The Bible & Archaeology, by Matthieu Richelle
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Hendrickson Publishers. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Biblical archaeology is an immensely conflict-ridden field and the author certainly has a perspective that is different than my own on the subject. Rather unfortunately, the author sought to take aim at the approach of two of my favorite writers in the genre , and worse, the author praises a historian of negligible skill in dealing with the Bible with whom I have had difficult personal interactions . To say that the author and I do not see eye to eye on the matter of biblical archaeology is certainly a considerable understatement. That said, when the author was not sticking his foot in his mouth when it came to making specific recommendations of archaeologists of the ancient near east that he appreciates, with most of whom I have serious concerns and criticisms about their unsound methodology and perspective, there was a great deal that I could appreciate about this book as well even if the author is not as sound in such matters as he thinks he is.
In terms of its structure and organization, this book is six chapters that take up a bit more than 100 pages–it is worthwhile to note that this does not include the book’s extensive endnotes and suggestions for further reading as well as some lovely photos at the very end of the book that I almost missed when reading the book. The first chapter of the book examines what archaeologists discover in ancient cities and about ancient Israel (1) before the author looks at what happens when stones speak (2) in inscriptions of various kinds as well as the difficulties of epigraphy. After this the author discusses the limits of archaeology (3) concerning the limits imposed by interpretation of the data as well as the inherent limit of excavations and the fraught relationship of the Bible and archaeology (4) through a discussion of different approaches, use of the Bible, and real life scenarios. The author then concludes the volume with case studies on the kingdom of David and Solomon as it is understood from the Bible and available archaeological finds (5) and the question of what writing existed in the Israel of David and Solomon (6). Throughout the author seems to think himself a more fair-minded and balanced writer than he turns out being, as he seems to be a partisan of archaeology more than of the Bible, which is a shortcoming and seems to influence the archaeologists he criticizes and those he (lamentably) endorses.
At its best, this book succeeds in appealing to a general approach by which people should appreciate archaeology for what it is and not expect it to serve as an opportunity for confirmation of our interpretations of the Bible. Recognizing that archaeology and the Bible often have different areas of focus and have different but often complementary things to say is not generally a bad one. The author is at his best here when he is pointing to a nuanced approach that we should have to the Bible and a skepticism we should have towards sensationalistic claims of journalism about archaeology which is a disservice to everyone involved in the serious, academic study of biblical archaeology. That said, the author fails badly in the specific recommendations he makes about what archaeologists have the right approach, and that seems to suggest that he wishes to curry favor with academics rather than demonstrate himself to be faithful to the Bible, which makes his approach less than praiseworthy to adopt for genuine Christians.
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