We met up with Biblical archeologist Jennifer Guetta in Upper Tiberias against a sweeping panoramic Bible-land view that encompasses portions of the Jordan Valley, Mt. Tabor and the descent to the Sea of Galilee.
Israel Today: We understand you worked with a leading skeptical Israeli archeologist. Are some archeologists digging in Israel with a conscious agenda to disprove the Bible?
Archaeologist Jennifer Guetta: I’ve never met anyone with an agenda like that. Even the most skeptical archaeologists working in Israel simply see themselves as being scientific in their approach to the Biblical text and archaeological findings. Most archaeologists working here love Israel and are even very Zionist. They want to study the Bible “objectively,” as they put it, from the contexts of the period – to get at the truth of the past.
I worked with [skeptical] archaeologist Israel Finkelstein in the 90s digging at Megiddo (Armageddon) while he wrote Bible Unearthed. He is a central figure in the Tel Aviv “scientific” school of Biblical archaeological thought. They have a more critical view of Biblical accuracy as compared with the “Jerusalem” school – for example they think the Biblical text greatly overemphasizes the true extent of power and influence of the kingdom of David and Solomon. The two schools of thought even have a different way of dating Biblical events. However, over time they are getting closer in their view of Biblical history.
Today, after I have come to full faith in the God of the Bible, I would say these archaeologists love Israel and history, but don’t understand what they are undermining.
How have recent discoveries influenced the “skeptically oriented” archaeologists, if at all? Is there any trend making it harder or easier to be skeptical about the Biblical account?
My former co-workers from Megiddo and elsewhere don’t seem to be changing their approach or opinions.
Over time I think all across Israel so much has been found that proves the Bible, even though certain dating questions are not fully solved. Hezekiah’s seal, Isaiah’s seal found in the City of David, a seal from one of Jeremiah’s opponents. The House of David’s name in the Tel Dan stele.
In the past, as a skeptical/minimalist archaeologist, I knew of these discoveries. But I saw the Bible as a book heavily influenced by additional political perspectives and other influences. I did not see it as the inspired Word of God spoken through human writers. But now things are very different and I see the Bible as the Word of God.
In the City of David an upright sacred stone was found directly above the underground spring in 2011, reminiscent of the stone Jacob erected, and dating from the period of the patriarchs. It continued to be used for a thousand years through David’s time and afterward. Quite possibly the kings of Judah were anointed there. Even before coming to faith I saw in Jerusalem a concept of the “mountain of God” – with the similarities between Zion and Sinai, and I was slightly involved in the digging in the City of David.
How did it happen that you came to dig in Israel?
Growing up in Holland and the USA, with Jewish roots, I was interested in the Bible, and I loved Israel. Christian relatives gave me copies of Biblical Archaeological Review. One of my parents was an atheist, and the other a believer. I wanted to understand for myself.
I studied at Leiden University. I was the only student in my studies who loved Israel and wanted to dig here. In 1994, Finkelstein came to Holland to lecture. I met him there and expressed interest in joining a dig as a student volunteer. Then he sent me an email and invited me to the new digging project in Megiddo, and surprised me by making me a paid staff member. I dug there for about six years and became supervisor of Area J. the temple area. After Megiddo I excavated in Ashkelon for Harvard, and in Jaffa and Rishon Lezion.
How did you view Biblical miracles as an archaeologist working on Bible-era artifacts?
At that time, I believed the Biblical miracles may have had some minimal historic basis but had later been exaggerated – for example that Sennacherib’s forces simply experienced an outbreak of sickness. Minimalist Biblical archaeologists believe that in the 7th century King Josiah and his entourage were politically motivated to write or re-write portions of Biblical text and exaggerate certain events as miracles, for the purpose of increasing political power and influence for Josiah. They also believe that when Josiah tore down the high places it was to consolidate religious-political influence.
But my view of miracles changed when I came to understand that the spiritual realm is very real even though it is unseen, and then I realized that Josiah must have been facing real spiritual forces of evil when he decided to destroy the high places. I now believe he did not alter the Biblical texts, but affirmed them. I believe all Biblical miracles truly happened. I see it as a combination of the invisible-but-real spiritual world, and the physical. Miracles are breakthroughs from the spirit realm into the physical. God breaks through the natural world to save and rescue people, just like in the Exodus and just like Jesus did.
