Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vol. 2: Getting Settled in Deerfield

It's the end of my second full week at TEDS, and "time is out of joint." I still feel as though I had just arrived, but I also have the impression of having been here for a very long time.

Here's a Top Ten List for the last two weeks:

10. Being on a small campus is great! I can walk anywhere in 5-10 minutes. How much better than the University of Chicago, where I was literally a mile away from everything!

9. University life is much more fun with a car! It's so nice to be able to go study at a coffee shop for a change of scenery (and good coffee). Also, it's nice to be able to take people places.

8. The opening convocation. All the faculty members processed in wearing their doctoral robes. The many designs and colors made for quite a pageant. It felt like the first day at Hogwarts!

7. The Ravinia Festival. I and two of my new friends got to be among the 5,000 (or so) people to attend a Rodgers and Hammerstein tribute with full orchestra and two wonderful young Broadway singers: Kelly O'Hara (of Light in the Piazza fame) and Jason Danieley (Candide, Floyd Collins). We also went to "little India," centered on Devon Street, for a terrific and very spicy Indian meal at Hema's Kitchen. I was jonesing for some Indian food, and Hema did not disappoint. I had the Lamb Rogan Josh (a little bizarre to order and eat food named after me, but I got into it), and happily the word "spicy" on the menu was not false advertising. I commend them for not being afraid to serve truly spicy food to Westerners. And the naan... this was the best naan I've ever had. Thick and fluffy and hot and dripping with ghee... oooh! I'm ready to hop in the car right now and go back there.

6. Sunday school. Dr. Dana Harris of the New Testament Department here at TEDS taught my Sunday School class last week! It was on Matthew chapter 1, and it was the best teaching on the geneaology of Christ that I have ever heard. I am excited that I get to be in her New Testament survey course next semester. I am still going to the Church of the Redeemer for the moment. I have been there three times, and I am starting to get to know people. I am a creature of habit, so this is probably where I will stay. I don't want to take too long "shopping" for a church. However, I do plan to take at least one Sunday and attend St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Burr Ridge. There is a tie-in to my Egyptian hieroglyph studies: Coptic, used as a liturgical language, is the latest developmental stage of ancient Egyptian. I also learned Coptic tradition holds that St. Mark the Evangelist founded the church in Egypt. There is an illumination of his martyrdom (by being dragged through the streets of Alexandria by a rope around his neck) in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

5. Hebrew language: I'm having a blast. Everything I knew before I came is being reinforced and deepened. I'm learning things in much greater detail, and more systematically. I really appreciate the various tools and helps that have been put at our disposal. (Speaking of language tools--TEDS students, take note--check out my own original Hebrew Alphabet Song right here on Josh's Dig, in MP3 and PDF formats.) I am getting very interested in comparative Semitic linguistics (I'm even thinking PhD here), and I am interested in the reconstructed pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew. I want to write a paper (in my spare time!) on what the transliterations of proper names in the Septuagint and the Vulgate can tell us about contemporary Hebrew sound systems.

4. Egyptian hieroglyphs: I'm not yet into the longer translations of authentic texts that we'll be doing later in the semester. But it's so cool to look at pictures of monuments and reliefs and be able to recognize a few signs, even though I can't really put them all together yet. I got my English-Ancient Egyptian dictionary in the mail today, so I'll be starting work on my translation of The Lord of the Rings into hieroglyphs. (Totally kidding. But that would be more productive than Klingon, at least.) Oh, and a brilliant guy in our class has written flashcard software for us, so I actually have software to learn Egyptian. The 21st century is awesome! I'm thinking if archaeology doesn't work out, I could always get a job at a kiosk in the mall writing people's names in hieroglyphs on little papyrus bookmarks. :) You know, I think I know what I'm doing for Christmas presents now. Act surprised in December, everyone!

3. Archaeology: I don't know where the time goes when I'm in that class. It really motivates me, and that's good, because it's going to be my biggest challenge by far this semester. I am getting back into the habit of digesting academic language, which I haven't had to deal with for years. Is it just me, or does scholarly writing sometimes seem intended to conceal and confuse rather than to explain and clarify? I'm working on a book review for later this month, and then the major deal is a research paper due in December. In our program we really don't have a thesis (instead we go on an excavation and write it up) so the goal with this paper is to produce a sizable chunk of academic writing that can be used in applying to doctoral programs. In my first semester. Hooray! (And help me, Jesus!)

