Kevin McGeough discusses archaeological sources and ancient text
Biblical archaeologists take part in a heated debate when deciding which archaeological sources to use. Should material culture be the sole basis for creating a testable hypothesis? Can an archaeologist create a testable hypothesis from an ancient text, and prove or disprove it with archaeological sources? How about using the Bible as a reference for deciding where to conduct archaeological fieldwork?
In the September/October 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Kevin McGeough* responds to an opinion piece by BAR editor Hershel Shanks,** who suggested that using the Bible as a reference is comparable to any usage of an ancient text to form the basis of a testable hypothesis. Shanks suggested that an archaeologist using the Bible as a reference can still follow proper scientific method by creating a testable hypothesis, and then proving or disproving it through fieldwork. While this seems reasonable, this type of scholarship of often subject to criticism; Shanks considers this is a prejudice against the Bible, stating that these condemnations would not be leveled against the usage of other ancient text.
Kevin McGeough disagrees. He believes that reading a Biblical verse, formulating a testable hypothesis, and then conducting an archaeological excavation to prove or disprove it is an inherently circular process. Kevin McGeough states that this is not a prejudice against using the Bible as a reference; this logic applies to testing the validity of any ancient text. Ancient text should supplement artifactual archaeological sources, because “texts are conscious attempts at communication that historians use to reconstruct the past.” Kevin McGeough argues that “archaeologists use social scientific approaches to try to make sense of the leftover traces and artifacts of ancient cultures. In other words, 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.”
Kevin McGeough goes beyond the discussion of using the Bible as a reference; he broadens the discussion on ancient text to discuss archaeological sources at Bronze Age Ugarit.*** His own research shows that the ancient text and material record tell a very different story of Ugarit’s economy.
Traditional archaeological sources benefit from a complimentary relationship with ancient text, including the Bible. Kevin McGeough writes that “the Bible is an extremely rich resource for scholars of the ancient past. But it needs to be treated as the incredibly complex resource that it is… we need to understand that archaeology and Biblical studies provide different types of information about the past. Instead of using one class of evidence to “prove” or “disprove” another, we should try to understand how the differences and similarities in the evidence can make sense together.”
Read more in Kevin McGeough, “Should Archaeology Be Used as a Source of Testable Hypotheses About the Bible?” as it appears in the September/October 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review in the BAS Library.
In the BAS lecture series DVD Texts and Contexts, familiar texts and historical questions take on new meaning as eminent scholars explore the latest in literary interpretation.
* Kevin McGeough, “Should Archaeology Be Used as a Source of Testable Hypotheses About the Bible?” BAR, September/October 2012.
** Hershel Shanks, First Person: “The Bible as a Source of Testable Hypotheses,” BAR, July/August 2011.
*** Edward L Greenstein, “Texts from Ugarit Solve Biblical Puzzles,” BAR November/December 2010.
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Perhaps, but then there are those like yourself I’m guessing who believe that anyone who has some degree of respect for the biblical histories is somehow incapable of objective reasoning.
There’s notnihg like the relief of finding what you’re looking for.
An artificial problem like what is the first: a chicken or an egg (an ancient text contra an archeological datum: findings). An example of it. Nazareth- only mentioned in NT but not in ex.Josephus works. Did it really exist or it was just a nickname for “Nazareene” (or sth similar) religious sect? Recently-last year?- James Tabor discovered a proof (in Nazareth)it existed in first century C.E., therefore an archeology helped to understand the Bible
What Kevin says makes good sense:
“Instead of using one class of evidence to “prove” or “disprove” another, we should try to understand how the differences and similarities in the evidence can make sense together.”
Especially since we’ve accepted by faith that the Bible is indeed the Word of God, and so many times the Science of archaeology has consistently proven the Scriptures as accurate records handed down to us in its current form, that is the cannon. In addition, we should also give credit to contemporary and historical writers as well—such as Josephus, and numerous early church fathers who’ve spoken on behalf of the biblical record. In short, the relationship between archaeology and the Bible may not be perfect, but is more so accurate than not. And for all their hard work these scientists of archaeology we owe a debt of gratitude.
According to Christopher [2.] “we must find the artifacts before we can start looking for them.” I LOVE THIS. So … like, since the Bible is really unreliable for ‘finding’ anything … let’s just begin digging HERE in the USA at our various college, university and Bible school campuses. I mean, after all, DAVID’S PALACE could be here, right? And after we find – whatever – we can always dismiss the Bible from here, since it is useless. Think of all the fuel and money and time we could save just by staying home!
You have to treat the Bible as a “guidebook”, prepared by people reporting on events from a while back that weren’t necessarily accurately reported in the first place.
Meantime, you suffer from the “Everybody Knows It” curse – everybody knows where Jerusalem is, so nobody bothers to write down the exact location.
(My favorite is “Well, you go down this road for a half-mile, and then turn left at the house that used to be painted blue”….)
The one area where the Bible can make its most important contribution to archaeology is chronology. The Bible’s chronology, when properly understood, is precise, with many crosschecks that provide accuracy. The main problem with traditional Bible chronologies, such as the chronology for the Hebrew kings proposed by Edwin Thiele and generally accepted by traditional scholars, including archaeologists, is that is forces the biblical text to fit the Assyrian chronology developed from artifacts, namely the tablets that comprise the Assyrian Eponym Canon. The AEC provides mention of the Bur-Sagale eclipse in the 10th year of Ashur-dan III, which was identified as the year 763 BCE by Sir Henry Rawlinson. However, he chose the wrong eclipse. He should have picked the one in 791 BCE instead. When that adjustment is made to the Assyrian chronology, and when the biblical data for the Hebrew kings is correctly interpreted, the two chronologies synchronize nicely, and the Hebrew chronology synchronizes exactly with Egyptian chronology (that is, the Egyptian chronology proposed by Ken Kitchen). As I show in my book, Sacred Chronology of the Hebrew Kings, when both the text and the artifacts are interpreted correctly, they complement one another and lead to greater understanding of both.
…and KM has therefore proven that an initial hypothesis, even one based only upon material culture is testable.
This is complete blather. If KM observes that “ancient text and material record tell a very different story” then he has simply falsified/verified an initial hypothesis he hasn’t demonstrated any circular reasoning. According to KM we must find the artifacts before we can start looking for them.
What is silly to me is the tendency to disregard the Bible as a resource for locating sites to survey and dig in the first place. I mean, there is an obvious reason that no one is searching for David’d palace in Germany. Right? We obviously USE the Bible to reasonably locate large geographic sites – such as tel Jericho. Not gonna go looking for that over in Jordan are we? No. We DO use the Bible as a reference. Everyone in the discipline known as biblical archaeology uses or has referred to the Bible. It is silly to dismiss the very book that got all of our attention in the first place. Hershel? I agree with you!