Archaeology and Ideology

Mike Bird picks up on reports from Jordan (although he re-points the word) that a church dating from the period 33-70 A.D. (most likely from the 1st Jewish War) has been discovered in Jordan.  The BBC report is here (and seems to include the astonishing claim that they all lived underground in secret until Constantine!). This comes hot on the tail of news that the Baptist World Alliance has been given permission (along with virtually every other denomination) to build on the site that the Jordanians claim is the real location of Jesus' baptism (the Baptist Times ran it this week with clear statements by David Coffey (President of the BWA) and others to the effect that the site is actually the very place where the Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist.

Well aside from all the obvious questions to be asked about both cases (like…errr….how do they actually know?) or issues that really require further study before any firm conclusions can be drawn (e.g. the ambivalence and ambiguity of the biblical evidence for the baptism site; or the sheer unlikelihood of there being a dedicated church building established at such an early date) we do well to remember a basic point.  Archaeological claims, especially those that (a) establish a claim that this piece of land is where sacred events really happened (and not over there – up or across the river) and (b) are likely to generate significant tourist income, are inextricably bound up with the competing ideologies and politics of the Middle East.  The evidence might indeed suggest, after careful scrutiny, the possible legitimacy of both sites, but my own view is that on the whole, in these issues, a hermeneutic of suspicion is often a necessary tool.