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2. Historical Development In Archaeology, Based On Wright, Biblical Archaeology

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What Is Archaeology?

Biblical Archaeology is a special arm chair variety of general archaeology. Someone has quipped that it is the study of durable rubbish. The archaeologist’s chief concern is not with methods or pots or weapons alone. His central and absorbing interest is the understanding and exposition of Scripture. The biblical student must be a student of ancient life, and archeology is his aid in recovering the nature of a period long past. We cannot, therefore, assume the knowledge of biblical history is unessential to faith. Biblical theology and biblical archeology must go hand in hand if we are to comprehend the Bible’s meaning. Many facets of biblical teaching cannot be buttressed or enlightened by archaeology, e.g., the resurrection of Christ. So for this reason many will part ways in interpreting the data because of their frame of reference.

Developing Sciences.

William Smith, “Father of English Geology”--1799 stratification of rock.

Principles of Geology (1830) Sir Charles Lyell--uniformitarianism.

Huxley’s Mans Place in Nature (1863); Darwin’s Descent of Man. Criticism of the Bible began here and peaked in the early 1900’s.

Albright moved away from his very liberal mentors and was the pillar in the “biblical archaeology” movement from the 1920’s on.

The idea that no history of Israel can be written and a minimalistic approach to the biblical text comes into play in the last part of the 20th century.

Recovery of Lost Civilizations.

Ideas of the east were poorly preserved by Greek and Latin authors. There was a dim understanding of the east. In the 17th-18th centuries, travelers began to return with reports of ancient cities. The first cuneiform writing was brought to Europe just after 1600.


Napoleon set off for Egypt in 1798 with an army of soldiers and scholars. Description de lEgypt (1809-13) caused Europe to become acquainted with the dazzling empire of Egypt. The Rosetta Stone was discovered by a soldier. It contains hieroglyphics, demotic and Greek and dates from about 195 B.C. The triple text was a decree issued by a king giving exemption to priests from taxes. The Rosetta Stone provided the key to hieroglyphics.ANE#72.


Old Persian had been deciphered but Akkadian was a puzzle. The Behistun Inscription: a steep rock face in Iran bearing a triple text inscription of Darius the Great (522-486 B.C.) in Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian, (see Kramer, The Sumerians, pp. 12ff). Work had been done on trilingual inscription before the Behistun inscription, but through Rawlinson, definitive results came about. Old Persian had been learned from India. Rawlinson copied the first and third texts in 1843-47 (see National Geographic, December, 1950). The inscription was 345 feet above a spring and 100 feet above where man can climb. There was much early skepticism of the decipherment, but proof was given when a recently excavated tablet was copied and sent to four different Assyrian scholars. The translations were substantially the same, and by 1880 all were convinced.

French and British excavators were at work in the Assyrian ruins of Khorsabad and Calah where there were great palaces of Assyrian kings (see atlas). The most important single discovery was the library of Ashurbanipal (669-633 B.C.). Thousands of documents of all sorts had been copied. History, chronological lists, astronomy, math, religion, prayers, cuneiform sign lists, texts in two languages, were among the works. G. Smith discovered an account of the flood epic while working on these.1


Moabite stone--1868--ANE 1 #74.

Work at Byblos--Phoenicians. 1860’s.

Ugarit--alphabet--1930’s--ANE 1 #63.

Lachish letters--1930’s--ANE 1 #80.

Gezer Calendar--ANE 1 #65.

Siloam Inscription--ANE 1 #73.

Megiddo--recent--ANE 1 #181.

Dead Sea Scrolls.

Proto-Sinai alphabet.

Arad Ostraca--BASOR, 197, February, 1970, p. 16ff.

An important publication on the materials found in Palestine is H. Donner and W. Rollig, Kanaanaische und Aramaische Inschriften, Vol. I = Text; Vol. II = Commentary; Vol. III = Glossary.


The New ‘Ain Dara Temple: Closest Solomonic Parallel (1300-740 BC)3

The Tell Dan Stela (Beyt David)

The Pool of Siloam in Jesus’ Time

Jerusalem’s Stepped-Stone Structure (Millo)

Tell Qeyafa with the ancient ostracon

Archaeological Method.

Heinrich Schliemann was an amateur archaeologist who excavated Troy in the 1870’s. He discovered the importance of mounds (see Joshua 11:13; 8:28). It was easy to date monuments, but there are few in Palestine. Flinders Petrie found the clue in pottery in 1890 in the dig at Tell el-Hesi which is perhaps Eglon (ANE 1 #27). In the earlier days excavation was merely a treasure hunt. Now it is highly scientific. See picture of a Tell in Wright, Biblical Archaeology, p. 23, 26. Note the stratigraphic typology. See step trench in Ed Chiera, They Wrote on Clay, p. 34.

Archaeological methods have progressed dramatically, primarily through technology. Pottery sequence continues to be a major dating instrument and stratigraphy is still basic. Laughlin gives a popular and thorough presentation of the modern approach to digging. 4

1Read Pritchard’s account of the Black Obelisk, Archaeology and the Old Testament, p. 139 and his postscript, p. 246.

2The use of Palestine here is not intended to enter the debate of the modern name Israel vis à vis Palestine. This designation was used by the British Mandate after WW I.

3See “Issue 200: Ten Top Discoveries,” BAR 35:4/5 (2009) pp. 74-96.

4John C. H. Laughlin, Archaeology and the Bible.

Related Topics: Archaeology, History

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