Biblical Archaeology—Silencing the Critics – Part 2

By: ATRI Staff; ©2006
Critics have a problem: any time archaeology does not directly confirm something the Bible teaches, the tendency is to allege an error in the text. On the other hand, liberal critics frequently tend to avoid the use of archaeology where it confirms the Bible! This type of bias, the authors say, seems evident to everyone—except those doing it.

Biblical Archaeology—Silencing the Critics – Part 2

The noted classical scholar Professor E. N. Blaiklock once wrote, quite correctly, “Recent archaeology has destroyed much nonsense and will destroy more. And I use the word nonsense deliberately, for theories and speculations find currency in biblical scholarship that would not be tolerated for a moment in any other branch of literary or historical criticism.”[1] Geisler and Brooks remark, “As for the critical theories which were spawned in the early 1800’s but still persist today, they are left without substantiation. The great archaeologist William F. Albright says, ‘All radical schools in New Testament criticism which have existed in the past or which exist today are pre-archaeological, and are therefore, since they were built in Der Luft [in the air], quite antiquated today.’”[2]

Indeed, the biases of modern critical biblical scholarship seems evident to everyone except those doing it. And those with biases to uphold usually don’t want to be bothered with troubling little facts. As Kitchen points out:

Nowhere else in the whole of Ancient Near Eastern history has the literary, religious and historical development of a nation been subjected to such drastic and wholesale reconstructions at such variance with the existing documentary evidence. The fact that Old Testament scholars are habituated to these widely known reconstructions, even mentally conditioned by them, does not alter the basic gravity of the situation which should not be taken for granted…. [citing Bright] “The new evidence [i.e., objective Near Eastern data], far from furnishing a corrective to inherited notions of the religions of earliest Israel tends to be subsumed under the familiar developmental pattern’…. And the same applies to other aspects besides history….”[3]

Thus, “Biblical studies have long been hindered by the persistence of long-outdated philo­sophical and literary theories (especially of nineteenth-century stamp), and by wholly inad­equate use of first-hand sources in appreciating the earlier periods of the Old Testament story in particular.”[4] One predominant example is the documentary hypothesis or the “JEDP” theory of the first five books of the Bible, which we will discuss in a moment.

The irony, or perhaps hypocrisy, of liberal critical scholarship at this point is illustrated in its two-minded approach to biblical archaeology. On the one hand, any time archaeology does not directly confirm something the Bible teaches, the tendency is to allege an error in the text. Thus, “any element in the [biblical] traditions which was not corroborated by archaeological evidence has been considered suspect or anachronistic.”[5] On the other hand, liberal critics frequently tend to avoid the use of archaeology where it confirms the Bible:

One of the striking characteristics of the scholars who have approached the Bible primarily through literary analysis [e.g., the documentary hypothesis] is the non-use or at best the grudging use they have made of archaeological evidence.[6]

For example,

A few scholars who had accepted the views of higher criticism, such as A. H. Sayce, revised their positions because of the impact of the early archaeological discoveries, but most higher critics chose not to make use of the new data.”[7]

To cite another example, archaeology has discredited the theories of form criticism, which holds that the content of the gospels was largely invented and only written down 100-150 years after the apostles lived, in the second century A.D.[8] It may surprise no one that form critics have ignored archaeology when it discredits personal theories that they have held to for emotional as well as academic reasons. But how scholarly are they being? Scholars, presumably, are inter­ested in the truth and will allow the evidence to take them where it will. Yet when it comes to the Bible, it seems there aren’t very many real scholars in modern academia.

An illustration involves the documentary hypothesis. This theory rejects Mosaic authorship in the fifteenth century B.C., and supposes a much later compilation by a variety of authors who wrote documents termed “J,” “E,” “D,” and “P.” This material was later shuffled and reassembled by editors to form the Pentateuch and, allegedly, later writings of the Old Testament also. Yet “even the most ardent advocate of the documentary theory must admit that we have as yet no single scrap of external, objective material (i.e., tangible) evidence for either the existence or the history of ‘J,’ ‘E,’ or any other alleged source-document.”[9]

For more than 100 years the Graf-Wellhausen or “documentary” theory has been taught in most seminaries and universities as the “absolute truth” concerning the literary evolution and development of the Old Testament—and yet not a shred of evidence exists to support it! In­stead, this theory has been thoroughly disproven for decades, even by non-evangelical scholar­ship, yet it continues to be taught as truth. How’s that for illustrating the objectivity of those in the scholarly community supporting this theory? Essentially, liberal biblical scholars are promot­ing elaborately devised myths in order to reject Mosaic authorship and the divine inspiration of the Old Testament so that they can “uphold” their own personal views of the Bible as a humanly devised document. What could be fairer?

The theories current in Old Testament studies, however brilliantly conceived and elaborated, were mainly established in a vacuum with little or no reference to the Ancient Near East and initially too often in accordance with a priori philosophical and literary principles. It is solely because the data from the Ancient Near East coincide so much better with the existing observable structure of Old Testament history, literature and religion than with the theoretical reconstructions, that we are compelled—as happens in Ancient Oriental studies—to question or even to abandon such theories regardless of their popularity. Facts not votes determine the truth.[10]

As Dr. Kitchen infers, the documentary hypothesis, since it is disproved, should be aban­doned, but perhaps one should not hold one’s breath. Anyone who reads even a relatively brief survey of the evidence against the documentary hypothesis, as that given by the noted biblical and linguistic scholar, Gleason L. Archer in his A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, will realize how thoroughly liberal Old Testament scholarship has been based in fantasy. For example:

