Thoughts on Biblical Archaeology

by Susan Miller       May 30, 2016

I’ve love archaeology for most of my life. I first discovered this love when I was 10 and on my very first dig at a small Big Sandy period site in western Kentucky. From that point on, I knew I wanted to continue studying archaeology and digging. While knee problems have kept from excavating all that much (a few more seasons at that site and another with the same archaeologist, and some CRM work in Florida before my second knee surgery), I was able to complete two degrees in archaeology and Egyptology.

When studying archaeology, something that stands out is how some of the earlier archaeologists conducted their digs in ways that cringe-worthy for current archaeologists. For example, Heinrich Schliemann decided that Troy was at a certain location, so he dug there with the absolute conviction that Homer’s Troy was there and he dug all the way to the bottom stratum because he just knew Homer’s Troy would be the earliest occupation level at the site. There is debate over whether that site is the location of Homeric Troy, but what is accepted is that Schliemann destroyed the later occupation sites and that the earliest stratum was likely not the correct one.

Now, as archaeologists are formally trained, such mistakes are less likely. Archaeologists do not go to sites saying that they will definitely find x or y, but they investigate a site and see what the evidence tells them about it.

There is, however, one branch of archaeology that still attracts amateurs in the same vein as Schliemann, where people say they will to site x and absolutely will find y and then set to digging. Of course, their conclusions then match what they said they’d find, whether the evidence actually warrants such conclusions or not.

The branch of archaeology I speak of is, of course, biblical archaeology. Now, there are very professional biblical archaeologists who do follow proper archaeological methods. I studied under one such archaeologist who has a site in Jezreel, in fact. But there are others who do not have archaeological training and instead claim to have found x or y when there is no actual archaeological proof. Ron Wyatt was a well-known pseudo-archaeologist of that ilk, who claimed to have found Noah’s ark, chariot wheels in the Red Sea as proof of the Exodus, etc. While he was sincere in his beliefs, the evidence did not match his claims.

In the case of someone like Schliemann, yes damage was done but proper archaeologists have minimised the damage. With those like Wyatt, though, the damage seems more far-reaching to me. Perhaps I’m being sensitive, but I feel such claims damage the credibility of the archaeology at the site, but of Christianity. When such claims are made, they receive much media attention. When these claims are shown to be spurious, there are those who then think all Christians ignore what the evidence shows. I understand why Wyatt and others latch onto these claims – they want to prove that their faith is true, that the Bible is historically accurate. What they accomplish is the opposite.

If they knew about the actual progress of biblical archaeology, they’d know they needn’t latch on to dubious claims. While proper archaeologists aren’t going on their digs with the intent of proving this or that, the evidence that they do find often corresponds well with the biblical texts. For example, King Hezekiah’s seal has been found, confirming his existence.

I love archaeology, and I love my faith. Perhaps that is why I’m so adamant that any claims of discoveries in the world of biblical archaeology be verified as much as possible. Even when there are real discoveries made, the media has ah abit of twisting the discoveries into something they aren’t. A fairly good site to look at is the Biblical Archaeology Society’s site, which tries to give the actual evidence and not sensationalist claims. It’s a good place to get biblical archaeology news without all the sensationalist claims or pseudo-archaeology out there. 

Susan Miller

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Susan Miller

Susan grew up Southern Baptist before entering the Catholic Church as an adult. She earned her BA in Archaeology, and then taught third grade in the inner city before receiving a Master's in Egyptology. At that time she felt called in a different direction and elected to be a stay-at-home mum whilst also teaching the Billings Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning in her spare time. Now Susan enjoys reading, knitting, video games, theological discussion, and homeschooling. She lives in Florida with her husband, Bart, and four children.

See more articles by Susan Miller