Archaeology Proves the Bible Record

Uzziah Tomb Inscription

Uzziah Tomb Inscription

The world today is deluged by opinions. Opinions that sound good become accepted as truth.  Opinions that are widespread and widely accepted come to be considered incontrovertible, conventional wisdom.

One such opinion that is tossed around today and widely accepted is that the Bible is rife with historical error.  Many so-called scholars have promoted this idea with enthusiasm.  One must realize that these “scholars” have their own agendas:  religious, anti-religious, anti-supernatural, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, or very often political.  One does not go around “disproving” the Bible without a reason.

As a trained interpreter of the Bible and a student of Biblical archaeology, I have never found a fact in the Bible, historical or otherwise, that has been truly disproved.  Some events, like Creation, will likely never be proved to everyone’s satisfaction.  That is okay, since God never intended people to believe in him because of “proof,” but by a first-hand encounter with him through faith.

But a multitude of Biblical facts have been proved beyond reasonable doubt. It has been the habit of many Bible scholars to disbelieve anything that has not been proved three times over.  Many still maintain that the bulk of facts in the Bible were simply made up. Again and again, archaeology proves them wrong, and the Bible right.

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 13, 18, 19) was long considered a myth.  No one could have inhabited the arid land south of the Dead Sea, they said.  But archaeologist Nelson Glueck, believing the Bible, undertook a survey of the region in the years of 1933-46.  He found many such sites of habitation, abandoned or destroyed in antiquity.

Kathleen Kenyon, the foremost excavator of Jericho (1952-58), reported finding no evidence of the miraculous flattening of its walls as recorded in Joshua 2-6.  Scholars have long considered her opinion conclusive.  I have visited the mound (“tell”) of Jericho, however.  Only isolated portions have been unearthed — but broad conclusions were nevertheless drawn by Kenyon.  More recently, archaeologist Bryant Wood examined Kenyon’s own evidence, and found her findings to confirm the Biblical record.

Scholars have assumed that many names of people and places in the Bible were simply made up by the writers.  One of these names was that of Sargon, king of Assyria (reigned circa 722-705 B.C.).  The name Sargon was found nowhere other than a brief mention in Isaiah 20:1, until French archaeologist Paul Emile Botta unearthed his throne room in Khorsabad in 1843.  A number of inscriptions bearing the name Sargon were found.

Another discovery related to Sargon took place in 1989 at Nimrud (Calah).  A royal tomb was found hidden beneath the floor of a palace room previously excavated in the 1950s.  It contained the remains of Atalia, wife of Sargon; Yabay, wife of Tiglath-Pileser III (2 Kings 15:29); and a gold bowl bearing the name of Baniti, wife of Shalmaneser V, along with other artifacts.  Elsewhere was found an inscription to the wife of Ashur-Nasirpal II.  Other recent discoveries have yielded hundreds of cuneiform tablets which have yet to be deciphered.

On the subject of tablets (the clay slabs upon which they wrote in cuneiform), accounts of Creation and Noah’s Flood, similar to the Biblical accounts, were found long ago and are well known.  (The Flood story is universal, showing up in the the lore of such far-flung peoples as the Aborigines of Australia and the native peoples of North America.)  The Mesopotamian Flood and Creation stories on the tablets are much longer than their Biblical counterparts, and contain multiple gods and outlandish occurrences.  Scholars insist that the later Hebrews must have shortened these stories, making them monotheistic and less “magical” — in which form they eventually found their way into the Bible.  But this would be a singular and unlikely event, since stories are more often lengthened and elaborated-upon than shortened, especially among pagan, polytheistic peoples.  In other words, the pagans took the shorter, monotheistic accounts and added gods and mythological details.

I believe Abraham took these more ancient, monotheistic versions of the Flood and Creation with him when he left Ur of the Chaldees. He handed the stories down to his descendants, the Hebrews, who possess them today in the Bible.  The proof of this theory will come if and when ancient tablets bearing the shorter, monotheistic versions of the stories are discovered.

Scholars and scientists have a way of giving the general public the impression that they already have all the facts, but this is not the case.  They are often very protective of their theories, and resent having them questioned.  But recent discoveries show that there are still a lot of facts left to dig up (literally).  In my observation, new facts overwhelmingly confirm the validity and veracity of Bible history.

