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Biblical Archaeology and Its Interpretation: The Sayce-Driver Controversy

By Mark Elliott
Bible and Interpretation
March 2003

    In the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a triumphal feeling among many conservative scholars and theologians that archaeology had exonerated the truth of Scripture. Archaeological discoveries had proliferated in the last years of the nineteenth century, and some scholars interpreted this new material as demonstrative proof of the Bible’s reliability. The results from these excavations emboldened traditionalists who adhered to the philosophy of biblical inerrancy and infallibility. These cherished doctrines now appeared to be wondrously corroborated by celebrated digs that had unearthed biblical antiquities. More significantly, in England first and then in the United States, archaeological evidence was interpreted and integrated into the conservative struggle against German higher criticism. The new data became the bulwark of faith-oriented scholars in the Anglo-American community where archaeology received its greatest support and promotion. Enemies of higher criticism found sustenance in the belief that archaeology confirmed and validated the truth of the biblical text, and they utilized archaeological data in their persistent attacks upon the supporters of Wellhausian approaches to biblical criticism.

    The conservative response to higher critics was based on the remarkable archaeological discoveries which during the mid-nineteenth century had unearthed previously shrouded mythical cities such as Babylon, Erech, Nineveh, Nimrud, and Ur. Their texts and material culture revealed unimaginable information that verified many episodes of the Hebrew text. Tablets contained the names of Assyrian, Babylonian, and Israelite kings and events mentioned in the Bible.1 Incredibly, Assyrian and Babylonian cuneiform writings contained flood and creation stories.2 It was obvious to all scholars that the early chapters of Genesis were connected with these spectacular discoveries. Conservatives declared that these versions authenticated the biblical record, but critics claimed this evidence raised doubts about the correctness of many of the traditions located in the Old Testament.

    Even more startling were the archaeological data and inscriptions revealed in the last years of the nineteenth century that alerted supporters of the Bible to astonishing evidence that validated portions of the biblical record. The campaign waged by conservative scholars and clergy against higher critics was sustained for the most part by these new discoveries. For example, the Tell el-Amarna letters, discovered in 1887, were cuneiform tablets written by the Egyptian court and many of the kings and princes of Syria and Palestine. These texts depicted the political and social life in Canaan in the fourteenth century and, amazingly, mentioned a group of people, Hapiru, that many scholars identified as the ancient Hebrews.3

    While excavating in Egypt in 1883, Edouard Naville believed he had discovered Pithom (Egyptian Pr itm, “House of Atum”), one of the store-cities erected by the Hebrews during their enslavement in Egypt (Exodus 1:11).4 In 1905-1906, Flinders Petrie believed he had uncovered the other store-city, Ramses at Tell el-Retabeh.5 By 1900, scholars were aware that the invasion of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak, cited in I Kgs 14:25 and 2 Chr 12:2-12, had been located on a triumphal relief-scene at the temple of Amun at Karnak.6

    During an excavation in 1896, Petrie recovered the stela of Merneptah (1207). On the stela is a victory hymn for the Pharaoh’s campaign in Canaan in which Merneptah boasted of destroying a people called Israel. This was the earliest known reference to Israel in an extra-biblical text.7

    French archaeologists digging at Susa in 1901-02 uncovered the law code of Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.E.). At that time, it was the oldest law code in existence and remarkably similar to elements in the Hebrew law code. For many conservative scholars, it confirmed the antiquity of the Mosaic law.8

    Many pious scholars praised these archaeological discoveries as confirmation that events depicted in the biblical narrative did indeed occur. The totality of the archaeological evidence also encouraged devout scholars to believe they could discredit Wellhausen and his supporters. In the next decades, a complete validation in the historicity of the biblical record was magnified throughout conservative scholarship based on the misapplication of archaeological data. However, critical scholars challenged these erroneous claims and warned students that a great deal of archaeological evidence was incomplete and often hypothetical. Liberal scholars insisted that higher criticism had not been repudiated by archaeology, and they reiterated, time and again, that any archaeological interpretation inspired by a religious spirit or direct appeals to Scripture was inadmissible. The stage had been set for a contentious dispute among Anglo-American scholars over the interpretation of archaeological data and its influence on the biblical text.



