‘Archaeology’s Rebel’? Christianity Today’s Worst Headline Ever

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For Christianity Today to call Eilat Mazar an archaeological rebel is like calling Pat Robertson a left wing activist.  Mazar has a Bible in one hand and a spade in the other but, Christianity Today, that isn’t being a rebel, that’s being a throwback to a now long abandoned archaeological Sackgasse.

When the ribbon was cut to dedicate Jerusalem’s newest archaeological attraction last summer, Eilat Mazar stood among the dignitaries like a proud parent.  The 56 year-old Israeli archaeologist didn’t just direct the final excavation that prepared the Ophel City Wall site for visitors. She also linked the silent stones with one of the Bible’s most eminent and holy kings: Solomon.

There’s nothing of a rebel in Mazar’s work.  Her’s is conservatism in its most blatant form: archaeology to ‘prove’ the Bible, not archaeology for the sake of science.  But apparently the readers of Christianity Today can’t be expected to know just how inaccurate a headline the story’s been given.  Mazar’s fundamentalist claims provoke CT to opine

Such a bold biblical connection from a modern Israeli archaeologist is rare. It provokes other archaeologists (except for evangelical ones), but it also exposes how the discipline has changed over the past several decades. Biblical archaeology has become a field of scientists who are self-conscious about the biblical pursuits that guided—and sometimes misguided—the discipline during earlier years.

It’s rare among Israeli archaeologists because they know better.

In the July/August 2011 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), editor Hershel Shanks chided Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich for asserting that hypothetical biblical connections should be saved until after the archaeological evidence has been properly sorted out. Shanks believes that Mazar, in her willingness to make the biblical hypothesis sooner rather than later, is not wrong. Speaking of another excavation that Mazar suggests is King David’s palace, Shanks wrote that Mazar was simply following the scientific method: “Eilat had a hypothesis, and she wanted to test it by digging.”

That Shanks is among Mazar’s supporters says everything that needs to be said.  That Mazar has a hypothesis she wants to prove clearly colors her reading of the evidence she discovers.

Mazar calls the Bible a historical document. But she also says that it needs to be tested and examined. While evangelicals can appreciate her vigorous defense of the Bible as an independent narrative in the field of biblical archaeology, she does not view it as holy writ.  “I’m not religious,” she said. “The only interest we share is interest in historical sources, either the Old Testament or the New Testament. Everything [in the Bible] is important to me in order to be examined or studied.”

Maybe that’s her problem.  She thinks the Bible is historical in its interests.  It isn’t, it’s theological in its interests.  Read the rest if you want to.  I’m sure you already know what it says.

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