Archive for April, 2007


Article: The Tower of Babel (3/3)

April 24, 2007

The Tower of Babel: Outside The Bible

In addition, there is a specific time duration in which this tower must have been built. Archaeological evidence proves that such a ziggurat must have been built no later than 2,400 BC:

We see then that the archaeological facts coalesce around the dates 3500 to 3000 B.C. The building of a city not just a settlement, the use of baked brick, the use of bitumen for mortar and the fact that a ziggurat is being built all dovetail in date. This remarkable agreement makes it highly probable that the earliest date to which we can ascribe the tower of Babel as described in Gen 11:1-9 is c. 3500 to 3000 B.C.

But, what is the latest date to which we can ascribe its building? There is a text saying that Sharkalisharri restored the temple-tower at Babylon c. 2250 B.C., and another text indicates that Sargon I destroyed Babylon c. 2350 B.C. [24]

This suggests that there was a city established at Babylon efore 2350 B.C.; so, allowing a modest 50 years of city history, we can set 2400 B.C. as the terminus ante quem for the first ziggurat built in Babylon. [25]

We can thus date the building of the tower of Babel sometime between 3500 and 2400 BC.

[24] CAH3 1:1:219; Evelyn Klengel-Brandt, “Babylon,” OEANE 1:254.

[25] Ziggurats began as elevated temples and did not become “true ziggurats” until c. 2100 B.c., after which they continued to be built or at least rebuilt until the fall of Babylon in the sixth century B.C.’

Paul H Seely, ‘The Date Of The Tower Of Babel And Some Theological Implications’, page 19, originally published in Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2001) 15-38

This detail provides evidence that the Biblical record of the tower of Babel must itself be very old. Many modern scholars (especially secular academics), wish to argue that the Pentateuch was written at a very late date, supposedly during the Babylonian captivity (6th century BC), though incorporating some earlier material from no earlier than the 10th century BC.

It must be asked how even a 10th century writer living in Israel could possibly have such a precise knowledge of these specific details of religious buildings constructed over 1,400 years before he lived, during a kingdom long since ended, in a geographical area he had never visited.

Article here.


Article: The Tower of Babel (2/3)

April 23, 2007

The Tower of Babel: Outside The Bible

Archaeological evidence proves that the Bible’s description of the tower of Babel is historically accurate on the following points:

* The description of the building
* The time at which it was built
* The specific materials from which it was constructed
* The order of the construction process
* The motives involved in its construction

The Bible describes the tower of Babel using a term which is historically appropriate:

‘Gen 11:4 tells us that the settlers in Sumer decided to build “a city and a tower.” The word used for tower is ldgm (migdal). Since this word is often used in the OT for a watchtower or a defensive tower (e.g., Judg 9:45, 51; 2 Kgs 9:17; 17:9; Isa 5:2) and nowhere else refers to a ziggurat, what reason is there to believe that in Gen 11:4 it refers to a ziggurat?

The first reason is that the setting is in Babylonia where the ziggurat was the most prominent structure in a city – both visually and ideologically. [18]

Secondly, the tower in our text was designed to bring fame and glory to the builders (“so that we may make a name for ourselves”). Mesopotamian kings often took pride in building ziggurats, but no such pride was taken in defensive towers which were simply parts of the city wall. [19]’

‘As for the use of the word migdal, one wonders what other choice the Hebrews had for a word to refer to a ziggurat? Since they had no ziggurats in their culture, they would either have to borrow a word or use the closest word they could find in their own language. As Walton has pointed out, the word migdal is not inaccurate and has a similar etymology to ziggurat, being derived from gedal (to be large), while ziggurat is derived from the Akkadian word zaqaru (to be high). [22]’

‘There is very good reason then to believe that the tower in our text refers to a ziggurat and not just to a defensive tower. The vast majority of scholars agree that a ziggurat is intended.

[18] Elizabeth C. Stone, “The Development of Cities in Ancient Mesopotamia,” CANE 1:236, 238.

[19] Singer, A History of Technology, 1:254-55; Forbes, Studies, 1:68.

