My colleague Kevin Wilson, who is currently teaching an introductory Bible class at Wartburg College, showed me a student’s test paper. The student completly messed up on the map test. The student locates Jerusalem at the vicinity of Damascus; Megiddo is located in Egypt; and so on.
I asked myself these questions, “How do we know the locations of biblical place?” “How are the locations of the ancient places determined?” “Did William F. Albright was completely right to locate the biblical places?” There can be little question, regarding the locations such as the Jordan River, ancient Jerusalem, Hebron, and Mediddo. But many biblical locations are problematic.
In his article, Maxwell Miller (“Biblical Maps” [BR 3/4, 1987]) notes three kinds of evidence to locate sites of ancient cities: (1) ancient written sources, including the Bible, provide to determine the loactions; (2) modern Arabic place-names that preserve the memory of ancient names offer a second kind of evidence; and (3) the archaeological excavations are the thrid kind of evidence.
Miller points out that the most influential biblical archaeologist William F. Albright was wrong to locate the biblical site Debir (Joshua 10:38-39; 15:15). After his excavations between 1926 and 1932, he published the book The Excavation of Tell Beit Mirsim (1933) and argued Debir is identified with Tell Beit Mirsim. His identification of Tell Beit Mirsim as biblical Debir was dependent on his military conquest model, and it is presupposed in a whole generation of Bible atlases, such as The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible. In the 1960s, however, Moshe Kochavi excavated a site called Khirbet Rabud, a deep in the hill country by southwest of Hebron, this site is regarded as a more likely candidate for Debir than Tell Beit Mirsim.
Miller insists that our biblical maps and atlases represent scholarly opinion as result of the biblical and archaeological research, rather than primary evidence of what they assert. Thus, the three kinds of evidence-ancient written sources, modern place-names, and archaeology-must be used carefully and cautiously.
Miller, Maxwell. “Biblical Maps” BR 3/4 (1987).
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