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The Aims of Biblical Archaeology

The field of biblical archaeology has really changed over the last century.  It used to be—and this is really the popular imagination still today—it used to be that people as archaeologists went out to try the one big thing that was going to prove or disprove the Bible. 

Over the past generation, biblical archaeology has really melted into broader Near Eastern archaeology and the attempt really is not to go for the big home run, but it’s a much more meticulous, slow process of accumulating lots and lots of data, small pot sherds, understanding low SII and stratigraphy all across the ancient Near East, so that you can slowly put together the world in which Jesus or other biblical characters would have lived.  It’s not about proving or disproving whether they existed; it’s much more about trying to understand and shape through archaeology the real world in which these people would have lived. 

And that, of course, is very important because the New Testament itself takes for granted the world that is the background of the New Testament, but it never, in fact, gives you what that world is or tells you what that is; it assumes the reader knows it.  In that sense, archaeology is pivotal in shaping and creating the real world of Jesus as a context that is necessary to understand him.

  • Jonathan Reed

    Jonathan Reed is professor of religion and dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of La Verne. He co-authored Excavating Jesus and In Search of Paul with John Dominic Crossan. Reed is an active archaeologist and directs a dig at Sepphoris. He has appeared on numerous television documentaries, and his work has appeared in National Geographic.