Many people think of biblical archaeology as being the archaeology of Palestine.
Actually biblical archaeology includes the archaeology of the Near East, which
includes Egypt, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Jordan, and modern Israel. The history of biblical archaeology covers approximately the past 200 years. Biblical archaeology began in Egypt by Napoleon in about 1800 during his Egyptian expedition. In the early years, biblical archaeologists were more treasure hunters than archaeologists and were mainly concerned with visible ruins. Biblical archaeology has now evolved to a discipline dominated by modern technology such as computer analysis and ground penetrating radar. Almost all archaeology projects today use a multidisciplinary approach using specialists such as botanists, geologists, and zoologists to help analyze artifacts.
The beginning of archaeology in Palestine was by Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, in 1838, riding horse back across Palestine identifying ancient sites using the Bible as their guide.. They were successful in providing a description of Palestine’s geography and topography as well as identifying many biblical sites and ruins, which still stand today. During the later part of the 19nth century there were several societies established for the investigation of the ancient Near East. The first of these was the Palestine Exploration Fund (British). The archaeological work of these societies continued to be surveys, although there were some projects which included excavation work in this period. The major figures in the period were Charles Wilson and Charles Warren. Both were involved in early excavations in Jerusalem.
Modern biblical archaeology has three major periods; (1) pre World War I, (2) the inter war period, and (3) the post 1948 period. The Pre WWI period had its beginning in 1890 with J. William Petrie, who was the first person to apply the concept called stratigraphy to archaeology in Palestine. The first site where the concept was used was Tell el-Hesi. Petrie understood the nature of the ancient tells and the importance of the pottery to establish chronology. After Petrie’s initial use of this method, many archaeologists began using it. During this period there were serious attempts to systematically dig, record, and publish several archaeological sites in Palestine. Major sites were Gezer, Samaria, Megiddo, and the City of David in Jerusalem.
The period between the wars was an exciting period for archaeology in Palestine and is known as the “Golden Age of Biblical Archaeology.” During this period archaeology in Palestine moved toward a more systematic scientific type of archaeology. The first major figure in this period was C. S. Fisher. He was noted for the development of systematic excavation techniques and a detailed recording system. The most dominant archaeologist of this period was William F. Albright. Albright promoted comparative study of pottery and stratigraphy analysis. His chronology of the Bronze and Iron Ages, which he ascertained through his excavation at Tell Beit Mirsim, is still the standard today. Another of his major contributions was in integrating archaeological fieldwork with biblical research, historical geography, and Near Eastern studies. During this period many Jewish Archaeologist native to Palestine became active. These include Benjamin Mazar, E. L. Sukenik, and Michael Avi-Yonah.
The last major period began in 1948 after the Israeli war of Independence. During this period archaeology in Palestine became very active. The period saw great strides made in methodology. The most notable advance came from what is known as the Wheeler-Kenyon method of excavation. This method was based on digging in smaller squares within a grid leaving intervening bulks to enable one to see the debris. This method stressed the stratification of the site. The other popular method of excavation used was known as the architectural method, which exposed large areas of the site. These two methods of excavation became one of the major controversies within archaeology. This controversy was settled by the combining of the two methods. Large areas of the site are exposed in order to uncover complete buildings. Stratification is obtained by excavating smaller squares at several different points.
The most notable innovation within the last thirty years is the multidisciplinary approach. Many digs now employ botanist, zoologist, geologist, and other specialist. These specialist contribute from their fields to the over all understanding of the material cultural of the site. Also, cooperation between archaeologists of different countries is now prevalent. Joint ventures involving scholars from the United States and Israel is now quite common. One of the more recent trends in the archaeology of Palestine is the regional approach. Here not only the mound is studied, but also the surrounding area and the environment. This provides a comprehensive context for the site. Through the use of modern archaeological techniques, archaeology will continue to bring new insights to our understanding of biblical history and cultures.
Moorey, P.R.S.1991. A Century of biblical Archaeology. Louisville, Westminisster/John Hopkins Press
Use the form below to submit a new comment. Comments are moderated and logged, and may be edited. Inappropriate material will not be posted.