Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lessons from an Archaeologist

Dr. Zahi Hawass instructs us all from this article in The New York Times International from Tuesday, April 3, 2007.

"Really, it's a myth," he says of the Exodus. "Sometimes as archaeologists we have to say that never happened because there is no evidence for it."

How is it that we can argue argue a categorical negative based on the lack of evidence? It seems that there are some significant assumptions that go into such an argument.

There is the assumption that every historical event left recognizable evidence that would be preserved for thousands of years. How would we know that that is indeed a fact? Would we not recognize that through the millenia of human history there have been many events which likely left no identifiable evidence, if in fact they left any evidence at all.

There is the second assumption that we have found all the archaeological evidence that there is to find. This assumption is demonstrably wrong, inasmuch as archaeologists are constantly making new finds. If every bit of archaeological evidence was already found and categorized, then archeology would virtually cease to exist.

There is a third assumption that all the archaeological evidence has been properly categorized and dated. This is simply impossible to verify. Archeology is a very technical and detailed field. But it also works from guesses in many areas, and from circular reasoning in others (e.g., We found this potsherd in this layer so it must be from this era because everything else in this layer is from said era.)

The reason this grabs my attention (and this has been sitting on my desk for weeks now while I ruminated on it) is because some people think that archaeology is the secret key to evangelism through apologetics. If we can simply prove that Noah's Ark existed, or that Israel was in Egypt, or that Belshazzar did reign in Babylon, then we can win the world to Jesus very quickly and usher in the kingdom.

Such is not the case. God has not left the confirmation of his truth up to the "lucky" finds of archaeologists. He has instead entrusted the confirmation of his truth to the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the communication of the Word of God. While archaeological finds may provide interesting extra-biblical data, the truth of Scripture does not rest on men digging holes in the desert.


Jim Peet said...

I fell for this trap - "If we can simply prove that Noah's Ark existed" - about 25-30 years ago. Fortunately not for long.

Luke 16:31 speaks to this by application: "But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”"

Just substitute "though Noah's ark be found" for "though one rise from the dead"

J. Brian McKillop said...

He has instead entrusted the confirmation of his truth to the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the communication of the Word of God.

Amen and Amen!