Home > Archaeology > The Talking-Stick

The Talking-Stick

by Bob Cornuke

In ancient tribal times, there was a simple method for settling disputes. The elders and leaders of the clan would sit in a circle and pass around a small tree branch called a talking-stick. The stick was passed from one person to the next, and the one who held that tool of civility could speak his piece without any interruptions. This was a respectful and practical way to solve disagreements. The talking-stick worked well for a long time, but power-hungry people eventually corrupted the system. Those who craved the power of the talking-stick, the outward sign of temporal control, cheated, stole and killed for domination. They wielded the talking-stick through dominion carved out for themselves, as usurpers holding their imposter talking-sticks. A few people groups, like the Native Americans or the Masai warriors from Africa’s Rift Valley, still use the original talking-stick method of discourse, just as they did millennia ago. However, for every true talking-stick there are multitudes of imposter talking-sticks, each held tenaciously by those who are willing to forfeit decency, honor and truth just to take control.

We find imposter talking-sticks in the esteemed halls of education. An entrenched anti-supernatural bias governs the worldview of secular scholarship, and these scholastics get to stand in front of students (uninterrupted) and disseminate their version of truth. Most secular scholars sit upon a three-legged stool - one held up by the three P’s: prestige, publication, and promotion. Scholars who veer from the blessings of the secular hegemony are unlikely to receive any of these three things. If they admit to believing in miracles while employed by a secular instruction, they will unlikely receive much prestige. Promotion will be nearly impossible for scholars who credit the parting of the Red Sea to supernatural forces. Those scholars who believe the natural evidence points to a supernatural God cannot publish in peer-reviewed journals concluding as much. Because of these pressures, most scholars will remain anchored in the safe harbor of mutual consent, adroitly avoiding the choppy waters of discontent that would be brought about by disclosing a belief in Biblical marvels. The long road to truth is often strewn with much intellectual carnage.

F.F. Bruce once wrote, “We must bear in mind that the cause of learning has often been promoted by scholars who are prepared to take a risk and expose their brain-waves to the pitiless criticism of others.”1

It takes courage to stand up before waves of reproach and disparagement. It’s easier to avoid risk and embrace the “go along and get along” mentality.

The Apostle Paul once warned the Corinthians about the natural man, saying:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:14

In general, secular scholars view faith in the supernatural as foolishness. These scholars have no understanding of the spiritual world, so they simply relegate all things religious to Christians or others they believe need an emotional crutch. Since many scholars view the Bible as foolishness, our halls of academia are not based upon true education (which tests all things). Instead, the halls of higher learning become indoctrination camps bent on capturing the malleable minds of our youth.

We send our children off to college to get an education, but find their faith damaged or destroyed during those four years. In their 2007 article, “Reasons 18- to 22-Year-Olds Drop Out of Church,” LifeWay Research found that 70% of students who attend church for at least a year in high school will stop attending church regularly for at least a year between the ages of 18-22. While many students remain in church when they feel connected to God and the people in their church community, 52% leave over “religious, ethical or political beliefs.” Two-thirds of those who drop out will return, at least sporadically, by age 30. However, 34% leave for good. Secular universities that promote anti-God views of the world shape the minds of these young people, affecting their “religious, ethical or political beliefs” because these “educators” hold the imposter talking-stick.

Once upon a time in America, news moderators were journalists seeking unvarnished truth, but today’s journalists appear more interested in maneuvering around facts and coloring every story in order to promote specific political agendas.

The mainstream media in America use the imposter talking-stick with pugilistic efficiency. During public debates, we can watch politicians eviscerate those who disagree with them in the spirit of free speech and public debate. However, on one news channel after another, we find reporters who hold high their imposter talking-sticks while cuddling up to politicians who agree with their personal agendas while clobbering those of opposing viewpoints. The candidate favored by the media powers-that-be is given constant positive coverage, while the unwanted candidates are ignored or treated negatively. In this way, the mainstream media holds a talking-stick that can be used to control the political and social leanings of an entire nation.

In our world, we find truth scarified upon a high altar heaped up with imposter talking-sticks.

