Archaeology’s Rebel: Bible in One Hand, Spade in the Other.
That’s the title. It follows thus:
When the ribbon was cut to dedicate Jerusalem’s newest archaeological attraction last summer, Eilat Mazar stood among the dignitaries like a proud parent.
The 56 year-old Israeli archaeologist didn’t just direct the final excavation that prepared the Ophel City Wall site for visitors. She also linked the silent stones with one of the Bible’s most eminent and holy kings: Solomon.
The Ophel lies just below the Temple Mount and above the City of David, the oldest area of Jerusalem. It is one of the most authentic locations for pilgrims to “walk where Jesus walked.” Now it is possible to stand in the shadow of massive walls that date back to the First Temple.
“The Bible describes how King Solomon built the walls of Jerusalem in 1 Kings 3:1,” Mazar told Christianity Today. “I’m suggesting that what we’ve revealed can be related quite safely to King Solomon.”
Such a bold biblical connection from a modern Israeli archaeologist is rare. It provokes other archaeologists (except for evangelical ones), but it also exposes how the discipline has changed over the past several decades. Biblical archaeology has become a field of scientists who are self-conscious about the biblical pursuits that guided—and sometimes misguided—the discipline during earlier years.
Archaeologists of the early 20th century who linked their discoveries with biblical stories occasionally found that later evidence or more refined scrutiny called their judgments into question. Such premature connection is an indictment that has hung around the neck of biblical archaeology for so long that some archaeologists today are more apt to apologize for biblical connections than to trumpet them.
But not all. In the July/August 2011 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), editor Hershel Shanks chided Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich for asserting that hypothetical biblical connections should be saved until after the archaeological evidence has been properly sorted out. Shanks believes that Mazar, in her willingness to make the biblical hypothesis sooner rather than later, is not wrong. Speaking of another excavation that Mazar suggests is King David’s palace, Shanks wrote that Mazar was simply following the scientific method: “Eilat had a hypothesis, and she wanted to test it by digging.”
How many archaeologists today are willing to admit to testing a biblical hypothesis? In 1998, the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), the main professional organization for archaeologists working in the Middle East, changed the name of its magazine from Biblical Archaeologist to Near Eastern Archaeology in order to separate itself from that modus operandi. Mazar, on the other hand, seems more like her grandfather and the archaeologists of earlier generations…
Mazar doesn’t shy away from being called a biblical archaeologist, as some of her colleagues might. She likes the terminology.
“Look, when I’m excavating Jerusalem, and when I’m excavating at the City of David, and when I’m excavating near the Kidron Valley and near the Gihon Spring and at the Ophel—these are all biblical terms,” she said. “So it’s not like I’m here because it’s some anonymous place. This is Jerusalem, which we know best from the Bible.”
Nor is Mazar self-conscious about declaring that she excavates with the Bible in one hand and a spade in the other—a description sometimes used to scornfully dismiss archaeologists of earlier years who were trained more in biblical studies than in archaeological technique…
Good for her. Yes, Biblical Archaeology. Use the name. It’s far better than that skeptical revisionist alternative: Biblical minimalism.
“I don’t believe these [modern] archaeologists who ignore the Bible,” she said. “To ignore the written sources, especially the Bible—I don’t believe any serious scholar anywhere would do this. It doesn’t make any sense.”
There is a lot more here and really worth the read.
Wikipedia has more on Dr Eilat Mazar here.