Archaeology and Text

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.”

Yonatan Adler

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.



Related Features in Bible History Daily

Using the Bible as a Reference for a Testable Hypothesis

What Do Archaeologists Do With the Bible?


Read the full articles in the BAS library

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.

Posted in Archaeologists, Biblical Scholars & Works, Inscriptions.

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  • danca says

    ym on single men of 40 old year from Roumanya,city constanta and y study in particularity science -bible archeology.if you want speak or send youre message y wait my privacy e-mail

  • Rose says

    When the purpose of archeology is to validate an ancient text then the discoveries will fall into two categories, those that support the ancient text, and everything else. The discoveries that fall into the ‘everything else’ category are then held up to the text in question and every possibility no matter how unlikely (or just plain off the wall) is considered. If the discovery cannot be harmonized with the text, then it’s cast aside in the hope that eventually it can be reconciled.

    Some ancient texts like those of Herodotus and Josephus are very descriptive and easily harmonized to archeological discoveries. In fact it was the text of Josephus that led to the discovery of the Herodium. Other texts like the Bible are vague in their historical and geographical data. For example we assume the border between Egypt and Israel in the time of Moses and David, but nobody really knows for sure.

    When people base their careers on religious traditions, they may wind up on the wrong side of actuality. There is a path of least resistance when it comes to the Biblical texts. Everybody with an 8th grade education has considered it, and there’s no archeological or Biblical data in dispute. Consider everything we know from the cuneiforms recorded by Paul Alain Beaulieu, and the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Then consider how much modern archeologists really know about ancient Israel’s history.

    Who were the ancient archeologists that wrote the book of Genesis? Where did they get their data? What was the state of archeology when the book of Genesis was written? Where would we find the historical source of a people that came out of Egypt? How they write their history after returning to Egypt many generations later and reading the hieroglyphs?

    You can simply chalk up the differences between the Bible and the cuneiforms/hieroglyphics as being errors in archeology due to the state of archeology when the book of Genesis was written. Maybe some bias mixed in as well 😉

    Chapter eleven in the book of Daniel follows the Behistun Inscription’s king list exactly. To say it’s a future prophesy of Antiochus IV would mean it’s supernatural. Yet it was contemporary with the Behistun inscription, which is a much better fit than Antiochus IV.

    Just my 2 cents,

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