Sunday, June 5

Does Archaeology Support the Hebrew Bible?

Archaeology itself is the study of ancient people, their cultures, traditions, way of life, ancient structures, and ancient knowledge. For a long time, skeptics and critics of the Bible, specifically the Hebrew Bible (from Genesis-Malachi), claimed that the Bible did not have any extra-biblical support, whether it was the likenesses of people mentioned in Scripture, certain cities and peoples, certain events, or other similar claims. In a recent entry we examined archaeology and its support of the New Testament. In this entry, we will examine some of the archaeology related to the Hebrew Bible period - and whether or not it supports it. (Photo credit: Henri Sivonen, kourosh e kabir, Marco Prins)

Going into the entry, let the reader understand that this is not a technical paper, nor is this an in-depth discussion or examination of archaeology related to the Hebrew Bible - there is an overwhelming amount, and therefore too much to discuss in a single entry, hence a selection of archaeology has been chosen for this examination. Biblical archaeology is "the science of investigating and recovering remains of past cultures that can validate, or at least shed new light, on the biblical narrative. Biblical archaeology involves the study of architecture, language, literature, art, tools, pottery and many other items that have survived the ravages of time."[1] Perhaps one of the most important and oft-cited archaeological evidences for the Hebrew Bible are the Dead Sea Scrolls. *Note: A future entry will go more in-depth concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls and their content, this is merely an overview.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are thought to have been studied and copied by the Essenes, were buried in a cave in Qumran for nearly 2000 years, near the Dead Sea. In 1947 AD, the scrolls were re-discovered, which are comprised of around 900 documents as well as fragments. The discovery is significant in that it was pre-dated before 100 AD - and includes the entire book of Isaiah, along with representations of every book with the exception of Esther. (A writing from the book of Esther is found in another scroll) The manuscripts that were found have been dated from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D., and aid in providing evidence for the accuracy of the copying and reliability of Scripture. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the earliest known manuscript of the Hebrew Bible was the Masoretic Text from 900 AD. The discovery of the scrolls eclipsed the text by nearly 1000 years, and in the process demonstrated the meticulous copying put into preserving God's Word.[2]

"The significance of the find is the age of the documents and the astonishing lack of variants to documents that have been most trustworthy such as the Masoretic Text, Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus. The vast majority of the variants (about 99%) are punctuation or spelling errors. Incredibly, none of the variants changed the meaning of the text, nor did they contain any significant theological differences. This gives us the assurance that the text we have today in our Bible is the same as the early church had two thousand years ago. No other secular manuscripts can make the same claim."[3] Indeed, the Dead Sea Scrolls is probably (one of) the most important archaeological discoveries not only in Biblical terms, but in general archaeology. The Dead Sea Scrolls also shed light upon the uncovering of Assyrian palaces in 1840 and on.

Isaiah provided numerous historical facts in terms of the Assyrians that confirm the historicity and accuracy of Isaiah, including the accurate predictive prophecies concerning the Assyrian empire. The Dead Sea Scrolls coupled with the Assyrian records provide evidence which confirms the genuineness and authenticity of the prophecies found in the book of Isaiah. The fact that the Isaiah scroll dated from around 300-100 BC yet the Assyrian palaces were not uncovered until over 1900 years later is rather significant when taken into consideration.[4] Another important archaeological discovery is the Tel Dan Inscription.

The Tel Dan inscription is a stele, which is an upright stone that is typically inscribed and subsequently used as a monument referring to an important event or achievement. Egyptians, Israelites, and many other nations across the Mesopotamian region are known to have utilized steles.[5] In 1933, archaeologists at Tel Dan in Galilee (in northern Israel) discovered a stele which refers to the "House of David" as well as identifying David as the "king of Israel." The stele affirms that the United Monarchy existed under King David, which contradicts the long-held secular belief that King David never even existed. Some declared the stele to be a fake, yet the following summer two additional fragments of the same stele were found, which provided archaeologists and scholars with the entire inscription, confirming the reference to David as King.[6]

The Mesha Stele (Henri Sivonen)
It is significant because the Tel Dan stele is the first reference to David outside of the Bible. The stele was erected by Hazael, who was king of Aram (modern-day Syria). The stele refers to a military victory as well as corresponding with the biblical record found in 2nd Chronicles 22. The inscription has been dated to the ninth century B.C., around the time of David's existence. [7] Also, Andre Lemaire from the College de France, discovered yet another stone inscription dating from the ninth century B.C. which was created by Mesha of Moab, which made reference to the "House of David." This will be described later in the entry. To note, another stone inscription was discovered in Egypt, which confirms that Israel had been established as a nation in the land of Canaan centuries before King David's reign, as Scripture conveys.[8]

