What Is Biblical Archaeology

23 Jun

We have talked about archaeology and biblical archaeology over the years. But as we think about our posts it is possible that we never defined what the term meant. Of course, we are not going to go back over 7 years worth of posts to find out if we did or not. We will just do it again here so that you do not have to do any searching for the definition.

There are several different views about the definition of biblical archaeology and we will put a few up on the board here to get the discussion going. We will make coments on different points these definitions make.

#1. Biblical archaeology is a branch of archaeology dealing with the archaeology of Biblical lands that informs our understanding of the Bible and/or the historicity of Biblical events.

This is a very straightforward and simple explanation of the term. We like this because it does not put any unrealistic restrictions on the field and does not limit the dates of the Bible to any limited era. Biblical archaeology can address creation if it so chooses.

#2. Biblical archaeology encompasses archaeological investigations of cultures and peoples described in Jewish and Christian religious texts (including the Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testaments) from roughly 3200 BC to the first century AD. It combines archaeological investigations with textual analysis to aid in understanding everyday life and events from the time. A famous example of historical analysis combining biblical texts with archaeology is the inclusion of domestic camels in the biblical depictions of Abraham. Discrepancies between the date when camels first appear at archaeological sites and the supposed dates of Abraham’s life have led to debates about when the stories were first recorded and the degree of later editing that may have occurred since they were originally composed, either in written or oral form.

This definition starts off well but the first sentence then ruins everyting by placing a limitation on the era. 3200 BC to 100 AD leaves out some vital information like the flood, the preflood civilization and so on. The second sentence is okay as that is part of doing biblical archaeology but how those aspects are handled is another story.

We will use their example to show how improper their use of those aspects are. According to that example, the mainstream archaeologist or like-minded historian etc., will say that the Bible is wrong because the domesticated camel only appears in the archaeological record long after the life of Abraham. But there is a problem with that conclusion. Those researchers who agree and adopt that conclusion forget many details from other disciplines.

One discipline, fossilization, tells us that it is rare for life forms to become fossilized. This would be one explanation for why there is a supposed discrepancy. Another discpline, related biological studies, tells us that bones and soft tissues do not last forever. They disappear over time. It is quite possible that the camels used in Abraham’s time did not survive the ravages of time.

Another discipine, zoology, tells us that wild animals get hungry and that they love to chew on bones. Have you ever seen a hungry dog chew on a bone? There is nothing left of the bone. A fourth discipline, business, tells us that every product for sale or used does not originated in every country. Some items are imported, marketed and the market has to have a beginning. It is highly possible that Abraham brought the camels with him from Mesopotamia and influenced other livestock business people to think about using camels. Or he made his fortune selling and trading camels.

We could go on and on with the disciplines to demonstrate that there is no real discrepancy. But we will limit ourselves to one more. Archaeology is a limited field and it is not a given that the archaeologist has uncovered the very first use of domesticated camels. In other words, the archaeological record is not chronological and does not uncover the real order of things. Plus, dating is left up to the archaeologist looking at evidence surrounding the discovery. Unfortunately for the archaeologist, that evidence may not have been placed at the site at the same time as the camel bones.

So to say that the archaeological record is more correct than the Bible, is wrong. The archaeologist does not uncover any written explanations for the remains they discover. That is an important factor when looking at their conclusions. The archaeologist cannot claim there has been editing done by biblical writers simply because they are not drawing that conclusions based on irrefutable fact. The archaeological record is not infallible and cannot guarantee when camels were actually domesticated in biblical lands.

#3. Biblical archaeology, “is a branch of biblical studies, an interdisciplinary pursuit that seeks to utilize the pertinent results of archaeological research to elucidate the historical and cultural setting of the Bible” (W.G. Dever “Biblical Archaeology”, in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Ancient Near East, vol 1, p. 318). Biblical archaeology must carry out scientific archaeology according to international standards of best practice, but its research questions will be derived from the study of the biblical text. At the same time, professional scholarship and a nuanced academic approach to the biblical text must inform biblical archaeological research.

A lot has transpired at the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology since Dr. Glueck died. So do not take the present attitude of the school as a reflection on Dr. Glueck and his thinking. After all, he was the one who said that there has been no archaeological discovery that disproved the Bible. Since his death, there still has been no archaeological discovery that has disproven the Bible. You can see from our analysis of one example above to see the reason why that is so.

Dr. Dever makes the definition there, but over the decades, Dr. Dever has changed his mind and wants to change the title of Biblical Archaeology to something like Palestine Archaeology. He wants to ‘open’ up the discipline to broaden it to cover more information. You do not need to change the name to accomplish that objective.

What bothers us in that definition are the following words:

Biblical archaeology must carry out scientific archaeology according to international standards of best practice, but its research questions will be derived from the study of the biblical text

We disagree. Biblical archaeology and any field of research, business, enterprise and so on, must follow God’s rules. Scientific rules are not written by true believing Christians and does not seek answers or the truth.While there are certain rules and regulations that should be followed to make any research or investigation credible and get all the information possible, the believer must follow God’s rules and instructions over that of science.

We do not read into any discovery nor make very bad theories. We follow the Holy Spirit to the truth, accept and announce the truth. Science is not the authority any believer is to follow.

We encourage you to read the rest of the information found at the reference for #3. It is all interesting. One note, though, we should address one item

often called “processual” archaeology)

This is a very polite way to say the term Minimalist. You may be more familiar with this term than the one quoted above. Minimalists do not believe or accept most of the OT. Partially because they subscribe to the thinking attached to the example we disagree with. They go with the archaeological record instead of following the Holy Spirit to the truth. They think that the archaeological record states emphatically real history in its right chronological order.

That is why so many of them will say that the OT has been edited. Basically, they are applying  the unbelieving archaeological double standard. They will not change their mind until they see a discovery predating the camel bones to Abraham’s time. Of course, they may not accept that discovery, which I. Finkelstein has shown on many occasions concerning King David and 10 century BC discoveries.

Having an archaeological discovery prove the Bible true and accurate is no guarantee that it will be accepted. This is why we do not care if Noah’s Ark is discovered. It is also why we do not go searching or support searches for the ark. We do not need it and it is highy unlikely it will be accepted even if the ark is uncovered. The ark’ discovery may change a few minds but only a minority of them.

Biblical Archaeology may have many definitions but one thing that is constant is that it is like the rest of archaeology. it is very easily manipulated and falls under the old saying- history is in the eyes of the historian. Most archaeologists do not paint an accurate or correct picture of the past.They paint it to be what they want it to be and join with each other to sustain certain theories and conclusions.

If you want the truth, you will find that the past is not much different from the present.

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Posted by on June 23, 2018 in academics, archaeology, Bible, church, comparative religions, education, faith, history, leadership, science, theology


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