The word archaeology drums up visions of stuffy professors and remote excavation sites, but the recent spate of findings—most notably the James ossuary and "Solomon's" Temple Mount tablet—should cause us to reconsider. Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, recently enthused that "the James ossuary may be the most important find in the history of New Testament archaeology." And the Tel Aviv newspaper Ha'aretz gushed that Solomon's temple tablet "would be a first-of-its-kind piece of physical evidence" reinforcing biblical narrative.
No question—archeology has an allure for believers, promising as it does to bring the world of the Bible to life. Touring the Holy Lands several years ago, I decided to try two weeks excavating a dig at Sepphoris, a ruined Greco-Roman city right in the heart of Galilee. Just what I expected to find there—ancient oil lamps, perfectly formed vases, the Holy Grail, maybe—I really can't say. But ten days of schlepping dirt out of a four-foot hole without finding anything quickly took the romance out of it. This was certainly no Indiana Jones expedition, and waking up at four in the morning to beat the heat didn't agree with this night owl. "Leave archaeology for the truly committed," I decided. "I'm more interested in studying history than sweating it out in trenches."
Still, there's something to be said for archaeology. Many Christians appeal to it when confronting those skeptical of Scripture's accuracy, but most can't offer much more than the amorphous "Archaeology confirms the Bible." If you are one of these, then the last century's top findings just might interest you.
Until last October, when scholars identified the ossuary or bone box of "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," ...1