Ask a Pastor Ep. 43 - Archaeology and the Holy Land

Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.

This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Biblical Israel Tour Host, Dr. John Delancey, about some topics around archaeology and the Holy Land.

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This is an auto-generated transcript. Please excuse any errors.

Kurt Bjorklund: Hello, welcome! Today on Ask A Pastor I'm joined by John Delancey, Dr. John Delancey. He has been a pastor in the Pittsburgh area for years and then a few years ago left that to focus exclusively on education around Israel and the land and has been a part of Orchard Hill for a couple years now. And also led our last trip to Israel and we will be taking another trip to Israel in the coming years, in 2021. But there will be information that you can get about that on the show notes here of this podcast. If you're listening on the radio, if you go to, you can find information there.

Kurt Bjorklund: John led our trip last year and just had a great response. Leads trips multiple times every year, you want to jump on one this man's trips, because you will learn about Israel in a way that you will not without seeing it and it would be outstanding.

Kurt Bjorklund: Where did you get your doctorate from? I don't think I've ever asked you that.

John Delancey: Trinity Seminary, actually.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay, fantastic. Was it in ... like, how did you learn so much about the physical land itself? Was it just always a passion? Or did you pursue formal education in that?

John Delancey: Actually, I studied in Jerusalem for one year back during my third year of college. It was a great year, I was an archaeology student, learned a lot about historical geography. But from there I really sort of centered my educational experience around Israel related themes.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So probably one of the questions somebody asks if even they just tuned in today and see questions about Israel is, so what? Like, yeah, there's the land out there. I get it, I get stuff had a physical place. But, do I really need to know that if I know a little bit about who Jesus is, know a little bit about some of the Old Testament. Why do I need more background on the physical land and the settings of the Bible? What would be your answer to that?

John Delancey: Well, I always use the illustration of a playing board. For instance, if you were to learn to play the game of chess or Monopoly for the first time, you know, we can think back when we were kids and playing with grandpas or grandmas, the first thing that you have to do in order to play the game properly is to know how the playing board is oriented, how it's laid out.

John Delancey: We view the land of Israel as the playing board of the Bible. So in order for us to understand the Bible really in its context, using history, the geography, the topography, the regions, certainly biblical archaeology, that's all part of the physical settings of the Bible or the playing board.

John Delancey: In order for us to really learn and understand the Bible in its context, you have to know the playing board. So that's why I think it's so important to learn the Bible and as we teach the Bible through our ministry, that's what we do. We bring to life the physical settings of the land.

Kurt Bjorklund: So give us an example of something that when somebody reads in their Bible, where they read it but then when they understand the setting or something about the topography, the geography, the geology, something that all of a sudden you read it differently and it changes either your appreciation or your full understanding of that.

John Delancey: Well let's take a common theme of the life and ministry of Jesus, he primarily served in the Galilee during his three or three and a half years of ministry. Capernaum was his main home base, if you will, for his ministry. But he grew up in a place called Nazareth. Now to understand the distance between Nazareth and Capernaum, it's important because Jesus basically served in the Galilee area at many, many sites in that region.

John Delancey: So, to understand the hills, the topography, the lake itself, the Sea of Galilee, some of the storm narratives that take place in Mark 4 and Matthew 14, for instance. To know the topography of the lake and the settings or the context of those two miracles, it helps us to gain an understanding of how Jesus served people, how he performed miracles, if we understand distances, topography, even how biblical sites were oriented. What sites looked like, for instance. We can use archaeology to determine really the living conditions in the context of the life of Jesus.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. I know when I came on the trip that you led, one of the things that jumped at me that I knew intellectually but I didn't probably appreciate fully was the significance of water. And so that has changed, just for me, when I read through the text now and I come to anything that has to do with water, all of a sudden I see it and I feel it in a different way because of having experienced just a little bit of the desert and a little bit of how just even seeing some of the sites and the lengths that people went to to get and to store water and how significant it was for life.

Kurt Bjorklund: So, for example, when I come to a verse like Jeremiah 2:13, I think it is, where the text says you've hewn for me cisterns, you've created two errors. One, you've hewn your own cisterns and then you've made them broken cisterns. All of a sudden you see that differently because for those people, that would have communicated something so clear about how they were seeking life outside of Christ.

Kurt Bjorklund: But even though I could intellectually understand it, to see it and feel it created a different level of experience. If you were to kind of say, okay, there's obviously an intellectual understanding, so the life of Christ, understanding the context helps us, what would be some of the archaeological facts that if you were speaking to somebody who is kind of skeptical about all of Christianity, that would help you or help somebody say, "Wow! This gives credence to Christian faith."

