To the Christian who takes biblical faith seriously, "the Word became flesh and dwelt
among us" (John 1:14) not only in God's incarnated Son, Jesus Christ, but also in the
pages of what we have come to call the Holy Bible. As with the historical Jesus, his New
Testament is nearly two thousand years old. The latter survives in documents that go back
in many cases to within a few generations of the autographs. But they are still in a
language that is quite foreign to most of us and written by and to people whose geographical,
historical, and sociological context was quite different from our own. How then can we
put ourselves back into the time, place, and circumstances that enable us to more fully
understand the New Testament and more accurately intepret it for our time?
Enter the pertinent discoveries of archaeology. The results of the
archaeological fieldwork carried out in the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea in the
last two hundred years, but especially since World War II, have probably done more than
any other discipline to make the New Testament "live" for twentieth-century Christians.
During my graduate school days I was digging at a spring in the small
West Bank village of Khirbet el-Kom. I happened upon a Hellenistic-age dwelling whose
foundations and floors were perfectly preserved. On the floor of one of the rooms lay a
cache of ostraca (broken pieces of pottery used for writing) belonging to a peddler. How
did I know? Because one of the ostraca contained a bilingual (Edomite and Greek) transaction
between an Edomite named Qos-yada' and a Greek named Nikeratos. Nikeratos borrowed 32
drachma from Qos-yada', who was called a kapelos. that is a hapex legomenon
in the New Testament, a Greek word which appears only once. Found in 2 Corinthians 2:17,
the King James Version of the Bible translates kapelos as "corrupt," while several
modern versions translate it as "peddle." The word is well-known, however, in Greek
literature, inscriptions and papyri, where it is normally translated "retailer," "shopkeeper,"
"peddler" or"huckster." Inasmuch as nowhere in the group of ostraca I found was there a
commodity mentioned, but rather money was being given and received, probably as loans, I
suggested that the technical definition of a kapelos must be broadened to incorporate
moneylending. So you see that even chance archaeological finds can help lexicographers more
carefully define the semantic range of words used in the original languages of the Bible.
What my find did for 2 Corinthians 2:17, John McRay's book does for the whole
New Testament. He has marshaled archaeological evidence that will help a student of the New
Testament to better understand, and thus accurately apply, its message. The book you hold is
detailed, comprehensive, authoritative, and up-to-date. Because of the rapid pace of discovery,
it is the nature of books on archaeology that they are always out-of-date. So whatever source
you have used, you need this book-not only to learn of the latest finds and their significance,
but just as important, to be attuned to concerns current in approaches to the study of the Bible.
In my estimation, no one is better qualified to do this than John McRay. For years he has
personally been involved in significant field research and publication. He has an enviable
reputation as a teacher and lecturer, now connected with Wheaton college-an institution known
for biblical archaeology. This volume profits from Professor McRay's personal photographs and
acquaintance with the lands of the New Testament. And he has used all the best original and
secondary sources at his disposal. His footnotes offer a gold mine for further research and
The Preface tells you succinctly what to expect, as well as what not to expect,
from this book. John McRay is a trustworthy guide through the dynamic relationship of archaeology
and the New Testament. Perusing this book will send you back to the New Testament afresh with
new ability to hear its message.
Lawrence T. Geraty
President and Professor of Archaeology
South Lancaster, Massachusetts
In celebration of the centenary
of the birth of William Foxwell
the "Father of Biblical Archaeology"