William F. Albright Defends Israel’s Biblical History

Prof William F. Albright

William F. Albright dedicated many years of his life to defending the historical truths written in the Bible. In his article titled History, Archaeology, and Christian Humanism, he said:

 

 

Thanks to modern research we now recognize [the Bible’s] substantial historicity. The narratives of the Patriarchs, of Moses and the Exodus, of the Conquest of Canaan, of the Judges, the Monarchy, Exile, and Restoration, have all been confirmed and illustrated to an extent that I should have thought impossible forty years ago.

William F. Albright Endures Difficult Beginnings

William was born on May 24, 1891, in Coquimbo, Chile, to American Methodist missionaries. He suffered with weak eyesight as a young boy and later caught his left hand in a piece of farm equipment, crippling it.

As a boy, he did not face just physical trials but emotional ones as well. He was lonely. Instead of being his friends, the children in Coquimbo called him names like gringo and canuto (protestant).

William turned to books for comfort. When he was 10 years old, to help stem his loneliness, his parents bought him his greatest wish–the two-volume History of Babylonia and Assyria, a purchase which would help shape the rest of William’s life.

At 22, William earned a degree in classic literature from Upper Iowa University. That same year, he was awarded a scholarship to John Hopkins University. Three years later, in 1916, he received his Ph.D in Oriental studies.

In 1917, the U.S. entered World War I. William dutifully filled out his draft questionnaire and forgot about it. With his crippled hand and poor eyesight, no one expected he would be summoned. However, in 1918, William received his orders. For six months, he peeled potatoes and washed dishes for the U.S. Army. When he returned, he was awarded the Thayer Fellowship and made a Johnston scholar by John Hopkins University. With this funding, William began his lifelong dream and headed to Palestine.

Changing the Face of Archaeology in the Middle East

During his 15 years of work in the Middle East and a lifetime of research both there and in the U.S., William F. Albright changed the face of archaeology and research in the Holy Land. He was able to use modern science and methods to prove the historicity of many Old Testament events. His accomplishments are numerous:

  • In 1922, Albright excavating Tell el-Ful, the biblical town of Gibeah.
  • In 1922, he was named the director of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem, a position which he held until 1936. In 1970, 1970 the school was renamed the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in his honor.
  • In 1926, he excavated Tell Beit Mirsim, the biblical Canaanite city of Debir.
  • From 1929 to 1958, Albright worked as the Professor of Semitic languages at John Hopkins University.
  • In 1931, Albright excavated Beth-Zur.
  • During 1934, he excavated Bethel and used pottery dating to come up with a closer date for Israel’s conquest of the city.
  • In 1946 the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Albright was one of the first to view them. It was his system of Hebrew paleography (the study of ancient handwriting) which helped to date and authenticate the scrolls.

Albright also published several books about his work and findings: The Archaeology of Palestine: From the Stone Age to Christianity (1949), The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra (1963), and Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan: An Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths (1968).

While his work as an archaeologist is astounding, Albright was more than a renowned researcher. He was a husband and father as well. He married the love of his life, Ruth Norton, while in Israel. They had four children together.

A Man of Developing Faith

William F. Albright is most remembered as the man who used his archaeological discoveries to prove the historical facts of the Old Testament to the world. Perhaps he would be better remembered as a man who proved the spiritual truths of the Old and New Testaments to himself.

Albright was not just a scientist but also a man of developing faith. When Albright went to Palestine, he went as a researcher and not as a steadfast believer. While he did not reject the truths of the Bible, he did not wholeheartedly embrace them either but instead sought to explain the monotheistic faith of the Israelites through historical research rather than a personal belief.

Throughout his research and discoveries, however, the stories of the Bible became not just mythological but more and more factual to Albright. In one of his own books Albright himself said,

During these fifteen years my initially rather skeptical attitude toward the accuracy of Israelite historical tradition has suffered repeated jolts as discovery after discovery confirmed the historicity of details which might reasonably have been considered legendary.

The extent of Albright’s personal faith is unclear. Whether his increased belief in the facts of the Bible coincided with a personal affirmation of their truth is unknown. However, his personal and published writings show a clear progression of thought as the myths of the Bible grew more real to him.

With or without physical proof, belief is an act of faith. Christianity has proof, but it is not built on that proof. In the Gospel of John, Jesus gives a specific blessing to those who believe without seeing (John 20:29). From these verses, we understand that Christianity does not need visual proof for belief. However, in I John 1:3, we are shown the other side of the coin. John uses his personal testimony to assert the truths of those things which he had seen and heard himself–namely Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Proverbs teaches that God sometimes conceals things so that his people can seek out the answer (Proverbs 25:2). It is often in the process of discovery that humans learn, grown, and believe. Archaeology is a perfect example of that truth. God does not need the artifacts hidden away in the earth. He exists and works in the world because he is God, not because of an ancient piece of pottery. But he leaves artifacts for humans such as William F. Albright to find.

In finding proofs for the authenticity of Biblical accounts, William F. Albright found his own evidence for the truth of the Bible. What was once myth to him became, to some level, fact. And like John the Evangelist, he responded by spreading the truths which he had found to the world.

This article originally appeared on Philos Project, June 15, 2016, and reposted with permission.