New survey of biblical archaeology
A review of: The Case for Biblical Archaeology: Uncovering the historical record of God’s Old Testament People
by John D. Currid
P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ, 2020
Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high, certainly in the culture at large but also among those who claim to believe the Bible. Increasingly ahistorical readings of the Bible ignore the important ancient context of the original (human) authors and their audiences. When one thinks of biblical archaeology, the average person is more likely to recall Indiana Jones movies or dubious ‘discoveries’ of chariot wheels in the Red Sea.
In this context, John Currid wrote his introduction to biblical archaeology not so much to prove the accuracy of the Bible. He explains: “The Bible doesn’t need to be proved. It stands well enough on its own. … Biblical archaeology serves to confirm, illuminate, and give ‘earthiness’ to the Scriptures. It helps to demonstrate that the events related in the biblical accounts actually took place in history” (p. 3).
The Case for Biblical Archaeology is an introductory text that is about the level of a standard undergraduate survey textbook. Judging by the host of positive reviews by many university and seminary professors, it will be popular as an introductory textbook. It is written very understandably and should be accessible to any interested layperson. Currid assumes very little prior knowledge of the biblical lands or archaeological techniques and terms, so the reader who completes the book will be introduced to these as well.
Currid begins with a survey of significant regions of the ancient world and of Israel, illustrated with helpful full-colour maps and photos. Then he gives an overview of the history, the practice of archaeology and significant discoveries such as the sites of Herculaneum and the Valley of the Kings, and objects like the Rosetta Stone. He describes how biblical archaeology developed from a largely religiously-motivated search for sites of pilgrimage to the modern discipline of today.
An entire chapter is dedicated to tells—artificial hills built up by a series of ancient occupations. Currid defines them, describes their unique shape and features, and explains how they were formed. An ancient settlement needed resources such as a permanent water source, farmable land, and a defensible position. So, many times, a city that had been destroyed by war or natural disasters would be re-settled. People would simply build on top of the ruins of the previous settlement. This creates a stratified area with each layer including pottery and other artifacts that help to identify who the settlers were.
Creationists will be disappointed to see Currid using a standard chronology of the region, with the Neolithic Period stretching back to 8000 BC, roughly 4000 years before the Bible indicates God created the world. There is no indication in the text that there is any controversy or debate concerning these dates, and for a book whose stated purpose is to describe a discipline that “demonstrates the events related in the biblical accounts actually took place in history” (p. 3), there is a noticeable lack of concern about the timescale of those events. It is understandable that an introductory text would need to use or mention the standard dating of these periods, but there is no attempt to put them in the context of the Bible’s chronology.
In the next section of the book, Currid examines individual archaeological sites in more detail, arranged by region. He discusses cities such as Dan and Hazor in the Galilee region, Beth Shean and Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley, Arad in the Negev (southern desert), Gezer and Lachish in the Shephelah (western foothills), and Jericho in the Jordan River Valley. He includes Philistine cities like Ashkelon and Gath on the coastal plain, and the two longstanding capitals of Israel and Judah—Samaria and Jerusalem—in the central highlands. Each site description includes a helpful bibliography for further information and research.
Unfortunately, Currid seems to favour a ‘late date’ for the Exodus and Conquest, in the 13thcentury BC, though the Bible is quite clear that these occurred at the so-called ‘early date’, placing these events in the 15th century BC.1 For example, Currid endorses Yigael Yadin’s conclusion that the massive destruction at Hazor in the 1200s BC should be associated with the campaign of Joshua (p. 79). But the Bible’s chronology would put Joshua’s conquest of Canaan at around 1400 BC. Similarly, Currid accepts Kathleen Kenyon’s date for the destruction of Jericho’s walls in 1550 BC (p. 123), which has led many archaeologists to claim that Jericho was abandoned in Joshua’s time. Currid claims that there was another destruction at Jericho in the 13th century BC, but this is well after Joshua if one accepts the biblical dates. Readers should have been alerted that Kenyon’s conclusions have been challenged, as explained in The walls of Jericho.
Currid could also have been clearer about his view of the dating of the six-chambered gate at Megiddo. He does clearly say that he thinks Yigael Yadin was correct to associate Megiddo’s stratum VA–IVB with the time of King Solomon. Yadin also dated the six-chambered gate to this stratum, and therefore to Solomon’s time. On page 80, Currid indicates his agreement with Yadin’s view, as if this conclusion is settled. But then on page 91 he goes on to say that “more recent work suggests that the Solomonic gate was below that one.” If so, then Currid should have been more circumspect in his earlier comments. But it actually would have been better to leave out this caveat altogether because, as of 2018, even Israel Finkelstein—who formerly disputed the association—now dates the six-chambered gate to stratum VA–IVB. Finkelstein does not connect this stratum with Solomon because of his revised chronology, but that is not relevant to Currid who affirms that Solomon belongs in VA–IVB. Currid’s hedging will be confusing to readers, and the latest research shows that this was unnecessary.
The final section of the book includes explanations of various aspects of society, from water acquisition to architecture and the production of ceramics, burial practices and agriculture. Each of these subjects is an important area of archaeological investigation.
One of the more interesting chapters regards the Hebrew language in archaeology. Currid examines Hebrew in the context of the other Semitic languages and discusses the archaeological evidence of ancient Hebrew. The most significant of the finds is the Siloam Inscription, which describes the digging of a tunnel underneath Jerusalem during Hezekiah’s kingship, recorded in 2 Kings 20:20.
Three useful appendices are supplied as well, including one on “Extrabiblical References to the Kings of Israel and Judah”. There, one can read about David mentioned on the Tel Dan Inscription, learn of the rations given to King Jehoiachin during the Babylonian Captivity, and even see a representation of King Jehu on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III.
It is common for conservative evangelicals to ‘boycott’ and condemn any product that does not wholesale agree with their viewpoint, and biblical creationists have historically done this. However, if we want to remain informed and ‘in touch with’ the mainstream world of biblical academia, it would be a mistake to demonize conservative evangelicals like Currid, who is a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and author of a biblical creationist commentary on Genesis.2 The Case for Biblical Archaeology is a good jumping off point to begin learning about biblical archaeology, and helpful resources suggesting revisions to the conventional ancient Near Eastern chronology have already been produced by creationists and can be used to supplement where necessary. I (LC) previously made the same argument in relation to a rather good Old Testament introduction.3
Each chapter includes key terms and discussion questions at the end of the chapter. This makes the book suitable for use in classroom scenarios, whether in a Christian high school or homeschool setting. Older students may well benefit from encountering the longer archaeological timescale in a setting where biblical creationist teachers and parents can explain why we disagree with these dates and how we interpret the same evidence differently to fit within a biblical timescale.
Currid’s writing is understandable and engaging, and the judicious use of maps and archaeological artifacts for illustration helps to keep the reader’s attention and interest. While biblical creationists will want to supplement the book with materials that defend a more biblical chronology,4 it is overall a very good introductory text.
References and notes
- Wood, B.G., The rise and fall of the 13th century Exodus–conquest theory, JETS 48(3):475–489, 2005. Return to text.
- Currid, J.D., Genesis: Volume 1: Genesis 1:1–25:18, Evangelical Press, Webster, New York, 2003. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., New Old Testament survey criticizes JEDP, J. Creation 31(2):35–37, 2017. Return to text.
- As described in Hardy, C. and Carter, R, The biblical minimum and maximum age of the earth, J. Creation 28(2):89–96, 2014. Return to text.