[forthright] Archaeology and the Bible

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From: Forthright Magazine <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Wed, 2 Nov 2011 06:17:07 -0700 (PDT)
Forthright Magazine
Straight to the Cross

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Archaeology and the Bible
 by Barry Newton

Archaeologists' pontifications occasionally dominate
headlines proclaiming how the latest discovery affirms
or denies the Bible. Regardless of the position,
experts holding an opposing view soon sound off.

This could lead the rest of us to wonder: if the
experts cannot decide what is true, how in the world
are we supposed to know?

We can withstand being swept away irresponsibly by the
gale force blast of the loudest or most sensationalist
megaphone, if we are grounded with a little
sophistication in understanding the history and the
nature of archaeology.

In the early to mid twentieth century, William F.
Albright and his student G. Ernest Wright championed
archaeology's supportive role toward the biblical

However, Wright became somewhat disillusioned after
excavating Shechem and Gezer. He came to realize that
understanding the archaeological data requires an
interpretative framework. While the data could be
interpreted to support the Bible, other interpretations
could also be possible.

During the 1970?s and 1980?s, the pendulum swung toward
employing a strictly secular interpretative framework.
Many times even a hostile stance toward the Biblical
narrative undergirded the explanation.

The last twenty-five years have generally witnessed a
synthesis of these two extremes. Many recognize the
value of biblical studies dialoguing with archaeology.
Yet, assumptions and biases continue to exist and
influence how people understand the data.

Consider the recently discovered massive wall eight
feet wide and ninety feet long that Eilat Mazar has
uncovered in Jerusalem. Having found some pottery
fragments and a small juglet from the 10th century B.C.
near the wall, she has suggested king David could have
built this wall. However, the position of these objects
do not directly associate them with this wall.

Her harshest critic, Ronny Reich, who is also
excavating Jerusalem within a hundred yards of Mazar
calls her suggestion, nothing but wishful thinking. He
counters by speculating, "I will not be surprised if it
turns out that this building actually dates to the
Middle Bronze Age II," that is, to the 15th century

Further excavation may shed more light on the
historical context of this controversial wall. What the
current evidence does suggest, is that Israel
Finkelstein's harsh criticism against the biblical
portrayal of Jerusalem during the tenth century,
demeaning it as having been little more than a cowtown,
should be dismissed as reflecting his antagonistic
biases against the biblical record.

Neither the Bible nor archaeology imparts the complete
story of the past. On the one hand, the Bible does not
pretend to provide an exhaustive history. On the other
hand, the witness of archaeology is often more like a
book's table of contents combined with some pages here
and there as opposed to preserving the entire novel of
daily living.

Both require responsible interpretation and can
illuminate the other. While archaeology can play a role
in biblical apologetics, care must be exercised to
avoid overstating the case. Likewise, overly anxious
naysayers would be wise to restrain going on record
airing their belief that no relationship exists between
the archaeological witness to history and the history
recorded in the Bible.

Unfortunately, sensationalistic sound bites do sell

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