Just as it happened to me, many people I meet have a great interest in archaeology - especially Biblical archaeology. Unfortunately, there are very few positions to excavate in the Middle East, especially for foreigners. So, even Indiana Jones had a day job - as a university professor!
This article was first published in November 2003 ABR Electronic Newsletter.
In fact, most archaeologists who dig in Israel are college professors. They teach at home during the school year and dig in the summer. Yet, even positions as professor of archaeology are scarce, and professorships in associated fields - Old or New Testament studies, Greek or Hebrew studies, history and anthropology - are also limited.
Furthermore, very few schools offer undergraduate or graduate degrees in archaeology today; even fewer approach archaeology from a Biblical perspective. The only schools I know which offer an undergraduate degree with a Biblical archaeology emphasis are Wheaton College, Andrews University and Southern Adventist University. Masters degree programs are offered at Wheaton, Andrews and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The only conservative school to offer a Ph.D. program is Andrews University. All approach archaeology from a conservative viewpoint. The University of Toronto, the University of Chicago and Harvard University offer Ph.D. programs from a secular perspective. Although not leading to either an undergraduate or graduate degree, Northwestern College offers correspondence courses in both Old and New Testament archaeology. (Links for these schools are listed below.)
So, what is an aspiring Biblical archaeologist to do? Since both degree programs and jobs in Biblical archaeology are hard to come by, I suggest to those I speak with that they consider undergraduate and graduate degrees in associated fields of study. Of course Biblical studies, ancient Near Eastern languages, history and anthropology are naturally related fields, but many are already studying in these areas and job openings are minimal. Degrees in political science or international studies, especially majoring on the Middle East, might be helpful - but I suspect jobs in education, government or industry may be limited.
Instead, to those interested in Biblical archaeology, I have proposed they study one of the hard sciences that today are part of every archaeological expedition. As an archaeologist who does the digging, I can tell you the date of the strata and the context in which something was excavated. But precise information about many of our finds comes from specialists in other scientific disciplines.
For example, when we find bones, we can demonstrate their context, such as a burial, destruction debris or an everyday setting. But, we are not certain which animal they come from. So, we turn the bones over to a biologist or a medical expert. They can tell us which animal, the part of the animal, often the age of the animal and any pathology (disease or injuries) evident in the bone.
Geologists study stone implements and features we find in excavation; biologists and botanists study plant remains; and chemists and physicists analyze many artifacts to determine their composition and manufacture techniques.
Colleagues in fields like epigraphy, anthropology, chemistry, biology, botany, geology, osteology and medicine are critical members of today's multi-disciplinary archaeological excavations. Modern archaeological research is neither a treasure hunt nor a one-man show, but a careful collaboration of many technical specialists.
So I encourage any aspiring archaeologist to consider a degree in one of the hard sciences. Beyond good training for a variety of jobs in industry, education, or even government, it opens the door to make valuable contributions to archaeological research - whether you actually dig in the field or just work in the laboratory.
Beyond degrees and jobs in the hard sciences, is the study of languages. While there is minimal funding for jobs working with the ancient languages, anyone in the western world who is proficient in Arabic has a marketable skill. Government and industry are looking for those who can speak and read Arabic and, since so much of the Biblical world speaks Arabic today, the student of that language can be a valuable asset on almost any Middle Eastern excavation team. By the way, Arabic is a great gateway into modern and Biblical Hebrew.
Additional fields where training and expertise can be very helpful to archaeological excavations include surveying, drafting, architecture and photography. Every dig utilizes these skills, and anyone who possesses them can have a great career (or at least a rewarding hobby) using their talent, as well as be an important member of an excavation staff.
Of course, anyone can participate in an archaeological excavation, regardless of education or profession. Volunteering as a digger offers valuable training and significant skills in archaeological technique. Volunteers are the life-blood of modern excavations and many come back year after year.
Bottom line - if you have a strong desire to participate in Biblical archaeology, I encourage you to pursue it. And if you have the interest and aptitude to pursue a degree in a field associated with today's multi-disciplinary approach to archaeology, it can lead to a meaningful career and make you an important part of any archaeological team.