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Does Archaeological Evidence Support the History Recorded in the Bible?

January 6, 2011

The literal method for interpreting the Bible is supported by what has been learned from archeology.  Archaeological evidence alone can never prove conclusively the inerrancy of Scripture or verify every miraculous and amazing story in the Old Testament. All it can provide is “spot checks” or “sneak peaks” into people and events that occurred in the ancient world.  If the people and historical events mentioned in the Bible are true then we should expect to find, at least some occasions, where they are confirmed or verified by extra-biblical sources.  Whenever we find out something about the ancient world from some artifact, we can compare this to what the Bible says about that time period and see if there is ever a contradiction, or if the spot check returns that on that point the biblical account is valid.

“It is important to remember when comparing archaeology to the Bible, that the Bible is itself an archaeological document of the highest caliber…Of all the documents known to man, only the Hebrew-Greek Scriptures have certified their accuracy and divine authority by a pattern of prediction and fulfillment completely beyond the capabilities of man and possible only for God” (more on this point later). (Archer, The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties)

That being said, I do think that observable information is useful here in spot-checking the accuracy of Scripture, not to prove or disprove it, but as an aid is growing our faith and illustrating that the Bible is exactly what it claims to be, the inerrant testimony of God.

This spot-checking has been done extensively.  What is amazing is that there has never been a single archaeological excavation that has uncovered evidence that refutes the history recoded in the Bible.  However, there has been so much evidence that has surfaced that supports things that are only recoded in the Bible and no where else.  This is really a fascinating subject.  If you like this kind of thing (and I do) I’d encourage you to research more on it.  I could give you some resources.  I don’t have the time or space (and probably your attention span) to go into a lot of examples here.  But, I will give a few.

True story…when I was a freshman in college, I was taking a world history class (general education requirement) my professor was teaching about the city of Jericho.  She said that they had recently realized there was another level to the city (buried underneath) and had completed an excavation.  She said, “For those of you who read the Bible you will find it interesting that they have located massive walls around the city.  The dimensions of the walls are exactly as recorded in the Bible.  The other interesting thing is that the walls appeared to collapse outward, away from the city.  There currently isn’t a theory about why the walls would topple outward instead of inward or just crumble.”  My professor was in no way a Christian.  She was very vocal about that point.  She was just being honest and reporting the archaeological facts . . . that completely align with the biblical account from Joshua.

In fact, the very archaeologist (Garstang) who excavated the site, made this amazing signed statement . . .

“As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: the walls fell outward so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city”.

For reference, here is Joshua 6:20 . . .

“. . . the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city every man straight ahead, and they took the city.”

More on the archaeological excavation of Jericho can be found here (http://www.christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a011.html)

Here is a very short list of some other important archaeological finds that reinforce what is written in the Bible.  In encourage you to take some time to look into them.

Herod’s temple……………………..Jerusalem         Lk 1:9

Early synagogue……………………Capernaum       Mk 1:21

Pool of Siloam………………………Jerusalem         Jn 9:7

Pool of Bethesda…………………..Jerusalem         Jn 5:2

The Pilate inscription…………….Caesarea          Lk 3:1

Remains of crucified man………Jerusalem         Lk 23:33

Peter’s house……………………….Capernaum       Mt 8:14

Jacob’s well…………………………Nablus             Jn 4:5-6

Okay, but the Bible claims really crazy, unscientific, and historically inaccurate things like that races of giants roamed the earth, right?  Well. . . it turns out, they did.  Much evidence has been unearthed that shows there were giants.  Pictured to the right is a giant human jawbone unearthed in Lovelock Cave, Nevada in 1996.  It is not a photoshoped image. It is on display at the Humboldt Museum at Winnemucca, Nevada. In fact giant human remains have been found all aver the world including Egypt, Italy, Patagonia in Argentina, Australia, and the western US.  If you are interested, here is a good web site on this: http://hubpages.com/hub/Human-Giants

