Thursday, August 11, 2011

Levi Ben-Shmuel: Digging for Truth: How Deep Are You Willing to Go?

When I lived in Jerusalem in the 1990s, the archaeological excavations in what is known as the City of David were being developed as a major tourist site. The City of David is the core of ancient Jerusalem, located on an elongated ridge that descends southward from the Temple Mount. For centuries it was a forgotten place buried under layers of destruction and rubble. In the 19th century, by chance, archaeologists came upon this lost city and began to uncover it.

Earlier this year, I visited the site again. I was amazed by what I saw. Archaeologists and scholars have confirmed what in the past was up for debate; the Old Testament stories of King David conquering a Jesubite city more than 3,000 years ago are not myth. The evidence is overwhelming that it really happened.

As I walked the ruins of the City of David, a thought passed through my mind. If the archaeological evidence is so overwhelming that David conquered and built up this city, then why wouldn't it be true that he brought the Ark of the Covenant mentioned in II Samuel 6 (containing the second tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai) to this very place? And if this is true, how far back can one go in the biblical narrative before one can say it is just myth and has nothing to do with historical reality?

(If you are interested in learning about a mind-blowing archaeological site, read this recentNational Geographic article on Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. It is the oldest known example of monumental architecture and contains the oldest known temple dating back 11, 600 years. Its discovery is rattling theories about the importance of the human sense of the sacred in the development of civilization.)

As archaeologists dig deeper into the earth to uncover new truths about the past, their findings have the potential to upend our understanding of religion and the role of God in its unfolding. Their search for truth mirrors our personal search for it. To reach a deeper level of truth, we need to dig into our own "debris." As we do our personal excavations and new information is revealed, the willingness to let go of beliefs that no longer serve us is crucial to personal and spiritual growth.

It is easy to find reasons not to begin the digging. For many, letting go of what is known and comfortable is a daunting task. The fear of what might be found in the darkness can be profound. It is easier to hold on to what is "truth" and forgo the dirty business of exploration.

Finding the courage to put cherished beliefs up for examination is the hallmark of true inquiry, whether it is scientific or spiritual. One quality that makes this kind of inquiry possible is humility. Being humble does not mean erasing one's opinions or submitting to another's will. The essence of humility is knowing one's rightful place in life. True humility recognizes the limits inherent in the human mind in the face of the awesomeness of a universe that is expanding, filled with mystery and might be infinite.

As much as we know, whether it is about the outside world or the world inside us, discoveries like the City of David and Göbekli Tepe present us with an opportunity. We can embrace our limited knowledge and, in that embrace, open ourselves to new insights on every level and grow from them. Or we can stay stuck in a static view of the world and of who we are. I know which road I prefer. How about you?

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