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Archaeology, Biblical.

The task of Biblical archaeology is to find out how people in Bible times lived, built their homes, cooked their meals, buried their dead, and worshiped. For answers to these questions the archaeologist looks for a mound or a “tell” in the gen. area where a Biblical city once stood. Some important mounds (e.g., Ugarit and Marl in Syria) were found by chance. Others beckoned because they were sites of such well-known ancient cities as Jerusalem and Jericho. Mounds like Gibeah and Mizpah were chosen for digging because they are conveniently located along the main highway. Soundings were made at other mounds because the surface sherds gave promise of important finds.

A basic unit of 6 natives probes into a mound. The pickman loosens the earth and exposes objects with a short-handled pick. The hoeman scrapes the loosened earth together with a hoe and sifts it for objects. Then he scoops the loosened earth into rubber baskets which 4 basket men carry to the excavation dump.

A trained field supervisor, responsible to the director, is in charge of each unit and cooperates with such other staff members as the photographer, architect, surveyor, and recorder.

The director and staff lay plans before the operation begins. Squares are laid out; measurements are taken; records are kept at strategic points on the mound. The first objective is to note where the surface level stops and a new layer of soil begins (recognized by the softness or hardness of soil, change in color, difference in texture). The potsherds and other objects found above such a level are sorted and kept separate from objects found lower. A change in the stratum may represent a shift in occupation. A hard surface may point to the fact that the floor level of a building has been reached; an effort is then made to find the walls of the building. Walls of mud, brick, or stone may be discovered first; then the floor must be correlated with the walls.

In the digging process any disturbances that occurred between floor levels must be noted. Later settlements often caused objects to shift from level to level. A cistern or a silo may cut directly through 3 or 4 lower levels. Such disturbances not only ruin valuable evidence but may lead the excavator to erroneous conclusions.

Potsherds, often broken into many pieces, are the most important objects to be sorted. On a large scale excavation as many as 100 baskets of potsherds are brought down from the mound daily. The handles, rims, and bases are separated from the body sherds and all are washed. The sorted pottery is laid out on straw mats and arranged for study at the end of the day. The director goes over the finds with the supervisor who guided their removal, notes where they were found, and has them packed and sent to headquarters. A pottery expert can tell within 50 to 100 yrs. to which archaeological age a piece of broken pottery belongs. When such information is correlated with the level or stratum at which it has been found, important conclusions for the hist. of the mound are drawn.

Each supervisor keeps records of the square in which he is working. He makes a top plan daily (diagram of the surface as it looks on each day of operation). Each of the 4 walls (sections) of the square reveals a set of lines representing the floors or occupation levels that have been dug through. The diagram of each section is drawn to scale to show the stratification. All artifacts found are recorded in 3 dimensions, so that a look at the floor plan or section drawing reveals exactly where the object was discovered.

No potsherd or artifact has been found that can be connected with the people of Israel before their entrance into the land of Canaan in the 13th c. BC. The only reference to the Israelites in Egyptian literature is the stela of Merneptah from ca. 1220 BC.

Archaeology shows that the Genesis accounts concur remarkably with evidence noted in Palestine. Archaeological investigation has shown that the Middle Bronze Age (2200–1550 BC) was one of the most significant periods in the hist. of the ancient world, when the massive fortification systems of the Hyksos were built and when horses and chariots were introduced. In Biblical terms this includes the time from the patriarchs to the sojourn in Egypt. Genesis 1–11 fits into this archaeological picture as a summary or review of everything in the ancient world before the Middle Bronze Age, including the great Early Bronze city states of 3000 BC, the protourban settlements of 4000 BC, and the period of the early Neolithic food gatherers and producers around 6000 BC

There are close parallels between the findings of archaeology and the records of the Bible from the 13th c. BC on. Mounds reveal that Palestine was pillaged in the 13th c. BC. It may be reasonably concluded that this was done by the incoming Israelites. Remains of Adamah and Zarethan, which the Bible mentions in connection with the crossing of the Jordan, have been found 18 and 30 mi. N of Jericho (Jos 3:16). These cities were assoc. with the production of bronze vessels for Solomon's temple (1 K 7:45–46). Recent excavations at Zarethan and Succoth show that bronze ware was made there.

Help for understanding the time of the Judges has been unearthed by archaeology. Excavations at Shechem have uncovered the temple of Baal-berith (Ju 9:4) and shed light on the oak tree and the great stone (Jos 24:26). Operations at Taanach have called attention to a violent destruction there during the 12th c. This helps us understand Deborah's claim that in her fight with the kings of Canaan at Taanach they obtained no spoils of silver (Ju 5:19). The rise of the sea powers put the Philistines into the advantageous position of maintaining a monopoly on iron, thus putting the Israelites at a disadvantage in defending themselves (1 S 13:19–20).

Megiddo and Hazor have shed light on the age of Solomon (cf. 1 K 9:15, 19). That Solomon converted Megiddo into a great chariot center is indicated by the complex of stables from his time found there. At Hazor a casemate wall and a city gate from the 10th c. show that Solomon strengthened the city as a defense for the Plain of Huleh.

Tirzah and Samaria (capitals of N Kingdom) have been excavated. Evidence of a destructive fire in the palace at Tirzah may point to Zimri, who took his own life rather than surrender to Omri (1 K 16:18). Omri probably chose to move his capital from Tirzah to Samaria, because the former had no outlet to the W and to commercial enterprises of the Medit. world (1 K 16:23–24). Excavations revealed that Omri and Ahab built a double wall around the strategic hill of Samaria; the wall explains why it took besiegers 3 yrs. to force Samaria to surrender (2 K 17:5–6).

Perhaps the best preserved of all important antiquities in Jerusalem is Hezekiah's tunnel (2 K 20:20). Ca. 1750 ft. long, built to provide water for Jerusalem in a siege, it leads from the Gihon spring to the pool of Siloam. The Siloam inscription was found on its walls. Recent digging in Jerusalem has confirmed the view that an earlier vertical shaft leading upward from the Gihon spring into the city was the passage that gave Joab access to the inner city to open the gates for David and his army (2 Sm 5:6–8).

Archaeological method has been improved and refined during the 20th c. The school established by W. F. Albright has shown that archaeology provides effective control over hypotheses of hist. and literary criticism and provides an excellent background for Bible study.

See also Geography, Christian.

W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (Middlesex, 1949); K. Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land (London, 1960); G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology, rev. and enl. ed. (Philadelphia, 1963); H. J. Franken and C. A. Franken-Battershill, A Primer of Old Testament Archaeology (Leiden, 1963); L. H. Grollenberg, Atlas of the Bible, tr. and ed. J. Reid and H. Rowley (New York, 1956); R. E. M. Wheeler, Archaeology from the Earth (New York, 1954); A. G. Barrois, Manuel d' archéologie biblique, 2 vols. (Paris, 1939, 1953); Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. J. B. Pritchard (Princeton, 1950); The Biblical Archaeologist, pub. by the Am. Schools of Oriental Research, New Haven, Connecticut AvRS

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
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Content Reproduced with Permission

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