INTRODUCTION TO BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY
Copyright, John T. Stevenson, 2000 (Used With Permission)
The Bible is a historical book. Rather than being a “once upon a time” fairytale, it is rooted in history. Ernst Renan once said that “all history is incomprehensible without Christ.” But it is also true that both Christ and the Scriptures are equally incomprehensible without the historical backdrop against which they are framed.
WHAT IS ARCHAEOLOGY?
Archaeology is one of the newer sciences. As such, it is a new study of old subjects. The word itself takes us back to antiquity. “Arche” is the Greek word for “beginning.” Archaeology therefore is the study of beginnings. The following definitions have been proposed.
1. The science of the study of history from the remains of early human cultures as researched primarily by systematic excavations.
2. A systematic and descriptive study of antiquities via the exploration of the remains of past humans.
3. That branch of historical research which investigates past civilizations from surviving art, architecture, monuments, inscriptions literature, language, customs, and other material traces.
Biblical archaeology is that area of archaeology which throws light upon our understanding of the Bible. As such, Biblical archaeology will be primarily restricted to the study of the culture and history of the Middle East and the Mediterranean world – that area which served as the historical context for the Bible.
REASONS FOR STUDYING BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY
1. To Aid us in Understanding the Bible.
Each book of the Bible was written to a particular audience.
o Genesis is written to Israelites who have come out of Egypt.
o Judges is written to Israelites living under the monarchy of Israel.
o Chronicles is written to post-exilic Jews returning to the land.
o The epistles are written to various churches throughout the Roman Empire.
In each case, the human author of the book assumes a certain amount of a prior knowledge. He assumes that he can speak of various geographic or cultural areas and that they will be known and understood and applied by his readers.
Our problem is that we are reading ancient Scriptures from a 21st century vantage point. A study of Biblical archaeology helps us to step into the sandals of the original readers and to interpret the Scriptures properly. It is only then that we will be able to apply the truths of the Scriptures rightly in our day.
2. To Affirm the Scriptural Narrative.
The Bible’s historical accuracy has long been the source of attack. These attacks have not abated in recent years; they have escalated in intensity. One of the necessary fields of Biblical apologetics will be the defense of the historical veracity of the Bible. The battlefield for this conflict will be the arena of Biblical archaeology.
Make no mistake, this is no easy conflict. There are many archaeologists who reject the Bible out of hand, going so far as to deny the historicity of the patriarchs, the Exodus event and the existence of David or Solomon and their kingdoms.
At the same time, we must realize that there are many things in the Bible which are not substantiated in current Biblical archaeology. That is because we have only found a small fraction of the remains of antiquity.
Principle: The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. This has been proven time and time again as new finds have substantiated areas which were previously thought to be in error.
3. To Aid us in the Work of Bible Translation.
Language is not a constant. It is always changing. One has only to pick up a King James Bible to see how much the English language has changed over the past 400 years. What it true of the English language is also true of the languages in which the Bible was written.
o The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew with a few chapters in Daniel being penned in Aramaic. Modern Hebrew has gone through some changes and there are a number of words in the Old Testament which are “hapax legomenon” – words which appear only once and which appear nowhere else.
How are we to determine the meanings of such words? It is the field of archaeology which provides assistance. Archaeological writings give us other examples of the usage of certain words and are a great help in interpreting the Bible.
o The New Testament is written in Koine Greek. The Greek of the New Testament is very different from the modern Greek which is spoken today. Fortunately, we have a great deal of examples of Koine Greek to compare with our New Testament vocabulary.
THE SCOPE OF BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY
The lands of the Bible go far beyond the tiny boarders of the land of Israel. The story of the Bible begins in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. By the end of the New Testament, our horizons have been stretched westward all the way to Spain. This means that we could divide Biblical Archaeology into two distinct parts:
1. Old Testament Archaeology.
The lands of the Old Testament would be those around the Fertile Crescent. This is a large band of relatively fertile land stretching from the Persian Gulf northward along the courses of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and then south along the Levant. Though known as the “Fertile Crescent,” much of these lands can only be considered fertile when compared to the surrounding deserts.
2. New Testament Archaeology.
Although still centered in the land of Palestine, our focus in the New Testament turns its attention westward. The story of Acts and the Epistles is a movement from Jerusalem to Rome.
Between these two periods is a time known as the “Silent Years.” It is a period when there were no prophets in Israel. But it is not a period which is silent with reference to history.
|1600+ Years of History
|400 “Silent Years”
|70-90 Years of History
|Centered on the Fertile Crescent
|Centered on the Mediterranean World
The Jewish writings known as the “Apocrypha” and specifically the books of Maccabees were written during this period. The books of Maccabees are an excellent resource in filling in for us the historical details of what took place in Israel between the close of the Old Testament Scriptures and the beginning of the New Testament.