Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Are the Bible's Stories True? Archaeology's Evidence

In another part of the world, it would have been a straightforward public-works project. A highway was too narrow to handle the increasing flow of traffic, so the authorities brought in heavy equipment to widen it. Partway through the job, however, a road-leveling tractor uncovered the opening to a cave no one knew was there. Work came to an immediate halt, and within hours a scientific swat team descended on the site to study it.

That's the law in Israel, where civilization goes back at least 5,000 years and where a major archaeological find could be lurking under any given square foot of real estate. Just about every empire since the beginning of Western history has occupied these lands, or fought over them, or at least passed through — Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, Crusaders — leaving behind buildings or burial places or artifacts. Which is why there were about 300 active digs this year in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — an area no bigger than New Jersey.

It's also a major reason why Israel has seized the opportunity to stage "Jerusalem 3000," a 17-month festival of art, music and archaeological exhibitions commemorating the 3,000th anniversary of the city's original conquest by the ancient Israelites. The festival, which opened in September, admittedly has more to do with luring tourists than with unraveling ancient history. And it has heightened resentment among Palestinian Arabs, who insist that Jerusalem belongs to them and fear that the Israelis' passion for excavating everything in sight threatens Islamic holy sites in the city, around the country and in surrounding areas.

But the celebration serves as a reminder that the region has witnessed a very special sort of history. For nearly 3 billion Jews, Christians and Muslims, this is the Holy Land, the place where the Bible and Koran say Jesus and Abraham and King David and King Solomon all walked the earth. Each spadeful of dirt an archaeologist turns up could yield evidence about how, and even whether, these and other biblical figures actually lived. As Hannukah and Christmas approach, believers around the world are attuned more than ever to the significance of archaeological finds of the past century, and especially the past few years, in establishing the reality of the events underlying their faith.

Some of the Bible's most familiar names, places and events, in fact — the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; King David, the slayer of Goliath; Moses and the Israelites' flight from bondage in Egypt; Joshua's conquest of the Promised Land and the gloomy prophecies of Jeremiah — are being seen in a new light thanks to a flood of recent discoveries. And archaeologists are always seeking new evidence that might help resolve some still-unanswered questions: Did Moses really exist? Did the Exodus happen? Did Joshua fight the Battle of Jericho? Did Jesus drive out the money changers? When — and why — were the earliest books of the Bible written?

At first, the Israelis who excavated the newly uncovered cave by the highway thought they'd found just that sort of evidence. Inside the rocky opening, located about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem, were 23 burial containers filled with bones. A hasty analysis seemed to show that letters on one stone box spelled out part of the name Hasmonean, a family of Jewish patriots, also known as the Maccabees, whose encounter with a miraculous oil lamp is now celebrated in the lighting of Hannukah candles.

For the first time, it appeared, there was physical proof that this legendary family, known only from the words of the Apocrypha, actually existed. The discovery, announced last month, set off an international wave of excitement (and protests from ultra-Orthodox Jews, who believe that any tampering with human remains violates Jewish law). Then, two weeks ago, came disappointing word from the Israeli Antiquities Authority: the letters on the crypt had been misinterpreted. There is no reason to believe these were the bones of the Maccabees after all.

Such are the frustrations of life in the scientific minefields of biblical archaeology. Digging up the past is always a tricky business, as researchers attempt to reconstruct ancient societies from often fragmentary bits of pottery or statuary or masonry. But trying to identify artifacts from Old Testament times in the Holy Land is especially problematic. For one thing, virtually no written records survive from the times of King Solomon or earlier. The ancient Israelites, unlike many of their neighbors, evidently wrote mostly on perishable papyrus rather than durable clay.

Moreover, the whole subject is touchy because almost everyone has a stake in Scripture. Jewish and Christian ultraconservatives don't like hearing that parts of the Bible could be fictional. Atheists can't wait to prove that the whole thing is a fairy tale. And even for the moderate majority, the Bible underlies so much of Western culture that it matters a great deal whether its narratives are grounded in truth.

For every discovery like the Maccabees' burial cave that doesn't pan out, there seems to be another that does. Few scholars believe that miracles like Moses' burning bush or Jesus' resurrection will ever be proved scientifically; they are, after all, supernatural events. Conversely, few doubt that the characters in the latter part of the Old Testament and most of the New — Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah, Jesus, Peter — really existed, though some will always doubt parts of their stories.

But a series of crucial discoveries suggests that some of the Bible's more ancient tales are also based firmly on real people and events. In 1990, Harvard researchers working in the ancient city of Ashkelon, north of the Gaza Strip, unearthed a small silver-plated bronze calf figurine reminiscent of the huge golden calf mentioned in the Book of Exodus. In 1986, archaeologists found the earliest known text of the Bible, dated to about 600 B.C. It suggests that at least part of the Old Testament was written soon after some of the events it describes. Also in 1986, scholars identified an ancient seal that had belonged to Baruch, son of Neriah, a scribe who recorded the prophecies of Jeremiah in 587 B.C. (Because Jews and Muslims don't consider the birth of Christ to be a defining moment in history, many scholars prefer the term B.C.E. to B.C. It stands for either "Before the Christian Era" or "Before the Common Era.") Says Hershel Shanks, founding editor of the influential magazine Biblical Archaeology Review: "Seldom does archaeology come face to face with people actually mentioned in the Bible."

In what may be the most important of these discoveries, a team of archaeologists uncovered a 9th century B.C. inscription at an ancient mound called Tel Dan, in the north of Israel, in 1993. Words carved into a chunk of basalt refer to the "House of David" and the "King of Israel." It is the first time the Jewish monarch's name has been found outside the Bible, and appears to prove he was more than mere legend.

On the other hand, say many scholars, much of what is recorded in the Bible is at best distorted, and some characters and events are probably totally fictional. Most scholars suspect that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Judaism's traditional founders, never existed; many doubt the tales of slavery in Egypt and the Exodus; and relatively few modern historians believe in Joshua's conquest of Jericho and the rest of the Promised Land. In the most extreme view, all of the above are complete fabrications, invented centuries after the supposed fact.
These discoveries and theories, and many more, are vigorously contested on all sides by archaeologists, religious scholars and historians. On some things just about everyone agrees. The Bible version of Israelite history after the reign of King Solomon, for example, is generally believed to be based on historical fact because it is corroborated by independent accounts of Kings and battles in Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions of the time.