In the Church today, we also find those who wield their imposter talking-sticks. Church traditions can be held up as a source of authority over the Word of God. In the name of tradition, churches may teach human doctrines never expressed in the Bible itself. We no longer burn people at the stake, but those who reject these human traditions can be denounced by their churches and forced out of community.

On the other hand, church members can hold up the imposter talking-stick, despite solid biblical guidance. Let’s say a pastor teaches from the Bible with fresh eyes, throwing off an entrenched unbiblical theology forged in the foundry of human tradition. He might quickly find a few members stirring up discontent in the congregation, grumbling among themselves or broadcasting scathing criticisms on the Internet – rather than discussing the matter in love as brothers in Christ. The damage is swift and often irreparable. The person with that talking-stick does not consider that his disparaging posts are selfish and harmful.

We avoid holding an imposter talking-stick by doing all things in love. If we have a disagreement, we don’t support “truth” with self-gratifying attacks that malign other people. Rather, we discuss important issues with a heart of respect and humility. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Galatians 6:1

Scepters and Wands

The once ordinary wooden stick used to settle disputes has, over time, morphed into a weapon of power. It developed from a simple talking-stick into imposters that represented dominion: scepters, wands, and staffs. During the eras of the Egyptian pharaohs and ancient Greeks, scepters were overlaid with precious metals and rare jewels, a development which projected even greater power and authority. The ornate scepter of a Persian king made its way into the story of Esther. In Esther 4:11 and 5:2, we see the scepter had become a tool that either granted visitors access to the king or initiated their death sentences. Queen Esther feared she might be put to death for approaching the king without being summoned, and it was only by his mercy that she was spared.

During the era of Roman rule, an ivory scepter signified that the one who held it enjoyed high “consular” rank. The scepter was constructed of ornately carved ivory, and the version used by the Emperor was tipped with an eagle made from solid gold.

Throughout history, irrespective of the nation, these “talking-stick” scepters were used to declare dominance over others. Today, many monarchies continue to use a scepter as a symbol of supreme authority. Whoever holds the scepter, his word is law.

The scepter is not the only permutation of the talking-stick. Others used a variation to communicate enchantments. Their magic “wands” were proclaimed to have mystical powers, thereby giving the wielder the ability to control others through fear. The magician Merlin of Arthurian fame carried a magic wand which he claimed to have made from the dried blood of a unicorn. Legends dating back to that time insist that Merlin’s wand could ward off dragons or cast horrible spells on those who dared to oppose him.

It’s not that different in the modern world. We may not immediately recognize them as such, but there are many “talking-sticks” still in use today. For example, on formal occasions, the pope of the Catholic Church holds a papal ferula, from the Latin ferula for “rod.” Catholic bishops hold a staff, which depicts them as a shepherd of their flock, but it’s the papal ferula that is analogous to a talking-stick. It is topped by a gold cross, indicating that the holder has the authority of the King of kings, Jesus, who was crucified on a cross and later rose from the dead. During the dark days of the Church, the wielder of the papal ferula used it to justify atrocities and ordain vicious punishments. Today it is more symbolic, but is still used to convey divine authority and the right to make holy laws.

Courtrooms throughout the Western world have judges who wield a talking-stick referred to as a “gavel.” This wood mallet is used to demand that everyone be silent and listen to the judge and confirm the judgments made from his seat.

Modern imposter talking-sticks can be found all around us. Generals sometimes carry riding crops as a symbol of their authority. Orchestra leaders hold a slender wand to direct their musicians and to silence audiences. Even tour guides at Disneyland raise a riding crop to indicate their leadership role. In other venues, a stick-like object is used to convey the supposed magic used to pull a rabbit from a hat, or to imply a connection to an ancient cult. In modern witchcraft, a wand can be is used as a prop to signify that the user can summon malevolent forces or harness the supernatural or physical phenomena.

Throughout ancient history and into today, scepters, rods, cudgels, and wands, are a symbol of power and authority over others, which all started with a simple talking-stick.

