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The Stairs of the Teachers below the Haram esh-Sharif (traditional Temple Mount). Its discovery by Benjamin Mazar and his associates is consistent with both historical traditions and the biblical record. A BIBARCH™ Photo.

During the nineteenth century interest in biblical archaeology developed in theological schools. Many biblical archaeologists believed the Bible as the word of God to be the foundation of knowledge and the key to understanding the history and archaeology of the Levant. Accordingly early biblical archaeologists looked for physical remains which would confirm the biblical narrative of events and locations in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (18531942), recognizing the basic character of ancient tells, artificial mounds composed primarily of debris, undertook excavation of Tell el-Hesy (Lachish) the first excavation of a tell in the region. Petrie, who recognized the change evident in pottery style through time, saw the importance of pottery and other ceramic material in establishing relative chronology.

In this 1890 excavation Petrie came to recognize the chronological value of such materials and established a limited scale based upon Egyptian antiquities found at the tell. The publication of pottery and other finds from this period contributed an indispensable foundation for the topological-chronological framework utilized in later periods of archaeological research. Advances in excavation methodology and registration of finds enabled improved interpretation of material culture.

Seeking to clarify biblical-historical issues William Foxwell Albright (18911971) undertook excavation of a number of smaller sites. He promoted the comparative study of pottery and stratigraphic observation. While he established the standard for archaeological publication, his principal contribution consisted of the integration of archaeological fieldwork (including surface surveys) with biblical research, historical sources, geography, and general Near Eastern studies. Albright utilized what became known as the Albright-Wright Method (architectural approach) of field excavation which emphasized the wide-scale exposure of complete architectural units. The method draws its name from W. F. Albright and G. E. Wright. Wright excavated Shechem.

During the pre-World War II period professional theologians, with their varied religious motives to excavate, as specialists in Old Testament or New Testament Studies dominated biblical archaeology. Many excavations occurred before 1948 although during the period 19371949 the process came to somewhat of a halt.

After 1948 biblical archaeology, as a field of study, again became quite active with numerous expeditions into Jordan, Syria and Israel. Of particular note is the work of Dame Kathleen Mary Kenyon (19061978) who excavated at Jericho (19521958) and at Jerusalem (19611967). Kenyon introduced the Wheeler-Kenyon earth-layers methodology in field excavation.

The Wheeler-Kenyon Method (earth layers analysis) emphasized the vertical dimension through analysis of earth layers and their contents. Vertical control came through the use of the balks separating grid squares. This method bares the name of the two archaeologists, Sir Mortimer Wheeler (18901976) and Kathleen Kenyon, credited for developing it. Both approaches come from a tradition of archaeology as more of an art than a science.

Benjamin Mazar (19061995) and Yigael Yadin (19171984) provided leadership for Israeli archaeology from Hebrew University. Yadin excavated Megiddo, Hatzor and Masada. Mazar excavated in several places including Jerusalem at the Temple Mount "Ophel." 

Other scholars excavating in Jerusalem included N. Avigad, Y. Shiloh, and Y. Aharoni. Avigad excavated the Jewish Quarter in the "Old City" of Jerusalem. Shiloh excavated the City of David. Aharoni excavated Ramat Rahel. 

Many expeditions flourish at the present time. In Israel alone. according to some estimates, there are over 1,500 excavations a year. It is fair to say that biblical archaeology began in the nineteenth century as part of theology and ended the twentieth century abandoning theology. In fact even the biblical in biblical archaeology has been abandoned by many, except for a few theology schools and Bible colleges, in favor of the secularized multicultural slant of Near Eastern Archaeology (a regional approach).


Page last edited: 02/09/09 10:19 AM


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