Another Turn of the Spade in Jerusalem

Archaeology1A friend of mine recently stated that very few Christians objectively study the Bible.  My response was that few people study the Bible objectively, period.  Well the truth is that no one truly and purely objectively studies anything. That's not to say that you don't try to do so, but rather that everyone is standing somewhere.  And where you stand gives you a starting perspective that shapes your understanding.  This is unavoidable. So it is with Scripture.  If you have already worked your way to a position holding to the Bible as the words of God, then you will tend to give it the benefit of the doubt, assume it's historicity, and trust it as a reliable source for life, teaching, and the truth about God and His people.  However, if you do not hold to the Bible as the words of God but merely as the words of ancient writers, then you will tend to see it as merely as a collection of ancient religious, historical, and poetical documents that get it right sometimes and get it wrong sometimes.  Your attitude towards God, politics, and religion will likely determine your place on that spectrum of how right or wrong you see the Bible to be.

This issue affects the work of Palestinian archaeology as well (used to be called "Biblical" archaeology - i.e. archaeology in the lands of the events of the Bible).  Palestinian archaeology is heavily affected by individual archaeologist's views.  The key factor is how an archaeologist views the historical reliability of the Old Testament.  Can it or can it not be used as an accurate source for the history of ancient Israel?  Minimalists hold that the Bible is basically untrustworthy as a source and anything in the Bible is to be held in suspicion until proved by outside evidence (physical artifacts, other records/source, etc.).  Maximalists hold that the Bible is basically trustworthy as a source and the Bible is to be given the benefit of the doubt and it should be used along with other evidence to give a fuller picture of the history of ancient Israel.

Over the past century and a half, Palestinian archaeology has slowly and steadily piled up a great amount of physical and documentary data for the study of the history of ancient Israel.  This effort overturned many skeptical arguments about the historicity of the Old Testament.  Most of these challenges concern the dating or geographic location of evidence (such as the ancient cities of Jericho and Ai) or the lack of physical evidence of events or peoples described in the Old Testament.  One instance of this is the Hittittes thought by many to be mythical since for centuries the only evidence of their existence was in the Old Testament.  In the late 1880's this began to be overturned by physical evidence discovered in Kulteppe and Tell el-Armana, and later by discovery of a whole city.  Thus, it seems to many of us that all this work has generally shown the Old Testament to be accurate, though there are several significant challenges--that with each turn of the spade in Palestine another Bible story is dug up and brought to life.

One of the current cheif disputes in Palestinian archeology is over the existence of one of the foundational figures of Israel, King David.  A number of archaeologists doubt the very existence of David, or if he existed believe him to have been a minor cheiftain.  Again the main argument for their case is the absence of evidence for David or his kingdom.  Well, it appears that this too is slowly being overturned, and may in time be shown to be just another skeptical stopgap.

I commend to you this article, "Reclaiming Biblical Jerusalem" by Rachel Ginsberg, describing the work of Eilat Mazar, who claims to have found walls of King David's palace, as well as its implications and consequences both for archaeology and even politics.  The significance of this discovery, if held up, can hardly be overstated.  Read it and ponder.  It also mentions by sidenote some sidelined evidence of another Old Testament event, the conquest of Palestine by Joshua, that is generally viewed skeptically for the same reason, absence of evidence (other than the OT).  Also, it needs to be remembered here that the issue of the historicity of the Old Testament affects not one, but three different religions all of which have continuing claims upon Jerusalem and consequently affect the contemporary politics of Jerusalem, Israel and the Middle East.

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