Archaeological and External Evidence
for the Bible

Archaeology consistently confirms the Bible!

Archaeology and the Old Testament

  • Ebla tablets—discovered in 1970s in Northern Syria. Documents written on clay tablets from around 2300 B.C. demonstrate that personal and place names in the Patriarchal accounts are genuine. In use in Ebla was the name "Canaan," a name critics once said was not used at that time and was used incorrectly in the early chapters of the Bible. The tablets refer to all five "cities of the plain" mentioned in Genesis 14, previously assumed to have been mere legends.

  • Greater proportion of Egyptian words in the Pentateuch (first five books) than in rest of the Old Testament. Accurate Egyptian names: Potiphar (Gen.39), Zaphenath-Paneah (Joseph's Egyptian name, Gen. 41:45), Asenath (Gen.41:45), On (Gen. 41:45), Rameses (Gen. 47:11), Oithom (Exodus 1:11).

  • Finds in Egypt are consistent with the time, place, and other details of biblical accounts of the Israelites in Egypt. These include housing and tombs that could have been of the Israelites, as well as a villa and tomb that could have been Joseph's.

  • Confounding earlier skeptics, but confirming the Bible, an important discovery was made in Egypt in 1896. A tablet—the Merneptah Stela—was found that mentions Israel. (Merneptah was the pharaoh that ruled Egypt in 1212-1202 B.C.) The context of the stela indicates that Israel was a significant entity in the late 13th century B.C.

  • The Hittites were once thought to be a biblical legend, until their capital and records were discovered in Turkey.

  • Crucial find in Nuzi (northeastern Iraq), an entire cache of Hittite legal documents from 1400 B.C. Confirms many details of Genesis, Deuteronomy, such as: (a) siring of legitimate children through handmaidens, (b) oral deathbed will as binding, (c) the power to sell one's birthright for relatively trivial property (Jacob & Esau), (d) need for family idols, such as Rachel stole from Laban, to secure inheritance, (e) form of the covenant in Deuteronomy exactly matches the form of suzerainty treaties between Hittite emperors and vassal kings.

  • Walls of Jericho—discovery in 1930s by John Garstang. The walls fell suddenly, and outwardly (unique), so Israelites could clamber over the ruins into the city (Joshua 6:20).

  • In 1986, scholars identified an ancient seal belonging to Baruch, son of Neriah, a scribe who recorded the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jer. 45:11).

  • In 1990, Harvard researchers unearthed a silver-plated bronze calf figurine reminiscent of the huge golden calf mentioned in the book of Exodus.

  • In 1993, archaeologists uncovered a 9th century B.C. inscription at Tel Dan. The words carved into a chunk of basalt refer to the "House of David" and the "King of Israel." And the Bible's version of Israelite history after the reign of David's son, Solomon, is believed to be based on historical fact because it is corroborated by independent account of Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions.

  • It was once claimed there was no Assyrian king named Sargon as recorded in Isaiah 20:1, because this name was not known in any other record. Then, Sargon's palace was discovered in Iraq. The very event mentioned in Isaiah 20, his capture of Ashdod, was recorded in the palace walls! Even more, fragments of a stela (a poetic eulogy) memorializing the victory were found at Ashdod itself.

  • Another king who was in doubt was Belshazzar, king of Babylon, named in Daniel 5. The last king of Babylon was Nabonidus according to recorded history. Tablet was found showing that Belshazzar was Nabonidus' son.

  • The ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah have been discovered southeast of the Dead Sea. Evidence at the site seems consistent with the biblical account: "Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens." The destruction debris was about 3 feet thick and buildings were burned from fires that started on the rooftops. Geologist Frederick Clapp theorizes that that pressure from an earthquake could have spewed out sulfur-laden bitumen (similar to asphalt) known to be in the area through the fault line upon which the cities rest. The dense smoke reported by Abraham is consistent with a fire from such material, which could have ignited by a spark or ground fire.

 
  Archaeology and the New Testament

  • The New Testament mentions specific individuals, places, and various official titles of local authorities, confirmed by recent archeology. Luke sites exact titles of officials. (Titles varied from city to city so they are easily checked for accuracy.) Lysanias the Tetrarch in Abilene (Luke 3:1)—verified by inscription dated 14-29 A.D. Erastus, city treasurer of Corinth (Romans 16:23)—verified by pavement inscription. Gallio—proconsul of Achaia (Greece) in A.D. 51 (Acts 18:12). Politarchs ("city ruler") in Thessalonica (Acts 17:6). Chief Man of the Island on Malta (Acts 28:7). Stone Pavement at Pilate's headquarters (John 19:13)—discovered recently. Pool at Bethesda— discovered in 1888. Many examples of silver shrines to Artemis found (Acts 19:28). Inscription confirms the title of the city as "Temple Warden of Artemis". Account of Paul's sea voyage in Acts is "one of the most instructive documents for the knowledge of ancient seamanship."