For example, Jacob’s dream was God reaching from one realm into another. If we understand miracles that way, we look at history differently because we understand that God can do the impossible. In my family when we came under severe spiritual attack and then came to faith, we experienced hundreds of modern day miracles. I came to know that God is real, that Yeshua is alive, and that the Bible miracles were real. When I received dreams in which God spoke to me, I came to understand how God could speak miraculously in the Bible, to Jacob and others.
I used to see the 10 Plagues and focus on finding traces of them in Egyptian archaeology. Now I see that they were God breaking into the physical realm and conquering spiritual principalities of false gods in Egypt. I see it as a spiritual thing that happened in the physical realm as well.
We understand that your faith in the God of Israel began not primarily through archaeology, but through an intense personal encounter.
The way the Lord came to me was actually an Exodus-type story. Yeshua came to me when I had become enslaved in Kabbalah and darkness. We came under intense evil influence that we came to recognize as demonic forces related to the occult and Kabbalah.
That’s what Passover is all about – God breaking through to pull us out and set us free. I have come to know the whole Exodus story as a cycle God uses in the physical and spiritual – with Israel and with individuals. I count eight Exodus-type events in the Bible, plus the Book of Revelation. My family lived through a Passover-type of experience when God miraculously broke through to set us free and speak to us, including dreams of Yeshua coming and appearing. The amazing thing was that the dreams occurred on the days of Biblical feasts of Israel. Thus I got to know God, through his timing, as the God of Israel.
This is how I have summarized our family’s miraculous rescue:
“It all started September 11, 2012 when we allowed someone in our house who was busy with the occult and Kabbalah. She came to talk about knowledge but what we didn’t know was that she was using witchcraft against us. While she was at our house she asked permission for everything. May I enter the house? May I this? May I that? As kind Jewish scientists we naturally said Yes. But after she left the real problems started. We were confronted by an invisible enemy roaming through our house and attacking us at night. As scientists the first shock was admitting there was an invisible realm and then admitting we had entered on the wrong side. At night it kept confronting us, during the day strange things happened. It was terrifying. We started getting dreams in which we saw in the spirit world. At first those dreams were straight out of a horror movie. It had no mercy. Was relentless, and kept attacking us. When you both feel the exact same thing at the same time you know it’s not physiological. We were stuck in a world we didn’t know existed. Our eyes had been opened, but we were on the wrong side of the war.
“For months we tried to get rid of them. We did all the prayers, burned incense stones that the Orthodox sell to clean our house. We asked advice from rabbis, but they had no idea how to deal with this. Then we tried burning sage. It didn’t work. We tried incense from India, and lots and lots of salt. Nothing kept them away. We were desperate and even put lambs blood on our windows sills because we knew the fallen spirits didn’t like blood! Not once did we think about the Exodus story. Then we realized that it had something to do with all the permissions we had given them. Somehow, in the spiritual realm these permissions served as contracts, and they thought they had a legal right to be here. There was only one way out: break the contracts! But how could we do that?
“It was in the midst of trying to fight ‘Armageddon’ by myself that someone told me I had to cast them out in the name of Jesus. I thought… ‘No way… not that too!’ But when you have battled an invisible enemy for four months nothing really surprises you anymore. I realized all things were possible. If demons were real, maybe Jesus was too. God cornered this archaeologist. On Independence Day (5 May 2013) in Holland, my husband and I wrote out a long contract style letter to the demons, taking away their permission in every part of our life. It was a three-page letter saying ‘You do not have permission’ ‘We break every agreement.’ At the bottom we signed it in the name of the God of Israel and in the name of Jesus. Then we spoke it out loud at 12:00 at night. And then something changed.
“Somehow they were not able to attack us in the same way as before. In dreams we saw an army of angels coming to fight for us, breaking the wings of the darkness. And there was someone who came to help us. Someone I had not expected. During this time we had many dreams and visions revealing a great battle in the spirit world, as if the forces of heaven were surrounding us, protecting us, revealing a literal savior who came to help us and his name was Yeshua-Jesus and he was alive. The demons listened to him and were terrified at the mention of his name. As scientists we were stunned to discover that there were two kingdoms in the invisible world: light and dark. As Jews we were also shocked to find out that Yeshua was indeed alive and head of the kingdom of light and part of God Himself.”