    In this early period, the most articulate opponent of “Higher Criticism” was A. H. Sayce. For over thirty years, he vigorously objected to the negative assertions of higher critics. Sayce was an Anglican clergyman and a professor of Assyriology at Oxford. His scholarly credentials were considerable and include the fact that he was instrumental in deciphering the Hittite language9 and was the first to publish the Siloam inscription.10 Most importantly, Sayce’s writings and arguments in defending many aspects of the biblical record from its skeptics were incorporated into later works by serious scholars and confessional elements.

    Though Sayce was regarded as the major representative “of the so-called ‘Orthodox’ party and a defender of the Holy Writ,” he should not be dismissed as a fundamentalist reactionary struggling against higher critics.11 T. K. Cheyne, a severe critic of Sayce’s methods relating to archaeology, regarded him as a brilliant Assyriologist and stated that “his [Sayce] most daring hypotheses have again and again in various degrees pointed the way to truth, and when this has not been the case, he has generally corrected his own error.”12 It would also be erroneous to characterize Sayce as a pseudo-scholar who roamed the Near East in desperate search of monuments and inscriptions to authenticate the Scriptures.

    Many of Sayce’s themes became the foundation of the biblical archaeology movement later developed by W. F. Albright. Consider the following: Sayce insisted that the archaeologist’s spade had illuminated the era of Abraham and consequently scholars knew more about the age of Abraham than they did the ages of Solon and Pericles.13 Scholars could speak with confidence concerning the Babylonian civilization in which Abraham lived, its manners, customs, beliefs, practices, and law codes. Sayce briefly indicated that patriarchal traditions found in Genesis such as Hagar’s position and treatment, Eliezer’s role as heir to the “childless Abraham,” Abraham’s purchase of the family tomb at Machpelah, and the mode of witnessing a deed all reflect the Babylonia of Abraham, not that of the age of Moses.14 The names of Abraham and Jacob are common in “the age of Abraham” and pass out of “use at a later date.”15 Furthermore, Abraham’s movements in Genesis reflect a period of Babylonian hegemony throughout Mesopotamia.16

    Though Sayce did not cultivate these issues with the sophistication of an Albright, it is clear that Sayce contributed to the development and dissemination of several theories that evolved into the basis of the biblical archaeology movement that would later flourish under the Albright school. However, Sayce was an easy target for his critics and opponents. He often excitedly proclaimed that archaeology could indeed authenticate the Bible:

Who knows what is in store for us, during the next few years, if only sufficient funds can be provided for carrying on the costly work of excavation? Histories of the patriarchs, records of Melchizedek and his dynasty, old hymns and religious legends, may be among the archaeological treasures that are about to be exhibited to the wondering eyes of the present generation. A few years ago such a possibility could not have been dreamed of by the wildest imagination; now it is not only a possibility, but even a probability.17

    Early in Sayce’s career, he recognized that higher criticism did advance the understanding of the Old Testament by producing valid philological and etymological studies concerning the biblical text. But with the sensational discoveries made by archaeologists at the turn of the century, Sayce began to deny that Wellhausian literary criticism contributed any valid knowledge in comprehending the Scriptures.18 Archaeology and the monuments were confirming the credibility of the Bible and simultaneously refuting the salient themes of German criticism:

The records of the Old Testament have been confronted with the monuments of the ancient oriental world, wherever this was possible, and their historical accuracy and their trust worthiness has been tested by a comparison with the latest results of archaeological research . . . the evidence of oriental archaeology is on the whole distinctly unfavorable to the pretensions of the “higher criticism.” The “apologist” may lose something, but the “higher critic” loses much more.19

    He testified to the spurious nature of higher criticism and perceived that the spade would be useful in sanctifying biblical events and impeaching critical theories:

