Digging in The Dirt & Digging in The Word
Many years ago we went to Boston as a family. That great city was in the midst of the “Big Dig” at the time. It turned out to be a fifteen-year dig! The total cost is estimated at over $24 billion USD ̶ the costliest tunnel/road works in US history! Yes, truly a big dig. Seeing that amazing digging project more than 20 years ago has left a lasting impression. Perhaps in all of us there is a wonder in digging. Even the simple wonder of digging at the beach — What will I find? Can I keep the water out? Will anyone come and join me?
And yet we like to dig in the dirt even beyond the beach ̶ to see what is there, to see what it might tell us about our past. This year even Netflix got into the digging spell and was streaming The Dig, some say to help the pandemic stay-at-home world. Maybe you have seen it?
Well, digging relates to the Bible too. I am not thinking about digging into the text of scripture at this point (although that is where this discussion will ultimately lead); rather I am thinking about digging as in archaeology in the Bible lands. National Geographic defines archaeology as “the study of the human past using material remains. These remains can be any objects that people created, modified, or used.” Why bother as Christians with this?
Bible archaeology has tremendous value for us to gain insight into the biblical text. It is a tool to use to grasp the depth and context of scripture. I still reflect with delight over a series of lectures that I heard about archeology and the Seven Churches in the Book of Revelation. It has impacted me each time I read, study, or preach about the seven churches. For example, knowing of Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6), that once great city, and its degeneration makes the text of scripture so rich with application and meaning.
If you aren’t into biblical archaeology yet, I want to encourage you to become aware of its role in your study of scripture. I immediately think of three great resources that could serve as tools to help you dig. First, there is a great study Bible on this subject: The ESV Archaeology Study Bible, currently in print by Crossway. It in many ways has replaced the older NIV Archaeological Study Bible (Zondervan), which has now gone out of print (although one can still buy used copies of it in print) but continues to be available still as an e-book. It is an excellent work as well. These study bibles really are invaluable to give you much information about places, peoples, customs and cultures, and political context. They really do help to shine light upon the text.
Second, there is an excellent handbook on this subject produced by Zondervan, The Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology by J. Randall Price and H. Wayne House. This is a really great work and covers the whole Bible. It’s just wonderfully illustrated.
Finally, a new work has just come out by John Currid, The Case for Biblical Archaeology: Uncovering the Historical Record of God’s Old Testament People. This is also a good book to turn to as we get to know this subject. Currid, a well-known archaeologist, was the senior editor and contributor to the ESV Archaeology Study Bible and teaches Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina. Just bear in mind that this book is limited to the Old Testament.
Our goal as Christians is to understand scripture, to grasp its meaning with clarity. A study of biblical archaeology is one tool at our disposal to help us in this process. Let’s make sure we include it in our collection of digging tools as we dig into the scriptures. We will be enriched.
 ESV Archaeology Study Bible. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018).
 NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).
 Currid, John D. The Case for Biblical Archaeology: Uncovering the Historical Record of God’s Old Testament People. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2020).
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