It’s not exactly Indiana Jones, but archaeology is a fantastic aid to Bible study. Much of the Bible customs we know today have been either verified or enlarged upon through archaeological findings. In addition we have more accurately labeled certain Bible sites, which is a wonderful thing if you get the chance to visit the Holy Land and stand and visualize the Bible.
Archaeology doesn’t trump the Bible at any point. When your archaeological findings come into conflict, you need further study and, of course, keep believing the Bible. As great as archaeology is, it is only as good as the presuppositions that the archaeologist holds. That can make for scandalous news stories. Personally, I have never once seen an unbiased archaeologist have findings that fully contradicted the Bible.
One famous case is the dig done at Jericho by the famous Kathleen Kenyon. She was, without question, an accomplished archaeologist. The problem was the miraculous tumbling of the walls of Jericho as recorded in Scripture. If you hold an anti-miracle position, it would be an embarrassment for your archaeological findings to match the Biblical record. She did good work except for dating the findings too far away to match Joshua’s account. It wasn’t the facts that required the dating, but her presuppositions and biases.
Interestingly enough, archaeologist Byrant Wood has done further work and reviewed the massive details of Ms. Kenyon’s work. His findings? The pottery would, in fact, match the time of Joshua. Even more amazing, there were burnt items and jars of stored food in the ruins. Likely there would have been fire in Joshua’s conquest. If the walls fell suddenly, then you would expect the food to be found in containers. Had Jericho been overthrown at the end of a siege as some claim, the food would have been all consumed. I didn’t need that to believe what the Bible said, but it is absolutely fascinating!
Time and time again, findings match exactly what the Bible said. In the first two pictures here, you are looking at Samaria. You can see what efforts are required to do this type of study. Herod built a palace here in Jesus’ day right where the Kings of the Northern Kingdom had their palace. Archaeological findings only backed up what the Bible said. Deep in the West Bank in the current day, it is a beautiful site that commands an impressive view. No wonder the palace was there. What a thrill it was for me to go there and imagine Ahab being visited by Elijah and Elisha, or daydream about the four lepers at the siege. I couldn’t help but notice the evidence of past archaeological work there too.
Archaeology isn’t the only element in identifying a Bible site in Biblical lands. Place names carried down through the years, what previous generations have believed, texts preserved, and a correlation to all the facts the Bible mentions are all essential. Now we just add archaeology to the list.
Sometimes all of these elements still fail to yield a conclusive answer. Take, for example, Sodom. There has always been debate. Some scholars I respect have suggested a place called Bab edh-Dhra. I am convinced by their evidence. Though difficult to find, I went there when I was in Jordan. In the picture below, you see it looks so God-forsaken. I fear presuppositions have hindered study of the site of Sodom too.
Archaeology can add a helpful level to our study of God’s Word. Some understanding of a process we don’t have to be part of (though being part of a dig would be awesome), can yield us great results.
Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible by John Currid is a fine aid to grasping what archaeology is, how it is done, and what it brings to us. It is a basic guide and all most Bible students need. In 120 pages it gives a real overview that would make descriptions of archaeological results more meaningful to you. As a pastor, I would give it high marks.