Prior to that, though — before about 930 B.C. — the experts disagree on just about everything. At one pole in this scholarly version of Crossfire is the group known as the maximalists, who consider the Bible a legitimate guidebook for archaeological research. At the other are the minimalists, or biblical nihilists, who believe the Bible is a religious document and thus can't be read as any sort of objective account. "They say of Bible material, 'If it cannot be proved to be historical it's not historical,' " explains Frank Moore Cross, professor emeritus of Oriental languages at Harvard, who puts himself somewhere in the middle.

First maximalists, then minimalists, have dominated biblical archaeology at one time or another. For early explorers, who began visiting the Holy Land in earnest in the middle of the last century, the Bible was — well, their Bible. The first serious researcher was Edward Robinson, an orientalist at New York City's Union Theological Seminary. In 1837 and 1852 he journeyed to Palestine and identified hundreds of ancient sites by questioning Arabs, who had preserved the traditional names for centuries. Robinson pinpointed Masada. He found a monumental arch supporting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. "He did more than anybody before or after for biblical topography," says Magen Broshi, curator emeritus of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Robinson's excursions set off a wave of exploration that has never let up. Many of the early visitors weren't close to being objective; they were out to vindicate the Bible as history, not to test it. Toward the end of the century, that led to a backlash, especially among liberal German Bible critics. Their equally preconceived position was that the Bible is essentially a myth.

The pendulum swung the other way again in the 1920s, when William Foxwell Albright appeared on the scene. A professor of Semitic languages at Johns Hopkins and the son of a Methodist missionary, he took a much more scientific approach than most of his predecessors. Rather than assume that the Bible was either entirely accurate or completely fictional, he attempted to confirm Old Testament stories with independent archaeological evidence. And under his considerable influence, biblical archaeology finally became a disciplined and scientific enterprise.

Although he was prepared to see the Bible proved wrong in its particulars, Albright assumed it was accurate until proved otherwise. He assumed the existence of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for example, and then used circumstantial physical evidence to deduce that they probably lived around 1800 B.C. He accepted the idea of the Exodus from Egypt and military conquest of Canaan (Palestine), and went on to date those events at about 1200 B.C.

Albright's intellectual heirs, including Israeli archaeologists Avraham Biran and the late Yigael Yadin, made similar assumptions. Said Yadin a few years before his death in 1984: "The Old Testament for me is a guide. It is the authentic history of my people." The Bible says, for example, that King Solomon fortified the cities of Hazor, Gezer and Megiddo during his reign. Sure enough, Yadin went out in the late 1950s and found a city gate at the ruins of Hazor, and dated it to Solomon's time, in the 10th century B.C. When he found that early explorers had discovered a similar-looking gate at Gezer, he assigned that to Solomon's era too. And because the Bible mentions Megiddo in the same breath with the other cities, he looked for — and conveniently found — a third gate at Megiddo, and concluded that Solomon had built them all.

Modern critics point out that this approach can be scientifically perilous. Says John Woodhead, assistant director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem: "It's a circular argument. Yadin used the data to prove the verse, and the verse to prove the dating of the cities." In fact, says David Ussishkin, director of the Tel Aviv University Institute of Archaeology, the gates at the the three cities don't come from a single period at all. "Hazor is probably Solomonic," he says. "Megiddo is definitely later. Gezer is either/or."

In the case of the Patriarchs, the problems are even worse. There is no direct evidence, other than the Bible, to suggest that Abraham's exploits — his rejection of idolatry, his travels to Canaan, his rescue of his nephew Lot from kidnappers in the Canaanite city of Laish (later renamed Dan) — ever happened. And critics contend that several of the kings and peoples Abraham supposedly encountered existed at widely separated times in history.

In reaction to these and other inconsistencies arising from overreliance on the Bible, a second wave of superskeptics emerged over the past five years. At last month's annual meeting in Philadelphia of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion, the pre-eminent conference on Bible scholarship in the world, they were out in force. And while there were differences among what individual scholars believed, radical minimalist John Van Seters of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, summed up many of their commonly held positions. The oldest books of the Old Testament, he declared with Pope-like confidence, weren't written until the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, after 587 B.C. There was no Moses, no crossing of the sea, no revelation on Mount Sinai.

Just as the believers had to yield in the face of evidence that contradicts their assumptions, though, so have the naysayers. It's a truism in archaeology that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Digging up the past is a hit-or-miss proposition. And one hit can demolish a mountain of skepticism. Among the discoveries that strengthen the Bible's claim to historical accuracy:

In 1979 Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay found two tiny silver scrolls inside a Jerusalem tomb. They were dated to around 600 B.C., shortly before the destruction of Solomon's Temple and the Israelites' exile in Babylon. When scientists carefully unrolled the scrolls at the Israel Museum, they found a benediction from the Book of Numbers etched into their surface. The discovery made it clear that parts of the Old Testament were being copied long before some skeptics had believed they were even written.

In 1986 archaeologists revealed that several lumps of figured clay called bullae, bought from Arab dealers in 1975, had once been used to mark documents. Nahman Avigad of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem identified the impressions stamped into one piece of clay as coming from the seal of Baruch, son of Neriah, a scribe who recorded the doomsday proclamations of the prophet Jeremiah. Another bore the seal of Yerahme'el, son of King Jehoiakim's son, who the Book of Jeremiah says was sent on an unsuccessful mission to arrest both prophet and scribe — again confirming the existence of biblical characters.

In 1990 Frank Yurco, an Egyptologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, used hieroglyphic clues from a monolith known as the Merneptah Stele to identify figures in a Luxor wall relief as ancient Israelites. The stele itself, dated to 1207 B.C., celebrates a military victory by the Pharaoh Merneptah. "Israel is laid waste," it reads, suggesting that the Israelites were a distinct population more than 3,000 years ago, and not just because the Bible tells us so.

