Introduction for My Book: “The Word Set in Stone”

Introduction for My Book: “The Word Set in Stone” January 24, 2023

+ Near Eastern Archaeological Periods and Timeline of the Patriarchs

 

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[to be published by Catholic Answers Press on March 20, 2023; 320 pages]

[pre-order from Amazon ($21.95 for the paperback) ]

Introduction

What we may call biblical archaeology flourished from the 1930s to the 1950s, under the leadership of the great Methodist archaeologist and polymath William Foxwell Albright (1891–1971) and Jewish archaeologist and rabbi Nelson Glueck (1900–1971). In his 1959 book, Rivers in the Desert, Glueck summed up his and Albright’s high view of the Bible and their belief that archaeology strongly supports it:

It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made that confirm, in clear outline or exact detail, historical statements in the Bible. By the same token, proper evaluation of biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries. (1)

This is roughly what is now called a biblical maximalist position within archaeology. Arguably, today’s most prominent maximalists are Scottish evangelical Protestant Egyptologist and archaeologist Kenneth A. Kitchen (b. 1932) and American archaeologist James K. Hoffmeier (b. 1951). Kitchen, though a firm defender of the historicity of the biblical accounts (and in that sense a “traditionalist”), doesn’t, however, uncritically accept the overall outlook or (especially) the methodology of Albright and his cohorts, like G. Ernest Wright (1909–1974) and Cyrus Gordon (1908– 2001). He rather bluntly made this clear:

The treatments given here by me are not based on Albright, Gordon, or the vagaries of the little local (and very parochial) United States problem of the long-deceased American Biblical Archaeology/Theology school. (2)

Biblical minimalism, on the other hand, has dominated the archaeology of Israel and the Near East since the 1970s. Prominent minimalist Thomas L. Thompson, professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993 to 2009, made this grandiose proclamation:

The results of my own investigations, if they are for the most part acceptable, seem sufficient to require a complete reappraisal of the current position on the historical character of the patriarchal narratives. (3)

I want to deal with specific objective matters in relation to the text of the Bible that can be addressed by archaeology or other forms of science, starting with premises (for the most part) that Christians and non-Christians accept in common. I’m not trying to prove biblical inspiration. That’s a much more involved and complex argument. What I’m doing is “defeating the defeaters” offered up by biblical skeptics, anti-theist atheists (who specialize in and constantly focus on criticizing the Bible, Christians, Christianity), and archaeological minimalists.

If they argue, for example, that a particular city wasn’t in existence when the Bible says it was, then, in response, I seek archaeological data to prove or at least offer strong evidential support for the biblical view. This approach defends the Bible’s accuracy.

Skeptical arguments against biblical accuracy are often incorrect and fallacious. In other words, if a skeptic contends, “The Bible is inaccurate history and therefore clearly not inspired because of errors a, b, c, d, e, and f,” I will  argue via secular science—most often, but not exclusively, archaeology—that supposed errors a, b, c, d, e, and f are actually not errors and can almost always be resolved in a way that is consistent with belief in biblical inspiration. If the Bible is inspired, then it should be historically accurate and not self-contradictory. It becomes, to put it another way, a strong cumulative argument.

This book deals with objective, historical issues that we can analyze through the means of scientific (mostly archaeological) analysis. It’s what Christians are often asked to do: give solid evidence for what we believe.

The format throughout the chapters is simple:

1) Present the material to be considered.

2) Summarize how Bible skeptics, archaeological minimalists, or anti-theist atheists question and cast doubt upon this material.

3) Refute the skeptical concerns and give a positive case for the biblical data from secular research.

Lastly, I must add a clarifying note regarding miracles and the supernatural, a common theme in the Bible and in this book. In many of my chapters, I speculate about possible natural causes for events that Christians usually regard as purely miraculous. In doing so, I’m not being “theologically liberal” or hostile to the possibility of miracles. I fully believe in them—that they happened and that they still happen today.

God can and does do whatever he wants, and the process of salvation is supernatural. Moreover, many biblical events can hardly not be miraculous, such as the killing of the Egyptian firstborn, the raising of the dead, walking on water and through walls, and Balaam’s talking donkey, not to mention transubstantiation, the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, the atonement, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and other directly “theological” miracles.

On the other hand, as a clear example of God’s using non-miraculous means to accomplish his ends, we see that when he decided to judge his chosen people, he used the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel, in about 722–720 B.C. (Ezek. 23:1–10), and the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar, to conquer the southern kingdom of Judah (including the destruction of the Temple) in 586 B.C. (vv. 11–34). Then, not long afterward, God used the Persian king Cyrus to help the exiled Jews return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple (2 Chron. 36:23; Ezra 6:3–5; Isa. 45:1–6,13). None of this was miraculous, but it was all in the “service” of God’s expressly stated will.

