Historical Markers that Prove the Bible to be True

Historical Markers that Prove the Bible to be True

Historical Markers that Prove the Bible to be True

Some of the information in this section is adapted from Archer’s Bible Difficulties.

For centuries skeptics claimed the Bible is a work of fiction. In support of this argument, skeptics pointed to limited archeological evidence to substantiate the biblical narrative. This was true before the mid 19th century, but when archeological finds began to validate the existence of key biblical characters (e.g., Moses, David, Daniel), the enemy shifted tactics and began to discredit the Bible in a new way. Soon it became popular to suggest that though biblical characters may have existed, their testaments were written by others, in their name, many centuries after they had died.

For example, the suggestion is that Moses may have existed but did not write the first five books of the bible. Further, the Exodus story was written 1000 years after Moses’ death to give ancient Israel a grand beginning. Also, it has been suggested that Daniel did not write his book—that it was written hundreds of years after his death and that his prophecies do not look forward, but rather, they look back in time and summarize what already happened.

God, in His wisdom, provided small but important notations in his Word to show that certain books were written in certain geographical locations and at particular points in history. These markers not only validate the accuracy of Scripture, but they also serve as a kind of a date-stamp, which supports traditional views regarding authorship and ascribing dates to the writing of each book.

Slave Commerce: Genesis 37:28 notes that Joseph was sold into slavery for 20 silver shekels. Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen notes that this precisely matches the price of slaves in Joseph’s region during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries BC, as affirmed by documents recovered from ancient Mesopotamia and Mari (modern Syria). Move the story forward 100 years, and the price moves to 60 shekels. Move the story forward 200 years, and the price becomes 120 shekels. The Genesis account is exactly correct and could not be a 5th century BC work, as some suggest.

The Mari Tablets: This is a collection of legal documents found in Northern Syria, dated to the early second millennium BC. These documents note the particular pattern and stipulations for oaths, agreements, and treaties made in a particular region at a particular point in history. This information matches perfectly with the form and structure of the treaties Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob entered into with their neighbors, as described in Gen. 21, 26, and 31. This nullifies the argument that Genesis was written more than a thousand years later than Bible scholars contend, as someone writing in the 5th century BC would not know these subtle but important cultural practices and customs.

Ancient Law: Genesis 49 provides instructions regarding inheritance law in a particular area at a particular point in history. A few hundred years later, Deut. 21:15-17 notes a change in the inheritance law. This matches perfectly with the timeline for changes in the law in the Mesopotamian region and validates the dates for Moses and Joseph and the Genesis record. Egyptian writings do not specifically mention the Hebrews, Moses, or the exodus. However, Josephus, citing Egyptian sources, notes that a group of people known as the Hyksos (Egyptian for ‘captive shepherds’) were in Egypt as the biblical record notes. That Joseph could rise to power in Egypt is plausible as writings note that an ‘Asiatic’ named Irsu came to power in Egypt during a period of hardship about 1200 BC.

A stele at the Karnak Temple in Luxor notes that in the middle of the sixteenth century BC, Egyptian rulers in Thebes waged war against ‘Asiatic interlopers.’ Following this conflict, the political environment in Egypt would have been decidedly unfriendly against Semitic people who remained in the eastern delta. This sudden turn of events lays a foundation for the biblical account of the events leading up to the exodus—a new king arose, who did not know Joseph and conscripted the Hebrew people into forced labor.

Leiden Papyrus 348: An ancient Egyptian document known as the Leiden Papyrus 348, which dates to the time of Moses, records an order that food be distributed to the “Apiru who were dragging stones for the great project.” Apiru = non-Egyptians.

The Merneptah Stele: This stele (circa 1208 BC) commemorates Merneptah, twelfth son and heir to Ramesses II. A stele is an inscribed stone tablet, like the Rosetta Stone. Some are small; some are quite large. The Merneptah Stele, carved in solid black granite and housed in the Egypt Museum in Cairo, is over 10 feet tall! It references the conquests of Pharaoh Merneptah and contains the line, “Israel is laid waste. His seed is no more,” proving that a nation of people named Israel existed at the time of the pharaohs in the land of Canaan.

