Experts examine the future for biblical archaeology

FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Renowned archaeologist William G. Dever contemplated the future of biblical archaeology during the first conference to be hosted by The Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oct. 14-15.
“I want to talk about the death and rebirth of biblical archaeology,” said Dever, distinguished professor of Near Eastern archaeology at Lycoming College and a leading figure in biblical archaeology for more than half a century. As professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona for nearly 30 years, Dever trained a generation of biblical archaeologists, including two of the seminary’s archaeology professors and most of the speakers at the Tandy Institute’s conference on “The Future of Biblical Archaeology.”
“Biblical archaeology is dead,” Dever announced during the conference. “I am often accused of killing it, and I’m flattered that I that anyone thinks that I had that much influence. But the fact is that I simply observed its passing in the early ‘70s and wrote its obituary. It is dead and no one mourns it.
“By that I mean, of course, Albrightian-style biblical archaeology,” Dever explained. In other words, a particular American brand of biblical archaeology practiced by the early 20th-century archaeologist William F. Albright and his students had passed away. But scholars, Dever said, can and should examine the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies.
“In fact,” Dever said, “the whole point … was to create a dialogue between two disciplines”—that is, a dialogue between the two specialized disciplines of Syro-Palestinian archaeology, as some have called it, and biblical studies. Dever expressed his excitement that, as many other institutions in the nation are losing interest in this endeavor, Southwestern Seminary is promoting the interaction between archaeology and the Bible with fresh vigor.
“Most seminaries have lost interest in archaeology because they’ve lost interest in history,” Dever said. When he began his career half a century ago, seminaries were among the most prominent supporters of archaeology in the Bible lands. “Today, there are very few seminaries sponsoring excavations in the field, and this seminary is unique: You have three practicing archaeologists on your staff. Most seminaries have none.”
Tom Davis, professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern and author of Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology, made a similar observation in a lecture on the history of biblical archaeology. Even major secular universities have shut down their archaeological programs, he said—including the University of Arizona, where Dever spent much of his career. But Southwestern Seminary stands alongside several other major institutions, including ivy-league schools like Harvard, that continue to promote the study of archaeology in the Bible lands.
Steven Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of the seminary’s Tandy Institute for Archaeology, opened the conference by introducing both Dever and Davis. Prior to the conference, he expressed his excitement that they “would be on the same platform, as each has been influential in discussing the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies.”
“The conference highlights the Tandy Institute’s growth and the influence Southwestern will have in the field of biblical archaeology,” Ortiz added. “We are attracting top scholars in the field, as well as providing opportunities for our students to engage with these scholars.”
Cameron Coyle, a recent graduate from the seminary’s Master of Arts in Archaeology and Biblical Studies program and one of the first students in the seminary’s doctoral program in archaeology, was thankful for this conference.
“I think it is great that we have opportunities like this,” Coyle said. “These are perhaps not names that are widely known in the student body at Southwestern, but within the field of archaeology these folks are top scholars. And to have the chance to not only hear their presentations but also to interact with them is a great opportunity for students in the archaeology program, as well as for students in biblical studies.”
The Tandy Institute’s “Future of Biblical Archaeology” conference was held in conjunction with the seminary’s launch, this fall, of the new Ph.D. in Archaeology and Biblical Studies. Alongside its two degree programs in archaeology, Southwestern’s Tandy Institute also sponsors three field projects: an excavation in Tel Gezer, Israel, led by Ortiz; a survey project at Tel Gezer, led by Eric Mitchell, assistant professor of Old Testament and archaeology; and an excavation at Kourion, Cyprus, led by Davis.
The Tandy Institute, Ortiz told conference participants, “represents a Southern Baptist effort to establish a scholarly presence and impact the discipline of biblical archaeology through rousing archaeological research and training programs. The Tandy Institute hopefully will train a new generation of biblical archaeologists and inspire biblical scholars to engage in current research and the discipline of archaeology.”
According to Davis, Southwestern’s archaeology program challenges students toward excellence in both biblical and archaeological scholarship. In order to prepare students who can make an impact in academia, he said, the seminary’s “program must be more rigorous and more professional than any program in the country in Levantine archaeology.”
One goal of the program, he said, is “to produce biblically-literate professional archaeologists and archaeologically-literate biblical scholars, thereby building bridges across the disciplines and embodying a new biblical archaeology.”
Other key speakers at the Tandy Institute’s archaeology conference included James Hardin, associate professor of anthropology and Middle Eastern cultures at Mississippi State University’s Cobb Institute for Archaeology; Dale Manor, professor of archaeology and Bible at Harding University in Searcy, Ark.; and Jennie Ebeling, associate professor of archaeology at the University of Evansville, Ind.; J. P. Dessel, associate professor of history and Judaic Studies at the University of Tennessee; Laura Mazow, a faculty member in the department of anthropology at East Carolina University; Theodore Burgh, a faculty member in the department of philosophy and religion at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington; Abby Limmer and Kerry Adams from the University of Arizona; and Elizabeth Willett with the Wycliffe Bible Translators.
Southwestern Seminary faculty, staff and students also presented research during the second day of the conference: Ortiz presented a paper titled “The Archaeology of Uzziah—Recent Excavations in the Foothills of Judah,” and Mitchell presented a paper titled “Landscape and Tell: The Gezer Regional Survey.” Additionally, doctoral student Adam Dodd joined Heather Reichstadt, curator and conservator at the seminary’s Tandy Museum, in presenting “Ancient Texts at the Tandy Museum.”

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