Book Reviews

The Future of Biblical Archaeology

James K. Hoffmeier, Alan Millard, editors Grand Rapids 2004-10-04

In a day when the term “biblical archaeology” is being spurned in favor of substitutes such as “Syro-Palestinian archaeology” or the like, and when the so-called “minimalists” are denying the reality of preexilic Israelite history, this work provides a powerful rejoinder to both trends. A collection of papers first presented at a symposium held at Trinity International University on August 12–14, 2001, the essays here reflect a conservative, mainly evangelical articulation of the role that archaeology, properly practiced and applied, can play in both defending the historicity of the Old Testament account and elucidating its ancient message for the modern reader.

The nineteen contributors address four major areas of interest and concern: (1) Biblical Archaeology: The Recent Debate and Future Prospects; (2) Archaeology: Approaches and Application; (3) Using Texts in Biblical Archaeology; and (4) Hermeneutics and Theology.

Ziony Zevit begins with a helpful review of the history of the biblical archaeology movement in America and the challenges it currently faces from the revisionists. Thomas W. Davis briefly describes theory and method in biblical archaeology, and David Merling explores the relationship between archaeology and the Bible. His discussion of the search for Ai in the context of the conquest of Canaan is particularly informative (pp. 34–41). Randall W. Younker of Andrews University traces the involvement of that institution in biblical archaeology, especially in the Madaba Plains Project in Jordan which has yielded increasing evidence of the Late Bronze sedentary population there. James K. Hoffmeier, director of the North Sinai Archaeological Project of Tell el-Borg, reports on progress there and presents arguments for at least a tentative identification of that site as biblical Migdol of Exodus fame.

Working somewhat outside the Bible but with clear analogical intentions, Edwin Yamauchi addresses Homer and archaeology, in which he rightly takes to task minimalist approaches that refuse to take seriously the evidence from ancient texts and artifacts in lieu of preconceived ideas of what could or should have been. Benjamin Scolnic, a member of the aforementioned North Sinai project, adduces further support for the identification of Tell el-Borg as biblical Migdol. Steven M. Ortiz presents a strong case for the “high chronology” in Palestinian archaeology, thereby enhancing the traditional notion of Israelite state formation in the eleventh and tenth centuries B.C.. Alan Millard, on the analogy of the Amorite incursions into Babylonia which left no discernible nonliterary attestation, argues that one cannot demonstrate Israel’s late or early arrival or emergence in Canaan based only on cultural artifacts. Only texts—in this case the Old Testament—can resolve such questions.

William H. Hallo reflects on Sumerian connections to the Bible, suggesting that though no immediate and specific linkages may be found, there is clearly a commonality of ethos and culture usually overlooked. Harry A. Hoffner Jr. draws essentially the same conclusions about the Hittite civilization and Old Testament references to it. Daniel D. Fleming, drawing from his expertise in the Amorite (specifically Mari and Emar) culture, takes minimalists such as Van Seters and Thompson to task for ignoring data contrary to their socioreligious constructs and then proceeds to demonstrate that the Genesis narratives in particular are at home in an early second millennium context. Richard S. Hess follows this study with one on the calendars of Emar 446 and their possible linkages with Leviticus 23. He concludes that there is no way that Leviticus 23 can be viewed as a de novo creation of a postexilic P; rather it has ancient roots, at least as early as the Late Bronze Age. K. Lawson Younger Jr. presents evidence for the historical reality and identification of the cities from which came the peoples who repopulated Samaria followed the Assyrian deportation of 722 B.C. In a rather technical piece Cynthia Miller presents a helpful way of reconstructing language systems—including proto-Hebrew—from epigraphic fragments.

John M. Monson makes an urgent appeal for the relevance of geography to the interpretation of Scripture; Richard E. Averbeck persuasively argues for the connection of ancient Near Eastern mythography to biblical historiography when both are properly understood; David B. Weisberg advances ideas on how ancient Near Eastern texts can be fruitfully employed in the study of the Bible; and Andrew G. Vaughan asks whether one can write a history of Israel today, a question to which he offers a rather guarded yes; but that history, he says, should be based on von Radian traditionizing or Brueggemannian rhetoricizing as well as textual and archaeological data.

As in any such collaborative venture some contributions are better than others. On the whole, however, this book advances the cause of a well-disciplined use of archaeology to support and inform the biblical witness. Serious students will be challenged by it, and whether in agreement with all its parts or not they will find this publication a most worthwhile reference tool.

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Eugene H. Merrill
Eugene H. Merrill is a former faculty member of DTS. Dr. Merrill has been heavily involved in international Christian ministry in Europe, Asia, and the Near East. As a scholar Dr. Merrill regularly contributes to leading journals, periodicals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and commentaries. Academia runs in his family as his wife, Janet, holds a doctorate in counselor education from Columbia University and his daughter, Sonya, earned a Ph.D. in medical ethics from the University of London and an M.D. from Harvard University.
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