August 3, 2021

Adventist Archaeology Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Researching yesterday, planning for tomorrow; nothing to fear

Lawrence T. Geraty

Any book relating to biblical archaeology usually does well in book sales. The periodical Biblical Archaeology Review enjoys very wide circulation. Any public lecture relating to archaeology and the Bible usually draws a crowd. What is it that makes “biblical archaeology” so attractive to so many, including Seventh-day Adventists?

Reasons for Importance

In a recent review of a book authored by William G. Dever—Has Archaeology Buried the Bible?—the author notes that “bringing the Bible and ancient Israel into a new and brighter light in the last twenty years, archaeological evidence has dramatically illuminated ancient Israel, particularly its religion.”1 Only this year, for instance, the announcement has come that brand-new Dead Sea scroll fragments (Zechariah 8:16, 17; Nahum 1:5, 6) have been found in a cave, along with coins from the Bar Kochba Jewish revolt against the Romans (A.D. 132-136). Hardly a year goes by nowadays but we learn of some new archaeological discovery that throws light on the Bible.

Since Adventists are “people of the Book,” we of all people are immediately interested in any archaeological discovery that helps us understand the Bible better. And archaeology has done that. It gives us the geographical and historical context of the Bible, the ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman environment in which biblical characters lived, worked, and functioned. Such people as Abraham and Sarah, David and Paul, come alive as archaeological discoveries relate to our heroes of the biblical past.

Yesterday

In its beginnings Adventists depended on the archaeological fieldwork and discoveries of others for their insights that would illumine the Bible. But three Adventist scholars holding PhDs from the University of Chicago changed that.

The first was Lynn H. Wood (1887-1976), who received his PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago in 1937—the first Adventist to do so. Wood had already been the first Adventist to participate in archaeological fieldwork, serving as a draftsman for Nelson Glueck, the famous American Jewish archaeologist who excavated two important sites in Jordan. From 1937 to 1951 Wood became the first to teach archaeology, developing it into a separate department, at the SDA Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. As the church’s first trained archaeology scholar, Wood wrote mostly for popular denominational periodicals to strengthen readers’ faith. However, he will always be remembered as the scholar who established the earliest fixed date in history: the founding of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom in 1991 B.C.

A colleague of Wood’s at the seminary, which in 1961 would move to become part of Andrews University at Berrien Springs in Michigan was Edwin R. Thiele (1895-1986). Earlier a missionary to China, he went on to earn his PhD at the University of Chicago in 1943, the second Adventist to do so, with a dissertation on the chronology of the Hebrew kings. Working with a presupposition of biblical reliability in chronology, he, it is generally acknowledged, successfully synchronized the biblical data with itself as well as with extrabiblical sources. He never worked as a field archaeologist in the Middle East, however.

The third Adventist to get a PhD from the University of Chicago (1951) was one of Wood’s college students in England, Siegfried H. Horn (1908-1993). While he was interested in archaeology from his youth, it wasn’t until he had served as a missionary in the Dutch East Indies, where he was incarcerated by the Dutch as a German prisoner of war during World War II, that he was able to complete his studies and join his old professor as a colleague in the Old Testament Department of the SDA Theological Seminary, first in Washington, D.C., and then at Andrews University.

Shortly after World War II several Adventist scholars, many of them involved in the production of the denomination’s first multivolumed
SDA Bible Commentary and Dictionary, specialized in archaeology during the 1950s. Several of these scholars, such as Alger Johns, Siegfried Schwantes, Wilson Bishai, and Leona Running, came under the influence of William Foxwell Albright (1891-1971), “the father of American biblical archaeology,” who taught at Johns Hopkins University. Raymond Cottrell and Don Neufeld, the two primary commentary editors, were wellinformed in archaeological matters, as was Julia Neuffer, the seminary’s first MA graduate in archaeology (1947).

