THE STONES CRY OUT… what Archeology reveals about the Truths of the Bible
BY RANDALL PRICE (1997)
The Stones Cry Out by Dr. J. Randall Price is a scholarly, up-to-date and highly relevant survey of the major finds relating archaeology to the Bible. Every one of the 18 chapters includes gems that are a delight for the Bible-believing Christian—both scholar and layman.
As I personally have been for many years the "voice" on a widely heard radio program which is also called "The Stones Cry Out," I am delighted to recommend this book, which so capably brings together a vast amount of material that specifically endorses Bible backgrounds, incidents, and people. Moreover, Randall Price does not hesitate to tackle seeming problems, and answers them in ways that are acceptable to thinking people who are prepared to recognize that the Bible is not only a theological textbook but is also the greatest history record ever known to man.
For example, he tackles the controversy relating to the name "House of David" found in a monumental inscription at Tel Dan. As well as arguing cogently for his conviction as to the genuineness of the inscription and the correctness of the translation, he adds greatly to the value of his presentation by his personal contacts with archaeologists and other scholars who have been involved in finds such as these.
There are, of course, areas of controversy and debate, which will always be the case with the questions that history and archaeology raise. The contribution this work makes is toward informing reading audiences of the latest discoveries and discussions on the archaeological front. In addition, as Randall himself reminds us by quoting another author, the established "absolute truth in archaeology lasts about 20 years." No one can write a definitive book on the Bible and archaeology and be sure that all its interpretations and conclusions will be unquestioned in 20 years!
I recommend this book very highly. It has been a delight to read, and it is a privilege to pen this foreward. Dr. Price's work should be tremendously important in the ongoing process of today's scholarship in rejecting the far-too-prevalent criticisms of the Bible as history. He shows us that this Book, the Bible, is God's marvellous revelation of truth, set in historical contexts that are wonderfully reliable.
Dr. Clifford Wilson President Pacific International University
The British politician and novelist Benjamin Disraeli once put the panorama of archaeology in perspective when he wrote concerning his first tour among the ruins of ancient Thebes:
Conceive a feverish and tumultuous dream full of triumphal gates, processions of paintings, terminable walls of heroic sculptures, granite colossi of gods and kings, prodigious obelisks, avenue of Sphinxs and halls of a thousand columns, thirty feet in girth and of a proportionate height. My eyes and mind yet ache with grandeur so little in unison with our own littleness.1
Archaeology, in revealing the greatness of the past, helps us measure our present attainments in the progress of the ages. Every civilization in isolation from the past tends toward the exclusive claim that they are more advanced, more accomplished than their primitive descendants. However, it is a healthy awakening to see one's own "littleness" in light of the monumental cultures of antiquity. Empires have arisen, endured for millennia, and then crumbled into the dust from which they arose. Ours, in time, will do the same. In addition to this revelation of the past, biblical archaeology uniquely affords us a glimpse at a history whose direction is according to a design and attended by timeless lessons for life. By revealing for us the world of the Bible, it draws us also into the word of the Bible, where the rise and fall of nations is explained as part of a purposeful plan that incorporates our "littleness" and gives it meaning. This book was written to touch upon that meaning as we set the story of the Scripture into the setting of the stones.
Modern Challenges to Archaeology
Today, books on biblical archaeology face many challenges. As a result, one of the leading voices in the field, William Dever, has cautioned those who would publish: "You have to be very bold to venture into print now ... you are certain to be attacked from all corners."2 The first of these challenges is from the archaeologists' corner. Within this discipline there is widespread debate concerning the propriety of even using the term biblical archaeology. Indeed, the archaeology in those regions where biblical history unfolded reveals other peoples and cultures besides those that are relevant to the Bible. Therefore, some contend that the exclusive use of the term biblical undermines their significance. Furthermore, the trend in recent years has moved toward archaeological specialization and away from biblical studies. The school of "New Archaeology," rooted in cultural anthropology and renouncing the historical orientation of traditional archaeology, views biblical studies as the albatross of an older religiously oriented and less scientific generation. Lacking the biblical reference point that guided their predecessors, this new generation of archaeologists has proposed revolutionary origin theories and revisionist interpretations to replace traditional, biblically based models of Israel's history. This has especially been the case among the archaeological community in Israel. Today in "the Land of the Book," the Bible is regarded less as real history and more as religious history by the same archaeologists who reveal its rock record.
