Book Review: The Archaeology of the Bible by James K. Hoffmeier

As I was lecturing on Biblical Archaeology I was looking for a introduction to the field, which I could recommend to students. That’s why I read the book Archaeology of the Bible by James K. Hoffmeier.
The book starts with an introduction to archaeology, focusing particularly on the development of archaeology of the Holy Land. It also discusses the role of archaeology in the Study of the Bible. It is particularly in this section that it becomes clear that the book is squarely aimed at a Christian audience at a popular level. Hoffmeier discusses at length why archaeology should not be used so much to support the authenticity of the Bible, but rather as a way to provide a context in which to understand the Bible better.

The main part of the book is a chronological retelling of the Bible, illustrated with examples from archaeology. For example, when recounting the Joseph story, Hoffmeier describes dream interpretation in Egypt as we learn from ancient documents and inscriptions.
The scholarly debate Hoffmeier goes into in most detail is the date of the Exodus. Unfortunately, he does not explain the various theories advanced in recent years, which posit an alternative to the conquest narrative. A better description would have been good, especially as he then tries to rebut them by pointing out that the 19th-century understanding of the book of Joshua as an all-encompassing swift conquest is false. Rather, he maintains, the conquest was a slow process of settlement. As a result, the stark contrast between some of the theories, such as those by Israel Finkelstein, and the traditional understanding based more on the Bible does not become that clear.

The minimalist opinion that David never existed is mentioned and the Tell Dan and Mesha stelae are discussed. Hoffmeier also gives an overview of Solomon’s reign and supports the assumption that the gates at Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor were built while Solomon was on the throne. Similarly, the discussion of the divided kingdom focuses on the political history and archaeological finds which can illuminate the big events.

Only when he comes to the New Testament does Hoffmeier discuss aspects of daily life, mainly in the connection of illustrating Jesus’ parables. Indeed, I regard the New Testament section of the book as more interesting even though it is shorter. The main discussion here focuses on the burial place of Jesus. That involves the contrast between the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb. Hoffmeier also addresses the claim by Simcha Jacobvici to have found the tomb of Jesus’ family. The final chapter gives an overview of how the Roman Empire affected the cities in which the church first grew rapidly in the first century.

Overall, I think the book is a good survey of some of the most important archaeological finds and findings as they affect the Bible. However, it does not really attempt to give a picture of life in Biblical times, does not go into archaeological detail, and does not address some of the scholarly debates in depth.

The book is well illustrated, and certainly has many nice photos. It is well laid out and is printed on quality paper and at a reasonable price. I would recommend it as a book for anyone who just wants an easily readable, illustrated primer on Biblical Archaeology. I would not use it as a text for a class on Biblical Archaeology. I hope that it will lead people to explore the archaeology relating to the Bible more deeply.

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