Archaeology—Biblical Ally or Adversary? -- By: Paul L. Maier

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 17:3 (Summer 2004)
Article: Archaeology—Biblical Ally or Adversary?
Author: Paul L. Maier

Archaeology—Biblical Ally or Adversary?

Paul L. Maier

Christians used to assume, quite confidently, that the spade was the Bible’s best friend, and that the hard evidence unearthed by archaeologists digging in the Holy Land would, once the dust of controversy was cleaned off, unfailingly support the Biblical record. Early excavations in the Near East were often funded by Christian organizations, and the portrait of a faith-filled archaeologist marching off to his dig with Bible in one hand and a spade in the other was quite familiar. Archaeological greats like William Foxwell Albright virtually invented the discipline called “Biblical Archaeology,” so assured were they that “the stones” would indeed “cry out” the truth of Scripture.

A series of stunning archaeological discoveries that directly corroborated places, personalities, and events in the Old and New Testaments only confirmed the general impression that Biblical records were historically very reliable. Journals like Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible and Spade implied as much in their very titles.

Over the past decade, however, a strong counter-current has developed among some scholars of the Near East that claims quite the opposite. A group often styled as “Biblical minimalists” sees little or no correlation between archaeological and Biblical evidence, and thus no reliable history in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). Leading spokesmen among the minimalists are Thomas L. Thompson and Niels P. Lemche of the University of Copenhagen, with like-minded, postmodernist colleagues in both hemispheres.

In 2001, a revisionist archaeologist with similar views, Israel Finkelstein, penned, with Neal A. Silberman, a widely-read book: The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts. This “new vision” controverts traditional Jewish and Christian views of both the historical reliability of the Hebrew Bible as well as how it came to be. An even more popular vetting of this “vision” was a much-discussed article written by Daniel Lazare in the March 1, 2002 issue of Harper’s Magazine. One-sided, trenchant, and biased in the extreme, the article follows a sensationalist title that says it all: False Testament: Archaeology Refutes the Bible’s Claim to History. Since Harper’s has a proud history going back to Abraham Lincoln’s time, which lends credibility to its contents, many more conservative Jewish and Christian readers are now alarmed that the very foundations of their faith are called into question.

This (non-sensationalist) article will examine the claims made by Lazare and other revisionist critics, weigh them against the results of main s...

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