This volume contains seven chapters that originated as papers read at a February 2005 conference held at the Uuniversity of Fribourg (Switzerland). The introductory chapter by Jürgen Zangenberg is of a theoretical and methodological nature. He rightly emphasizes that it is a very unfortunate development that in the last decades structuralist, text-immanent, and postmodernist approaches to the New Testament (NT) have led many NT scholars away from a fruitful dialogue between biblical scholarship and archaeology. He also warns of the various pitfalls in this area, especially of interpreting archaeological data prematurely in light of literary documents, but stresses at the same time how necessary it is that NT scholars broaden their horizon from just the NT texts to the material culture (both Jewish and Greco-Roman) of early Christianity. As successful examples of dialogue between NT scholarship and archaeology Zangenberg mentions the excavation of the Samaritan sanctuary on Mount Garizim, the recent study of burial cultures of Jews and Christians in Roman Palestine, the recent fieldwork in the Galilee, and the major discoveries in Asia Minor of the early imperial period.
The next two studies present a fascinating debate. Zangenberg and H.-J. Fabry each discuss the relationship between the settlement excavated at Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the eleven caves nearby. On the basis of thehis strict methodology developed in histhe previous chapter, Zangenberg argues that the traditional interpretation of the building complex of Qumran as a kind of Essene ‘monastery’ is a glaring example of what can go wrong if one interprets archaeological data (the Qumran building) not on their own terms but on the basis of a literary corpus (the Dead Sea Scrolls). He sees no reason from an archaeological point of view to interpret the building complex in light of these documents, but argues that recent archeological work in the wider region (the area around the oasis of Jericho) rather suggests that Qumran is a Hasmonean settlement of a ‘landwirtschaftliche’ nature, a kind of fortified farmstead. In a frontal attack on Zangenberg, however, Fabry, who is also a Qumran-expert, passionately defends the thesis that the interpretation of the archaeological data should take into account the contents of the Scrolls, if only because it is a fundamental error “einen lokal und zeitlich synchronen Textfund aus der Deutung auszuklammern” (71). He points to important links between the caves and the settlement (for instance the identity of the kind of pottery found in both) and concludes: “Die in den Texten beschriebene Gruppe passt in die archäologisch erhobene Anlage von Qumran. Nichts in der Anlage spricht gegen die Handschriften, nichts in den Handschriften spricht gegen die Anlage” (100). He accuses Zangenberg of over interpretation of new archaeological evidence (here he has a point), although he, too, does not believe that the Qumran sectarians were Essenes. All this is very instructive.
The next essay is by Max Küchler, the author of the recent exhaustive work, Jerusalem: Ein Handbuch und Studienreiseführer zur Heiligen Stadt (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007; almost 1300 pages), which is to date the most comprehensive and up to date work on the archeology of ancient and medieval Jerusalem (his contribution is based upon a chapter in this book). Here he discusses the monumental rock tombs in the Qidron Valley (east Jerusalem) from the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods. All five tombs are discussed both from an archaeological and a historical point of view, with special attention being paid to the capricious history of the names of these tombs in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history, based upon a comprehensive knowledge of an impressively wide range of sources from these three traditions. He does not fail to point out the relevance of all this for understanding the saying of Jesus on the tombs of the prophets in Matthew 23:29 (but he overlooks my Die Prophetengräber im antiken Judentum [Franz-Delitzsch-Vorlesung 2000], Münster, 2001).
In a short contribution, Christian Cebulj shows how the excavations of ancient Bethesda can shed new light on an old translation problem in the Greek text of John 5:2 (“At the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem there is a place called Bethesda in Hebrew, with five porticos” versus “At the Sheep (Gate) in Jerusalem there is a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew, with five porticos”).
In the next essay, Willibald Bösen sketches what the many recent archaeological excavations in the Galilee have yielded for New Testament exegesis, exemplified by what has become known about Capernaum, Nazareth, and the Galilean countryside in general. He is rather optimistic about what archaeology can mean for biblical studies — he does not exhibit the critical mood such as we find in Zangenberg, for example — but he rightly notes that, especially in Germany, the earlier widespread skepticism is on the decline.
The final study is by Hans-Josef Klauck on the Apocalypse of John and the archaeology of Asia Minor. He first discusses some aspects of ‘Mentalitätsgeschichte’ (as he calls it) on the basis of some well-chosen inscriptions, numismatic material, and architectural remains (from Ephesus, Aphrodisias, and other places); secondly, he briefly mentions some passages from the Apocalypse of John to which archaeological parallels (in the wide sense of the word) have been adduced by other scholars in order to discuss theirre usefulness (or lack of it), and he ends with some cautionary remarks. This essay, like most others, contains illustrations.
This is a useful volume for those who are interested in the often strained relationship between archaeology and Early Christian studies. It is useful not only because the various essays inform the reader in numerous ways about what are presently the problems in this area, but also because the contributions do not offer the reader just one point of view — on the contrary, several contributions contradict each other, which hopefully has the effect of whetting the appetite of the reader. What is much to be regretted, however, is that the book contains no indexes whatever, which certainly impairs the usefulness of the book.