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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.



Archaeology

John R. Bartlett

The Archaeological Task

Archaeology makes an important contribution to biblical scholarship; but to understand and evaluate that contribution, it is important to understand what are the general aims of archaeologists, and how they approach their task. R. Braidwood defined archaeology as ‘The study of things men made and did in order that their whole way of life may be understood’ (Daniel 1967: 17). Renfrew and Bahn (1996: 11) more fully defined it as ‘partly the discovery of the treasures of the past, partly the meticulous work of the scientific analyst, partly the exercise of the creative imagination…But it is also the painstaking task of interpretation so that we come to understand what these things mean for the human story.’ This approach has been seen as too limited; we should not isolate ancient history from present experience. Hodder therefore sees archaeology as a continual process, and the material past as ‘part of the present experience through which we come to understand ourselves’ (Hodder 1999: 178). We may reverse that view, and admit that we cannot interpret the past without incorporating our experience of the present, and that each historian and archaeologist may be open to the accusation of bias in presentation. We must also note particular concerns: for example, earlier archaeologists allowed the biblical account of the conquest of Israel to determine the site and scope of their excavations, while more recent archaeologists have aimed at reconstructing from archaeological evidence alone the nature of Iron Age I society in the hill country.

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