Truth and the value of archaeology

A Christian Science perspective: Where is the truth in Bible stories that leave no archaeological trace?

In the Middle Ages, Christian scholars considered the Bible to be the primary source for history. These early "archaeologists" tried to reconcile the ancient objects they found with the Bible and, in some cases, tried to find evidence of specific biblical stories. Today, several centuries later, people continue to look to archaeology for proof of biblical events. This approach reminds me of Christ Jesus' statement, "Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe" (John 4:48). Many people seem to need physical proof, be it of a religious story, a healing, or an exciting discovery, before they will accept it as true.

As an archaeologist, I've found that many scholars today are trying to go beyond looking for physical proof of particular events and instead trying to find out what ruins and artifacts can tell us about ancient life and activities. While my research doesn't focus on biblical sites, biblical archaeology has given me a new perspective and fresh inspiration when studying the Bible.

Take the story of Jericho, for example. At God's instruction, Joshua and his fellow Israelites walked around the city for seven days and, on the seventh day, blew trumpets and leveled the walls, thereby conquering the strongly fortified city and gaining access into the Promised Land (see Joshua 6:2-20). Looking at pictures of the remains of the massive stone fortifications recovered by archaeologists at Jericho has given me a deeper understanding of what Joshua faced and how much he trusted God. (You can see pictures of the walls on the Internet, if you are curious.)

But what about Bible stories that leave no trace archaeologically? Technically, there is no way to tell from physical remains if someone raised the dead (see John 11:1-44), was healed of demons (see Mark 5:1-13), or even fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and some fish (see Matthew 14:15-21).

We can prove the truth behind these Bible stories by following their example and healing as Jesus did. In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor and discoverer of Christian Science, wrote that such proofs "consist solely in the destruction of sin, sickness, and death by the power of Spirit, as Jesus destroyed them" (p. 233).

She healed many people of diseases considered incurable, overcame poverty, and even raised the dead, as is well documented. Today, Christian Scientists worldwide have proved the truth behind Bible stories by following the examples set by Jesus, Elijah, Paul, and others and obeying Jesus' command to "heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils" (Matthew 10:8).

As many archaeologists and other scientists are realizing, ruins and artifacts don't tell the whole story. While Joshua destroyed the walls of Jericho and left archaeological evidence, Jesus' destruction of sin, sickness, and death didn't leave a material trace. Discoveries in the Holy Land are important and can provide us with new insights into the Bible and ancient society. Some things, however, need to be lived to be proved. The most important "signs and wonders" are not material.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

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