Startling Archeological Discoveries
From Grant R. Jeffrey's new book
The Signature of God
Can we trust the Bible? The answer is an overwhelming YES! The reason for this confident statement is that for the past one hundred and fifty years many brilliant scholars have conducted detailed archeological examinations at thousands of sites throughout the Middle East. The results of their discoveries have proven that the Bible is reliable and accurate in every single area where its statements could be tested. In the balance of this chapter I will share some of the wonderful archeological discoveries that provide tremendous proof that the Bible is a true and accurate record of past events in ancient Israel.
Throughout most of the last two thousand years, the majority of men living in the western world have accepted the statements of the Scriptures as genuine. However, beginning with the higher critical school of biblical critics in Germany and England in the nineteenth century we have witnessed a progressive abandonment of the historic faith in the Word of God. While European seminaries gradually abandoned the authority of the Scriptures, North American seminaries and Bible colleges still upheld the accuracy of the Bible to some degree. In the 1960s most North American seminaries still accepted the basic records of the Old and New Testaments as being historically true. However, in the following decades there occurred a wholesale abandonment of belief in the historical accuracy of the Bible. The attitudes behind these attacks on biblical accuracy and authority were those of complete rejection of God's inspiration of the Scriptures. In addition, many critics approach the Bible with an attitude of outright denial of supernatural events, such as miracles, and biblical prophecy. To these unbelieving critics, the presence of a miracle or prophecy in a biblical text was absolute proof that it was not genuine. Critics rejected the possibility of inspiration, miracles, and prophecy before they began their examination of the evidence.
Despite the overwhelming success unbelieving critics have had in establishing their unbelieving attitudes within the seminaries, textbooks, and popular media, something strange began to occur. The new discoveries by archeologists digging at sites in the Middle East continued to produce fascinating finds that contradicted their attitudes. Every new discovery in Israel and the surrounding nations provided tremendous confirmation of the accuracy of the Word of God in incredible ways. As a result of these continuing discoveries, Dr. Nelson Glueck, the most outstanding Jewish archeologist of this century, wrote in his book, Rivers in the Desert, this fascinating statement. "It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries. They form tesserae in the vast mosaic of the Bible's almost incredibly correct historical memory" (Dr. Nelson Glueck, Rivers in the Desert [New York, Grove, 1960], p. 31).
In confirmation of Dr. Glueck's statement, another respected scholar, Dr. J. O. Kinnaman, declared: "Of the hundreds of thousands of artifacts found by the archeologists, not one has ever been discovered that contradicts or denies one word, phrase, clause, or sentence of the Bible, but always confirms and verifies the facts of the biblical record." The well-known language scholar, Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, formerly professor of Semitic philology at Princeton Theological Seminary, made the following comment, "After forty-five years of scholarly research in biblical textual studies and in language study, I have come now to the conviction that no man knows enough to assail the truthfulness of the Old Testament. When there is sufficient documentary evidence to make an investigation, the statement of the Bible, in the original text, has stood the test" (Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, Speaker's Source Book, p. 391).
The Bible claims that it is the inspired and accurate Word of God. Therefore, it is vital that we compare the Scriptural records against the archeological discoveries uncovered at actual sites where many of the thrilling events of the Bible actually occurred. The results of these detailed investigations are available for anyone to examine. The archeological record provides overwhelming confirmation of thousands of detailed statements and facts recorded in the sacred Scriptures. Scholars have not found one single confirmed archeological discovery that absolutely disproves a statement of the Scriptures. To the contrary, as the evidence in The Signature of God reveals, the scholars have discovered literally hundreds of objects, inscriptions, and sites that confirm the accuracy of biblical statements in even unimportant areas. The most important thing for believers in God is that these archeological proofs of scriptural accuracy confirm the accuracy, the inspiration, and the authority of the Word of God. No one should expect that archeology will be able to provide detailed proof of such personal events like the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. By their nature, it is unlikely that such events in the lives of private individuals would ever leave any archeological evidence. Most personal events recorded in the Bible would never have left evidence that could be discovered thousands of years later. However, whenever the Bible dealt with the rise and fall of kingdoms, cities, buildings, etc., the spade of the archeologist has been able to discover wonderful confirmation of the truth of Holy Scripture.
