The Discipline of Archaeology fits nicely with the world of the Bible. At its root the word archaeology consists of two Greek words: ἀρχαῖος and -λογία Archaeos means, “Ancient” and “ology” is “the study of.” The word Archaeology lexically refers to the study of the ancients. Since the Bible is an ancient book it makes sense for Archaeology to have something to say regarding its claims.
Modern Archaeology developed in Europe in the 19th century. Since then the land of the Bible has been given a growing amount of attention. Why so much attention? The Bible is not only an ancient book, but a detailed historical document. The sixty-six books of the Bible consist of nearly 5,000 locations along with many people, events and cultural details…all of which can be analyzed through Archaeology.
Our Top Ten Discoveries will fall into three main categories.
1. Words of the Bible
Archaeological discoveries can either support or refute the words of the Bible. Has the exact wording of the Bible become corrupted over time? What has archaeology shown regarding the trustworthiness of each word of the Bible? Some of our top ten items will speak into this category.
2. Land of the Bible
Some discoveries will focus on the land of the Bible. Are the cities, rivers, mountains, geographic features mentioned in the Bible accurate? The Bible paints a detailed picture, is the picture accurate? What does our top ten list suggest?
3. World of the Bible
Some of our top ten discoveries will focus on the world of the Bible. Are the political, economic, agricultural and social details mentioned in the Bible accurate? Was a certain king from a certain land really the king at the date suggested from the biblical book? Some of our top ten Discoveries will speak into the accuracy of the World of the Bible.
What makes an archaeological discovery significant?
Primarily, there are two criteria.
The Impact of the Discovery
The first criterion is the impact of the discovery. How has the discovery contributed to our understanding of the Words of the Bible, the Land of the Bible or the World of the Bible? The impact of a discovery is certainly subjective. For this reason some people will disagree with my ranking of the top ten. Furthermore, there have been thousands of biblically significant discoveries. Making a top ten list will obviously mean all but 10 of those thousands of discoveries will be left out.
The second criterion to make an archaeological discovery significant, in addition to impact, is provenance. Provenance is the trump card in archaeology. Provenance, from the French provenir, “to come from”, means the origin, or the source of something, or the history of the ownership or location of an object. If a discovery, no matter how amazing, has a questionable provenance it should be thrown in the garbage (not literally of course, but it should receive no attention). An item with questionable provenance deserves to be guilty until proven innocent. Christians can save themselves a lot of embarrassment by only being interested in discoveries with a reputable history. Provenance, not popularity, must be adhered to in deciding the significance of an archaeological discovery.
Stay away from these three types of people who dislike focusing on the provenance of a discovery:
The Photoshop Hack
The Photoshop Hack thinks he will save or destroy Christianity by his (or his 11-year old nephew’s) less than stellar Photoshop skills. The Photoshop Hack appeals to those who could care less about provenance. They don’t care about the trustworthiness of the story behind the supposed discovery; they’re primarily looking for fanciful evidence to prop up their shaky faith.
An email from a Photoshop Hack recently made its way into my inbox. A man claimed to have discovered a large human skeleton. The skeleton would prove to everyone the existence of giants like Goliath and the Anakim. You can believe in God now…because of my terrible Photoshop skills.
The Indiana Jones Wannabe
Stay away from the Indiana Jones Wannabe. This person is usually a weekend warrior. Why actually get a reputable degree in archaeology when you only need to buy a plane ticket, put on a leather hat and carry a whip?
This person will always be traveling to a secret place. They alone have the treasure map. If you really wanted to go where they went to confirm their discovery, they’d have to kill you after revealing their secret locale. They are always jumping over barbed-wired fences, eluding local law enforcement and making the greatest of all discoveries. The Indiana Jones Wannabe is more sophisticated than the Photoshop Hack, but the Wannabe can still be equally terrible at Photoshop.
The Wannabe does not like provenance. His word, video and photos should be sufficient. A reputable provenance, unfortunately, is the trump card for any discovery. Sorry Indiana. Scuba diving the Red Sea and secretly climbing Mt. Ararat looking for the ark seem to be favorite missions for the Wannabe. If you get an email from a Wannabe, hit delete not forward.
The Sophisticated Scoundrel
The Sophisticated Scoundrel is the hardest person to spot and the most dangerous of the three. The scoundrel is usually well connected, wealthy, and very knowledgeable in the world of ancient artifacts. Why does the scoundrel exist? The scoundrel loves money and/or fame. The scoundrel is content leading many people astray if it means a full bank account. The recently “discovered” James ossuary is a great example of the Sophisticated Scoundrel.
The scoundrel in this case is a man named Obed Golan. Golan took an already amazing find, a beautiful first century ossuary, and decided to make it infinitely more valuable. An ossuary is basically a small casket. Once a body had fully decomposed people would then take the bones and place them in an ossuary. On October 21, 2002 a press conference was called where it was revealed Golan had “discovered” an ossuary from the first century with the phrase, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” etched on the side. The inscription was amazingly accurate first century Aramaic. The inscription had been weathered. An ossuary valued in the thousands of dollars was now valued in the millions. This would be the greatest New Testament archaeological discovery. The provenance was unknown. Remember, the proper response with an unknown provenance should be guilty until proven innocent.
Obed Golan became greedy and called another press conference in 2003 reporting another amazing inscription discovery regarding King Jehoash. In December 2004, he was indicted with four other defendants and accused of being at the center of an international antiquities forgery ring. Golan is currently the poster child for the Sophisticated Scoundrel.
Our forthcoming Top Ten discoveries are all items of significant impact AND provenance. We will discuss the provenance of every item and why it should be considered a great discovery. Let’s put on our khaki pants and dig in.
What do you consider to be the greatest biblical archeological discoveries?