I recently spent two weeks in Israel on a tour with Chip and Jamie Thompson of TriGrace Ministries. When I returned home, I met with my Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer friends again and spent the first hour of our conversation talking about Israel and showing them pictures from my adventures. I wasn’t planning on writing about that part of our conversation here, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how important it is that I do so. It is important for a number of reasons.
This blog, The Edge, has a rich mix of readers. Some of you are Christians interested in Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism or both. Some of you Christians have come from those backgrounds. Others are not Christians, but are still interested in JWs and Mormons because you either are one or use to be. Regardless of why you follow this blog, I think it is important that I share my experiences in Israel because what I have learned can benefit all of you.
Christians can be edified in their faith knowing that there is real physical evidence for what we believe. Some of that is being attacked today by either reinterpreting physical evidence or covering it up and by that I mean literally burying it. Those of you who are not yet Christians can come to realize that there is MUCH more evidence for what Christians believe than what both JWs and Mormons have combined. Mormon archaeology is an oxymoron and the Watchtower has built some very important doctrines around false dates and archaeology, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because both of those religions are a lie doesn’t mean that Christianity is also. Hang in there and look at the evidence. What I have to report here is by no means exhaustive, but I am positive that if you are open to learning, there will be things in this post which will benefit you in your spiritual journey.
When JW1 and JW2 walked into the restaurant, they immediately inquired about my trip. We sat down and I started telling them about my experiences and looking at pictures. I took 1,814 pictures and videos, but only had 509 of them on my iPad for lack of space. Most of the beginning of our conversation was about cultural differences like lines. Americans form lines so we know who is next. There is a beginning of a line and an end and if you cut, it is considered rude and inconsiderate. Not so in Israel. If there is room for another person, someone will take it regardless of where you are in the loosely formed line also known as a mob. I was almost run over by three Russian tanks women in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
I began showing pictures from my trip. The first one I showed him was of me in Hezekiah’s Water tunnel.
The Bible speaks of this tunnel in 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32: 2-4,30. King Sennacherib of Assyria was in the land conquering Israelite cities. Because of the difficult location of Jerusalem, Hezekiah knew that it would be the last city attacked. This gave him time to prepare for siege warfare by redirecting the Gihon spring into the walled city. You can read more about Hezekiah’s Water tunnel here.
Although Chip was the leader and acted as our tour guide for most of the trip, we also had Joel Kramer act as our guide for a number of days. Joel is an American who lives in Jerusalem and is an archeologist learning from one of the top five archaeologists in the world, Shamone Gibson. As a Biblical archaeologist, Joel has a rare, almost unique, view of the Bible. He believes it! Most archaeologists no longer trust the Bible’s accuracy of historical events looking for every opportunity to discredit it. Joel told us numerous times that that every time archaeologists disagree with the Bible, they are wrong, but every time they agree with it, they are right.
We stood in site after site where Joel would read the Biblical account of our location and then point out the geographical features of our surrounding area. One of the sites Joel took us to was Qumran cave 1. The next picture is of me standing in the entrance of that cave. This is the cave where the Dead Sea scrolls were first found. In this next picture Joel is motioning with his hands the exact spot in the cave where the great Isaiah scroll was unearthed.
The importance of the discovery of these scrolls cannot be underestimated.
The Isaiah scroll was found complete (aside from some small damaged portions) and dated to at least 100 B.C., 1,100 years older than any copy of Isaiah previously found. Although there are a number of minor differences between it and later copies of Isaiah, most of these differences are in how certain words were spelled. There are no differences which change the meaning. This means that the book of Isaiah that we read in our Bibles today is the same book from which Jesus read during His ministry. No other book of antiquity can come close to having the same kind of textual support and consistency.
Our tour group also visited the ruins of Gath. I decided to test the Bible knowledge of my Witness friends.
KW: If I were to tell you that I visited the city of Gath, what would you think about?
JW1: It’s a city, uh… it’s Biblical… I can’t think of what happened there…
KW: Who was from Gath?
KW: He was a really big guy.
JW2: Oh, Goliath?
I showed them this picture and said, “We found Goliath.”
They enjoyed the picture and we talked about chameleons for a little bit. Somehow the conversation transitioned to the various drivers were had for our tour vans and I suddenly remembered an incident that happened two days before we left the country. It has nothing to do with Israel itself, but I wanted to tell the story so that they could see how God had his hand on our tour group.