The second challenge comes from the opposite corner in this issue— those who are students and teachers of the Bible. For many of them, archaeology has lost its relevance to religion. In this age of moral relativism, where the focus in ministry training has shifted from being "biblically based" to being "socially significant," courses in biblical archaeology have largely disappeared from many Bible college and seminary curricula.3 Those who do teach biblical archaeology often struggle against the system to do so, and if progressive education models persist, will probably not be replaced when they retire. Perhaps some of the present neglect of biblical studies in archaeology is a reaction to archaeology's having distanced itself from biblical studies. Whatever the cause, the divorce of these disciplines is producing a generation of abstract theologians and archaeological technicians who feel they have little in common. Without the synthesis that's necessary between the Scriptures and the stones, students in both fields will surely suffer.
My Involvement with Archaeology
My own introduction to and interest in archaeology was birthed by biblical studies. My enthusiasm to make the Bible relevant was tempered by the realization that every text had a context. In a twentieth-century (soon to be twenty-first-century) American context, I was separated from the biblical context by thousands of miles and years. It made sense to me that before I could apply the Bible to my own life and times, I needed to first understand the original lives and times to which its message was applied. This led me to move to Israel to learn about this context directly, first through graduate studies in biblical archaeology, and later through field work in archaeological excavations.4
Then during my doctoral work in the States, I had the rare privilege of teaching a course on Biblical Archaeology at one of our nation's largest secular universities. There I had students who had grown up in a public education system without access to the Bible, and they were amazed that during each class their instructor could stand before them with a Bible in one hand and an archaeology textbook in the other. In my opinion, their amazement came from their growing realization that the Bible was real history, attestable by the hard facts that attend every other historical subject. This highlights one of the contributions archaeology has made to an age in which the Bible has been reduced to the level of a literary legend.
The Popularity of Biblical Archaeology
In sharp contrast, while on the professional level biblical archaeology may be struggling, on the popular level it has never been more successful. The average person, whatever his beliefs, has a great fascination for archaeology, and especially archaeology of the Bible. The proliferation of archaeologically oriented specials on regular television and new series connecting the Bible and archaeology on cable channels, as well as numerous magazines featuring articles about biblical archaeology, have demonstrated this enormous groundswell of interest. We can hope that passion may prove to be the salvation of biblical archaeology in the academic arena. If enough people demand from their rabbis, pastors, and priests the same archaeological insights they receive from their television sets, then maybe the institutions that train such leaders will reconsider equipping them to teach the Scriptures with a knowledge of the stones.
It is for the popular audience, then, that I have written this book. My perspective comes from a high view of the Bible (what is called by archaeologists the "maximalist position"), which believes historical corroboration with the archaeological record is both possible and preferable. My purpose, however, is not to "prove" the Bible, which as an archaeological document is proof itself. Rather, it is to show from the stones that the Scriptures are reliable and reveal to us the Scriptures in a way impossible without them.
I have not planned this as a backward journey into the past, but as a forward journey in light of the past, which will illumine the present. If this effort has been successful, then that journey will provide for you a new appreciation and deeper desire for both the world and the Word of the Bible. Too, like Disraeli, may you find on this journey that your own eyes and mind ache with that uncommon grandeur that helps us measure our moments.
— Dr. J. Randall Price
Jerusalem (Shavuot, 1997)
An Invitation to Hear the Stones
The stones cry out,
Long silent through the ages,
Unfolding now, a written scroll,
God's truth in dusty pages.
