Biblical Archaeology in Germany – Does it Have a Future?

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By: Martin Peilstöcker

What if Biblical Archaeology went extinct in your native country? More than twenty years ago I left my native Germany to get a Ph.D. at Tel Aviv University and to work for the Antiquities Authority in Israel. But when I returned in 2009, the situation I found in Germany came as a shock. Biblical Archaeology is an endangered species and may never recover.

Ever since the Reformation, Protestant seminaries have held Biblical Studies in the highest regard. The Enlightenment meant that historical-critical investigations of the Bible were central to any theological program in Germany. Biblical Archaeology thus became a central part of theological studies at Protestant seminaries. But even in this supportive environment it only had the status of a “Hilfsdisziplin” (auxiliary discipline). With shrinking numbers of students at the faculties of theology in the 1990s, budgets were cut back and small seminars and institutes like those for Biblical Archaeology were closed, leaving only a handful. How could a discipline that once was so central have become relegated to an afterthought in just two decades? (more…)

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3 Comments for : Biblical Archaeology in Germany – Does it Have a Future?
  1. Reply

    Important article pointing out some of the existing problems in German archaeology in Israel. Couple of points:

    I think if German archaeologists worked in Israel not neccessarily in connection with "biblical archaeology" and departments of theology – that would make for more involvement.

    I personally have been involved with a few German archaeologists thru the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath. The first major collaboration (funded by the GIF) was with the late Prof. Manfred Goerg and Dr. Stefan Wimmer (who is very much alive…), both Egyptologists from the Univ. of Munich, which focused on the early Philistine culture at Gath. This involved several years of excavations – and several publications.

    The 2nd very fruitful, and ongoing collaboration is with Prof. Joseph Maran (of Heidelberg; excavator of Tiryns; also funded by the GIF) relating to the connections between the Levant and the Aegean in the LB/Iron transition. Although the German team is not actively involved in excavations in Israel (but some are involved in processing finds from Israel), we have developed close and very productive research directions.

    I highly recommend Israeli, European and US scholars to engage in collaborative projects with German archaeologists – and start joint projects in Israel. This is all the more so nowadays, as many of the mid-eastern countries in which European teams could work in the past are hard to access safely in the current geopolitical situation in the mid-east.

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    • Sam Wolff
    • May 21, 2013

    Allow me to remark on one small point that my friend Martin made in his excellent review of the situation of biblical archaeology in Germany (which is not so different from that in other countries, including the US). He writes "Many projects in Israel accept “volunteers” – another way of saying excavation tourism, a subject beyond the scope of this essay. But going back and forth with a wheelbarrow to the dump is not the best way for someone to learn what modern field archaeology is all about." I would point out that most volunteer excavation projects (and certainly the one I am personally involved with, Tel Gezer) run a field school which includes excavating, a lecture series, and touring archaeological sites. The excavation process includes more than wheelbarrowing– they even remove balks occasionally! Seriously, our volunteers learn what context means (what is a locus) and why it is important, how to record, take levels, draw balks, read pottery, etc. The total experience makes a positive impression on student volunteers, as it did on me (Gezer 1972-1973), influencing me to make archaeology my career.

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