Mt. Nebo in Jordan at Sunset.
I consider archaeology a very interesting and important field of research in general, but I am often skeptical of Biblical Archaeology. Particularly when archaeologists working in the Holy Land are devout Christians, I wonder about the objectiveness of their research. Of course, no research is without its biases, but I think that it is dangerous to cross religion with archaeology. For instance, if an archaeologist working in the Holy Land believes in the supernatural Biblical stories and believes that all of the characters in The Bible actually existed as individual people, I think that those beliefs introduce a dangerous bias into their research.
The Bible is a literary work, in essence. In many ways, The Bible is much like epic works such as Beowulf or The Odyssey. The big difference between The Bible and these great epic works is that millions of people believe The Bible is a literal, divine religious text. Also, I’d argue that Beowulf and The Odyssey are far better written. At least the stories in these works are coherent. The Bible is a real hodge podge of material: part historical record (long lists of who begat whom), part general history (the tales of people moving about), part allegory (moral stories), and part fantastic legend (Jesus and the fishes and loaves, for instance). The characters in The Bible may or may not have existed. Take Jesus, for example. Was there a single Jesus figure? Perhaps. Or perhaps Jesus was an amalgamation of several people. Perhaps the sections of The Bible about Jesus and his life are part reality, part fiction. Perhaps they’re entirely fiction.
In a way, Biblical Archaeology is sort of like Odysseyian Archaeology. The Odyssey, too, may be based on actual events. However, the archaeologists pursuing Odysseyian Archaeology at least recognize that they are studying the archaeology and history of a fictional, literary work that may be based on real places and events.
Personally, I believe that Biblical Archaeology can be a worthwhile pursuit. I used to live in Jordan, and I enjoyed visiting Christian sites such as Mt. Nebo when I was there. I think that many of the places, people, and events in The Bible may be real or at least inspired by reality. Aren’t all literary works inspired by reality, though? Even the most far-fetched science fiction series has some grounding in reality. So, yes, even if The Bible is entirely fictional (which I think unlikely), there’s something to be said for Biblical Archaeology. At a minimum, Biblical Archaeologists can study Biblical settings and times.
Archaeological studies have (and may continue to) produce evidence supporting that some of the events in The Bible actually occured. I’m all for research in Biblical Archaeology, but I am more skeptical of this research than I am of general archaeological research. I want to make sure that the research is being done objectively and that there are not alterior motives biasing the results. When one wants to believe badly, one is often blind to the truth. Consciously or subconsciously, Biblical Archaeologists may allow their beliefs to bias their good science. For these days, archaeology really is becoming quite scientific.
Generally, I am on the side of those who criticize Biblical Archaeology. In the case of the recent documentary about the so-called “Lost Tomb of Christ”, I am on the side of the traditional Biblical Archaeologists. This documentary claims that a small cave tomb in Israel contains the remains of Jesus and his family, including Jesus’s son Judah. Who knew Jesus had a son? I thought Jesus had a daughter in the Da Vinci Code. In any case, I think that the chances of the tomb being genuine are small. I think that a few filmmakers are out to make a quick buck. And guess what? It’s working. I read the news article, and I’ll probably view the documentary if I have the chance. Despite my skepticism, I am sort of fascinated with the idea. I read the Dan Brown books Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code for a similar reason. I don’t agree with the far-fetched ideas in these books, but they do make for some good fast-paced action stories.