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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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Throughout human history, each generation has left behind all sorts of objects that enable people of later generations to learn about life in former times. The science of archaeology, which is concerned with the study of ancient findings, is particularly useful in helping us understand the history, cultures, religions and languages of the biblical era. Although the truth of the Bible is not dependent upon such findings, archaeology has confirmed the reliability of the biblical record.


Many features of the ancient world can be readily investigated, because they are still standing and exposed to public view (e.g. the pyramids of Egypt). Others can hardly be investigated at all, because they lie beneath present-day settlements (e.g. the city of Damascus). The ruins that lie buried and can be excavated are some of the best sources of information on ancient civilizations .

As archaeologists dig into ruins, they are aware that human occupation of a site may have stretched over hundreds or thousands of years. When a town was destroyed, whether by conquest, earthquake, storm or flood, the usual practice for the new generation of builders was simply to level off the ruins and build on top of the flattened rubble and dirt. This rebuilding pattern may have been repeated a number of times over a long period. The result is that in many places today, the site of an ancient town is covered by a mound (Arabic: tell), which looks like a small tableland. These mounds are a rich source of archaeological information.


Since archaeological investigation takes much time and money, archaeologists are usually able to investigate only a small area of a buried town. They try to choose those parts of the town that are likely to produce the most worthwhile results, such as palaces, government buildings, temples and selected houses. Beginning at the top level of the mound, they may dig down progressively through the layers, gradually forming a trench that cuts through the mound. The layers reveal successively more ancient eras of the town’s history. By carefully recording and investigating everything they find, archaeologists will in time be able to suggest the era and setting for different findings.

Many features help to indicate which period is being investigated. These include the nature of the soil, the kind of pottery, building characteristics, metal articles, coins, jewellery and any inscriptions or other writings (see also WRITING). Scientists are often able to calculate the approximate date of animal and plant substances by using a technique known as Carbon-14. With knowledge continually increasing in all areas of science, archaeologists can call upon more and more expert help from research facilities all over the world. They are also aware that they must constantly review their earlier conclusions as more information becomes available.

Stone Age and Bronze Age

In biblical archaeology, the successive periods from prehistory to the fourth century BC are usually classified according to the successive technologies (Stone, Bronze, Iron). From the fourth century BC into the Christian era, the archaeological periods are usually classified according to successive empires (Greek, Roman).

The Stone Age, which covers an indefinite period extending back beyond 4000 BC, is divided into Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages, meaning respectively Old Stone, Middle Stone and New Stone Ages. The next eight hundred years, referred to as the Chalcolithic or Copper/Stone Age, leads to the Bronze Age, which lasted two thousand years from 3200 to 1200 BC. Much of the early part of the biblical record fits into the Bronze Age.

It is not the concern of the Bible to provide a detailed history of the world. The Bible’s chief concern is to show how God, in a gracious response to human rebellion, provided a way of salvation. God’s plan of salvation began its major development with Abraham. God promised that from Abraham he would make a people, who would receive Canaan as their homeland and who would be God’s channel of salvation to the world. Abraham enters the Bible story about the 20th century BC. The countless centuries before Abraham are passed over in only a few chapters (Genesis 1; Genesis 2; Genesis 3; Genesis 4; Genesis 5; Genesis 6; Genesis 7; Genesis 8; Genesis 9; Genesis 10; Genesis 11), whereas the seven centuries from Abraham to the end of the Bronze Age are spread across more than two hundred chapters (Genesis 12 to the opening chapters of Judges).

Out of the huge amount of archaeological evidence from the Bronze Age, certain discoveries have been particularly helpful in understanding some of the customs, laws, languages and other social features relevant to the Pentateuch. Important discoveries from the ancient Mesop

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Archaeology'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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