Editors note; Atheist writers have been flooding Web sites with claims that archaeology does not support the Bible, and that most of what is described in the Old Testament did not actually happen.
Dr. Lydia Evdoxiadi Verniory, is a cultural heritage consultant living in Geneva, Switzerland. She is an active archaeologist in the Middle East and lectures on current archaeological research issues. She works for museums, cultural foundations, and tourism organizations. She is a consultant to governments, businesses, foundations, and institutions around the world. We believe that her expertise makes this article very helpful in the area of archaeology and the Bible.
The main purpose of this article is to give an answer to many Christian people who read a bit too much in literature on recent archaeological research and how it disproves the authenticity of the biblical accounts as they relate to places, people, historical events, monuments, inscriptions, and manuscripts. This literature is mostly promoted by archaeologists such as Dr. Willam G. Dever and Dr. Israel Finkelstein, as well as others. It constitutes a very aggressive wave of scholarship which mostly targets lay church/synagogue audiences, and to a large extent university students and professors who are eager to turn to other disciplines to answer practical and theoretical questions. In this article I argue that archaeology is simply a science that proposes multiple explanations to common questions.

In the past year, several Christians have been asking for some clues into what is going on, especially with regard to Dr. Finkelstein’s book and relevant literature. The purpose of this article is to inform Christian communities and individuals who have contact with this literature. A special emphasis is put on the research strategies of such scholarship as well as reasons as to why and how this type of literature is produced from the thought process to the final publication.

The aim is to provide a rough guideline to the Christian reader of all levels, as well as to reassure that even field specialists like myself are sceptical about current theories, their data validity and the questionable use of archaeology to those means. Just about every time I encounter a practicing Christian who has been reading biblical archaeology commentaries this question pops up,“You are an archaeologist of the Middle East, what do you think of the The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Neil Asher Silberman and Israel Finkelstein?” Before the real conversation begins, there is usually a grave introductory statement of the type, “My friend read it, we argued over it, and he/she does not come to church any more.”

With much practical experience in the archaeology of the Middle East, I tend to avoid judgmental discussions of colleagues and I have a policy to make no personal comments. Instead, I prefer to address the questions and concerns more as products of a process, and to report the outcomes and impacts they have on others. This is due to the fact that people’s beliefs, especially those of researchers and scholars, change. We are consciously, and often subconsciously, conditioned by new theories, trends, ideas, and agendas as well as the overall political and religious tone of the times. This is natural and can even be positive for all those who live outside a vacuum.

In the Greek language a scientist, be it an archaeologist or other, is called epistimonas, which means one stands ABOVE a topic — evaluating and working carefully. The discipline of the knowledge of facts is a virtue and a quality in every researcher. I would like to argue that what makes the difference in what kind of archaeologist we are talking about does not depend so much on the knowledge of the subject. Any subject can be learned with enough discipline. What makes an archaeologist who is an active researcher stand out of the crowd is his or her willingness, and courage, to address “issues” and mostly “critical issues.”

In the archaeology of the Middle East, dealing with an issue such as the historicity of the Bible is a very empowering experience. Yet, in most of my personal and professional encounters with scholars who work on these issues, I must say, paradoxically, that such research can begin from weakness. It often stems from internal questions on either the self-value of the researcher or the testing of the validity of a given truth. Strong researchers have a smoother approach. I like to call this point “the critical fork.” Option A tends to present research and research results with a sledge hammer —  “Is it or is it not?” Option B tends to make a point on a map of many points and proposes solutions to current questions — “What are the possibilities?” Critical time and inherent decisions influence the formulation of any research question. That is to say, there are many ways to ask a question, according to one’s belief system and perspectives and this can produce as many results.

I observe lecture audiences of people who are not professional archaeologists and I find that the majority of people actually prefer Option A research. This is natural because when we look upon an “authority” on the matter, we want clear and confident answers. I find it very amusing that type A researchers tend to be males with deep voices, charismatic ways, and a sensitive temperament. They also tend to address lay audiences very often.

Option B researchers, on the other hand, tend to avoid lay audiences. They tend to lack patience because, as a matter of fact, they put considerable work into their analysis, and usually on a level that it cannot be easily conveyed to a lay audience. Therefore they do not see the use of doing so. I am more of the B type of researcher. However, when it comes to the shaking of other people’s belief systems in the name of research, I am more than glad to take a step down — which is quite an elevating experience. The best questions come from lay audiences. Currently, I am evolving into a type C researcher who cares to bridge the gaps in knowledge that are enormous only in our minds.

I will give you some practical advice on surviving with your faith after reading this archaeological literature. First, I would invite you to consider the following reflection which stems from my expertise and experience on issues between the East and the West. Here is a valuable key to understanding not only research on the Bible, archaeology, and the Middle East, but also on how knowledge is formed on certain regions and subjects of the Middle East. In fact, this figures in the course syllabus of a top institute in the world of archaeology on the study of the Middle East:

The growth of western knowledge about the East Mediterranean and the Middle East is closely related to the expansion of western trading and political interests in these regions over the last few centuries. The production of new knowledge — including archaeological and biblical perspectives on the ancient and prehistoric past — has proceeded at an extraordinary pace. To a significant extent, however, this knowledge has been filtered through many old world views. One consequence of this has been the replacement of complex histories of interaction and exchange with overly simplistic views which equate the knowledge of the day with simplified knowledge on very complex issues.
Here are some survival tips for beginners and advanced readers of archaeological research pertaining to the history and archaeology of the Middle East as it relates to the Bible:
  1. Every book represents a point of view on a range of possibilities. The more reluctant the author is to discuss other views the more reluctant you should be to believe the validity of his or her work.

  2. Realize that all research has financial backers. This translates into possible hidden interests and agendas, and subsequent ideological pressure on the researcher and the topic.

  3. Read reviews of such books before buying them on the Internet. Usually a collation of experts and non-experts comment quite efficiently.

  4. Discuss your questions following such readings with others in your religious and community environments. Many times non-experts can read between the lines very well. I submit some work to a dear friend of mine who is a lawyer and to my neighbor who is a therapist. Great insight in both cases.

  5. Bring your questions and issues to your spiritual community and its leaders. Events and lectures can be organized to discuss, exchange ideas, and perhaps take positions.

  6. Invite archaeologist experts in this region of the world from your religious community. They are more apt to understand where your questions are coming from and know how to handle them in an intelligent manner.

In this short article we explored key notions of alternative research strategies for answering questions pertaining to the authenticity of the Bible through the lens of archaeological knowledge in the Middle East. Further, you were informed of the pivotal role of how knowledge has been formulated for studies that concern this area of the world. Last but not least, you were provided with short guidelines to informed reading skills. I would encourage you to persevere in the area of archaeological study for your own growth and enrichment as an accompaniment to your biblical study.

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