In his First Person column in the July/August 2011 issue of BAR,a Hershel Shanks argued that the Bible can be a source of a testable hypothesis. In other words, an archaeologist should be able to open the Bible, read a verse, formulate a hypothesis, and then conduct an archaeological excavation in order to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
At first blush, this seems like an entirely appropriate and scientific approach. Yet Hershel laments that this approach is often criticized by archaeologists and suggests that scholarly protests are based on prejudices against the Bible. He further challenges that this same kind of approach would be acceptable with other Near Eastern texts.
I think Hershel is wrong; such concerns are not born of a prejudice against the Bible and have little to do with the Bible per se. The issue is not the use of texts to generate hypotheses or identify research questions. The potential problem lies in the circularity of then returning to a text with the notion that it has been “proven” or “disproven.”