To dig up the sources of Genesis is a better occupation than to spin theories and dissect the scriptural narrative in the name of “higher criticism.” A single blow of the excavator’s pick has before now shattered the most ingenious conclusions of the Western critic . . . we doubt not that theory will soon be replaced by fact, and that the stories of the Old Testament which we are now being told are but myths and fictions will prove to be based on a solid foundation of truth.20

    By 1900, Sayce had established his reputation as a gross popularizer whose works were eagerly read by the public. T. Cheyne depicted Sayce as a scholar who

constantly popularizes his results, without indicating whether they are peculiar to himself or not, and through the attractiveness of his style and concessions to biblical orthodoxy, these results have obtained such a currency in the English-speaking countries that they are at present practically incontrovertible.21

    Sayce maintained this basic motif throughout his career: the critical hypothesis of Wellhausen and his advocates had been controverted by the evidence of archaeology. In 1923, in expectation of archaeology’s assured victory over higher criticism, he wrote:

Subjective fantasies must make way for the solid facts of science which were at last being recovered. One after another the foundations upon which such theories [German higher criticism] had been built had been shown to be baseless . . . . With hardly an exception the archaeological discoveries of the last thirty-five years in the Nearer East have been dead against the conclusions of the self-appointed critic and on the side of ancient tradition.22

    Sayce’s sustained attacks on Wellhausen and his followers were based on his belief that scholars must abide by the verdict of archaeology “whatever it may be,”23 and he believed that it had overturned the arguments of higher critics. T. Davis wrote that Sayce was willing to accept the claims of critics if the facts of archaeology supported their suppositions.24 Sayce attempted to separate theological issues when analyzing the doctrines of higher criticism. He insisted that the Old Testament must be subjected to the same scientific investigation as any other ancient document. Theological arguments must be rejected for the scientific method.25 Though Sayce did occasionally use apologetics in his conflict with German critics, he endeavored the following throughout his career: “I had never changed my point of view: on its historical and literary sides the Old Testament must be treated like any other book of ancient oriental literature and its interpreter must follow the evidence of the facts wherever they may lead.”26

    Sayce’s major work in the 20th century was Monument Facts and the Higher Critical Fancies. Here he argued that archaeological evidence had a greater claim to scientific authority than philological evidence used by higher critics who attempt to “extract history out of grammars and dictionaries . . . .”27 This literary tact is based on the “purely subjective impression” of a modern European, and it is quite different from what an ancient oriental author would have written.28 Furthermore, it is impossible for the European scholar to break down an “old Hebrew book” into its component parts, determining what section or verse belongs to various writers. This is further complicated by the fact that Hebrew is “imperfectly known” and its grammatical forms are “uncertain and disputed.” The higher critics’ interpretation “of the Pentateuch is but a measure of our ignorance and the limitations of knowledge.”29 Sayce insisted that archaeology had easily demonstrated that the faulty German critics were wrong to argue early Israel could not read or write until the Exile. Sayce contended archaeology had demonstrated convincingly that centuries before Abraham was born, Egypt and Babylon were literate societies full of libraries and schools. Thus, Abraham and Moses were born into literate environments and assuredly knew how to read and write.30 Furthermore, examples of cuneiform tablets and hieroglyphic inscriptions had been located throughout Canaan.

    Sayce implied that the Bible was indeed an historical document. Throughout, the biblical editors list their sources, the “Acts of Solomon” and the “Annals of the Kings of Judah and Israel” among others in the Books of Kings. Even foreign sources are utilized. In the Pentateuch, there is a list of the kings of Edom, and the account of Chadorlaomer in Genesis 14 must have originated from Babylonian documents. Incredibly, Sayce claims that the Genesis flood story was copied by an Israelite scribe. The “Elohistic and Yehvistic” elements are contained in the earliest Babylonian accounts; thus, there is no composite authorship. The Israelite historian copied the Babylonian account and Hebraized the objectionable paganism not during the Exile or 9th century but much earlier. Sayce refuses to posit a date, but he says the stories were known to Abraham and must have been written long before Moses’ birth.31

