Noah's Ark found! The Garden of Eden has been located! Jesus' Lost Tomb has been unearthed! Stories like this crop up every year or so, stick around long enough to spawn breathless media attention and maybe a TV special, and then fade from the headlines before they can be subjected to serious scholarly scrutiny. I'm not the only one who finds this sort of melodramatic, unscholarly Biblical archaeology frustrating: in a Boston Globe article, archaeologist Eric Cline says it's time to reclaim Biblical archaeology from the crackpots, frauds, and ideologues.
I think he's on to something. Cline argues that overhyped, poorly-researched finds and excavations don't provide us with any meaningful insights into Biblical history, and just serve to make Biblical archaeology (and Christians who race to embrace or denounce these "discoveries") look silly. And they divert attention from real discoveries:
...we don't need to go looking for Noah's Ark to find confirmation of details found in the Bible. During the past century or so, archeologists have found the first mention of Israel outside the Bible, in an Egyptian inscription carved by the Pharaoh Merneptah in the year 1207 BC. They have found mentions of Israelite kings, including Omri, Ahab, and Jehu, in neo-Assyrian inscriptions from the early first millennium BC. And they have found, most recently, a mention of the House of David in an inscription from northern Israel dating to the ninth century BC. These are conclusive pieces of evidence that these people and places once existed and that at least parts of the Bible are historically accurate. Perhaps none of these is as attention-getting as finding Noah's Ark, but they serve to deepen our understanding of, and appreciation for, the Bible.
There are risks in embracing serious, scholarly Biblical archaeology--for one thing, plenty of people want to disprove the Bible as much as Christians want to prove it; and sometimes the evidence (or lack thereof) can challenge our beliefs. But that's why it's all the more important to make sure we support professional, scientific archaeology rather than embrace spectacular claims simply because we want them to be true. (And yes, critics of Christianity ought to hold themselves to the same standards.)
My wife is working on her doctorate in Near Eastern archaeology, so I asked her for some useful links to some online Biblical archaeology resources that don't fall into the sensationalism trap. Here's a few she unearthed; feel free to add your own suggestions in the comment section below:
- The Megiddo excavation website -- Megiddo (site of the Biblical "Armageddon") is a veritable treasure-trove of information about ancient cultures in and around Palestine, and has been under excavation for decades.
- Archaeology News -- daily archaeology news from around the world (not just Biblical archaeology).
- The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has a huge collection of artifacts and information about cultures from the Biblical world. The website has some nifty virtual tours of the museum galleries.
- The Louvre website has some good info about their extensive Near Eastern antiquities collections.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art website has some beautiful photos of art from the ancient Near East.
I'm sure there are many more good sites out there. If you know of any, please mention them below!