Archaeology of the Word


The Christian Bible has two sections: the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian writings (New Testament). Jesus, and his mother Mary, were devout Jews, deeply immersed in the scriptures and both testaments were written or recorded by Jews (with the exception of the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles which were written by Luke, a gentile convert and companion of Paul). Thus the first Christians, approached the study of scripture with a Jewish mindset.

The Jewish approach to scripture has been likened to the archaeological practice of digging down through layers of history. In the Archaeology of the Word (a term coined by Br Jack Discroll, CFC), we ‘excavate’ the text to discover precious insights hidden beneath the superficial, or literal, meaning of the words.

In modern English we have a variety of punctuation, stylistic options like footnotes and headings, and now, emoticons, to convey subtle layers of meaning. Originally an oral record, the sacred texts, especially the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) used other techniques to signal to the listener that there was something more to be discovered.

Some of the clues that alert us to the presence of another layer of meaning are listed below.

  1. Repetition: When a phrase is repeated, it often acts like parenthesis – pay attention to what is contained within them.
  2. Numbers: In Jewish tradition, and also in Christian practice, numbers have symbolic meaning. Three often marks a moment of divine intervention, seven recalls the Sabbath and the call to rest and forgiveness of debt, forty alludes to testing or purification.
  3. Questions: Often voiced by subjects in the scripture story, these are also intended to be answered by the reader.
  4. Times: Look for references to timing as it often gives clues to the state of mind of the people in the story, links the text to a previous story, or alludes to a qualifying context.
  5. Names: the name given to a person or place always has a meaning which gives additional insight into the revelation of God’s purpose.
  6. Structure:  Think about the text that precedes and follows the passage – how does the broader context illuminate the deeper meaning?
  7. Puzzling words & phrases: Whenever something seems strange or discordant, unexpected or out of character, dig deeper.
  8. Rhythm: Just like poetry, some texts also speak meaning through the rhythm. Speaking the text out loud often yields insights not apparent when simply read.
  9. Absence: Look also for what is missing or omitted in the text – such as details or expected explanations.
  10. Echoes of other passages: Whenever a similar theme or phrase from another text appears, look for how the linkage might give added depth to the understanding of the story.

For more ideas and insights into reading scripture as Jesus read it, visit

Share this story, choose your platform


Comment Policy

We love to hear your stories and ideas. Please keep your comments respectful, your suggestions productive and published under your own name. More info here


Sign up FREE to CathFamily

FREE weekly eNews curates seasonal topics making it easy for parents and catechists to locate and prepare faith-filled and fun activities.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get Social

Recent Posts


CathFamily is an initiative of the Parish & Marriage Resource Centre (PMRC) Australia.. The PMRC Relationship Education Foundation is a registered charity that supports marriage and relationship education activities. All donations in Australia over $2 are tax deductable. All of the administrative work of the Foundation is provided by volunteers and other support infrastructure is ‘gifted’ by other organisations.