The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 5) (The Covenant & the Cross #10)

We always like to start out with the Word of God, and today’s passage of Scripture is Romans 12:2 which reads: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Today’s quote about the Bible is from Martin Luther. He said: “For some years now I have read through the Bible twice every year. If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant.”

Today, we are going to continue our overview of some topics that will help us as we study the Bible throughout future episodes.

Our topic for today is titled: “The Value and Limitations of Archaeology (Part 5)” from the book, “The Promise and the Blessing” by Michael A. Harbin.

Today, let’s consider The Problem of Dating.

Non-written material is very difficult to date. In fact, archaeological dating is often publicly proclaimed with far greater confidence than it deserves. Dates are changed regularly when new information comes to the light or when new theories are developed. Some years ago, for example, an archaeologist modified by 5,000 years the suggested date of a woman’s skeleton found in Texas, and the change resulted simply from challenging and adjusting a single assumption in the interpretation of the original data.

Usually nonhistorical items are dated by comparison with other material of a similar sort or by various dating methods. Both have limitations. The most famous method used in archaeology is called Carbon-14 dating. This method works on organic materials because all living organisms absorb the element until they die, after which the Carbon-14 decays. Scientists measure the amount of Carbon-14 still present to determine the approximate date of death. This dating depends on several assumptions, and its accuracy depends on many factors. Generally speaking, the older the item is, the greater the likelihood of error obtained through this process.

Some dates can be established with great accuracy, but these are based on written documents. For example, we have written references to solar eclipses, which provide very solid chronological anchors. From about 2500 BC on, we have varying bodies of writing giving us bits and pieces of history. Historical material too can be problematic, however, and so the challenge is putting all these pieces together into a coherent whole.


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