Many do not believe the biblical account of  “Jonah and the Whale”, presumably because it was too far fetched.  However, there is certainly reason to believe that such an event is possible, even without the intervention of God that certainly occurred in the biblical account of Jonah.  To be fair, the Bible never actually says “whale”, just great fish.  In fact, a man being swallowed by a fish and surviving after several days has actually been documented, twice (in addition to Jonah)!  If you would like more info you can read this:  http://reasonableanswers.org/52-Is-Jonah-a-big-fish-story.html

What is more is that the Jewish historian Josephus testified that Jonah was an actual person.  He did not believe Jonah or the description of him in the Hebrew Scriptures to be allegorical.  Josephus wrote…

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Amaziah, Jeroboam the son of Joash reigned over Israel in Samaria forty years.”…”Jeroboam made an expedition against the Syrians, and overran all their country, as Jonah had foretold.  Now I cannot but think it necessary for me, who have promised to give an accurate account of our affairs, to describe the actions of this prophet, so far as I have found them written down in the Hebrew books.”

He then proceeds to retell the account of Jonah in the Bible.  Notice this first century historian talking about Jonah as an actual person. The logical conclusion is Josephus, a Jewish historian considered Jonah to be an actual person in history and not an allegory.  More on the reality of the person Jonah can be found here: http://reasonableanswers.org/51-Is-Jonah-a-big-fish-story.html.

Further, we now know through archaeology that Nineveh was a REAL place and that it was indeed a large city at the time of Jonah (as stated in the Biblical account).  It was discovered by archeologists in the 1800’s.  Before this, only the Bible mentioned this city.  Once again, spot checked; results…spot on!

What about the story of Noah and the flood?  Surely we know that is a myth.  Not so fast.  In fact, we there is substantial evidence that not only shows this story to be possible but probable.  Including petrified and fossilized sea life being found on top of the highest mountains (even Everest).  For more on this ready here: http://www.livingwaters.com/witnessingtool/pointstoponderabouttheflood.shtml

I could really write a book on all the examples of spot-checks confirming the reality of the biblical text.  In fact, many such books have been written.  Here are a few examples that I hope will help add some weight behind the assertion of the historical accuracy of the Bible.

  • Israel’s King Jehu Son of Omri (850 BC) depicted and mentioned by name on The Black Obelisk found in Northern Iraq.
  • Megiddo Seal bearing King Jeroboam’s Name (He was previously only mentioned in the Bible).
  • The Prophet Isaiah mentioned the Persian monarch Cyrus the Great by name almost 200 years before He was born.  Here is his tomb.
  • A Hexagonal Prism found in Nineveh in 1831 record records the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s 8th campaign, which includes his siege of Jerusalem during the reign of “Hezekiah the Judahite” in 701 BC. Another Biblical figure verified to be real.
  • The Israel Stela is an Egyptian victory stone that mentions conquering Israel in 1215 BC.  This is archeological evidence for the Nation of Israel existing in ancient times (even though many have argued this to by a Jewish myth).
  • The Nebuchadnezzar II Brick clearly proves the reality of the King who played an important role in the Bible.
  • The Babylonian Chronicle is a non-biblical record that confirms much of the history that is mentioned in the Bible. It mentions Nebuchadnezzar II’s campaigns in the west, where Jerusalem is.  It records the removing of Jehoiachin, king of Judah and inserting Zedekiah as king in his place, as recorded in Scripture.
  • 9th Century BC stone slab bearing the inscription “house of David”.
  • The Pharaoh Ramesses II is mentioned by name twice in the Bible (Gen 47:11 and Ex 1:11).  Here is his bust.
  • The Bible says (2 Chron 12) that Shishak, King of Egypt, invaded Israel and plundered many cities, including Jerusalem. Shishak’s own record of his campaign is inscribed on the south wall of the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak in Egypt. In his campaign he presents 156 cities of Judea to his god Amon.
  • Pharaoh Merneptah (1213-1203 BC) was referred to in Joshua 15:9.  His bust has been uncovered.
  • The bust of Antiochus IV “Epiphanes” (175-164 BC) has been discovered.  He was prophesied in the book of Daniel.
  • This one is awesome!  The El Amarna Letters. They provide the first evidence of the Hebrew tribes entering into the land of Canaan in ancient times.  Some of the tablets were anxious letters written from Jerusalem (Urusalim), warning the pharaoh an invasion by the ‘Habiru [Khabiru]’, who were approaching from Trans-Jordan.  This is a non-biblical account of the nation of Israel moving out of Egypt and into Canaan.  They were written during the time of Moses.  This discovery is highly important because they refer to events in the middle east in the 15th and 14th centuries BC. They refer to the Hebrews, they give evidence of the trustworthiness of the book of Judges.
  • Likely locations for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah have been discovered.  The entire areas are covered with a spongy ash. These two cities show clear signs of utter destruction. The layer of ash ranges from 4-20 inches in depth. Geologists suggest that, the earth spewed forth flammable hydrocarbons high into the atmosphere.  These were ignited by lightening or some other natural source and the flaming debris fell back to earth.  For more on this go here.
  • The fact that the Bible states that Israel derives it’s ancestry from Mesopotamia.  Archaeological findings agree.  Findings indicate that the Bible is correct in tracing the patriarchs directly back to the Balikh Valley in northwestern Mesopotamia.