“They” Say

Not all talking-sticks are visible. We find a scepter produced today, carved by the words, “THEY SAY.” This corrupted talking-stick is used by those who want to assert their authority, bludgeon opponents and win arguments. It is a club to hammer out victory and overcome heated debates. It doesn’t matter who “they” are, it seems to matter only how loudly “they” scream or complain or demand their opinion be the accepted opinion. How many times have we heard an angry opponent appeal to “they” – whether to some nameless authority or to the supposed will of the masses (whether the masses agree or not). The sword of truth and justice is tossed aside, while “they” becomes a handy foil used by those who don’t possess facts to bolster their statements. Unfortunately, the peer pressure - the appeal to the elusive “they” – often works.

Just prior to writing this article, I received a telephone call from a major news network. They wanted to interview me on the topic of the location of Solomon and Herod’s temples. The caller had an established viewpoint that was at odds with my own. It didn’t surprise me. In response, I laid out Bible verse after verse which backed up my hypothesis. His response was, “Well, you know, they say...”


Even when I pressed him on who “they” were, he simply said “scholars.” He could not give me the name of even one scholar who agreed with his view. (There are many, but he didn’t know any of them.) He tried to use the talking-stick “they say,” but I didn’t let him get away with it. I didn’t accept it. Instead, I calmly responded to him with an organized array of facts. Verifiable facts.

Unfortunately, even seasoned scholars are not impartial with their judgements, nor do they thirst for the truth. It’s easy for opinions and interpretations to be confused for self-evident truth, and scholastics with narrowly held views that amount to group-think can become the permanent holders of the talking-stick - and too often we let them wield it unchallenged. In the process, they claim divine-like authority and knowledge, viewing themselves as the anointed gatekeepers of truth. Their students and the general public listen to their voices and accept their rhetoric without realizing they’ve embraced half-truths and misinformation.

Even Bible scholars can regurgitate “they say” arguments rather than embracing the words of the Bible itself. We find the Ph.D. granting process focuses on “they say” support, rather than the text of the Bible.

In 2006, The New York Times published an article suggesting that Jesus did not, in fact, walk on water as described in Matthew 14:22-33, but instead walked on an isolated patch of floating ice.2 First, there’s no evidence that the Sea of Galilee at its low elevation was ever frozen during the time of Christ. Even then, if Jesus stood on ice just below the surface of the water, did it magically move through the water? Does the author imagine that Jesus had a paddle to propel his little ice raft halfway across the Sea of Galilee? Of course, this explanation overlooks all the details of the biblical narrative, which describes a windy storm with large waves, in which Peter successfully starts to walk out to Jesus from the boat but then sinks because of his fear of the wind and waves.

This ludicrous ice explanation is designed for one purpose: to question the deity of Jesus Christ and cast doubt on the authenticity of the Bible. The person with the talking-stick can wave it over the Bible and successfully get his nonsense in print for all to read. The unaware can read it and assume science has proved that Jesus did not walk on water.

The Staff of Moses

When Moses was eighty years old, he wandered the desert tending his father-in-law’s sheep. He had once lived in Pharaoh’s palace. He had an advanced education, received royal treatment and was surrounded by beautiful women in the palace. One day he killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave, and he was forced to flee. Forty years later, while living out his days as a fugitive tending dumb sheep, he had an encounter with God at Mount Horeb, the “mountain of God.”

At the foot of the mountain, Moses came upon a bush that burned without being consumed. As he drew near, the voice of God came from the flames. The God of the Universe introduced himself to Moses and gave him a mission: to free the people of Israel from Egypt. When Moses asked why they would even listen to him, God answered with a question: “What is that in your hand?”3 It was a staff. God took Moses’ simple shepherd staff, and He turned it into a powerful tool. “And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.”4

At the bidding of the LORD, Moses threw his staff down, and the staff became a serpent. Moses fled, but at the command of God, Moses seized the serpent by the tail, and the creature became his staff once again. The staff, empowered by God, served no longer as a simple dry stick used to prod sheep; it became the rod of God’s power through Moses. God used it to smite Egypt with great and disastrous plagues. God had become Moses’ protector, and Moses’ staff would be the instrument of transformation for the people of God. It transported a nation from bone-hard slavery to miraculous freedom. The important thing about the staff of Moses: it demonstrated Moses’ authority bestowed to him by God Almighty.