In 1993 Avraham Biran of Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and Joseph Naveh of the Hebrew University announced they had found an inscription bearing the phrases "House of David" and "King of Israel." The writing — dated to the 9th century B.C., only a century after David's reign — described a victory by a neighboring King over the Israelites. Some minimalists tried to argue that the inscription might have been misread, but most experts believe Biran and Naveh got it right. The skeptics' claim that King David never existed is now hard to defend.

Last year the French scholar Andre Lemaire reported a related "House of David" discovery in Biblical Archaeology Review. His subject was the Mesha Stele (also known as the Moabite Stone), the most extensive inscription ever recovered from ancient Palestine. Found in 1868 at the ruins of biblical Dibon and later fractured, the basalt stone wound up in the Louvre, where Lemaire spent seven years studying it. His conclusion: the phrase "House of David" appears there as well. As with the Tel Dan fragment, this inscription comes from an enemy of Israel boasting of a victory — King Mesha of Moab, who figured in the Bible. Lemaire had to reconstruct a missing letter to decode the wording, but if he's right, there are now two 9th century references to David's dynasty.

Having seen science confirm the Bible in some instances and tear it down in others, most scholars have edged toward a middle-of-the-road position. As the Biblical Archaeology Review's Shanks puts it, "You can't look at the text literally. It wasn't written as modern history is written. But on the other hand, it's certainly not made up."

While most archaeologists agree with Shanks' sentiments in principle, that still leaves plenty of room for disagreement over parts of the Old Testament where the evidence is contradictory or still absent, including slavery in Egypt, the existence of Moses, the Exodus and Joshua's military conquest of the Holy Land. The Bible's accounts of these people and events are among the most familiar stories in the Old Testament. But even scholars who believe they really happened admit that there's no proof whatsoever that the Exodus took place. No record of this monumental event appears in Egyptian chronicles of the time, and Israeli archaeologists combing the Sinai during intense searches from 1967 to 1982 — years when Israel occupied the peninsula — didn't find a single piece of evidence backing the Israelites' supposed 40-year sojourn in the desert.

The story involves so many miracles — plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, the giving of the Ten Commandments — that some critics feel the whole story has the flavor of pure myth. A massive exodus that led to the drowning of Pharaoh's army, says Father Anthony Axe, Bible lecturer at Jerusalem's Ecole Biblique, would have reverberated politically and economically through the entire region. And considering that artifacts from as far back as the late Stone Age have turned up in the Sinai , it is perplexing that no evidence of the Israelites' passage has been found. William Dever, a University of Arizona archaeologist, flatly calls Moses a mythical figure. Some scholars even insist the story was a political fabrication, invented to unite the disparate tribes living in Canaan through a falsified heroic past.

Unlike the Exodus, the story of Joshua and the conquest of Canaan can be tested against a rich archaeological record. The scientific consensus: bad news for the biblical account. According to the Book of Joshua, the Israelite leader and his armies swept into Canaan, destroying cities including Jericho, Hazor and Ai, after which the Israelites settled the land.

Archaeology tells a more complicated tale. Historians generally agree that Joshua's conquest would have taken place in the 13th century B.C. But British researcher Kathleen Kenyon, who excavated at Jericho for six years, found no evidence of destruction at that time. Indeed, says Dead Sea Scrolls curator emeritus Broshi, "the city was deserted from the beginning of the 15th century until the 11th century B.C." So was Ai, say Broshi and others. And so, according to archaeological surveys, was most of the land surrounding the cities. Says Broshi: "The central hill regions of Judea and Samaria were practically uninhabited. The Israelites didn't have to kill and burn to settle."

Instead, argues Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, the settlement of the Promised Land was a gradual process over a long period, and involved people both from within Canaan and from outside. "Some came from the Hittite country, some from the desert to the east and some from the south," he says. "I would also accept the idea that a core emanated from Egypt, and these people brought with them the idea of monotheism." Only after they had united in a sort of tribal league did they become the Israelites, and while they undoubtedly fought their neighbors for territory, it was only after they were firmly established in Canaan. An alternate theory: the Israelites were simply a breakaway group of Canaanites fed up with the existing society.

Just because most scholars no longer accept Joshua's war of conquest, though, doesn't mean the question is settled by any means. Conservatives have plenty of ideas about how the tide could swing back to a more biblical interpretation. Experts like Abraham Malamat, a biblical historian at the Hebrew University, suggest that no evidence exists of destruction at Ai, for example, because the city was in a different location 3,000 years ago. Bryant Wood, director of the pro-Bible Associates for Biblical Research, insists that his own research supports Joshua's assault on Jericho. Perhaps, he suggests, Kathleen Kenyon was biased, or just got it wrong.

Defenders of the Exodus story have theories too, though their case remains circumstantial. There's no Egyptian record of the Israelites' departure, they suggest, because the losers would never have recorded such a major defeat. People may have been looking in the wrong part of the Sinai for remains of the Israelites' wandering, or perhaps the Israelis were in northwest Arabia all along. Anyway, say many scholars, what nation would falsely claim to have been enslaved?

Even the widely accepted notion that the Patriarchs were mythical figures has been challenged. Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen of the University of Liverpool offered what has been called an "extraordinary demonstration" in Biblical Archaeology Review earlier this year that the stories about Abraham are plausible. Drawing on nonbiblical records, Kitchen argued that everything from the quoted price of slaves to the style of warfare to the laws of inheritance in Abraham's day is amazingly consistent with the Bible accounts.

Is he right? Most scholars don't think so, but one crucial discovery — an independent, ancient chronicle of Abraham's wanderings, perhaps — could change their minds in an instant. Similarly, a single discovery could erase all doubts about the Exodus or the sacking of Jericho or just about anything else in the Bible. And new Bible-related discoveries and theories crop up all the time. Early next year, Biblical Archaeology Review will be reporting on two of them. The first is another impression of the scribe Baruch's seal, this one with a fingerprint on the edge that was presumably made by Baruch himself. The second is an analysis that claims to fix the precise location where the Ark of the Covenant (the "Lost Ark" of Raiders fame) was stored. That's sure to be controversial; the author contends that it must have been placed in a rectangular indentation on the outcropping beneath the Dome of the Rock, the sacred Muslim shrine on the Temple Mount.