    Israelite scribes even had the Babylonian accounts of Genesis 14. The biblical editors were scrupulous and accurate, and they simply copied a Babylonian chronicle; the Hebrew version indicates a cuneiform source.32 Sayce referred to the “Massoretic exactitude” of the Israelite scribes in the “reproduction of these older documents.”33 The accuracy of the Babylonian names preserved in Genesis 14 destroys the critical argument of Israelite myth-making. Sayce is amazed at how Hebrew scribes redacted and handed down this ancient literature imitating the accuracy and care found in the scribal schools of Babylonia and Assyria.34 This must have been a bitter theory for fundamentalist opponents of higher criticism. In defending the historiography of the biblical record, Sayce postulated that the Hebrew Scriptures were filled with Israelite borrowing and scribal editing, both of which would seemingly nullify theological issues such as inerrancy and the revelation at Sinai. Indeed, he ignores these topics entirely.

    According to Sayce the discovery of Babylonian law codes written during the age of Abraham indicates that the Patriarch was acquainted with them and could have “compiled a code of laws” quite easily.35 Furthermore, “higher critics” were wrong in questioning the reliability of the Exodus. They suffered another fatal blow with the discovery of Pithom and Ramses. The exposure of these cities established the accuracy of the Book of Exodus.36 Sayce contended that the Exile must be excluded as the period of composition for the Pentateuch. The idea that Judean scribes would have borrowed a creation story from their 6th century oppressors was ludicrous.37

    Only at the end of Monument Facts and Higher Critical Fancies does Sayce fall back to theological pleading. He admonishes critics to remember that their conclusions conflict “with the articles of the Christian faith,” that the doctrines of the New Testament rest upon the Old.38 He demands a clear answer from skeptics who still adhere “to the historical faith of Christendom.” What was Christ appealing to in proof of His divinity? Are Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament “an illusion”? The modern critic cannot serve “two masters.” Either there are real portraits of Christ, or the Lord himself was mistaken.39 Sayce’s debates with high critics were based almost entirely upon inscriptions and the biblical text. However, archaeology was in its nascence. Questions concerning the evaluation of archaeological data and techniques would have to wait.40

    Many of Sayce’s conclusions became the grist which many religiously committed or reactionary scholars appealed to in attacks on higher critics. It is true that Sayce developed his ideology in a conservative Protestant tradition that placed strong emphasis on biblical inspiration, but Sayce rarely made a plea in support of biblical faith. His insistence that archaeological data should lead the scholar’s investigation was dropped by his supporters in their apologetic strategy of confirming God’s word.


    The most lucid adversary of Sayce and other scholars who employed archaeology in attacks on Higher Criticism was S. R. Driver. A professor of Hebrew at Oxford, Driver was a committed advocate of the Wellhausen school of critical scholarship.41 One scholar has described Driver’s An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament as the most influential introduction “ever to be written by an Englishman, . . . in advancing the critical cause in English Old Testament study.”42 During his career, Driver was attacked by conservatives who considered his opinions threatening and by critics who believed he compromised with fundamentalists.43 Driver’s analyses of the crude assaults in the battle against literary criticism are the century’s most incisive. Years later, his works are still valuable in their sharp criticism of the misuse of archaeological data in defending the biblical record. Albright praised Driver’s Modern Research as Illustrating the Bible as doing far more good in “warning students against the dangers of ‘archaeology’ than it did harm by discouraging those biblical scholars who were inclined to leap too hastily into the archaeological arena.”44