Only fifty years ago many disbelieving scholars totally rejected the historical accuracy of the Bible because they claimed that the Scriptures talked about numerous kings and individuals that could not be confirmed from any other historical or archeological records. Recent discoveries, however, have shown that they should not have abandoned their faith in the Word of God so easily. If they had only trusted in the truthfulness of the Bible or waited a little longer they would have been rewarded with the recent archeological discoveries that confirm many biblical details, events, and personalities. For example, many scholars contemptuously reject the Bible's statements about King David. Many textbooks used in universities and seminaries openly reject any historical statements in the Scriptures about King David or Solomon. They believe that David is a myth or literary fiction. Examples of this approach include the books In Search of Ancient Israel, by Philip R. Davis, and the Early History of the Israelite People, by Thomas L. Thompson. He wrote, "The existence of the Bible's 'United Monarchy' during the tenth-century [B.C.] is . . . impossible"ÿ(Thomas L. Thompson, Early History of the Israelite People, [Brill: 1992]). These so-called "minimalist" scholars accept only the minimum about the Bible, rejecting every biblical statement unless it can be established by other non-biblical evidence.
This is a totally biased position and would be ridiculed in any other area of study. Imagine a student of Plato's Greek philosophy that rejected outright any statement by Plato himself, his followers, or any Greek philosophical writer in later years who quoted him favorably. This is an absurd way to approach the study of any subject. Yet many biblical scholars in the secular universities take this "minimalist" approach today. The rational way to study ancient history is to carefully examine every bit of evidence regarding a personality or event from both those who support and those who oppose the particular subject. The true scholar will then carefully weigh the evidence of all sources and come to a balanced conclusion based on the facts.
The House of David
Recent archeological investigations have demolished the position of those who rejected the biblical account of Israel's kings such as King David. In 1993, archeologists digging at Tel Dan in the Galilee in northern Israel found a fragment of a stone inscription that clearly refers to the "house of David"ÿand identifies David as the "king of Israel." This is the first inscription outside the Bible that confirms the Bible's statement that David was the king of Israel in the ninth century before Christ. Many Bible critics who had rejected King David as a myth were upset to discover their position could no longer be defended. Some critics suggested that the fragment was a "fake." The following summer, two additional fragments of the original inscription were found that provided scholars with the whole inscription, confirming that it referred to David as king of Israel. Furthermore, another scholar, Andre Lemaire from the College de France, discovered another ninth century B.C. stone inscription created by King Mesha of Moab that also referred to "the House of David." These incredible inscriptions, recorded a century after David's death, confirm that David was king of Israel at the time the Bible stated and that he established a dynasty, the "House of David"ÿas the Scriptures said.
A stone inscription from Egypt confirms that Israel was established as a nation in Canaan centuries before the reign of King David, just as the Bible claims. 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 the modern-day West Bank in Canaan, defeating the Jewish inhabitants of the land. The second line from the bottom of this inscriptions boasts, "Israel is laid waste; his seed is not."
Critics of the Bible have claimed for decades that the Bible's statements in Joshua about the conquest of the Promised Land in the centuries before the monarchy of King David were pure fiction. Obviously, the king of Egypt would not need to invade Canaan with an army unless the Jews had established a significant presence on the frontiers of the Egyptian Empire. In light of this new archeological evidence critics will be forced to relinquish their rejection of the Bible's record of Israel's conquest as stated by Joshua. Critics claimed that the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles were recorded by Jews living in Persia centuries after the events occurred. They suggest that such records contain numerous errors and myths. However, the Bible claims these books were written at the time of the events and that God's Holy Spirit inspired the writers to correctly record the events. When you compare the Word of God to the accuracy of the ancient historians such as Herodotus, you can quickly see that most ancient histories were nothing more than creative fiction and records of hearsay evidence without careful research or checking of facts. In stark contrast, the Bible is extremely careful and accurate as to events, chronology, sequence, and personalities.