[Even in the nineteenth century] in America the Princeton Seminary scholars Joseph Addison Alexander and William Henry Green… subjected the documentarian school to devastating criticism which has never been successfully rebutted by those of liberal persuasion…. How shall we characterize the trend of twentieth-century scholarship and its treatment of Pentateuchal criticism and of the Wellhausen hypothesis?… Almost every supporting pillar has been shaken and shattered by a generation of scholars who were brought up on the Graf-Wellhausen system and yet have found it inadequate to explain the data of the Pentateuch…. We close with an apt quotation from H. F. Hahn, “This review of activity in the field of Old Testament criticism during the last quarter-century has revealed a chaos of conflicting trends, ending in contradictory results, which create an impression of ineffectiveness in this type of research. The conclusion seems unavoidable that the higher criticism has long since past the age of constructive achievement.”[11]

Incidentally, Archer’s text, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction has many examples of archaeological confirmation of Old Testament books; and yet he also points out that an attitude of skeptical prejudice toward the Bible “has persisted, without any logical justification.”[12] That the majority of liberal Old Testament scholars allow their personal biases to dictate their research methods and conclusions—merely to support personal views—is no small indictment given the fact that such theories have been discredited for decades.

What one finds through archaeological research is that alleged biblical errors have later been shown to be factual truths. What else, then, can one conclude about higher critical scholar­ship—other than the fact that it is the problem, not the Bible? “In the light of past discoveries one may expect that future archaeological finds will continue to support the biblical traditions against radical reconstructions.”[13]

As we have noted, biblical critics have pointed to all kinds of people, places, and things in the Bible that no archaeological evidence could confirm. Skeptics rashly heralded such lack of confirmation as proof of “biblical errors.” Consider one more example:

It has become almost a dogma of critical scholarship to insist that Genesis 14, which recounts the battle between Abraham and his allies and the four kings of the East, is unhistorical precisely because the five cities mentioned in the story are never referred to in any ancient literature apart from the Old Testament. The assumption is that unless a person, place or event in early Israel’s history can be validated by extrabiblical documentation it must be unhistorical. The fallacy in that method ought to be obvious, for if this principle were applied to all of ancient (and even modern) history virtually nothing could be recovered from the past in the name of history.[14]

In fact, until scholars can manage to keep their biases against the biblical text in check and treat it as they do other ancient documents, probably no amount of extrabiblical supporting evidence will convince them otherwise. And until this occurs, conservatives will be correct in referencing such work more as propaganda than good scholarship.[15] Further, archaeologists sometimes admit that their chronology has been wrong and that this is why there has been a lack of supporting evidence for the Scriptures. As noted scholar Dr. John Warwick Montgomery points out,

[American Institute of Holy Land Studies] researcher Thomas Drobena cautioned that where archaeology and the Bible seemed to be in tension, the issue is almost always dating, the most shaky area in current archaeology and the one at which scientistic a priori and circular reasoning often replace solid empirical analysis.[16]

There is ongoing debate among scholars as to dates, and even as to the nature of such buildings as the stables or store houses dated now to Ahab’s time instead of to Solomon’s.

[David Noel] Freedman, for example, says that “the reason that the story [of Abraham] has never been located historically is that scholars, all of us, have been looking in the wrong millennium. Briefly put, the account in Genesis 14, and also in chapters 18-19, does not belong to the second millennium B.C., still less to the first millennium B.C., but rather to the third millennium B-C.”[17]

Most conservative scholars, however, have always placed Abraham close to the third millen­nium B.C., about 1900 B.C.

Nevertheless, as archaeological excavations continued in Israel, time and again what was once an “error” was subsequently confirmed as fact. Whether it was the fact of a branch of the Hittites mentioned some 50 times in the Bible (as early as Genesis 10:15), King Sargon (Isaiah 20:1), Darius the Mede (Daniel 6:1),[18] or many others, biblical history was repeatedly upheld:

Archaeological research has established the identity of literally hundreds of places—in Mesopotamia, Persia, ancient Canaan, and Egypt—that are mentioned in the Bible. Further­more, the discovery of thousands of historical texts in Egypt and Mesopotamia has enabled scholars to work out the historical chronology of the ancient world in considerable detail. Histori­cal synchronisms have been established for dating the accession of Solomon (ca. 961 B.C.), the accession of Jehu, the Israelite king (842/1 B.C.), the fall of Samaria (722/1 B.C.), and the first capture of Jerusalem (March 15/16, 579 B.C.).[19]

(to be continued)


  1. E. M. Blaiklock, Christianity Today, September 28, 1973, p. 13.
  2. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1990), p. 202.
  3. K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1972), pp. 20, 20n.
  4. K. A. Kitchen, The Bible in Its World: The Bible and Archeology Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977), p. 7
  5. Edwin Yamauchi, The Stones and the Scriptures (New York: J. B. Lippencott, 1972), p. 161.
  6. Ibid., p. 30.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Joseph P. Free, rev. and expanded by Howard F. Vos, Archeology and Bible History (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), pp. 255-257.
  9. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, p. 23.
  10. Ibid., p. 172.
  11. Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974, rev.), pp. 85, 90.
  12. Ibid., p. 107.
  13. Yamauchi, p. 164.
  14. Eugene H. Merrill, “Ebla and Biblical Historical Inerrancy,” in Roy B. Zuck (ed.), Vital Apologetics Issues: Examin­ing Reasons and Revelation in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1995), p. 184.
  15. Ibid., p. 179.
  16. In McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (1975 ed), p. 65., citing John Warwick Montgomery, ”Evangelicals and Archeology,” Christianity Today, August 16, 1968, pp. 47-48.
  17. Merrill in Zuck (ed.), p. 187.
  18. Cf. Free and Vos, pp. 108, 170, passim, and John Whitcomb, Darius the Mede (Presbyterian and Reformed, nd.)
  19. Keith N. Schoville, Biblical Archeology in Focus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1978), p. 167.


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