The Strongest Biblical Archaeological Evidence

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The Rosetta Stone, with its trilingual inscription, was key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics.

efforts, Rawlinson received a knighthood from Queen Victoria in 1855.

Digging up forgotten cities

Another young British subject, Austen Henry Layard, drew inspiration from such discoveries and the fame it mann's efforts, thinking him to be on a fanciful search. But, incredibly enough, heeding the descriptions in Homer's Iliad and those by other Greek writers, Schliemann began to excavate. In 1871, he found the remains of the ancient city of Troy. Following in the footsteps of these dashing adventurers came the patient archaeologists who would study and classify these discoveries in a systematic way, giving birth to the scientific methodology of field archaeology.

The age of skepticism

Unfortunately, the zeal for fame and treasure of many of these early archaeologists also led to unfounded claims of the discoveries of biblical sites. Some of these claims, such as the supposed discovery of King Solomon's mines and David's tomb, were later

proved false. Seeds of doubt began to be planted regarding the accuracy of the biblical account.

The 20th century inherited the skep ticism of the preceding hundred years. Charles Darwin and others, espousing theories of evolution, had posited explanations for the origin and development of living creatures apart from a divine Creator. Such notions encouraged a questioning of the historicity of the Bible.

Also strong in Europe was the thinking inspired by Karl Marx, who in an economic, materialistic interpretation of history, discounted God and miracles. Many scholars ridiculed the biblical accounts as myth. The Bible became fair game for higher criticism; a tugging match ensued between believers in the inspiration and accuracy of the Bible and scoffers.

modern scholarship to the Bible they feel that some parts of it are 'contradictory,' and others are simply myths or fables. Some Old Testament stories are rejected by these critics because the events seemed to be 'immoral'" (Introduction to Philosophy, a Christian Perspective, 1980, p. 261).

Rejecting the divine inspiration of the Bible, archaeologists from liberal biblical institutes allowed

Biblical and theological scholars of the day declared the Bible was more recent in origin than it claimed; some argued the people of the Old Testament did not even know how to read and write. Some scholars concluded that most of the Old Testament was little more than myth.

Authors Norman Geisler and Paul Feinberg observe: "Perhaps the best example of those who hold the 'reason over revelation" view are known as 'liberals' or 'higher critics.' Roughly speaking, this refers to a theological movement that sprung from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European thought. It was influenced by Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel, who concluded by human reason that parts or all of the Bible are not a revelation from God. Other higher critics have included men such as Jean Astruc (1684-1766) and Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918).

"In contrast to the historic, orthodox view that the Bible is the Word of God, liberals believe that the Bible merely contains the Word of God. When they apply the canons of human reason or

Henry Rawlinson Cuneiform

Sir Henry C. Rawlinson deciphered cuneiform, the style of writing used in the ancient Babylonian empire.

themselves to be influenced by the age of skepticism in theology. Consciously or unconsciously, they became biased against the biblical account.

Skeptical of fall of Jericho

An example of such bias surfaced recently in the matter of dating the fall of Jericho. According to the biblical record, Jericho was destroyed by the Israelites under Joshua when they began their conquest of the promised land. However, excavations of the site of Jericho led some—most notably, renowned British archaeologist

Kathleen Kenyon—to reject the biblical version.

In Biblical Archaeology Review, archaeologist Bryant Wood explains the earlier antibiblical view: "The archaeological evidence conflicted with the Biblical account—indeed, disproved it. Based on [archaeologist Kathleen] Kenyon's conclusions, Jericho has become the parade example of the difficulties encountered in attempting to correlate the findings of archaeology with the Biblical account of a military conquest of Canaan. Scholars by and large have written off the Biblical record as so much folklore and religious rhetoric. And this is where the matter has stood for the past 25 years" (Bryant Wood, Biblical Archaeology Review, MarchApril, 1990, p. 49).

Evidence reexamined

Yet a réévaluation of Kenyon's work showed that her conclusions challenging biblical chronology were suspect, while the biblical account gained the strongest supporting evidence. Wood observes that Kenyon's "thoroughgoing excavation methods and detailed reporting of her findings, however, did not carry over into her analytical work. When the evidence is critically examined there is no basis for her contention that City IV [the level of the city that was thought to correspond to Joshua's time] was destroyed ... in the mid-16th century B.C.E. [before the Christian era]" (ibid., p. 57).

