Though the beautiful stories in the Bible are powerful and life-giving, they can sometimes be difficult to visualize. This book was written over 2,000 years ago to a completely different culture in a part of the world far different from where most Christians live today. That is why great teachers spend their time looking for creative ways to explore the Bible.
Finding visual illustrations from archaeological explorations can take these efforts to a whole new level. Being able to see the ancient remains of biblical locations can underscore that the stories in the Bible are more than inspirational; they are accounts of the work of God in the lives of real people. Here are five incredible illustrations from biblical archaeology.
Did the walls come tumbling down at Jericho?
During the original excavation of Jericho, several pictures were taken that have proven helpful to modern archaeologists. Of particular importance is one of the outer walls of Jericho. The picture shows a portion of a wall that had crumbled outward. Beyond that, the excavation revealed the outer section of the city (along the outer wall) was filled with substandard housing indicative of an area “on the wrong side of the tracks.” This is where anthropologists would expect us to find the house of Rahab. This means the picture not only shows the wall that had fallen, but the area of the city in which Rahab would have lived. What an interesting way to bring this story to life!
What did Peter’s boat look like?
In the late 1980s, Israel experienced a historic drought. To deal with the unusually low levels of precipitation, water from the Sea of Galilee was pumped all over the country to irrigate fields. As the water was pumped out and the rain did not replenish it, more and more of the sea floor was exposed to the air for the first time. As two brothers (both fishermen) wandered about the newly revealed land, they discovered what looked to be an ancient fishing boat. They were right. What was initially called “The Galilee Boat” and is now dubbed “The Jesus Boat” was carefully excavated. It dates to between 50 BCE and 50 CE. The Sea of Galilee Boat is an amazingly preserved example of the type of boats used by fisherman on the lake in Galilee around the time of Jesus. The boat brings to life what the vessel might have looked like in which Jesus told his disciples to go ahead of him in a boat (Matthew 14:22) or when Peter caught more fish than one boat could hold (Luke 5:6).
Where did Joseph work?
Why did Jesus’ family move to Nazareth when they returned to Israel from Egypt? It probably had much to do with Joseph’s profession. Though not much is said about Joseph in the Gospels, we are told he is a skilled laborer (the word used is tekton). Though we traditionally translate to say a modern skilled carpenter, little woodworking was done in that part of the world. It is much more likely that Joseph was some sort of stone mason. The decision to settle in Nazareth reinforces that thinking because it was close to a major source of work for skilled laborers like Joseph. Nazareth was one of a handful of towns that housed people working on the latest major building campaign in the region: Sepphoris. The project included a massive amphitheater, amazing Roman streets and opulent rooms with beautiful mosaic floors. It is likely the place where Joseph worked and possibly where Jesus joined his father to learn his trade. It is more than possible that some stones we see in the photos of the incredible structures were worked on by Jesus’ father. What an interesting way to imagine life in Jesus’ early years.
Where did Jesus teach?
By the Gospel accounts, Jesus taught in many places — along the roads, on hillsides, in homes and even in synagogues. Archaeologists have excavated a synagogue in a city mentioned in all four Gospel accounts: Capernaum. The pictures display a beautiful building with exquisite columns, walls from various time periods and the pavement of the first-century structure. These stones pictured could be of the ones upon which Jesus walked. This illustration is perfect to use for any of the times this place is mentioned in the New Testament.
Where were Jesus’ headquarters?
Several times in the Gospel accounts, we read of Jesus returning to Capernaum, to a sort of base for his ministry. While there, Jesus and the disciples used Peter’s House as their headquarters. This was where Jesus taught and healed many, including the man who was let down through the roof of a house. The house was rather large and included several areas within it. Later, an octagonal church would be built over the site with the first-century remains of the house found well after the initial discovery of the church. The archaeological drawings show much from the floor plan to a three-dimensional rendering based on the remains. What an interesting addition either will make to a lesson on one of the passages that includes a reference to the home of Peter.
Whether you are showing a rendering of the remains of Peter’s house or photos of the walls of Jericho in your next lesson, these illustrations will help you bring the Bible to life.
When Jeremy and his wife are not playing with their four children, he oversees youth and college ministries and leads the evening worship service at Christ UMC in Mobile, Al. Jeremy is an author of several books and resources that you can find at JeremyWords.com or follow him on Twitter!