Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Method in Biblical Archaeology

Eilat Mazar's most recent discovery of a tunnel in Jerusalem clearly connected to King David has prompted an excellent critique of her find and her method by Todd Bolen.  Like Todd, I'm tired of the approach to biblical archaeology where a discovery is made and immediately connected somehow to the  Bible.  I want to draw attention to Todd's closing paragraphs because they describe quite well what I consider to be the best approach to relating Bible, archaeology, and history.
Both identifications of the tunnel to the Bible (David and Zedekiah) strike me as the sort of “biblical archaeology” that Bible believers like myself wish would go away.  By that I mean, you find a tunnel and without knowing where it begins or where it ends, you assume that it must be the very one that is mentioned in a famous story in the Scriptures.  How is it that such archaeologists, working in a very restricted area, always happen to find exactly what they are looking for?

The solution is not to refuse to make connections to the Bible, nor to deny that the Biblical record is historically accurate, but instead to carefully study all of the evidence, avoiding unwarranted and premature sensationalistic headlines.  It goes both ways; more often it is scholars on the other side who use a scrap of evidence as complete and compelling proof that the biblical story is false.  Abuses on one side do not justify abuses on the other.
See, the minimalists are wrong AND the maximalists are wrong.  That's my concern with Rainey as a maximalist misusing evidence and with the minimalist attempts to deny any historicity to the Bible by offering forced interpretations of artifacts that might connect to the Bible (e.g., the Tel Dan inscription to offer one example among many. If you want bibliography on Tel Dan, I have a file folder two inches thick at home with articles covering both sides of the debate).


  1. Good stuff. Personally, I'm just tired of the phrase "biblical archaeology" in general.

  2. True, I learned to call it Syro-Palestinian archaeology. Of course, that was in Biblical Archaelogy class. Popular names stick. You'll notice I don't call it "biblical archaeology" in my header.