    By 1899, Driver had delineated his arguments concerning the efficacy of recent archaeological discoveries in refuting higher critics.45 Throughout his career, he never deviated from his conclusions: archaeology had not controverted the results of literary criticism. Driver was highly critical of the “testimony of archaeology” in challenging higher critics. Problems arose from the questionable and even illogical inferences deduced from the archaeological data.46 Supporters of the biblical record had frequently alleged that the Tell el-Amarna tablets demonstrated that writing existed in Canaan before the appearance of Moses.47 Consequently, Moses could have easily written the Pentateuch, and the claims of higher critics of the late composition of the document were undermined. Driver asserted that dating constituent elements of the Pentateuch did not depend upon the ability of Moses to write. Determining the structure and date of the Pentateuch depended

upon the internal evidence supplied by the Pentateuch itself respecting the elements of which it is composed, and upon the relation which these elements bear to one another, and to other parts of the Old Testament. The grounds on which the literary analysis of the Pentateuch depends may, of course, be debated upon their own merits; but archaeology has nothing to oppose them.48

    Driver insisted that there is no proof that Genesis 14 was a translation from a cuneiform document or that the Genesis narrative of Joseph was derived from a hieratic papyrus.49 The purchase of the cave of Machpelah could just as easily have come from the period of Sargon II and Sennacherib as from the early Babylonian Age.50 Furthermore, the familiarity with Palestinian topography by the writers of Genesis does not reflect historical truth concerning the narratives themselves.51

    Driver did write that monuments (a play on Sayce’s The “Higher Criticism” and the Verdict of the Monuments) or inscriptions have produced evidence “which no reasonable critic has ever doubted,” such as references to Israelite kings and Assyrian rulers in the Assyrian annals. Inscriptions from Babylonia, Assyria, and Egypt have revealed important information concerning the culture and history of these nations, but they supply “no confirmation of any single fact” recorded in the Old Testament prior to the invasion of Shishak.52

    Driver asserted that Sayce’s writings had not produced any evidence that “either Abraham or the other patriarchs ever actually existed.”53 Sayce constructed a picture of Canaan from the monuments and then proceeded to place the Patriarchs into his historical creation, arguing that his characterization of the Patriarchs was fact. According to Driver, Sayce confused “the illustration of the narrative, known, or reasonably supposed, to be authentic, with the confirmation of a narrative, the historical character of which is in dispute.”54 Though Driver admitted he could not forecast the future or the expected archaeological surprises on the horizon,55 based on the evidence known at the time, he claimed that none of the earlier biblical narratives had been verified by “archaeology to be contemporaneous with the events to which they relate.”56

    Throughout Driver’s major works, he charged that Sayce’s proposal that archaeology had demonstrated the veracity of the Pentateuch was misleading and inaccurate. Driver recognized the importance of cuneiform records from Mesopotamia but felt nothing had been discovered that corroborated Sayce’s statement that there was a “particular person called Abraham,” who lived in Ur, journeyed to Horan, then to Canaan as depicted in Genesis.57 Sayce’s claims of historicity for the Joseph stories were illusional. Archaeology cannot confirm that these narratives were contemporary with the events recorded.58 Sayce’s insistence that Melchizedek can be inferred in the Amarna tablets was “destitute of solid foundation.”59 Driver argued that Sayce’s evidence that the Babylonian narrative of the flood contains both J and P could not be taken seriously.60 So flawed were Sayce’s arguments that Driver’s responses were often dismissive, even contemptuous. Driver referred to Sayce’s contention that the patriarchs lived under the law of Hammurabi as “doubtful,” as not able to “prove what is alleged,” and as “too slight to merit any attention.”61

    The belief that archaeology had discredited the basic foundations of Wellhausen’s doctrines was, in Driver’s opinion, based on the faulty evaluation of the data. Driver argued that it was impossible to doubt the main conclusions of higher critics. To do so would deny “the ordinary principles by which history is judged and evidence estimated.”62

