A Complementary Relationship
There has been a great deal of discussion in recent issues of Biblical Archaeology Review about the relationship between archaeology, artifacts, ancient texts and the Bible. In the July/August 2011 BAR, Hershel Shanks suggested that the Bible should be used as a source of testable hypotheses like any other ancient text. He believes that many archaeologists have a bias against the Bible as a historical source. In the September/October 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Kevin McGeough disagrees, stating that the fields are separate; all texts are conscious attempts at communication, whereas archaeological evidence is a scientific examination of ancient cultural traces. He writes that “texts and material culture provide different information about different aspects of ancient life, and while there may be overlap, this overlap should not be assumed.”
In the column “At the Interface of Archaeology and Texts” in the November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Yonatan Adler joins the discussion, stating that “since archaeology and texts tend to report on different types of information, using data conveyed through different types of mechanisms, evidence culled from one field can serve as an independent accounting claim for evidence from the other.” Instead of creating an archaeological hypothesis around texts or separating the evidence into two distinct categories, Adler promotes using one medium to examine and contextualize trends seen in the other.
Adler supports the case with examples from his own research. Excavations at Jewish sites at the end of the first century B.C.E. have uncovered a large number of chalkstone vessels, a uniquely Jewish phenomenon that cannot be explained by resource availability or other functionalist interpretations. Why did the Jews of the period adopt this material culture? At this point, Yonatan Adler goes to the text. Rabbinic literature declares stone vessels immune to ritual impurity, and in this instance, “texts have provided the medium that allow ‘mute’ stones to speak.”
Read “At the Interface of Archaeology and Texts” in the BAS Library as it appears in the November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Shanks, Hershel. “First Person: The Bible as a Source of Testable Hypotheses.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Jul/Aug 2011.
McGeough, Kevin. “Archaeological Views: Should Archaeology Be Used as a Source of Testable Hypotheses About the Bible?.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Sep/Oct 2012, 28, 64.
Adler, Yonatan. “Archaeological Views: At the Interface of Archaeology and Texts.” Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 2012, 26, 74.
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