This is known as the Merneptah Stela. "The Merneptah Stela is a seven-and-a-half-foot-high stone inscription discovered in the temple of Pharaoh Merneptah at Thebes in Egypt. Scholars determined that Pharaoh Merneptah ruled Egypt from 1213 to 1203 B.C. and confirmed that he launched an invasion into the area of modern-day West Bank in Canaan, defeating the Jewish inhabitants of the land. The second line from the bottom of this inscription boasts, 'Israel is laid waste, his seed is not.'"[9] Evidently, there is certainly extra-biblical support for the existence of King David. David's elegy given at Saul's death is a reflection of the literary style utilized during his times. At an ancient Ugarit in Syria, Ras Shamra, excavations revealed - and clarified expressions such as "upsurgings of the deep," as opposed to "fields of offerings," found in 2nd Samuel 1:21.[10] The Ketef Hinnom Amulets are also another important biblical archaeological discovery. 

"Ketef Hinnom Amulets: In 1979, two silver scrolls that were worn as amulets were found in a tomb at Ketef Hinnom, overlooking the Hinnom Valley, where they had been placed around the 7th century B.C. The delicate process of unrolling the scrolls while developing a method that would prevent them from disintegrating took three years. Brief as they are, they rank as the oldest surviving texts from the Hebrew Bible. Upon unrolling the amulets, biblical archeologists found two inscriptions of significance. One is a temple priest blessing from the Book of Numbers: 'The Lord bless you and protect you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance to you and give you peace' (Numbers 6:24-26). The other is the tetragrammatonxt “YHWH,” the name of the Lord, from which we get the English 'Jehovah.' The amulets predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by 500 years and are the oldest known example of the Lord’s name in writing."[11]

The discovery at the Ebla archive is yet another demonstration of the plausibility and historicity of the Hebrew Bible. These documents written on clay tablets found in the 1970s in northern Syria demonstrated that the personal names as well as place names within the Genesis account was viable and genuine. In fact, the name "Canaan" was in use within Ebla, which is significant in that skeptics once claimed that it was not used correctly in the early chapters of Scripture. Also, the word "tehom" (meaning: "the deep") found in Genesis 1:2 was claimed to be a late word, illustrating a late writing of the creation account. However, the word "tehom" was part of the vocabulary found at Ebla - and was in fact in use several hundred years prior to Moses. To note, ancient customs found within the accounts of the patriarchs have also been found within clay tablets from Nuzi and Mari.[12]

Isaiah 20:1 was challenged and criticized by skeptics because of the use of king Sargon of Assyria, as there was no known king Sargon of Assyria. However, the palace of King Sargon II was found at Khorsabad, Iraq. The same event mentioned in Isaiah 20:1 was found to be described in the inscriptions along the palace walls, concerning Sargon's taking of Ashdod, including a library record which endorsed the battle against that Philistine city.[13] Isaiah 20:1 conveys, "In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and captured it..." Once again, biblical archaeological demonstrated the historicity and lent credence to the biblical record.

The Mesha Stele (ca.848 B.C.), mentioned earlier in the entry and also known as the Moabite Stone, records of revolt of Mesha, king of Moab, against Israel. The stele mentions Omri, who was the king of Israel, as well as David of the United Monarchy. Of note, the stele itself even refers to Yahweh, the name of the God of Israel. This revolt of Moab against Israel  found in 2 Kings 1:1 and 3:4-27, is recorded on the Mesha Stele.[14] Another interesting archaeological discovery is known as the Nabonidus Cylinder. (550 B.C.) King Nabonidus of Babylonian had a cuneiform cylinder inscribed, which mentions the name of his elder son, Belshazzar.[15]

This is significant because for years, biblical critics claimed that the record found in the book of Daniel was incorrect, and therefore the Bible was incorrect, that Belshazzar had never been a king in Babylon and that Nabonidus was also not his father. However, the Nabonidus Cylinder proved the critics wrong. Belshazzar mentioned to Daniel in Daniel 5:16, "Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom." For years, we were unsure what was meant by "third ruler in the kingdom." But this Cylinder conveyed the answer: Nabondius was in a cogency with his son, Belshazzar, the prince of Babylon. Sequentially, Daniel would have been made the third in command had he done those things.

