Reading, Writing and Reflecting

By Steve Willis

Oldest Extra-Biblical Reference to Solomon’s Temple

Late last year, an inscription in paleo-Hebrew was announced in Biblical Archaeology Review (November/ December). It was on an ostracon, a broken piece of pottery with writing on it. Some doubted its veracity since it appeared on the antiquities market instead of in an archaeological site.

After testing confirmed its antiquity, the inscription was reported to be the oldest extra-Biblical reference to Solomon’s temple. It was a temple receipt for three shekels payment, paid by order of a king “to the house of Yahweh” from “the hand of [Z]echaryahu.” The full translation given follows:

Pursuant to the order of Ashyahu the king to give by the hand of [Z]echaryahu silver of Tarshish to the House (or Temple) of Yahweh Three shekels.

“BYT YHWH” (Beit Yahweh, House of Yahweh) had been reconstructed on an ivory pomegranate that was thought to have served as the head of a priestly scepter in Solomon’s Temple. Since only a part of “YHWH” actu- ally appear on the pomegranate, some scholars suggested “Asherah,” the pagan female deity might be the reading. On the newly published ostracon “YHWH” is “clearly present and easily readable. . . .”

It has been suggested that “Ashyahu” may be one of the alternate names for Yoash (Joash) or Yehoash Jehoash). They are known to have existed from 835 to 796 B.C. in the case of Joash, king of Judah, and 803 to 787 B.C. for Jehoash, king of Israel. The “-yahu” suffix represents a shorter version of God’s name appended to the king’s name. We see this in the “-iah” endings in other names, such as “Zecharyahu” (Zechariah) in the third line.

This is a significant find for reasons other than just being the oldest reference to the “house of the Lord.” The way it was written lends credence to another ancient reference that had been under question: “the house of David.” In Tel Dan, an excavator and epigrapher found an inscription that he read as “the house [or dynasty] of David.” Since some have doubted the existence of David, not regarding the Bible’s accounts, they had to doubt that inscription as well because no word divider was present between “House” and “David.” The “House of Yahweh” also has no word divider. As it is obvious that “Beit Yahweh” refers to the “House of Yahweh,” so must “Beit David” refer to the “House of David.”

A Widow’s Plea

The same issue of Biblical Archaeology Review reported another ostracon, which was a widow’s plea for justice. Here is the English translation by P. Kyle McCarter, Jr.:

May Yahweh bless you in peace. And now let my lord, the [king] near your maidservant. [  ] Dead is my husband with no children. And may your hand be with me, and may you give into the hand of your maidservant the estate which you promised to Amasyahu. And as for the wheat field which is in Na‘amah, you gave it to his brother.

Certainly, this reminds us of the parable of the widow and the unjust king who feared not God nor men, that we should pray and not lose heart found in Luke 18:1-8. Her plea was simply, “Give me legal protection from my opponent” (v. 3, NASB). However, remember that she kept coming before him with her plea until he finally answered her plea lest she wear him out (v. 5). The parable was that we likewise, without losing heart, should petition our just Father in heaven to hear our requests.

The ostracon indicates that since the dead husband had no children, his land went to his brother, as per Numbers 27:8-11. The widow was requesting, not by legal right, but perhaps by fairness, that she be able to keep the land.

One wonders if she kept coming back until she got her request.

Lutheranism Comes to Rome

In the fifteenth century, Martin Luther broke from the Roman Catholic Church over his view of “justification by faith” which has been understood ever since as “By grace alone; through faith alone” by Luther’s followers. By this he meant that salvation is entirely out of human hands; “works” has nothing to do with it in his view. This got him excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and began what is called the “Reformation.”

The July 6, 1998 issue of Time reported on a statement published with Vatican approval, according to Edward “Cardinal” Cassidy. Though there were some “caveats” to the approval, it was a “. . . Joint Declaration on the Doc- trine of Justification, toward which Catholics and Lutheran theologians have been toiling since 1967.

Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works (International Edition of Time 46).

The Catholics refuse to give up some cooperative agency between God and man giving penance or charity as examples. “The Joint Declaration,” says emeritus Yale theologian, George Linbeck, who helped draft earlier efforts, “reflects the conclusion that Catholicism never denied justification through grace; it was simply more focused on the human drama of the transformed sinner than on the exclusively divine origin of his or her transformation.”

This is an interesting move on the part of the Roman Catholics. It comes at a time when some “Protestants” are denying “faith only” as a part of biblical teaching. David Bercot has written, “If there’s any single doctrine that we would expect to find the faithful associates of the apostles teaching, it’s the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. After all, that is the cornerstone doctrine of the Reformation. In fact, we frequently say that those who don’t hold this doctrine aren’t really Christians” (Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up 57.) Bercot continued to show from Scripture and from early writings that “faith only” is the “real heretical” position — denied by the early church. “Our problem is that Augustine, Luther, and other Western theologians [and may we now add the Roman Catholics? — SPW] have convinced us that there’s an ir- reconcilable conflict between salvation based on grace and salvation conditioned on works or obedience” (62). “The early Christian doctrine of salvation gave equal weight to both” (64).

It looks like the Lutherans may finally be “reforming” the Roman Catholic Church, but not in the right direction of Scripture.

What’s Your Sign? Ophiuchus?

Occasionally someone will ask you, “What’s Your Sign?” trying to be friendly. They are asking about your “astrological” sign — not to be confused with “astronomical.” When someone answers, “Aries,” what they mean is that they were born when the sun was in front of the Aries star constellation. Well, maybe they used to be!

As the Earth moves in orbit around the sun, the pole wobbles a bit, so that the constellations no longer appear during the same time of year. They have drifted westward. So the old monthly designations for each of the Zodiac signs no longer correspond, and there has not been an update by astrologers to reflect this change.

In addition to that, the Zodiac signs are not the same equal size, so there really is no way of having an evenly divided year to fit the “12 Zodiac signs.” When astronomers faced this problem 70 years ago, they redrew the “Zodiac” to come up with equidistant spacing. However, they also came up with a 13th Zodiac sign: Ophiuchus, “the serpent bearer,” which is visible in the Summer sky (above and between Sagittarius and Scorpio).

Here are the present dates for the signs according to the sun’s position, but the dates actually fluctuate by a day from year to year:

Capricornus: January 19 to February 15

Aquarius: February 16 to March 11

Pisces: March 12 to April 18

Aries: April 19 to May 13

Taurus: May 14 to June 19

Gemini: June 20 to July 20

Cancer: July 21 to August 9

Leo: August 10 to September 15

Virgo: September 16 to October 30

Libra: October 31 to November 22

Scorpios: November 23 to November 29

Ophiuchus: November 30 to December 17

Sagittarius: December 18 to January 18

I don’t include these so you’ll be a better astrologer. We should not trust in such things as astrology (see the condemnation to Israel in Deut. 18:9-13 and Isa. 47:13-14). I present them here so you may not trust in them when you see them in the newspaper or shopping lines. Perhaps you can show them to a friend as well.

If you have access to a computer and the Internet, you can see more at this web site: