Thursday, September 26, 2013

Biblical Archaeology, And Several Ways To Do It Wrong

Two recent stories in HP give examples of what I would call poorly-done Biblical archaeology, and a third, a poor response to soundly-done archaeology. The problem in all three cases is a premature assumption of the accuracy of Biblical texts. In one story, Dina Avshalom-GorniIn says she may have found the place where Jesus met Mary Magdalen She assumes that the New Testament story of Jesus meeting Mary Magdalen is accurate, and then speculates about a find based on that assumption.

Then there's this story about a recent find by James Tabor. Tabor is speculating that the find may have belonged to Sadducees. That speculation is based in part on the assumption that the Sadducees were enemies of Jesus and conspired to bring about his death, just as described in the New Testament. I think that all that the NT tells us for certain about the Sadducees is that its authors were hostile to them.

In the third case, archaeologist Ken Dark's speculation that he may have found the town of Dalmanutha, mentioned in the Gospel of Mark and no other known text of the era of Jesus, who's rushing to conclusions: Dark, or Joel L Watts, who insists that Dalmanutha never existed, based in large part upon his conviction that every single deviation from literal geographical accuracy in Mark has been corrected by the author of the Gospel of Matthew? I'd say it's Watts. Not that Watts even distrusts Mark's accuracy, strictly speaking: he speculates that Mark is not so much making mistakes as taking artistic license, and that making up the place-name Dalmanutha is an example of this license. It seems much less farfetched to me that Dalmanutha may have existed, regardless of whether Mark was right that Jesus traveled there, or, as Watts says, Matthew was right in saying that journey was to Magdala, or neither of the above.

In any case, between Dina Avshalom-GorniIn, James Tabor, Joel L Watts and Ken Dark, Dark is the only one not making speculations based upon the assumption of the accuracy of Biblical texts.

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