For Europe the nature of old world archaeology embedded biblical archaeology as a discipline in classical studies and history. The European paradigm, one heavily into descriptive research, generally retains archaeology as part of history leaving "archaeology as anthropology" to the Americas.
Even a cursory review of archaeology books and reports by European writers, particularly the British, demonstrates the predominance of history. To Americans these works often read as pedantic, unnecessarily wordy, and speculative. These writers dwell on historical, time-based interpretations. Biblical archaeology in Europe exists as part of this heritage. In this European tradition, many American biblical archaeologists reside in theology schools or Near Eastern studies departments associating themselves with biblical studies and biblical history history.
As indicated above, most scholars do not believe that the Bible constitutes an inspired historical account. Among them there are out and out modern critical scholars that look upon the Hebrew Scriptures as wholly the work of men void of divine inspiration and at best the product of inventive Jewish minds creating a fictitious history to meet the religious and cultural needs of their day. Second, there are others who believe in the inspiration of the Hebrew Scriptures but only in their spiritual message and details. This second group minimizes Godís inspiration of historical data and circumstances.
For them it is the spiritual message that God inspired and revealed not the historical data. They do not doubt the inspiration of the prophetic books and the Ten Commandments, as delivered by God through Moses, but believe the historical materials are not necessarily accurate. Since they do not view the Bible as an inspired, historical account they need not look for correspondence between the biblical account and the archaeological record. In other words, they believe one should reasonably expect differences between the archaeological record and the biblical account.
Any incongruity due to the chronological placement of a biblical period does not disturb them as they would expect some discrepancies. Therefore, they are willing to make chronological placements only in the light of what they consider objective evidence - meaning artifacts or inscriptions. So, if there appears to be a discrepancy between the biblical account and what the evidence archaeologically suggests, they accept the archaeology and do not worry about it.
Modern critical scholars and liberal scholars deny the historicity of the patriarchs, e.g., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Exodus, and a Conquest of Canaan by Israelites. Critical scholars further argue that Saul, David, and Solomon are also imaginative fictitious characters that actually never existed in fact. This is a little more extreme than most liberal scholars would argue. An up-to-date example of such critical scholarship is The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel by Thomas L. Thompson (Thompson 1999).
Now, if one comes from a different basic paradigm obviously one cannot reason in the same fashion. Those beginning with the belief that the Bible is an inspired account, that God inspired the historical record as much as the spiritual message, must have a correspondence between the biblical and archaeological records. For them the Bible is the inspired Word of God (II Timothy 3:16). Many hold that the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament (the Bible) alone and the Bible in its entirety is the World of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.
They become disturbed, or at least concerned, when the chronological placement of a biblical period reveals some reported discrepancy between the biblical account and the archeological record. In light of such discrepancies they seek a new chronological placement which demonstrates harmony between the biblical account and the archaeological record. This resolution must be the case even if no evidence outside the Bible justifies the new chronological placement.
This appears to place the biblical account as the controlling standard. It is important to understand, however, that what the Bible actually records as historical fact often is an issue in itself. Not everyone reads the same meaning out of scripture. There is bad theology just as there is bad science or bad history. If traditional biblical scholars can restore harmony between the archaeological record and their understanding of the biblical account by reinterpreting the archaeological evidence they do so and justify it simply because they believe the biblical account requires it.
They make their interpretation of the biblical account their absolute standard and organize the archaeological material according to that standard, even if they cannot at the time justify that arrangement by the specific evidence itself. Some, however, are so caught up in their own bias that they cannot admit nor accept that their interpretation of the Bible is mistaken. Examples include various interpretations of the Genesis 1 creation account, the flood of Noah, the Exodus, and the Conquest of Canaan. There are New Testament examples as well such as the place of the Crucifixion and the Tomb of Jesus. Always remember that when you seek to rely on the scriptures for historical information you must exercise great care and meticulous exegesis to avoid eisogesis.
For many years traditional biblical scholars rearranged archaeological findings based on the needs of their read of the Bible. While ridiculed by critical scholars, later archaeological evidence sometimes became available showing their understanding to be correct. Nevertheless, critical scholars feel justified in criticizing evangelicals and others, who believe in the inspiration of the Bible, for rearranging the evidence based alone on their interpretation of the Bible. They consistently point out the bias. The traditionalists readily admit they accept the Bible as correct, that it is their bias, and as men and women of faith do not believe they have any reason to be defensive about their bias. Critical scholars remain unconvinced.
The Biblical Archaeology Review in its March/April 2000 issue (Vol. 26 No. 2) contains three articles (Davies 2000:24, Dever 2000:28, Mazar and Camp 2000:38) that illustrate the state of this debate among biblical archaeologists. The writers are from the critical and liberal camps. In his article William Dever, who certainly is not known as a leading advocate of biblical inspiration, shows the failings of postmodernism in the archaeological endeavor. Absent, of course, was any material from the conservatives. We assume the BAR considers itself above the rhetoric of those traditional biblical scholars for their opinions do not seem to appear in the BAR and they bring little if any new arguments, thinking, or scholarly material to the debate.
The basic problem with the approach of all three groups - critical scholars and their liberal scholar bedfellows as well as the traditionalists - is that they do not practice scientific archaeology. There are fatal flaws in their archaeological methodology, data, and interpretation. What is so remarkable is that as a whole they believe themselves to be objective and factual when their methods, whether literary or archaeological, lie in hermeneutics (see Concepts and Theory) not science.
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