Archaeology and an obscure town mentioned in Bible

Bible Atlas

Bible Atlas

The biblical book of Mark has long been considered by scholars to be the earliest gospel written. However, one common criticism leveled against Mark is a lack of knowledge regarding the geography of Palestine, leading many to speculate that the author of Mark was not familiar with the regions about which he writes, and that he probably wrote long after the events he claims to record. 

As German scholar Kümmel writes: 

“[T]he considerations against this assumption [that John Mark, companion of Peter, wrote the gospel of Mark] carry weight. The author obviously has no personal knowledge of Palestinian geography, as the numerous geographical errors show.” 

While Kümmel and others claim “numerous” geographical errors, the list of such errors that they cite is actually quite short. Author J.P. Holding responds to Kümmel’s claim

“Kümmel [Kumm.Int, 97] accuses Mark of "numerous" geographical errors, but names only three: Mark 5:1 (the Gerasene swine), 7:31 (having to do with Tyre/Sidon and the Decapolis), and 10:1 (re the region of Judea). He indicates that a lack of knowledge of the geography of Palestine is against Markan authorship. In reply we may note: The "errors" are a product of the imagination.” 

One criticism (not from Kümmel, but from other skeptical scholars) that J.P. Holding examines is this: 

Mark 8:10 he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha. 

“So what's wrong here? Well, Anderson [another skeptical scholar] complains that Dalmanutha is not referred to anywhere else in any extant literature! Considering how little literature we DO have from the first century, this is rather silly, and very much an argument from silence!” 

This “argument from silence” may now have been silenced, as archeologists believe they have uncovered this obscure town. 

On the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, in Israel’s Ginosar Valley, a first century town has been unearthed. A first century fishing boat unearthed in the same region in the 80's, the fact that the town is so near the region in which the events of Mark 8 took place, and the dating of the ruins themselves, have led some to speculate that this may, in fact, correlate with this previously criticized section of Mark’s text. 

While this claim is certainly not without its critics, at best this is confirmation of the early dating and accuracy of Mark’s Gospel. At worst, it does nothing to hurt the veracity of this text. 

Archeology has time and again upheld the accuracy of the New Testament documents. So much so, in fact, that famed 19th century archaeologist, Sir William M Ramsey, who was a vehement skeptic and critic of scriptural accuracy finally came to the reluctant conclusion that the New Testament documents were a valuable archaeological tool; this after fifteen years of work in the Middle East. 

History and philosophy professor, Dr. Tim McGrew of Western Michigan University notes that there is a stunning double-standard for scholars of history with regards to the New Testament documents. While most historians take an “innocent until proven guilty” approach to other ancient historical texts, they maintain a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to the New Testament documents. 

Archaeology, however, has proven the accuracy of such documents far more often than it has disproven them.