|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003|
|Drs. Ankerberg and Weldon explain that, while it is unfeasible for archaeology to prove everything in the Bible, nevertheless, it is an important step in shedding light on biblical content.|
If we examine the nature and problems of archaeological investigation, it will become apparent why it is impossible for archaeology to prove everything in the Bible and equally apparent why any findings which first seem not to confirm the biblical record are insufficient reason to declare that the Bible contains an error. Because the Bible is independently established to be the divinely inspired and inerrant Word of God on other grounds, archaeology cannot logically sit in judgment upon the biblical record whenever an apparent discrepancy is encountered. As archaeologist Dr. Clifford Wilson points out, because archaeology deals with insufficient data and unknown variables, and comprises a human endeavor subject to human failings, “The Bible itself, not archaeology, is our absolute.” In The Stones and the Scriptures, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi observes, “By its very nature archaeological evidence is fragmentary, often disconnected, and always with the exception of texts— mute and materialistic. Far more than our need of these materials for an understanding of the Bible is our need of the Bible for an understanding of the materials.”
Nevertheless, archaeology is a highly important endeavor for shedding light on biblical content. In essence, archaeology helps us to understand, appreciate and, at times, properly interpret the Bible. Thus, the major function of biblical archaeology is both practical and apologetic, to not only illuminate the text but to confirm the biblical record. Dr. Yamauchi is correct in stating that properly understanding the historical and cultural background of the Bible “has maximal significance for the theologian.” He quotes the distinguished excavator of Mari, Andre Parot, who states, “As is well-known, certain currents of theological thought profess towards history an attitude almost of disdain.... What matters, we are told, is the Word, and the Word alone. But how are we to understand it without setting it against its proper chronological, historical, and geographical background? How are blunders to be avoided if our interpretation treats a given situation completely in vacuo [in a vacuum], and without first attempting to define its exact contours?” As archaeologist Joseph P. Free (1910-1974), who did extensive excavations at the city of Dothan for ten years, observed, “In my lifetime I have heard many messages or sermons that could have some point driven home by the effective use of some archaeological item.” He further points out that archaeology “has confirmed countless passages that have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts.”
Dr. Keith Schoville, author of the comprehensive textbook, Biblical Archeology in Focus, discusses the three main factors involved in the process of recovering the story of biblical history; the Bible, archaeology, and the archaeologist. Further, “each of these has its own peculiarities and limitations that affect the total phenomenon that we call archaeological research, including the final results.” For example, one limitation of the biblical record involves the inability, in certain cases, to properly interpret a portion of Scripture due to lack of information.
Problems with archaeology itself include limitations resulting from the relative newnessof the discipline and problems with the sites or excavation methods themselves. A limitation of the archaeologist involves the kind of educational background and philosophical or theological presuppositions he or she brings to the interpretation of data.
The first problem with archaeological work per se is the relative newness of the discipline. This means that not only are there relatively few actual sites excavated among all known sites, but even when sites are excavated, the process is so painstaking that only a small fraction of a particular site can be examined:
As another example, “The Iraq Department of Antiquities has records of over 6,500 tells (mounds of buried cities) in the country; well over 6,000 of them have not yet been excavated at all.”
Archeology is, of course, about digging, and many ancient sites are buried far beneath the ground making access to them very difficult. Indeed,
Kitchen proceeds to discuss other difficulties of archaeological work. Besides gaps in the record caused by erosion,
Then there is the problem of site-shift:
A situation like this helps one understand the problems associated with identifying the walls dating to the time of the conquest of that city by Joshua and the Israelites. Ancient Jericho (modern Tell es-Sultan) has been the site of more than two dozen ancient cities, each one built and destroyed on top of the other.
(to be continued)