Science in Christian Perspective




Allan A. MacRae, Ph.D.

From: JASA 11 (September 1959): 14-15.

During the past two or three years excavation has been carried on intensively at various places in Palestine. Much of the work has been concerned with the period before 1,000 B. C. Since our Biblical material relating to Palestine is mainly from the period after 1,000 B. C. excavation from the earlier time is sometimes rather frustrating, as we have comparatively little written material to help in its elucidation.

One section of this earlier period in which there is considerable Biblical material is the period of the Israelite judges. judges is a difficult book to interpret, since it tells about events in various parts of Palestine and does not always indicate how large a part of the country was involved in connection with the activities of each judge. The chronology of the period of the judges is still largely unknown. If the dates contained in the book are simply added together it makes much too long a period and we know that many of these events must have taken place at the same time in various parts of the country.

Archaeology corroborates a number of particular elements or events mentioned in the book of judges but has not yet given us sufficient evidence to show how to fit together the various parts of the book. No one of the excavations now going on has as yet made a significant contribution to this particular problem, but it is possible that comparison of the results, of several of them may yet give us important clarification at vital points.

The excavations at Gibeon, Dothan, Shechem, and other sites are constantly increasing our knowledge of
the practical background of life in early Palestine. G reat nu mbers of small details are being added by each
of these excavations. Little by little these will be pieced together by archaeologists. Excavations may
thus sometimes yield significant results years after the actual work was done.

It is well to be prepared for discoveries which may at any time burst on the scientific world. Therefore, it would be good for readers of the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation to have an idea of the background of some of the cities where excavations are being conducted.

Gibeon first comes to our attention in connection with the invasion of Joshua, when the men from Gibeon obtained a treaty with Joshua by false pretenses (josh. 9). Since the Israelites had been ordered not to make any treaty with the inhabitants of the land, but to root them out entirely lest they be themselves corrupted by their wickedness, this was a serious error and clear disobedience to God's commands. The Gibeonites had deceived Joshua by pretending to have come from a long distance. Joshua failed in his responsibility to carry out a full investigation, before making any actual decision.

All through subsequent history Israel suffered as a result of the mistake of Joshua in not looking before he leaped. God required that the rash promise be kept. Although the Gibeonites were reduced to servitude, their lives were carefully protected all through subsequent Israelite history, and those who broke this command and were severely punished (2 Sam. 21:1-9).

The preservation of the Gibeonites produced a foreign area which separated the large tribe of Judah in the south from the large tribe of Ephraim on the north, and, humanly speaking, had a great deal to do with the eventual breaking of Israel into two nations.

The Saturday Evening Post of February 8, 1958, carried an interesting popular account of the excavations at Gibeon, including pictures of a remarkable water works cut out of solid rock in the 8th century B. C. This provided a constant supply of water out of reach of enemies. The pictures of the massive works give one an idea of the importance of the city which he might never have realized from the Biblical account. Yet the Bible tells us that the city was so important that Solomon went there to make his great sacrifice after he became king. And it was there that Solomon had his famous dream (I Kings 3).

Dothan is mentioned in the Bible in the earlier period. Joseph went there looking for his brothers (Gen. 37:17) and it was in that neighborhood that he was seized by them, put into a pit, and eventually sold to the Midianites. The city is little mentioned after that until we come to the later time of the Israelite kings, when we find that it occupies an important place in the life of Elisha.

Ever since 1953 Dr. Joseph Free of Wheaton College has been carrying on excavation at Dothan. There he has unearthed sections of the city that were actually in use at the time of Elisha. It makes the Biblical history seem much more real to see the type of houses lived in and the actual situation of the people among whom Elisha prophesied.

Shechem also was a city of great importance in ' early times. It was there that the sons of Jacob, through a trick, treacherously killed many inhabitants (Gen. 34). On account of this Jacob doomed the descendants of Simeon and Levi to be scattered abroad in Israel (Gen. 49). In the account of the judges Shechem plays an important role in the life of Abimelech, the son of Gideon. Shechem later became the first capital of Jeroboam, who led the secession of the northern tribes (1 Kings 12). For some reason he did not keep his capital there long, but instead moved it to Tirzah ( 1 Kings 14:17; 15 :33).

German excavators unearthed portions of Shechem early in the present century. Unfortunately, their material was never fully published. The more recent excavations naturally can use better methods and have considerably more funds available, but what was dug up by the Germans is of course not available for further excavation.

Every time a new place is excavated much is learned about the general life of antiquity and also about methods of successful excavation. At the same time much evidence is unavoidably destroyed. Large works of art and inscribed tablets are of tremendous importance, but sometime even more is learned from bits of pottery, from the type of houses and artifacts. and from the relations of different material objects to one another. Once they are dug up this relationship has been destroyed and all that remains is what has been observed by the excavators and photographed or written down. Thus archaeologists are anxious that excavation proceed as rapidly as possible, in order to increase their knowledge and improve their methodology, and yet they wish that all of the important sites could be left to be excavated after methods have reached their greatest improvement, in order that the utmost possible could be learned from them.

Hazor has been under excavation for a number of years by the Department of Antiquities of the State of Israel. The other three places we have named are all at present in Jordan, but Hazor is in Israel. Last year we noticed something of the excavation at Hazor. More has been learned since. Headlines in newspapers this spring declared the actual date of Joshua's conquest could be settled as a result of the Hazor excavation. Unfortunately, this particular statement must be put down to the desire of newspaper reporters for a sensation. One city alone will not determine the date of Joshua's conquest. Nor is it apt to be immediately determined by any newly-discovered material. Many details have to be worked over by many scholars before established and secure results on such difficult points as this can be attained.

Work on the Dead Sea Scrolls is proceeding, with many scholars studying the bits of manuscript that have been found. Sections of every book of the Old Testament, except one, have been found. Some of these sections contain only two or three words but in other cases a whole book or a substantial part of it is in hand.

Faith Theological Seminary Elkins Park

Philadelphia 17, Pa.