Archaeology and the Bible researcher 2/4

Renaissance

From early as the 15th century researchers stood up to dig into the soil to mean study the material remains of man’s past. The Renaissance Humanists looked back upon the glories of Greece and Rome. Popes, cardinals, and noblemen in Italy in the 16th century began to collect antiquities and to sponsor excavations to find more works of ancient art. These collectors were imitated by others in northern Europe who were similarly interested in antique culture. All this activity, however, was still not archaeology in the strict sense. It was more like what would be called art collecting today. Those things they collected also gave way to a lot of imagination, of which lots were taken into the art of painting and sculpting, but not always giving a realistic picture. One of the problems it gave to the future was that many Christians began to assume that Jesus was crucified as depicted on those paintings, while historically the Romans brought high criminals to death at the torture stake, an upright wooden pole. (In the original Bible text that is also what we do find, that Jesus was put to death at the stake.)

17th Century

From the book William Foxwell Albright and the...

From the book William Foxwell Albright and the Origins of Biblical Archaeology by Peter Douglas Feinman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Johann Zuallart and Johann van Footwyck, travellers of the closing years of the 16th cent., both produced drawings which demonstrate an interest in ancient monuments, recognizably modern. In the middle years of the 17th cent., the Roman Pietro delia Valle produced an account of travels in Palestine which con­tains true archaeological description. He was followed by such perceptive travellers as Henry Maundrell, Adrian Reland, and Bishop Pococke. Reland’s handbook (Palestine Illustrated by Ancient Monuments) is certainly a landmark. It was published in 1709. To Albright’s longer list the name of A. Bosio might well be added. Bosio began the systematic exploration of subterranean Rome and thus became a precursor of the science of Christian archaeology, an inspiration to Giovanni Battista de Rossi. This scholar’s book on the catacombs of Rome his Roma Sotterranea  was published in 1632, anticipating de Rossi’s monumental work by over two centuries. If the study of subterranean Rome is part of Biblical archaeology, as indeed it is, Bosio’s name deserves a place on the list.

For the most part, however, those who thus described the memorials of the Biblical past were of the order of Shelley’s “traveller from an antique land.” They sensed the romantic impact of the great fragments of dead and vanished civilizations, but missed their scientific and historical significance. Rose Macaulay has collected some of their comments in her fascinating book, The Pleasure of Ruins, and there is no reason why the scientific archaeologist should miss or despise this deep source of human interest. Austen Layard, a genuine, if primitive, archaeologist, was such a romanticist, in the true spirit of his age.

18-19th Century

The Mediterranean and the Near East Archaeology proper began with an interest in the Greeks and Romans and first developed in 18th-century Italy with the excavations of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Egyptian archaeology began with Napoleon’s-invasion of Egypt in 1798. The French conqueror, convinced that Egypt was the strategic key to the Mediterranean, brought with him scholars who set to work recording the archaeological remains of the country. The result of their work was published in the Description de l’Egypte (1808-25).

Nag Hammadi Codex II, folio 32, the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas

As a result of discoveries made by this expedition, Jean-François Champollion was able to decipher ancient Egyptian writing for the first time in 1822. This decipherment, which enabled scholars to read the numerous writings left by the Egyptians, was the first great step forward in Egyptian archaeology. The discovery and preservation of the Rosetta stone with Napoleon’s concern for the protection and copying of this bilingual inscription became a British prize of war, but it is appropriate that a Frenchman and an Englishman are associated in the decipherment which opened the Egyptian hieroglyphic script. The date 1830 is another landmark in archaeology. With the pictorial script successfully deciphered, Egyptology could begin, and the archaeology of Egypt has numerous contacts with that of the Bible. Consider only the Amarna letters and the light they throw on the chaotic conditions in Palestine prior to the Hebrew invasion. It is irrelevant, in this restricted survey, to trace Egyptology’s astonishing six generations of progress through Belzoni, Lepsius, and Mariette, to Petrie, Breasted, Carter, and Egypt’s own Department of Antiquities of today. It should not, however, in an account of Biblical archaeology, be for· gotten that the vast bulk of the papyri come from Egypt. The names of Grenfell and Hunt, together with that of Adolf Deissmann, must be mentioned in this connection. Documents directly and indirectly relevant to the study of the New Testament range from the logia of Christ, dis­covered at the turn of the century, to the  preserved early Christian, non-canonical sayings-gospel  Gospel of Thomas, published by Quispel in 1957.