I don’t believe in coincidences the same way I used to. I used to believe Darwin and that we are all just part of chance occurrences, but then my family was confronted by an undeniable force of darkness and I became painfully aware of the conflict between darkness and light at war with each other and influencing us. Yeshua changed my perspective about coincidences in history and then I was able to see God at work in our everyday lives and in history.
Everything I learned about the spiritual realm greatly affected how I now interpret the past. First, it is important to understand the context of where you live now, in order to understand the past.
If there is a real and dangerous spiritual realm today, then there was also one 2,000 years ago when evil spiritual forces pushed humans to crucify Yeshua, and 4,000 years ago at Megiddo, where people made temples to spiritual entities that they thought were gods.
If you want to be scientific, look at the WHOLE context, also of today. Study the physical and the spiritual together. At university the first thing you are taught is to NOT combine the two. This takes away the true context we live in and you get wrong interpretations of the past.
Do you see a mounting weight of Biblical archaeological evidence that will push people toward faith in the God of Israel?
I believe the Lord has to touch people’s hearts and remove a veil concealing the truth. Even if you see evidence in front of you, something more has to happen to make you believe. For example, your situation becomes so desperate that you cry out for help from God. The Bible says that those that call out to Him will be saved (Joel 2:32, Romans, 10:13, Acts 2:21). We need to call out to Him directly, and He will remove the veil and reveal Himself to us. It’s not about knowing facts. Faith is a result of God’s work, His presence. It was not knowledge or science that brought me to the Lord.
However, there is indeed a body of archaeological evidence that is gradually building. I believe that God wants to restore an awareness of the accurate truth of the Bible and history. Part of the preparation is in digging up evidence and artifacts. But the actual change of heart is from the Holy Spirit. Paradoxically, the focus on archaeological finds ended up taking me far from faith. So much evidence has been found, but the minimalist/critical approach hinders people from arriving at the conclusion that the Bible is truth from God.
Even young people inspired to study archaeology due to their faith, can end up absorbing the critical approach and losing their faith. It happened to me. When I went to U of Leiden, I believed in God (though not in Yeshua) and at my interview to be accepted to studies, I told my interviewer so. He said, “I’ll talk to you in six years” and we’ll see if you still believe then. Thankfully, God turned me around and He is restoring His word and still doing miracles.
Today I feel God has given me a task of sharing of my experience and faith. After coming to know Yeshua as the Messiah, the Lord put it on my heart to write a book about my testimony and how a Biblical archaeologist came to faith, from minimalist to miracle-ist… . It is an eye-opening wake-up call to the supernatural reality of God and ignites faith in people’s hearts. God did the impossible, and even changed my heart about Biblical interpretation and the Bible. On Shavuot 2015 I had a dream and I saw Yeshua’s hand coming out of the sky, with a sleeve and a hole in his hand. I heard his voice saying, “Go plant hope in the hearts of men.”
The book is called Awestruck by Glory, because that most describes what an archaeologist goes through when they discover that Yeshua is alive today. I am awestruck by the amazing things he has done and because of this I have hope.
Can you touch on the dynamic of your new faith influencing your world view?
I think that a spiritual battle is going on over the history of Israel, and that God wants to set it straight. Many minimalists, because of their sincere opinion, tell Israelis the Exodus did not happen. I don’t question their motives, but they are detracting from God’s Word unconsciously. Exodus had to be miraculous, though God might have used nature to do it. He can and often does. But the glory has to go to Him and not to science. When we try to confirm everything scientifically we detract from God’s honor. He created matter; so He can change matter. Archaeologists have made miracles smaller and smaller instead of giving the glory to God.
God can touch a person and open the door for understanding reality today in our time, and the words and events of the Bible become alive. When we know that God can break through with mighty miracles in an impossible situation, people’s faith rises and they understand that He can help them too. And that no matter what happens in our private lives or in the world, He is our hope for the future.
You can read more about the experiences of archaeologist Jennifer Guetta here.