Digging into The Past

With Ferrell Jenkins

The Value of Archaeology

Archaeology is of great value to the Bible Student. MacRae suggests four reasons why it is important: (1) General Corroboration; (2) Special Corroboration; (3) Biblical Interpretation; and (4) Help in the Study of Derivation.

General Corroboration

Archaeology provides the general cultural background of the history of the Bible. The Bible does not pretend to be a complete record of the life of even one man or people. Even when we have several chapters devoted to Abraham, Joseph, Moses or Paul, we recognize that much that did not necessarily relate to the Divine plan of redemption is left untold. Until a century or so ago the only information available regarding ancient civilizations was the Bible and the classical writings of, the Greco-Roman world. Today it is different. Wiseman says that there are "more than twenty-five thousand sites, only a few score of which have been excavated, and almost a million written documents, many unpublished, are the primary sources from which 'the manners and customs, language and history, peoples and places of the ancient Near East are being revealed." On the basis of this evidence he says "it is now possible to paint a picture of Old Testament times on a canvas which a hundred years ago was almost a blank."'

The Bible furnishes us with a character; archaeology furnishes the cultural background in which he lived. It says that these persons were not figments of overzealous imaginations, but real people. Pritchard points out that "Archaeology constantly reminds us that amid the debris of the past, love, hate, blame, disappointment, joy, kindness, cruelty - the whole range of human emotions once flourished." 2 The sketchy lives of characters described in the Bible are seen to fit into the general historical period in which the Bible places them. Glueck even calls Middle Bronze I (ca. 2100 to 1900 B. C.) "The Age of Abraham." He argues that the association that Abraham had with the cities of the plain (Gen. 14) and areas of the Negeb are only meaningful in this period of time.

The customs of ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine provide us with the information to make meaningful interpretations of many historical allusions in the Bible. A study of Canaanite religion, as it has been made known by the Ras Shamra texts, explains why God ordered the Israelites to drive them out. The problems faced by the Israelites, when they failed to do God's bidding, can clearly be seen.

Archaeology is a resurrection of forgotten people. The Sumerians, Hittites, Horites, Arnorites, Armaeans, and Canaanites are no longer a part of the forgotten past.

The Israelites never developed a consecutive chronology. Who has not wished for more information as he waded through the books of Kings and Chronicles? Fortunately, the nations about Israel (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon) did use consecutive dating. By the Israelite contact with these people we are able to come up with our B. C. dates for Old Testament events and persons. This is a value of archaeology that many of us use without being aware of its source.

Specific Corroboration

Specific information regarding particular statements of the Bible has been provided by archaeology. "Many a Biblical statement which has previously been considered to be erroneous or even impossible has thus been shown to be precisely in accord with historic fact."3 Archaeology has helped in locating Biblical sites, and this impresses upon us the need for up-to-date maps of the Bible World. Many important examples of special corroboration will subsequently be discussed.

Biblical Interpretation

Whenever archaeology leads us to a better understanding of specific situations of the past, it is valuable to us. Material objects used in Biblical times have been excavated anti can be seen by us, at least in photographs. Many words, that previously had been obscure due to their limited usage, are now made clearer.

Historical Trustworthiness of the Bible

Archaeology has done a great deal to correct the impression that Biblical history was of doubtful trustworthiness in many places. The negative higher criticism of the last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century developed the Wellhausen theory or the Documentary Hypothesis. This took miracles and prophecy out of the Bible; the Old Testament was no longer a trustworthy book, hut a late compilation of earlier confusing and often contradictory accounts. Primarily, as a result of archaeology these theories are now rejected by the scholarly world. I must hasten to add that many professors and pseudo-intellectuals still parrot them just as they do the dozens or even hundreds of "vestigial" organs in man! But informed People know better.

Concerning the Bible, Albright says "Thanks to modern research we now recognize its substantial historicity. The narratives of the patriarchs, of Moses and the exodus, of the conquest of Canaan, of the judges, the monarchy, exile and restoration have all been confirmed and illustrated to an extent that I should have thought impossible forty years ago."4 In another place he admits that his own thinking has participated in this change, documenting it by reference to his own books from 1932 to 1968. 5

The Study of Derivation

Whereas the critics once said that the Bible was written long after the event and could not be relied upon as history, they now frequently allege that the religious and cultural ideas of the Bible were taken over from the ideas and attitudes of heathenism. This we often hear of the Babylonian accounts or Creation and the Flood. We are told that John and Jesus were members of the Qumran sect and that Paul borrowed from the mystery religions of his day. ''Now that archaeology has made available tremendous amounts of material on these subjects, it is possible to examine such allegations specifically and exactly, and to see just how much real evidence there is for or against them." 6


The values of Biblical archaeology will become more apparent to us as we study specific instances of its helpfulness.


1D. J. Wiseman, Illustrations from Biblical Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdemans Pub. Co., (1958), p. 5.

2James H. Pritchard, "The Adventure of Rediscovery," Every day Life in Bible Times (Washington: National Geographic Society, 1967) p.33.

3Allan A. MacRae, Biblical Archaeology (Marshallton, Del.: The National Foundation for Christian Education, 1967), p. 2.

4W. F. Albright: "Return to Biblical Theology," The Christian Century, LXXV (Nov. 19, 1958), 1329.

5W. F. Albright, "Archaeology Discovery and the Scriptures." Christianity Today, III (June 21, 1968), 3.

6MacRae, 3.

February 1969