  • Census of Luke 1. Census began under Augustus approximately every 14 years: 23-22 B.C., 9-8 B.C., 6 A.D. There is evidence of enrollment in 11-8 B.C. in Egyptian papyri.

    • Problem: Historian Josephus puts Quirinius as governor in Syria at 6 A.D. Solution: Recent inscription confirms that Quirinius served as governor in 7 B. C. (in extraordinary, military capacity).

    • Problem: Herod's kingdom was not part of the Roman Empire at the time, so there would not have been a census. Solution: it was a client kingdom. Augustus treated Herod as subject (Josephus). Parallel—a census took place in the client kingdom of Antiochus in eastern Asia Minor under Tiberius.

    • Enrollment in hometown? Confirmed by edict of Vibius Maximus, Roman prefect of Egypt, in 104 A.D. "...it is necessary for all who are for any cause whatsoever way from their administrative divisions to return home to comply with the customary ordinance of enrollment."

  • Opinion of Sir William Ramsay, one of the outstanding Near Eastern archeologists: "Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy; he is possessed of the true historic sense; he fixes his mind on the idea and plan that rules in the evolution of history, and proportions the scale of his treatment to the importance of each incident. He seizes the important and critical events and shows their true nature at greater length...In short, this author should be placed among the very greatest of historians."

  • Diggers recently uncovered an ossuary (repository for bones) with the inscription "Joseph Son of Caiaphas." This marked the first archaeological evidence that the high priest Caiaphas was a real person. According to the gospels, Caiaphas presided at the Sanhedrin's trial of Jesus.

 
External References to Jesus and the Christian Church.

  • Josephus. Born to priestly family in A.D. 37. Commanded Jewish troops in Galilee during rebellion. Surrendered, and earned favor of Emperor Vespasian. Wrote 20 books of Antiquities of the Jews. Refers to John the Baptist (killed by Herod) and to James, the brother of Jesus (condemned to death by stoning by the Sanhedrin). Passage about Jesus:

      "And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man, for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Greeks. This man was the Christ. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on impeachment by the chief men among us, those who loved him at first did not cease; for he appeared to them on the third day alive again, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him, and even now the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out."

    (Note: We know from Origen and others that Josephus was not a Christian, so this text may have suffered some corruption from emendations by Christian scribes. It may be that the "if indeed we should..." phrase is original, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Christian belief. The phrase "the truth" (alethe) may have originally been "strange things" (aethe). Also, such phrases as "they say" or "supposedly" may have been piously deleted by scribes. Still, it seems certain that Josephus did refer to Jesus as a miracle-worker crucified under Pontius Pilate.)

  • Early Gentile writers, referred to by Christian apologists in 2nd century.

    • Thallus—wrote a history of Greece and Asia Minor in A.D. 52. Julius Africanus (221 AD), commenting on Thallus, said: "Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away the darkness [during the crucifixion] as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably, as it seems to me [since the Passover took place during a full moon.]"

    • Official Roman records of the census, and Pontius Pilate's official report to the Emperor. Justin Martyr wrote his "Defense of Christianity" to Emperor Antonius Pius, referred him to Pilate's report, preserved in the archives. Tertullian, writing to Roman officials, writes with confidence that records of the Luke 1 census can still be found.

  • Roman historians

    • Tacitus—Greatest Roman historian, born 52 A.D., wrote a history of the reign of Nero in 110 A.D. "...Christus, from whom they got their name, had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberias was emperor; and the pernicious superstition was checked for a short time only to break out afresh, not only in Judea, the home of the plague, but in Rome itself, .. " (Annals 15:44)

    • Suetonius—AD. 120. In his Life of Claudius: "As the Jews were making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."

    • Pliny the Younger—Governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, wrote the emperor in A.D. 112 about the sect of Christians, who were in "the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day, before it was light, when they sang an anthem to Christ as God."

    Note:
    A good web site for biblical archaeology is
    www.christiananswers.net.

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