What Has Archaeology to Do with Faith?

By James H. Charlesworth and Walter P. Weaver (eds.)
Philadelphia : Trinity Press International (1992). xi + 116 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
6.2 (Fall 1995) : 243-244

One of the most interesting aspects of biblical studies is that of archeology. In recent years archeologists have discovered several noteworthy items, such as an inscription referring to the Davidic line of kings in the northern area of Dan and the tomb of Caiaphas in southern Israel near Jerusalem. This book raises the question, what do discoveries such as these have to do with "faith"?

A foundational problem with this volume is that though it defines "archeology"—which denotes "biblical archeology"—in delicate detail, it has no definition of "faith." Several distinct meanings occur somewhat interchangeably. Is faith the embodiment of Christian doctrine? Is faith a manifestation of a corporate religion? Is faith the act of believing? Or, is faith some type of existential experience? All the contributors tend toward lexical ambiguity on this point, and they come up with no unified workable definition.

The contributors attempt to prove that the true relationship of biblical archeology and Christian faith lies somewhere between the position of Burke Long, who regards the Bible as a "holy book that tells stories" (66), and the positions of the Near East Archeological Society and Bryant Wood, who "begin with the conviction of Biblical inerrancy" (65). Yet one of the contributors concludes that their position is "not entirely satisfactory from either a theoretical or methodological point of view" (66).

The authors of this work make assumptions regarding both archeology and "the faith" that are problematic at best. Any concept of biblical inerrancy belongs to the realm of "arcane fundamentalism" (x). They reject the historicity of the creation narrative and the patriarchs (69). They redefine the claims of Jesus regarding both His deity and substitutionary death, as presented in the NT and historically understood by the church, so that they bear little resemblance to the Apostle's Doctrine. Even the Doctrine of the Trinity becomes an invention of the Nicene era to "protect the Christian claim that an encounter with Jesus is really a revealing and saving encounter with God" (p. 79).

Several times they claim that what archeology does for the Christian faith is to enable it to be "freed from the cancer of Docetism and the false belief that Jesus only appeared to be human" (19, 79, etc.). Unfortunately they substitute an Arian Jesus, who was only a man. Features such as this make it difficult to recommend the book to anyone who is not theologically discerning.