Archaeology: What It Can Teach Us

Excavations at Tel Arad. Image taken from Wikipedia article.

I have just started making my way through the 2015 Wiley Companion to Ancient Israel. Here’s a wee synopsis of the first article by Elizabeth Bloch-Smith, “Archaeology: What It Can Teach Us”:

Because of the vastly different data that the two sources of archaeology and the biblical texts give, there is both an ancient Israel and a biblical Israel. For example,

Physical remains are inclusive, generally not manipulated by subsequent peoples, and immeasurably greater in scope than literary accounts. In contrast to texts, which are limited by religious and royal perspectives and agendas, material remains are generated by diverse human groups including rich and poor, males and females, adults and children, and urban and rural populations (13).

Dating of archaeological remains is also much easier to determine than the dating of biblical texts. Moreover, connections can be made between the remains and the texts, providing more information on the origin and meaning of the texts themselves.

The archaeologist employs a number of different methods in their work. A synchronic approach generally works horizontally at a site to discover different aspects of one particular time. A diachronic approach generally works vertically to discover change over time. Digs can also be undertaken on a macro or a micro level, whether the focus is on the big picture or the relationships between individual remains. Most digs will combine all of these approaches in different ways.

Next, remains are interpreted. This requires looking for relationships between different objects, surroundings, etc at the site. “For example, a particular pot type that typically appears in a basement room of a house or the hold of a ship functions for storage or for transport” (14). Here the Bible and other texts can provide helpful information. Natural phenomena such as geology, flora, fauna, water availability and a host of other things can also give clues as to the inner workings of ancient societies.

There are nonetheless limits to archaeology. Examples include that archaeologists tend to focus on “tells,” i.e., cities and forts, allocating less attention to the likes of villages and farmsteads, for instance. There is much that has been excavated but there is also much that has not. Moreover, while dating methods are helpful, they cannot pinpoint exact years or even decades. Interpretation is also limited. In focussing on patterns in the remains, unique occurrences of phenomena that go against patterns are obscured and marginalised. And, of course, interpretations are always conditioned by the socio-cultural contexts of the interpreters.

Two opposing groups of archaeologists, though not representative of all archaeologists, provide an important picture of some of the difficulties facing how to determine the relationship between the Bible and archaeological remains:

Ethnocentric Biblical Archaeologists consider Israel as central and unique, while Syro-Palestinian Archaeologists view Israel as one of several regional kingdoms. The former stress the uniqueness of ancient Israel and rely heavily on the Bible as history to bolster their position. This approach stems from biblical archaeology of the 1950s (a cultural-historical approach), in which the canonical text had primacy of place and archaeology served to elucidate and verify the Bible. For the latter, Syro-Palestinian Archaeologists, the Bible constitutes a critically important cultural artifact that enhances understanding of the general culture but more specifically of those who composed, edited and transmitted the texts. This is not to minimize but to qualify use of biblical texts. Syro-Palestinian Archaeologists recognize that biblical texts and inscriptions contribute information irretrievable from material culture … Without texts, we might not know that Israelite society was patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrimonial. Both avenues of study, with the Bible either central or supplemental to the archaeological endeavor, contribute to the emerging picture of ancient and biblical Israel. However, the cultural presuppositions of each group, with consequent selectivity of cited data, must be kept in mind when utilizing publications and considering societal reconstructions (16).

Archaeological investigation of ancient Israel generally begins with the Iron Age, around 1200-1125 BCE. This corresponds to the biblical conquest of Canaan attested in Joshua and Judges (though the archaeological record gives a different picture to the biblical one of conquest).

One of the difficulties in identifying early Israelites is the lack of distinctly Israelite material. For example, abstinence from pork not only characterised Israelite existence but that of many Canaanite peoples in the Late Bronze Age (prior to the Iron Age). Philistines or Sea Peoples are generally more distinct but in the Iron Age the amount of evidence that distinguishes Canaanites and other inhabitants of land from Israelites is negligible. Even settlements explicitly designated in the biblical record as Israelite, Jerusalem for example, most likely contained non-Israelites as well.