The last day of our tours included crawling through a couple of caves. We had a different driver that day and he decided to join us in our caving adventures. I’ll explain more about the caving later, but as we were getting ready to hike up to the caves, one of our group members took off her passport holder and left it in the van with the rest of our packs and bags. We toured the caves, then our driver took us back to our hotel. She thought that she retrieved everything from the van as we left, but she had inadvertently left her passport holder in the van. As they were packing up that night, she could not locate her passport. That is not good.
They checked everywhere and then realized that they must have left it in the van. Remember, we had a different driver that day. The next day she called Joel’s house to see if they left it there that morning and get the contact information for the driver to see if he could check the van for her passport. Before they could reach the driver, Joel’s Wife, Cathy, was out in Jerusalem and on a whim decided to stop the next taxi van she saw. She got the driver’s attention so he pulled over. She had never seen this man before.
Cathy asked if he knew our regular driver and was surprised to hear that he did. Not only that, but he was our driver the previous day! He informed Cathy that he had turned the passport in to our normal driver and that it would be returned the next time we saw our regular driver.
I don’t know if I am doing an adequate job of describing what happened here, but there are HUNDREDS of tour drivers in Jerusalem. Everywhere we went we saw tour buses and vans. It is nothing short of miraculous that Cathy was led to stop the actual driver who found the passport in a city of a million people. Incredible.
After telling them that story, I explained what we were doing in the caves. This is a picture of most of our group in what is referred to as “The hiding caves.”
They were hard to find. These caves were dug for Jews and later used by early Christians who were hiding because there was a Roman Coliseum nearby where Christians were being fed to lions. The Christians would hide in these caves and carve out little notches for pigeons to nest. There was a small hole in the top of the cave so the pigeons could fly in and out of the cave. The Christians would live in these caves and would survive off of the pigeon eggs. They had one of two choices, either feed the pigeons or feed the lions.
One of the things that impressed me most while being in Israel was the sheer amount of evidence of earlier civilizations. There was pottery EVERYWHERE. In every single place we visited, there was pottery just laying around on the ground. Joel would take us into caves or on top of tells (a mound developed over time when one city is built literally on top of a previously destroyed city) that were littered with ancient pottery. We were allowed to dig in certain places and found all kinds of other goodies like coins, flint knives, or sling stones.
This is in stark contrast to the lack of evidence for the Book of Mormon. I couldn’t help but think the same thought every day. Mormonism has nothing. They’ve got NOTHING! Here I am walking around in Israel and it is just about impossible to walk on one of these sites and not step on pottery. It was literally everywhere. This partial pot handle I found in Bethel was made during the time of Christ.
On a side note, as God would arrange it, I happened to meet a Mormon couple in the Amsterdam airport on the way home. I was able to show them pictures on my iPad of some of the sites we visited. I made sure to give every detail I could remember about how Christians can point to literal places named in the pages of scripture. We have places, names of real people, knives, sling stones, pottery, coins, inscriptions, temple ruins and these are just the things I saw personally. There are mountains of other types of evidence that others have found to testify to the accuracy of our religious text. The Book of Mormon? Nothing. They’ve got nothing. I didn’t tell my Witness friends that story, but I thought it important enough to include here.
One of the things I would do as we were visiting different places was to place my right hand on the ground and take a picture of it. I did this in every place where Jesus could have walked. Because most of the sites that existed during Jesus’ time are now buried, archaeologists have to dig down until they get to the time period of Christ. I wear a ring on my right hand which says, “I Love Jesus” and keep the word, “Jesus” on top. I wanted to take these pictures as reminders that I was in an actual place where Jesus very well may have been, physically.
Visiting Jericho was an eye opening experience. I explained to my Witness friends that the field of archaeology is heavily guarded through politics. Once Israel became a nation again in 1948, the field of archaeology changed. Prior to 1948 there was evidence of Joshua’s conquest all over the country, but now strangely enough, none of that evidence can be found in Palestinian controlled areas. Jericho is one such area. If the Palestinians admit that Israel took the land during Joshua’s time, then the Jews have a rightful claim to the whole country. But if there is no evidence of Joshua and early Jewish history, then the Palestinians can reject such claims to the land. This leads to Archaeologists having their dig permits declined unless they are thought to be “pro-Palestinian.”
When we arrived in Jericho we began our tour immediately because we wanted to beat the rush. Once we arrived on the tel, the beaten path of our tour goes to the right, but we followed Joel to the left. Joel began to explain the politics to us and then read from the brochure which states, “The town was deserted in the Late Bronze age (14th century BC), and the city wall of Jericho, of Joshua-invasion fame, was not found by archaeologists, thus indicating a contradiction between the biblical narratives and archaeological evidence.” Joel flatly stated, “This is a lie.”
