One of the things I struggled with in seminary was evaluating ancient culture by merely looking at archeological finds in books. I found it hard to connect the object with the culture. In other words, it's one thing to see a picture in a book; it's something completely different to see the archeological objects in person. I went to the Bible Lands museum today, which is a museum that collects artifacts and studies such things from a Jewish perspective. I studied artifacts from the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Philistines, Aramaeans, Hittites, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. There were things I've seen in books that I actually had opportunity to personally see today. And it makes all the difference in the world in connecting the dots. It's not that you can't do it to a certain extent from a book. But, it's really amazing to stand in front of a granite statue of an Egyptian princess that is taller and wider than you are.
Israel has always been a small country at the crossroads of history. They were impacted, influenced, pushed back and forth by the surrounding nations. And, while they were God's people they absorbed customs and culture from the people around them, for better or worse. Understanding these customs helps us to understand Scripture better. The better we understand what God was saying to the original recipients of Scripture the better we understand what he is saying to us. We can more easily strip away that which is only culture and that which is God's principle for us to apply today.
Two areas I found especially interesting were the areas on the use of seals on documents and the development of language. First, beginning around 5000 BC there were stamp seals made of clay or stone. They functioned much like our signature functions today: they identified the owner of an object. As time went on another kind of seal was developed, a kind of round seal, that looks like a little barrel (as small as the tip of your finger). The outside of the seal carried some kind of information, like someone's name or title. Of course, I had read about seals before, but one thing I didn't understand was that they were used by people at all levels of society. The material a seal was made out of corresponded to his wealth and status.
In the Bible seals were used to endorse a law (Is. 8:16) or a covenant (Neh. 9:38). When Daniel was thrown in the lion's den Kind Darius sealed the stone cover with his ring and with the rings of his assistants (Dan. 6:17). In the New Testament the tomb of Jesus was secured with a seal (Mt. 27:66). And, when we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior Ephesians 1:13-14 says that when we respond to the good news of Jesus we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:14).