All of these finds are useful and interesting. But what scholars truly yearn for — what might even be called the Holy Grail of biblical archaeology — is a royal archive from before the time of King David or King Solomon. No such archive has ever been located inside Israel, although surrounding countries have yielded many from the same era. Sighs Amnon Ben-Tor, a Hebrew University archaeologist: "It's like striking oil. Everywhere but here."

Many scholars believe the archive must exist, though, and Yigael Yadin even thought he knew where it was: in the ancient city of Hazor, in northern Galilee. At his death, Yadin was planning a major dig there to find the clay tablets he was sure lay hidden beneath the surface. His protege, Ben-Tor, has inherited the project. To date, Ben-Tor has found only a few uninformative tablets. But Hazor is the largest biblical site in the country, and it will take years of digging to explore it fully.

If and when Ben-Tor or his successors locate the archive, the effect on biblical scholarship would be be profound. Instead of relying on half-legible inscriptions and fragments of clay and stone, historians would suddenly have access to huge amounts of information, set down not to advance religious ideas but to record secular events. The historical accuracy of much of the Bible could be settled, one way or the other, almost at a stroke.

Many professional archaeologists maintain that such questions are irrelevant. Says the British School of Archaeology's Woodhead: "I'm not interested in whether there was a David or a Solomon. I'm interested in reconstructing society: what was traded in clay pots, whether the pots or the contents were traded, where the clay was from ... I don't deal with the Bible at all." And even those who do deal with the Bible insist that their emphasis is science, not Scripture. Says Broshi: "Archaeology throws light on the Bible. It has no business trying to prove it."

Yet for ordinary Jews and Christians, it's impossible to maintain scientific detachment about ancient clay pots and fallen stones and inscriptions being dug up in the Holy Land. Hundreds of millions of people grew up listening to Bible stories, and even those who haven't set foot in a church or synagogue for years still carry with them the lessons of these stirring tales of great deeds, great evil, great miracles and great belief. Many may be able to accept the proposition that some of the Bible is fictional. But they are still deeply gratified to learn that much of it appears to be based on fact. Says Harvard's Cross: "To suggest that many things in the Bible are not historical is not too serious. But to lose biblical history altogether is to lose our tradition."


Monday, Dec. 30, 1974
The event shines across the centuries like a beacon. In a Bethlehem stable, a child was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger. But the rude circumstances could not conceal an extraordinary birth. Angels filled the sky, praising God and proclaiming peace on earth. Amazed shepherds came to honor the babe. Wise men from the East, guided by a miraculous star, arrived to do homage with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

To Christians—and perhaps to a good many others at this time of year —the familiar details seem etched on the heart. Yet they have been questioned by liberal scholars for years. Though often believers themselves, these scriptural experts have challenged nearly everything in the Nativity story: the angels, the star, even the wise men. As recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, the only one to mention them, the Magi are not the familiar three kings of Christmas legend (later piety gave them names, ages, races and crowns), but rather an unspecified number of astrologers, perhaps from Babylon. Even in that guise, some critics suggest, their existence is questionable, possibly merely a preaching device used by the evangelist to suggest the import and universality of the astonishing event: God become man.

The Nativity is hardly alone among biblical stories to come under the scrutiny of scholars. Even more than the Gospels, the Old Testament has been subjected to exhaustive investigations going back into the 18th century. Faced with mounting scientific evidence for evolution, many biblical critics long ago moved away from belief in the "six days" of creation reported in Genesis. More crucially, especially for the Christian doctrine of original sin, they began to regard Adam and Eve as prototypes of humanity, not real people who committed some terrible primordial sin. Genesis to the contrary, said the scholars, the flood that Noah escaped did not cover "all the high mountains under the whole heaven"; nor was Jonah actually swallowed by a "great fish."

In the judgment of many biblical scholars, especially mainstream Protestants in the U.S. and Europe, a number of these scriptural issues have long been resolved. But others are still being examined. Roman Catholics especially, who contributed little to biblical research for centuries after the Reformation, are enthusiastically at work, encouraged by Vatican II to re-examine the Scriptures. They are embracing a wide variety of biblical opinions, some of them as liberal as Protestant views. Germany's Hans Küng, for example, has joined those rejecting the belief that Christ was born of a virgin. As Catholics swing away from the right, Protestants have been nudged by new research toward a more traditional view. In 100 licensed sites in Israel, archaeological digging continues to turn up new evidence that the Bible is often surprisingly accurate in historical particulars, more so than earlier generations of scholars ever suspected. By establishing physical settings of scriptural accounts and certain details of corroboration (finding horned altars like those mentioned in 1 Kings 1: 50, for example) recent archaeology has enhanced the credibility of the Bible.

Fundamentalists and other conservative churchmen never needed such corroboration. To them a literal biblical faith is a badge of honor, and their battles in its name have recently grown more intense. The most notable conflict has taken place between conservatives and moderates in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, one of the nation's largest denominations (2.8 million U.S. members, 300,000 more outside the U.S.). In 1969 conservatives captured its leadership, and last winter nearly 400 moderate students walked out of its major seminary and established a rival seminary in exile (TIME, March 4). Now the Synod may well be facing an outright schism within its ranks, probably after its biennial convention next July.

In the meantime, local parishes are beginning to be caught up in the civil war. One historic congregation, 90-year-old Trinity Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has actually split this month over the biblical debate. Its liberal-leaning pastor, who quit under pressure from his deacons for his scriptural views, is being followed into exile by 50 of Trinity's families, with whom he is forming a new congregation called Peace Lutheran Church. The separation of Peace and Trinity will become official on Christmas Day.

Resentments between traditionalists and those who advocate freer scriptural interpretation helped to cause schism a year ago among Southern Presbyterians in the U.S. The Roman Catholic Church is increasingly beset by similar quarrels. Last March, Bishop James Rausch, a progressive who is general secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, publicly censured several conservative columnists who had questioned the orthodoxy of some current U.S. Catholic biblical scholarship.

The Bible is being called as witness in other kinds of current ecclesiastical debate. Both Jesus' selection of his Apostles—all men—and St. Paul's restrictive remarks about women ("It is shameful for a woman to speak in church") are cited by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Missouri Synod Lutherans as precedents that forbid female clergy. On a quite different level, Gospel polemics against the Jews still help to nourish a residual anti-Semitism in Sunday-school and catechism classes.

