My interest in archaeology first arose from a book I read in 1962 while I was enjoying myself as a freshman at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. I was in the office of a Jesuit, my New Testament professor, and spotted the book on his desk. In an effort to kiss up a bit and show that I was really interested in theology, I asked if it were an interesting book. He handed it to me and said, "Here, you can borrow it. Come back next week and let me know what you think." An oral book report wasn't the outcome I had planned, and I suspect the good Jesuit knew this.
Anyway, he and the book he lent me had an impact. The Archaeology of Palestine: From the Stone Age to Christianity was written by William F. Albright in 1940 and then revised in 1960 to reflect the impact of later archaeological discoveries. It was this later edition that was forced on me that day.
William Albright, an American evangelical and the son of Methodist missionaries, probably did more to advance the science of biblical archaeology than any other 20th-century archaeologist. During the latter part of his life (he died in 1971) and since his death, Albright has been strongly criticized by historical-critical scholars and others who believe his methods and conclusions were overly influenced by his Christian faith. Can you imagine? Actually approaching Sacred Scripture with faith...
For example, Albright believed that the Book of Genesis, in its depiction of such figures as Abraham, was "as a whole...historical, and there is no reason to doubt the general accuracy of the biographical details." As you might imagine, many modern scholars disagree. Indeed, too many even doubt the actual existence of a historical Abraham. But one does not have to be a literalist or a fundamentalist to agree with Albright.
I think it's important for Catholics to realize that the teachings of the Catholic Church do not encourage scholars to doubt the historical accuracy of Sacred Scripture. Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on Divine Revelation, offers us a clear reflection of the Church's teaching on Sacred Scripture:
"Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation" [Dei Verbum, 11].I've always thought that those who believe that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is littered with fictional characters must not think very highly of the Holy Spirit. After all, in effect they're saying that the Holy Spirit, unable to raise up faithful servants from among His People, instead invented fanciful heroes to carry out God's will in the world.This, of course, assumes that they accept the Holy Spirit's role as the Divine Author of Sacred Scripture.
|K. A. Kitchen|
Interestingly, what we're finding as a result of recent archaeological discoveries is that the Bible is a remarkably accurate historical document. I've included stories relating to a few of these discoveries that confirm what the Bible tells us. The links will take you to the online articles.
Shiloh's Destruction. Shiloh is the city in Samaria where the ark of the covenant was kept after Joshua and the Israelites conquered Canaan. Shiloh was later destroyed by the Philistines not long after their victory at Aphek, a battle in which the two sons of Eli, the priest, lost their lives. Although many scholars assumed these event were apocryphal, recent archaeological findings confirm the destruction of the shrine at Shiloh c. 1050 B.C., a date that corresponds closely to what the we find in 1 Samuel. The remains of Shiloh may be found is the exact location described in the Book of Judges (Jgs 21:19).
|Shiloh today -- Photo by Abraham Sobkowski OFM|
|Siloam Tunnel beneath Jerusalem|
Pharaoh Shoshenq and Kingdom of Israel. Many scholars have long thought that the Biblical descriptions of the early Jewish kingdoms are complete fiction, and that if David and Solomon actually existed, they were no more than petty chieftains. Increasingly, though, archaeological evidence supports what the Bible tells us. Among many recent discoveries is evidence that the army of an Egyptian pharaoh by the name of Shoshenq I (Shishak in the Bible) raided and sacked the town of Rehov in Israel 3,000 years ago. The event has been dated archaeologically to 925 B.C., just five years after Solomon's death. The Bible describes this military expedition by the Egyptians in 2 Chronicles 12. Here's a part of the narrative:
"Once Rehoboam had established himself as king and was firmly in charge, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and so did all Israel with him. So in the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak, king of Egypt, attacked Jerusalem, for they had acted treacherously toward the LORD. He had twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen, and there was no counting the army that came with him from Egypt — Libyans, Sukkites, and Ethiopians. They captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem" [2 Chr 12:1-4].
Addressing this discovery at Rahov, Professor Lawrence Stager, director of Harvard University's Semitic Museum stated, "There's no question that Rehov and the other cities that Shoshenq conquered were indeed there at the time of Solomon."
|Captives with hands raised submitting to Pharaoh Shishak|
|The Tel Dan Basalt Stele|
|Artist's conception: Aristotle's Tomb|
|The tomb today -- a room with a view.|
And so, for those of you who struggled through the study of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, you can now make a pilgrimage to the philosopher's tomb and perhaps leave a small token of your esteem.
Until next time...