2. Digging this summer? Some people are already talking about digging in the Middle East this summer, so I am looking at different potential sites and sources of funding. I am interested in Ashkelon, where a couple of Trinity students dug this past summer, and Megiddo. Please pray for wisdom in selecting the right excavation, and that the financial side of things will work out. I also would like to take some summer classes to save time during the regular academic year, so please pray for me as I plan and organize for the May to August season of 2010.

1. Can Archaeology Prove the Bible?

This is a question I am studying in some depth now, and I would like to share a few thoughts (really summaries of what I've been learning.) The answer to the above question is yes, within certain limits and with certain qualifications. Archaeology (and complementary fields like epigraphy, textual criticism, etc.) cannot prove, for example, that Jesus rose from the dead on 15 Nisan, A.D. 29. Believing in the Resurrection still requires a leap of faith. But archaeology can help refute the argument advanced by revisionist historians that no one believed Jesus rose from the dead until centuries later (after his life had supposedly become mythologized.) Evidence from papyri confirms that the Gospel of John was circulating in Egypt by the year A.D. 130, within 40 years of the traditional date of its composition, and 100 years after Christ's death. (See Bruce, F.F. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans, 1981 and Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1981. p. 12.) I would posit that 100 years is not enough time for a resurrection myth to develop and become widely believed. The Indian chief Geronimo died in 1909, and who could imagine someone in 2009 claiming that Geronimo had risen from the dead, and being taken seriously? It would be too easy to refute. For anyone who sees the late dates of the Gospels as an obstacle to believing in the Resurrection and Christ's other miracles, then archaeology, epigraphy, and textual criticism can remove that obstacle by confirming an early date. Such a person may still have other obstacles to faith (intellectual, philosophical, etc.) but the supposed late date of the Gospels will no longer be among them.

In a similar vein, archaeology cannot prove that thousands of Israelites walked through the Red Sea (or Reed Sea) on dry land flanked by walls of water. That, too, still requires a leap of faith. But it can confirm that the Pentateuch contains many rich details that accurately reflect the archaeological record of Egypt, Sinai and the Levant in the 2nd-millenium B.C. , when the five books of the Torah were always supposed to have been written, until modern text critics got their hands on them (See Hoffmeier, James K., Israel in Egypt, New York, 1996: Oxford University Press and Hoffmeier, James K., Ancient Israel in Sinai, New York, 2005: Oxford University Press). For anyone whose faith is impeded by the ever later dates proposed for the Old Testament (and the implication that the OT can't be trusted for anything historical, let alone matters of belief), archaeology can restore confidence in the early provenance of the Pentateuch.

Prayer and Praise:

I am so grateful to God for bringing me here and making all the practical things work out for this to be possible. I am grateful for the vision he has given me of a life of doing scholarship for God's kingdom. I am grateful for having the time to devote to the things I love, for many new wonderful friends and colleagues, for the amazing men and women who will be teaching me for the next three (or four!) years, and for a place that encourages me to nurture my spiritual side, not just my brain.

Please pray for my ongoing emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical well-being as I continue to adjust to new surroundings and a new routine. Please pray that my GI Bill money will come in by September 30 so I can avoid paying a late fee on my tuition. Please pray for my summer plans, and potentially my first trip to Israel. Thank you, everyone, for your prayers and the many notes of encouragement I have received! They mean a lot to me, especially as I am getting my bearings in a new place.

In other news, I got a new refrigerator. (Thank you, Walmart, for being so flexible in taking back the defective one.)

Stay tuned for Volume 3 of Josh's Dig, in which I promise to include the "Top 10 Reasons Why Indiana Jones is a Terrible Archaeologist."

In His Grip,


  1. Yo, Josh, Good to know you are about settled in and getting back to your "nitch" in life. As is heard in Brown County: You doin good, yet 'n all - ain't bad in da big city.
    Take care, thanks for putting me on your list.

  2. Again, Josh, I am excited about your enthusiasum for where God is leading you. It is so encouraging to read of what God is doing in your life. Archaeology has always interested me, but I never seemed to have an opportunity to move forward with it. I'm am looking forward to hearing more about what's going on in your life. Look me up on facebook sometime. Once in a while, I post a picture. Love You! Aunt Kristy