(Originally posted on Amazon 8/24/2003)
Biblical Archaeology, as the Archaeological study of ancient Palestine and its environs is frequently known by, is inextricably linked with the three major faiths the area has spawned. For the past century or so this has been both a blessing and a curse, because each new find is constantly being held up to scrutiny and opposing interpretations by a myriad of entrenched camps, each with their own agendas and opinions, most of which seem to be in direct conflict with one another. Some take the Bible as a literal roadmap for the ancient middle east, others deny its validity completely, and still others try to navigate a middle course between the two extremes. Just trying to ask a simple question, like whether or not King David actually existed, can result in dozens of competing answers, volumes of tomes, and, in a few extreme cases, fisticuffs and lifelong enmity between competing academics (sounds like the middle east in microcosm, doesn’t it?). Therefore, _any_ book on this subject is going to be controversial or even heresy to one party or another.
Keeping this in mind, Archaeology and the Bible, by John C. H. Laughlin, does a pretty good job of trying to navigate the middle ground between all the warring factions, although admittably it does lean toward one general area of archaeological interpretation (namely, that the Old Testament is exceedingly unreliable as a guidebook to ancient Palestine). The book is arranged chronologically, from the Neolithic (circa 8000 BC) to the late Iron Age (around 550 BC). In each section, Laughlin details what is generally considered the consensus opinion about that particular era, outlining some of the major issues and discussing a few of the more important areas of contention. Major archaeological finds are considered, and some effort is made to put these into a general context. There is also a chapter outlining the history of Biblical Archaeology as an academic pursuit, and another giving a detailed description of modern archaeological methods and techniques.
All together, this book is not a bad attempt to introduce and outline this highly contentious subject. Laughlin does an admirable job of trying to keep controversy to a minimum, only going where he considers it safest, and keeping even his own opinions (mostly) firmly in check in the hope of providing as even-handed an introduction as possible. For the most part, he succeeds. Unlike many other entries of its kind, this book is also fairly short, which makes it much less daunting to the average lay person. Finally, it also provides a fairly good bibliography that cuts well across ideological grounds, meaning that no matter which direction you find yourself falling toward over some of these questions, Laughlin provides a good reference for you to continue in your studies. For those interested in an introduction to modern Biblical Archaeology, this is a good place to start.
4 Stars out of 5 Stars