Monday, May 19, 2014

Is Biblical Archaeology Helpful to Faith?

When I was living with my grandpa, one of our monthly traditions was to go to a local meeting of the Biblical Archaeology Society. I long have had interest in archaeological findings, as I think it provides a richness and context to a variety of historical narratives. So getting the opportunity to review Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament's Most Infamous City was exciting.

Drs. Steven Collins and Latayne C. Scott explore the story of how Collins sought a new location for Sodom and his argument for Tall el-Hammam as the site of biblical Sodom. I found myself regularly tuning out of the first part of the book, detailing some of the historical arguments. While I've listened to many of narrator Sean Runnette's audiobooks, there was a lack of passion to hold interest in more nuanced intellectual arguments (and people who know me know I love those discussions :) ). It felt more like he was truly just reading a paper he knew nothing about. Unfortunately, I'm discovering a lot of Christian nonfiction narration is like that...

The explanations as to why Tall el-Hammam made sense as biblical Sodom was where more of my interest re-arose. Hearing about the historical context and how archaeology can help us better interpret the Bible is helpful.

I also really appreciated how Collins ended his book addressing the various critiques of his work. Some arguments center around whether a biblical Sodom ever truly existed while others debate biblical interpretation. Collins' biblical interpretation centers around a theory of true narrative representation. While I won't claim to fully understand this approach, I think it makes a few too many assumptions demanding the historicity of the biblical texts. I see it being driven more from a perspective of people's faith needing the Bible to be historically true than honestly approaching the texts and how they were meant to be read.

This doesn't mean they are not historically true. I don't see any need for the story of Sodom to be historically true. However, I think those who deny archaeological data supporting biblical Sodom's historicity due to their interpretations of the Bible aren't being fair or honest, either. While I am most definitely not even a novice or amateur at reviewing archaeological material, Collins' arguments make sense to me. His willingness to engage in debate and address disagreement lends credibility. He does seem to want to be academically honest with himself and others.

However, at the end of the day, does it matter whether Tall el-Hammam is biblical Sodom or not? Whether biblical Sodom was historically real or not? The latter may impact some people's respect of Genesis, but I think there's problems with that approach. I'm not sure identifying the physical location and archaeological remains of biblical Sodom really adds much to our understanding of the biblical world or narrative. Other archaeological sites can provide clarity, especially to more important narratives (yes, I'm saying the Sodom narrative is not one of the most critical). Some stories really can be elucidated more by archaeological evidence. But I'm not sure what the value added is to the Sodom narrative beyond it being it being interesting...

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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