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Don’t Be A Unicorn Internet Archaeologist

One of my favorite television programs of all time is The X-Files. Among the colorful heroes and villains, human or otherworldly, some of the most endearing characters to me were The Lonegunmen. These quirky pseudo-journalists were the kings of conspiracy. The Lonegunmen were often used as exposition for the audience, filling us in on essential information from various conspiracies.

Now, I enjoy a good conspiracy theory. When orchestrated correctly, a conspiracy theory bears all the elements of a good narrative story. You have your protagonist; usually that’s you. There’s the antagonist who is out to get you, a great, monstrous enemy, often referred to as, “they.” A good conspiracy commonly paints this struggle as a David-and-Goliath type of situation, a fight between the innocent underdog and the unstoppable forces of villainy. There are just enough tantalizing clues to the veracity of the theory to keep you on the hook.

Conspiracy theories can be dangerous or even deadly. Take, for instance, Nero blaming Christians for the burning of Rome, Hitler blaming the Jews for the woes of Europe, or the accusations of witchcraft against the Knights Templar or certain women and men in New England during the 17th century.

One of the more destructive types of conspiracy theories is the biblical conspiracy. Conspiracy theories involving the Bible are rampant on the internet. Whether these theories involve spiritual beings, extracanonical books, archaeological finds, hidden codes, or fantastical claims about the natural world, they do far more harm than good. Were I to go into specifics, I could write volumes on the vast amounts of disinformation available to the believer today. For the sake of brevity, I will stay in my lane.

I recently attended a conference where my friend, Steve Rudd, spoke on a topic that he called “Unicorn Internet Archaeology.” It’s a fun phrase that he let me steal for this article. As an example of what the saying means, he used the current theories that propose Jabal al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia as the real Mount Sinai. He looked at every proposed piece of evidence from cow petroglyphs to the “split rock of Horeb” and, using actual scientific data, debunked each claim. The funny thing is, Steve believes that Jabal al-Lawz is the best contender for Mount Sinai, but rejects the bogus “evidence.” You can learn more about Steve’s position in the upcoming film by Tim Mahoney, Patterns of Evidence: Journey to Mount Sinai II, due in cinemas in mid-2023.

So, what is Unicorn Internet Archaeology? It is the practice of coming across information on the internet that is presented without credible evidence and using it to postulate theories. In simple terms, it means watching a YouTube video or clicking on a Facebook article that makes fantastic claims and using it to form an argument without double-checking the proposed facts. 

Most of us have been guilty of this practice. I know that I have. My social media feeds are full of articles about chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea and secret photographs of the real Noah’s Ark. The problem is that they are all bogus.

The biblical conspiracy is usually presented like this: An amazing artifact was uncovered by archaeologists in Israel that proves a supernatural claim in the Bible. There might be a stock photo of an archaeological dig or an image of an object that represents the artifact. There will be a short quote from the archaeologist. The article will continue with biblically inaccurate statements and end with you scrolling through sketchy advertisements about natural cures, celebrities and UFO sightings. The comment section will be full of claims that “they” are covering the whole thing up and lying to you, or that the professionals don’t know the truth that you just uncovered on the internet.

Unicorn Internet Archaeology is a danger to serious Bible study. Hitching your wagon to unrealistic claims will not only lead you down treacherous paths in your own spiritual journey, but it will also discredit your faith in the eyes of others. How can you share the Gospel of Christ with an unbeliever when they hear you citing biblical conspiracy theories? If you share a picture of an obvious geologic formation with your unsaved friends and tell them that it is Noah’s Ark, what will they think when you tell them that Jesus died for their sins and rose again?

So, how do we know which information is true and which is false? This can be difficult. I already mentioned that every time I go on Facebook or YouTube, I am bombarded with pseudo-archaeology. Sometimes I must dig deep to decipher what I am seeing. 

Luke wrote in Acts 17:11 that the believer should be like the Christians of Berea and check the facts. Look for more sources on the claims. If the article or video is legitimate, you should be able to search the internet for information on the archaeologists, sites and artifacts involved. Every legitimate dig should have its own website. Every archaeologist should be published, teach at a university, or otherwise have a presence in the archaeological community.

The good news is that we live in exciting times for biblical archaeology. The finds are coming out of the ground every day and only about 5 percent of Bible lands have been excavated. Some of the more exciting recent finds include a study that confirms the name of David on the Mesha Stele; more Dead Sea Scroll fragments; several early Hebrew inscriptions; seal impressions from a number of kings mentioned in the Bible; and the possible locations of David’s palace in Jerusalem and the Tabernacle at Shiloh. Another credible discovery is a lead tablet from an altar on Mount Ebal that appears to contain the earliest Hebrew written form of the name of God, likely written by the Hebrews while performing the ceremony recorded in Joshua 8.

What do we do with the wealth of legitimate information that is being excavated? First, we must understand that archaeology will never prove the Bible; it will, however, illuminate the text. My teacher, Dr. Scott Stripling, is fond of saying, “I might be able to prove that Jesus died on the cross, but I can never prove that Jesus died on the cross for your sins.” Biblical archaeology can enlighten us, encourage us and equip us, but convincing the unbeliever is the work of the Holy Spirit.

To avoid being a Unicorn Internet Archaeologist, we must maintain intellectual honesty, emotional maturity and biblical understanding. There is too much real verifiable archaeological evidence to waste our time and damage our credibility by following imaginary rainbows.

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Clayton Van Huss

Clayton Van Huss is a student at The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas where he is studying Biblical Archaeology. He digs in Israel at Shiloh with Associates for Biblical Research.

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