Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

The Myth: ‘Archaeology cannot prove/disprove the Bible’

Posted by NT Wrong on September 7, 2008

There’s an erroneous commonplace of both scholarly and apologetic literature, which is shared both by minimalists and maximalists. The myth is that Archaeology does not ‘prove’ (or conversely does not ‘disprove’) the Bible. Often this is stated even more strongly, as an a priori: Archaeology cannot prove or disprove the Bible.

Here’s some representative propagators of this myth:

“In my first class in archaeology I was taught that archaeology can prove the Bible, and I believe there has been a general agreement that archaeology cannot prove the Bible.”
– David Merling, ‘The Relationship between Archaeology and the Bible: Expectations and Reality’. Pages 29-42 in James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard, eds, The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions. Eerdmans, 2004: 32.

“archaeology cannot prove the Bible either, in terms of confirming what happened or especially what the words meant.”
– Leo G. Perdue, The Blackwell Companion to the Hebrew Bible, Blackwell, 2001: xviii.

“Archaeology is interesting as far as it goes. However, the Bible is a record of God’s relationship with human beings, and archaeology cannot prove God’s part in any historical event.”
– Benjamin Edidin Scolnic, If the Egyptians Drowned in the Red Sea Where Are Pharaoh’s Chariots?: Exploring the Historical Dimension of the Bible. University Press of America, 2005: 46.

“archaeology by definition cannot ‘prove’ the Bible’s theological interpretation of events, can at best only comment on the likelihood of the events in question having happened historically. But, if it is any comfort to believers, archaeology, by the same token, cannot disprove the Bible’s assertion of the meaning of events.”
– William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel. Eerdmans, 2003: 282.

The myth is a myth because:
1. it relies on a vague or inapplicable definition of ‘proof’, and
2. it is simply not true: archaeology does disprove the Bible’s history and theology.


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