In scholarly circles, unfortunately, to believe in the supernatural is to be ridiculed by one’s colleagues.  An example is that of Hans Goedicke, who believes that the Egyptian army was indeed drowned in the Red Sea, and therefore has become a laughingstock.  But even secularized scholars must bow to the Bible’s reliability:

“Now, I surely don’t believe that 600,000 people crossed the desert as the Bible says,” admitted archaeologist Yigal Shiloh, “but on the other hand, I’m not ready to disregard the Bible altogether.  I’ve dealt with the Bible enough, as a secular person, to understand that it’s not just a bunch of legends of the elders to explain what happened.  There is something to it” (Biblical Archeology Review, May/June 1988, pp. 45f.).

While speaking of the Exodus, the traditional dating of the departure of the Israelites from Egypt is during the reign of Rameses II (1279-1212 B.C.).  Scholars argue that the Exodus never took place, since no inscriptions record it.  But as has often been pointed out, no proud king would ever chisel news of his defeats in stone to be read throughout the ages.  There is, however, an inscription on the wall of the great Karnak temple at Thebes which declares a victory over Israelites in Canaan by Pharoah Merenptah, the son of Rameses.  What would be more natural than the son of a defeated king boasting of victory over his father’s enemies?

The names of persons and places in Genesis, and the cultures and practices portrayed, have a resounding ring of authenticity.  The first chapters of Genesis have a distinct Mesopotamian flavor.  After Abraham’s migration to Canaan, the mood changes.  Names of people and places, as well as the social, political, and cultural setting, accurately depict the situation in that frontier area.  The laws by which Abraham governs himself conform accurately to those of the period and locale.  Then beginning with Joseph’s captivity in Egypt, the names are authentically Egyptian, along with the setting.  It is unlikely that any one person, were he writing a fictional account, would have had such a grasp of these three diverse regions and cultures.

With the Exodus, the scene changes from Egypt back to Canaan, and so does the flavor.  The Scripture often records the original Canaanite place name along with the new Hebrew name (for several examples, see Joshua 15:8-15).

William F. Albright has shown many New Testament names to be authentic to the period.  Names such as Mary (Miriam), Martha, Elizabeth, Salome, Johanna, Sapphira, Jesus (Joshua), Joseph, James (Jacob), Judas (Judah), and Lazarus (Eleazar) are among the most common names found in first-century Palestine.

Scholars have sometimes considered names and places in the New Testament, as well as the Old, to have been made up.  Such was the case with Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who had Jesus crucified.  But an ancient plaque bearing his name, along with that of Tiberius Caesar, was unearthed in Caesarea in 1961.

Similarly, an inscription dedicated to a Corinthian city official named Erastus can apparently be identified with the Erastus mentioned in Romans 16:23.

The “Altar to an Unknown God” in Athens mentioned by Paul in Acts 17:23 has not been found, but was reported seen by Pausanias about A.D. 150.

A plaque which once marked the burial place of King Uzziah of Judah (Isaiah 6:1) was found in a Russian museum on the Mount of Olives by E. L. Sukenik in 1931.

The water tunnel dug by King Hezekiah has been discovered, along with an inscription of dedication (2 Kings 20:20, Isaiah 22:11).

The family tombs of Tobiah the Ammonite (Nehemiah 2:19) and the Sons of Hezir (1 Chronicles 24:15) have been found.

Time does not suffice to note the many Biblical names which have been found on official seals, on inlaid ivory pieces, in inscriptions in stone, and on pottery shards (used like note paper in ancient times).  Nor does it suffice to list the multitude of cities, buildings, and locations (like “The Pavement” of John 19:13) recorded in the Bible which have been found by archaeologists.

Further, I have not even mentioned the evidence of ancient manuscripts of Bible books.  For instance, the handwritten Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, dated to the second century B.C., differs in only a few letters from modern texts.

There are many more things in heaven and earth than meet the eye.  There are many cities and archaeological sites yet to be dug.  In Jerusalem alone, much of the city has never been excavated because of continuous habitation and modern buildings.  But I am confident that, as more facts are discovered, more assumptions will be overturned, and Bible history will be verified.

© 1991, 2011 Paul A. Hughes.  Originally published in two parts in The Polk County Enterprise, June 16 and 23, 1991.


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