The Limitations of Archaeology Imposed by Interpretation and Lack of Data -- By: Forest Weddle

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 11:3 (Fall 1970)
Article: The Limitations of Archaeology Imposed by Interpretation and Lack of Data
Author: Forest Weddle

The Limitations of Archaeology
Imposed by Interpretation and Lack of Data

Forest Weddle

Fort Wayne Bible College

[This paper was read before the Midwestern section of the Evangelical Theological Society at Winona Lake, Indiana, April 17, 1970.]

The science of archaeology came to the aid of the Bible student at a time when destructive higher criticism, spawned by seventeenth century English deism and eighteenth century German rationalism, was making severe inroads on the credibility of the historical records in the Bible. At first the critical scholars discounted the claims of archaeology. When Hermann Hilprecht discovered bricks in the ruins of a Babylonian temple bearing the stamp of a king whom the scholars believed to be mythical, they accused Hilprecht of fabricating the temple ruins himself as a hoax. But, little by little, surely and inexorably, the retreat began. Today no reputable archaeologist, liberal or conservative, would presume to undertake the excavation of a Biblical site without studying very carefully all that the Bible has to say about it. To do so may save hours or days of futile effort.

Perhaps because archaeology made the Bible stories come alive by bringing to the daylight the very objects looked upon or used by people of Bible times, it earned its earliest reputation as a means to “prove the Bible true.” No doubt this is the role in which archaeology holds its chief interest to the layman today. It is quite limited in this respect, however. Its usefulness is confined almost entirely to the corroboration of Biblical history and cognate areas, such as anthropology and sociology. In only the rarest of cases can it provide proofs pertaining to doctrine, religion, or ethics—areas which do not lend themselves so easily to objective proof.

An even more important function of archaeology, however, has been its ability to provide an accurate setting or backdrop for the Bible story. As techniques become more refined, the reconstruction of the past has been accomplished in much greater detail, and this has proved an invaluable aid to the proper understanding of the Bible. Archaeology is, therefore, a hermeneutic as well as an apologetic.

Science has made tremendous strides in this age. Nevertheless, the sincere scientist is quite humble in his attitude toward his chosen field. He knows only too well the limitations of science and is constantly reexamining his own assumptions. The layman, on the other hand, has been conditioned to the marvels of science. Almost unquestioningly he accepts the premise that if science says it is true, that settles it. Who dares to challenge it?

The scientific metho...

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