Why We Are Starting a Biblical Archaeology Institute
For many years now, I have keenly followed the field of biblical archaeology, especially the archaeology of ancient Jerusalem. I have studied the Bible for more than 50 years, and have researched and written extensively on virtually all the major biblical characters, events and time periods.
For a student of the Bible, few experiences are more inspiring than being able to see tangible evidence—ancient walls, clay artifacts, ostraca and seals—that verifies biblical history. This is why biblical archaeology, to me, is one of the most exciting scientific disciplines we can practice. (A few years ago, I learned that I am a descendant of King David, which adds a personal interest in this critical field.)
Sadly, the field of biblical archaeology today is fraught with controversy and tension. Scientists and scholars are divided about the role of the Bible in archaeology, and whether it should even be used when excavating in Israel. Too often, the archaeologist who uses the Bible is labeled a religious zealot and his science is considered prejudiced. Many believe that science and the Bible are mutually exclusive—that using the Bible as a historical source makes science illegitimate.
Not only is this view false, it is unscientific. The truth is, good archaeology considers all the evidence, including the detailed history documented in the Bible, and goes where the evidence leads. It is also true that good Bible research means proving and testing what you study.
There was a time when science and the Bible happily coexisted. Many of the world’s greatest scientists and academics—giants like Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Morse and Blaise Pascal—were Bible believers. Most of the great universities, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Oxford, were founded with a strong biblical foundation.
It simply isn’t rational or scientific to say that science and the Bible are mutually exclusive. Yet this is what is being taught to future scientists in our schools and universities. And it has infected many of our scientific and archaeological institutions.
In the field of biblical archaeology, the momentum today is with the biblical minimalists, who discredit the Bible and believe it should not be used in archaeology.
Remarkably, this skepticism has developed even as archaeological discoveries proving the biblical record— and obligating responsible scientists to use Bible history in the practice of archaeology—have increased to an unprecedented scale.
When you consider the technology now available, the advanced methodology being practiced on dig sites, and the growing number of artifacts associated with the Bible that underscore the Bible’s role in archaeological excavation, we really ought to be in the heyday of biblical archaeology!
Yet regrettably, biblical archaeology is in a state of malaise and decline.
The ailing condition of biblical archaeology has concerned me for many years. I discussed this topic with Dr. Eilat Mazar, a biblical archaeologist, on a few occasions before she died last May. My staff have discussed it with other scientists and academics, both in America and in Israel, including the late Hershel Shanks, the founder of Biblical Archaeology Review and a wonderful advocate of biblical archaeology.
Last September, managing editor Brad Macdonald attended an archaeology conference in New Mexico. At the conference, Dr. William Dever, a highly esteemed scholar in the field, delivered a lecture in which he lamented the deteriorating state of biblical archaeology, especially in America. Dr. Dever relayed how universities are shuttering archaeology programs, how key positions in archaeology departments are vacant and not being filled, how students are losing interest in the field, and how some archaeology institutes have lost their identity.
I don’t think the situation is quite so bad in Israel, though we have heard similar stories.
From what I can tell, the field of biblical archaeology is experiencing an identity crisis. Unless something changes soon, this crucial field of study will vanish.
After years of consideration, I feel compelled to do what I can to stop this gloomy trend.
This is why we have recently established the Armstrong-Mazar Institute of Biblical Archaeology (amiba). I would like to tell you about our new institute.
amiba is a nonprofit, academic and educational institution headquartered in Jerusalem, Israel.
The ultimate mission of this institute is to showcase and share Israel’s biblical archaeology with the largest audience possible, especially the people of Israel. One of our main objectives is to promote the Bible as a credible and essential historical source in the practice of archaeology.
As I explained, we believe science and the Bible are compatible and can work in harmony. amiba deeply values science and the scientific method. My staff strives to operate at the highest scientific standard possible. We believe that using all available tools to practice good science includes consulting biblical history.
We plan to share and promote Israel’s biblical archaeology via multiple platforms.
First, we will continue to publish this magazine under its new name, Let the Stones Speak (previously Watch Jerusalem). I believe there is an urgent need, and a strong appetite both inside Israel and around the world, for a magazine that vigorously supports and promotes biblical archaeology. As our staff and resources grow, we hope to increase the size of this magazine.
