Although the archaeology of Palestine has often been valued mainly to confirm the biblical account, it is often better to look on it simply as an aid to reconstructing the culture of an ancient people. Much that archaeology discloses does not bear on the biblical accounts at all, and an occasional find may complicate rather than simplify our understanding of the Bible.
The period of Israelite history designated by the term “the monarchy” covers well over four hundred years, from the anointing of Saul to the destruction of Jerusalem (c. 1020–587 B.C.), and would cover up to two hundred years longer if the years of the judges were included. To discuss half a millennium under a single rubric would be difficult enough, and the situation is complicated by the variegated character of political and religious life during those centuries. For example, after the first hundred years, north-south tensions split the kingdom into two smaller principalities, Israel (the northern kingdom) falling to Assyria in 721, Judah lasting until 587.
But this long time span does afford a rich body of finds that show the kind of thing archaeology can do for the understanding of the Bible. This article will deal with the modest but important contribution of archaeology to our understanding of historical events, social and cultural development, and religion and theology, and to biblical criticism.
It is not necessary, of course, for a biblical person or event to be known from sources outside the Bible in order to be believable; but it is always interesting to see what additional light extra-biblical sources shed, and the corroboration is suggestive.
The Israelite king Jehu (c. 842–815 B.C.) is an instructive example. His coup and bloody purge are known from ...1
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