archaeology confirm or deny the claims of the Bible?
by little, one city after another, one civilization after another, one
culture after another, whose memories were enshrined only in the Bible,
were restored to their proper places in ancient history by the studies
of archaeologists... Nowhere has archaeological discovery refuted the
Bible as history." 1
can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on
evidence, its based on a deep seated need to believe."
The advent of modern archaeology.
According to U.S. News
& World Report, "A wave of archaeological discoveries is altering old ideas
about the roots of Christianity and Judaism - and affirming that the Bible
is more historically accurate than many scholars thought." 2
Coming from a non-religious source, this is a significant endorsement for
the integrity of scripture. While archaeology is not or not entirely the
Christian's basis for faith, archaeology does provide objective and tangible
evidence in support of many of the Bible's people, places, and events.
The availability of
such evidence has not always been the case as Oswald Allis writes,
In view of the great
interest which now centers in archaeology, an interest which in steadily
growing, it will be well to call to mind the situation about a sesquicentennial
ago, when archaeological research in the modern sense began. Napoleon's
expedition to Egypt in 1798 has been referred to as marking its beginning;...
But excavation did not begin until about a half century later: with Botta
(1842) and Layard (1845) in Mesopotamia,... The situation prior to this
time has been well described by Ira M. Price. In The Monuments and the
Old Testament (1899), ...he called attention to the fact that the 'Old
Testament one hundred years ago stood alone in an otherwise unknown age.
It was the only known representative of the ten centuries preceding the
rise of Greece and Rome. ...If contradicted or challenged, [the Scriptures]
could make no reply.' 3
Describing how modern
archaeology has changed this picture, R. K. Harrison records,
has now furnished a vast amount of material which enables a reasonably
precise picture of life in the lands of the Bible to be drawn as far back
as the Neolithic period, and perhaps even beyond. Comparative studies
have resulted in a substantial correlation of Palestinian culture with
its counterparts in Egypt, Asia Minor, the Aegean, and Mesopotamia. In
consequence the background against which the events narrated in the Old
Testament took place has been widened immeasurably since the days of Wellhausen,
so that it is now possible to reconstruct entire periods of Old Testament
history in a manner unknown to earlier generations of scholars.' 4
4.2 What has archaeology revealed?
CONCERNING WRITING AND ACCURACY
In today's era in which
archaeology is proving to be one of the Bible's best supporting witnesses,
the most dramatic archaeological discoveries are those that completely upset
ideas or theories previously thought to be true. Among the discoveries are
the Dead Sea Scrolls
which have proven that the Old Testament writings are indeed ancient and
have maintained nearly perfect accuracy in transmission. The tablets
at Ebla are another discovery which have proven that writing existed
far prior to Moses' era, contrary to earlier criticisms.
-- CONCERNING LOST KINGS AND CIVILIZATIONS
The Hitite civilization
was once considered fictitious because it was only mentioned in the Bible.
That is until 1906 when the German archaeologist Winckler discovered the
Hitite's capital city along with their entire history recorded on cuneiform.
Not only had the Bible been validated concerning the Hitites, but the cuneiform
tablets gave an early history conforming to that described by the Bible.
Hititology eventually became a major in several universities.
The book of Daniel was
once thought to be wrong in mentioning two concurrent kings of Babylon,
neither of whom had been found anywhere else in history. Then in 1854, J.G.
Taylor unearthed writings of the king, Nabonidus, and his son, Belshazzar,
the crown prince. 6
Upon this discovery, Daniel's labeling of Belshazzar as king was still thought
to be in error. But this too was clarified by a 1979 discovery of a statue
in northern Syria which, in two languages, described Belshazzar's position.
The Assyrian text described
him as governor, which was his official title, while the Aramaic described
him as king, the role which he had been given over them. 7
This fine distinction in titles had been lost since Daniel's writings over
2,500 years ago as had also been lost detailed descriptions of the Babylonian
Court and empire. 8
If not truly authored by Daniel, or someone of his time, who else would
have included the so-called obvious mistake of two concurrent kings? Who
else would have known accurate details of the ancient city - both of which
had long remained lost until the twentieth century? J.D. Wilson reiterates,
The more I read and
reread [Daniel], the more I am struck with the truth of the tableaux of
the Babylonian Court traced in the first six chapters. Whoever is not
the slave of preconceived opinions must confess when comparing these with
the cuneiform monuments that they are really ancient and written but a
short distance from the Courts themselves. 9
-- CONCERNING LIFE AND CUSTOMS
Tablets of writing
from Mari on the Middle Euphrates (c.1700-1600 BC) and Nuzi on
the Tigris in northeastern Iraq, discovered in 1925, give corroborating
accounts as to the life and customs recorded in the Bible. Henry T. Frank
We have already seen
that Abraham's haggling with Ephron concerning the purchase of the Cave
of Machpelah was in accordance with common ancient practice. Apparently
Abraham wished to purchase only the cave itself in which to bury his wife
Sarah. Yet governed by Hitite practice he had to buy not only the cave
but the land and the arbors associated with it. This assumption of feudal
obligation described in Genesis 23:1-20 is exactly in accord with the
recovered Hitite documents from Boghazkoy in which such details are stressed.