I could go on and on.  There has been so much positive spot checking of the Old Testament historical figures and events.  I can see no reason not to take, at face value, the testimony of witnesses who prove themselves accurate over and over again, countless times.  Renowned archeologist William F. Albright stated,

“There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition . . . The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically, has been progressively discredited.  Discovery after discovery has established the accuracy of innumerable details, and has brought increased recognition to the value of the Bible as a source of history.”

Albright goes to add more in this lengthy quote.  It is long, but I think it is relevant to this discussion so I include it . . .

“The contents of the Pentateuch [Genesis – Deuteronomy] are, in general, very much older than the date at which they were finally edited; new discoveries continue to confirm the historical accuracy or the literal antiquity of detail after detail in it. . . It is, accordingly, sheer hypercritism to deny the substantially Mosaic character of the Petateuchal tradition. . . critics used to say the following” “Until recently it was the fashion among biblical historians to treat the patriarchal sages of Genesis as though they were artificial creations of Israelite scribes of the Divided Monarchy or tales told by imaginative rhapsodists around Israelite campfires during the centuries following their occupation of the country.  Eminent names among scholars can be cited for regarding every item of Gen 11-50 as reflecting late invention, or at least retrojection of events and conditions under the Monarchy into the remote past, about which nothing was thought to have been really known to the writers of later days.”

“Archaeological discoveries since 1925 have changed all this.  Aside from a few diehards among older scholars, there is scarcely a single biblical historian who has not been impressed by the rapid accumulation of data supporting the substantial historicity of patriarchal tradition.”

I find it very interesting that the Bible alone has withstood the scrutiny of archaeological investigation while none of the other religious documents can claim the same.  For example, the book of Mormon makes wild claims that there was a race of white men in North America that had an extremely advanced society.  The Mormon Church has spent millions funding excavations to uncover any evidence of this civilization and has totally failed.  Recent excavation of early Muslim mosques from about 670 AD shows that prayer was not towards Mecca as the modern Quran text states.  This is verified by written accounts of that day as well.

Further, the historical spot checking confirms that the events described in the Old Testament are written in the historical genre (not allegorical) and validates the literal interpretation.  This shows that the people, stories, and events described in great detail in the Bible are actual, historical realities.  They are not events invented by the author simply to “make a point” or to “teach a lesson”.  What we see is a continuing record of battles that really happened, kings who really ruled, cultures, tribes, cities, and nations that really existed, events that actually took place, destruction that actually happened, people who were really there, and a God who orchestrated all of it to bring about the redemption of mankind.

Millar Burrows, professor at Yale says . . .

“Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics.  It has shown in a number of instances that these views rest on false assumptions and unreal, artificial schemes of historical development.  This is a real contribution, and not to be minimized. . . The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural. . . On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record.  More than one archeologist has found his respect for the Bible increase by the experience of excavation in Palestine.”

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