Joel started pulling out books and old excavation reports and showed us that those reports note, “fallen red brick.”
These mud bricks were built on top of a heavy stone base and had fallen outside of the city making a perfect ramp from the ground up into the city. He then showed us remnants of that wall. From these pictures is it hard to tell, but you can see a faint outline of bricks.
One of the problems with old mud bricks is that they dissolve over time if left exposed to the elements. Joel was lamenting the fact that had it not rained a few days before we arrived in Jericho, we would have seen the brick outlines much clearer as he was there the week prior to our arrival. Responsible archaeologists would build a plexi-glass frame to protect mud bricks (like we saw in another site), but these bricks were not being protected because they point out an inconvenient truth.
We also looked into one of the holes dug during Kathleen Kenyon’s excavation (1952-58) which contained pottery from Joshua’s time.
One of the ways archaeologists are denying Joshua’s conquest is to claim that the dating of Jericho does not match up with the time of Joshua. Because this lie is so easily exposed, the Palestinian authority is literally burying the evidence and plastering over it.
I wanted so badly to explain to my Jehovah’s Witness friends that the Watchtower does the exact same thing. They have changed their doctrine so frequently and so seriously that they have actually asked Witnesses to turn in their older publications. Certain books and brochures have been discontinued and no longer used because they contain significant errors. Even the Watchtower’s own official history has been changed to better reflect what is taught now instead of what was actually believed by Witnesses decades ago. By explaining what is happening in Jericho today, I hope to one day make the parallel to what the Watchtower does as well.
There were many more things I told my Witness friends about my trip, some of which I can relate to things we will discuss about their religion and other things which are just cool to talk about. I don’t have the space here to discuss all of the little details of my trip, but if you can ever go to Israel, you have to go. I will end with one last story that I told my Witness friends.
Joel never said it, but I get the impression that he is very well liked by his archaeology professor, perhaps even a “teacher’s pet.” Joel is sometimes put in charge over certain digs and one of the things he always does is ask the people under him why they are there. Keep in mind that the vast majority of archaeologists are either atheist or agnostic. When Joel asks the question, they usually give the standard answer about Jerusalem having a rich archaeological history and how they enjoy digging up things so that they can learn more about the history and culture of those who lived thousands of years ago. Joel asks again; “But why here when there are so many other ancient civilizations to study? Why Jerusalem?” The student is typically dumbfounded at this point because they know that Joel is getting at something, but aren’t entirely sure how to answer his question.
Joel points out that Jerusalem is not on the ancient trade route as Jerusalem is up in the mountains and there is a much easier route to take by the Mediterranean Sea, yet for some reason Jerusalem is central in so much of what happened in ancient times. Why? What is so special about Jerusalem? Why has it been destroyed and rebuilt (100+ times) more than any other city of the face of this planet? What significance does Jerusalem have on the world’s stage? Why does it still make international news almost every day?
Why dig here? Because God has His hand on this city and this Nation. That is why. God chose these people, that’s why. Joel tells them; “That is why you are here. You may not believe in God, but you are here anyway. Why? You are here digging up a place that God has His hand on and it is written about in a very old text that you don’t believe, but you are still here.” Why is it that all of the other ancient cites of Israel have a destruction burn layer at the same time in history, yet Jerusalem does not? Because God has His hand on this city.
Historically what happened is recorded in 2 Kings chapters 18-19. Jerusalem what under threat of siege warfare from Sennacherib the King of Assyria. The Assyrians were masters of this type of warfare and no one was able to withstand their attacks. An Assyrian official challenged King Hezekiah claiming that God would not save the Jews because none of the Gods of other nations were able to save their people either.
Hezekiah went to the Lord and begged for help. That night an angel killed 185,000 Assyrian warriors so they were forced to leave Israel and go back to Assyria where Sennacherib was assassinated in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (2 Kings 19:6-7).
During this part of our conversation I kept quoting Joel in saying that, “God has His hand on Jerusalem.” JW1 said; “At least He did at that time.”
I know very well that the Watchtower teaches that God has forever rejected the nation of Israel in favor of an American book selling company headquartered in Brooklyn, New York so I replied, “Oh no. God is not done with Israel.”
From there somehow we transitioned into going through the Teach book. My next post will be about our conversation regarding whether or not “Jehovah” is the actual name of God. We had our first serious disagreement today about that topic. I asked him a question which stopped him dead in his tracks.
Again, if you can ever manage to go to Israel, you have to go. Especially if you can go with Tri-Grace Ministries. Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witness friends.