Bible, Archaeology, and the Social Sciences
The Next Generation
Compared to the venerable discipline of biblical interpretation, which has been practiced for thousands of years, biblical archaeology is a relative newborn, only about eighty years old. Yet it offers fresh perspectives on the Bible, producing new information on virtually a daily basis and providing the realia of daily life that are often missing from the biblical text. Moreover, archaeology gives us evidence in the equivalent of an unedited form, so that in the best of cases we can determine the date and location of archaeological finds—a standard that is largely elusive for specific passages of the Bible.
Archaeologists bring methods and questions arising from the social sciences, including history, architecture, and anthropology, as well as, increasingly, the hard sciences to the study of ancient Israel. Taking a multidisciplinary approach, they also utilize written evidence, including the Bible, to elucidate material remains. Most American archaeologists do not dismiss the biblical text as ahistorical or unreliable; rather, they view it as an artifact with a long history that should be interpreted just as we would any other “heirloom” that has been preserved and reworked over time.
The first scientific excavations in the territory of ancient Israel were conducted by Sir William Flinders Petrie more than a hundred years ago. He tried to understand the nature of archaeological deposits and to excavate accordingly; he also articulated the principles of interpretation. Petrie's