Friday, May 30, 2008

Off the Shelf: The Emmaus Mystery

It beckoned to me as I was browsing the extensive stacks at Cincinnati Public Library. The Emmaus Mystery carried the subtitle "discovering the evidence for the risen Christ." After dealing with James Tabor's Jesus Dynasty, I thought it would be nice to see something that takes seriously the biblical accounts.

The book didn't live up to the advertisement. It didn't give evidence for the resurrection.

It was, however, an entertaining and lively read. Thiede's thesis is that the gospel accounts are indeed reliable historical sources (contra the idea that they are mostly fabrications), and thus historians and archaeologists can use them for clues. He writes: “Hardly anyone will turn Christian because of an ancient inscription discovered among the ruins of a first-century village, and likewise no one will lose their faith if stories told in the Bible cannot be proven archaologically. ‘Proving’ faith is a futile endeavour. Appreciating the intelligence and learning of the witnesses and writers of the first centuries, on the other hand, takes us closer to the roots of our civilization.” (22) Thiede seeks to prove this assertion by using the account in Luke to help him find the "lost" village of Emmaus.

Thiede explains the various theories of where Emmaus was actually located....and takes us on a tour of history from Roman times up through the Crusades and beyond. However, be forewarned, he does like to ramble. This text reads a bit like an after supper conversation ... ranging back and forth and down little side alleys, but slowly pushing forward toward an end goal.

That end goal is the recounting of the archaeological digs that Thiede directed near Moza starting in 2002. For those not familiar with archaeological procedure, this might provide an interesting snapshot to the frustrations and the unexpected discoveries that await the researcher.

Some of the interesting points and quotes he makes:

on the antiquity of the gospels (Theide argues for an early dating of the gospels...say in the 30s - 40s): “No one, so far, has produced a single convincing reason why the Christians should have waited for ten years or more before they set pen to paper, given the fact that their neighbours, the rival messianic eschatological movement of the Essenes, produced, copied, and distributed scroll after scroll to proclaim their own messianic vision. It should be obvious enough that a new movement which proclaimed the fulfillment of these Jewish hopes and expectations had to write down what they knew and believed. An oral tradition was valuable, but on its own it was inadequate. The incident at Beroea proves the point: those pious Jews listened to Paul and Silas ….but afterwards they studied the Scriptures to find out if it were true.” (85)

on the nature of mystery cults they understood that myth “…simply was the oral and literary form of any given mystery cult. And mysteries were anything but secret affairs: contrary to what most of us assume, none of the ancient mystery cults was restricted to a small circle of select followers. We know from ancient sources that over the centuries literally millions of people were initiated into …the Eleusinian Mysteries, celebrated in the Greek city of Eleusis in honour of the female godhead Demeter and her daughter Persepone.” (82)

All told an interesting read....though not entirely satisfying for those who are looking for hard scholarly evidence on the textual issues.

Soli Deo Gloria