Second, on the institute’s new website, ArmstrongMazar.com, visitors can access scientific reports, read well-written articles, watch informative videos and documentaries, listen to archaeology podcasts, study interactive maps and illustrations, and peruse online exhibits. All of our research, as well as regular updates on our archaeological excavations and activities, will be published on this website. (The site is now live, so please visit it.)
Third, the Armstrong-Mazar Institute of Biblical Archaeology will sponsor public seminars, create archaeological exhibits in Jerusalem and around Israel, and conduct private tours of ancient Jerusalem, primarily the Ophel and the City of David. Tours are now available: To make a reservation, visit the website and click the Tours tab.
Finally, amiba will continue to sponsor and participate in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem. As many of our readers know, we have worked in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem, in the City of David and on the Ophel since 1968. The last 15 years, we supported the work of the late Dr. Mazar in Jerusalem with dozens of Herbert W. Armstrong College students who served as dig volunteers and staff.
amiba might be new, but our presence in the field of biblical archaeology is not. In addition to participating in multiple excavations on the Ophel and in the City of David, we have hosted two major exhibits in America: Seals of Jeremiah’s Captors Discovered and Seals of Isaiah and King Hezekiah Discovered. Both exhibits marked the world premiere of major archaeological discoveries from the Ophel and the City of David.
Over the past two decades, we have developed good relations with several key organizations in Israel, including Hebrew University, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the City of David Foundation and the Israel Exploration Society. We are grateful for the support we have received from these institutions, and we will continue to support their various activities and programs.
Why Fear the Bible?
Many scholars believe the Bible is largely fiction; some say its authors stole their characters and stories from other nations; many believe we have only a handful of artifacts supporting the biblical record. For these reasons and others, many archaeologists and scholars believe that Bible history should not be employed in the practice of archaeology.
This lack of confidence in the Bible is remarkable. Over the past 150 years, literally hundreds of biblically significant artifacts have been found, and most have been uncovered in the last few decades. Today, dozens of biblical characters—kings, princes, pharaohs, court officials, prophets—have been substantiated through archaeological excavation, not just in Israel, but across the Middle East and beyond.
Archaeology is validating numerous biblical figures and corroborating entire passages and significant features of the historical record preserved in the Bible!
Consider the example of King Hezekiah, one of Judah’s great monarchs. The archaeology of King Hezekiah is a good example of science and the Bible working together to increase our understanding—and this example really shows what the Armstrong-Mazar Institute of Biblical Archaeology is all about.
In 2015, Dr. Eilat Mazar and her colleague, epigraphist Reut Ben-Aryeh, revealed the identity of a bulla we had uncovered in excavations on the Ophel in 2009. The text on the seal read, “Belonging to Hezekiah, [son of] Ahaz, King of Judah.”
This electrifying discovery made news headlines around the world. The Hezekiah bulla is the only seal impression belonging to a Judahite king ever to have been found in controlled archaeological excavation. It is proof of the validity of the biblical record. We were excited and honored to publicize the find by exhibiting this bulla, along with several other related artifacts, in our auditorium in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Now, this tiny clay seal is far from the only evidence we have of King Hezekiah. Perhaps you have walked through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the 1,750-foot passageway that connects the Gihon Spring with the Pool of Siloam. Hezekiah carved this tunnel during Assyria’s eighth-century b.c.e. invasion of Judah. At Tel Lachish, archaeologists have uncovered the massive siege ramp used by the Assyrian army to sack the fortified city. In ancient Nineveh, archaeologists have found clay prisms that literally document Sennacherib’s military campaigns in Judah during the time of Hezekiah. King Sennacherib is on record as saying, “As for Hezekiah, I shut him up like a caged bird in his royal city of Jerusalem.” We also have the gigantic wall reliefs, also found in Nineveh, that depict King Sennacherib’s siege of Lachish.
Just this past July, excavations on the eastern side of the City of David uncovered another section of an Iron Age wall. The archaeologists who excavated the wall believe it was part of the fortifications built by King Hezekiah when he prepared for the Assyrian invasion.
In just this one example, we have several artifacts— uncovered in scientific excavations conducted in several distinct locations—harmonizing with the biblical record to provide a remarkably detailed understanding of Assyria’s invasion of Judah!
