Archaeology And Literary Criticism -- By: A. A. Berle

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 054:214 (Apr 1897)
Article: Archaeology And Literary Criticism
Author: A. A. Berle


Archaeology And Literary Criticism

A. A. Berle

Professor Francis Brown in his annual address, before the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, on “Old Testament Problems,” devotes a section or two to the question of the proper relation of archaeology to the literal problems of the Old Testament. He appears to think that the discoveries of archaeology, though interesting enough in their way, have little real force and bearing as related to the matters of literary judgment and criticism which the higher critics have been discussing.

His view of the case is simply that all such discoveries are themselves historical material which must itself be subjected to careful analysis and criticism, and that its interpretation is often a matter no less difficult than that of the Old Testament documents themselves,—a statement which is certainly very true. Used, he says, as other historical evidence is, it is as good as any, namely having been itself critically sifted and properly classified and authenticated. Professor Brown thinks that, as an ally of conservatism, it is useless in a battle of literary criticism, because it is not designed to win that kind of a struggle. It may be important as determining a historical fact, but has no influence and can have none in determining a literacy fact. Archaeology, he says, for example, can have nothing to offer on the question, as to whether Moses did or did not write the Pentateuch.

From Professor Brown’s position there can be very little dissent; first, because what he says is true; and secondly, because he does not touch the real point at issue in the battle between archaeologists and the literary critics. The most casual examination of the materials out of which literary criticism has been constructed in the last fifty or seventy-five years will show, that the higher criticism has been giving itself not mere-

ly to purely literary matters, but to arbitrarily reconstructing history. No plain statement of fact, if of a certain textual character, has been important enough not to be swept away by an assertion totally unjustifiable from the mere literary contemplation of the facts. The presence of a word, or a series of words, or a form of expression, has been sufficient to discredit, in the mind of the literary critic, any number of matters of historical fact. Literary criticism has not confined itself to matters literary, but rather undertaken to reconstruct and alter, each according to the personal inclination of the critic, the most fundamental statements of the document under review. It is just this part of the assumption of the higher critics that the archaeologists have punctured, and it is this which causes the resentment of the higher...

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