    It was apparent to Driver that scholars and theologians such as Sayce who belittled higher criticism were motivated by religious dogma and that they feared the results of the Wellhausen school conflicted with “the requirements of the Christian faith.”63 Driver understood that with the advancement of modern science, traditional views cannot be maintained. Yet he assured the faithful that their apprehensions are unfounded. He stressed that critical conclusions expressed in his writings were not in conflict with the “articles of Christian faith.” Higher criticism did not affect the fact of revelation or the “authority and inspiration of the Scriptures of the Old Testament.” Furthermore, the consequences of higher criticism do not change the general position “that the Old Testament points forward prophetically to Christ.”64 How Christ would have replied to the question of authorship of a particular portion of the Old Testament is unknown. Indeed, Driver pointed out that we have no record of anyone asking Christ whether Moses, David, or Isaiah actually authored any book in the Scriptures or what “His answer would have been.” Christ’s appeal to the Old Testament for prophetic and spiritual lessons is unaffected by critical inquires.

    Driver believed that “criticism in the hands of Christian scholars does not banish or destroy the inspiration of the Old Testament;” rather, criticism underlines the literary forms and methods God employs “in revealing Himself to his ancient people of Israel, and in preparing the way for the fuller manifestation of Himself in Christ Jesus.”65 In this instance, Driver’s defense of biblical revelation is basically Old Testament theology as a branch of Christian apologetics.66 Driver’s theological inclinations rarely appeared in his major publications. He often argued that ancient Israel’s history and religion be evaluated as an integral component of the history and civilization of the Near East. Furthermore, he stated that much of Israel’s material culture and religion was dependent upon her neighbors.67 Though he insisted upon the “unique religious pre-eminence” of the Israelites and their “deep religious truths,” these revelations did not conflict with Driver’s call to investigate Hebrew religion and history on their own terms.68

    Few literary critics would have joined Driver in depicting higher criticism as clarifying the Lordship of Jesus. Perhaps Driver’s insistence on protecting the theological context of the Bible was a sop to conservative Christian elements; however, the reason is unclear. Rogerson depicts Driver’s theological position as revelation in terms of God’s moral demands. Literary criticism was concerned only with the form of revelation; it could not “assail” its content.69 Nevertheless, one must remember that Driver’s personal religious convictions and the intermingling of faith with scholarship seldom surfaced in his major publications.

    Driver always considered himself a literary critic of the Bible; however, he produced one of the first thorough and scholarly works on archaeology and its relationship to the Old Testament.70 Modern Research as Illustrating the Bible was a remarkable work that demonstrated how reliable information concerning archaeological evidence related to the Old Testament should be interpreted.71

    Driver recognized that to comprehend the Bible properly biblical scholars need not only master the multiple forms of literary criticism but also examine the evidence of “many special studies, such as geography, geology, botany, zoology, from the observation of customs in Bible lands, and also from archaeology.”72 Driver discerned the “special value of archaeology” which “illustrates, supplements, confirms, or corrects, statements or representations contained in the Bible.” Rather than opposing higher criticism, archaeology assists literary critics in understanding the Bible’s “true historical perspective.”73 Perhaps even more importantly, Driver maintained that archaeology allowed biblical scholars to incorporate a holistic approach to the “history and civilization” of the ancient Near East and the place of Israel in it and to the nature of the influences which were placed upon Israel.74

    Incisive as Driver’s comments were in Modern Research on the results of literary criticism, 19th century archaeological evidence and the current progress of Palestinian excavations, more noteworthy was Driver’s considerations on female goddesses, the role of bamoth in Israelite religion, infant sacrifice, tombs, the role of pottery in chronology and ethnic identification, and the influence of Canaanite culture on the Israelites.75 Driver set a remarkable agenda for later scholars to determine what constituted legitimate archaeological evidence in illuminating the Bible. He understood that the textual scholar could not neglect archaeological data properly interpreted and that Israelite religion, culture, and history could not be reconstructed solely through the biblical text. Unfortunately, Driver’s suggestions would not be incorporated in biblical studies. Far too many scholars called on archaeology to discredit followers of Wellhausen rather than to provide data to elucidate ancient Israelite culture and history.