The Amarna Tablets contain countless references to the ‘Habiru’ people, translated Hebrew in English. The Amarna Tablets predate the Merneptah Stele by more than 150 years, verifying that the Hebrew people lived in Canaan during the period 1404-1341 BC, the time of Joshua. 

Hazor: Hebrew University Professor Amnon Ben Tor found the city of Hazor in 1996. The temple areas had been razed by fire. Mud bricks had melted and turned into glass, and statues of Canaanite deities were decapitated and strewn about the Temple. This perfectly matches the Deuteronomy 7:5 record.

Jericho: The magazine Archaeological Review notes that “…evidence has shown that fiery destruction did occur at Jericho, in uncanny detail, just as the Bible describes it. A layer of ash runs throughout the city; always at the same strata, meaning the city was set ablaze. The upper med-brick wall of the city collapsed outward, piling up at the base of a lower wall to form a narrow ramp of debris large enough to allow an invading army to clamber into the breach.”

The Tel Dan Fragment: In 1993, archaeologist Avraham Biran discovered a stone fragment at Tel Dan, northern Israel. The fragment bears an inscription in ancient Semitic script, which dates to the ninth century BC. It was part of an Aramaean monument boasting of victories over Israel. One line referring to conquests in Jerusalem refers to “the house of David.” Until the Tel Dan fragment discovery, many critics argued that David was merely a myth, a tribal legend too good to be true, like Arthur and Camelot. The fragment proves that David and his ‘house’ ruled Israel for hundreds of years, as the Bible says.

Tel es-Safi Expedition: In 2005, archaeologists from Bar Ilan University discovered the ruins of the city of Gath. You may recognize that name from 1 Samuel 17. It is the hometown of Goliath. An ostracon (pottery shard with writing on it) found at the site is the oldest Philistine inscription ever discovered and deciphered. The ostracon contains two words, both names; one is illegible, the other is “Goliath.” 

Editor’s Note: This portion of the article has been updated several times since it was written as Middle East archaeology continues to validate the biblical record. Joshua’s altar of unhewn stones has been uncovered on Mt. Ebal, exactly where the book of Joshua says he built the altar after the defeat at Ai. The site has a large indentation, which contains charred animal bones and ashes.

Another dig unearthed evidence the Tabernacle once stood at Shiloh as the Bible describes in Joshua 18:1. The dig is being led by archaeologist Dr. Scott Stripling who has been a guest on I Am A Watchman’s radio program, A View From the Wall. The Shiloh site also contains thousands of animal bones – precisely as you would expect had the Israelites lived there and sacrificed animals at the Tabernacle.

Archeological evidence and ancient historical documents and markers verify the accuracy of Scripture. Many have tried, but none have proved the Bible to be in error. To be fair and balanced in this presentation, let me note that an examination of historical markers in Scripture also reveals some apparent discrepancies. However, these discrepancies can be resolved.

HISTORICAL PROBLEMS RESOLVED:

  • Christ and the census: Until recently, there were no non-biblical records of Caesar Augustus ordering non-Romans to be registered. There are records of Augustus ordering Roman citizens to be registered, but only in 28 BC, 8 BC, and 14 AD. The only known census that Quirinius, governor of Syria, ordered is in 6 AD, which is nearly a decade after the death of Herod, a key figure in the Matthew nativity story.

New Testament Scholar Nigel Turner suggests that Luke 2:2, which reads, “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was…” should read,

“This was the census taken before the census taken while Quirinius was governor.”

This is because the English words FIRST and BEFORE are translated from a single word in Greek (Protos). PROTOS is always translated before in the Gospels when followed in the genitive case, as it is in this verse. 