Can you see how compatible the Bible and science are? Without science, one could easily consider the biblical account a mere myth. On the other hand, these relics of the past—without the history recorded in the books of Kings, Chronicles and Isaiah—could not alone provide the rich, detailed understanding of Assyria’s invasion of Judah.
This is a clear example of how science and the Bible can work together to powerfully enhance our understanding of Israel’s history.
This is also an example of what we plan to do with our new institute: amiba will bring science and the Bible together to amplify our understanding of history.
Some Bible skeptics might oppose this approach to King Hezekiah. But think about it: Is it really unscientific or prejudiced to merely set scientific evidence alongside biblical history? Wouldn’t it be unscientific and prejudiced if, in our analysis of the Hezekiah bulla, Hezekiah’s tunnel, the siege ramp at Lachish, the Assyrian wall reliefs and prisms, we categorically ignored the history recorded in the Bible?
In truth, the biblical record supplies invaluable context and understanding to the hard evidence emerging from the ancient stones of Israel. Time after time, these two sources of study are proving to be two narrators telling the same story—the magnificent history of the nation of Israel.
The Mazar Method
I would now like to tell you a little about the scientists who taught us to approach archaeology this way. Their guidance and example were so essential, I felt it was important to include them in the name of our new institute.
From 2006 until her death on May 25, 2021, we worked side by side with Dr. Eilat Mazar on her digs in Jerusalem. Before that, the predecessor of our work, the late Herbert W. Armstrong, had worked alongside Eilat’s grandfather Prof. Benjamin Mazar since 1968. Our archaeological legacy in Jerusalem extends back more than 50 years.
There are some very talented archaeologists in the world, especially in Jerusalem, but I believe Dr. Mazar was one of the best. Many factors must converge to make an outstanding scientist or scholar. A person must be intelligent. He needs a strong work ethic and a willingness to labor and sacrifice. A peculiar talent or special capacity for the work is also indispensable. Eilat possessed all these qualities and had a certain gift for excavation.
But what really set Dr. Mazar apart was her scientific integrity and objectivity, and her courage to follow the science even if it went against the grain or made her unpopular.
Isn’t this the mark of a great scientist or scholar? He is without partiality and prejudice. He considers all the evidence and goes where the evidence leads, even when it contradicts his own expectations or assumptions. The quality that truly distinguished Dr. Mazar as a great scientist was her willingness to set aside the prejudices of her field and consider the biblical record as the invaluable source of history that it is.
In archaeology, there is a lot of room for interpretation. Stones and ancient walls are inert and silent. They don’t literally speak to the archaeologist, unveiling their history. Ruins and artifacts must be interpreted. They need to be analyzed in the context of their surroundings and their time period, and against the backdrop of other digs and finds in the region and across the nation.
And in the land of the Bible, artifacts must be interpreted against the backdrop of the Bible.
A scientist must not neglect a portion of this evidence and leap to his own private interpretation. His view must be informed by and consistent with the science. It must be grounded in evidence and built around the message told by the artifacts, ruins and the historical text. The more that it is, the more that the true story of these ancient relics can be coaxed out.
In this sense, the stones of an excavation do speak. They provide the scientific framework of the interpretation that develops.
The role of the archaeologist, then, is to let the stones speak—to listen to the stones.
Dr. Mazar set an outstanding example in this.
Eilat was a biblical archaeologist. Some think this term refers to a Bible-thumper who disregards the scientific method and wants to see the Bible in every bucket of dirt. This is how many journalists, and even some colleagues, want to characterize Eilat.
But this is untrue. Being a biblical archaeologist simply meant that Dr. Mazar considered the Bible another tool in her archaeology. Eilat, like her grandfather, believed that the Hebrew Bible contained an authentic historical record of people, places and epochs in Israel.
Dr. Mazar developed her interpretations by listening to the stones (science)—and listening to the biblical record. These days, only a handful of archaeologists are prepared to pay heed to the biblical record.
Eilat never considered the Bible more important than science. In fact, she wasn’t religious at all. But she was willing to use the Bible in her archaeology, and she unapologetically used Bible history when interpreting her archaeology.
