In a famous editorial in The New York Sun in 1897, often reprinted since, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon asked a sensitive question: “Is there a Santa Claus?” The editor—aptly named Francis Church—replied with gentle eloquence:
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus!
I suspect that Virginia later learned the truth about Santa Claus when she was emotionally ready, and I’m sure that she—and many people since—benefited from Church’s wise treatment of this thorny issue. Santa Claus exists for children, and that is as it should be. But adults have to tread more gingerly around such issues.
The topic of Biblical Archaeology makes me ponder Virginia’s (and Church’s) dilemma. Is there a Biblical Archaeology? Or is it a fictional creation of overactive minds? Is it something that was once alive and is now dead? Is it a vanished dream? The answer—if there is one—should illuminate the situation of Biblical studies and archaeology in modern times.