The stones cry out,
Their story tells with power,
Long hidden from the eyes of man,
God's truth for this hour. 1
I can still remember the first time I climbed the Great Pyramid of the Pharaoh Cheops in Egypt. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it still remains the subject of mystery and controversy. As I ascended its massive height, each stone was a climb in itself. On the way up the view had been the millions of blocks of limestone used to build the pyramid. How many must have labored a lifetime here with no other sight than these stones! But at the summit the view changed. From this new vantage point could be seen the remains of the past in a way that could not be seen before. From here one could see the outline of the ancient causeway that connected the pyramid to the Valley Temple and the giant tombs of the pharaonic sun-boats. From here one could also catch a better view of the present. There, stretching out on the horizon, was the great metropolis of Cairo, which like the surrounding sands, had now encroached upon the pyramid city of Giza.
As my senses caught up with all the panorama before me, I began to reflect on this pyramid's place as a still point in the onward march of time. These stones, which had seen the flowering and fall of the Egyptian empire, were already 1,000 years old when Abraham passed through to claim his inheritance in Canaan. They were a symbol of refuge in the days of Joseph when he brought his father Jacob and his sons to settle in their shadow. The pyramids had witnessed the oppression of the Israelites and the exodus under Moses. They had watched the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah as he was taken from his captive Land of Judah, and beheld the infant Jesus in His flight from King Herod. If only these stones could speak, what stories they could tell!
In a manner of speaking, the stones do tell stories. The Bible uses the symbolism of speaking stones to remind us that God has left a witness to His works. In the case of the Babylonians, blinded to their own self-destruction, the prophet Habakkuk wrote, "Surely the stone will cry out from the wall, and the rafter will answer it from the framework" (Habakkuk 2:11). When the religious leaders sought to silence those praising Jesus' Messianic entry into the rock walls of Jerusalem, "He answered and said, I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!' " (Luke 19:40). Today, too, if men fail to receive the witness of the Word there is added the witness of the rocks. As the psalmist has said, "Truth shall spring out of the earth" (Psalm 85:11 KJV).
While I was standing on one of the great archaeological relics of the world, I was able to see more than I had before. The past gained a new perspective and the present was viewed in the greater light of history. Ever since, this has continued to prove true in my experience with the unearthed evidence of the Bible. But regardless of my experience, archaeology has provided us all with a better witness to the work of God as revealed in His Word. Should we not scale its mound of temporal treasures to attain an enhanced vision of eternal things?
Because I believe it to be a proper pursuit—even a holy quest—I have attempted in this book to remind us again how effectively the stones can shout. However, one can only shout so much, so I have had to be selective in my stories from the stones. Too, the attempt has been to present these stories as clearly as possible so that as many people as possible might hear. For this reason I have sought to address this book to the nonspecialist. Yet I have also tried to give professional archaeologists a voice through the many interview statements that have been included.
I am also aware that every book on archaeology is doomed, by virtue of ongoing digs, to be outdated before it goes to print. However, our ultimate focus here is not the stones, but the Scriptures, whose truths cannot be diminished by time.
To chart this course between layman and scholar and obsolescence and absolutes has not been easy. For this reason some specialists in the field may feel that I have overstated the value of their finds. However, we who have a stock in the sacred Scriptures have reason for our excitement over excavations. We acknowledge a God who heads up history, and as Christians believe, has even entered into history itself. To see stones which touch this history is to draw more deeply of the reality of Him who was and is and is to come. If you share this excitement, or even if you do not, I invite you to join me in listening to the stones speak once again. It will take you to new heights—I promise!
