Lost Treasures of the Bible: Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums

By Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (2008). xxv + 471 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
20.2 (Fall 2009) : 266-267

The great discoveries in biblical archaeology are generally agreed to have begun with the discovery and excavation of Ninevah (ca. 1847), and though continuing to this day, really ended its “golden era” before World War II. Individual discoveries since then have been of significant importance (e.g., The Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947; the Nag Hammadi library in 1945; the correct location of the Pool of Siloam in 2004; and even the Tomb of Herod the Great in recent months), but that era remains unparalleled in terms of volume and scope of the discoveries.

One of the significant defects in the methodologies of this early period was the wholesale removal of artifacts from the Near East to the great museums of Europe and elsewhere. The British Museum, the Louve in Paris, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul (among others) in many cases house more artifacts than the museums of the countries from which the artifacts were removed. They certainly house the most significant ones. Even manuscripts have occasionally been subdivided; for instance Codex Sinaiticus is in four uneven pieces. The majority of the Codex is in the British Library, but other pieces are in Saint Petersburg, the University of Leipzig Library, while some of the leaves still reside in Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai.

The authors view this volume as providing a “map to the lost treasures of the Bible. Not buried beneath desert sands or hidden in remote mountain caves, these treasures are lost in the endless halls and countless glass cases of the scattered museum collections of the world. They can be seen, but only if one knows where to go and what to look for—and, especially, if one knows why there are true treasures of the Bible” (xvi).

The authors have pulled together an enormous amount of detailed information, following the lines of the biblical chronology, significant artifactual evidences and remains related to specific biblical passages, events, and history. Each artifact is named, detailed as to its discovery and current location, its place in history, and the biblical significance of the item. T he articles are thorough, crisply written, and informative. The volume is well illustrated throughout and contains eight center pages of high quality color photographs of some of the more significant items.

After the main section which presents the artifacts chronologically come some additional chapters. One deals with Ancient Biblical Texts (401ff.) and then a chapter entitled, “Sensational Finds: Genuine or Forgery?” (429ff.). The section on texts is well done and substantial enough to stand on its own. However, the section on forgeries is only four pages and appears to be an afterthought to the project. A lot more could have been done with that chapter to make it more useful. On this topic the otherwise excellent bibliography does not list Oscar White Muscarella, The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near East Cultures (Styx, 2000), which details the entire issue of forged artifacts and details some forgeries on display in museums.

In addition to the normal subject and Scripture indexes, the authors have included an index of “Objects by Museum” and an “Index of Objects by Museum Number” (the individual cataloguing numbers that the individual museums use).

This is a well-written and largely well-executed work that fills a need in the literature. It will serve the scholar as well as the pastor who cannot acquire all of the specialized books and articles on these artifacts, but needs a good overview for his study. This work is highly recommended.