Why is Biblical archeology especially challenging?
There is a great deal of interest in Biblical archeology. This also means that there is a great demand for Biblical artifacts. Many of the countries where these are found are quite poor and the temptation for locals living in poverty to loot sites of interest is quite strong. Unfortunately these finds are “unprovenanced” meaning they have not been recovered in a scientific way. These unprovenanced finds usually end up on the lucrative artifacts market but they lack important evidence on where they were found or in what context. So a great deal of information is lost. Further, looting greatly damages archeological sites that have yet to be properly excavated.
Since the Biblical artifacts market is so lucrative, fraud is not unheard of. Some frauds are easy to spot and are relatively harmless. Visitors to the old city of Jerusalem are familiar with groups of young children selling “real Bible coins” that are fairly obvious forgeries. Other frauds are done with skill and have proven devilishly hard to detect.
Finally, the ugly reach of regional politics has made archeology, especially in the state of Israel and the areas under the Palestinian Authority, rife with controversy. (This blog is non-political and does not take a position as to who “owns” Israel/Palestine.) Some Israelis have used archeological finds to strengthen their claims of ownership of an area such as Jerusalem. As a consequence, some Palestinians have taken to denying that there was ever a Jewish presence in Jerusalem in the first place, or that there was ever a Jewish temple there.
Is the Bible proved true by archeology?
The Bible does not need to be proven by archeology. We have abundant evidence for its divine inspiration without it, including its timeless wisdom, its internal harmony, its candor, its true prophecy, its power to change lives and so on. But the Bible has much to say about history, especially regarding the history of Judah and Israel and later, the Christian congregation. Much of what it says is backed up by other ancient sources. In other cases archeology has been able to shine light on Biblical accounts. When that happens, it is always faith strengthening. But we should not expect complete harmony between what the Bible says and the secular (including archeological) record. There are many gaps in the historical/archeological record. And the interpretation of various finds is often controversial. Archeologists, like anyone else, have preconceived notions that can influence how they view and eventually publish their findings. For example, some archeologists have been called “Biblical-minimalists”. They are highly sceptical of Biblical claims and who view much of the Bible as mythological. Other archeologists are sometimes called “Biblical-maximalists” who may not necessarily believe that “All scripture is inspired and beneficial” (2 Tim 3:16), but still take the Bible accounts seriously. The last half century has not been kind to the Biblical-minimalists, as I hope this blog will demonstrate.
Why do you insist on spelling archaeology wrong?
“Archeology” is a perfectly acceptable North American variant spelling of “archaeology”, and I just prefer it.
I’ve heard they’ve found Noah’s Ark?
That would be exciting! But sadly, it is not so. Some intriguing things have been discovered on the slopes of Mount Ararat in Turkey, usually in the form of petrified pieces of what appears to be hewn wood. But nothing has been found that can be definitively tied to Noah’s ark. Other evidence is usually in the form of grainy aerial photographs and unusual geographic features of the mountain. But expeditions to the area have turned up frustratingly little. One spectacular claim that the ark had been discovered back in 2009 received a great deal of media attention but turned out to be an elaborate fraud. Besides, the Bible doesn’t say that Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. It says, “…the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” (Genesis 8:4) They may well be looking in the wrong place! Or the ancient structure may have been dismantled over the centuries, burned or simply decayed till nothing remains.
In short, maintain a normal, healthy level of scepticism regarding spectacular reports that seem to good to be true. These would include:
James Cameron’s “discovery” of the tomb of Jesus and family.
Egyptian chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea.
Or (ugh) badly Photoshopped Nephilim skeletons.