In addition to the archeological evidence for King David, we now have confirmation of other kings of Israel. The name of Omri, king of Israel, is recorded on an inscription known as the Stela of King Mesha of Moab. In addition, Omri's name appears on the rock inscriptions of three kings of Assyria, the annals of both Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II, and the Black Obelisk of King Shalmaneser III, who wrote, "I conquered . . . all of the Land of Omri (Israel)." Other Assyrian inscriptions found in Nineveh confirm the Bible's records about these kings of Israel: Ahab, Jehu, Joash, Menehem, Pekah, and Hoshea. In addition, the names of many of the kings of the southern kingdom of Judah are also recorded on inscriptions of the nations that fought against the Jews. The inscriptions found by archeologists also confirm the names of these kings of Judah: Ahaziah, Uzziah, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Jehoiachin. Scholars found ration records of the army of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (606 to 562 B.C.) that state, "ten sila of oil to Jehoiachin, king of Judah. . . ." Obviously, the fact that these foreign nations listed the kings of Israel and Judah provides the strongest evidence confirming the accuracy of the Word of God.
In 1846, the explorer Austen Henry Layard discovered an incredible Black Obelisk in the ruins of Nimrud (present-day Iraq), the ancient capital of the great Assyrian Empire that conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. This six-and-a-half-feet-high Black Obelisk, a four-sided stone inscription, recorded the conquest of the Assyrian King Shalmaneser II over numerous foreign kingdoms including King Jehu of Israel (approximately 841 to 814 B.C.). A detailed examination of the obelisk reveals King Jehu bowing down in obedience to the Assyrian king. The obelisk refers to Jehu as the "son of Omri" indicating their awareness that his dynasty traced back to Omri in confirmation of the Book of Kings.
The Walls of Jericho
During excavations of Jericho between 1930 and 1936, Professor John Garstang found one of the most incredible confirmations of the biblical record about the conquest of the Promised Land. The results were so amazing that he took the precaution of preparing a written declaration of the archeological discovery, signed by himself and two other members of his team. "As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: the walls fell outwards so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city." This fact is important because the evidence from all other archeological digs around ancient cities in the Middle East reveal that walls of cities always fall inwards as invading armies push their way into a city. However, in the account in Joshua 6:20, we read, "the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city every man straight ahead, and they took the city." Only the supernatural power of God could have caused the walls to fall outward as described in Joshua's account of the conquest of Jericho (John Garstang, Joshua Judges, [London: Constable, 1931]).
Following the fall of East Jerusalem to the Jordanians in the 1948 War of Independence, the Jordanian army dynamited Jewish synagogues and other buildings in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem in the years following their conquering of the Old City. Nevertheless, this wanton destruction over a twenty-year period, until Jerusalem was liberated during the 1967 Six Day War, created a unique archeological opportunity. When the Jews recaptured the Jewish Quarter in 1967 they had to rebuild every building because of the Jordanian destruction. However, this made it possible for Israeli archeologists to remove the rubble built up over the last two thousand years and explore the bedrock of this fascinating biblical city. This was a unique opportunity because the existing modern buildings in most ancient cities prevent large archeological exploration. In addition to numerous discoveries confirming the accuracy of many passages in the Bible, the scholars, under the leadership of the archeologist Nahman Avigad of Hebrew University, found the remains of the wall of King Hezekiah built when the Assyrian army attacked Israel in 701 B.C. The Bible tells us that King Hezekiah built the walls of Jerusalem to resist the Assyrian armies: "And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was come, and that he was purposed to fight against Jerusalem, He took counsel with his princes . . . they did help him. Also he strengthened himself, and built up all the wall that was broken, and raised it up to the towers, and another wall without" (2 Chronicles 32:2-5). The archeologists found that portions of the wall actually cut through walls of recently built houses, indicating the urgency of the defensive actions and the authority of the king. This is confirmed in the Bible's own account, "And ye have numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses have ye broken down to fortify the wall" (Isaiah 22:10).
