Biblical Archaeology: Down but Not Out -- By: Titus M. Kennedy
CTSJ 12:2 (Fall 2006) p. 99
Biblical Archaeology: Down but Not Out
In his editorial entitled “Is There a Biblical Archaeology?” published in Biblical Archaeology Review 32, no. 4, Dr. Hendel begins an assessment of Biblical Archaeology by playfully comparing belief in it with a child’s belief in Santa Claus described in a 1897 New York Sun editorial, which reads, “There is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!” He then asks, “Is there a Biblical Archaeology? Or is it a fictional creation of overactive minds? Is it something that was once alive and is now dead? Is it a vanished dream?”1 His Santa Claus anecdote and his questions betray an opinion that Biblical Archaeology is a childish belief that has been outgrown in our modern world of science. According to him, although believed in at one time, Biblical Archaeology is dead, slain by the scientific method, much in the way that Intelligent Design has been so aptly dispatched. Further, he brands those who believe Biblical Archaeology is a legitimate academic endeavor as “the only children of this divorce who are still doing Biblical Archaeology in the Albrightian style.”2 His statement that only fundamentalist and evangelical scholars still attempt Biblical Archaeology is generally but not completely true. What is generally but not completely false is his assertion that these scholars “often eschew the critical methods of Biblical scholarship and historiography” and adopt them only when “the results do not conflict with their theology.”3 While I concede that this does occur, it is by no means the norm. In fact, it seems that Bible-believing archaeologists increasingly more often suggest that there is a scribal error in the text or a mistranslation rather than an error in archaeological interpretation.
Though Hendel believes Biblical Studies and Levantine Archaeology should interact and continue to have a respectful dialogue, he essentially states that the Bible, specifically prior to the monarchy, is unhistorical and cannot be substantiated through archaeology. This is somewhat surprising, as Dr. Hendel is a professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies—it seems incongruous to dedicate one’s life to something one knows to be false!
Hendel is correct in his assertion that Biblical Archaeology has been mostly abandoned today. The political correctness of our day and the general rejection of the Bible has caused many circles to refer to wh...
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