The Adventure or Archaeology
Unveiling the Secrets of Ages Past
I believe in the spade. It has fed the tribes of mankind. It has furnished them water, coal, iron, and gold. And now it is giving them truth—historic truth, the mines of which have never been opened till our time. 1
—Oliver Wendell Holmes
We live in an exiting time! New archaeological discoveries are being unearthed throughout the world faster than our newspapers can report them. And in what is surely good news for students of Scripture a great many of the finds are helping us to understand the Bible as never before. To illustrate how much and how quickly the past is invading the present, here are just some of the amazing discoveries, with relevance to the Bible, that were made near the time of this writing in early 1997:
* A hidden chamber was discovered in the King's Valley (Luxor, Egypt) next to the tomb of the famous King Tut. It may be the burial place of the firstborn sons of the Pharaoh Rameses II. If, according to one theory, he was the pharaoh of the Exodus, then these sons were those killed in the last of the miraculous plagues ordered by Moses.
* Beneath the waves off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, thousands of artifacts from the years 670-30 B.C. have been discovered.2 Among them was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the great Pharos lighthouse, which vanished from history over 2,200 years ago. Other finds include the royal palaces of famous figures such as Queen Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Mark Antony.3 And somewhere in this underwater site of some five-and-a-half acres, archaeologists believe they will at last uncover the golden sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, who founded the city in 323 B.C. and whose conquest of the known world was predicted by the Hebrew prophet Daniel (see Daniel ll:3-4).4
* Just discovered, but still unpublished, is a 3,500-year-old cuneiform inscription on a clay prism from the Syrian kingdom of Tikunani. Early work on the translation of the text has led to the announcement that the text may finally contain the long-sought identity of the enigmatic Habiru, a people thought by some to be related to the biblical Hebrews.5
* News has come that through the use of a form of infrared satellite technology, the lost Pishon River has now been revealed. Long buried by the desert sands, its ancient course could be traced by the satellite in the riverbed Farouk El-Baz, which runs from Hijaz in western Arabia to Kuwait. It was this river, along with the well-known Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, that helped to define the location of the Garden of Eden in the Bible (Genesis 2:ll).6
* And, speaking of the Garden of Eden, just in from Israel is the report of a fossilized snake with well-developed hind legs found in a modern stone quarry.7 This first-ever discovery of such a legged snake gives new relevance to the story of a similar serpent described in the temptation account in the book of Genesis (Genesis 3:1-15).
* Heard of the mysterious Essenes? Fifty newly discovered tombs at Beit Safafa in southwest Jerusalem may be our first evidence of this lost community.8 It's believed that a group of
Essenes may have settled at Qumran and produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. These tombs are from the same time period and just like those at Qumran. This find may provide the missing link between Jerusalem and Qumran, finally solving the riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls authorship.
If these reports fail to stir excitement on your part, it may be because such news has become more and more commonplace in our age of 24-hour news networks and smorgasbord of multi-channeled educational television shows. To really appreciate the archaeological revelations arising in our modern age, we need to take a brief trip back to the days when such information was unknown to the world.
The Way It Was
In the late eighteenth century, no one could have dreamed what wonders archaeology was about to reveal. The world of the past was largely forgotten except for the historical parade of ancient names of people and places, but there was no physical evidence to prove they really existed. Typical of that time was the observation of Herder:
In the Near East and neighboring Egypt everything from the ancient times appears to us as ruins or as a dream which has disappeared. The archives of Babylon, Phoenicia and Carthage are no more; Egypt had withered practically before the Greeks saw its interior; thus, everything shrinks to a few faded leaves which contain stories about stories, fragments of history, a dream of the world before us.9
Such was the condition of our material knowledge of the ancient past only two centuries ago. The Bible stood as the only surviving testimony to itself. On the one hand the reader was blessed by its truths, yet on the other hand he was often left to wonder about the places and events it recorded. There were, of course, many ancient literary sources that offered commentary on ancient and biblical history, such as the Talmud, Josephus, and the Graeco-Roman writings, but these were available only to those trained in classical literature. All other people had to content themselves with their faith and imagine the world of the Bible with no other reference than the world in which they lived. And, even for those who mastered the classics the picture of the past remained dim and dreamlike.