    Sayce and Driver set the debate in Anglo-American scholarship concerning archaeology’s role and relationship to the biblical record. Sayce’s goal was to provide a challenge to higher criticism through archaeological data. His method was emulated by conservative scholars and theologians who activated archaeological evidence to buttress arguments against the theories of Wellhausen and his followers. Driver asserted that higher criticism had not been refuted by archaeology. He warned his readers that they must be on guard against confusing the facts of archaeology with the precarious inferences or hypotheses founded upon them. He understood the value of archaeology and provided examples of careful interpretation of archaeological data and its illumination of the biblical record.

[1] As early as 1853, numerous kings and cities mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures had also been located in Assyrian texts. See A. H. Layard, Discoveries in the Ruins in Nineveh and Babylon (London: John Murray, 1853).

[2] G. Smith, Assyrian Discoveries (New York: Scribner, 1876); idem, The Chaldean Account of Genesis (New York: Scribner, 1876).

[3] M. Greenberg, The Hab/piru (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1955); W. L. Moran, Tell el-Amarna Tablets (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1992). A. Sayce was so impressed with the Amarna correspondence that it revolutionized his convictions and turned him into an unremitting foe of higher criticism. A. Sayce, Reminiscences (London: Macmillan, 1923), 272-3.

[4] E. Naville, The Store-City of Pithom and the Route of the Exodus, 3rd ed. (London: Egyptian Exploration Fund, 1903). Naville regarded archaeology as a tool for revealing inscriptions that would enhance the understanding of Egyptian religion and mythology. He often abandoned a site for days, leaving an assistant to supervise the work while he deciphered inscriptions or visited Cairo. He was the chief representative and first excavator of the Egyptian Exploration Fund for thirty years. In his excavations, he ignored small objects and considered that only large monuments were worthy of investigation. Rejecting new innovations, Naville insisted that pottery could not assist the archaeologist as a criterion for dating. Petrie believed that Naville was the essence of the incompetent excavator, more inclined to destroy archaeological data than to preserve it. M. Drower, Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology (London: Gallancz, 1985), 280-1, 285.

[5] W. M. F. Petrie, Hyksos and Israelite Cities (London: School of Archaeology, 1906).

[6] S. R. Driver, “Hebrew Authority,” in Authority and Archaeology, ed. D. G. Hogarth (London: John Murray, 1899), 87-8.

[7] W. M. F. Petrie, Six Temples at Thebes (London: Quaritch, 1897). Petrie immediately understood the importance of this discovery, claiming, “This stele will be better known in the world than anything else I have found” (Drower 221). Yet Petrie was troubled by this stele. His history of Israel was Bible based, and the putative campaign of Merneptah is not mentioned in the Bible. This dilemma was intensified because Petrie believed the Israelites entered Canaan during the reign of Ramesses III, at least twenty years after Merneptah’s invasion. Petrie’s solution: a portion of the people of Israel remained in Canaan when others went into Egypt. These northern Israelites were the Israel that Merneptah defeated on this stele, Petrie, Six Temples, 30.

[8] G. R. Driver and J. C. Miles, The Babylonian Laws, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1952-55).

[9] G. A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible, 7th ed. (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1937), 77, 79.

[10] A. H. Sayce, Reminiscences, 192.

[11] Ibid., 303.

[12] T. K. Cheyne, Founders of Old Testament Criticism (London: Methuen, 1893), 231.

[13] Sayce, “The Age of Abraham,” Biblical World 26 (1905): 248.

[14] Ibid., 255.

[15] Ibid., 250.

[16] Ibid., 250-1.

[17] Sayce, “The Latest Discovery in Palestine,” Sunday School Times 34 (1892): 546.

[18] B. Z. MacHaffie, “Monument Facts and Higher Critical Fancies,” American Society of Church History 50 (1981): 324-6.

[19] Sayce, The “Higher Criticism” and the Verdict of the Monuments (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1894), 554, 561.

[20] Sayce, “Latest Discovery,” 546.

[21] Cheyne, 232.

[22] Sayce, Reminiscences, 303-4.

