Some much of what makes the news from the archaeological world lies on either extreme of the spectrum: either wild-eyed gullibility of some sensational claim or knee-jerk denial that X has any true historical reality. Adherents of one end of the spectrum usually lack scholarly credentials, while the latter often boasts a boatload, but both extremes are at odds with a normal common-sense approach held by most archaeologists. Archaeologist Aren Maier has been excavating at Gath and he gave a lecture which is reported by the Deseret Morning News.
Contrary to the quest of many biblical archaeologists in years past, today’s “new image” of excavating ancient Near Eastern sites isn’t focused on proving that the Bible is an ancient historical document. Yet there’s no reason to shy away from comparing scientific findings to biblical text, either, says a longtime archaeologist. The challenge is to use caution, rather than leaping to what seem to be “logical conclusions” about findings that go well beyond the actual science involved with high-profile finds, some of which turn out to be forgeries. That is according to Aren Maeir, chairman of the department of archaeology and Land of Israel Studies at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. Rather than trying to “verify beliefs according to archaeological remains,” Maeir said archaeologists driven by science are leaving those kinds of discussions to theologians. Archaeologists seek to provide information on what they find in the ground, when they believe it originated and how it may or may not play into theological discussions.
You can read the rest of the story here. The main points he makes seem so basic that they hardly need reporting, but given the tendencies of the media to cover the extremes mentioned above, perhaps more fair-handed approaches like this should be covered. As for the ossuary of James, I don’t think that we have heard the last word as he suggests. In the forgery conference earlier this year, most scholars in attendance agreed that the inscription was authentic. But this point is well-made: everyone must exercise caution before making a sensationalistic identification.