Biblical Archaeology Review 34:3, May/June 2008

ReViews: Biblical Irrelevance

The reviewer of a book should declare up front any material biases, so here is mine: I am a supporter of the Biblical Archaeology Society and believe that Biblical archaeology is both useful and fascinating. Thus, it is disconcerting to discover a book entitled The End of Biblical Studies, whose third chapter begins, “Biblical archaeology lies in ruins ...” According to author Hector Avalos, the entire field is so riddled with shoddy practices, erroneous conclusions, religious and political bias and downright forgery, that its usefulness has come to an end. His criticisms, which include not only Biblical archaeology but also Bible studies, together with virtually all the practitioners of these two disciplines, are sweeping and unremitting. But instead of being constructive, Avalos’s arguments come off in the end as an exercise in emotional nihilism whose conclusions seem ultimately self-defeating.

This is a pity because Avalos clearly knows his subject well, and many of his criticisms, although not necessarily new, deserve to be taken seriously. However, in too many cases he seems to be setting up “straw men”—that is, seemingly glaring flaws in the field of Biblical archaeology and Bible studies that only he has the insight to perceive. Moreover, most of the evidence he uses to defeat these straw men are the result of the painstaking work of the selfsame scholars whose efforts Avalos would now have us consign to the dustbin.

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