[22] John Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Tower of Babel Account and Its Implications,” BBR 5 (1995), 156’

Paul H Seely, ‘The Date Of The Tower Of Babel And Some Theological Implications’, pages 18-19, originally published in Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2001) 15-38

The Biblical account of the tower of Babel comes just after the record of the flood, and since it has been demonstrated that the flood occurred around 3,000 BC, we know that the events surrounding the tower of Babel must have taken place not long after this date.

Article here


Article: The Tower of Babel (1/3)

April 20, 2007

The Tower Of Babel

The record of the tower of Babel is one of the most well known but most misunderstood passages of the Bible. People remember in general terms the great tower, man’s challenge to God, and the confusion of language, but they usually remember the specific details imperfectly.

It’s a short record, so let’s read it now so we know what it actually says:

Genesis 11:
1 The whole earth had a common language and a common vocabulary.
2 When the people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 Then they said to one another, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” (They had brick instead of stone and tar instead of mortar.)
4 Then they said, “Come, let’s build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens so that we may make a name for ourselves. Otherwise we will be scattered across the face of the entire earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the people had started building.
6 And the Lord said, “If as one people all sharing a common language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be beyond them.
7 Come, let’s go down and confuse their language so they won’t be able to understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there across the face of the entire earth, and they stopped building the city.
9 That is why its name was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the entire world, and from there the Lord scattered them across the face of the entire earth.

It is a surprise to most people to realise that the Bible does not present the narrative of the tower of Babel as an explanation of how all the languages of the world came about, though many people wrongly believe it says this.

Article here.


Article: Christianity And The Witch Hunt Era (6/12)

April 18, 2007

* 1631: Friedrich Spee von Lagenfield, a German Jesuit, wrote an influential work on witchcraft trials (‘Cautio Criminalis’, 1631). Despite being convinced of the existence of witches, Spee believed that the standard German methods of investigation, prosecution, court procedure and punishment were grossly unjust, unChristian, and inhumane. Although his was not the first work of this kind, it had the significant effect of raising popular opinion against these abuses, and is credited with contributing to the abolition of witch trials in Germany:

‘Spee’s topics are diverse but guided by his concern over the judicial treatment of accused witches rather than the characteristics of witches themselves. Taken from the fifty-one questions Spee uses to organize his book, the following give a sense of his arguments and tone: “Question 6: Whether the princes of Germany act well when they proceed harshly against witchcraft” (pp. 16-18); “Question 12: Whether inquisitions against witches should cease if it is established that many innocent people have actually been entangled in them” (pp. 42-44); “Question 36: Whether rumor alone is sufficient for torture, at least when the crimes are difficult to prove” (pp. 141-144); “Question 49: What are the arguments of those who consider denunciations by witches to be completely trustworthy, and say they suffice for torturing those denounced” (pp. 198-212).’

‘Rather than relying on reform from within the judiciary, Spee concentrates his appeal on the reason and humanity of Germany’s princes, stressing the brutal experience and subversive nature of torture: “If we constantly insist on conducting trials, no one of any sex, fortune, condition, or rank whatsoever who has earned himself even one enemy or slanderer who can drag him into the suspicion and reputation for witchcraft can be sufficiently safe in these times” (p. 221).’

Kathryn A Edwards, ‘Review of Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld, Cautio Criminalis, or a Book on Witch Trials’, H-German, H-Net Reviews, August, 2005

‘Spee was engaged in Franconia as pastor, and had prepared for their death at the stake not fewer than two hundred persons accused of witchcraft. Scarcely thirty years of age, he was asked one day by Philip of Schoenborn, Bishop of Würzburg, why his hair had turned gray. “Through grief,” he said. “Of the many witches whom I have prepared for death, not one was guilty.” The reply must have burnt into the soul of the questioner, for ever after Philip of Schoenborn remained under its influence. Spee confessed to the Bishop that he was the author of the Cautio criminalis, and the Bishop did not betray the confidence of the young Jesuit.

