When We Pull Stuff Out of the Ground
It was my first semester of seminary, and I found myself on a group tour of the small museum of archaeology on campus. I stood there amongst my peers holding a bowl that was 3,000 years old. This was a generous and trusting museum, allowing me to hold the bowl with my own hands. In that moment wasn't what I would call "a revelation" but certainly an "oh, so there were people there - actual people. They ate food out of this, and talked politics while they ate, and got annoyed when their kid was being picky." I was holding a bowl that had been discovered in a tell (which is a small parcel of land in which you are allowed to dig) owned by the seminary in modern-day Syria.
Archaeology fascinates me. We find ourselves connected to ancient worlds because they left their stuff around too. Archaeology is a field that grows because technology improves and methods for discovering artifacts have greatly improved. Finding one thing leads to another, and before you know it, a city is found - a city that lived in existence in an ancient time, and only in the present on paper. We should not be surprised when we pull stuff out of the ground that corroborates the biblical account of a place and what that place was like. If we believe in the reliability of the Scriptures, it is expected. We believe what God's Word tells us because it is God's Word - but it is not a witness to truth that retreats from historical inquiry - in fact, God's Word invites it.
Have you noticed how in the Bible at the beginning of a book of prophecy, or in the Gospels, references are made to who was in power at the time and what events run parallel to the time of authorship? Have you noticed how frequently genealogies are used, that give us both a historical and instructional account of how a person came to be? This use of historical figures in and outside of God's people is much like other books of history, that too, invited historical inquiry. The events of the Bible, whether it be a massive flood or the death of our Savior, were not just witnessed in a dream. They happened in front of real people in real places, and so we should expect a real agreement between Word and historical record. Notice that I am not claiming agreement between historical event and naturalistic explanation, because that is not what the Bible claims at all. The Bible and Christ-followers believe that God has intervened in the world, acted supernaturally in a historical time and place. The plagues of Egypt happened because God made them happen, and they happened in Egypt under the rule of an oppressive pharaoh who used the Hebrews as slave labor in that place.
Just last year the gate of the city of Gath was found, a gate that is referenced in 1 Samuel 21. It has been discovered over the years, (it's been a dig site since 1899) that Gath was perhaps the largest city of the Philistines. Archaeologists have found a Philistine temple, pottery, outdoor hearths for feasting, and a large iron developing area just behind the city gate. Gath is the home of Goliath, the great Philistine champion, who was killed by David. The story adds up, and not just because of artifacts, but because both the method of fighting one-on-one champion vs. champion was common in the ancient world, but so was the practice of stone-slinging as a method of war. God fought on David's behalf, and behalf of his people Israel, making the victory possible, but it isn't done outside of this world, but in a context that makes sense, making use of contemporary weapons of war and the special Spirit-backed equipping of individuals.
When the apostle Paul was questioned about the life and resurrection of Jesus before Festus and Agrippa in Acts 26, he declares famously, "That these things have not escaped your notice, because they did not happen in a corner." If you deny the historical account of Jesus in the Bible, you must come up with a historically defensible for the rise of the Christian church following Paul and the other apostles. The artifacts from the time of Christ and the time of David have footprints, and they walk us all the way to where we are, and that is a globe where followers of Jesus reside in every part of the world. And we did not end up that way speculatively or by believing in the independent, unverifiable revelations of another. We believe in it is true because the account of God's story from Adam to the return of Christ is a reliable story, given to us by the Holy Spirit in real places by real people who tell the tale of a God become man, a baby born in a real town - a real town called Bethlehem.