How do we know that a holy site is authentic?
Introducing the TALLIT method.
I am not an archeologist. The truth is that I have spent the bulk of my career studying one thing - the geography of the life of Jesus. While I lean heavily on archeologists to build my own knowledge base, my true interests lie in assessing the authenticity of sites considered by many to be holy.
Authenticity is my passion. When it comes to The Octagon Tour, I strive to take our travelers to the actual locations where the events of the Gospels occurred – not sites just because someone built a shrine, or some tradition says so, and certainly not where there is a convenient souvenir shop nearby.
A good historian is a good scientist, and a good scientist follows the scientific method. He goes wherever science takes him. His conclusions are well-documented, and he is always ready to revise these conclusions based on new evidence and properly applied scientific protocol. In deference to this method, I have altered my conclusions several times over the last few decades when it comes to the location and chronology of Biblical events.
Occasionally I hear that we cannot know where certain stories in the Gospels took place, nor where these stories fit into the chronology of the Biblical narrative. However, I often find that this presumption is generally drawn in the absence of intense scientific inquiry in the well-charted field of Biblical geography. Over the last few years we have been engaged in some deep drilling, providing new clues that help us measure the degree of authenticity regarding each site, and attain higher levels of certainty when it comes to establishing authenticity.
To this end I have developed a system for determining the degree to which I am convinced that a site is authentic. I called it the TALLIT method. (Incidentally, a tallit is a fringed garment worn as a prayer shawl by religious Jews. This acronym should help the reader remember the various components of the method.).
Jesus wearing a Tallit.
Here is how it breaks down:
T – Text. By this I mean the Bible, specifically in its original languages. The Biblical text by itself is what we call intrinsic evidence. Properly chronologized, as we have done in The Merged Gospels, we can compile the clues to help us assemble a plausible walking path of Jesus.
A – Archeology. This includes literally everything that archeology entails, and there has been a lot of ground covered since the 1960s when Palestinian archeology started using modern techniques for digging and classification.
L – Literature. This involves extra-Biblical textual tradition, both historical and patristic documents. We call this extrinsic evidence.
L – Logic. After we have learned as much as we can from forensic sources, logic helps us construct a narrative that fills in the gaps, and inductively builds our ultimate conclusions.
I – Inscriptions. This includes stone carvings, graffiti, chiseled artwork, etchings, etc.
T – Tradition. This involves oral tradition which often, but not always, spawns literary witnesses.
You can be assured that the TALLIT method has been applied when it comes to assessing the authenticity of virtually every site in the Octagon Tour. In some cases, this method reinforces common tradition, especially when there are no other competing candidates for locating particular Biblical stories. In other cases, the TALLIT method draws our consideration away from some traditional sites which may only be popular for, say, liturgical or contemplative reasons to alternative locations that rank higher on the TALLIT scale.