It seems that any talking-stick, wand, scepter or staff is either a burden or a blessing depending upon how we use it. Holding it and taking the glory for ourselves will lead to death. If we want life, we need to throw down our talking-stick and give God the glory and authority. When the staff of Moses was given over to the Lord in Exodus, it became more than a stick; it became a powerful tool to confront the Egyptians and soothsayers, turn water into blood, bring on plagues of frogs, lice, thunder/hail, and locusts. It was used to part the Red Sea, bring water from a rock in the dessert, and ensure total victory over the Amalekites.

That is the crux of the matter. Not all talking-sticks are imposters. When the talking stick is used correctly, there is a blessing. Of course, the ultimate staff of authority, the ultimate talking-stick is God’s Word. God holds it, and it requires us to listen without a lot of interference from the ‘they’-sayers. We all choose whether we will take the stick that has “they say” printed on it or the staff of God which has “He says” emblazoned on its side.

Biblical Archeology

When I search for lost locations in the Bible, I always use the staff of God. This is my ministry. I have found that if a thousand archaeologists say that the biblical site of “X” must be in a particular spot, but the Bible clearly indicates that “X” cannot be there, then the Bible must be right, and a thousand archaeologists must be wrong. This is not a popular way to approach archaeology. It is, however, my approach.

God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

Romans 3:4

Over the years, I have found that the Bible provides many more clues to biblical locations than archaeologists give it credit. In fact, I theorize that there may be one – and only one – way that all the geographic references in the Bible fit together in a single biblical geography that does not contradict any passage of Scriptures on any point.

Unfortunately, during the early years of biblical archaeology there was a pattern of assigning biblical names to archaeological sites without verification. Out of enthusiasm, idealism, or financial pressure, some archaeologists felt compelled to justify their efforts and expenses by assigning biblical significance to every discovery. Though some of those sites are now being questioned and re-evaluated, many of the indiscriminately assigned names persist today, regardless of their merits. The assigned sites have been picked up and reprinted time after time in popular and scholarly publications, and thus poorly developed modern tradition have become dangerously entrenched!

This problem is compounded by the secular assumption that scholarly archaeology itself is the final judge of the Bible, rather than vice-versa. For example, many archaeologists have adopted a Darwinian (evolutionist) model of ancient history, ancient language, ancient culture, ancient spirituality, and ancient technology, which in turn has tainted their view of the Bible’s accuracy in describing places and events. They assume that the ancient Hebrews were less aware – not more aware – of history and spiritual truth than we are. They assume that a scholarly consensus about the meaning of a word or passage in the Bible carries the greatest weight, and not the Bible’s explanation of itself.

I believe that God’s Word is accessible and understandable to every believer who is willing to put in the time and effort to study it responsibly. I believe that its specific terminology and precise descriptions in the original languages are completely accurate and wholly without error. And while I believe that some biblical archaeology and some biblical scholarship is helpful in bringing additional light to the Bible, the Bible brings the ultimate light to everything outside of it and stands in judgment of all archaeology and scholarship – as well as of all archaeologists, scholars, and biblical exegetes.

Biblically speaking, every believer is encouraged to examine the evidence – both inside and outside the Scriptures – that confirm the events, people, and truths of the Bible. Frequently in the Bible we find examples of individuals who discovered for themselves what the Scriptures say, with tremendous results. For example:

I encourage all believers to acquire the skills that will help them study the Scriptures diligently – not just in matters of biblical geography, but in all things – and to remain sensitive to that consistent, non-contradictory “ring of truth” that will ultimately resonate from careful attention to His Word. The talking-stick of God is found in His words literally breathed upon the pages of the Bible. This is no imposter talking-stick. In fact, it is the only genuine stick we have, the ultimate authority, and it alone points the way to salvation. The staff of God was a tool used by Moses and the Word of God is what we need to lean upon every step of our journey through the dimly lit passageways leading to ultimate truth.

This article was originally published in the
August 2019 Personal Update NewsJournal.

For a FREE 1-Year Subscription, click here.


1 F.F.Bruce, Modern Studies on the Judean Scrolls, CT, I (11):5).

2 Wilford, John Noble. “A Cold, Hard Explanation for a Biblical Feat,” The New York Times (April 4, 2006).

3 Exodus 4:2.

4 Exodus 4:17.

5 Proverbs 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:15; 1 Peter 3:15.