Archive for the ‘Biblical archaeology’ Category

Palmyra- Cassas Baal Temple

I’ve been noticing the last few months news story related to the Bible and Archaeology, from the sensational to the subtle announcement of academic bulletin.  Christianity Today even had a summary of the “Top 10 Discovery in Biblical Archaeology of 2013″ published earlier this month.

As some of the readers might be aware, there are two general camps when it comes to the issue of the reliability of the Bible as it relates to archaeology: the Maximalists and the Minimalists.  Since the archaeological data concerning the Ancient Near East (ANE) and the Biblical world are often fragmentary, sometimes archaeological data appear to conflict with what the Bible has to say.  What should we make of this, specifically with our conclusion concerning the veracity of the Bible?  Maximalism and Minimalism describes the general approach one answer that question.

Note what Jona Lendering of Livius website (on Ancient history) has to say about maximalists and minimalists:

Maximalist scholars assume that the Biblical story is more or less correct, unless archaeologists prove that it is not; minimalists assume that the Biblical story must be read as fiction, unless it can be confirmed archaeologically. “Minimalism” and “maximalism” are, therefore, methods, approaches, or theoretical concepts.” (http://www.livius.org/theory/maximalists-and-minimalists/)

Lendering even provide this additional example:

It is easy to recognize minimalists and maximalists. If the author’s method can not immediately be deduced from the evidence he puts forward, the auxiliary hypotheses usually offer a clue. When the archaeological evidence contradicts the Bible, the maximalist will write something like “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”; the minimalist will stress that the Bible should be read as literature.

Take, for example, the Jericho walls: so far, no remains have been excavated of a wall that has collapsed in the Late Bronze Age, which contradicts the Biblical account of Joshua’s capture of the city. A maximalist will argue that these walls stood on top of the hill and must have eroded; his minimalist colleague might say that the story should be read as a description of a first fruits offering – the first town captured by the Hebrews was for God. There’s something to be said for both approaches, although in this example, the erosion argument is probably incorrect.”

The exchange between Maximalists and Minimalists in the past has been quite heated.  Probably adding fuel to the fire is the reality that this is not just another academic turf war between two competing school of thoughts: for some, there’s a deeper underlying current driving one’s methodological decision.  While not all minimalists are secularists, no doubt secular humanists and atheists would be incline towards the Minimalists approach.  Christians who hold to a high view of the veracity of the Bible of course would be inclined to the Maximalists’ approach (of course with the caveat that not all Maximalists are Evangelicals or identify themselves as Christian).

At this point one might say there’s a stalemate between the debate of Maximalists and Minimalists.  The Minimalists might charge Evangelical subsets of Maximalists for being driven by the Christian faith to dogmatically affirm that the Bible has to be true at the get-go.  It isn’t rational to do so, they say.  The Maximalists might reply with the observation that typically in archaeology one gives an ancient document the benefit of the doubt concerning it’s content being true unless proven otherwise so here we see the Minimalists being inconsistent.

It’s a dead end, some say, with the debate being a draw.  No side ultimately wins, nor has any side loses in a clear, knock out fashion.

I submit that Presuppositional apologetics is important here, with it’s attention on the role of worldviews.  As noted earlier, often there’s a deeper undercurrent that drives one to adopt a certain methodological approach towards the Bible and Archaeology.  The discussion between particular Maximalists and Minimalists doesn’t have to be at an intellectual stalemate if one discusses one’s worldview behind one’s methodology.  No doubt the most unpopular aspect of Van Til’s apologetics is the fact that it tells Christians to never compromise with the veracity of the Bible .  The content of the Bible is true if it has been attained via proper hermeneutics such as consideration of literary genres, etc.  But Presuppositional apologetics isn’t just about Christians being dogmatic, for it makes the observation that everyone including the minimalists are not immune to being dogmatic when it comes to their web of ultimate commitments which we call worldview.  But instead of being “stuck” with two dogmatic individuals talking to each other, Van Til’s apologetics goes further by asking whether one’s worldview would undermine or provide the intelligibility and meaningfulness of the archaeological endeavor in the first place.  Imagine the surprise if a Minimalist were to discover that the particular worldview which incline him towards Minimalism ends up being an undercutting defeater towards archaeological studies; now the dilemma is posed: does he continue to maintain his Minimalism for the sake of his cherished worldview or does he back away from it seeing the catastrophic consequence of it making archaeology categorically unintelligible and insignificant?

Space does not permit me to flesh out the details since for now I just want to provide a sketch of what does Presuppositional apologetics in relationship to archaeology would look like.  Here also we find philosophy to be a helpful tool and valuable in assessing the merit of the internal relationship between one’s view of reality (physical world, and metaphysical, if any) and the epistemological status of archaeology.  Interdisciplinary studies and the exploration of perspectival relationship of knowledge is quite fascinating!  

Perhaps in the far future I might write a post on how the Christian worldview (Christian theology from the Bible that supplies the meta-narrative of the world) allows Archaeology to be a sensible and rational pursuit.  This would touch on theology Proper, doctrine of providence, God’s relationship to history, biblical anthropology, etc.  Again, how beautiful is the fact that there can exists an inter-relationship of various disciplines from archaeology, history, philosophy, and now, even theology–I find it so beautiful to see this inter-dependent unity of a well-put together world for knowledge  that it makes me want to praise God.  Presuppositional apologetics and Perspectivalism (John Frame’s variety) regularly bring me to doxology.


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