One of the benefits of archaeology is that it can provide an independent witness to ancient Israel’s religious history. Because biblical texts belong to an editorial tradition which often reinterpreted them for new generations, aspects of later Israelite society and religion were retrospectively read into earlier periods. (This wasn’t absolute. There are many indications in Scripture that show biblical authors and editors’ awareness of the differences between their time and the time before them. Take for example Jacob marrying two sisters, a practice that was banned in the law). Archaeology can provide alternative and extended pictures of ancient Israelite religious life that might otherwise be obscured by the perspectives of biblical writers:

The Tel Arad temple exemplifies a disjunction between text and artifact; it illustrates praxis as opposed to promulgation and provides the context in which texts were written and to which they were responding. According to the Books of Kings, the late eighth-to late seventh-century BCE Judahite kings Hezekiah and Josiah tore down and defiled altars and high places to restrict worship with sacrifice to the Jerusalem temple (2 Kings18:22; 23:5–20). However, the Bible omits mention of the royally sponsored temple with a sacrificial altar constructed within a Judahite military fort on the southern border at Arad. Seventh- to sixth-century BCE correspondence between the local commander Eliashib and his Jerusalem superior confirms both the fort’s official status and Yahweh as the resident deity … Depending on its dates, this temple out-side of Jerusalem, in a royal fort and administrative center, suggests that Hezekiah and Josiah’s alleged cultic reforms perhaps promoted royal oversight of the cult* rather than exclusive worship in Jerusalem (18-9).

*Cult here is used in the general sense of a particular religious practice, rather than the exclusive sense of a sect.

Bloch-Smith continues,

Rather than viewing exclusive worship of Yahweh in the eighth- to sixth-century BCE Jerusalem temple as the norm, this temple illustrates Israelite worship, at disparate sites, of multiple deities manifest in physical forms, including standing stones. Biblical references to Israelites, including kings worshipping Baal, Asherah, the host of heaven, and the Queen of Heaven, in Jerusalem and at shrines throughout the country (2 Kings 23:4–6; Jer. 7:17–8; 44:17), suggest that Israelites of that period worshipped multiple deities. While select voices denounced polytheism as apostasy, it appears to have been common practice among the populace and royalty alike (20).

Archaeological finds can supplement the biblical testimony in revealing just where the biblical authors are coming from. While Scripture tells us that at many times in Israel’s history worship of gods other than Yahweh was practised by certain Israelites, the archaeological record is helpful in showing that it in many cases it seems to have been more of the norm! If this is true, then we can better understand the uniqueness of the perspectives of the biblical writers. Positively, in this instance, although the temple at Arad runs counter to the biblical claim that Yahweh is to worshipped in one place, Jerusalem, it also demonstrates the biblical belief that the land belongs to Yahweh since the temple at Arad is part of a military camp that defends Israel’s borders.

New Zealand English 4


This is the fourth post in a series on Hay, Maclagan, and Gordon’s New Zealand English.

In the fourth chapter, the authors explore NZE vocabulary and related discourse features. Already in the 1679 visit of James Cook to Aotearoa (New Zealand), Māori words such as pā were adopted into the English language. Up until about 1860 though, NZE stopped most of its borrowing from Māori. It wasn’t until the 1970s that new borrowings began again on a larger scale. Māori loanwords can be sorted into three categories: flora and fauna (tōtara and kiwi), society and culture (haka and marae), and proper nouns (mostly place names, such as Whakatāne). (Unfortunately the authors do not use macrons, which I have inserted here. This is perhaps due to how they are represented in NZE, but this does not account for increasing recognition of macrons on the part of speakers of NZE). From the 1970s onwards, new words like Aotearoawaka, and tangata whenua.

In NZE, various loanwords took on new pronunciations. Waka, for example, often rhymes with NZE rocker rather than NZE sucker. Some place names were shortened. In Canterbury, for example, many speakers of NZE refer to the Waimakariri River as the Waimak, rhyming with back. It is also common to make Māori nouns plural by adding an S to the end, whereas in Māori the plural is indicated by the preceding article or the context. We do not speak of many Māoris but many Māori. The authors note that while innovations such as this are typical of the lives of loanwords, some have also criticised these innovations as insensitive to Māori culture. This is fair and I think the authors would have done well to provide a slightly more extended comment here.

NZE has also borrowed from Australian English. Borrowings include skite (to boast, or someone who boasts), and hard case (“someone who has a big personality, may do unusual things but basically is a real laugh.”). NZers show preference for some American words over British ones: guys over fellowsmuffler over silencertruck over lorry.

It is not only from external sources that NZE has developed. Languages develop internally too. Unique internal vocabulary developments include words like freezing works, number eight wire, and sausage sizzle. Speakers of NZE show a preference for suffixing words with a -y or -ie, such as in chippy. Speakers of Aus. E. tend to suffix with an -o, such as in smoko, which has also been borrowed by NZers. Slang words include dag (“a lock of wool clotted with dry manure on the rear end of a sheep” [p.80]), cop shop (police station), and Ashvegas (Ashburton a town in Canterbury). I would be interested in learning more about the role of slang among different demographics in NZE, as I wasn’t sure how much a strong distinction could be erected between slang and other language. Although the authors don’t erect such a distinction, neither was it confronted.