Says Spee in his Cautio criminalis:

“In these proceedings no one is allowed to have legal assistance or defence, however honestly it may be conducted. For it is claimed that the crime is a crimen exceptum, one not subject to the rules of ordinary legal proceedings. And even if an attorney were allowed to the prisoner, the former would from the outset be suspected himself, as a patron and protector of witches, so that all mouths are shut and all pens are blunted, and one can neither speak nor write. . . . I swear solemnly that of the many persons whom I accompanied to the stake, there was not one who could be said to have been duly convicted; and two other pastors made me the same confession from their experience. Treat the heads of the Church, the judges, myself, in the same way as those unfortunate ones, make us undergo the same tortures, and you will convict us all as wizards.”

Spee did not deny the possibility of witchcraft; he was a faithful believer in the dogmas held by the Church of his age. He merely objected to the abuses of witchcraft and recommended clemency.

Philip of Schoenborn became Archbishop of Mayence and to his honor be it said that under his government no fagots were lit.’

Paul Carus, ‘History of the Devil’, pages 375-377, 1900

* 1631: The Spanish Inquisition took active steps to educate people against the belief in witches and witchcraft. In the following circumstance, the Suprema removed from office a vicar who believed in witchcraft, and ordered him to be replaced with ‘a proper person’. The Inquisitor responsible for handling the case was to ‘instruct the people as to the fallacies of witchcraft’:

‘This scepticism increased and there was a desire to train the people to disbelief, as appears from a highly creditable act in 1631. The Inquisitor of Novara reported that his vicar in ” Vallis Vigelli” had commenced proceedings for witchcraft against a woman, when she hanged herself in prison, and he asked instructions whether to continue the prosecution against the corpse or whether she had been strangled by the demon or other witches; also whether he should proceed against a girl and her accomplices who had confessed extra-judicially to have been at the Sabbat.

In reply the Congregation ordered him to send the proceedings in the case of the suicide and also the deposition of the girl; meanwhile he was to remove the vicar and replace him with a proper person and take pains himself, by means of the parish priests, to instruct the people as to the fallacies of witchcraft.’

Charles Lea, ‘A History of the Inquisition In Spain’, volume 4, book 8, chapter 9, pages 244-245, 1906-1907

There was at this time no other Christian organisation actively teaching the people to abandon the common belief in witchcraft. This remarkable decision was far ahead of its time.

Article here.


Article: Christianity And The Witch Hunt Era (5/12)

April 17, 2007

The Witch Hunts: A Historical Aberration

* 1611: Local courts were again disciplined by the Inquisition. The magistrates were actually arrested and prosecuted by the Inquisition for abuses of authority:

‘When the local magistrates were proceeding as usual to arrest suspects, the alcaldes of the Royal Court of Navarre, early in 1611, interposed by arresting them in turn for exceeding their powers and prosecuted them to punishment.’

Charles Lea, ‘A History of the Inquisition In Spain’, volume 4, book 8, chapter 9, page 228, 1906-1907

The secular tribunal complained that since the interference of the Inquisition accusations and confessions of witchcraft had stopped, and even those who had previously confessed were now withdrawing their confessions:

‘.. .this had now all ceased, and those who had confessed were beginning to retract; the tribunal had relied upon the court [the Inquisition] for aid in exterminating this accursed race and now it was protecting them.’

Charles Lea, ‘A History of the Inquisition In Spain’, volume 4, book 8, chapter 9, page 228, 1906-1907

This was of course the best result possible. The Suprema published an ‘Edict of Grace’ (granting forgiveness without penalty to those who confessed), and ordered Inquisitor Salazar to have it made known in all the affected areas he visited:

‘On March 26th it had ordered the publication of an Edict of Grace, which Salazar was deputed to carry with him on a visitation to the infected districts and, after some delay, he started with it, May 22d, on a mission destined to open his eyes and put a permanent end to the danger of witchcraft epidemics in Spain.’

Charles Lea, ‘A History of the Inquisition In Spain’, volume 4, book 8, chapter 9, page 228, 1906-1907

The decision to issue an Edict of Grace was an startling innovation in the treatment of witches during this era. Although initial responses to the Edict were unpromising (the local people hesitant to denounce themselves, despite the promise of forgiveness), the strategy was used again the following year with great effect.