Biblical controversy also rages outside church doors. In Kanawha County, W. Va., the entire public school system has been disrupted this fall because of parental objections to textbooks. While complaints have been raised about patriotic, sexual and racial contents, the quarrel with the textbooks is very deeply a biblical issue. Fundamentalists all, the parents contend that the schoolbooks breed doubt of the Bible's literal truth. One contested passage compares the scriptural account of Daniel in the lion's den to the old tale of Androcles and the lion. Another suggests that the biblical story of the Tower of Babel is a myth explaining the origin of languages. "We object to books that ridicule a child's faith and treat biblical stories as fables," says Mrs. Alice Moore, a school-board member and vocal opponent of the teaching materials. "The inference in many of these texts is that the Bible is nothing but a book written by men and not to be taken literally."

In California, a similar protest against public school textbooks has resulted in widespread revisions. For nearly a decade, beginning in the 1960s, some Californians who adhered to the biblical view of creation sought to have that theory represented along with evolution in the state's public school science textbooks. In 1972 the state finally decided against requiring textbooks to include religious creation theory, but adopted a compromise measure, ordering that textbooks should not reflect a "scientismic" bias—i.e., the assumption that the scientific approach is the only one possible. Some fundamentalists are still not satisfied. The Creation Research Society, whose members subscribe to a literal, six-day view of creation, is currently buttonholing local school-board members to get them to include the teaching of creation theory.

Some of this seems more than faintly reminiscent of the '20s, when William Jennings Bryan faced Clarence Darrow to prosecute Darwin's evolutionary theories in the Scopes "monkey trial." What is the reason for the revival today of such fierce fundamentalism? Perhaps the cause is an increased need for spiritual security in a troubled world. It may also derive from the current distrust of science and disillusionment with rationalism. This mood may account, too, for the Bible's growing popularity among people of all spiritual stripes—or none at all. Translated into 1,526 languages, it is being bought by or sent to more people than ever before. In the U.S., seven noteworthy new versions have come out since 1966. All have sold well (see box, page 41).
Zondervan Publishing House, a Michigan firm that puts out probably more varieties and styles of Bibles than any other U.S. publisher, reports sales of all editions this year are five times as great as they were four years ago. Zondervan's Robert Bolinder thinks he knows why: "Our product has the answers."

But what kind of answers? Strict fundamentalists believe exactly what the Bible says. The more learned of them use concepts like "inerrancy," which means that the original text of the Bible cannot be wrong in anything it says because it was inspired, word for word, by an infallible Deity. All this does not mean that every passage need be taken literally; obvious figurative language (Jesus calling Herod "that fox") is treated as such. A more moderate version of inerrancy holds that events like the Fall, though real, may have been recorded in a highly symbolic way. Some conservatives reject the Inerrancy idea altogether but insist that the Bible is absolutely trustworthy on theology and ethics and substantially accurate on history.

The world's most famous believer in inerrancy is Evangelist Billy Graham, but the most controversial hard-liner today is the Rev. Jacob A.O. Preus, 54, a Minnesota Governor's son with a Ph.D. in classics. Preus' crackdown as president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod led to the seminary walkout and the current threat of church wide schism. His personal view of Genesis includes a global flood in the Noah story and a six-day creation (though he leaves open to question how long the "days" were and how old the earth is). He believes literally in the Adam and Eve story and the entire New Testament, including accounts like Jesus' walking on water. Because of the way Jesus referred to Jonah's sojourn in the fish, Preus insists that the Jonah tale is history.

It was sharply contrasting interpretation of the Bible that led up to the ouster, in Cedar Rapids, of the Rev. Richard Osing, 41. In a letter to his district president, he made it clear that he doubted that Jonah or Adam and Eve were historical and that Jesus turned water into wine. Osing's views proved too much for his conservative parishioners. "The Lutheran Church has always been based on the Bible," explains Phil Beck, production manager of a local paint company and the church's Sunday-school superintendent. "If you start questioning it, where do you stop? If I have to have that much education to sit down and understand Genesis, then why did God ever let Luther put it in the people's language? At what point do I throw the whole mad mess out of the door? And at what point will my children throw it away?" The plea of that Cedar Rapids father is at the heart of the biblical controversy today, for he represents millions of Christians and Jews. His concern is a basic, agonizing one for any believer: How do you preserve faith in the Bible in a world that seems increasingly faithless? For Protestants it is an especially poignant question. Besides the Scriptures, Roman Catholics have the authority of tradition, Jews the guidance of the Talmud. But Protestantism bases its faith on the Bible alone. Its truth is essential; if the Bible falls, faith topples.

It is not only the advocates of absolute inerrancy who worry about preserving faith; most liberal exegetes share that concern, as well as a profound respect for biblical truth. Yet the truth they discern is of a different order, less tied to the Bible's literal events than to its underlying spirit. The faith such scholars affirm reflects the endemic doubts of modern man, child of the Enlightenment, reading his faith largely in the light of reason.

There are gnawing common-sense misgivings about Scripture: the awareness that a literal reading of the creation accounts seems to contradict science or, more importantly, that the Bible contains disturbing contradictions in its own moral teachings. Readers have been scandalized by a horrible incident in 11 Kings that tells how the prophet Elisha was taunted for his baldness by a group of youngsters. The prophet cursed the boys "in the name of the Lord," whereupon two bears came out of the woods and tore them apart. More immediate for Christians are the troubling "dark sayings" of Jesus like his warning that "I have not come to bring peace but a sword." One dire command is that a disciple must "hate his own father and mother and wife and children." Literal readings of such passages can lead to such mindless zealotry as that of the Children of God.

Clearly there are two sets of assumptions at work in Bible criticism. Like a Missouri Synod mother who insists that God "would not give us a book with errors," the literalists insist that an omniscient and loving God would give the world an absolutely inerrant Bible. Today's liberals, on the other hand, recognize and generally emphasize the human, historical factor in the Bible's composition—a view that goes much farther in explaining its apparent contradictions and deficiencies. Believing critics argue—and experience has sometimes shown—that rigid faith is the most vulnerable to complete destruction. In their view, the believer who can live with some doubt is more likely to keep some faith. An occasionally fallible Bible, therefore, is a Bible that paradoxically seems more authentic. 