For some people, the fact that the past had seemingly nothing to offer made it best suited for illustrating man's mortality and musing philosophically about his transitoriness. It was in this vein that Dunsany wrote his contemplative soliloquy:
It was the spider who spoke. "The Work of the World is the making of cities and palaces. But it is not for Man. What is Man? He only prepares my cities for me, and mellows them. Ten years to a hundred it takes to build a city, for five or six hundred more it mellows, and is prepared for me; then I inhabit it, and hide away all that is ugly, and draw beautiful lines about it to and fro …. For me Babylon was built, and rocky Tyre; and still men build my cities! The work of the World is the making of cities, and all of them I inherit."
Unearthing the Past
Archaeology, however, boldly reclaims this heritage for man. It chases away the spiders of time and resurrects the faded glory of the past for a future generation to understand and enjoy. In some respects it has also chased away certain skeptical notions concerning the Bible, which were made popular by the invasion of Higher Criticism over a century ago. This has been made possible through the exciting discoveries of the spade, bringing to light and life insights from the world of the Word. Indeed, as Professor William Foxwell Albright, the dean of the old school of biblical archaeology, once proudly professed, "Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition of the value of the Bible as a source of history."10
While for many modern archaeologists Albright's aim of establishing biblical accuracy has changed or been challenged, the evidence of archaeology has continued to increase. A couple of decades ago Dr. Donald J. Wiseman could boast that "The geography of the Bible lands and visible remains of antiquity were gradually recorded until today more than 25,000 sites within this region and dating to Old Testament times, in their broadest sense, have been located."11 Today, however, such remains number in the hundreds of thousands. With such an abundance of artifacts—and more surfacing all the time—it is difficult, if not impossible, for us who are students of the Scriptures to keep up on every important item from the field that has biblical relevance. Nevertheless, it is the goal of books like these to help us try, by taking us on an archaeological journey into the realm of reality out of which the words of truth were born— the lands, languages, and life-settings of the Book of books. In order to start our journey together, let us begin with a basic understanding of our subject.
What Is "Biblical" Archaeology?
Our English word archaic refers to some ancient thing from the past. The same Greek word that gives us archaic also forms the first part of our word archaeology. The second part comes from another Greek word, logos, meaning "study of" (used to earmark fields of study such as biology, sociology, anthropology, and so on).
The ancient Greeks used the word archaeology to describe their discussion of ancient legends or traditions. Its first known appearance in English was in 1607, where it was used to refer to the "knowledge" of ancient Israel from literary sources such as the Bible. Then in the nineteenth century, when ancient artifacts from Bible times began to be unearthed, the word was applied to these (apart from the written documents).
So, from the beginning, the idea of archaeology was linked to the Bible. Today, archaeology is understood as a branch of historical research that seeks to reveal the past by a systematic recovery of its surviving remains. However, as archaeology developed as a science and excavations included lands other than those having a biblical significance, there was a need for the more exclusive term biblical archaeology. Therefore, as a separate discipline within the larger field, biblical archaeology has come to refer to the science of excavation, decipherment, and critical evaluation of ancient material records related to the Bible.
The Birth of Biblical Archaeology
Archaeology first began when men wanted to recover the material past. The earliest "archaeologists," if we may call them that, were graverobbers who plundered the tombs of antiquity (usually not long after they were sealed) in search of buried treasure. Even though those with a knowledge of a tomb's entrance usually ended up being entombed with such treasure and a severe death was promised to those robbers who were caught, the profession apparently flourished. When discovered in our time, most of the great tombs of the past had already been visited by these ancient "archaeologists."
