This post was actually intended to be my previous post. I was going to write about how my faith had been encouraged by an archaeology class I had been in all weekend. But instead, as I thought about the challenges to my faith that I have to overcome daily as I try to live the Christian life, I ended up writing about those doubts and how I long to only hear the truth of Christ. If you recall, I referenced an Avett Brothers song called Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise. My last post was about the doubt, but this one is about the promise that I see in my faith. So now that I have expressed my frustrations in that last post, I want to express my hope and to encourage you in your faith too.
Sometimes doubt creeps up in the back of my mind when I read liberal scholars and theologians for my seminary classes. They just seem so sure of themselves, and they lay out their facts as if the matter is closed, so certain of what is and is not possible, and I’m left with my head swimming because I can’t come up with a good answer for them right away. And while it’s necessary to interact with these writers who are experts in their fields, they make me cringe sometimes at the lack of respect they show the Bible. This is especially troubling for someone like me who is focusing on Old Testament studies. Many scholars look skeptically at the stories of the OT; they want to explain it all away as myth and legend created by post-exilic Jews who were mostly just making things up.
I have not run into this attitude more strongly anywhere else than I have in the readings for my Biblical archaeology class. It seems that most archaeologists in Palestine are so committed to uncovering “just the facts, Ma’am,” that they leave no room for faith. Now I’m not expecting them to claim every stone they uncover was the one that slayed Goliath, nor that every pot they dig up was the one that never ran empty for the widow in the Elisha story. That would be ridiculous. No, while I certainly don’t want archaeologists to bend the facts to make it fit the Bible, I do wish they would allow for some faith in the parts of the Bible that haven’t been proven yet (or will never be able to be proved).
That is why I was so thankful for my archaeology class this past weekend. It was so refreshing to be taught by a scholar who actually believes what the Bible says. (I’m thankful that every one of my professors here believe the Bible, but so much more so this past week.) Dr. Richter isn’t trying to disprove the archaeologists so that the Bible looks better; rather she is showing us that it’s okay to combine archaeological data with the Bible, and that many times they actually line up quite nicely.
Take, for instance, the Exodus. As Christians, we are already predisposed to believe in its historicity because, well, we have read about it in the Bible. Scholars have been trying to date the Exodus for years, and the two best guesses are somewhere around 1450 BC or 1270 BC. But the date is not important. What is important is that history does seem to be on our side.
A couple hundred years before the Exodus, about the time when Joseph might have been taken to Egypt, the Egyptians were actually being ruled by a group of people called the Hyksos, a group of foreigners who had somehow come to power in the Nile delta. Archaeological data has shown that the Hyksos were of Canaanite and Semitic origin, which provides the Pharaoh at the time of Joseph with a motive for showing favor to our young Semitic man. Joseph and his family would not have been all that different from the people who were ruling Egypt right then. Maybe that’s why the Pharaoh was so quick to say, “Get your family and come on down and live in the best part of our country!”
Of course, once we get the Israelites into Egypt, we’ve got to get them out again. After the Hyksos had ruled for a hundred years or so, the Egyptians in the south rose up and drove out their foreign oppressors. They pursued many into Palestine, killed them, and captured some cities (again, archaeological evidence), and they enslaved whoever was left. It should be no surprise, then, when Exodus 1:8 says, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” It is very likely that he didn’t know Joseph because he was a new king in a new dynasty who was trying to conquer and subdue everyone who had been associated with Joseph, not make friends.
There is more evidence to support the Exodus too. There were a string of military outposts along the main road out of Egypt, which is why God lead the Israelites south through Sinai. On top of that, there was a string of walls and lakes along Egypt’s eastern border to keep Canaanites out that may have hemmed Israel in until they crossed at the Re(e)d Sea. None of these discoveries prove our story. But they do lend support to what is recorded in the Bible, and they give me one more reason to do more than just cling to faith, but rather to confidently embrace my faith.
I like how Dr. Richter puts it. She says that the archaeological evidence doesn’t make the Bible provable, but it does make it probable. Even if we gathered all the evidence available that supports our story, we still would have to have faith. The stories in the Bible simply are not possible without God. We will not find archaeological evidence of how God provided manna in the wilderness or where Israel camped at the base of Mt. Sinai. And that is where the fundamental difference arises between the conservative Biblical scholar and the archaeologist who wants only the facts. The person who believes in God can connect the dots of the archaeological data with what they believe about God and strengthen their faith. However, the person who doesn’t believe in God can take none of the Exodus stories at face value, and therefore they are left searching for a more logical, more realistic explanation.
I’m a realist, but I also have faith in the power of God. And with him, the possibilities are endless.
When God lead Israel out of Egypt, he was leading them on a road full of promise. He was promising them home in a country all their own. He promised to go before them and protect them, to be their King and their God. They only had to believe, and while they forgot to believe many times, I don’t want to make the same mistake. I’ve heard the stories and I’ve seen the evidence, but even more than that, I’ve encountered a God who loves me and leads me along a road full of promise.
Yeah, sometimes I may be the kid who gets frustrated, who gets a head full of doubt. And at those times it’s good for me to listen to Dr. Richter and Dr. Stone and all those who have gone before me and were confident in their faith even when the smart people thought it was silly. It’s good for me to know that there are smart people who don’t think the Bible is silly. I’m thankful for that. And I’m thankful for a God who promises good for me and then leads me down a road.
I don’t always know where it’s going…I can only follow in faith.
“I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” –Paul, 2 Timothy 1:12