TMC students, instructor, sifting through history at archaeological site near Jerusalem
Posted on: July 19
By Bob Dickson
As an instructor at TMC’s Israel Bible Extension (IBEX) program in Jerusalem, Chris McKinny plays an important role in preparing students for the future. He does this by digging into the past … literally.
McKinny, who graduated from TMC in 2008 with a degree in Bible exposition, is an area supervisor for the Tel Burna Excavation Project, an archeological dig site about an hour’s drive from Jerusalem. Archaeologists believe the site to be the biblical city of Libnah, which overlooked the Philistine capital of Gath, where David slew Goliath.
McKinny and his fellow excavators aren’t looking for a sling, however. They are more interested in what the excavation can tell them about the history of the region and the culture of the people who lived there. According to the evidence already uncovered, the city contains artifacts dating back as far as the seventh century B.C.
“What’s unique is the site has never been excavated until 2010,” McKinny said. “Right beneath the surface you come across Iron Age levels – the time of the destruction of Judah and the time of Josiah. As you dig down you come to 7th, 8th, 9th centuries B.C. As we continue, theoretically we should be able to go all the way back to the early Bronze Age, which is the third millennium B.C.”
McKinny first traveled to Israel as an IBEX student himself in 2005, where he took a course in biblical archaeology. That course whet his appetite for ancient Near-Eastern studies, Specifically, archaeology.
After stepping in as an instructor while IBEX Bible professor Bill Schlegel was on sabbatical, McKinny decided to pursue his studies in Israel. He earned his Master of Arts degree from Jerusalem University College and is currently working toward his Ph.D. in archaeology at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv.
McKinny has been on site through each of Tel Burna’s four digging seasons. And because of his position as a teacher at IBEX, his students have been there as well. Each spring semester, he brings them to the site for a week of literal hands-on experience.
It’s one thing to learn about the benefits of archaeology under the fluorescent lights of a classroom, he says. But nothing compares to a day under the sun, sifting through history with your own fingers.
“We have a cultural value in archaeology. We can see how these people lived and acted. It puts some flesh onto the bones of biblical history,” McKinny said. “I can dig two to three to four inches and immediately be touching things from 1250 B.C. – things that were contemporaneous with Pharaoh Ramses II, things that were contemporaneous with the period of the judges or just after the time of Joshua. Since the time they left their pottery and their scarabs and their homes, you’re able to uncover it. It’s an amazing thing. If you don’t enjoy it you’re not in the right business.”
Even so, McKinny understands that archaeology has limits.
“The purpose of archaeology isn’t to prove the Bible is true,” he said. “If you try to do that, it has great limitations. I will say that in all that’s been excavated, there has never been anything that disproves the Bible. That said, there’s nothing in archaeology that proves the Bible to be true, either. Its primary purpose is to recapture the worldview and the realities of people who lived in the past.”
McKinny is most interested in the biblical connections to culture that can be made by excavating a site such as Tel Burna. An early find of two ceramic noses caught his eye. He believes them to be parts of full-face masks that would have been worn for religious purposes – most likely by priests. He suspects they reflect some kind of Canaanite cultic activity.
“You think about biblical narrative, thinking about the time of Joshua when people were coming into the land – about the iniquity of the Canaanite religious activity,” McKinny said. “You’re finding pieces of the religious activity reflected in the Bible. If we can recapture, not just the original text of the Bible, but be as close as possible to the original thinking and realities of the ancient Near-Eastern world, we can then see author’s intent, the worldview of the audience within that paradigm.”
For TMC students coming from California, that kind of experience is a great opportunity to see how Scripture matches in a very real way both the text and the land. By studying the archaeology, they can make the correlations. They can see how the geopolitics that exist in the Bible are reflected in the remains.
“It gives students confidence that this text is the real thing,” McKinny said. “It is a great discipline that ties so many areas together to tell you about the ancient past. Our students have seen how archaeology can affect their understanding of the biblical world.”