QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Biblical Archaeology FAQ
By Ashley Echard
CBN Staff Writer
What is Biblical Archaeology?
The name refers to a special focus of archaeology within a certain location at a certain point in time. The fact that it’s Biblical Archaeology means that excavations are typically limited to areas mentioned in the Bible; places such as modern-day Israel, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, etc. The time period includes, but is not limited to, 1,400 BCE (late Bronze Age) through the first century BCE. The aim of Biblical Archaeology is to find physical evidence that would shed light on people, places, events, and customs described in the Bible.
Why does Biblical Archaeology matter?
Biblical Archaeology brings to life the people, places, events, and customs described in the Bible. Through scientific process, trained professionals seek out and carefully uncover sites which might help to further explain portions of Scripture, or events and customs described in Scripture which may seem unclear. The discipline matters because these professionals thoroughly and seriously approach the Bible, and answer questions that other academics refuse to look into.
In what ways does Biblical Archaeology support the authenticity of the Bible?
Archaeology provides material evidence for biblical stories, characters, and locations. The authenticity of the Bible is typically addressed on smaller levels rather than tackling the entire book. For example, complete sites such as Qumran (a scribal community of conservative Jews at the Dead Sea) have helped clarify how Scripture was written down and copied. Biblical characters such as King David have been mentioned on non-biblical tablet fragments like the Tel Dan Stele.
Some excavations have uncovered texts that line up with cultural ideas presented in the Bible. The Amarna Letters, Ebla Tablets, and Lachish Letters tell about law codes, international correspondence, and the political climate in the lands of the Bible and surrounding Israel at many points of time. Other sites have uncovered temples, shrines, and high places, and cultic artifacts dedicated YHWH and other deities. Because the biblical characters were active in the world around them, and because the Bible itself mentions outside cultural influence on the Israelites, excavations and artifacts from nearby regions and similar time periods also help to shed light on the world the Bible took place in.
Have any graves of people from the Bible ever been found?
Determining who a grave belongs to can be a complicated and lengthy process. People in the ancient world did not label burials the same way we do today. For example, if an archaeologist came upon a burial marked “David 920 BCE,” we’d be pretty sure it was a hoax. To be able to say with absolute certainty that a grave belonged to a biblical character, it would need extensive testing, especially DNA--which of course there is no master or descendant sample with which to match it. What can be said for sure is that types of burials common to the ancient world have been found. Depending on the time frame and area, we can then match up which type would have likely been used by biblical characters, and then search for evidence of those people. For example, there are many traditions and claims about the tomb Jesus was buried in. While the exact tomb of Jesus is still being debated, archaeologists have discovered many tombs from the 1st century CE in Israel that also have a stone that should be rolled in front to seal it.
Have archaeologists ever found any buildings or structures mentioned in Scripture?
Yes, there have been many structures and locations mentioned in scripture which have been excavated. Biblical locations such as Megiddo, Arad, Bethel, Ramah, Dan, Bethsaida, Caesarea, Jericho, and others are open to the public to visit and explore. Structures which have been found include the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the eastern gate at Dan, the Assyrian siege ramps of Lachish, Hezekiah’s Wall in Jerusalem, the Herodium (Herod’s Palace), and so many more. The more Biblical archaeologists work, more is uncovered, restored, and available for everyone to see.
What is the most important discovery in the history of Biblical Archaeology?
Many discoveries have been labeled as the most important find in the exploration of biblical history. The Tel Dan stele is the first extra-biblical mention of “the house of David”--extremely important for an understanding that King David’s reign was recognized outside of Israel. Some would say that discovering Hezekiah’s Wall in Jerusalem is the most important because it supports Scripture’s account of the invasion preparation described in II Chronicles and II Kings. Others would propose that the Amarna Letters or the Ebla Texts would be at the top of the list, as they document correspondence by major powers in the ancient world with and about biblical cities, in addition to including descriptions of culture in Israel. Each discovery teaches us more about the biblical world and every piece of evidence plays an important role in unfolding the complexities of Scripture.
Did Noah’s Ark really exist?
Archaeologists have excavated texts from the ancient Near East (aka the Middle East) that tell about the world’s creation and development. They’ve found that within these stories, most major cultures in the ancient world each have a story of a catastrophic, world-wide flood. In the past, scholars approached research with the intent to find the “original” flood story. Today the focus has changed, and scholars now view the strong similarities between the flood stories of the Sumerians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Israelites, etc as indicators that there was likely a real flood, instead of one shared flood story. The story of Noah gains even more credibility because the narrative’s events are supported by multiple non-biblical texts that stand in agreement with the biblical account of a world-wide flood. There have been many claims that Noah’s Ark and Mount Ararat have been found, but no final verdict has been made on whether those claims have enough evidence to be confirmed.
Is the Shroud of Turin actually the burial cloth of Jesus?
The mysterious Shroud of Turin has attracted and confounded scientists, historians, and religious leaders alike. Scripture says that Jesus was wrapped in a linen cloth and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Three days later, the Bible says he was resurrected and the burial cloth was discarded in the tomb. Archaeologists and historians located the earliest records of the Shroud in the 16th century CE. Traditions surrounding the cloth talk of churches and secret groups dedicated to preserving and protecting the holy relic throughout centuries. And while the image on the cloth is strikingly similar to images of Christ, it is the Shroud’s material which has stemmed more controversy. The Shroud was first rigorously examined in the 1970s by a group of American scientists, and at that time they found no signs of forgery--it was declared a mystery. In 1988, samples of the Shroud were subjected to radiocarbon testing and were dated to the Middle Ages. Some scholars support these findings, and others protest that the samples used were not representative of the entire cloth (as some of the Shroud was burned and damaged which effects the dating results). As technology progresses, the bodily image imprinted on the cloth, the blood stains, and fire damage it experienced can be better clarified for a final rule on the Shroud’s authenticity as the burial cloth of Christ.
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