Archae­ol­o­gy and the Bib­li­cal Record

Bernard Alpert and Fran Alpert
  • Review
By – November 14, 2012

Though the Alperts make great efforts to dis­tin­guish (and sep­a­rate­ly val­ue) the world of faith from the world of sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery, their com­pact, knowl­edge­able book will prob­a­bly ruf­fle many feath­ers and be declared hereti­cal by those who read the Bible lit­er­al­ly. The find­ings of mod­ern archae­ol­o­gy, find­ings that Bernard and Fran Alpert have helped make, sim­ply demol­ish the Old Tes­ta­ment nar­ra­tives as his­to­ry. While the books of Moses, the prophets, and the chron­i­clers are trea­sures, they are trea­sures of a spe­cial kind: repos­i­to­ries of truth rather than fact. They pro­vide mas­ter­ful por­traits and under­stand­ings of the human con­di­tion; they set down guide­lines for moral and effec­tive human inter­ac­tion; and they etch the birth strug­gles of a civilization.

The authors point out that there is very lit­tle archae­o­log­i­cal evi­dence to sup­port the events and per­son­ages laid out in the Bible (which here means Old Tes­ta­ment). What we have in that assem­blage of nar­ra­tives, laws, and prophe­cies is a mag­nif­i­cent attempt, assem­bled in the sixth cen­tu­ry BCE, to give coher­ence, mean­ing, and sta­tus to the Israelite expe­ri­ence. Divine­ly inspired? Perhaps.

The mate­r­i­al evi­dence that does relate to human affairs described in these scrip­tur­al writ­ings requires that the events be sig­nif­i­cant­ly re-dat­ed. Most of what hap­pened” hap­pened dur­ing a time peri­od much clos­er to when the Bible was writ­ten down than the inter­nal time ref­er­ences sug­gest. The most reli­able his­to­ry in the Bible is that writ­ten about the most recent events. Only events that occurred after the sev­enth cen­tu­ry BCE are cor­rob­o­rat­ed by inde­pen­dent evidence. 

The authors’ clear, author­i­ta­tive, and respect­ful dis­cus­sion is in itself a gift. The final chap­ter, Edu­ca­tion­al Per­spec­tives,” begins the impor­tant effort of address­ing how religious/​Biblical/​historical edu­ca­tion needs to be reshaped for the twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry stu­dent, appro­pri­ate­ly adjust­ing cur­ricu­lum at all lev­els to the real­i­ties that mod­ern archae­ol­o­gy reveals. 

Maps, illus­tra­tions, select­ed ref­er­ences, Bib­li­cal time line.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

Discussion Questions