In This Article Biblical Archaeology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Encyclopedias
  • Older Introductory Works
  • History of the Discipline, and Its Future
  • Historical Geography
  • Early Biblical Themes: The Patriarchs to the Exodus
  • The End of the Iron Age and the Persian Period
  • Israelite Religion
  • Israelite Society
  • Daily Life
  • Pottery

Jewish Studies Biblical Archaeology
by
Avraham Faust
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0051

Introduction

The term “biblical archaeology” has meant different things to different people at different times. During most of its history, the term was used broadly and included archaeological (and archaeology-related) activities in the biblical lands, mainly the Near East but even beyond it, from prehistory to the medieval period. Later, the term was seen as parochial, narrow, and religiously loaded, and many felt uncomfortable using it, sometimes calling for a “secular archaeology” (e.g., William Dever), and preferring instead terms such as “Syria-Palestinian archaeology,” “Near Eastern archaeology,” or “archaeology of the Levant.” The change has also been connected with the decrease in the historical value attributed to the biblical narratives, and to political correctness. The term, nevertheless, is still widely used, and many scholars speak today about “new biblical archaeology.” Geographically, the new term is narrower, covering mainly the Land of Israel (also known as the southern Levant, Palestine, or the Holy Land; roughly covering the area of modern Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority). Chronologically, it still covers a long period, but there is a difference between Israeli usage and American/European usage. Both “groups” begin the era with the start of the Bronze Age (although all agree that there was nothing “biblical” in those periods). For Israeli scholars, however, the biblical period refers to the time covered in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), and it ends by the Late Iron Age, or the Persian period. For most American and European scholars, especially in the past, the term embraced the Hellenistic period, the Roman period, and perhaps even the Byzantine period. Today, however, scholars specialize either in the early periods (Bronze and Iron Ages) or in the later (Hellenistic-Byzantine) periods, and the term “biblical archaeology” is becoming synonymous with the Bronze and Iron Ages (including the Persian period). Indeed, these are the periods that will receive most attention here. Although originally the “child” of biblical studies and archaeology, in its current usage the term is not necessarily connected with the Bible; rather, it relates to studies of a certain era in a certain region. Due to the wide definitions of biblical archaeology, and in light of the differences in meanings associated with it, the boundaries between biblical archaeology and other disciplines are not always clear cut, and they have changed over the course of the discipline’s history. Therefore, the following sections will address some works that are not archaeological in nature. Notably, this article will usually not refer to excavation reports or technical ceramic studies.

General Overviews

The field of biblical archaeology seems to be in a constant process of change, and it has experienced some drastic transformations since the early 1990s, partially as a response to biblical minimalism and partially as a result of more-internal processes (e.g., the low chronology debate). As a result, most biblical archaeology textbooks (i.e., volumes that systematically describe the main themes the archaeology of the region period by period) are not completely up to date. Steiner and Killebrew 2014 is currently the only updated general overview of the relevant periods and cultures (a few others will also be published in the near future). Listed here are also a few relatively up-to-date books that cover the chronological span of biblical archaeology (and more). Mazar 1990 and Ben-Tor 1992 are classical introductions, covering mainly Cisjordan, whereas Adams 2008 treats mainly Transjordan. Levy 1995 is an edited volume stressing social and anthropological questions, while Kempinski and Reich 1992 focuses on architecture. Cline 2009 is a popular introduction to the subdiscipline of biblical archaeology. Many companions to ancient Israel are also available that present readers with broad overviews, but they focus on Israel and Judah during the Iron Age, on the societies in these polities, and on the biblical literature. While broader in these respects than typical archaeological introductory books, they cannot serve as a broad introduction to the archaeology of the Land of Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages, as some periods are presented only briefly, and not all archaeological themes are fully covered. Niditch 2016 is an updated example of this genre, and it can serve readers who are interested primarily in the Iron Age, with a focus on Israel and Judah.

  • Adams, Russell, ed. Jordan: An Archaeological Reader. Sheffield, UK: Equinox, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    An updated edited volume, summarizing the archaeology of Transjordan by periods, going well beyond the biblical period.

  • Ben-Tor, Amnon, ed. The Archaeology of Ancient Israel. Translated by R. Greenberg. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is an edited volume (translated from Hebrew) written mainly by leading scholars. It covers the period from the Neolithic to the end of the Iron Age, mainly west of the Jordan River. Somewhat dated, but it has no replacement yet.

  • Cline, Eric H. Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780195342635.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    A short and popular book, aimed at giving the uninitiated the basics about biblical archaeology and the main issues that fall under this heading.

  • Kempinski, Aharon, and Ronny Reich, eds. The Architecture of Ancient Israel: From the Prehistoric to the Persian Periods. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    An edited volume, with chapters summarizing the major architectural elements, from dwellings to palaces and fortifications, in the Bronze and Iron Ages.

  • Levy, Thomas E., ed. The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. New York: Facts On File, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is an edited volume on the archaeology of the region, with a chapter on every period from prehistory to the modern era. The volume has a strong emphasis on the archaeology of society, and it is edited with an explicitly anthropological approach (in contrast to the prevailing approach in biblical archaeology, which is “historical” in orientation).

  • Mazar, Amihai. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 10,000–586 B.C.E. Anchor Bible Reference Library 2. New York: Doubleday, 1990.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is probably the best textbook on biblical archaeology written by a single author. Concentrating mainly on Cisjordan, it covers the period from the Neolithic to the end of the Iron Age (the Persian period is not discussed). Although it is dated in many ways, this is probably still the best book of its kind available today.

  • Niditch, Susan, ed. The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Ancient Israel. Chichester, UK: Wiley, 2016.

    E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive companion to ancient Israel, covering various aspects related to this group, its history, culture, society, and archaeology.

  • Steiner, Margreet L., and Ann E. Killebrew. The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant, c. 8000–332 BCE. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is the most updated book covering the periods discussed in the entire Levant. Each period is covered by a brief introductory chapter, and then short chapters covering the separate regions, usually one for (roughly), Syria and Lebanon (sometimes covered separately), Cisjordan, Transjordan, and Cyprus.

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