Dr. Millar Burrows, a professor at Yale University, studied the evidence that indicates the historicity of Abraham and the other patriarchs of Israel as recorded in Genesis. "Everything indicates that here we have an historical individual. As noted above, he is not mentioned in any known archaeological source, but his name appears in Babylonia as a personal name in the very period to which he belongs" (Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones?, [New York: Meridian Books, 1956], pp. 258-259). Burrows wrote about the underlying reason most scholars reject the authority of the Bible, "The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural. . . . On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scriptural record."
The Discovery of the Seals of Biblical Personalities
One of the most interesting discoveries in recent years was the finding of two bull', or clay seals, that bear the impression of the actual seal used by Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah the prophet who transcribed the Book of Jeremiah. Both bull' bear the inscription, "Belonging to Berekhyahu, son of Neriyahu, the Scribe." One of these clay seals is on view in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. However, the second bull' was found in Jerusalem earlier in this century and purchased by collector Shlomo Moussaieff of London who owns the greatest private collection of ancient Jewish inscriptions in the world. This second clay seal, bearing the same inscription, also reveals a fingerprint that probably belonged to Baruch.
At the beginning of this century a fascinating seal was discovered in Israel that bore an inscription of a beautiful lion and the words, "Belonging to Shema servant of Jeroboam." This amazing find indicates that it belonged to an official of King Jeroboam of Israel. Other seals have been discovered confirming the biblical records about King Uzziah (777 to 736 B.C.) and King Hezekiah (726 to 697 B.C.).
Another important seal found in Jerusalem dates from the seventh century before Christ and is inscribed as follows: "Belonging to Abdi Servant of Hoshea." This seal made of orange chalcedony, used to authenticate royal documents for security, belonged to Abdi, a high official of King Hosea, the last king of the northern kingdom of Israel before it was conquered by the Assyrian Empire in 721 B.C. Another large seal on red limestone was found bearing the inscription "Belonging to Asayahu, servant of the king"ÿtogether with a galloping horse. The name "Asaiah" is a short form of the name "Asayahu."ÿThis name occurs twice in the Old Testament in connection with the title "servant of the king." In 2 Chronicles 34:20 we find the name, "Asaiah a servant of the king's" and again in 2 Kings 22:12, "Asahiah a servant of the king's." It is possible that this seal was owned by "Asaiah, the servant of the king" a high court official who was sent by King Josiah to carefully examine the scroll of the lost Book of Deuteronomy that was found in the Temple by the High Priest Hilkiah in approximately 622 B.C.
Dr. Henry M. Morris concluded his in-depth study of the archeological evidence concerning the Bible with these words. "Problems still exist, of course, in the complete harmonization of archaeological material with the Bible, but none so serious as not to bear real promise of imminent solution through further investigation. It must be extremely significant that, in view of the great mass of corroborative evidence regarding the Biblical history of these periods, there exists today not one unquestionable find of archaeology that proves the Bible to be in error at any point" (Henry M. Morris, The Bible and Modern Science, [Chicago:ÿMoody Press, 1956]).
Explorers in Iraq in the last century found the ancient inscribed clay cylinder bearing the actual decree of King Cyrus of Persia allowing the various captured natives of many different nations to return freely to their ancient homelands. It was the government policy of the preceding Babylonian Empire of King Nebuchadnezzar to displace whole peoples such as the Jews and resettle them in the far reaches of their empire. However, King Cyrus of Persia, a moderate and God-fearing monarch, reversed the cruel Babylonian policy. Immediately after conquering the Babylonian Empire, King Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jews to freely return to their homeland in Israel ending the seventy-year-long captivity. The decree of King Cyrus began with these words, "I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king." After describing his conquests and deeds, the cylinder inscription reads, "I gathered all their former inhabitants and returned to them their habitations." In this incredible discovery we find the confirmation of one of the most astonishing events in the pages of Scripture. "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, he is the God, which is in Jerusalem" (Ezra 1:1-3).
