Biblical Archaeology Review 18:5, September/October 1992

The Dangers of Dividing Disciplines

By Hershel Shanks

I have had a long-standing public disagreement with my friend Bill Dever, one of the United States’ leading archaeologists, concerning the term “Biblical archaeology.” Some years ago Bill argued that Biblical archaeology was not an academic discipline at all and therefore the term should simply be abandoned.a More recently, he has somewhat modified his stand; now he speaks of the “new Biblical archaeology,” which he defines as a dialogue between Syro-Palestinian archaeology, as he prefers to call his field, and Biblical studies.b

Until now, the battle has been over the word “Biblical.” But this is dangerous doctrine: We need people who are experts on archaeology and the Bible—or on the Bible and archaeology. We cannot depend on separate experts who get together and talk. To be effective, we need people who can handle, deal with and understand from the inside the materials of both disciplines. Only in that way can archaeology adequately inform and be incorporated into Biblical studies. (This is not to say that archaeologists cannot also work on problems that they consider unrelated to the Bible.)

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