Question: "Christian archaeology – why is it important?"
Answer: Archaeology comes from two compounded Greek words—archae meaning “ancient,” and logos meaning “knowledge”; thus, “knowledge or study of the ancients.” An archaeologist is much more than an Indiana Jones-type individual running around the world looking for old artifacts to place in a museum. Archaeology is a science that studies ancient cultures by recovering and documenting materials from the past. Christian archaeology is the science of studying ancient cultures that have impacted Christianity and Judaism and the Jewish and Christian cultures themselves. Not only are Christian archaeologists trying to discover new things about the past, they are trying to validate what we already know about the past and advance our understanding of the manners and customs of the peoples of the Bible.
The biblical text and other written records are the most important pieces of information we have about the history of ancient biblical peoples. But these records alone have left many unanswered questions. That is where Christian archaeologists come in. They can fill in the partial picture that the biblical narrative provides. Excavations of ancient garbage dumps and abandoned cities have provided bits and pieces that give us clues to the past. The goal of Christian archaeology is to verify the essential truths of the Old and New Testaments through the physical artifacts of ancient peoples.
Christian archaeology did not become a scientific discipline until the 19th century. The building blocks of Christian archaeology were laid by men such as Johann Jahn, Edward Robinson, and Sir Flinders Petrie. William F. Albright became the dominant figure in the 20th century. It was Albright who drew Christian archaeology into the contemporary debates over the origins and reliability of the biblical narratives. It was Albright and his students who provided much of the physical evidence for the historical events described in the Bible. However, today it seems as though there are as many archaeologists trying to disprove the Bible as there are those proving it to be accurate.
We do not have to go very far to find new attacks on Christianity from the secular world. An example is much of the programming on the Discovery Channel, such as “The Da Vinci Code” docudrama. Other offerings have dealt with the historicity of Christ. One program, by James Cameron, argued that the tomb and burial box of Jesus had been found. From this “discovery” the conclusion was drawn that Jesus had not risen from the dead. What the program failed to say is that the box had been discovered years earlier and that it had already been proven not to be Christ’s burial box. This knowledge was achieved through the hard work of Christian archaeologists.
It is archaeological evidence that provides the best possible physical information on the life and times of the ancients. When proper scientific methods are applied to the excavation of ancient sites, information emerges that gives us a greater understanding of the ancient peoples and their culture and proofs that validate the biblical text. Systematic recordings of these findings, shared with experts worldwide, can give us the most complete information on the lives of those who lived in Bible times. Christian archaeology is just one of the tools scholars can use to present a more complete defense of the biblical narrative and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Often, when sharing our faith, we are asked by non-believers how we know the Bible is true. One of the answers we can give is that, through the work of Christian archaeologists, many of the facts of the Bible have been validated.