Standard Christian understanding of God’s sovereignty holds that God’s providence is large and complex enough to include natural events and extraordinary timing (as a function of his omniscience and being outside time) for the accomplishment of his purposes.

For example, a meteor—that God utilized for judgment—may have destroyed Sodom. If that was indeed the case, God knew that a meteor would be approaching soon and used the natural event in conjunction with his warning about the judgment. It was still his will to judge for sin. How he did it is a separate question.

Other times, it may be a mixture of the natural and miraculous. In these cases, I throw out interesting possibilities or theories, not necessarily taking a position. I never claim that things must have been the way I suggest.

As another example, let’s consider the incident of God providing quails for the wandering Hebrews to eat in the desert. As always, God could have worked through outright miracles if he so chose (he could have created a million quails on the spot and sent them down to the complaining Hebrews), or he could have marvelously arranged in his providence for lots of quails to appear right at the time when he said they would appear. Both are entirely in his capability, and each is an extraordinary event, showing his power (omnipotence) and his omniscience and sovereignty over nature. He knew from all eternity that the ancient Israelites would complain in the wilderness about not having meat (longing for their wonderful time of slavery in Egypt), and he knew (if the natural explanation is what actually happened) that quail would migrate across their path at precisely the time this murmuring came about.

I’m not opting for any of these scenarios. I’m simply saying that it is entirely possible (and no less glorying to God) that a natural explanation (that can be explored through our knowledge of bird migration) could account for the abundance of quail. If that is the case, the inspired, infallible Bible would again be accurate in reporting what happened (as it always is).

A theologically liberal or skeptical mentality does exist, whereby every miracle in the Bible is “explained away” by natural processes because of disbelief in all miracles from the outset. I detest that, and it’s not at all my own position. Rather, mine is a view that fully accepts the possibility and factuality of actual divine, supernatural miracles, while at the same time recognizing that God’s omniscience and omnipotence, providence and sovereignty are such that he can and does also incorporate natural events into his divine plans for the human race and the accomplishment of his will.

Near Eastern Archaeological Periods

Bronze Age (3300 B.C.–1200 B.C.):

Early Bronze Age I 3300 B.C.–3000 B.C.
Early Bronze Age II 3000 B.C.–2700 B.C.

Early Bronze Age III 2700 B.C.–2200 B.C.
Early Bronze Age IV 2200 B.C.–2000 B.C.
Middle Bronze Age I 2000 B.C.–1750 B.C.
Middle Bronze Age II 1750 B.C.–1650 B.C.
Middle Bronze Age III 1650 B.C.–1550 B.C.
Late Bronze Age I 1550 B.C.–1400 B.C.
Late Bronze Age IIA 1400 B.C.–1300 B.C.
Late Bronze Age IIB 1300 B.C.–1200 B.C.

Iron Age (1200 B.C.–586 B.C.):

Iron Age I A 1200 B.C.–1150 B.C.
Iron Age I B 1150 B.C.–1000 B.C.
Iron Age II A 1000 B.C.–900 B.C.
Iron Age II B 900 B.C.–700 B.C.
Iron Age II C 700 B.C.–586 B.C.

Timeline of the Patriarchs

Following the scholarly maximalist timeline of Kenneth
Kitchen and others (none “fundamentalists”) who regard
the Bible as historically accurate, here are the approximate
dates of early biblical figures and patriarchs and events. I
will be provisionally utilizing these dates in my treatment
of these figures and events in this book. (4)

Noah and the Flood—c. 2900 B.C.

Patriarchs—c. 1900–1600 B.C.
(“2000–1500 at the outermost limits”)

Abraham—born c. 1880–1860 B.C.

Isaac—born c. 1850–1820 B.C.

Jacob—born c. 1775 B.C.

Joseph—born c. 1737–1717 B.C. The Bible states that he
was seventeen when sold into slavery (Gen. 37:2).

Moses—c. 1340 or 1330–c. 1220 or 1210 B.C.,
extrapolating from Kitchen’s date for the Exodus

Exodus from Egypt—c. 1260–1250 B.C.

Israeli “Conquest” of Canaan—c. 1220 or 1210–c.
1170 or 1160 B.C.

FOOTNOTES

1 Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (New York: Farrar Strauss and Cudahy, 1959), 31.
2 Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003), 469.
3 Thomas L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002), 2.
4 The dates in this timeline are drawn from Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament.

***

Summary: Introduction to Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong’s volume: The Word Set in Stone: How Archaeology, Science, and History Back up the Bible (Catholic Answers Press).


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