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The rise of biblical archaeology, which came to dominate and control the archaeological investigation of Palestine, demonstrates how closely intertwined the study of the Bible and archaeology had become. European expansion opened up Palestine to much more extensive archaeological exploration. The European powers that were competing to control the land for strategic reasons were also competing to own and control its past. Political and economic power alone is never sufficient to maintain imperial adventures, cultural power is also required. Palestine's strategic importance to Britain in the struggle with France for control of the region was a crucial factor in the founding of the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1865. The period from 1920s onwards is often referred to as the golden age of biblical archaeology, a time when many of the major sites were excavated and many of the great figures of archaeology and biblical studies shaped their disciplines.
The quest for the social world of the Bible has been one of the major goals of biblical scholarship since the early nineteenth century. Travellers' reports from the Middle East of a culture radically different from that of the West; along with the increasing excitement of reports in the national press of archaeological discoveries in Palestine; captivated audiences across Europe and the USA. Such developments offered the prospect of revealing the world from which the Bible had emerged in the ancient past. Monumental works such as George Adam Smith's historical geography of Palestine brought alive an ancient landscape on which the biblical events were played out. At the same time; biblical scholars were trying to reconstruct the history and social contexts out of which the Bible arose in order to understand a foundational text for Western culture. The critical methods which emerged were designed to date and locate the biblical texts, or their constituent parts; in specific historical contexts in order to reveal their meaning.