Questions about the Bible's truth are nothing new; they have arisen from its earliest days. The Bible's first five books, the Pentateuch or Torah ("teachings"), had probably been canonized by Jews as the core of their sacred writings by the 5th century B.C. But even before that, there was growing up along with the Scriptures a body of oral interpretation eventually codified in the Talmud. It includes legal judgments known as halakhah and pious elaborations of biblical stories known as aggadah. Even in matters of law, however, the rabbis were not literalists. An "eye for an eye," for example, was not construed strictly (as it was in the Hammurabic Code). Instead, monetary compensation was deemed lawful. Nor were Jewish commentators troubled by the verbatim truth of every Bible narrative. Some, like the creation chapters of Genesis, were considered part of the "secrets of the Torah," mysteries to be continually probed for their hidden meanings.

Early Christianity had its own embryonic scriptural criticism. The great 3rd century church father Origen declared that some passages in the Bible "are not literally true but absurd and impossible." Even St. Augustine of Hippo, a 5th century champion of biblical orthodoxy, cautioned against literalism. "We must be on guard against giving interpretations of Scripture that are farfetched or opposed to science," he wrote, "and so exposing the word of God to the ridicule of unbelievers." Despite such precedent, this spirit of critical inquiry—limited though it was—did not carry over into medieval Christendom.

The historical setting of the Bible became the subject of investigations with the coming of the Reformation. Luther and Calvin believed doctrine should be based on "Scripture alone," not ecclesiastical tradition. Though the Reformers had a complete trust in the Bible's reliability and developed their own creeds to reinforce its teachings, their insistence that each individual read the Bible for himself set the stage for the rise of radical new ideas that they would have abhorred. In the 17th century the Dutch Philosopher Baruch ("Benedict") Spinoza, an excommunicated Jew, used a method that would be widely emulated by rationalist critics during the Enlightenment: he treated the Bible as a human rather than divine work and thus subject to investigation of its books according to date, authorship, composition and setting.

The giants of biblical criticism who emerged in 19th century Germany basically believed in the Christian message but carried over from the Enlightenment the emphasis on the Bible as a human work. Their aim was to find the historical core of Scripture by confronting it with an entire range of scientific disciplines: linguistics, archaeology, anthropology, comparative religion. There were other influences, too. Hegel's philosophy of history characterized the "Tubingen School" of criticism, which saw the New Testament as a synthesis of competing theses in early Christianity: the Jewish church centered around Peter, the Gentile church around Paul.

As for the Old Testament, 19th century scholars all but canonized a theory that discerns four major documents that were woven together in the five books of the Pentateuch. Two of them, the "Yahwist" and "Elohist" strands, are labeled by the different names—Yahweh and Elohim—which they used for God. The Yahwist strand portrays an anthropomorphic deity, the Elohist a spiritualized God. Though rigid application of this theory has come under fire, it is perhaps the most widely taught example of 19th century criticism.

The New Testament remained a formidable challenge to the critics. At the beginning of the 20th century, liberal scholars were still trying to peel back layers of the miraculous and the mythical to find out what the historical Jesus really taught. The Jesus that some of the searchers found was a mild-mannered ethical preacher, definitely not God incarnate. But Missionary-Philosopher Albert Schweitzer suggested that the real Jesus would be an embarrassment, that he had been a misguided fanatic who proclaimed an imminent apocalypse and died to bring it about.

None of the reactions to the liberals' search for a historical Jesus were more profound or far-reaching than that of a Lutheran theologian and Scripture scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, who at 90 is living in Marburg, West Germany, and still writing in scholarly journals. Bultmann did not object to the liberals' methods or their presuppositions. Like them, he felt that the New Testament's supernatural world view was intolerable to modern man, but he believed that the liberals were on the wrong track in trying to reconstruct the teachings of a historical Jesus. Schooled in the thought of Martin Heidegger and Sören Kierkegaard, Bultmann was convinced that the Christian message, or kerygma (from the Greek "proclamation"), must be something more existentially powerful. One clue to the message, he thought, lay in the beliefs of the first Christian communities where the Gospel was preached, and their perception of Christ from their own situation in life.

To uncover that earliest stratum of Christian belief, Bultmann joined other scholars like Martin Dibelius in perfecting a research tool called form criticism, which examined the Gospels and Epistles with an eye to discerning the various stylized forms of the oral traditions behind them. Distinguishing among the oral traditions would help the scholar determine how faith built up the experiences of these early Christians into the formulas of what Bultmann called myths. Getting beneath those myths to the believers' experience is the famous Bultmann process of "demythologization." It reveals the kernel of existential faith that can be translated into a meaning for modern man.

What Bultmann sought was the "once for all" intersection of eternity and history that he called the "Christ event," which had clearly changed the lives of the first Christians. The Crucifixion, which Bultmann recognized as a fact, played a part in this encounter, but the event culminated in the Resurrection. This, Bultmann says, was not a historical occurrence but an existential one, a "coming to faith" by which the first Christians believed that Jesus was somehow victorious over death.

Instead of the liberals' lukewarm "Jesus of history," what Bultmann came to offer his followers was a "Christ of faith": a historically intangible but existentially forceful figure whose liberation of mankind is an ever-continuing act. This Christ can free human beings from the banalities and cruelties of history, but only in terms of their own continuing decision to be free, which becomes the life of faith.

Bultmann's critics today feel that he too casually relegated the Resurrection to the realm of the unhistorical. One of his most famous students, Oscar Cullmann of the University of Basel, broke with his teacher because of Bultmann's overriding concern about the beliefs of the early church. "It is well and good to say that what matters is only the faith of the first Christian community," says Cullmann, now 72, "but after all, these oral renderings were based on specific facts as witnessed by the Apostles. No matter how you interpret the empty tomb, it was a historical event."

A somewhat younger generation of Bultmann's students form a loose alliance known as the post-Bultmann school. While their work usually reflects Bultmann's existential tone, it also recognizes that the master was too skeptical about recovering history. James Robinson, a leader of the school in the U.S., explains their rationale: "Liberal scholars, including Bultmann, used to say, 'We cannot write a biography of Jesus. There are too few facts in the New Testament. All we can say about Jesus is what Christians believed.' So the quest for the historical Jesus was given up." But Robinson and others today have taken it up again. "We say that if what you mean by history is the intentions, the stances, the understanding of existence, then that can be established with regard to Jesus. There are enough sayings of Jesus to see what he was up to."