In subsequent years active Adventist scholars with PhDs in archaeology from the University of Michigan included Douglas Waterhouse, Kenneth Vine, and missionary physician William Shea, who became the denomination’s leading chronologist after Wood, Thiele, and Horn.18 1 5 9

Of those named above, the most influential archaeologist was Siegfried Horn, a brilliant scholar who paid fastidious attention to detail and facts. During the Horn era, categorized by Lloyd Willis (in his Andrews doctoral dissertation) as a prolific period of “apologetic thrust,” Horn authored more than half of the nearly 500 published articles on archaeology in denominational journals. Beyond being a longtime professor of archaeology at the SDA Theological Seminary—ultimately its dean—Horn initiated the first Adventist excavation in Bible lands, at Heshbon in Jordan, directing it from 1968 to 1973, then turning it over to the author, his successor at the SDA Theological Seminary, who, as part of a foursome including Larry Herr, Øystein LaBianca, and Douglas Clark, initiated the Madaba Plains Project in Jordan. This project has become the longest-running American dig in Jordan and the best published.

Today

For a third of a century (1951-1985), under Horn and the author, the SDA Theological Seminary, now at Andrews University, was the primary institution for Adventist archaeology. After Geraty’s departure for Atlantic Union College, Adventist training in the discipline became dispersed to a number of locations.

Andrews University continues to be an important center and the most active in Adventist archaeology. It houses the Institute of Archaeology, founded by the author in 1980. It includes the Horn Archaeological Museum (with 9,000-plus artifacts), formally opened in 1970 and named for Horn in 1978. The Andrews doctoral program in biblical archaeology begun by Horn and the author in 1976 continues to be supported by Horn’s superb 4,500-volume library, as well as the institute’s active field research program in Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, and Sicily. Since 1988, and with fine new quarters in 2003, the institute is now led by Randall Younker and his associate, Øystein LaBianca, assisted by David Merling, Constance Gane, and others. Paul Ray, Paul Gregor, and Robert Bates currently work with Younker and LaBianca in archaeological projects in Jordan (Jalul, Hisban), Israel (Gezer), Cyprus (Kurion), and Sicily (Salapruta, Mount Raitano, and San Miceli).

La Sierra University is the home of the Center for Near Eastern Archaeology, directed by Douglas Clark and Kent Bramlett, with the assistance of the Richards Divinity School dean, Friedbert Ninow; School of Education dean, Chang-ho Ji; and the author. CNEA houses some 10,000 items, one of the largest collections of ancient Near Eastern artifacts from the Jerusalem area in the U.S. Its excellent library and labs, along with continuing field research excavation at Balu’a, as well as Khirbat Ataruz, both in Jordan, continue to make it a key center for Adventist archaeology. This current work continues the archaeological activity of previous Loma Linda University, La Sierra campus professors James Stirling, Kenneth Vine, and Bailey Gillespie.

Southern Adventist University, with its Institute of Archaeology and Lynn H. Wood Archaeological Museum, opened in 2000 under the supervision of Michael G. Hasel. He has built up a fine research library, lecture series, and an active archaeology program with some 40 graduates, many of whom have worked with him at important Israeli excavations such as Khirbet Qeiyafa, Tel Lachish, and Tel Hazor.

Other institutions have at times been supportive of biblical archaeology: Burman University, with Larry G. Herr; Walla Walla University, with Douglas Clark, James Fisher, and now Monique Vincent. All the archaeologists mentioned above have been active in their professional circles, especially in the leading one, the American Society of Overseas Research [ASOR], in which most of them have held both office and the respect of colleagues.

Outside North America, Udo Worschech at Friedensau University, Yvonne Gerber at the University of Basel, Paul Bork and Rodrigo Pereira de Silva at UNASP-EC, an Adventist University near São Paulo, Brazil, and Efrain Velazquez at the Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary in Puerto Rico, have all been active in biblical archaeology.

Significant Contributions

Adventist archaeologists have been responsible for major archaeological finds. One of the earliest was Siegfried Horn’s discovery of an Assyrian king list as part of a cuneiform inscription—a critical find for biblical chronology. Lloyd Willis, of Southwestern Adventist University, discovered the first extrabiblical mention—on a seal impression—of the Ammonite king Baalis, otherwise known only from Jeremiah 40:14. Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil discovered at Lachish two seal impressions of Eliakim mentioned in Isaiah 37:1-3. Chang-ho Ji discovered an Israelite cult site from the time of the Moabite king Mesha mentioned in 2 Kings 3, along with what may be Jordan’s first Hebrew inscription, on an altar. During the Madaba Plains Project in Jordan, Douglas Clark uncovered perhaps the best preserved “four-room-house” typical of the period of the Judges. And Kent Bramlett discovered an extremely well-preserved Canaanite temple with altar and sacred stones illustrating customs from Bible times. At Gezer in Israel, Randall Younker helped to reestablish the date of the monumental six-chambered gate to the period of Solomon (1 Kings 9:15).

