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Archaeological and External Evidence for the Bible: An Outline

Archeology 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 the 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. 45:1).
  • 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 on 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. The 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 home town? 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 the rebellion. Surrendered, and earned the 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). He referred to Jesus in his Antiquities 18:63. The standard text of Josephus reads as follows:

"About this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.  For he was the achiever of extraordinary deeds and was a teacher of those who accept the truth gladly.  He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks.  He was the Messiah.  When he was indicted by the principal men among us and Pilate condemned him to be crucified, those who had come to love him originally did not cease to do so; for he appeared to them on the third day restored to life, as the prophets of the Deity had foretold these and countless other marvelous things about him, and the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day."  (Josephus—The Essential Works, P. L. Maier ed./trans.).

Although this passage is so worded in the Josephus manuscripts as early as the third-century church historian Eusebius, scholars have long suspected a Christian interpolation, since Josephus could hardly have believed Jesus to be the Messiah or in his resurrection and have remained, as he did, a non-Christian Jew.  In 1972, however, Professor Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem announced his discovery of a different manuscript tradition of Josephus’s writings in the tenth-century Melkite historian Agapius, which reads as follows:

"At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous.  Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples.  Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die.  But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship.  They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive.  Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders.  And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day."

Here, clearly, is language that a Jew could have written without conversion to Christianity.  (Schlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications [Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971.])
According to Dr. Paul Maier, professor of ancient history, "Scholars fall into three basic camps regarding Antiquities 18:63:  1) The original passage is entirely authentic—a minority position; 2) it is entirely a Christian forgery—a much smaller minority position; and 3) it contains Christian interpolations in what was Josephus’s original, authentic material about Jesus—the large majority position today, particularly in view of the Agapian text (immediately above) which shows no signs of interpolation. Josephus must have mentioned Jesus in authentic core material at 18:63 since this passage is present in all Greek manuscripts of Josephus, and the Agapian version accords well with his grammar and vocabulary elsewhere.  Moreover, Jesus is portrayed as a 'wise man' [sophos aner], a phrase not used by Christians but employed by Josephus for such personalities as David and Solomon in the Hebrew Bible.  Furthermore, his claim that Jesus won over “many of the Greeks” is not substantiated in the New Testament, and thus hardly a Christian interpolation, but rather something that Josephus would have noted in his own day.  Finally, the fact that the second reference to Jesus at Antiquities 20:200, which follows, merely calls him the Christos [Messiah] without further explanation suggests that a previous, fuller identification had already taken place.  Had Jesus appeared for the first time at the later point in Josephus’s record, he would most probably have introduced a phrase like “…brother of a certain Jesus, who was called the Christ.”
  • Early Gentile writers, referred to by Christian apologists in the 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 c. 52-56 AD, 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) See also Tacitus on the Crucifixion.
    • 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. And here is an interesting article:

50 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically