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The Archaeological Evidence

by Shimon Gibson

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-145848-4
Publisher: HarperOne

An attempt to add archaeology’s voice more forcefully to the conversation about who Christ was and how he came to be crucified.

Gibson (Archaeology/Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte), a research fellow at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, argues that “archaeology tends to play second fiddle” in efforts to discover the historical Jesus. He calls upon scholars to turn toward archaeological evidence in addition to relying on textual and literary criticism. Though replete with interesting tidbits and archaeological tales, his book does not entirely fulfill its potential. Gibson begins by examining the routes Jesus would have taken toward Jerusalem and then discusses his dealings at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in nearby Bethany. The author’s tortured attempt to explain the raising of Lazarus (“he must have been in a trance or a state of catalepsy”) is not particularly convincing. Gibson goes on to describe the rituals of cleansing and foot washing as practiced and understood in first-century Jerusalem. He’s at his best when attempting to pinpoint the locations of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, an effort in which archaeological evidence plays a crucial role. Material on the practice of crucifixion is riveting and horrifying, giving readers a grim understanding of the agony such a punishment inflicted. Finally, Gibson discusses burial practices at the time and surmises what sort of tomb Joseph of Arimathea would have owned. Gibson takes for granted many modern heterodox views: that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist and that supernatural claims are generally invalid, for example. Yet he also asserts that Jesus may have had healing powers and even allows that resurrection could be a tenable explanation for the empty tomb. Overall, despite his exhortations for new methods of scholarship, the author leans upon prior literary criticism and fills his book with too many of other people’s ideas.

Engaging, but doesn’t meet the expectations it raises. More archaeology, please.