John Delancey: I would probably go to the site of Jericho. In fact, you mentioned water. There's a water spring there. In fact, 2 Kings tells that Elisha at one point restored and cleansed the water at Jericho. But Jericho is a classic site where we have some archaeology that I think gives evidence of the conquest by Joshua, for instance. In fact, we can go to many other biblical sites where there are ruins that really testify to various biblical stories that are mentioned both in the Old and the New Testament.

John Delancey: But Jericho's a classic site because that site, when you look at the evidence, there are still walls there that you can see. In fact, a stone wall, we call a revetment wall, on top of which was a mud brick wall. And archaeologically since the early 1900s all the way through the '50s, when that site has been excavated, when you look at the evidence, all of that really ties perfectly with the biblical narrative of Joshua 6.

John Delancey: So when people go, "I'm not sure that the Bible is really historically accurate, I'm not sure if the story of Joshua 6 and the conquest of the land really took place as the Bible states." Well, that's one example where we can say, "Yes, those walls date precisely to the time of Joshua." And therefore, every detail, in fact both in the 1930s and the 1950 excavations at Jericho, they found big storage jars with burned wheat in it. Of course that matches the description of the conquest of the city perfectly because Jericho was one of three cities that were burned by Joshua, of the 31 total cities that he would actually conquer.

John Delancey: Jericho is a perfect example of how the Bible and archaeology really lines up perfectly.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah, that was another thing that impressed me was just after a while, going to different sites, as a person who's not probably driven by archaeology, you start saying, "Oh, it's another pile of rocks." But the beauty of it was saying, "Wow, this gives more attestation to things that were written in the text that now you can see and feel and touch and are verified through archaeological digs and finds."

Kurt Bjorklund: I would guess that a lot of times when you lead trips, people come and they go, "Wow, now the Bible makes more sense to me. I so appreciate it." And just rave about the experience. What if somebody comes on a trip and their experience is, this whole thing seems more goofy to me, not more real because, you know, okay, maybe I see Jericho, maybe that's convincing. But you get to Jerusalem, you have all these different faiths converging, everyone claiming that this is the holy spot and to think, how would God choose this and this kind of confusion and this kind of just competing views as his way of self revelation. How would help somebody navigate that kind of a thought?

John Delancey: Well, that's a great question because there's many traditional sites that sort of throw you off track. A lot of traditional sites that say, "This happened here," or "This happened there." And really, the traditional sites aren't genuine sites most of the time. So, when you go as a first timer to Israel, sometimes it's hard to distinguish between what's a real site, archaeology's there, the Bible, the stories match up perfectly, but a lot of the traditional sites are just that.

John Delancey: Jerusalem's a good example of that because it's really a wild place, it's a busy place, it's a touristy place. And certainly there's a convergence of Islam and Judaism, as well as of course our Christian faith. But when we consider, for instance, the life of Jesus, the Temple Mount is still there. And even though the Temple Mount is dominated by the Dome of the Rock, which was a structure built in 692 AD by the Muslims, that certainly was the precise location of where Solomon built his first temple and where Herod, in 20 BC, built the second temple. Actually expanded the temple built by Ezra and Nehemiah back in the Old Testament.

John Delancey: But when you take a look at things that you can see in Jerusalem, for instance, and then open the Bible to the Gospels. Jesus was there probably five times during the course of his ministry, but we can see a lot of evidence of real Herodian streets, the Temple Mount, the walls, the western wall itself is evidence of a structure that Jesus would have seen. So that's a real authentic site and certainly authentic locations that we can pinpoint Jesus being at.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So, fast forward to kind of our time, because one of the other things that comes from visiting is you realize this isn't just a historical place, this is a current place with real political tensions, with people sitting just over the border with tensions between people groups. How do you reconcile the Christian idea, for some, of this is the land, the chosen area, with kind of the Zionistic impulses of people, and then others who would say it seems that any Zionist impulse roots some other people out of the land that became theirs. How do you reconcile all of that?

John Delancey: That's another great question because there's so many political tensions today, even among Christian theologies, for instance. There's people who would argue that the land is Israel and they are Zionistic in their perspectives, in terms of the land being Israel's property, if you will. Whereas we also have other ethnic groups like Arabs, who are now called Palestinians, who are also claiming to have part of the land historically.

John Delancey: It's interesting to sort of make sense of all that. I personally think that the land is promised to Abraham. Certainly gives credence to the whole idea that the land historically, really from the days of Abraham 4,000 years ago, the land was given to Israel. But when you understand even in the Jewish mindset, there are Jews, for instance, who are very Zionistic, who think that the land is an attestation of God's fulfilled prophecy, for instance, in 1948 when it became a state, for instance.

John Delancey: But there's other Jews or sects of Jews who would say the land is not really important at all. That's why we have a lot of Orthodox Jews living in Brooklyn and Miami and so forth, where they're waiting for the Messiah to come and the land is sort of irrelevant to them. So, it's interesting that the question even can't be discerned completely or agreed upon even among the Jewish mindset.

Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Speak just for a moment about, and again modern Israel, the difference between the different Jewish kind of sects. So Orthodox, maybe religious secular, what are the other things in the modern world that people need to understand about modern day Judaism.

John Delancey: Well, Israel doesn't have reformed and conservative Judaism like America does. They basically have nationalistic Jewish people, who are primarily maybe more Zionistic. They view the land as significant, they might celebrate a festival or two, like Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah or Pesach for sure that we just came through a couple of weeks ago.

John Delancey: Then there are the Orthodox in the ultra Orthodox communities. Now they're a very small majority in Israel. I would say about 80 or 85% of Jews in Israel are secular. Whereas maybe I would say 7 or 9% would be Orthodox and the rest would be ultra Orthodox. The ultras would be dressed in their costumes, they would not shave the locks of their hair, they would wear the tallit all the time, the small one that you can see. The threads or the tassels hanging all the time. They're always at the wall, for instance, praying.

John Delancey: It's a very small minority of Judaism today. I would say there's worldwide about a little over 12 million Jews. And about half of them now are in Israel, but only a small portion of them are either Orthodox or ultra Orthodox.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. So if somebody says, you know is listening, or has thought I should learn more about this, but I don't see myself going on a trip. It's not the right time of life, I don't have the kind of resources to do that. What resources or ways would be helpful to them just to begin learning more about the physical setting of the Bible?

John Delancey: Well, through our ministry we offer a lot of resources. Not only videos, but some written resources that might help to introduce people to the physical settings of the Bible. In fact, we even have a resource page that lists, if you want to learn about the Hebraic background of Jesus, there's a number of books that come to mind, Our Father, Abraham, and Jesus, the Jewish Theologian. So that's sort of a narrow part of learning context, but specifically about Jesus, those would be two great books to begin with.

John Delancey: In terms of learning the land, there's a host of good resources out there. My old professor from my Jerusalem days actually produced something called Regions On the Run. It can be found on, it's a website that he and another colleague of ours put together. But there you have a whole map manual, you can mark maps, you can read the Bible as you open up the map and just see movements. You learn the topography of the land that way.

John Delancey: For people who travel with me on our trips, I oftentimes suggest these few resources as a way to begin orienting themselves to this.

Kurt Bjorklund: And you have on your website some video links to drone footage with some explanation videos that you're doing of the land as well, which would probably be a fantastic resource. Tell us about that.

John Delancey: Yeah, we have a whole video page as well. And the new series that we're just doing, in fact we're filming some of it here in the chapel of the church, as you know. It's a series called It Happened Here, Life Lessons From Israel. So I basically introduce a site and I sort of expose what the site means, archeologically what's there. But we do feature some new drone video that we have taken over the last year or so.

John Delancey: But that's also accessible on the website and a good introduction to some of the biblical sites that are mentioned in the scripture.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. And you wrote a devotional as well, right?

John Delancey: I did.

Kurt Bjorklund: It has like sites and then some insights into each of those. Tell us about that and how somebody could get that?

John Delancey: The book is called Devotional Treasures From the Holy Land. And what we did is we took 73 sites and these are sites pretty much mentioned in the Bible, there's a few that are extra biblical. But I took a look at them from historical, geographical, of course archaeological, and scriptural point of view. And I blended that into a devotional thought and application.

John Delancey: As we lead trips, not only just to help people gain new insights into the Bible, I think a big part of our ministry is to help people form and learn some life lessons along the way. So, it's a blend of the two. A little information as well as some spiritual formation as well.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. And if somebody wants to jump on to one of your trips, obviously I mentioned that Orchard Hill will be having a trip in April of 2021. So tell somebody how they could get engaged in that, and then if they wanted to jump on a different trip, you lead trips to Greece and some other places, Turkey as well, how they could find information and be able to jump on to a trip that you're leading.

John Delancey: Well, the website is and that's the site where people can find and discover all kinds of trips. In fact, because of the busyness of the tourism business now today in Israel, we are actually planning out all the way, almost into 2021 already. So we have a number of biblical Israel tours that are already scheduled through really November of 2020.

John Delancey: We do offer Greece and Turkey trips. Some of our Israel tours also include Jordan extensions, as well as Egypt extensions. So that's of interest to a lot of people who want to not just see Israel, but of course Jordan is a part of the land of the Bible as well. And of course, we all know the biblical connections to Egypt as well.

Kurt Bjorklund: Okay. All right, fantastic. Dr. John Delancey, thank you for joining us today.

John Delancey: Thank you.

Kurt Bjorklund: And again, if you have questions for us on Ask A Pastor, you can send them to

Kurt Bjorklund: If you're interested in this trip in 2021, it will be in April, it will be all Orchard Hill opportunity to go, you can go to the website of, there should be a link that would lead you to all the opportunity that's there.

Kurt Bjorklund: So, thank you. Have a great day!