Time magazine added the following: "Over the past three decades, the consensus has gone against the biblical version [of the fall of Jericho]. The late British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon established in the 1950s that while the ancient city was indeed destroyed, it happened around 1550 B.C., some 150 years before Joshua could have shown up. But archaeologist Bryant Wood . . . claims that Kenyon was wrong. Based on a re-evaluation of her research,

Wood says that the city's walls could have come tumbling down at just the right time to match the biblical account . . . Says Wood: 'It looks to me as though the biblical stories are correct' (Time, March 5, 1990, p. 43).

And so, the lively debate regarding the Bible's accuracy continues between conservative and liberal archaeologists.

Discoveries verify biblical accounts

As the 20th century has progressed, several archaeological finds verifying the biblical record have come to light. In the early 1900s, German excavators under Robert Koldewey mapped the ancient capital of Babylon and found that it closely corresponded to the bib-

Continued on page 41


What can we say about the relationship between the Bible and archaeology? An illustration can help. Let us imagine two jigsaw puzzles. The first is the Bible, put together under the inspiration of God Himself. The pieces fit together perfectly. As God's Word says, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, emphasis added).

This first puzzle's primary purpose is to reveal not science and history per se but the record of God's dealings with humankind. Much of this revelation is knowledge that cannot be examined under a microscope or perceived through our senses. It is knowledge revealed by God.

Throughout the Bible, a common theme is God's participation in human history. Whether it be the creation account, His dealings with Israel or the early New Testament Church, God is central.

Much of this information is not the kind that archaeology can discover through the study of ancient remains. Yet God's inspired account of His interaction with living, breathing people is inserted into writings about the physical surroundings of those people. Such information is genuine and true, since God "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2).

Limits of archaeology

The physical evidence can be likened to a second jigsaw puzzle, one based on scientific evidence and that is valuable to our faith by its ability to confirm the veracity of the biblical accounts.

The second jigsaw puzzle concerns how archaeology and related disciplines can reveal physical evidence concerning biblical history. The picture presented is partial; not all archaeological evidence has survived. Conclusions derived from archaeological discoveries are necessarily uncertain. Like a puzzle, pieces can be initially misplaced. As new discoveries are made or better interpretations are offered, the position of some pieces can shift. Many pieces are faded and worn, making placement difficult.

Dating of biblical sites is based primarily on surviving pottery, with its distinctive styles associated with specific historical periods. What remains is an incomplete picture of the past. As archaeologist Paul W. Lapp com mented, "Palestinian archaeology may be past infancy but has hardly gotten beyond childhood." Archaeology is a developing and imperfect science.

Some archaeologists estimate that only one thousandth of the original artifacts have survived. Some 5,000 sites are known to scientists in Palestine, and only about 350 have been excavated. Of these, fewer than 2 percent have been extensively excavated. All conclusions, then, are based on small amounts of evidence.

Significant portions of the Bible now corroborated

How should the relative scarcity of evidence affect our Christian beliefs? Our faith should not be based on possession of all the material and historical evidence. Definitive analysis is not a prerequisite for determining whether or not the Bible is historically accurate and true.

In spite of the relatively small amount of material that has been excavated and analyzed, considerable evidence confirming the biblical account is available. More is being uncovered all the time. Significant portions of the Old Testament historical record have now been corroborated by archaeology.

Bryant Wood notes the consensus of archaeologists on the following point: "The purpose of Biblical archaeology is to enhance our comprehension of the Bible, and so its greatest achievement, in my view, has been the extraordinary illumination of the . . . time of the Israelite monarchy" (Biblical Archaeology Review, May-June, 1995, p. 33).

From c. 1000 B.C. through the New Testament period, the archaeological evidence is strong. Before that time, it is sparse. This is quite natural, considering the circumstances. As Wood explains: "Exploring that pre-history [before 1000 B.C.] is challenging: It requires tracing the archaeological record of a pastoral community, rather than an agrarian-based political entity that built cities and made contacts with surrounding nations" (ibid., p. 35).

