The Fifth Gospel

This Sunday night I'll be teaching from 1 Samuel 17: the conflict between David and Goliath. I've enjoyed preparing this week, excited to give further insight to a popular Biblical tale. One of the reasons I'm looking forward to it is that Kelly and I were able to stand in the Valley of Elah, the location of the epic battle, during our visit to Israel in 2005. Of course, I'll have pictures and a laser pointer ready to go. My dream is to one day be able to spend a summer sabbatical in Israel to spend extended time exploring the numerous holy sites. The land where the Bible took place is breathtaking; people have spent careers researching small aspects of archaeological sites. The great wealth of information that can be gleaned there has earned the land of Israel the distinction of "The Fifth Gospel." Indeed, a trip to Israel transforms the way that people think about the Bible.

An example of this is found in David Plotz, writer for Slate and a non-observant Jew, who read through the Bible without any commentaries, noting everything he observed. As part of the project he took a trip to Israel to see some sights, participate in an archaeology dig, and blog about his experience.

While at a place known as Maresha, an amazing site near the coastal plain that we were able to visit on our trip, he had an epiphany:

"It's a eureka moment for me. Suddenly, the wars of the Bible that made no sense on the page are perfectly comprehensible. The geography explains it all: On this side is the backward hill kingdom of Judah. On that side is the technologically advanced coastal kingdom of the Philistines. And here, in between them, is the fortress line that must not break. Standing on this ancient hilltop, looking over a landscape that has not changed much since the Book of Kings . . . I can see the Bible more clearly than I read it. To my right, the mighty nations of the coast; to my left, a tiny tribal kingdom with only one god and the germ of a great civilization—the beginning of our world."

Many people who dismiss the Biblical story as mythology have never been to the Holy Lands. It makes it even more difficult to ignore that there is something about this book. I'm not saying that the archaeology proves the Biblical story; faith is still necessary. But it does speak as powerfully as the Biblical text itself.