The Archeological Evidence of the New Testament
Obviously, the entire basis for the faith and hope of Christians depends on the truthfulness of the historical records of the New Testament. Our hope for heaven and salvation itself depends on the accuracy of the words of Jesus of Nazareth and the apostles as recorded in the pages of the New Testament manuscripts. It is significant that there is a relentless attack on the reliability of the Gospels and the Epistles because those who hate the Bible understand that if they can cause men to doubt the New Testament, then their faith will be immeasurably weakened. Fortunately, the continued archeological discoveries during the last century have provided an awesome amount of further evidence that confirms the total reliability of the written documents that form the foundation of the Christian faith.
The English scholar, William Ramsay, traveled as a young man to Asia Minor over a century ago for the sole purpose of disproving the Bible's history as described by Luke in his Gospel and in the Book of Acts. Ramsay and his professors were convinced that the New Testament record must be terribly inaccurate. He believed that Luke could not be correct in his history of Christ or in his account about the growth of the Church during the first decades following Christ. Dr. Ramsay began to dig in the ancient ruins of sites throughout Greece and Asia Minor, searching for ancient names, boundary markers, and other archeological finds that would conclusively prove that Luke had invented his history of Christ and His Church. To his amazement and dismay, William Ramsay discovered that the statements of the New Testament Scriptures were accurate in the smallest detail. Finally, Dr. Ramsay was convinced by the overwhelming evidence proving the Bible's accuracy. As a result, he accepted Jesus Christ as His personal Savior. He became both a Christian and a great biblical scholar. As a result of his conversion to belief in Jesus Christ, Sir William Ramsay's books became classics in the study of the history of the New Testament. Another great scholar, A. N. Sherwin-White, was a great classical historical scholar at Oxford University who studied the extensive evidence for and against the historical accuracy of the Book of Acts. Sherwin-White wrote his conclusion after studying the evidence, "For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming . . . any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd" (Quoted by Rubel Shelley, Prepare To Answer [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990]).
Dr. William F. Albright was unquestionably one of the world's most brilliant biblical archeologists. In 1955 he wrote: "We can already say emphatically that there is no longer any solid basis for dating any book of the New Testament after circa A.D. 80." However, additional discoveries over the next decade convinced him that all the books in the New Testament were written "probably sometime between circa A.D. 50 and 75." Significantly, Albright concluded that the writing of the New Testament within a few years of the events it described made it almost impossible that errors or exaggeration could have entered the text. He wrote that the duration between the events of Christ's life and the writing was "too slight to permit any appreciable corruption of the essential center and even of the specific wording of the sayings of Jesus." In other words, Professor Albright, one of the greatest minds in the field of archeology and ancient texts, concluded that the New Testament records the truth about Jesus Christ and his statements.
Dr. John A. T. Robinson was a distinguished lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge and developed a reputation as a great scholar. Naturally, he accepted the academic consensus universally held since 1900, that denied the disciples and Paul wrote the New Testament and concluded that it was written up to a hundred years after Christ. However, an article in Time
magazine, March 21, 1977, reported that Robinson decided to personally
investigate for himself the arguments behind this scholarly consensus
against the New Testament's reliability because he realized that very
little original research had been completed in this field in this century.
He was shocked to discover that much of past scholarship against the New
Testament was untenable because it was based on a "tyranny of unexamined
assumptions" and what he felt must have been an "almost willful
blindness." To the amazement of his university colleagues, Robinson
concluded that the apostles must have been the genuine writers of the
New Testament books in the years prior to A.D. 64. He challenged other
scholars to complete original research necessary to truly examine the
question fairly. As a result of such a new analysis Robinson believed
that it would necessitate "the rewriting of many introductions to-and
ultimately, theologies of-the New Testament." Robinson's book, Redating
the New Testament, published in 1976, suggests that Matthew's Gospel was
written as early as A.D. 40, within eight years of Christ.