Relearning Old Lessons: Archaeologists Fail to Use Sound Reasoning -- By: Brian Janeway

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 18:4 (Fall 2005)
Article: Relearning Old Lessons: Archaeologists Fail to Use Sound Reasoning
Author: Brian Janeway


Relearning Old Lessons:
Archaeologists Fail to Use Sound Reasoning

Brian Janeway

This story is one that has been repeated time and again throughout more than a century of excavations in the Holy Land. It involves a tendency to make claims based upon incomplete evidence and fails to account for the principle that absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence. ABR members are well aware of this practice with respect to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt under Moses. Scholars belonging to the group of so-called “Minimalists” have become famous (or infamous!) for just this reason, namely, for their skepticism toward the Biblical narrative, often despite the discovery of archaeological evidence corroborating those accounts.

One point of controversy begins with the rather laconic statement in Genesis 36:31 (repeated in 1 Chronicles 1:43) concerning the Kingdom of Edom, whose kings reigned in the land of Edom before any king reigned over the sons of Israel. This did not attract much notice until surveys and excavations in modern Jordan began to tell a different story, one apparently at odds with the Biblical text. If this Biblical statement were true, then the kings of Edom would have necessarily antedated Saul, Israel’s first king, who ruled in the 11th century BC. The problem herein lay with the fact that no excavated site produced material consistent with state formation in the area formerly known as Edom.

Scholars have since taken it as an article of faith that this verse has been refuted by archaeological research. The authoritative Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992) under the entry for Edom says, “Edom was probably not a political unity” in Moses’ time, and for three or four centuries afterward, which also ruled out war with David as recorded in 2 Samuel 8:13–14 and 1 Kings 11:15–16. The preliminary findings of research were now responsible for discrediting several hundred years of Tranjordanian history as recorded in the Old Testament.

These broad conclusive statements were not limited to Bible encyclopedias. None other than Israel Finkelstein of Tel Aviv University contends in his recent book The Bible Unearthed (2001; co-authored with Neil Silberman) that archaeology has made it clear there were no real kings and no state in Edom before the eighth century BC because earlier large settlements and fortresses were lacking. Notice Finkelstein’s reliance on negative (absence of) evidence in arriving at his conclusion.

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