Old Testament Archaeology: Its Promises and Pitfalls -- By: Eugene H. Merrill
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Old Testament Archaeology:
Its Promises and Pitfalls1
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament, Dallas Theological Seminary;
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Interpretation,
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Etymologically, “archaeology” involves the “study of old things.” The dictionary definition is “the scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts, monuments) of past human life and activities.”2 The adjectives “biblical” or “Old Testament” limit the field of endeavor to a search for antiquities in the world of the Bible that enlightens it and the times and circumstances of which it speaks. The intent of this article is to explore briefly the history, methods, objectives, and conclusions of Old Testament archaeology with special attention to how its findings may legitimately or illegitimately be used to clarify, support, correct, or otherwise address the biblical text.3 No field of investigation has been more proclaimed by Bible believers as decisive proof of the Bible’s historical and scientific truth claims and, at the same time, by skeptics who at best disavow biblical archaeology as an academic discipline and at worst direct its findings against the biblical record in an attempt to raise questions as to both its historical and its theological credibility.
The Biblical Archaeology “Movement”: A Brief History4
Since biblical times, pilgrims and travelers of all kinds have visited the lands of the Bible in order to achieve an awareness of the world in which
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biblical events occurred. Christians in particular have yearned to “walk today where Jesus walked” and thus in some mystical sense come to know Him better.5 With only rare exceptions, these journeys were not undertaken to examine closely the life and times of the ancients who lived in the biblical world. However, a few explorers eventually came to pursue more serious investigation of the places and times of the Bible in hopes of making linkages between them and their own world and thus contribute to a better understanding of the sacred text.6 This kind of research was fueled in medieval times by the journeys of European Crusaders whose primary mission, as they saw it, was to deliver the holy places from the clutches of Moslem infidels but who secondarily resurr...
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