Archaeology, faith, and the power of stories

Last week, my anthropology professor held a discussion in my archaeology class about the Exodus (his working thesis) in light of Easter approaching.

In the lecture, the professor introduced a couple of theories posed that contradicted what is recorded in the Bible. In either of the cases, there is no evidence that directly supports one theory or the other. But that is the whole point. The lack of evidence, as it says in the archaeology textbook, does not equal the lack of proof.

Almost every culture begins with a creation story. Sometimes, after thousands of years, the story becomes distorted, changing with how the culture and language evolve, and how the society itself operates and changes, and as a result, different generational perspectives often end up altering the story by a few details each time.

These stories are important to who we are and the stories we tell. As a journalist, I can’t help but see the similarities between journalism and anthropology. Journalism pulls from various sources just like anthropology. Even journalists, intentionally or not, will convey the account as it happened within a given context. Anthropologists, though they start with a theory, may discover contradictory evidence and then acknowledge it, just like a journalist developing a story.

For this reason, it jived with me when the professor discussed how written records and the archaeology evidence are at odds with each other. Archaeology evidence is the physical proof found, while the written records may have that bias like in journalism that may assist the anthropologists.

When I visited my professor to discuss the Exodus lecture further, he said that I appear conflicted, and it may be partially true.

I grew up in a conservative, Christian denomination. Through the years, I yearned for something other than a seemingly black-and-white perspective of morals that I was taught. From my years at a private college to my other interactions with Christians, I saw that Christians did not always treat outsiders with the same kindness that they preached.

I grew up with the sense of the story of my faith—a Savior who suffered and was willing to die for us. That has remained a powerful source in my life as I have faced struggles at different times.

Both last year and this year, I have acquired a genuine appreciation for my professor’s emphasis on critical thinking, especially since I see that skill becoming lost today. No matter what you believe, my professor wants you to be able to leave his class at the end of the semester with a clearer sense of what you believe because you took the time to truly think about it.

“People can always disagree,” he said, “but they’ll know why they’re disagreeing. That’s the goal.”

Archaeology can conflict with personal beliefs, because that is exactly what they are: beliefs. Beliefs, like oral traditions, come from the traditions and stories that your ancestors have embraced. When you grow up with a way of thinking so ingrained in your own mind, it is challenging to reconcile what is apparent with what you feel in your heart to be true.

As I have talked with a few peers, they have also said you must have confidence in what you believe. And like me, they have concluded that, while we believe in a higher being, he exists and operates beyond our understanding a lot of the time. Without the mystery of Godly power, there is no God. Yet others could say that is exactly why there is no God, especially since you cannot see him.

My professor has acknowledged that in his own field of study, seeing diverse perspectives from archaeologists. While they have their own strong opinions, they minimize their arguments at the end of the day. They make their logic as plain as possible with the evidence they have discovered and have clear reasoning behind their interpretations.

I will acknowledge that it does sound silly and crazy when I think about belief in a person who resurrected and then walked among his friends before his ascension to heaven. But through his sacrifice and care for other people who crucified him, that he left a legacy for others to follow and to make a difference; because loving others who could not care less takes strength and courage.

My belief also lies within the hope that there is more to this life, and that encourages me to keep going no matter how much the darkness appears to be.

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