Monday, January 23, 2017

Syllabus for Archaeology, Science, and the Bible class (spring 2017)


The clash between religion and science is especially vivid when we try to recreate the world of the Bible and the ancient Middle East. This four-week class will sample key controversies in biblical archaeology and how scholars deal with conflicting evidence. Was there a Great Deluge and a parting of the Red Sea? Did Joshua knock down the walls of Jericho? Where did the Israelites really come from? Could the Shroud of Turin be authentic? These and other questions will be explored using biblical and non-biblical literary sources, ancient art, and physical data from archaeology, geology, chemistry, and materials science.
This four-week class will overlap substantially with the 8-week class “Archaeology and the Bible” taught in 2015, but include new materialIt will provide some introduction to biblical archaeology and sample the instructor’s favorite controversies (e.g. The Shroud of Turin).


1/23. Introduction. The physical setting of the ancient Near East, how archaeologists think and work, the Deluge and Noah’s Ark.
1/30. Defensive architecture and waterworks. Exodus and the Israelite Conquest.
2/6. Religion and daily life in different periods. Qumran, the home of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
2/13. Roman period archaeology. Masada, Jesus, and the Shroud of Turin.

Assyria: Northern Iraq and northern part of Mesopotamia. Assyrians invaded Israel several times, especially during the 8th c BC.

Canaan: Israel, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, western Jordan, and southwest Syria, especially during the second millennium BC. “Canaanites” were the original inhabitants of Israel.

Dead Sea Scrolls: Biblical writings (all the books of the Hebrew Bible except Esther) and non-biblical writings (sectarian documents of the Essenes, plus a variety of Jewish writings from the Second Temple Period) dating from the 3rd century BC to the 1st c AD. Found in caves near the Essene settlement at Qumran.

Essenes: Jewish sect who lived at Qumran starting ca 100 BC. The Essenes were the writers, guardians, scribes, and translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

First Temple: built by Solomon, starting about 950 BC. Destroyed 586 by Babylonians.

Herod the Great: ruled 73/4-4 BC. Builder of cities and forts during Roman period.

Hyksos: people of mixed Semitic and west Asian descent who invaded Egypt ca. 1750 BC and ruled it for about 200 years.

Mesopotamia: “land between the two rivers,” Tigris and Euphrates, modern Iraq, esp. the southern portion

Palestine: Greek term, also used by Romans, to describe what is now Israel, parts of Lebanon and Syria.

Philistines: part of the “Sea Peoples” who invaded Canaan from Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean ca. 1200 BC and settled along the southern coast of Israel. Their territory (now the Gaza Strip) includes the five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron.

Phoenicia: corresponds roughly with the northern coast of Israel and the southern part of Lebanon. The Phoenicians were famous traders and merchants, dominant during the Bronze Age.

Qumran: settlement near the Dead Sea of the Jewish sect, the Essenes, ca. 100 BC- 68 AD.

Second Temple: consecrated 516 BC, destroyed 70 AD by Romans.

Solomon: son of David, king of United Kingdom, 970-930 BC.

CHRONOLOGY (n.b. almost every source has slightly different dates!)
*Bronze Age: 3200-1200 BC.  Canaanites in Holy Land
*Iron Age: 1200-586 BC.  Israelites. First Temple finished c. 950 BC
Babylonian period: 586-539 BC.   Judah falls to Babylonia (586 BC)
Persian period: 539-332 BC.   Second Temple consecrated (516 BC)
Hellenistic period: 332-63 BC.  Alexander conquers Palestine (332 BC)
*Roman period: 63 BC-324 AD.  Herod the Great (73/4-4BC);
Jesus c. 7 BC-33 AD)

(The periods we will be most concerned with are the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Roman Period)


**Eric H. Cline, Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (2009). Excellent, succinct and informative
Eric H. Cline, From Eden to Exile: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Bible (2007). Also excellent, more depth on major controversies.
**Jodi Magness, The Archaeology of the Holy Land: From the Destruction of Solomon’s Temple to the Muslim Conquest (2012). Essential and up-to-date reference book on New Testament Archaeology and later periods.
**Jodi Magness, Great Course on “The Holy Land Revealed.” Much of same content as her book, beautifully presented with great slides.
            **Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible. Intelligent, thoughtful, and informative guide.
            Israel Finkelstein and Amihai MazarThe Quest for the Historical Israel. Written by two respected archaeologists and edited by Brian B. Schmidt, a professor of Bible studies. 
             Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (also written by two archaeologists, focusing on two sections the Old Testament).

Biblical Archaeology Review. Popular magazine with many useful articles and great images. For scholarly articles by professionals in the field, consult Biblical Archaeologist, Israel Exploration Journal, Journal of Archaeological Science, etc.

For additional references and links provided by fellow students, see the sidebar list, Other Resources.


  1. Since our discussion of the Hebrew Bible takes us to its syncretic origins commonly referred to as J, E, P, and D Sources (also know as the Documentary Hypothesis), may I suggest a book that explores this concept. Richard Elliott Friedman. The Bible with Sources Revealed: A New View Into the Five Books of Moses. 2003. HarperCollins. It color-codes the Pentateuch based on source.

    Posted by Robert Ferrer

  2. Rules for the successful reconstruction of Ancient Israel
    Israel Finkelstein --- 2015

    1. Archaeology is the only real-time witness of the events described in the biblical text.
    2. Biblical history cannot be read as a chronicle of the described events. It is dominated by the ideology of its writers. The texts are not to be looked upon as a sequential history from ancient to later times but rather from the time of the writing back to a remote period of history. The texts provide us with a look of society, politics, ideology of the time of the writer.
    3. Biblical History cannot be read in a simplistic way from early to late. The point of departure must be from the time of the writing.
    4. The stories in the text conform to the ideology of the time of writing.
    5. The texts consist of many layers. Only Archaeology and Extra-biblical sources can help identify and separate the layers.
    6. Starting point for the compilation of the biblical texts is the southern growth of Judah (late monarchial period) to full statehood as the result of the fall of the northern kingdom and the integration of the kingdom of Judah into the global economy.

    Posted by Robert Ferrer