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Bible Archaeology - An Outdated Term?

Updated on November 20, 2016

Modern Archeology is a very broad science which endeavors to reveal cultures, peoples and civilizations from our past. By careful examination of artifacts and other evidence these scholars are often able to generate complex and very accurate models of how people lived and interacted with one another. Today archaeological sites are located all over the globe, searching for clues to the past. This has not always been the case.

In the early days of archaeology most of the major expeditions were destined for lands rich in Biblical history. These expeditions were very often funded by wealthy individuals whose intent was to prove the Bible was in fact historically accurate. In some instances this resulted in exaggerated claims and unreliable research in order to secure more funding. As the study of archaeology developed into a science with specific guidelines and requirements for an artifact to be considered authentic, the field of archaeology began to evolve beyond Bible related expeditions. The science developed and spread to areas and peoples who were in no way related to the Bible and the field of Bible Archaeology, rather than being the core of all archeological studies, became just one branch of the science.

"that branch of archaeology that sheds light upon "the social and political structure, the religious concepts and practices and other human activities and relationships that are found in the Bible or pertain to peoples mentioned in the Bible."

- Robert I. Bradshaw, "Archaeology and the Patriarchs",

William Albright is widely considered the founder of Biblical Archaeology. Albright had a number of discoveries related to Biblical events and was a central figure in the authentication of "The Dead Sea Scrolls" discovered in 1948. The majority of Albright's work centered around the peoples and places of the Bible. Albright had very strong beliefs which were reflected in his work. In one instance his team discovered what they believed to be the cities of Sodom and Gomorra. Albright stopped the excavation stating that it was wrong to uncover what God had buried. {The sites were excavated decades later and are now considered by many scholars to be the Biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorra.}

In a radical contrast to stopping an excavation, Albright's personal beliefs were not as Biblically centered as some might think. Surprisingly to many, Albright did not believe the Bible to be a completely historical document. In fact, some of his beliefs resembled those of Biblical minimalists.

“biblical minimalists” — arguing that the Bible is only factually true to the extent proven true. It’s never given the benefit of the doubt. Indeed, many ignore its historical claims almost entirely."

- Jay Guin, "Thought Question: The Death of Biblical Minimalism(?)", One In Jesus

The minimalist movement raised serious doubts as to the reliability of the Bible text and large segments of the media were quick to report on these beliefs. This was not in response to new discoveries made by the minimalist, but because it caused heated debates and arguments. These arguments and controversies helped sell more papers, books, and generated increased ratings for television programs.

The minimalist views became so wide spread many people began to question all aspects of the Bible and the reliability of anyone involved in the field of Bible Archaeology. Because of this, the reputation of individuals and scientist involved in Bible Archaeology came under attack. Since the minimalist view was that all of the old testament was widely fiction and little more than myth, Bible Archaeology was considered non-scientific and no longer relevant to any intellectual discussion of the facts.

Unfortunately for the minimalist movement the work in Bible Archaeology continued and many new discoveries were made. These discoveries were so numerous and so convincing many scholars believe the minimalist movement has been deemed obsolete, and some have pronounced it, dead.

"Emerging at a time when the study of the ancient Near East was in its infancy, it could only be expected that time would prove the minimalist’s assumptions false. As mountains of evidence have come to light, minimalism is looking more and more like a thing of the past. Biblical scholarship has a long track record of confounding the critics, and it isn’t stopping anytime soon."

- Dwaybe Bryant MA "The Death Of Biblical Minimalism", Associates for Biblical Research

While at one time the majority of archaeological expeditions were related to events or peoples recorded in the Bible, this is no longer the case. Archaeology has grown and developed into a science studying cultures far removed from the Bible. While a large portion of archaeological studies are non-Biblical, there remains a large field of study in which archaeologists are studying the lands, people and times recorded in the Bible. While no longer the core of the science, Bible Archaeology continues to be an important and viable branch of the science of archaeology. Given the number of discoveries being made, and the interest they generate, it is doubtful the field of Bible Archaeology will become obsolete, or outdated, any time soon.


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