While Protestants enthusiastically debated the findings of biblical criticism in the 19th and 20th centuries, Roman Catholic investigation of the Scriptures was discouraged. Counter-Reformation Catholicism, petrified into a siege mentality at the 16th century Council of Trent, had become fiercely dogmatic in its defense of biblical truth. Though its own eminent scholars—Thomas Aquinas among them—had warned that the Bible was not intended to teach scientific truth, the Galileo case in the early 17th century suggested otherwise. Galileo's teaching that the earth revolved round the sun shocked church inquisitors, who charged that it contradicted Scripture, in particular the famous command of Joshua: "Sun, stand thou still."

Roman Catholics who sought to follow the Protestant lead into biblical criticism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were either silenced or excommunicated by Pope Pius X. Those who chose to stay in the church were commanded to give "external and internal assent" to such decrees of the Pontifical Biblical Commission as the one insisting that woman had been formed out of the body of the first man.

Then in 1943, Pope Pius XII published Divino Afflante Spiritu (Inspired by the Holy Spirit). The encyclical encouraged new biblical research, literary criticism, and new translations from the original languages rather than from the sacrosanct Vulgate, the 5th century Latin translation by St. Jerome. In 1955, the Pontifical Biblical Commission told scholars that they had complete freedom to overlook the commission's literalist decrees under Pius X, unless the matter involved faith and morals. Catholic scholarship moved almost as fast in a decade as Protestants had in a century. By 1964 the biblical commission acknowledged that the Apostles "made use of various modes of speaking which were suited to their own purpose and the mentality of their listeners"—a virtual endorsement of form criticism.

Among the biblical questions still being pondered by Catholic scholars is monogenism—the belief in one set of Adam-and-Eve "original parents"—as opposed to polygenism, the theory that evolution to human form occurred in many places at roughly the same time. Pius XII's encyclical Humani Generis in 1950 cautiously left the door open regarding polygenism, pointing out that it "apparently" was not consistent with church doctrine on original sin. But Jesuit Francis McCool of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome says that "the scientific evidence for polygenism seems to have increased," and he feels that the theory need not necessarily clash with the Scriptures. McCool stresses that whether Adam and Eve are viewed as individuals or symbols in Genesis, the story still carries the traditional teaching on original sin.

To Orthodox Jewish exegetes, like Catholics, modern critical methods were a stumbling block: by questioning Moses' authorship of the Torah, biblical criticism cut to the heart of Jewish tradition. A modern Orthodox scholar like Rabbi Norman Lamm of Manhattan's Yeshiva University still supports Mosaic authorship of the Torah because "it is a dogmatic necessity." But Lamm, like most Orthodox Jews, allows much more latitude than fundamentalist Christians in understanding Genesis accounts. "Certainly the creation text is not literal," says Lamm. He is also not concerned, for instance, whether Noah and his family were the sole survivors of the biblical flood. What is important about Noah's story, he explains, "is the moral teaching that man's actions have consequences and that ultimately God's judgment encompasses all mankind."

Liberal Jewish scholars tend to take Bible criticism for granted, but they no longer accept it as unquestioningly as they once did. Says Rabbi Eugene Borowitz of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Manhattan: "The scientists are no longer the bishops. Reform scholars can now relax and show their true affinity to the Bible."

The fact that biblical critics pick and choose among the supernatural events they accept baffled the late Anglican novelist-critic C.S. Lewis. He wondered at the selective theology of the Christian exegete who, "after swallowing the camel of the Resurrection, strains at such gnats as the feeding of the multitudes." These critics would be apt to seek a naturalistic explanation for Jesus' multiplication of loaves and fishes—for instance, that he inspired the crowd to share food they had hidden for themselves.

Whether such an interpretation is justified may well be questioned, but changing the event from a physical to a spiritual phenomenon does not necessarily undermine its value as a miracle. It is quite orthodox Christian theology that miracles are not meant to be simply marvels. That sort of thing, accepted as a commonplace in the 1st century world, was left to pagan magicians. A miracle, rather, is understood as a sign of God's power to heal and save. George Bernard Shaw put it slightly differently. "A miracle," he wrote, "is an event which creates faith."

Compared with other ancient literature, the Bible contains relatively few miracles; mostly they accredit individuals through whom God's promises are carried out: patriarchs, prophets, Jesus. Even very conservative Bible experts will now agree that the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus can be too literally construed. Study shows that the Israelites apparently crossed the Sea of Reeds, a series of shallow lakes that once lay where the Suez Canal now runs. The high wind noted in Exodus could have made the lakes more easily fordable on foot—but not by the Egyptian chariots. None of that, however, really detracts from the immensity of the providential favor: in any event it helped to change permanently the way in which Jews thought of God.

The miracle of the virginal conception of Jesus is another problematic sign. Luke's account of the Nativity clearly means to underline Jesus' humanity: the shepherds, the humble surroundings, the hardships, the very fact of birth. The idea that he was born of a virgin, however, signifies an extraordinary event: a message that God's will, and not man's, was involved. New Testament Exegete Raymond Brown, probably the premier Catholic scriptural scholar in the U.S., is one of those who are deeply interested in the question of Jesus' virginal conception. Brown—the only American member now on the Pontifical Biblical Commission—has cautiously suggested that the church reopen the question to concentrated scholarly research, at least partly because other Christians are calling the virgin birth into public question. But he is also wary of shocking the beliefs of the pious, and thus spends considerable time explaining biblical criticism to priests and lay people.

Brown combines a progressive approach to method and analysis of the Gospels with a careful attention to conserving some essence of fact. One telling example, in his widely used Anchor Bible commentary on John, is his treatment of the account of Jesus' raising of Lazarus. The miracle is a vivid incident, placed at the very end of Christ's ministry by the evangelist and cited as the reason for Jesus' arrest and execution.
Yet none of the other three Gospels mention the Lazarus incident, and all are presumed to be dated before John's time. Would not such a fateful miracle be reported by everyone?