Gleason Archer lists
more events for which the Nuzi Tablets serve as proof and context of the
activity of early biblical patriarchs:
(a) Abraham's reference
to his servant Eliezer as 'son of his house' in Genesis 15:2 (prior to
the birth of Ishmael and Isaac) indicated that he had adopted him as his
legal heir. God's rejection of this arrangement (Gen. 15:4) might have
occasioned Abraham embarrassment had it not been customary (as Nuzi texts
show) to set aside the claims of an adopted son if a natural heir was
subsequently born into the family. (b) The legitimacy of selling one's
birthright (as Esau sold his to Jacob in Gen. 25:33) was established at
Nuzi, for in one case the older brother was validly recompensed by a payment
of three sheep... (c) The binding character of a deathbed will, such as
was elicited from Isaac by Jacob, is attested by a case where a man named
Tarmiya established his right to a woman he had married by proving that
his father on his deathbed orally bestowed her on him. 11
Another testimony for
the Bible is provided upon the walls of the great temple of Karnak
in Upper Egypt. An Egyptian attack upon Palestine is recounted corresponding
to that of 1 Kings 14:25 and 26. It lists the specific cities attacked and
even references the Field of Abram: "the first time that a source outside
the Bible confirms that patriarch's connection with a locality in Palestine."
-- CONCERNING NEW TESTAMENT PERSONS AND PRACTICES
The Book of Luke was
also scoffed at by critics unable to find outside support for persons and
events mentioned within it. Though critics presumed it guilty until proven
innocent, the book of Luke is continually being affirmed by on-going archaeology.
Research shows that not many years prior to Jesus' birth a regular enrollment
of taxpayers by Rome was actually initiated. Such a census took place in
Syria and Judea as documented in an ancient inscription called the Titulus
An Egyptian papyrus
from AD 104 confirms the necessity of returning to one's homeland for
this census: "Because of the approaching census it is necessary that all
those residing for any cause away from their homes should at once prepare
to return to their own governments in order that they may complete the family
registration of the enrollment and that the tilled lands may retain those
belonging to them." 14
Another critical claim
was the non-existence of Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea. This claim was
silenced in 1961 when an excavation of Caesarea, the Roman capital
of Palestine, uncovered an inscription bearing both Pilate's name and title.15
Similarly did Gallio, proconsul of Achaea, and Lysanias, tetrarch of Abilene,
go from Bible myth to archaeological fact. 16
Luke's title of
Publius as "first man" and his use of "politarchs" as civil authorities
were neither believed by critics until discovered in non-biblical texts.
Craig L. Blomberg records
a number of archaeological finds that coincide with events recorded in the
gospel according to John:
unearthed the five porticoes of the pool of Bethesda by the Sheep Gate
(John 5:2), the pool of Siloam (9:1-7), Jacob's well at Sychar (4:5),
the 'Pavement' (Gabbatha) where Pilate tried Jesus (19:13), and Solomon's
porch in the temple precincts (10:22-23)... Since then, discovery of an
ossuary (bone-box) of a crucified man named Johanan from first-century
Palestine confirms that nails were driven in his ankles, as in Christ's;
previously some skeptics thought that the Romans used only ropes to affix
the legs of condemned men to their crosses. And less than five years ago,
in 1990, the burial grounds of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, and his
family were uncovered in Jerusalem. These and numerous other details create
a favorable impression of the Gospel's trustworthiness in the areas in
which they can be tested.17
Sir William Ramsay,
famed archaeologist, began a study of Asia Minor with little regard for
the book of Acts. He later wrote
I may fairly claim
to have entered on this investigation without prejudice in favor of the
conclusion which I shall now seek to justify to the reader. On the contrary,
I began with a mind unfavorable to it,... It did not then lie in my line
of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found
myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for
the topography, antiquities and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually
borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.
4.3 What archaeology cannot accomplish.
incremental confirmation of the Bible is shoring up the faith of those who
already believe it to be the word of God. Yet, no archaeological confirmation
is likely to ever deliver any kind of death blow to the side of disbelief.
For one thing, not every statement in the Bible is of the nature that
it has left behind material evidence to survive thousands of years of time.
Allis writes on this
confirm the setting and background of the life of Abraham. It has done
so to a remarkable degree. But it is not likely that any personal records
of his life beside those contained in the Bible will ever be discovered.
This is unlikely for several reasons. One is the fact that the Bible tells
us so little about the life of Abraham and this little is told largely
in terms of Abraham's intimate, personal experience. The other is that
Abraham's contacts with the great world, even his victory over Chedorlaomer
and his fellow kings (Gen. 14), were hardly likely to find a place in
the historical records of his contemporaries.
It is also to be remembered
that there is a vast difference between the religion of Israel and the
cults of the neighboring peoples. The religion of Israel was spiritual;
her neighbors were all idol worshippers. Consequently, while images of
the heathen gods - especially Astarte plaques - abound, there are no images
of Israel's God to be discovered and no temples except the one at Jerusalem.
Material evidences of Israel's worship (wood, stone, or metal) will therefore
indicate not the true worship of her people but its perversion. 19
Archaeology is a major
pillar for belief in the Bible for those who will accept it. However, any
kind of archaeological evidence that seems to support the Bible will always
be dismissed by those who believe exists a superior avenue of discovering
the truth. For many critics, formerly including myself, that superior avenue
In many ways, science
is the religion of the irreligious; revering both the practitioners of science,
as well as its methods and philosophies. This view of science as a possible
alternative to religion is begun in the next section.
NEXT: How do science and the Bible compare?
do we determine the age of the documents?
Was Christianity cut-and-pasted
from other religions?
The war of philosophies