The Archaeology of the Bible, by James K. Hoffmeier (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2008). Pp. 191. Reviewed by John A. Battle.
If you’re looking for an attractive, well balanced survey of biblical archaeology by a recognized expert, this volume would serve your purpose well. James Hoffmeier is an experienced archaeologist, specializing in the region of Egypt where the Israelites lived and through which they traversed to the Holy Land. Hoffmeier, unlike many modern “minimalists,” takes historical texts seriously, whether from the Bible or from Egyptian or other sources. While he teaches at a Christian institution and holds to an evangelical view of the Bible, he openly points out where the biblical record is strongly attested by archaeology and where that record has difficulties. He makes it clear that we do not presently have all the data, and probably never will; therefore, he says, we need to suspend judgment in some cases.
The book is well organized with an introduction to archaeology and its practice in the biblical lands. He then goes chronologically through the major periods of Israel’s history and the times of the early church, showing the important archaeological discoveries that help to explain or illuminate the biblical text. Since his specialty is in the archaeology of the Egyptian settlement and exodus of Israel, his contributions in these chapters are especially interesting. He supports the so-called late date for the exodus. The materials he includes for the study of the united and divided monarchy of Israel are especially strong and well illustrated. The chapters on the New Testament trace the major locations and artifacts for the life of Jesus, the early Judean church, and the cities of Paul. Since the book is fairly recent, it includes major recent discoveries
that further illumine the biblical narrative, including continuing debate on the Shroud of Turin and an interesting discussion on the disputed ossuary of James the brother of Jesus.
The Archaeology of the Bible is printed on high quality glossy paper, and the photography and graphics are excellent, making this book a good choice for a class or Bible study. Hoffmeier manages to cover a lot of material in fewer than 200 pages, and consequently many items are mentioned without much detail. This is a necessary tradeoff, and can be overcome by looking online for more details on any particular item. A helpful index makes looking up any particular city or event or artifact easy.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in biblical history or archaeology, especially to see the broad sweep of archaeology’s contribution to the study of the Bible.