Its a good question
In his article Distinguished Lecture in Archaeology: Communication and the future of American Archaeology Jeremy A. Sabloff posed a similar question but framed it in the words ‘Will American archaeology survive in the twenty-first century?’
His answer to his own question was of course it will. He was not so sure about his second question will it continue to thrive…? (Sabloff, 2013). They are two very important questions Christians and Biblical archaeologists need to ask about biblical archaeology.
I ask the question not because biblical archaeology is being attacked by unbelievers on a constant basis nor for the fact that it is slow to produce the physical results many believers want to see in order to continue in their faith.
Due to the limitations of archaeology, both secular and biblical , as well as the lack of christian archaeologists, Biblical Archaeology can only uncover so much. There must be a lot of patience when one wants to get more facts and information about our past.
The question what is the future of biblical archaeology is a serious one for Bible believers because that field is not over flowing with Christians digging up evidence proving the Bible true.
Instead it is filled with a majority of professionals who do not believe in either God or Jesus. Their work is influenced by their unbelief and that can pose a danger to biblical archaeology and the discoveries it uncovers.
Why should anyone care about ancient Israel
An Archaeology Professor teaching a class in Near Eastern Archaeology was asked the question by one of her first year students the following question:
Why do we care about the origins of this small group of people anyway (Anderson, 2020)
That question works hand in hand with the question what is the future of Biblical Archaeology. It reveals a mindset that biblical archaeologists are going to have to overcome if they want to have their work make an impact in the lives of young church adults, the church itself and the unbelieving world around them.
A lot of people do not care about the history of modern day Israel, they do not care about the lives and practices of the ancient Israelites and the do not care about the Bible.
It is going to be a delicate and complicated task for biblical archaeologists to take on as their audience may be shrinking faster than they would like. Biblical archaeologists are going to have to stop assuming that people are going to be a willing audience if they cannot instill an attitude in their listeners that has them caring about the biblical past.
That student’s question goes hand in hand with a statement made 50 years ago by John Fritz and Fred Plog when they wrote, “We suggest that unless archaeologists find ways to make their research increasing relevant to the modern world, the modern world will find itself increasingly capable of getting along without archaeologists” (Sabloff, 2013).
While that pair of archaeologists may have been talking about archaeology in general, it aptly applies to biblical archaeology as well. Biblical archaeologists need to make sure that their research is relevant to the individuals in the church whereby the latter can see how the information actually applies to their lives.
Failure to do that means that many believers may ignore what the biblical archaeologists are doing and move on to something they feel is more relevant and worthwhile.
Some of the problems in Biblical Archaeology
It is these problems that are helping the biblical archaeologists’ audience in turning off of what the biblical archaeologist has to say. These problems have arisen throughout the years as attitudes in the field of Biblical Archaeology has changed.
In the old days sticking to discovering information about events, civilizations and people of the Bible led early biblical archaeologists to great discoveries. One example of this is the civilization of the Hittites. For over 1800 years historians and biblical scholars thought the biblical authors made up that civilization.
Yet with persistence and a lot of hard work, the Hittite civilization was finally proven to be a reality and in the ancient era the biblical authors had it in. The lack of physical evidence is not a problem that is undermining the work of biblical archaeologists.
It is an on going issue that has been dealt with because God said,’the just shall live by faith’ & ‘faith pleases God’ (loose quote). While we can, are and will dig up physical evidence for different events, people and so on, our belief in Jesus is built on faith not physical evidence.
Plus, God is not going to destroy what pleases him by overwhelming the world with physical evidence for everything recorded in the Bible. It is by faith that we are saved not physical evidence.
One of the first problems that is influencing the field of Biblical Archaeology is the influence of unbelievers. Recently, Hershel Shanks the editor and founder of Biblical Archaeology Review retired and turned the control of his magazine over to an avowed atheist.
The change of tone in that magazine is already seen by some of the recent articles it has published since that change. This does not bode well for believers or those who look to BAR to be more independent in the ongoing archaeological debates and discussions between minimalists, maximalists, believers & unbelievers.
The next problem that is influencing the field of Biblical Archaeology the wrong way is the growing number of people who either do not have any faith in God or have lost their faith because the field has not produced what they had hoped to find.
Two of the more well known influences are Dr. William Dever and Dr. Bart Ehrman. Then, of course, their are a host of Jewish archaeologists who do not believe or accept the New testament and their archaeological views are influenced by what they do or do not accept (Calder, 2007)
The growing disbelief alters the theories and explanations the biblical archaeologist hear which in turn has some questioning the validity of the field of research as well as God and his authors.
The final problem that will be discussed here is the one where the Christian archaeologist begin to contradict what the Bible says or promote theories or discoveries that do not coincide with the Biblical text.
