Here’s How Biblical Archaeology Contributes to Biblical Studies
Over the last half century, major paradigm shifts have altered the relationship between Biblical Studies and Biblical Archaeology creating two distinct disciplines. Where once Biblical Archaeology was taught as part of the larger biblical curriculums of seminaries and Bible colleges, today, archaeology is most often taught in schools of anthropology or the ancient Near East. Now that archaeology has become an independent discipline, there are now many academic journals and books geared directly towards archaeology and these studies usually only mention the Bible in passing.
Adding to the division between archaeology and biblical studies were the sizable advancements made in biblical literary studies during the same time periods. These literary studies grew in popularity and caused a major decrease in the historical studies of the Bible, including archaeological ones. By the turn of the new millennium, very little archaeological data was finding its way into biblical studies works.
In 2004, the Society of Biblical Literature responded to that dilemma by producing the book Between Text and Artifact: Integrating Archaeology in Biblical Studies Teaching. The editors plainly conceded that, “There is a need in the field of biblical studies for the integration of archaeological and literary studies.” So, perhaps it is pertinent for all Bible students to think about why we excavate and use archaeological data.
First, Biblical Archaeology Helps Add Textual Depth
Communicators throughout history have demonstrated the effectiveness of adding depth and dimension. Jesus very often used parables and objects to add understanding to his teachings. Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel also added depth to their messages through objects or dramatic examples.
Using archaeological data in biblical studies can likewise add depth and dimension to our understanding of the biblical text. Archaeologists commonly use the word “illumination” when speaking about this capability of archaeological data. Alfred Hoerth writes, “The most important contributions of archaeology to biblical studies are the various ways it illuminates the cultural and historical setting of the Bible; adds to our knowledge of the people, places, things, and events in the Bible; and aids in translation and exegesis of biblical passages.”
Second, Biblical Archaeology Wields an Apologetic Force
Apologetics is the giving of reasoned arguments to justify or support something, especially justifying and supporting one’s views of the Bible. It is generally accepted that theological issues in the Bible, such as “God told David that Solomon would build the temple,” cannot be proven through the historical data of archaeology. Archaeology can prove a building was built. But how could archaeology prove that God commanded them to build it?
Archaeological data, however, can be used apologetically to support one’s view about the historical trustworthiness of the Bible. The very nature of history helps to clarify how. Ian Provan states that “History, it turns out, is indeed, fundamentally, ‘the believing of someone else when that person says that he remembers something.’” Provan concludes by saying that studying the testimony of the Bible “along with other testimonies should be considered perfectly rational.” So scholars and students should review and compare the testimonies of archaeological data with the biblical text to identify any connections, parallels, or divergences. And in that way, archaeology wields an apologetic force towards one’s understanding of the Bible.
Third, Biblical Archaeology Expands Biblical Knowledge
Proverbs 18:15 says, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Knowledge is indeed a great thing to acquire and by studying archaeological data from biblical lands and time periods, our knowledge of the Bible is expanded in a myriad of ways. The basic expansion of biblical knowledge is reason enough to excavate and study biblical archaeology.
Fourth, Biblical Archaeology Generates a Desire for Further Study
People are generally interested in ancient archaeological discoveries. One famous example occurred in 2010 when headlines exclaimed that Noah’s Ark had been found once and for all. Despite the skeptical opinions of archaeologists, this excavation news made major headlines, including local and world news outlets, and gained Internet acclaim. While the discovery did indeed turn out to be a hoax, Kurdish workers had hauled wood up to the top of Mt. Ararat to dupe travelers into the “discovery”, the rapid and widespread news of the discovery demonstrates there is a strong fascination with biblical issues and archaeology. If using archaeological data helps generate a greater desire for biblical study, then excavating and studying Biblical Archaeology alongside our Bible studies will be well worth the effort.
In conclusion, there are at least four reasons why we excavate and use biblical archaeology.
Biblical Archaeology . . .
- Helps Add Textual Depth
- Wields an Apologetic Force
- Expands Biblical Knowledge
- Generates a Desire for Further Study
- The two leading works which swung biblical studies toward a more literary focus were Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979) and Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981).
- Chet Roden, “An Evangelical Appraisal of Archaeological Models Used in Palestine From 1970: Retrospects and Prospects of the Field Since the Contributions of W.F. Albright” (Ph.D. diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006); Also see Moshe Yitzhaki, “The Relationship between Biblical Studies and Ancient Near East Studies: A Bibliometric Approach,” Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 99, no. 2 (1987), 232–48.
- Milton C. Moreland, ed., Between Text and Artifact: Integrating Archaeology in Biblical Studies Teaching (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
- Ibid., 9. Earlier they had stated, Given the strong motivation in much of our training to understand the social-historical context of biblical literature . . . it is strange that we habitually exclude the immense corpus of archaeological data from our course of inquiry. . . .We are products of bounded disciplines [archaeology and biblical studies], and the taxonomy of disciplines results in the bifurcation of text and artifact that discourages us from bringing archaeological evidence to bear in our interpretive questions.” 1.
- Luke 5:36-39 and 13:4-9 are good examples.
- See Jeremiah 18 and Ezekiel 4-5.
- 2 Samuel 7:12-13.
- Iain Provan, “Knowing and Believing: Faith in the Past,” in A Biblical History of Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 46.
- Provan argues this is a very logical thing to do. Ibid., 73.
- One good example is “Has Noah’s Ark Been Found on Turkish Mountaintop?,” FoxNews.com, April 27, 2010, http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/04/27/noahs-ark-found-turkey-ararat (accessed July 28, 2010).
- Lauren Green, “Noah’s Ark Hoax Claim Doesn’t Deter Believers,” FoxNews.com, April 30, 2010, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/04/30/noahs-ark-hoax-claim-doesnt-deter-believers (accessed July 28, 2010).