Ben Witherington is a writing animal. Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, Ben wrote "Bones of Contention". But it wasn't the first article he submitted for this issue.
I originally contacted Ben on May 29, asking him to write on the most important recent biblical archaeological finds, paying special attention to the significance of the James bone box. Ben is a fine scholar, the author of many, many books—on Christology, on the historical Jesus, commentaries on Romans, Galatians, and other New Testament books, and most recently (with Hershel Shanks) one on the James bone box. He knows the topic, but he is also a busy man, so I gave him a month and a half to turn something in.
He replied, "I am actually in between legs of the bone box tour (I am thinking of printing up a T-shirt which says, HAVE OSSUARY WILL TRAVEL, or perhaps I PRAYED THE PRAYER OF JABEZ, AND GOD EXPANDED MY TERRITORY WITH A COFFIN!)." As I had guessed, he was booked up, so I was just thankful he had agreed to help, and I prayed that he wouldn't be more than two weeks late with the piece.
He had a 3,000-word article to me the next day.
And it was in great shape. It did what I had asked, taking for granted that scholarly opinion was of more or less one mind on the bone box's authenticity. And Ben had a nice twist at the end—he showed how the ossuary was an indirect proof of the resurrection of Jesus. I was one happy editor—I had my October lead story in hand, and one with a compelling conclusion.
But a funny thing happened on the way to publication. On June 18, headlines across the world screamed that the James bone box had been "proved" a fake by the Israeli Antiquities Authority.
Naturally, I e-mailed Ben and asked what he thought. As more and more details came out, it was clear that there were serious flaws in the IAA report. And as more and more people weighed in on the report—and as intrigue and politics became an ever greater part of the story—I realized we needed a new lead article for this issue. We contacted Gordon Govier to outline the political nature of the biblical archaeology beast (he made his own Herculean efforts to get his article to us in time for publication). On July 9, I asked Ben, based on our conversations, to write something about why he continued to consider the bone box inscription authentic. I tried to give him some space, though. I wrote him, "Let's wait until the last minute for you to pull something together, because it feels like this story changes every week. How does August 18 sound for a deadline?"
Ben turned the new piece in nearly a month early. We tweaked it in light of subsequent events, but it is substantially the article that came to us on July 22.
But what to do with that original article, which was still well worth our readers' attention? That business of the indirect proof of the resurrection—well, I just didn't want to not publish it. So we've decided to publish it online. You can find it here.
In any event, on our hallway, Ben Witherington is now the editorial poster-boy for writer deadlines.
Next issue: How God has expanded the borders of Bruce Wilkinson in Africa, sexual trafficking worldwide, and tradition vs. Sola Scriptura.
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Today is day three of Christianity Today's Archaeology Week.
Also today: Top Ten New Testament Archaeological Finds of the Past 150 Years | How do shrouds, boats, inscriptions, and other artifacts better help us understand the Christ of the Ages? By Ben Witherington III
Monday: Bones of Contention | Why I still think the James bone box is likely to be authentic. By Ben Witherington
Friday: Biblical Archaeology's Dusty Little Secret | The James bone box controversy reveals the politics beneath the science. By Gordon Govier
Tomorrow: Does scientific dating of the Hezekiah Tunnel really make a difference in Scripture's trustworthiness?
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