In other words, these archaeologists are saying one thing and God is saying another. This takes its toll on the Christian and the non-Christian audience as well. If the Christian archaeologist does not agree with the Bible or stretches their theories and discoveries to make it seem like they agree with do yet do not in reality, then the audience begins to turn away from God and his word (Collins, 2018).
These are only some of the problems that threaten the future of Biblical Archaeology. How long will the field survive and get the support of different nations and people if the very professionals who work in the field say something that God did not say?
These problems have to be overcome if those hard working and honest biblical archaeologists are going to have their voice heard and the field to remain relevant to a modern generation.
What is the future of Biblical Archaeology
For the field of Biblical Archaeology to mean something changes have to be made. We read in the book of Acts that the new believers were of one mind and one heart (Acts 4:32).
Unfortunately, that attitude has not made it successfully to the 21st century. There are many believing archaeologists who do not work well with each other and the reasons for that are many.
God is not the author of confusion thus the biblical archaeologists must get on the same page so the field can avoid embarrassing moments like when the Ark of Noah was supposedly discovered in 2010 (Chaffey, 2016).
This one mind has to be centered around the truth. Sadly, so many Christian archaeologists have adopted the secular scientific rules and frame their work under the influence of the unbeliever instead of God’s word.
Jesus said, ‘ye shall; know the truth’ and that the Spirit of truth is to guide the believer to that truth (John8:32 & 14:32ff). Secular scientific rules and methods avoid the truth in favor of asking questions, making up hypothesis among other attributes.
Secular scientific guidance does not lead anyone to the truth because it does not have the Spirit of Truth guiding it. Instead it has the author of lies and deception as its leader. The believing scientist must avoid the influence of the secular scientific way or they are at risk of losing their faith as other scholars and biblical archaeologists have.
Also, biblical archaeologists have to be careful about what historical documents they accept. Reading into inscriptions and accepting only one sided arguments by a civilization’s enemies is not the way to get to the truth (White, 2020).
It has to be remembered that most of the surviving historical documents were not written by Christians or following God or his Spirit of Truth. Their words must be analyzed in a biblical context keeping in mind God’s instruction not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly (Psalm 1:1)
The words David wrote in that Psalm apply to the field of Archaeology in all of its settings, especially Biblical Archaeology. Verse 6 of that Psalm is just as compelling and does not have an escape clause allowing for believing archaeologists to ignore God’s instructions and walk in line with secular archaeological demands.
Archaeology does not provide the whole historical story and the secular influence hides even more of it. To answer the question the future of biblical archaeology is bleak unless those involved in the field do not start following God and make the right changes.
Is there a future for Biblical Archaeology
Yes, there is. God wants his creation to know the truth and that desire leaves a wide opening for Christian Biblical Archaeologist to operate in. But they must do their archaeological work his way.
Christian archaeologists are often too worried about meeting the approval of the secular archaeologists. They want credibility and want their work published in the secular magazines and professional journals or status in their universities and so on.
Not all but too many and this desire interferes with their work and God using them to make an impact on the world. The secular world is not whom Christians archaeologists are to be pleasing or seeking any approval.
Their work should be seeking God’s approval, containing the truth about the past and leading people to the validity of the Bible. God does not lie and the Christian archaeologist cannot hide the truth from God’s creation.
There are too many people trying to hide the truth because they do not want to face the reality of the coming judgment and that their work was in vain. It is up to the Christian archaeologist to let their light shine in the Biblical Archaeology field.
This light is more than just sharing the gospel with their unbelieving counterparts, volunteers and students. It includes doing Biblical Archaeology God’s way and getting the whole story out.
That way God is not seen as a liar who makes things up to force people to believe in him. His word is also not seen as ‘book of fairy tales written by Bronze Age goat herders.’
Instead the Bible can be seen as what it really is. A very true book that has recorded actual history for all the world to come and know God.
Anderson, R, (2020), Is Archaeology better off without religion”, Aeon Rock of Ages, 2020, https://aeon.co/essays/is-archaeology-better-off-without-religion
Calder, A., (2007), “Losing faith: how secular scholarship affects scholars”, Creation Ministries Intl., https://creation.com/losing-faith-how-secular-scholarship-affects-scholars
Chaffey, T., (2016), “Has the Ark Been Found?”, Answers in Genesis, https://answersingenesis.org/noahs-ark/noahs-ark-found/has-ark-been-found/
Collins, S., (2018), “’Discovering the City of Sodom”, Tell El-Hamman Excavation Project, https://tallelhammam.com/reports-%26-publications
Sabloff, J.A. (2013), “Distinguished lecture in archaeology”, Annual Edtions Archaeology, 10th edition, edited by MP Parker & E. Angeloni, pg. 23
White, A., (2020), “Ancient Child Sacrifice and Abortion” Associates for Biblical Research, https://biblearchaeology.org/research/contemporary-issues/4623-ancient-child-sacrifice-and-abortion