Science in Christian Perspective



Alan A. MacRae

From: JASA 5 (September 1953): 12

The Present Status of Biblical Archaeology

In contrast with the golden era of Palestinian Archaeology which ran from 1921 to 1939, the period since the war has been one of considerable frustration. A number of things have contributed to this. First of these is the unsettled political condition of Palestine. Even during the thirties archaeology was hampered to some extent by riots and interracial difficulties, as for instance, when the excavator of Lachish, James Leslie Starkey, one of the greatest of Palestinian excavators, was brutally killed.

In 1948 the difficulties reached a climax in the partition of Palestine. Since that time the land remains in uneasy truce with a no-man's land straight down through its entire length. The highest and least fertile portion of the country is now a part of the Arab Kingdom of Jordan, while the remaining section forms the new nation of Israel. Israel is prosperous, prices are high, and excavation is very expensive. Excavation in Jordan is much less expensive, prices in Jordan are low, wages are low, there is much unemployment, and the poor nature of the soil and the difficulty of transportation to other countries offers little possibility of amelioration in the near future. The great majority of the promising archaeological sites are in Jordan.

Some of the archaeological institutes of the various nations are in the part of Jerusalem which is in Jordan, while others are in the part of the city which is in Israel, and intercommunication between the two is extremely difficult and cumbersome.

Another difficulty lies in the fact that most of the great experts in Palestinian field archaeology have become superannuated or have died. There are few men available for Palestinian field work who have had much experience. Some of the younger experts have an attitude of skepticism toward the results of their predecessors which at times goes to the extent of being definitely unreasonable.

Despite these difficulties some important excavations have been carried on, notably at Jericho, and at Dibon in Moab. Moreover, this spring Professor Joseph Free of Wheaton College began excavation at Dothan, one of the most promising sites in the whole land of Palestine.

Outstanding has been the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, containing Biblical material in Hebrew many centuries earlier than any that was previously available.

In Egypt and in Mesopotamia little of outstanding significance has been discovered since the war. The rise of nationalism in both these countries has greatly hampered archaeological activity, although some important progress has been made in both lands. Perhaps outstanding in Mesopotamia has been the discovery of new law codes pushing back the history of ancient law considerably earlier than was previously known.

Archaeology differs from other sciences in that the results of its work have little utilitarian value. Consequently it must look for its support largely to popular gifts, and to contributions of foundations and educational institutions, which in turn are often dependent upon popular support. The result is that efforts are usually made to publicize discoveries as soon as they occur. Unfortunately, when material is first discovered it is often very difficult to be sure what its real bearing is. In archaeology, as in every other science, it is not so much the first discovery that is vital as the ultimate conclusions which are reached.

Often results of excavation are widely publicized as soon as something startling is found, even though there is little idea yet of the true bearing of the discovery. Later on, after scholars have studied the material from various angles and have reached conclusions as to what it really means, the results are printed in scientific publications which are hardly seen outside of the profession, and the ideas which are circulated among the public and among our educated classes in general are the results simply of the first general publicity.

Since the rise of modem archaeology, point after point in the Bible which previously stood absolutely alone, has come to have other information and evidence relating to it. It is a mistake to jump to sweeping conclusions from this evidence; it is equally wrong to fail to draw from it its true importance, which is very great indeed. At point after point the accuracy of the Biblical statements is supported by new archaeological discoveries, and they are shown to give an accurate and dependable record of events in Biblical times. It will be our attempt in these columns, from time to time, not only to keep up with the newer discoveries in the field of archaeology, and with some of the newer researches which are published, but also to point out some of the established results of archaeology and the great help which they bring to our understanding of the dependability of the Word of God. God is the Author of the Bible. He is also the Creator of the universe, and the Director of history. What He has done in one sphere is bound to tally what He does in another sphere. It is easy for us to draw wrong conclusions from the data of science or from the data of the Scripture. The facts of the two, however, are bound to agree, since God is the author of both.

Faith Theological Seminary
Elkins Park, Philadelphia 17, Pa.