  • Christ and the slaughter of infants: There is no record outside the Bible of Herod giving an order to slaughter male infants in the region of Bethlehem; however, it is certainly plausible. Herod ordered Torah scholars burned alive for removing Rome’s golden eagle from the Temple Gate in Jerusalem. He had his wife and several sons murdered because he considered them a threat to his throne. To assure there would be great mourning associated with his death, he had thousands of men locked inside the Hippodrome and ordered them massacred when he died. Caesar Augustus was quoted as saying, “I’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son.”

Some scholars suggest the population of Bethlehem 2000 years ago would likely have been only 1000 people. With average population age demographics, this would mean the number of male infants under the age of 2 could have been as few as 10 or 15. It was a period of history marked by disease, human suffering, and slaughter to maintain family dynasties. Killings of this magnitude – as few as a dozen non-Roman boys, especially if ordered by the king – could easily have gone unnoted by Roman historians.

  • Conquest cities: Archaeologists have found 16 cities that were destroyed by Joshua, as recorded in Joshua 10. However, three show signs of being destroyed in the late Bronze Age—well after Joshua’s death (Hazor, Lachish, and Bethel). This apparent error can be resolved by understanding Joshua 10 in context. Israel smote, laid siege to, or captured 16 cities, and the inhabitants were annihilated, but the actual cities were left standing. For example, Josh. 10:20 notes that the army ‘wiped out’ its enemy, but in the very next phrase, Scripture notes what became of ‘the survivors.’ This is typical period writing.

Note: A 15th century BC. Egyptian stele commemorating the exploits of Thutmose III notes that ‘The heads of the Asiatics were severed, none escaped death.’ However, a few lines later, the stele references thousands of prisoners captured. Joshua 13:1 notes that when Joshua was ‘very old’ there were “still very large areas of the land to be taken.”

  • Exodus timeline: 1 Kings 6:1 provides a historical marker for the time of the exodus – 480 years between the exodus and the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (962 BC). This does not seem to fit with Exodus 1:11, which notes that the Hebrews were “building the supply cities Pithom and Rameses,” an event that took place 200 years after the exodus date (extrapolated from 1 Kings).

The 1 Kings 6:1 timeline reference has symbolic value. It references 12 generations of 40 years. 40 is a significant, symbolic number representing a long, God-ordained period of time (see 1 Sam. 4:18; Num. 14:33; Josh. 5:6; 2 Sam. 5:4; Judges 3:11, 5:31, 8:28, 13:1, etc.). Further, based on the date in the books of 1-2 Kings, another 480 years elapsed from the 4th year of Solomon’s reign (marking the building of the Temple) and the end of Israel’s exile in Babylon. Hence, the Bible writer wanted to place the building of the Temple as a central historical marker.

  • The voice from heaven: Acts 9:7 notes that those with Saul heard a voice from heaven. Acts 22:9 seems to suggest those with Saul did not hear the voice. This apparent contradiction is resolved by noting that there are two different words in the original Greek text translated as hear or hearing in our English text. One means to hear with understanding, i.e., to join a conversation. The other word means to hear without understanding, as in hearing an indiscernible noise. In this story, the men with Saul did hear the sound of God’s voice but did not understand the conversation because the words were meant for Saul alone to hear with understanding.

Yes, a critical examination of the biblical text does reveal apparent discrepancies. However, with proper research, these apparent discrepancies can be resolved.

Consider this: Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders tried to discredit Jesus. They could not dispute the evidence of Jesus’ miracles – thousands of people witnessed them. Instead, they admitted He had power but said His power came from the Devil. Similarly, it is evident to all who want to know the truth that the Bible is unique and true. History, archaeology, ancient civilizations, and reason stand on its side.

The question is: Is the accuracy of the Bible some amazing coincidence? If it is not the most amazing coincidence in all recorded time, then the Bible is more than accurate—it is divinely inspired—it is God’s very words.

 

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