Is the Bible History?, part II

“If archaeologists and historians could not find correlation between archaeology and the biblical text, there would be no such thing as ‘biblical archaeology’. But of course they do find such correlation, and lots of it.”  — Dr. Craig A. Evans, author of Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence

Givati Parking Lot Excavations (arch. dig in Jerusalem)

This is a sequel of sorts to my “Is the Bible ‘History’?” post from a couple months ago. In that one, I cautioned against judging the content of the biblical text using modern standards, especially when not allowing for different authorial styles, purposes, and genres. Citing from an article by Kirk Lowery, the post affirmed that the Bible does indeed record real, historical people, places, and events that took place in various time periods.

In modern history, however, a skeptical approach has been adopted by many academics and laymen alike. It became quite popular to assume that the Bible was mere myth and legend, especially when clear evidence for certain individuals, people groups, kingdoms, and cities had not yet been found by professional archaeologists. In other words, until a document or other artifact is found and “proven” to support something from the Bible, it is assumed to be fiction. So, I decided that another post was in order, this time listing several examples of important archeological finds that support the biblical record. As before, I turn to an article from  Holman’s Apologetics Study Bible (2007), this one titled “How Has Archaeology Corroborated the Bible?” by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

“The real role of archaeology is not to ‘prove’ the Bible, for that kind of ‘proof’ is available only in certain deductive sciences such as mathematics and logic. On the contrary, the role of archaeology is: (1) to supply cultural, epigraphic, and artifactual materials that provide the background for accurately interpreting the Bible, (2) to anchor the events of the biblical text in the history and geography of the times, and (3) to build confidence in the revelation of God where the truths of Scripture impinge on historical events.

Over the last century or so, archaeology has strengthened the case for biblical reliability. Missing individuals, peoples, places, and obscure customs, historical, and political settings have been helpfully identified.

Missing Individuals
It had been fashionable in some circles for many years to ridicule Isaiah 20:1 for its allusion to ‘Sargon king of Assyria.’ Excavations of Nineveh had seemingly revealed all the kings of Assyria, but there was no Sargon. The Bible must have gotten it wrong. However, in 1843, Paul Emile Botta found a virgin site northeast of Nineveh, later excavated by the University of Chicago with details published in the 1930s. Sargon had built his own capital there in 717 BC. His son, however, moved the capital back to Nineveh, so the site was lost as was Sargon’s name. Now Sargon is one of the best known Assyrian monarchs.

Relief of Winged Bull of Nineveh, from Palace of Sargon II (Louvre Museum)

Likewise, the bible contended that King Belshazzar was the final ruler of Babylon (Dn 5:1,30), but until AD 1929, the extra-biblical evidence pointed to Nabonidus as king at the fall of Babylon in 539 BC. This apparent conflict was solved when documents were discovered revealing that Nabonidus spent his time in Arabia, leaving the affairs of the kingdom to his eldest son Belshazzar, who reigned as co-regent for a decade or so.

Discoveries of other biblical names have confirmed biblical reliability, including King Jehoiachin’s presence in Babylon, Sanballat as governor of Samaria along with some of Nehemiah’s adversaries such as Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab (Neh 2:19). Other discoveries confirm well-known biblical individuals such as Balaam, David, Ahab, Jehu, Hezekiah, Manahem and others.

Missing Peoples
Until Hugo Winckler discovered the Hittite Empire in 1906, many unbelievers doubted the Bible’s insistence that the Hittites were part of the land of Canaan (Gn 10:15; Jos 1:4). Now they are so well documented that a score of volumes has been necessary to build a Hittite dictionary based on the tablets left in their civilization. [Ed. Note: In fact, I happen to have a copy of a book by Dr. E. Neufeld titled The Hittite Laws: Translated into English and Hebrew with Commentary (1951).]

Another mystery group were the Horites, descendants of Esau from Edom (Gn 36:20; Dt 2:12,22). But in 1995 Giorgio Buccellati discovered the Horite capital city beneath the modern Syrian city of Tell Mozan.

Missing Places
First Kings 9:28 claimed King Solomon brought back 16 tons of gold from Ophir. But where was Ophir and did it really exist? In 1956 at Tell Qasile in Israel, broken pottery was found with an inscription referring to a shipment of ‘gold of Ophir for Beth-Horon, thirty shekels.’ Thus, Ophir was confirmed as known in the world of commerce with its trade in gold. Ophir is identified today as a port some 60 miles north of Bombay.

Another example is the disputed list of sites along the route of the exodus in Numbers 33. But Charles Krahmalkov noted three ancient Egyptian maps of the road from Arabah to the Plains of Moab, with the earliest of the three maps inscribed on the walls of Karnak in the reign of Thutmosis III (c. 1504-1450 BC). According to the list, the route from south to north follows precisely the way the Israelites listed in Numbers 33 with four stations especially noted: Iyyim, Dibon, Abel, and Jordan.

Other Sensational Finds
Discovered by Grenfeld in Egypt in 1920, the ‘John Rylands Papyrus’ yielded the oldest known fragment of a NT manuscript. This small scrap from John’s Gospel (Jn 18:31-33,37-38) was dated by papyrologists to AD 125, but since it was so far south into Egypt, it successfully put an end to the then-popular attempt to late-date John’s Gospel to the second century rather than to the traditional first century date of AD 85-90.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1948 in caves at Qumran, near the northwest end of the Dead Sea, gave us some 800 manuscripts of every book (in part or the whole) of the OT except for Esther. Prior to that, the earliest Hebrew texts dated to around AD 1000, but the scrolls at Qumran are generally more than one thousand years older! These Hebrew texts illustrate that a thousand years of copying had provided us with an amazingly pure text, with one of the best examples being the book of Isaiah where only three words had slight modifications.

In 1990, a bone chest was discovered accidentally during work in Jerusalem’s Peace Forest. This ‘Caiaphas Ossuary’ belonged to the high priest from AD 18-36 (see his cynical words in Jn 11:49-53). The inscription, found in two places, read: ‘Caiaphas’ and ‘Joseph, son of Caiaphas.’ First-century Jewish historian Josephus provided the full name, ‘Joseph, who is called Caiaphas of the high priesthood.’

Space precludes discussion of the many more archaeological corroborations, such as the Pontius Pilate Inscription, the Pool of Siloam excavated in 2004, and the amazing Ketef Hinnom Amulets discovered in 1979 (with inscriptions of Nm 6:24-26 and Dt 7:9 perfectly matching the biblical Hebrew text — amazing since these seventh to sixth century BC amulets contain OT texts skeptics argued could not have been written until the 400s BC.)

Archaeology, then, has illuminated and corroborated the Bible in numerous ways. The interpreter finds in archaeology a good friend for understanding and substantiating Scripture.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this stuff encouraging and exciting. The fact that the people and things found within the Bible are set in history — and not merely “once upon a time in a land far away…” — should make them even more real to us as readers. These discoveries also not only provide insights into ancient history and peoples, which are valuable in themselves, but they give ever-increasing physical evidence that the biblical accounts are historically reliable. The Bible cannot be simply dismissed as fictions and fables.

If you are curious to dig into this subject more, in addition to the book mentioned in the opening quote, here are a couple more substantial texts: On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2003) by Kenneth Kitchen and Archaeology and the New Testament (1991) by John McRay. My copies are several years old, but there may be newer editions. An even older but handy introductory book that you might be able to find used is Archaeology and the Bible (1979) by Donald J. Wiseman and Edwin Yamauchi. (There are others, of course, but these are ones I am familiar with, and they are by respected archaeologists with a “high view” of Scripture.)

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