Albright lists many names from this period, men whose perceptive explorations contributed to the emerging study of Biblical archaeology. Seetzen, the first scientific explorer of the trans-Jordan area, the discoverer of Caesarea Philippi and Gerasa, and Burckhardt, the Swiss who found Petra, were busy in Bible lands between 1800 and 1812. In 1838 the American theologian Edward Robinson, a thoroughly trained Semitist and geographer, performed notable service by his wide identification of ancient place names. He was accompanied and aided in his work and travels by his pupil Eli Smith. Titus Tobler, the Swiss, a scholar of similar preoccupations, is quoted thus by Albright: “The works of Robinson and Smith alone surpass the total of all previous contributions to Palestinian geography from the time of Eusebius and Jerome to the early nineteenth century.” Geography, it is needless to stress, was at this time the essential prerequisite for the archaeological investigation of Palestine.

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Preceding article: Archaeology and the Bible researcher 1/4 Knowing what happened in previous times

Continued on: Archaeology and the Bible researcher 3/4

Bibliography: Archaeology and the Bible researcher 4/4

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  • Philip Davies is Talking the Bible and Archaeology (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
    How should the historian deal with the biblical texts on the one hand and archaeological data on the other? The collapse of “biblical archaeology” has left many scholars without any agreed procedure. At one pole is a clique clinging to “biblical historicity”; at the other pole are those who want to construct a purely archaeological history.
  • Biblical Archaeology Society Week in Review: September 22, 2012 (gingerjar2.wordpress.com)
    A brand new Free Bas eBook considers texts and archaeological evidence from the second millennium B.C.E. that describe Israel in Egypt and the Exodus. Were the Israelites enslaved in Egypt? Was the Exodus a single event as described in the Bible?
  • Who exactly is a ‘real’ archaeologist? (saraperry.wordpress.com)
    Biblical Archaeology Review

    Biblical Archaeology Review (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of the archaeological professional. This has been prompted both by my own efforts to navigate the unwieldy world of academia, and by an article that I finally finished for the Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology (Springer) on ‘Professionalisation: The Consolidation of Archaeology as an “Expert” Knowledge.’
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    If we look back at the history of the discipline there’s good evidence to suggest that the concept of a professional archaeologist never really took hold until the 1960s-70s.  Around the world, university training programmes for archaeology didn’t emerge until about the turn of the 20th century, and throughout the first half of that century, many of those who enrolled on such programmes tended to go on to curatorial positions.  It was in museums and learned society organisations where much of the early classification and conceptual work that now underpins archaeology came about; and it was at meetings, via publication, and in exhibition spaces (local and international) that the circulation of such work made it accessible on a wider and wider scale.

  • Early Christian Archaeology (mediterraneanworld.wordpress.com)
    The past few weeks I’ve worked on a top secret Early Christian Archaeology project (which is not particularly related to this past from several years ago). As part of that project, my collaborator and I began to think about the term Early Christian Christian archaeology in an Anglo-American academic context, and we both came to the conclusion that, while common the scholarship elsewhere in the world, it is relatively rare among English speaking scholars.
  • Muslim Temple denial continues (israelmatzav.blogspot.com)
    The story of Hanukah is the archetypal story of the fight for religious freedom. It has been adopted and celebrated by American presidents at the White House for more than a decade, as an American tribute to the biblical roots of the country’s national dedication to freedom.
  • Walter C Kaiser Jr – Important Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
    Walter Kaiser served as project director for The Archaeological Study Bible, a significant accomplishment in itself, and is also president emeritus of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
  • Are Greece’s Ancient Treasures Under Threat? (history.com)
    Archaeologists report that the severe budget cuts imposed by international lenders on the Greek government have impeded research, forced museums to slash security staff and placed the country’s cultural heritage at risk.
    Greece Cultural Heritage

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