Two words used frequently in discourse by some speakers of NZE are eh, more prevalent among Māori, and like, prevalent among young women but not especially unique to NZE. “Yeah, I don’t know eh.” “Like no one does that any more.”

New Zealand English 3


This is the third post in a series on Hay, Maclagan, and Gordon’s New Zealand English.

In the third chapter, the authors introduce the reader to NZE’s morphosyntax. Morphology concerns how different parts of a word work together to create meaning. After something is done it can be undone. The un here signals the reversing of the action, though it signals other things in other words. Syntax concerns how words are put together with other words to form meaning, like word order, for example.

One interesting aspect of NZE morphosyntax is the use of the past participle for the simple past tense. Take, for example, the English word write. Its past form is wrote, and its past participle is have written. Researchers have found that some speakers of NZE will say such as “I seen a bottle” instead of either “I saw a bottle” or “I have seen a bottle.” Other examples include done for didcome for came, and rung for rang. On the other end, some speakers of NZE make use of what has been called the “intrusive have.” “If I had have known, I wouldn’t have told her” might be heard in place of “If I had known…”

Next the authors address modal verbs, verbs like could, wouldcanwill, which help us understand how to read other verbs in the sentence. A feature of NZE here is a lack of the modal verb shall, in comparison with General American and even with Australian English. Speakers of NZE will also more frequently talk about the future with the modal verb be going to than other Englishes. “I will go to the movies tonight” might be said, “I am going to go to the movies tonight.”

Some modal verbs require the verb have in certain cases. “I should have done it already.” In both written and spoken NZE the have is sometimes replaced with an of (a phenomenon that is not restricted to NZE and is often viewed as a mistake). Another interesting aspect of these have-constructions is how they are negated in NZE. Because should’ve (or should of) is understood to be a single unit, instead of “should not have,” some speakers of NZE will say things like “should of not” or “could’ve not.”

Other distinctive features of NZE morphosyntax are the use of the singular there is or there was for there are or there were; a relatively high rate compared with other Englishes of the singular they, and even occurrences of “themself”; yous or you guys as a plural for you; and variations in comparatives: more cleanermore clean, and most cleanest, for example, instead of cleaner or cleanest.

New Zealand English 2


This is the second post in a series on Hay, Maclagan, and Gordon’s New Zealand English.

After addressing consonants and vowels, i.e., segmental features, features pertaining to a single segment in a word, the authors move on to suprasegmental features. These still concern how New Zealand English (NZE) sounds. They belong to phonetics and phonology, rather than the study of vocabulary or grammar. But these features “usually span more than one segment” (27).

First, the authors address NZE intonation. One distinctive feature of NZE intonation is the High Rising Terminal (HRT). Many speakers of NZE will raise their intonation where speakers of other Englishes would only do so when asking a question. Initially, researchers interpreted the use of HRTs in NZE as signs of uncertainty. However, recent research has shown that they are best interpreted in terms of politeness: “HRTs … do function as questions, but not questions asking for information. Rather they function as questions that are checking that the speaker really is giving the information that the listener wants, and that the listener understands what the speaker is saying” (28).

Another suprasegmental feature is stress. In English, stress often falls on certain syllables in different words and sentences. Most words will have the same syllable stressed each time and the meaning can change according to where the stress lies. We buy produce (noun) but we produce (verb) things. This stress differentiation between noun and verb is not consistent in English, though in NZE some other words seem to be merging. We have imports and we import iron. (Others, including other speakers of NZE, will say we import iron).

Finally, the English language is stress-timed. “Stressed syllables occur at approximately equal time intervals … This can be seen most clearly in poetry or nursery rhymes, where different numbers of syllables take up the same time”: The authors give the example of Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Even though there are two syllables between sat and wall, they take up the same amount of time as the single syllable between Hump and Dump. However, NZE is less stress-timed than British English, as can be seen for example in giving fuller pronunciation to syllables often unstressed in British English. This is perhaps due to the influence of Māori, which is a syllable-timed language, having roughly equal time intervals between syllables rather than between stressed syllables.

NZE also currently looks to be undergoing sound changes. The authors note a number of these but I will only address a few. The hw sound in white and which has for many NZers become simply a sound. For other NZers, the two th sounds, in words like thumb and thing on the one hand and then words like this and the on the other, are being pronounced as fs and vs, respectively. Many NZers now pronounce words like grown and thrown with two syllables, whereas in British English they rhyme with groan and throne.