I had the opportunity to meet Professor Joan E. Taylor in her Postgraduate Module, The Bible & Archaeology at King’s College London in 2012, where she teaches Christians Origins and Second Temple Judaism. The experience was unforgettable, elucidating and extremely rewarding. Therefore I have asked her to give us this interview and she promptly accepted, especially written to the Brazilians’ Bible Students. Enjoy!
Revd André Mira, MA
1. Professor Taylor, how did you become interested in Biblical archaeology?
I first became interested when I visited archaeological sites related to Jesus, during a period in my life when I was a kibbutz volunteer (a long time ago). I wanted to know all the places Jesus knew, so I walked a lot around the Sea of Galilee. My kibbutz was in the Golan Heights, beyond Hippos (Sussita), and I could walk there and down to the lake. I got to know the whole region very well. When I returned to New Zealand, my homeland, I embarked on postgraduate study of Theology, with a major in New Testament and audited a course on archaeology, and then was fortunate in gaining a scholarship to the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, which is where I did my research on the ground for my PhD, which became my first book, Christians and the Holy Places. I was able to meet a great many archaeologists, attend lectures and visit sites, and also I learnt to excavate by working as a volunteer at the Roman fort of Upper Zohar, near Arad, and I also excavated briefly as a volunteer at Capernaum, on the Greek side.
2. How can Biblical Archaeology illuminate Biblical exegesis?
It can give a context about what we read about in the Bible. It can sometimes provide amazing corroboration of Biblical narratives, but it can also be challenging in terms of literal interpretations. For example, why is it that there were no walls of Jericho for Joshua to destroy at the time the Israelites entered the Promised Land? Was the city of Jericho in a different place at this time, or is the story aetiological, designed to explain ancient fallen walls by a story about trusting in God? These things can challenge us to consider the genres of the literature of the Bible: were stories told for meaning, for factual information, or for a mixture of the two? Where is the balance?
3. Do you think Biblical Archaeology should be studied in Church Sunday Schools or Bible study groups?
It would be a great idea to study the archaeology of the Holy Land, showing people real places and what has been excavated at sites, especially in Jerusalem. It can give people a much deeper sense of what the land was like at the time of the Bible. You learn about real historical people and cities, and it can greatly expand our awareness of how ordinary people lived and the issues they had. The world then was very different from our world now.
4. Professor Taylor, could you share your motivations to write “Christians and The Holy Places” and did you expect to win an Irene Levi-Sala Award in Israel’s archaeology for this book?
In my doctoral study I was actually looking for evidence of early Jewish-Christianity in Israel-Palestine, but I found that all the material had to be dated later than the excavators assumed, so my dossier of archaeological material for Jewish-Christians in the second and third centuries shrunk to zero. Instead, I realised I was discovering material about the origins of the development of Christian holy places and pilgrimage under Constantine and his successors in the fourth centuries. I then found myself wondering a great deal about which sites might have been authentic in terms of places Jesus went to. In fact, in that book I was too sceptical. I was so alarmed to find so much of the material I wanted to study was later than supposed, so I started to become very suspicious about many sites that had been interpreted as authentic. Since writing the book, I have revisited the issue of Golgotha and am much more convinced that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located on the site of Jesus’ tomb.
5. In 2002 the Associates for Biblical Research [USA] published your article, “Golgotha: A Reconsideration of the Evidence for the Sites of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Burial” in their magazine “The Bible and the Spade” Click Here for link; There you suggest another location for the well known site of The Garden of the Tomb in Jerusalem. Do you think the Israelis Tour Guides should observe and study Biblical Archaeology evidence before showing Biblical sites to tourists? Where is the inadequacy of this service?
The Garden Tomb cannot be the tomb of Jesus because it is part of an Iron Age tomb complex. The reasons for its identification as the tomb of Jesus are very doubtful. Tour guides usually do study archaeology and history, but what they say has to do with what tourists are expecting, what religious denominations they belong to, and what their companies decide on for a good route of travel. For example, at the moment tourists often visit Bethlehem in Galilee – the site of a Byzantine church – which is close to Nazareth. Tourists can be told by guides that this is quite likely where Jesus was born, not Bethlehem in Judaea – when the Gospels clearly state that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea. It is a shame because tourists are becoming less interested in visiting the authentic location of Bethlehem of Judaea. This is all about logistics, and politics – Bethlehem of Judaea is a Palestinian town behind the Israeli separation wall.
6. Do you attend or belong to any Church affiliation? How can you describe your spirituality?
I am a Quaker, a member of the Religious Society of Friends. I try to follow Jesus’ teaching since I look to him as my spiritual master. Quakers believe in the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit through the ages, so if there is something in the Bible that we find problematic, we can say that it belongs to a past time. The Spirit asks us to move with the times! I believe that the Spirit guides those who trust God now, in community and individually, and the ultimate test of this guidance is to do with how it builds up love, peace, truth, tolerance, social justice and caring for others and for our world. I cannot bear to see the Bible used to promote war, bigotry and oppression, as if this is a greater authority than trusting in God’s love and compassion.
7. Did your researches and discoveries influence your faith? How?
For me ‘faith’ means ‘trust’ (it’s the Greek word pistis), and that is about a trust in God’s love, no matter what. My research has helped me gain a better understanding of how beliefs and practices have changed through time. It helps me contextualise parts of the Bible, so that they have meaning in their appropriate cultural and historical contexts, when there were certain issues that were critical, often issues of life and death, of survival at times of plague and war. I do not think anyone can understand the Bible properly without understanding the world in which it was formed.
8. Tell us about your new book: “The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea”.
This new book is not so much about the Bible but about the time of Jesus, and the people who collected the Dead Sea Scrolls. I am very interested in understanding the world of Jesus, and have written already on John the Baptist, and also on Jews who lived in ancient Alexandria in the first century (the Therapeutae). I feel this helps me to understand both Jesus and the opposition he faced. Much of this book is about the Essenes, who were a legal school like the Pharisees and Sadducees in the New Testament. I actually identify them with the ‘Herodians’, who are mentioned in the Gospel of Mark (and also Matthew); this legal school was favoured by Herod the Great, at least for a time, though they did not in fact think very highly of him at all.
9. Do you think the Dead Sea will disappear as it has been suggested?
The Dead Sea is in grave danger, but many parts of our beautiful planet are in danger. There needs to be a concerted effort to think of our environment rather than thinking only of money, productivity and commerce, in my view. I love the story of Genesis that has Adam and Eve as caretakers of the first garden. That sense of humanity’s purpose seems really good to me. In terms of the Dead Sea, a key issue is about water use, which is a huge cause of conflict in Israel, Palestine and Jordan. I hope there will be a solution soon. It worries me a lot. Click for link.
10. What would you suggest as the starting point for the Brazilians Bible Students to learn about Biblical Archaeology?
As a starting point, I think focus on Jerusalem, since all time periods are so clear there, and you can see the many changes of the land by what has been found in and around the city. I hope you can organise a trip there and see for yourselves. I think looking at the archaeology site by site is helpful. What can Lachish tell us? What can Capernaum tell us? What about Caesarea or even sites like Petra? These places speak to us about a very different time and place, but they are where real people lived and struggled, and tried to find the right way to live their lives. I think material artefacts can themselves be very moving, in that they connect us with real people from long ago.
Have a Look on her Book!!! Click here if like to buy the book.