Butterfly Can Opener
What Is It?

In 2,500 years or so, after empires have come and gone, what will scientists and archaeologists dig up from the material culture that we now all take for granted?  Will they know what it was used for when they dig it up?

I’m always thinking about this a little bit.  For example, when they dig up McDonald’s from all over the world, no doubt they will assume that it was a global religion based on the worship of a clown-god whose devotees proved their loyalty by eating the holy happy meal and sacrificing their children in the ball pit of death.

At least, that is what I think they might imagine.

This weekend I enjoyed reading the most recent edition of BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review) which is probably my favorite magazine.  This particular edition has a lot of great articles in it as well as much vitriol.  No other academics yell and curse each other quite like archaeologists.  It is jolly good fun.

My favorite part of the magazine, though, is one of the games they put in.  A picture of an artifact is placed placed on one of the earlier pages with the simple question–What is it? and then four or five choices are given.  The answer is on a page near the end of the magazine.  Mrs. Greenbean and I always play.  She doesn’t even like archaeology and she is right as often as I am.  This time, we both were wrong.

photoThere were five possible guesses.  A.  hairbrush without bristles  B.  Philistine jewelry mold  C.  Sumerian pegboard  D.  Fossilized honeycomb  E.  Game board.

I will not tell you yet, what the answer is.  I will include it at the end of the blog post.

What might people of the future imagine, or work hard to discover, the purpose of some of the simplest and most mundane objects of our world are?  Consider how hard it might be to know what a can opener is if you’ve never seen a can?  Our everyday world is filled with such things–obvious to us but perhaps future puzzles for scholars.  Consider:

  • a DVD
  • a drinking straw
  • a daily pill-box sorter
  • digital thermometer
  • toilet bowl brush
  • An oil filter on a car

All manner of electronics might fit this category because I am assuming two things.  One, electronics that are buried degrade quicker than metal or stone.  Two, the future will be more technologically sophisticated than today, but the devices will be different.  Hence, the DVD will be found, perhaps, but no method will be know to play it or even to know that it is a digital device.  Therefore, it will be considered, perhaps, a decorative item that males aligned their wall with in order to attract females?  Archaeologists tend to always make things either about religion or sex, which leads me to a theory I have about mummies . . . but I’ll save that for another time.

Now, in case you were still wondering about that image–the right answer is (E) Game board.  It is an Egyptian game called Senet.  This board came from Tel Arad in Israel and is 5000 years old.

Assuming humanity survives, and the Lord does not sew everything up, what sort of things do you guess that future generations might have a hard time figuring out?  I’d love to see your list.


Vacation allows me a chance to catch up with my reading, and I thought I would break from my packed schedule of doing nothing to share with you a review of one of the books.  It is Jesus and His World:  The Archaeological Evidence by Craig Evans.

I “dig” this book

Many of my readers know that I love archaeology and enjoy learning about how the material remains of the distant past enlighten my understanding of the Scriptural context.  Someday I hope to actually work an active dig.

Evans’ book has three things going for it.  First, it is written in simple terms that do not insult.  Second, it is written from a faith perspective without preaching.  Third, it does not try to do too much; the author simply outlines parts of Jesus’ life in connection with what has been discovered from archaeological spadework.  The book is a quick read at 152 pages plus detailed endnotes and references.

Introduction:The introduction deploys the writer’s tone for his subject as he answers how archaeology helps us understand the life of Christ as a historical reality rather than a theologically constructed fable.

Chapter OneIn the Shadow of Sepphoris:  Growing up in Nazareth:  Sepphoris was a major city near the village of Nazareth where Jesus grew up.  Sepphoris has also been excavated and provides many detailed insights into life in the 1stcentury.

The theater at Sepphoris–A place for hypocrites?

Of particular interest is Evan’s debunking of Jesus as “cynic philosopher” and his discussion of the discovery of the theater at Sepphoris and how some of Jesus’ recorded teachings might have been influenced by it.

Chapter TwoAmong the Devout:  Religious Formation in the Synagogue:  This might have been my favorite chapter.  Excavation of synagogues in Capernaum, Gamla, the Herodium, Jericho, Magdala, Masada, Modi’in, Qiryat Sefer and Shuafat put in context some of the history of Jesus’ life recorded in the gospels as well as the location of his teachings.

The Masada Synagogue: Columns, benches, Torah arks, and the “Seat of Moses”

Chapter ThreeIn the Books:  Reading, Writing, and Literacy:  This chapter is consumed with one key thought—“Could Jesus Read?”  The obvious answer to a Christ-follower is yes, as Christianity is a literary faith.  Evans gives evidence from the archaeological and epigraphical record to support this assertion.  A side fact in this chapter is Evan’s discussion about the long-term use of books.  In antiquity books could be expected to last from 150-500 years.  Evans puts forth the idea that manuscripts from the second and third century might well have been copied from autographs or from copies of autographs.

Chapter FourConfronting the Establishment:  Ruling Priests and the Temple:  Jesus faced his enemies head on in the synagogue, Temple courts, and in everyday life.  Much of the evidence we have about the ruling religious and political class of 1st century Judea comes from tombs.

Chapter FiveLife with the Dead:  Jewish Burial Traditions:  Evans covers a lot of different topics in this chapter, but his best work is perhaps the discussion of how the gospel record of Jesus death and burial is in complete accordance with the understood Jewish burial practices of the 1stcentury.  There is nothing irregular or awkward about anything that was done with Jesus—even that a member of the council that condemned him, Joseph of Arimathea, would be concerned about his burial.  This was my second favorite chapter.

“James the Brother of Jesus” Ossuary

Appendices—In addition to these chapters, the Evans includes two brief appendices.  One is on the salacious report of finding Jesus family tomb and his ossuary (guess, what, it is a fraud) and the other is speculation about what Jesus might have looked like.

I loved this book and think it is a must have for anyone who is interested in the life of Christ.