by James R. Kautz
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 340 pages
Reviewed by John C. Bush
“Which is better: to hold your counsel or to help others who also struggle with belief, faith and commitment?”
Those whose theological education began in earnest in the decades between the early 1950s and mid-1970s cut our teeth on the writings of William F. Albright and his followers, such a G. Ernest Wright and John Bright. Albright was the grand old man of the discipline called biblical archeology that, under his guidance, focused on verifying the veracity of the biblical narratives and particularly those of the Old Testament.
From its very beginnings, secular archeologists as well as anthropologists challenged that school of thought. Though still staunchly defended in some largely conservative and evangelical circles, the consensus once forged by Albright and company began to crumble by the mid-1960s. The contemporary work of William Dever has taken the demythologizing of Albright and company further, insisting that “archaeology as it is practiced today must be able to challenge, as well as confirm, the Bible stories. Some things described there really did happen, but others did not.” One locus of that ongoing debate focuses on the historicity of the United Monarchy period – the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon over Israel and Judah, traditionally dated between 1050 and 930 B.C.
This debate sets the stage for James Kautz’s compelling and well-written novel, “Digger,” about the intersection where faith and science meet. The plot follows the pilgrimage of archeologist and seminary professor Paul Gartin as his fundamentalist upbringing is challenged by his academic and professional experiences. Though perhaps especially familiar to academics, his quandary touches the experiences of those who have struggled with their own tensions between tradition and recent discoveries and evolving theological understandings.
Gartin begins his academic career with a dream: to uncover evidence proving the intent and grandeur of the elusive kingdom of David. In his quest, Paul must relate to two worlds: his academic community of secular-minded scholars and a company of wealthy, hardline fundamentalists upon whose generous sponsorship his work depends and for whom any evidence that calls the biblical narratives into question is anathema. Deeply embedded in the story are the ancient history and contemporary politics of the Palestinian West Bank, Israel and Jordan, and the interplay of the two in the lives of people on all sides of those divides. Along the way, there is intrigue, romance and personal tragedy alongside enduring personal relationships and insightful social commentary. Plot development holds the reader’s interest and the people we meet along the way are real human beings about whom we come to care.
Kautz himself did archeological fieldwork in the region between 1966 and 1979 and taught biblical studies and church history at the undergraduate level. His background and personal experiences give the book an atmosphere of authenticity and guarantees that the reader will learn some theology, history and fascinating details about the art and science of archeology.
John C. Bush is a writer and retired Presbyterian minister living in Decatur, Alabama. His historical novel, “Patriots and Rebels,” is a Civil War story about southerners who fought for the Union.