By Dan Warner, Special to the Message
Biblical archaeology has always been a critical tool for the study and understanding of the Bible, primarily because archaeology has been our foremost source of new information.
For the last 150 years, biblical archaeology has continually supplied a rich array of texts and cultural materials that have assisted in the contextualization of the Bible.
This is strategic, since teachers of the Bible are responsible to make sure that what they teach is accurate and true to the biblical text. There are rules for interpreting the Bible.
[img_assist|nid=7133|title=Gezer Dig|desc=Dr. Dan Warner, right, and Dr. Jim Parker take measurements in the ancient water system in Gezer, Israel. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is leading an expedition at the site during the next two summers. Archaeologists hope the dig will help them better understand the Canaanite city of Gezer.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=478]One of the strategic rules is context. Basically this requires knowing what the original writers of scriptures meant and what the hearers of that day understood.
This is basic. How can we know these things? Good question; glad you asked! It’s primarily by knowing the languages of the Bible (Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic) and its historical, social and political context.
This is where biblical archaeology has and continues to contribute greatly.
It should be stated up front that it is not the task of archaeology to prove the Bible. The Bible does not need help. Scripture is self-authenticating; it proves itself.
There are four major areas in which biblical archaeology contributes to our understanding of the Bible.
One, archaeology can confirm the historical accuracy of the Bible. Many examples can be cited, but to mention a few.
Did you know we have a picture of Jehu (10th king of Israel)? He is detailed in an Assyrian relief known as the “Black Obelisk.”
The second register from the top portrays the tribute of a prostrate “Jehu, son of Omni,” a rare reference to an Israelite king in historical records. Its dates to 841 B.C. during the reign of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. Another recent find is known as the “Tel Daniel Inscription” (because it was found at the site of Dan), where for the first time the name of David is mentioned outside of the Bible dating to the 9th Century B.C.
Believe it or not David has been denied as a historical character by many in the scholarly world because there was no reference to him until now.
Second, archaeology illustrates the Bible. For example, in Numbers 13:28, one of the reasons given by the spies that it was impossible to take Canaan was “the cities are fortified and very large.”
We know now exactly what they were talking about. Digging both at Ashkelon and Gezer in the fortifications of the city, we uncovered huge earthen ramparts over 100 feet tall. These ramparts had walls on top of them maybe another 20-30 feet with towers on top of the walls.
Can you imagine what it must have felt like? How can we attack these cities without battering rams or even up-to-date weapons of war?
Third, it illuminates the biblical text. For example, look up the word Philistine.
One of its definitions is “somebody who is regarded as being indifferent to artistic achievements and values.” Well, archaeology has proven this to be totally false; it’s just the opposite. The Philistines, who probably were Greeks, produced some of the most striking pottery of the ancient world, which was coveted by all. They artistically were the Michaelangelos of the ancient world.
Last, archaeology supplements the biblical text. The Bible is not a history book even though it contains it. Many historical events are left out.
An interesting Assyrian text from Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.) mentions Ahab. Did you know he had a large chariotry?
The Bible mentioned Ahab had horses but nothing like this: He supplied 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers in a war against Shalmaneser.
These are just a few examples of how biblical archaeology has contributed greatly to our understanding of the Bible and its world.
Dan Warner Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Old Testament and Archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, occupying the Don and Helen Bryant Chair of Old Testament and Archaeology. He also directs the Center for Archaeological Research at NOBTS.