Biblical archaeology is a sub-discipline of historic archaeology which focuses primarily on the geographic region of modern Israel, Jordon, and the Sinai—in other words, the lands generally described in the Christian Bible. Biblical archaeology is devoted to the discovery and investigation of the places and artifacts mentioned in the Bible and to the study of Biblical times and documents. Biblical archaeology is a part of Near Eastern archaeology.
There are some people who think that biblical archaeology focuses on proving the literal readings of the Bible: this is not true. While scientific archaeology (not the pseudoarchaeology promoted by some cable TV channels and popular books) demonstrated that many of the places, events, and people described in the Bible are, in fact, historical, at the same time, scientific archaeology has shown that there are many misconceptions, fallacies, and frauds in some of the Biblical stories. In fact, archaeology raises more questions about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament than it provides answers.
One of the goals of early Biblical archaeology was to provide the historicity of the patriarchs and to locate them in a particular period in archaeological history. However, there is no direct archaeological proof that Abraham, for example, ever really existed. On the other hand, archaeology does provide some insights into the pastoral nomads and the migrations during the period about 1800 BCE. There is also no direct archaeological evidence of Moses nor any evidence of a mass exodus from Egypt.
Another area of controversy involves the archaeological evidence that Yahweh (the term that some early monotheists used to indicate their god) had a wife. In 1968 archaeologists found a Hebrew cemetery inscription from the eighth century BCE at the site of Khirbet el- Qôm. The inscription gives the name of the deceased, and it says “blessed may he be by Yahweh and his Asherah.” Asherah is the name of the old Canaanite Mother Goddess, the consort of El, the principal deity of the Canaanite pantheon. At the site of Kuntillet Ajrud in the Sinai, which dates to this same period, there are numerous “Yahweh and Asherah” inscriptions.
Since Egypt is mentioned in some biblical stories, some people feel that there should be archaeological evidence in Egypt to support the veracity of the Bible. Egyptologists, however, find very little evidence that the biblical stories actually happened. The Exodus account, for example, appears to be a mishmash of stories that probably originated in the expulsion of the Hyksos (the Asiatic kings who ruled Lower Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period). Many archaeologists have concluded that the Exodus story was simply a convenient use of folk tales to allow the Israelites to define themselves as a distinct nation. The story is mythical rather than historical. Egyptologist Ian Shaw, in his book Ancient Egypt: A Very Short Introduction, reports:
“It is an irony of biblical archaeology that the more we investigate the texts and archaeological remains that link Egypt with the Bible, the less substantial and less convincing these kinds of connections appear to be.”The goal of archaeology is not only to seek to understand the past and the changes which human societies have undergone, but to correct misconceptions about the past. While the Bible, like oral traditions in other regions, can provide some broad guidelines for research, the stories from the oral traditions are often very different from those told by the material remains. It should be kept in mind that the Bible was written by an elite group to further their purposes, and that today’s archaeology focuses on the lives of ordinary people.