The weight of archaeological research is that it deals with the very physical nature of things and that it is therefore grounded in the realia (real things) of what happened in biblical times. We live in an age, however, in which history is typically seen as irrelevant, as meaningless, and as having little application to modern living. Common thinking today is ahistorical, in which scholars argue that there is no history that reflects truth and reality. Thus, many people today believe that history may be rewritten to suit one’s own agenda and purposes. Archaeology is a sword in the battle against ahistoricism. It truly demonstrates the “earthiness” of the Scriptures and how the episodes of the Bible occurred in time, place, and history. History is a pillar of Christian thought. God is the God of history: He created history, and time is moving historically from creation to consummation. Creation- fall-redemption-glorification is both a theological and historical construction and movement.
Tried-and-true archaeological study of the Bible also helps us become informed, literate, and mature in our understanding of Scripture. It fortifies us against falling prey to movements such as “pop” archaeology, which receives lots of press for announcing staggering discoveries—such as the ark of the covenant (with blood still on it), or Egyptian chariot wheels in the Red Sea, or Noah’s house, or the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. The purported stunning find has a long history in the church. For example, in the early fourth century AD, Constantine’s mother, Helena, declared that she had discovered the “true cross” in Jerusalem; many others throughout church history have made the same claim. John Calvin had a strong response to these so-called discoveries:
So great a quantity of fragments of the true cross were scattered among the Christian churches in his time, that they would load a large ship; and that, whereas the original cross could be carried by one man, it would take three hundred men to support the weight of the existing fragments of it.
Most of the spectacular claims of “pop” archaeology have been debunked, and so the church needs to be educated not to fall for archaeological charlatans.
The truth is that we do not need to grasp for the spectacular find because archaeological research has provided us with many important finds that help us understand the Bible. Many of these discoveries are not well known by people in the church or in society in general. I want to consider two more recent finds that have truly illuminated our understanding of Scripture and that help set the Bible in its proper historical setting.
ivory comb from lachish
In the year 2016, excavators at the biblical site of Lachish in the foothills of Israel discovered an ivory comb with an inscription on it. The comb was made of elephant ivory. It was a valuable piece in the ancient world because there were no elephants in the land at that time, and thus the piece must have been imported, perhaps from Egypt, where such combs are well known. The comb had teeth on both elongated sides. One side was for untangling knots in a person’s hair, and the other side was used to remove head lice and their eggs from the hair. Archaeologists were able to determine the comb’s purpose using microscopic tests that revealed remains of head lice still on the comb. The carved inscription also testifies to the comb’s use. The inscription is a mere seven words with a total of seventeen letters written in the Canaanite language, saying, “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”