Digging up the Past
The Bible is a collection of ancient books. The cultures in which those books were written have perished long ago. Much of the information about the New Testament period has come down to us in Greek and Latin books which, like the Bible, have been copied and re-copied over the centuries. But hardly anything has come down to us in this way on the Old Testament period, apart from the Bible itself.
Of course, it is possible to read the Bible and understand its message with very little knowledge of the world in which it was written. What the Bible has to say to men and women is timeless. Its message is for everybody. Yet the Bible records events which are firmly tied to people and places.
Much of its teachings is based on things that happened to particular people, their nations, and the part God played in the events. Although the Bible may look like a book of theology, it is quite different from most modern books of theology. It does not contain a collection of abstract ideas about God. Instead it reveals God’s character by recording His activities in the history of Israel and the life of the first Christians. And the history presented by the Bible is only a part of the human story in the world in which the Bible’s events took place. So anything we can find out about the world of the Bible will help us to understand its essential message more clearly.
As we learn of the background of the bible, we begin to see how the Bible blends with it or stands in contrast to it. By uncovering ruined towns of the ninth century BC we may discover the type of house that the prophet Elisha visited, or the style of lamp his hostess is likely to have placed by his bed (2 Kings 4:8-10).
Occasionally a discovery may relate directly to a Bible verse. We may find an object or building mentioned in the text.
The most valuable of all our finds are ancient writings that name men or women who are also mentioned in the Bible, or that describe the same events.
Discoveries like this are not often made – and when they are made, we need to be careful how we interpret them. If we are to find out anything about the Old Testament world, and much about the New Testament world, we must turn to archaeology.
Curiosity about the past
Napoleon and after
The work of excavation
Some limits of archaeology
Digging up the Past
Archaeology and the Old Testament
Archaeology and the New Testament