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What is Biblical Archaeology?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 May 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Biblical archaeology is a discipline within the field of archaeology which focuses on the excavation and examination of sites and artifacts which relate to the Bible. Some people prefer terms like “Syro-Palestinian archaeology” or “Near-Eastern archaeology” to refer to this field, to stress the idea that the goal is to uncover information about all ancient societies, not just those which contributed to the Bible and the development of Christianity. These terms also differentiate archaeology from explorations which attempt to reconcile the Bible with archaeological information; a Biblical archaeologist can either investigate sites with an open mind, or look specifically for evidence which supports the Bible.

A number of sites referenced and discussed in the Bible have been discovered and excavated, including Jericho, Galilee, and Jerusalem. As can be seen from these examples, some Biblical sites continue to be occupied and used, with excavations focused on uncovering the history beneath human settlements. Archaeologists may investigate sites before they are developed, or take advantage of destruction of buildings to look in the soil beneath them for information. The continuous occupation of Biblical sites is a challenge for Biblical archaeology, as it isn't always possible to secure and control historically important sites.

In addition to looking at sites to learn more about them and the people who lived there, Biblical archaeologists also like to look at artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls which concern the Bible, or are related to civilizations which existed during the time of events described in the Bible. The Bible is a rich and complex document, and many segments of it bear deeper exploration from a historical perspective, especially when historical sites align with discussions in the Bible to show that the events and people described in its pages had correlaries in the real world.

This field has attracted some controversy. Critics sometimes accuse Biblical archaeologists of focusing on finding evidence which confirms or supports their beliefs, rather than remaining skeptical, or of interpreting the Bible too literally. As in other fields within archaeology, people can approach Biblical archaeology from a number of perspectives, and their approach will often temper the results they achieve.

People who are interested in the history of early Middle Eastern civilizations may enjoy studying Biblical archaeology, because there is a wealth of available material, and the existence of documents like the Bible and Torah which have been passed down over generations can be a valuable resource. This field is also interesting to many Christians and Jews, for obvious reasons, and Biblical archaeology also involves the discovery of sites which are sacred to Islam and many older Middle Eastern religions, reflecting the lengthy history of human settlement in this area of the world.

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