More important than these and other remarkable finds and accomplishments mentioned above is the Adventist contribution to understanding the culture and social order in biblical times. Some examples include Adventist pioneering research on the livelihood practices and social organization (tribal kingdom hypothesis) of Israel’s neighbors, the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites; their efforts over the years to become aware of biases that have shaped their understanding as Westerners of biblical times and places, and even of their own agendas as archaeologists; their efforts to partner with their host communities when it comes to helping to preserve and present their sites to the public—something for which Øystein LaBianca has become particularly well known at Heshbon. Initiatives such as these help explain the high regard in which Adventist archaeology is held within the profession.

Tomorrow

Adventist archaeologists have made a name for themselves and for Adventism through diligent scholarship, research, and integrity; but also because the denomination has provided teaching positions and financial support. The Adventist way of doing archaeology, as established by Horn, Geraty, and their successors, has been characterized under a six-point code of practice by Randall Younker as follows:

  1. Be forthright with findings. Avoid minimizing problems or stretching interpretations of data to explain things away.
  2. Do not make claims beyond what the data can support.
  3. Be quick and complete in publishing results.
  4. Engage and work within mainstream scholarship.
  5. Include a diversity of people and specialists.
  6. Take the history of the Bible seriously, but do not place upon archaeology the burden of “proving” the Bible.2

If Adventist archaeologists continue to follow these principles in their work, and if the denomination continues to hire and support well-trained Adventist scholars with recognized credentials, the “tomorrow” of Adventist archaeological scholarship should remain bright, continuing to garner the kind of high esteem expressed on more than one occasion by William G. Dever, arguably the field’s leading living “biblical archaeologist”:

“The publication of the Hesban excavations has propelled Seventh-day Adventist archaeology—seemingly against all odds—into the very forefront of Near Eastern archaeology.”3

And in 2008, in a celebration of the Adventist Madaba Plains Project’s fortieth anniversary, lauding what he called the key to its success:

“Seriousness of purpose; widespread institutional support; long-term commitment of personnel and resources; dedication to the training of future generations; and the promotion of archaeology throughout the larger community. This seriousness, in my judgment, is not only rare in American archaeology in the Middle East; it is unique.” For Dever, Adventists have done “the most innovative archaeology that anyone in the Middle East was doing, by any criteria. Their excavation and recording techniques were exemplary, their computer-based technologies on the cutting edge.” His climactic punchline: “None of the achievements outlined above would amount to much had the results not been promptly and fully published. They have been; and here again the Madaba Plains Project has an unparalleled record.”

Dever also speaks to Adventist archaeology’s future: “Adventists have not only contributed generously to fieldwork out of their devotion to the Bible, but as a group they have been remarkably astute and single-minded in training and placing young people in their own network of educational institutions. Unless other American institutions and organizations—theological seminaries, church-related colleges, and other groups—learn a lesson from Seventh-day Adventists about seriousness of intent and necessity of support, the effect of their success will be lost on the rest of us.”
4

Yes, Adventist archaeologists have much to celebrate, but we cannot rest on our laurels. A bright future beckons if the church continues to support its archaeologists, already known and respected for their field efforts that have done so much to illuminate and elucidate the biblical record.


  1. William G. Dever, Has Archaeology Buried the Bible? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020), reviewed for the Society of Biblical Literature by Manfred Oeming.
  2. Randall Younker, “Integrating Faith, the Bible, and Archaeology: A Review of the ‘Andrews University Way’ of Doing Archaeology,” in The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions, ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), pp. 43-52.
  3. Bulletin of the American Society of Overseas Research, pp. 190, 191.
  4. See William G. Dever, “The Death of a Discipline,” Biblical Archaeology Review 21, no. 5 (1995): 50-55, 70.

Lawrence T. Geraty is president emeritus, La Sierra University, and former president of the American Society of Overseas Research [ASOR], the professional organization to which archaeologists working in the Middle East belong.

Lawrence T. Geraty
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