Article here.


Article: Christianity And The Witch Hunt Era (4/12)

April 16, 2007

The Witch Hunts: A Historical Aberration

* 1540: Antonio Venegas de Figueroa, Bishop of Pamplona, sent a circular to the priests in his diocese, explaining that witchcraft was a false belief. He recommended medical treatment for those accused of witchcraft, and blamed the ignorance of the people for their confusion of witchcraft with medical conditions.

In 1610, he sent a letter to the Inquisition saying that until the witch persecutions had been introduced to his region, the local people ‘had known nothing about witch sects or aquelarres [witches gatherings, or ‘sabbats’] or evil arts’. This extremely perceptive observation would be noted also by the brilliant Inquisitor Salazar, who likewise realised that the witch hunts were a manufactured evil caused by suggestion.

* 1550: The Suprema investigated the secular courts. Inquisitor Francisco Vaca condemned their systematic malpractice, and specific officials were reprimanded for abuses of authority, and for failing to obey the procedures commanded by the Inquisition:

‘The result of the visitation of Francisco Vaca was a long series of rebukes, in 1550, largely concerning the procedure in witch cases and eventually leading to the dismissal of Inquisitor Sarmiento, although his offences were simply what was regarded, everywhere but in Spain, as the plain duty of those engaged in a direct contest with Satan, represented by his instrument the witch. Sarmiento is told that he made arrests without sufficient proofs and accepted the evidence taken by secular officials without verifying it, as required by the practice of the Inquisition, and, whereas the Suprema ordered certain precautions taken before concluding cases, he concluded them without doing so, and subjected parties to reconciliation and scourging that were not included in the sentence. Although the Suprema had ordered all sentences of relaxation to be submitted to it, he had relaxed seven persons as witches, in disregard of this, and when repeatedly commanded to present himself, he had never done so. Then the fiscal was taken to task because he had been present at the examination of witches, conducting the interrogation himself, putting leading questions, telling them what to confess and assuring them that this was not like a secular court, where those who confessed were executed.’

Charles Lea, ‘A History of the Inquisition In Spain’, volume 4, book 8, chapter 9, page 218, 1906-1907

Article here.


Article: Christianity And The Witch Hunt Era (3/12)

April 15, 2007

The Witch Hunts: A Historical Aberration

Historical facts demonstrate that the witch hunts were uncharacteristic of Christianity as a whole, though a belief in witches and witchcraft was common. The infamous ‘witch burning era’ is in fact confined to just 250 years of Christian history, and whilst large scale panics took place in many countries it was rare for local church authorities to organize and initiate actual hunts.

The overwhelming majority of witch hunts and accusations were initiated by the common people, many of whom retained pagan superstitions which local Christian teachers often did little or nothing to correct (and sometimes encouraged). But the Christian attitude and response to witchcraft was by no means uniform across Europe, and church authorities in different countries (sometimes even in different regions), treated the issue in a variety of ways.

Tests and punishments for witchcraft inherited from a previous non-Christian legal code were often left intact and used by the Christian administration (at worst), sometimes altered to be more humane or less humane, but sometimes abandoned completely (at best). Those accused of witchcraft in one country could be put to horrific tests and tortures before being executed in various unpleasant ways, whilst in another country they would be subjected to mild questioning before being fined, given a penance, or even dismissed entirely without penalty.

It would be untrue therefore to say that the Christian response to witches and witchcraft was identical to that of the non-Christian population. In some places it was the same, in other places it was worse, whilst in other places it was far better. Nor is it true to say that Christianity was always the deadly enemy of those accused of witchcraft, or even that Christians always believed in it.

The history of witchcraft and Christianity reveals the following interesting facts:

* The earliest Christian records indicate that witchcraft was treated as a superstitious delusion, and medieval Christians actually condemned the punishments inflicted on alleged witches by the pagans and their laws

* A record of Christian opposition to the superstition of witchcraft, and to the punishment of alleged witches, which is centuries long and precedes the rationalist ‘Enlightenment’ era by almost 1,000 years

Article here.