Biblical Archaeology

Over the past few decades, for a number of reasons “Biblical Archaeology” has fallen out of favor in the academy. One of those reasons, very much a charicature of the best of the field, was the perception that its practitioners were out to “prove the Bible.” Undoubtedly there were secondary and tertiary applications of the findings of Biblical Archaeology, usually tied to confessional interests, which abused the data, indeed claiming them to have proved the Bible correct in various ways.

Here is how G. Ernest Wright, one of the most eminent of the proponents of Biblical Archaeology defined the field in the beginning of his book on the subject:

Biblical archaeology is a special “armchair” variety of general archaeology. The biblical archaeologist may or may not be an excavator himself, but he studies the discoveries of the excavations in order to glean from them every fact that throws a direct, indirect or even diffused light upon the Bible. He must be intelligently concerned with stratigraphy and typology, upon which the methodology of modern archaeology rests and of which more will be said later in this chapter. Yet his chief concern is not with methods or pots or weapons in themselves alone. His central and absorbing interest is the understanding and exposition of the Scriptures.
Biblical Archaeology (Westminster Press, 1962), 17.

Interestingly, Wright describes Biblical Archaeology as a tool of exegesis, yet one rooted in realia rather than literary theory. Of course, much modern Biblical criticism regards the Biblical texts as wholly fictional, tendentious, and lacking in all connection to realia, so to draw on archaeology for illuminating realia as Wright describes above is, in such perspectives, not merely misleading, but impossible. Such a severe disjunction is, however, extreme and unwarranted. The Bible is a document originating in the ancient Near East, in a particular territory, and describes various people, places, and events in that territory and others. And while various items of realia, the remains of cities, and so on do indeed support numerous elements of the Biblical narratives, to take those direct and indirect corroborations and illuminations and state that the entire Bible is thereby “proved” by them, is certainly a stretch. Wright also deals with this abuse:

In this perspective the biblical scholar no longer bothers to ask whether archaeology “proves” the Bible. In the sense that the biblical languages, the life and customs of its peoples, its history, and its conceptions are illuminated in innumerable ways by the archaeological discoveries, he knows that such a question is certainly to be answered in the affirmative. No longer does this literature project from the chaos of prehistory “as though it were a monstrous fossil, with no contemporary evidence to demonstrate its authenticity.” Yet the scholar also knows that the primary purpose of biblical archaeology is not to “prove” but to discover. The vast majority of the “finds” neither prove nor disprove; they fill in the background and give the setting for the story. It is unfortunate that this desire to “prove” the Bible has vitiated so many works which are available to the average reader. The evidence has been misused, and the inferences drawn from it are so often misleading, mistaken, or half true. Our ultimate aim must not be “proof,” but truth. We must study the history of the Chosen People in exactly the same way as we do that of any other people, running the risk of destroying the uniqueness of that history. Unless we are willing to run that risk, truth can never be ours.
Biblical Archaeology, 27.

That’s a very enlightening passage, which puts into relief much modern vituperation against Biblical Archaeology, complaints about “Albrightian” approaches, and so on. Wright was well aware, as was Albright, that the data were being misused by some unscrupulous authors in order to “prove the Bible.” To lump Albright, Wright, et alia, and Biblical Archaeology proper together with such misuse is either misinformed or dishonest. Biblical Archaeology itself, properly understood as defined in the first quote above from Wright, is a perfectly legitimate practice.

Light from Light

When the Lord Jesus was born of the holy Virgin, all the world was enlightened. The shepherds watched in the fields, the Magi adored and the angels praised in song; but Herod was troubled:   for God has appeared in the flesh, the Saviour of our souls.

Thy Kingdom, O Christ our God, is a Kingdom of all the ages, and Thy rule is from generation to generation. Made flesh of the Holy Spirit and made man of the ever-Virgin Mary, Thou hast enlightened us by Thy coming, Light of Light, Brightness of the Father, Thou hast made the whole creation shine with joy. All that hath breath praises Thee, the Image of the glory of the Father. O God who art, and who has ever been, who hast shone forth from a Virgin, have mercy upon us.

What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, who for our sakes hast appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by Thee offers Thee thanks. The angels offer Thee a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger; and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother. O pre-eternal God, have mercy upon us.

Stichera by Anatolios, Vespers of Nativity,
tr. from The Festal Menaion

Holy and Good

God is holy. And good. And love. The presence of God sanctifies, through His very nature, and in love, heals. Sanctification is the goal of Christian life, not teaching, not good works, not a life of prayer. All of these things will spring from the fountain of sanctification. This time of year is one to remember our Lord and God, who came into the world personally, sanctifying human existence itself, healing it, and thereby healing all of us. His assumption of all the sufferings of humanity, the day to day woes, the brutality of violence, even the darkness of death itself, has led all of these things to be sanctified and healed. Even though we may not sense it now, because we are always repenting, always working to change our perception to be more like that of God, the deed is done, from Incarnation through Passion to Resurrection and Ascension. It takes that Spiritual vision, a precious gift of God’s grace, to see the perfection, to catch a glimpse, however short, of the blue sky beyond the clouds. Someday, there will be no more such clouds. This season we celebrate the birth of our Lord and God as a humble infant, the most helpless of creatures. But in His plan, His first arrival is the guarantee of the second, when He will come with all power and glory, and all will be healed. There is no other possibility. All will be healed. That is the work of the Mighty God, a work of love, and good, and holiness. In approaching that manger, like the shepherds, and beholding the infant, and hearing the glorification of the angelic host, we should only add to their hymns: Come, our Lord! Come!

Patristics Carnival I

Phil at hyperekperisou has just posted the first entry for the new Patristics Carnival. He’s done a great job, made more impressive by how busy he has been with a new baby, particularly. This carnival is a great idea, and will undoubtedly pick up speed in the coming months. I look forward to hosting it, myself, too.

Biblical Studies Carnival XII

Step right up! Step right up to the latest and last Biblical Studies Carnival of 2006, the Duodecimal Edition hosted at the blog Dr Jim West. It’s also the last Biblical Studies Carnival since its revival earlier this year in which the number of the carnival will match the number of the month of the year. You may mourn the passing of this phenomenon if you are so inclined.

The Dr Jim West blog, which may appear to be an etiological tale connecting Biblical Studies and Zwinglianism to the eponymous Dr Jim West, is indeed actually a real blog written by the real Dr Jim West on Biblical Studies and various Zwinglianistic issues. Or so I take it on the testimony of others, as I haven’t met the gentleman myself. And let that be a lesson to you!