In 2nd Chronicles 36:22-23 as well as Ezra 1:1-4, we read the decree from Cyrus the Great (who was predicted centuries before in Isaiah 44 and 45 to let the exiles go) to allow the exiles to return to Jerusalem. Not only has the tomb of Cyrus been found outside his capital of Pasargadae in modern Iran, but a clay cylinder was found in 1879 inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform which records the account of Cyrus' conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. (known as the Cyrus Cylinder) - confirming that Cyrus conquered Babyloan and subsequently let the exiles return to Jerusalem.[16]

The Hittites were yet another example of a tribe only mentioned in the Bible - until their records and capital were discovered at Bogazkoy, Turkey. Author Bryant Wood lists several other archaological extra-biblical evidences, "Campaign into Israel by Pharaoh Shishak (1 Kings 14:25-26), recorded on the walls of the Temple of Amun in Thebes, Egypt... Campaign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib against Judah (2 Kings 18:13-16), as recorded on the Taylor Prism. Siege of Lachish by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14, 17), as recorded on the Lachish reliefs. Assassination of Sennacherib by his own sons (2 Kings 19:37), as recorded in the annals of his son Esarhaddon. Fall of Nineveh as predicted by the prophets Nahum and Zephaniah (2:13-15), recorded on the Tablet of Nabopolasar. Fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-14), as recorded in the Babylonian Chronicles. Captivity of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, in Babylon (2 Kings 24:15-16), as recorded on the Babylonian Ration Records."[17]

It is also important to note that the likenesses of many rulers as well as many man-made structures mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. For example, he water tunnel beneath Jerusalem dug by King Hezekiah to provide water during the Assyrian siege, mentioned in 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30, can be accessed today by taking a trip to Jerusalem. A quick Google search may even provide a panorama of the tunnel itself. The royal palace in which Belshazzar held his feast and where David interpreted the handwriting on the wall (Daniel 5) has also been discovered, as has the royal palace in Susa where Esther (also known as Hadassah) was queen of Persia along with King Xerxes.

The Nabonidus Cylinder (Marco Prins)
In 2007, a clay tablet was deciphered in a British museum. This tablet is a receipt for a payment made by Nebo-Sarsekim, who was an official of Nebuchadnezzar and is mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3. The tablet was dated to 595 B.C., twelve years before the siege of Jerusalem and also the tenth year of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. Jeremiah had dated the visit of Nebo-Sarsekim to Jerusalem in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, which was sixteen months after Nebuchadnezzar had besieged Jerusalem (see also Jeremiah 39:1-3). Don Batten of CMI records, "...this latest finding is so significant because the person is a minor figure in history. A person writing some time after the events could be expected to get the major players correct, but to get the names of relatively insignificant persons right indicates that the writer was an eye-witness of the events and recorded them accurately."[18]

We have barely scratched the surface of biblical archaeology, especially in relation to the support for the Hebrew Bible. It is difficult to compile a short entry concerning the major evidences of archaeology, but for some, all it takes it a little taste for their fascination and interest to peak, and those individuals go on to research other major evidences and support that lends credence to the accuracy, preservation, reliability, truth, and historicity of the Biblical account. Just as Psalm 119:60 conveys, "Your word is true from the beginning: and every one of your righteous judgments endures for ever." (ASV)

Troy Hillman

[1] "What are some exciting discoveries in biblical archaeology?." Got Questions. Got Questions Ministries, n.d. Web. 4 Jun 2011. .
[2] Albright, William F. "The Dead Sea Scrolls." The Evidence Bible. Way Of The Master and Living Waters, n.d. Web. May 2011. .
[3] Ibid, [1].
[4] Wilson, Clifford, and Ken Ham. The New Answers Book 1. 12th ed. 1. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2009. 317-318. Print.
[5] Lanser, Scott. "Archaeological Finds." Answers: Building a Biblical Worldview. May 2011: 62-63. Print.
[6] Jeffrey, Grant R. The Signature of God. 4th ed. Toronto, Ontario: Frontier Research Publications, Inc., 1996. 72-73. Print.
[7] Ibid, [1].
[8] Ibid, [8].
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid, [4]. pp. 312.
[11] Ibid, [1].
[12] Wood, Bryant. "In what ways have the discoveries of archaeology verified the reliability of the Bible?." Christian Answers. Christian Answers Network, 1995. Web. 4 June 2011. .
[13] Ibid, [4]. pp.313.
[14] Ibid, [5].
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid, [4]. pp.315.
[17] Wood, Bryant. "Is there any confirmation of Biblical events from written sources outside the Bible?." Christian Answers. Christian Answers Network, 2001. Web. 4 Jun 2011. .
[18] Batten, Don. "New archaeological find affirms Old Testament historicity." Creation Ministries International. © Creation Ministries International, 31 July 2007. Web. 4 Jun 2011. .

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