Archaeology and the Bible: Part one

One area of science that’s particularly exciting to me is archaeology. I love looking at artifacts from the distant past in order to understand cultures and people that lived long ago. It’s fascinating when archaeologists dig up artifacts in an effort to piece all the clues together and answer some universal life questions, like who are we and where did we come from?

I’ve posted a series of articles (1, 2, 3) supporting the Bible’s claims- namely that God does exist, and that everything written in the Bible is accurate and true. If the Bible really is God’s Word, then there should be evidence to back that up. And to that aim, I’ll briefly outline four random archaeological finds that provide evidence to support these claims.

1: The city of Gezer: According to 1 Kings 9:16, Pharaoh captured Gezer and set it on fire, killing the Canaanites, and then he gave the city to his daughter, who was King Solomon’s wife, and Solomon rebuilt Gezer.

In 1969, Archaeologist Dr. Clifford Wilson substantiated these claims when he excavated an area of black ash at the city of Gezer. Additional evidence includes torched skeletal remains, an Egyptian cylinder seal depicting war, and an inscription on what’s known as the Merneptah Stele or Israel Stele, containting the first mention of the word “Israel.” Wilson’s team found both Egyptian and Canaanite artifacts, along with a Solomonic wall nearby, connecting the Biblical account with historical finds.

2: Creation story from Ebla: In the 1960s, the ancient city of Ebla was identified, and over 17,000 tablets were recovered, including the oldest known creation account from non-Biblical sources that is very similar to Genesis and other Biblical passages. If the creation account is true, then it’s not surprising that other cultures would make references to the stories passed down from generation to generation, which suggests that the creation account was historical, not mythological. Some of the tablets also reference the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all five Cities of the Plain described in Genesis. The words inscribed on the tablets read:

Lord of heaven and earth: the earth was not, you created it, the light of day was not, you created it, the morning light you had not [yet] made exist.

3: King Belshazzar: skeptics at one time denied that there was a Babylonian King named Belshazzar, and this was partly due to them rejecting the Biblical prophecies in the book of Daniel. Skepticism provided the opportunity to place these prophecies after the events had happened. But in 1854, four clay cylinders were excavated from Ur, and they were inscribed with Nabonidus’ prayer to the moon god for “Belshazzar, the eldest son-my offspring.” Another cuneiform document found in 1882 explains that King Nabonidus left Belshazzar to watch over Babylon while he left. Then there’s the Persian Verse Account of Nabonidus, detailing Nabonidus entrusting the kingship to his oldest son, thus establishing the kingship of Belshazzar. All this is further evidence of the Bible’s accuracy and reliability.

4: Jericho: According to the Bible, the walls of Jericho fell after the Israelites marched around the city for seven days. But back in the 1950s, Jericho was considered a folk tale based on the work done by Kathleen Kenyon. In fact, according to Thomas A. Holland, “Kenyon concluded, with reference to the military conquest theory and the LB [Late Bronze Age] walls, that there was no archaeological data to support the thesis that the town had been surrounded by a wall at the end of LB I.” In other words, by the time the Israelites arrived at Jericho, the walls had already crumbled, and the city was in ruins. Carbon dating confirmed this, indicating that Jericho fell around 1550 B.C. Based on these reports, the Biblical account of Jericho was simply made up.

But later studies by Archaeologist Bryant Wood found some key mistakes. For one, he noticed that Kenyon had been selective, never analyzing the Canaanite pottery. Instead, her conclusions were based on the absence of imported pottery. Wood, however, is an expert in Canaanite pottery and reexamined the original excavations by British Archaeologist John Garstang in the 1930s, who noted that the pottery was from the late bronze age, around 1400 B.C, right when the Bible says the Israelites defeated Jericho. Wood pointed to additional evidence, including a network of collapsed walls, just as the Bible describes, allowing the Israelites to go up and straight into the city to conquer it; further, there was an embankment in which houses were built against a lower city wall on the northern side that had not collapsed, presumably where Rahab the prostitute lived. There were also jars full of grain, which is consistent with the Biblical description of the siege occurring during the harvest, suggesting that Jericho was well-stocked for a long siege. The fact that the city wasn’t plundered is also consistent with Israel devoting the city to the Lord. And finally, there’s evidence the city was burned, just as described in the Bible.

Bryant Wood explains why there was so much inconsistency in the conclusions between Garstang and Kenyon: “The only problem is how people interpret the archaeological finds.” I find this to be one of the most important lessons to learn in any area of science. The evidence can’t formulate a conclusion on its own, but it must be interpreted according to a particular worldview.

I’ll conclude this part with a documentary on Jericho. If you have 55 minutes and love history, it’s worthwhile- although I’ll warn you that it does depict graphic violence.

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