A is for archaeology

The most common reaction I get when I tell people I am an archaeologist is, ‘I always wanted to be an archaeologist when I was little!’ Since most people have left that dream behind and found more useful things to do, I sometimes find myself pondering why it is worthwhile to engage in archaeology.

This is the first in a series on the Lordship of Christ over our different disciplines. Once a month, we will consider a specific discipline and ask ourselves what difference the knowledge that Christ is Lord over all creation makes to our practice of that discipline. First up is archaeology.

After the first excitement of the prospect of digging up treasures has worn away (probably after weeks of finding nothing whilst digging in rock-hard clay in the scorching sun, or alternatively sloppy, slippery clay in the pouring rain), why would a Christian have an interest in pursuing an academic career in archaeology at all? In this short post I can only cover one reason: archaeology is arguably the discipline that does most justice to the great diversity of God’s creation. To properly understand human life and culture, you need to have an understanding of all the different aspects of God’s multifaceted works.

First, archaeologists study the non-living world. The landscapes that humans inhabit, the impact of climate on their lifestyle, the materials they use to build houses, make tools, toys, art. Then there is the non-human living world: the plants that are eaten, the animals that are domesticated, the small creatures that tell us more about the environment. And finally of course the people themselves: the techniques they use to make things, their social lives, their economic system, their religion.

Whilst many disciplines are at risk of reductionism, losing sight of the wonderful ways in which everything in God’s creation holds together in Christ (Col. 1:17), archaeologists are forced to consider many different aspects of the world in order to piece together the full picture. Archaeological theories that try to reduce all of human life to e.g. environmental causal factors (the New Archaeology of the 1970s-1980s) or human social and emotional life (the post-processual archaeology of the 1990s) are bound to produce only a partial understanding of how people have lived throughout the ages. What is more, to build up a complete account, specialists from many different disciplines have to work together. In this way, archaeology implicitly acknowledges the richness of God’s creation, not least in the complexity of human life and culture. This reflects the lordship of Christ over all that exists, because God has created a world that is very multi-faceted and everything is intertwined with everything else.

Comments

Thanks for this posting Eline. I’d be interested to hear from you what you think about
the issue of apologetics and archaeology. For example there is a prophecy about God’s judgment on the ancient city of Tyre in Ezekiel 28. Some argue that archaeology shows that the biblical testimony is faithful and accurate. Do you think this is a valid way of connecting archaeology to apologetics? Fully appreciate that this will take some time to discuss but this issue is of interest to me.

Hello Mark, here’s my as-short-as-possible answer to your question… Obviously without much nuance! I suppose as a Christian my starting point is that the Bible is God’s Word. Because He is the author of history, I would expect what He reveals to us to be reliable. So I would expect what archaeologists find to be in agreement with what is written in the Bible. For a Christian, this is encouraging and it can strengthen their faith. I think that apologetics for most people is probably not the most important factor when they come to acknowledge Christ as Lord, but it can certainly take away some barriers. So there could be a role there.
As for the specific example you give, it is probably possible to show that Tyre was destroyed at some point in time, and we might even be able to put a fairly accurate date on it. But even if we could show that the Biblical account is older (which is very hard), then still it is rather more difficult though is to show that it was God’s judgment that led to its demise. Even if we could perfectly reconstruct historic facts, their interpretation is another layer of complexity.

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