Discoveries at a multitude of sites in the Middle East under a succession of brilliant archaeologists—British, American, German, French, and, since 1948, Israeli—have made an enormous contribution to biblical, especially OT, studies and complemented the work of literary critics. As methods have been refined, so more accurate information has been derived about social life, military movements, and religious epochs. Numerous tells, or mounds, have been systematically excavated, stratum by stratum of human habitation, and texts, inscriptions, and ostraca (potsherds) have been passed over to the experts in epigraphy for dating though there was serious damage in Iraq by vandals during the war in 2003. Places mentioned in the Bible have been definitely located by archaeology, and the historical records, which have reached us with the stamp of editorial interpretation, can be assessed. Excavations at Jericho uncovered a mass of furniture in burial caves of the Middle Bronze Age (1900–1500 BCE) and so provided data for domestic life in the patriarchal period of the OT, though the patriarchs themselves continue to receive little archaeological verification. Some details in the Genesis stories may correspond with what excavations have revealed of the second millennium BCE, and to that extent OT studies are enriched. Ur (Gen. 11: 31) is known to have enjoyed civilized urban amenities. Conditions described in the book of Judges have also been confirmed by excavations of small villages established by the incoming Israelites and towns like Shechem destroyed by them (Judg. 9: 45). It is possible that the millo built by David (2 Sam. 5: 9) and Solomon (1 Kgs. 9: 15) has been found, but there is no trace of Solomon's Temple or palace. Shrines of the 8th cent. BCE have provided evidence of popular syncretistic religion; an inscription mentions ‘Yahweh and Ashweh’—the kind of Canaanite religion which was anathema to the prophets. But to what extent have archaeological studies confirmed or contradicted the OT narratives?

While substantial bodies of artifacts show significant correlations with the OT text, articles for the general public have sometimes given the misleading impression that archaeological discoveries ‘prove its historical reliability’. For example, evidence which was once thought to demonstrate that the walls of Jericho collapsed at the time of the Israelite invasion under Joshua is now discounted on the basis of reliable dating of pottery. On the other hand, a damaged inscription found in 1993 in the north of (modern) Israel has been related to OT events. It has been dated c.800 BCE and its author was probably Hazael, king of Damascus, and it refers to Jerusalem as (in the biblical term) ‘city of David’. It would seem that relations between Arum and Judah were more friendly than the constant warfare depicted in 2 Kgs. 8, but it has increased the likelihood of an historical David which several modern historians have doubted. It looks as if the historical David was ruler over a smallish principality with a rather restricted suzerainty. Excavations at the cities mentioned in 1 Kgs. 9: 15 do suggest that Hazor and Gezer were built in the age of Solomon. Other claims made for Solomon in the books of Kings and Chronicles seem exaggerated; for example, it was the later dynasty of Omri that contributed to the modest splendour of Megiddo.

Much archaeological evidence is neutral in respect of corresponding literary data of the OT and is sometimes pressed too hard by conservative biblical scholars. But there is a wealth of material still waiting to yield its secrets, among which is the function of the Qumran buildings and their relationship to the Dead Sea scrolls, whose primary importance for NT studies is that they confirm aspects of first-century BCE/CE Judaism that are mentioned in the gospels.

Excavations in Jerusalem have revealed the great walls built round the Temple mount by Herod the Great (37–34 BCE) as well as his buildings at Masada, Jericho, and elsewhere. Paintings and mosaics have also been found. John 19: 13 mentions that Pilate sat on the judge's bench at a place called the Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha, and the paved area on the site of the Antonia fortress may have been in existence in the time of Jesus, though the date is disputed. There are scratch marks on the stones where soldiers played games. A notice threatening death to any Gentile who entered the inner parts of the Temple has been discovered, though whether the Jewish leaders had authority under the Romans to inflict the death penalty is dubious (John 18: 31). In 1968 in Jerusalem the skeleton of a young victim of crucifixion was found in a limestone box; a nail was still in place; his legs had been broken; and he had been fastened to the cross by the forearms (not the hands). The pools of Bethzatha (John 5: 2) and Siloam (John 9: 7–11) have been identified.

Other archaeological discoveries relevant to the NT have been that of a decree of Claudius found at Delphi in 1905 which makes it possible to date the proconsulship of Gallio (Acts 18: 12) as 51 CE. At Ephesus parts of the temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis have been found. An inscription confirms the accuracy of Acts 17: 6 in giving the unusual name ‘politarchs’ (NRSV, marg.) to the magistrates of Thessalonica. But on the whole archaeologists' main interests in places associated with Paul have been in classical studies, and NT scholars have had to search hard for relevant material.