We will never possess all the physical evidence. Most has been destroyed by time and wear. We cannot reproduce miracles, nor can God's presence be examined and confirmed in a laboratory. Faith will always be based primarily on spiritual discernment and trust in God's Word. gn

—Mario Seiglie


Continued from page 27 lical description. Egyptian history and culture generally matched the biblical accounts.

The archaeologist's spade has uncovered evidence of other ancient peoples mentioned in Scripture. One such example is the Hittite kingdom, mentioned only in the Bible, which had been dismissed by many critics as mythological. As Gleason Archer mentions: "The references [in the Bible] to the Hittites were treated with incredulity and condemned as mere fiction on the part of late authors of the Torah" (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 1974, p. 165). Yet, excavations in Syria and Turkey revealed many Hittite monuments and documents. These discoveries proved the Hittites to have been a mighty nation, with an empire extending from Asia Minor to parts of Israel.

Also important was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, written in ancient Hebrew script. The scrolls were found in caves near the Dead Sea in 1947. Some of them are books of the Old Testament written more than 100 years before Christ's time. Nevertheless, questions raised by earlier critics about the Bible's authenticity have shaken the faith of many.

Added dimension in understanding

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains: "There were nineteenth-century scholars who were convinced that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and perhaps even Moses were simply imaginary creations of later Israelite authors. But archaeology has put these persons in a real world. As a result, a scholar such as J[ohn] Bright, after devoting thirty-six pages to the subject, can write, 'the Bible's picture of the patriarchs is deeply rooted in history' . . . Archaeology supplies means for understanding many of the biblical situations[;] it adds the dimension of reality to pictures that otherwise would be strange and somewhat unreal, and therefore it provides an element of credibility. While the person of faith does not ask for proof, he does want to

feel that his faith is reasonable and not mere fantasy. Archaeology, by supplying him with material remains from biblical times and places, and by interpreting these data, provides a context of reality for the biblical story and rea-sonability for biblical faith" (1979, Vol. 1, p. 244).

Archaeological discoveries in Egypt and Iraq have been valuable in confirming the biblical account. However, much evidence still remains beneath

An atheist who set out to refute the Bible found himself accepting the Bible as God's Word because of his archaeological discoveries.

the surface. Much of the territory of the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah remains to be archaeologically explored.

Not until the end of World War I, when some of this area came under British control, did prolonged scientific surveys and excavations begin.

After the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Jews began to arrive in Palestine; the British, Americans and others were joined in digs by Jews in their ancestral homelands. Today there are some 300 sizable excavations underway in Israel, an extraordinary number for a country only 200 miles long and 60 miles wide.

Archaeology makes a believer

The abundance of archaeological evidence in support of the Bible can strengthen faith, and in some cases it has greatly contributed to giving birth to belief where none existed before.

An example of physical evidence building one's faith is the life of Englishman William M. Ramsay (1851-1939). Born in the lap of luxury, Ramsay was dutifully raised as a nonbeliever by his atheist parents. He graduated from Oxford University with a doctorate in philosophy and became a professor at the University of Aberdeen.

Determined to undermine the historical accuracy of the Bible, he studied archaeology with the aim of disproving the biblical account. Once ready with the necessary scientific tools and learning, he traveled to Palestine and focused on the book of Acts, which he fully expected to refute as nothing more than myth.

After a quarter-century of work, Ramsay was awestruck by the accuracy of the book of Acts. In his quest to refute the Bible, Ramsay discovered many facts which confirmed its accuracy.

He had to concede that Luke's account of the events and setting recorded in the narrative were exact even in the smallest detail. Far from attacking the biblical account, Ramsay produced a book, St. Paul, the Traveller and Roman Citizen, which supported it.

Eventually, William Ramsay shook the intellectual world by writing that he had converted to Christianity. Ironically, this man who set out to refute the Bible, found himself accepting the Bible as God's Word because of his explorations and discoveries. For his contribution to biblical knowledge with his many books, he was knighted also.

The study of archaeology can help fortify faith. It allows us to take a fascinating journey back in time to study the stones and artifacts that bear mute but compelling witness to the truth of Scripture.

What else has been found? Future articles in The Good News will describe discoveries that parallel and illuminate the biblical account. GN

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