as I get older that doubt and faith are going to be constant companions in the heart of any believer.  Our doubts make us question our faith, and our faith gives us the strength to see through and overcome our doubts.  In the end, I am a believer in Jesus Christ and in the God of the Bible because the narrative that accompanies Christianity makes more sense than any other religion or world view that I have ever encountered.  History, archeology, logic, and even science come together to show to any discerning mind that Christianity is TRUE.  And that truth gives purpose and meaning to not only my life, but to the life of this world and to the story of mankind.

     Secondly, I am grateful for my spouse.  Patty and I met in second grade, and as of next month, we will have been married 34 years.  We have had our ups and downs, we have had our share of quarrels, but at the end of the day we are always there for each other.  She's the other half of my soul, the owner of my heart, and the voice that calls me to the better side of myself every day.  She keeps me on my toes, keeps me humble, and is also my strongest supporter.  When I made the decision to focus my efforts on becoming a successful writer, she was behind me a hundred per cent, and even when things have not gone as well in that department as I had hoped, she's stood by me.  We are in this journey of life together to the end.

    I am grateful for my daughters.  Rachel and Rebecca have been a huge help to us in the last year, taking care of Patty's Mom while we are at work, and giving us bits of time off together when we need a weekend to regain our sanity.  They are funny, generous, kind, and loving young women, and while there is a part of me that is anxious to see them out of the house so that Patty and I can be a couple again, there is also a part that is going to miss them ferociously.  So I treasure these last few years they are at home, knowing that time is coming to an end in the next year or two.

     I am grateful for my job.  So many of my friends grumble and gripe constantly about their work; I look forward to seeing my kids in the classroom every day.  We laugh, we kid around, but we also get a LOT of learning done - and I learn as much from them as they do from me.  Their love for me is humbling, and I would go to the mat for "my kids" any day.  Some people's jobs are a source of stress and frustration; mine is a refuge from that.  I have a boss who is purely and simply the best person I have ever worked for, and my co-workers are also my friends.  I know that they will pray for me any time that I am going through difficulties, and I will do the same for them.

    I am grateful for the success I have enjoyed as a writer.  I haven't done as well in terms of sales as I hoped I might, but the fact remains that, since I typed "THE END" to my first novel, THE TESTIMONIUM, six years ago today, I have completed five more novels and published four of them.  A few thousand people have read my books now, and I've gotten good reviews from nearly all my readers.  I haven't hit the best-seller list yet, but all that means is I still have something to shoot for!

     I am, last of all, grateful for my friends.  To my dearest friend Ellie, who has been my literary critic and beta reader ever since I started writing as well as my confidant and internet pen-pal for the last twenty years, to my hunting partner Raymond, who is under the weather this Thanksgiving - get well soon, buddy! - to all the others that I interact with both in real life and online every day, thanks for being a part of my journey.

     In short, none of the frustrations of life should ever make us forget how blessed we truly are.  So wherever you are today, take a moment, take stock, and be grateful!

                                                        HAPPY THANKSGIVING!