[23] Sayce, The “Higher Criticism,” 28.

[24] T. W. Davis, 45-55. Davis’ focus is on Sayce’s writings before 1900. See mainly Sayce’s Fresh Light from the Ancient Monument ([London]: Religious Tract Society, 1885), and his Patriarchal Palestine (London: The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1895).

[25] Davis, 45-55.

[26] Sayce, Reminiscences, 304.

[27] Sayce, Monument Facts and Higher Critical Fancies (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1904), 12.

[28] Ibid., 13.

[29] Ibid., 19.

[30] Ibid., 29-43. Sayce even insisted that not only could Moses have written the Torah, “but it would have been little short of a miracle had he not been a scribe.” Ibid., 42.

[31] Ibid., 45-53, 104.

[32] Ibid., 62-5.

[33] Ibid., 66.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid., 71.

[36] Ibid, 88-96.

[37] Ibid., 114.

[38] Ibid., 125.

[39] Ibid., 126-7.

[40] Davis, 51-2.

[41] Sayce, Reminiscences, 213-4. Sayce believed he failed to receive the Hebrew Chair at Oxford because he had been labeled a leader of German critical theology. He found the circumstances of Driver’s appointment ironic for Driver would become the proponent of German higher criticism and Sayce would be depicted as the champion of orthodoxy. It should be made clear that Sayce believed that Driver “was one of the best, if not the best, Hebraists in the country” and regarded Driver as the best choice for the appointment.

[42] J. Rogerson, Old Testament Criticism in the Nineteenth Century (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1984), 275.

[43] Cheyne, Founders of the Old Testament, 248-372.

[44] W. F. Albright, “The Old Testament and the Archaeology of Palestine,” in The Old Testament and Modern Study, ed. H. H. Rowley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951), 2.

[45] S. R. Driver, “Hebrew Authority.”

[46] Ibid., 146.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid., 147.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid., 148.

[52] Ibid., 150-1.

[53] Ibid., 149.

[54] Ibid., 150.

[55] Ibid., 151.

[56] Ibid., 147.

[57] S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis (London: Methuen, 1904), xlviii.

[58] Ibid., li.

[59] Ibid., 168.

[60] Ibid., XXV.

[61] Ibid., XXXVI.

[62] S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (New York: Scribner, 1931), vii-viii.

[63] Ibid., viii.

[64] Ibid., viii-ix.

[65] Ibid., xii-xiii.

[66] Ibid., xiii.

[67] Driver, Modern Research as Illustrating the Bible (London: Oxford University Press, 1909), 16.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Rogerson, 282; Cheyne accused Driver of compromising biblical criticism for apologetic reasons. Yet Cheyne was also inconsistent in his approach to biblical criticism. He believed, “nothing but the most fearless criticism, combined with the most genuine spiritual faith in God, and in his Son, and in the Holy Spirit, . . . can be safe . . . . A perfectly free but none the less devout criticism is, in short, the best ally, both of spiritual religion and of a sound apologetic theology.” Cheyne, 258-9.

[70] In one work, he modestly described himself as someone who “followed closely the course of archaeological research . . . .” Driver, Literature, vi.

[71] Moorey credited Driver’s Modern Research as the seminal work in the field only to be surpassed by M. Burrows’ What Mean These Stones (New Haven, Conn.: ASOR, 1941). This is an extraordinary endorsement considering many of Albright’s principle works had already been produced. P. R. S. Moorey, A Century of Biblical Archaeology (Louisville: Westminster, 1991), 90.

[72] Ibid., 89.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid., 16.

[75] Ibid., 56-91. Driver concluded that present “excavations show no trace of the break between the Canaanites and Israelite culture: there is no sudden change from one to the other; the transition is gradual.” His insights on Israelite origins were exceedingly prescient or perhaps the present state of scholarship on the issue is rather desiccated, ibid., 87.


     The above essay was excerpted from Biblical Interpretation Using Archaeological Evidence, 1900-1930. Edwin Mellen Press, 2002.