Vol. 7, No. 3
~ Page 2 ~
Archaeology is a science that sifts evidence of mankind's past to discern historical information. A dictionary definition for "archaeology" is "the scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts, and monuments) of past human life and activities" (Merriam). A simplified, homespun definition of "archaeology" could be "digging up the past." Bible archaeology is archaeological excavation, examination and ascertaining information about biblical characters, biblical places or biblical times.
Since archaeology is a science, it is vulnerable to a degree of subjective assessment (i.e., educated guesses). Unfortunately, in every sphere of life, unintended biases as well as covert (or sometimes thinly veiled) prejudices influence conclusions to which one arrives regarding the available evidence. For instance, once biblical archaeologists were usually friends of the Bible and delighted whenever they found extra-biblical, archaeological evidence that validated the biblical text. Now, so-called new biblical archaeologists are pronounced enemies of the Bible and are horrified whenever extra-biblical, archaeological evidence is interpreted by anyone to validate the biblical text. New Bible Archaeology has boldly undertaken the reevaluation of past discoveries and revels in issuing new assessments of past archaeological discoveries that contradict earlier, published conclusions. Biblical archaeologists who characteristically diminish any possible relationship between archaeological discoveries and the Bible are called minimalists; biblical archaeologists who characteristically capitalize on any possible relationship between archaeological discoveries and the Bible are called maximalists.
Available evidence implies that what has been unearthed and examined may not represent all of the potential evidence that either has not been found yet, or if discovered, to date has not been examined. Literally, tons of excavated, but unevaluated antiquities, lie in the basements of museums around the world; some discoveries of which the world is routinely apprised are literally discovered in museum basements years after their deposit there. This is because the volume of archaeological finds exceeds the time, money and expertise needed to carefully appraise them.
Nevertheless, biblical archaeology in reality is a tremendous friend of the Bible believer. Repeatedly, biblical archaeology when subjected to an honest, balanced treatment (neither minimalist or maximalist oriented) serves as extra-biblical validation of the biblical text and bolsters the Christian faith. A case in point concerns the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the malefactors crucified on either side of our Lord (Matt. 27:38). Though crucifixion dots the annals of secular history from times most ancient, archaeological evidence validating that mode of execution has been unavailable to corroborate either secular or biblical history respecting crucifixion.
However, "[f]ollowing the Six Days War in 1967, excavation of tombs around Jerusalem yielded several ossuaries (stone bone boxes)" (Rushmore 201). This manner of Jewish burial that prevailed only for a 200-year period (Humble 67-68) yielded a singular discovery that provided archaeological confirmation of both the secular, historical record and the biblical record respecting execution by crucifixion.
And in one ossuary were found the bones of a Jew who was named Yehohanan [John], and both his ankles were pierced by an iron nail of 15 centimeters long. And after examination of the bones, it was found this poor person was crucified, and for the first time we have a real archaeological evidence showing how people were crucified. But from the time of Jesus, we had no archaeological evidence…(Humble 61)
Wood rots and iron oxidizes (rusts). Consequently, wooden crosses or poles on which unfortunate persons were crucified have not survived to the present. Likewise, iron nails by which some persons were affixed to crosses have not before been known to survive to the present. The unique circumstance of a crucified person being entombed in an ossuary and that the iron nail lodged in his bones yielded a remarkable find that illustrates the value of biblical archaeology.
In the case of crucifixion, the abundance of secular, historical records verifying execution by crucifixion as well as the biblical record evidencing the same needed no archaeological confirmation to establish historically crucifixion as a form of execution. However, regarding other biblical entries, either no historical records coincide with the biblical record (absence of historical information) or secular history actually conflicts with biblical data. In such cases, biblical archaeology is invaluable toward the unbeliever to assure him of the Bible's truthfulness. Further, extra-biblical, archaeological confirmation of Bible facts bolsters and enhances the Bible-believers faith. Archaeological discoveries that pertain to biblical characters, biblical places or biblical times, fairly and honestly evaluated, always befriend the biblical account as well as under gird the faith of believers.
Humble, Bill. Archaeology and the Bible. Nashville: Christian Communications, 1990.
Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. CD-ROM. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1993.
Rushmore, Louis. Biblical Companions: Geography, Archaeology & Sacred History. Cameron: Louis Rushmore, 2000.