Brown readily allows that the Lazarus account is a dramatic embellishment by John of an event that is nonetheless in some way historical. In the Gospels there are other instances of Jesus raising a dead person (the son of the widow of Nain in Luke), and Brown suggests that John may have transposed a similar event to the end of Christ's ministry to symbolize in one act the audacity of his miracles.

The breadth, sophistication and diversity of all this biblical investigation are impressive, but it begs a question: Has it made the Bible more credible or less? Literalists who feel the ground move when a verse is challenged would have to say that credibility has suffered. Doubt has been sown, faith is in jeopardy. But believers who expect something else from the Bible may well conclude that its credibility has been enhanced. After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest scientific guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived —and is perhaps the better for the siege.

Even on the critics' own terms—historical fact—the Scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack. Noting one example among many, New Testament Scholar Bruce Metzger observes that the Book of Acts was once accused of historical errors for details that have since been proved by archaeologists and historians to be correct.

There are other levels of biblical truth that today's believers and nonbelievers alike can share. A purer, more accurate text, for example, closer to the original than scholars or laymen have enjoyed since antiquity. A more accurate understanding of its meaning, made possible by the abundance of excellent translations. The erosion of literalism, moreover, may have put the Bible's poetry in sharper relief. With a literal whale out of the way, readers can appreciate the splendid parable of Jonah: the story of a stubborn man trying to avoid doing good for an enemy.

The Jonah parable goes beyond that humanistic dimension, however. What Jonah resists is a call from God to preach repentance to the sinners of Nineveh. No manner of scientific search can establish the reality of a call from God. This is not a miracle, but it is a supernatural idea, and it requires from any critic who hopes to grasp it something more than secular understanding.

The miraculous can be demythologized, the marvel explained, but the persistent message of the Bible will not go away. Both in the Jewish and Christian Bibles it is irreducible: some time, some where, God intervened in history to help man. Whether it was at the time of the Exodus, the giving of the Law, the Incarnation or the Resurrection, or any of those many smaller interventions that are still so cherished, ordinary human history was interrupted, and has never since been the same.

In an ancient Jerusalem tunnel, sword, oil lamps and pots from a 2,000-year-old war uncovered

The excavation of an ancient drainage tunnel beneath Jerusalem has yielded a sword, oil lamps, pots and coins abandoned during a war here 2,000 years ago, archaeologists said Monday, suggesting the finds were debris from a pivotal episode in the city’s history when rebels hid from Roman soldiers crushing a Jewish revolt.

The tunnel was built two millennia ago underneath one of Roman-era Jerusalem’s main streets, which today largely lies under an Arab neighborhood in the city’s eastern sector. After a four-year excavation, the tunnel is part of a growing network of subterranean passages under the politically combustible modern city.

The tunnel was intended to drain rainwater, but is also thought to have been used as a hiding place for the rebels during the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. That temple was razed, along with much of the city, by Roman legionnaires putting down the Jewish uprising in 70 A.D.

On Monday, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled a sword found in the tunnel late last month, measuring 24 inches (60 centimeters) in length and with its leather sheath intact. The sword likely belonged to a member of the Roman garrison around the time of the revolt, the archaeologists said.

“We found many things that we assume are linked to the rebels who hid out here, like oil lamps, cooking pots, objects that people used and took with them, perhaps, as a souvenir in the hope that they would be going back,” said Eli Shukron, the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist in charge of the dig.

The archaeologists also found a bronze key from the same era, coins minted by rebels with the slogan “Freedom of Zion,” and a crude carved depiction of a menorah, a seven-branched Jewish candelabra that was one of the central features of the Temple.

The flight of the rebels to tunnels like the one currently being excavated was described by the historian Josephus Flavius, a Jewish rebel general who shifted his allegiance to Rome during the revolt and penned the most important history of the uprising.

As the city burned, he wrote about five years afterward, the rebels decided their “last hope” lay in the tunnels. They planned to wait until the legions had departed and then emerge and escape.
“But this proved to be an idle dream, for they were not destined to escape from either God or the Romans,” he wrote. The legionnaires tore up the paving stones above the drainage channels and exposed their hiding place.

“There too were found the bodies of more than two thousand, some slain by their own hands, some by another’s; but most of them died by starvation,” Josephus wrote. The victors proceeded to loot, he wrote, “for many precious objects were found in these passages.”

The new tunnel, lit by fluorescent bulbs and smelling of damp earth, has been cleared for much of its length but has not yet been opened to the public. Earlier this month, a team from The Associated Press walked through the tunnel from the biblical Pool of Siloam, one of the city’s original water sources, continuing for 600 yards (meters) under the Palestinian neighborhood named for the pool — Silwan — before climbing out onto a sunlit Roman-era street inside Jerusalem’s Old City.

The tunnel is part of the expanding City of David excavation in Silwan, which sits above the oldest section of Jerusalem. The dig is named for the biblical monarch thought to have ruled from the site. It is funded by a group affiliated with the Jewish settlement movement and has drawn criticism from Palestinian residents who have charged that the work is disruptive and politically motivated.

Israel and the Palestinians have conflicting claims over Jerusalem that have scuttled peace efforts for decades. Both sides claim the Old City, which includes sites holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The excavation of the tunnel began in 2007. Last month, a worker found a tiny golden bell that seemed to have been an ornament on the clothing of a rich man, or possibly a Temple priest, and which could still ring 2,000 years later.

When the tunnel opens to the public sometime in the coming months, underground passages totaling about a mile (1.6 kilometers) in length will be accessible beneath Jerusalem. The tunnels have become one of the city’s biggest tourist draws and the number of visitors has risen in recent years to more than a million in 2010.
The tunnels remain, however, a sensitive political issue. While for Israelis they are proof of the extent of Jewish roots here, for many Palestinians, who reject Israel’s sovereignty in the east Jerusalem, they are a threat to their own claims to the city and represent an exaggerated focus on Jewish history.

The 1996 opening of a new exit to a tunnel underneath the Old City’s Muslim Quarter sparked rumors among Palestinians that Israel meant to damage the mosque compound, and dozens were killed in the ensuing riots. In recent years, however, criticism has been muted and work has largely gone ahead without incident.