Beware of claims that archaeology disproves—or proves—the Bible is true.
By Christian M.M. Brady | posted 09/24/2003
This is an article I wrote originally for the now defunct (but once very fine) mag re:Generation Quarterly. When it went online in Christianity Today (September 2003) Jim Davila noted it and offered fair criticism of it here and a follow up, with some of my comments, here. I am posting it on Targuman partly in an attempt to bring together my own online contributions, but also because I still think its basic conclusions and assertions are relevant.
There is one portion of my exchange with Jim (a former Tulane faculty member!) that I would like to take up briefly. The first portion is my comment to Jim.
If I may clarify one more point, archaeology does offer challenges, some serious, just not insurmountable from my perspective. Now of course, as I note in the article, if one is predisposed to viewing the biblical account as largely fiction then no amount of archaeological evidence supporting it will validate the Bible. (The same is true of course for those who insist that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God.)
My primary focus in that article was the argument found in popular articles like Lazare’s that state that “archaeology disproves the Bible.” I know of very few colleagues who would go that far.
As to the first paragraph, I’m not sure why we need to think in terms of “surmounting” problems with the Bible unless it’s already part of the agenda that they need to be surmounted. That language makes me wary: my agenda is to try to work out what actually happened in the history of the ancient world and I don’t care one way or another about which sources turn out to be accurate or not about what. I agree that if one is determined to find a specific outcome in advance, the evidence will be made to fit.
My language does indeed sound like an agenda, but I don’t think I have one. I certainly try not to look at the evidence with conclusions already worked out. Instead my contention was/is that archaeological evidence requires just as much interpretation, and often more, than do the texts of the BIble. As with any “text” there can be multiple readings, some more valid than others. On the whole I think the biblical account is as likely as any given scholar’s hypothetical reconstruction. More often than not, however, I think that we do not have enough evidence to either prove or disprove the biblical accounts. That is why I am quite fond of suggesting the Scottish court’s “not proven” ruling might be the most appropriate.