Archaeology and the Bible

by Dr. Claude Mariottini

It has been a popular view among many people that the Bible proves the historical events of the Bible. It is said that William F. Albright, the famous American archaeologist of the twentieth century, sought to prove the historicity of the Bible by digging in Israel with a shovel on one hand and the Bible on the other.

In the last two decades or so, the traditional conclusions of archaeologists have come under severe attack by other archaeologists who believe that the archaeological evidence does not confirm many of the historical facts found in the Bible.

The claim and counterclaim of archaeologists in recent years have been focused on the archaeological significance of Khirbet Qeiyafa, a site located in the Valley of Elah, the place where David killed Goliath. And the two archaeologists involved in this dispute are Yosef Garfinkel, the co-director of the dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, and Israel Finkelstein, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University.

In a recent article, “What archaeology tells us about the Bible,” Christa Case Bryant, a staff writer for The Christian Science Monitor summarizes the issues in this controversy:

Mr. Garfinkel, a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, examines the coin, the size of a thick quarter. He smiles. Each discovery delights Garfinkel, but it is more than ancient currency that has drawn the world’s attention to this serene hilltop overlooking Israel’s Valley of Elah, where David felled Goliath with a sling.

Instead, it is what Khirbet Qeiyafa has revealed about David’s reign, about the emergence of ancient Israel, and, by extension, about the historical accuracy of the Bible itself.

For the past 20 years, a battle has been waged with spades and scientific tracts over just how mighty David and the Israelites were. A string of archaeologists and Bible scholars, building on critical scholarship from the 1970s and ’80s, has argued that David and his son Solomon were the product of a literary tradition that at best exaggerated their rule and perhaps fabricated their existence altogether.

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For some, the finds at Qeiyafa have tilted the evidence against such skeptical views of the Bible. Garfinkel says his work here bolsters the argument for a regional government at the time of David – with fortified cities, central taxation, international trade, and distinct religious traditions in the Judean hills. He says it refutes the portrayal by other scholars of an agrarian society in which David was nothing more than a “Bedouin sheikh in a tent.”

“Before us, there was no evidence of a kingdom of Judah in the 10th century [BC],” says Garfinkel. “And we have changed the picture.”

But critics question his methods on the ground and his interpretations in scholarly journals.

The dispute transcends the simple meaning of ancient inscriptions found at Qeiyafa, or the accuracy of carbon-dating tests on olive pits. It highlights the whole dynamic between archaeology and the Bible – whether science can, in fact, help authenticate the Scriptures.

“If you are in the trenches of what’s going on today, the battle for Qeiyafa looks very important,” says Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University and one of Garfinkel’s most prominent critics. “But if you are zooming out, you see that all this is another phase in a very long battle for the question of the historicity of the biblical text, for understanding the nature of the Bible, for understanding the cultural meaning of the Bible.”

Bryant continues her article by providing an extensive discussion on the controversy between those archaeologists who believe that archeology has much to contribute in demonstrating the historicity of the biblical narrative and those archaeologists who deny that the Bible contains accurate historical facts…

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Archaeology and the Bible | Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament


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