When in relatively modern times the past began to be explored by adventuresome Europeans, relics and souvenirs were carried home to enchant friends and enhance fame. Soon fortune hunters began to proliferate, sailing away to distant lands in search of the riches they envisioned waiting in vast unclaimed treasure troves among ancient ruins. Most of the "excavations" these archaeological mercenaries carried out destroyed as much as they discovered. Others of a different spirit, however, began to record their observations with ink and etchings, bringing news, although often romanticized, of long-forgotten lands and their material cultures.12
The first "scientific" attempt at archaeology was conducted under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. His interest in archaeology was implied when he addressed his troops after their invasion of Egypt, saying: "Fifty centuries look down upon you!" On the American continent, it is said that Thomas Jefferson, the third president, "scientifically explored" the tumuli (burial mounds) of Virginia. In the following century, other Americans, such as Edward Robinson and Eli Smith, joined a host of other scholars from England, Switzerland, France, Germany, and Austria in publishing topographical surveys, detailed maps, and the results of arduous explorations and excavations in the Bible lands.
For the most-part, these early archaeological forays, undertaken at great expense, were financed by people whose primary concern was the Bible. Thus, biblical archaeology has most often been the compelling factor in the progress of archaeology as a whole. Yet, whatever the motivations, these "founders of the archaeological frontier" opened the way for a more scientific development of the discipline—to the advantage of us all.
History Made Tangible
As I mentioned earlier, before the birth of archaeology, no one really knew what the world of the Bible had been like. Everyone's concept of that world was imagined. In result rather than intent, accounts from the Bible were received in a fashion almost the same as the mythological tales of the Greeks and Romans. It was not that people did not believe the Bible was true; rather, the world of the Bible seemed like a different planet with alien folk, whose appearance and manner of life were the stuff of dreams, not reality.
I remember the shock I received when I first visited the Holy Land. Gone were my flannelgraph conceptions of Jesus in pressed linen walking on carpet grass! Before me in the archaeological trenches and in the many museums of the Land were real remains that changed my many preconceptions. My own imagined world of the Bible shrank even as the facts concerning the real world—and my faith—began to grow. However, after the initial awe of archaeology had passed, a new awakening arrested me. No longer could I excuse myself from behavior different than the biblical figures of the faith. They, too, had been real people, living in a real world. They struggled with the same concerns and doubts that I face today.
If they lived by real faith in a real world, then so should I. The reality that confronted me when I first saw the "original context" of the Bible has continually been reinforced over the years through archaeological discoveries.
Archaeology has revealed the cities, palaces, temples, and houses of those who lived shoulder to shoulder with the individuals whose names appear in Scripture. Such discoveries make possible for us what the apostle John once voiced to authenticate his message: "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life ... these things we write" (1 John 1:1,4).
Tangible things can assist faith in its growth toward God. Archaeology brings forth the tangible remnants of history so that faith can have a reasonable context in which to develop. It also allows faith to be supported with facts, confirming the reality of the people and events of the Bible so that skeptics and saints alike might clearly perceive its spiritual message within a historical context. Archaeologist Bryant Wood, director of the Associates for Biblical Research, makes this point in discussing the discovery of the name "House of David" on a monumental stele from Tel Dan (see chapter 9):
We know he [David] is a historical figure because he is mentioned in the Bible, but that is not enough for scholars. They need evidence outside the Bible. So biblical archaeology can play a very important role in verifying the truth of Scripture in the face of the criticism that we are receiving today from modern scholarship.13
An Adventure for All Time
The archaeology of Hollywood is an endless adventure. The archaeologists of cinematic making are part scholar and part superman, capable of leaping across fiery chasms in pursuit of ever-fantastic finds. But archaeology, in its pursuit of the past, is nothing like this. It is methodological and often quite mundane. Even so, it is still an adventure—an adventure that transports us to the past and challenges us to change our perspective in the present. An adventure that sometimes forces us to replace our private opinions with the hard facts of history, and perhaps for the first time face the reality of the Word. And in light of the never-ceasing claims of critics, it also makes more adequate our answer to a doubtful age—an age that is technologically blessed but theologically bankrupt. With a sense of adventure, then, I invite you to join me on a trek through time, digging in soil and Scripture to discover what amazing things the stones cry out!
TO BE CONTINUED