When you view it like this, when you consider Bible history another tool in the pursuit of understanding, the field of biblical archaeology isn’t the least bit contentious. And it shouldn’t be. It is unfortunate that the role of the Bible in archaeology has become so controversial. I believe this is hindering us from uncovering some truly remarkable history.
Both sides bear some responsibility for this. In the early days of biblical archaeology, some archaeologists were more motivated by religious belief than by science. Though sincere and hardworking, these people simply didn’t practice good science. This led to some of them jumping to erroneous conclusions or misidentifying certain sites and artifacts. Some early biblical archae- ologists were more inclined to see what their religious convictions hoped for than what the science revealed. Some of them didn’t let the stones speak.
Around the mid-to-late 19th century, the work of the early biblical archaeologists began to be reexamined. This was reasonable. Some of their conclusions needed to be tested, challenged and revised. Meanwhile, the development of new technologies and methods provided more-accurate scientific understanding.
Sadly, it didn’t take long for the Bible critics to begin to make some of the same mistakes made by the individuals they were criticizing. Many of them allowed their aversion to religion and the Bible, rather than science, to motivate their criticism of the early Bible scientists. They thus took on an entirely unscientific view of the Bible and its place in archaeology. Many outright rejected the Bible as a source of history and a necessary tool in archaeology.
Just like the individuals they criticized as Bible fundamentalists, the Bible skeptics also didn’t let the stones speak!
Dr. Eilat Mazar, and a handful of other scientists today, avoided the hazards posed by these two extremes. This is how amiba operates, too.
Hope in Archaeology
The nation of Israel, like America, Britain and many others, is experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis. Our nations are losing sight of who they are and forgetting our remarkable history. A growing number of people despair about the future.
One of the solutions to this problem, I believe, is to study history. There is often great hope in history. And when it comes to national history, no country or people on Earth has a past as rich and well documented—and as hope-filled—as Israel.
Today, this ancient past is mainly found in two places: in the Bible and in the ancient tels and ruins scattered across Israel.
The purpose of biblical archaeology is to excavate and understand this history. When we do this, we not only grow in our knowledge and understanding of Israel’s ancient past, we can grow in hope. And this is what the Armstrong-Mazar Institute of Biblical Archaeology is all about: education, science, Bible history and hope.
Magazine Article Sidebars:
Sidebar: amiba Objectives
- To promote the Bible as a credible and essential historical resource in the practice of archaeology in Israel
- To feature and continue the archaeological work of Dr. Eilat Mazar and her grandfather, Prof. Benjamin Mazar
- To analyze and explain archaeological excavations and discoveries past and present in the context of the Bible
- To challenge the unwarranted and unsupported criticisms leveled against the use of the Bible in archaeology in Israel
- To encourage archaeologists to consider and employ Bible history in the practice of archaeology
Sidebar: Our New Library
When Dr. Eilat Mazar died last May, she left behind a splendid library of about 4,000 books and research materials. Eilat inherited many of her books and other belongings, including furniture, from her grandfather, Prof. Benjamin Mazar, the former president of Hebrew University and a man who, thanks to his pioneering role in many of Israel’s institutions, could be considered one of Israel’s founding fathers.
When a scholar dies, it is common for his or her research library to be consolidated and sold at auction. Many institutions and wealthy collectors are prepared to pay good money to own the personal library of an esteemed scholar.
Last summer, we asked Dr. Mazar’s family about their plans for her library, and inquired about purchasing it. After a few short discussions, Eilat’s family agreed to sell us the library. In November, thanks to the tireless efforts of Avital Mazar (Eilat’s sister), as well as Eilat’s children, to catalogue and process the books, we began taking possession of the library.
In addition to the Mazar library, we acquired another 4,000 archaeology- and history-related books and research materials from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We are grateful for Hebrew University’s support.
This means the Armstrong-Mazar Institute of Biblical Archaeology now has a research library of about 8,000 volumes. Roughly half of the books are in English; the rest are mostly Hebrew, with some in German, French and other languages.
Our new research library is currently operating from one of our properties in Jerusalem. We hope to move it to a new office in Jerusalem, where we anticipate opening the library to the public and to fellow academics and researchers.
With editorial assistance by Brad Macdonald