Pondering the Spade: Assessing Some Important Archaeological Finds for Old Testament Studies

by Dr. David Schreiner

I recently blogged about a new study published by the National Academy of Science that dealt with the handwriting analysis of a select number of ostraca from Arad. You can find it here. It got me thinking, however. What are the most important discoveries in the field of biblical archaeology with respect to understanding the Old Testament?


(An ostracon is a potsherd with writing on it,
which was a common medium of writing in ancient Israel.)


I know…I know.

But seriously, everyone loves a good list, right? Pick a topic.

Best movies? Yes please! Best songs? Oh yeah! Best English Premier League teams? Manchester United is at the top of that list…of course! Heck, David Letterman made his career on making Top Ten lists.

So, why not me? Why not a list on the most important discoveries that inform our understanding of the Old Testament? But not just for the past decade. No. The most important of all time.

Daunting task? Indeed. Subject to criticism? Sure. But aren’t all lists subjected to criticism? Too subjectively based on my personal opinion? I hope not, and let me try to explain a bit of my rationale.

Dialect Geography of Syria Palestine
Click for book information.

To be a really important find, it needs to produce a ripple effect. It needs to move the needle, as they say. But it can’t only have an appeal to a small group of specialists. For example, an inscription that sheds light on the morphological history of the third person masculine singular pronominal suffix shouldn’t find itself among the most important finds in biblical archaeology. Only serious nerds—like myself—are interested in this. I mean Randall Garr’s discussion on the third personal masculine pronominal suffix in Biblical Hebrew concisely articulates one of the great debates of Biblical Linguistics. But I also realize that such discussions are for a select few…and perhaps for those that are seeking a respite from insomnia.

Rather, a really important find should foster widespread interest, among specialists and non-specialists. It should also produce subsequent studies, perhaps even sub-disciplines. So take the ostracon discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa in 2008 as an example. Its publication, alongside the publication of its related finds, sired a number of headlines in major media outlets and produced a series of linguistic, historical, and cultural investigations.

But what is most important in assessing the most important of archaeological finds is the nature of its impact upon understanding Scripture better. The most important finds all share a profound impact upon understanding the content or nature of God’s revelation through Scripture.

So, here is my list of those discoveries that immediately jump to my mind at the question, “What are the most important archaeological discoveries for understanding the Old Testament?” In this upcoming series of postings I hope to tease out each one and explain their tremendous significance. Furthermore, I hope to produce some critical reflection and some understanding of why I am fascinated by this sub-discipline of Biblical Studies.

  1. Gilgamesh Epic
  2. Tel Dan fragment
  3. Kuntillet Ajrud
  4. The Mari texts
  5. Excavations of ancient Samaria
  6. Ebal
  7. Ketef Hinnom Amulets
  8. Dead Sea Scrolls
  9. Sennacherib’s Annals

I can tell…you are waiting with bated breath.

 

 

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