Archaeological Objections

In the news lately I’ve seen articles about two archaeological digs. One, in Turkey, has found evidence of the veneration of a relic of the True Cross. The other, in Jerusalem, claims to have found a palace of King David. Bearing in mind that I’ve not seen the site reports and therefore don’t have all the details, I have some objections to how these digs are being reported.

For the first, the reporting has focused on whether the relic truly is a relic of the True Cross. While this is a question to consider, it is surely important archaeologically simply that those people believed they had a relic of the True Cross and venerated it as such. I am, of course, interested in the possibility of them having found another relic of the True Cross, but such a conclusion is surely premature at this point.

I have greater objections to the second dig. Part of a large building, labeled as a palace, dating to the 10th century BC has been found. The archaeologist has identified it with King David, despite no firm evidence of David being found there. The site is interesting regardless of who lived there, and surely it would be better to wait for more evidence before attempting to definitively identify the owner.

So why the rush to identify these sites with something well-known and spectacular? The cynic in me says it must be so they can procure greater funding for the dig. Any time an archaeologist claims to have found something famous and spectacular you can be assured that funding will pour in, whereas digging something more mundane is, unfortunately, less likely to receive funding even though such sites are important for the archaeological record.

Another reason is because of archaeological tourism. People love to see important archaeological discoveries, and so identifying a site with a famous person will draw tourists to the site.

This can, and does, happen with all manner of archaeological sites. While I object to it happening with any site, it is somehow worse (to me) when it is a site important to Christianity. There is no shortage of people claiming they know where a major artefact is and going to dig there to confirm, instead of seeing what the site has to offer on its own merits. Or, when digging, there’s a rush to identify the site with a famous Biblical figure, whether the available evidence shows that or not.

In my opinion, that is a disservice to archaeology and Christianity. To archaeology because it doesn’t allow for examining a site on its own merits, and to Christianity because making these claims is damaging when/if the claims are found to be incorrect.

So let’s keep digging and exploring, but let’s wait to make our conclusions until we see what the evidence really says.

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