In the second half of the 19th century believers in the Bible seemed to be caught in a pincer movement by the theory of evolution on one hand and Higher Criticism (from within the established church) on the other. Higher Criticism treats the Bible as a text created by human beings, for various motives, in contrast with the treatment of the Bible as the inerrant word of God. Ref 31
Many who were weak in faith gave in and accepted defeat. The faithful, however, were like Abijah king of Judah. His God-fearing troops were ambushed before and behind by the idol-worshipping soldiers of Jeroboam, so they cried unto the Lord.
“And the children of Judah prevailed because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers” (2 Chron. 13:18).
Deliverance to the faithful few in the dark years of the late 1800s was provided by the spadework of anthropologists and archaeologists. Treasures were found beneath the earth that would prove on the one hand that there were no “missing links” to support the theory of evolution and, on the other hand, that there were numerous archaeological discoveries that discredited Higher Criticism and shed more light on the truth of the Bible.
The Higher Criticism movement had claimed for example that the Hittites never existed because Bible information concerning them could not be verified from other sources. There are over fifty references to the Hittites – black Canaanites descended from Ham through Heth – in the Bible. It is easy to see how the word Hethites could become Hittites with usage. In the time of Moses the Hittites formed the second strongest branch of Canaanites in the Promised Land.
Archibald Sayce (1846–1933), Professor of Assyriology at Oxford University, was the first to find archaeological, independent evidence of the Hittite people. He wrote:
“It is not the Bible writer but the modern author who is now proved to have been unacquainted with contemporaneous history of the time.”
Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon. Once again, outside the Bible, no king of this name seemed to be known by any of the writers of Babylonian history. Nabonidus, the Higher Criticism movement claimed, was the last king. With discovery upon discovery of Babylonian inscriptions however, it is now clear that Nabonidus appointed his eldest son Belshazzar as his co-regent. That is why Belshazzar promised Daniel only a third place in the kingdom in his last terrified moments (Dan. 5:16, 29). He couldn’t offer him half as he was already sharing the kingship with his father.
We have seen how the Bible gives evidence not found in other writings. Sometimes it can work the other way; archaeology gives extra information about activities not recorded in the Bible.
The black obelisk of Shalmaneser III is one such example. The Bible tells us that Hazael, king of Damascus, smote Israel in the time of King Jehu, but not that he had to pay tribute to Shalmaneser, king of Assyria. This archaeological evidence was found in the ruins of his palace at Calah, in Nimrud. The obelisk shows officials of five different nations paying tribute to him. One of the kings of these nations is Jehu, the ninth king of Israel. The obelisk reads:
“…tribute of Jehu, son (descendant) of Omri, gold, silver, golden goblets and pictures, golden vases and vessels, sceptres from the hand of the king, javelins I received from him…”
The obelisk is about 2.4 metres tall, having the only likeness of an Israelite king ever found. Jehu is shown bowing to the king while behind him a line of Israelites bring tribute (gifts) to Shalmanezer.
For our next piece of evidence we come down through history about 100 years to the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah. The thirteenth king of Judah, Hezekiah was a good king who performed many great acts. One concerned Jerusalem’s water supply. The Bible testifies in 2 Kings 20:
“And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made a pool and a conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?” (2 Kings 20:20)
Critics had a field day because there was no evidence of such a tunnel. They claimed it was merely an embellishment to dress up Hezekiah’s character.
Hezekiah was a wise king who realized that Jerusalem should have an independent water supply in the time of any siege. Jerusalem’s main water supply was the Spring of Gihon outside the walls of the city. In past sieges the city had to surrender through lack of sufficient water over a prolonged period.
Hezekiah therefore gave instructions to cut a tunnel from Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city.
He instructed one group of pick-men to start at the Pool of Siloam and, to quicken the pace of construction, another group at Gihon spring, working towards one another. Thus, a tunnel
was forged underground for a total distance of “1200 cubits” or 583 metres (i.e. over half a kilometre). How the two groups were able to cut a tunnel so long, over such a winding route, two metres high and 60 centimetres wide, about 50 metres on average below the city, and still meet face to face, shows they had skills back then that we don’t know anything about. How do we know such detail? In 1890 a truant boy playing near the Pool of Siloam found an inscription reading:
“Now this is the history of the excavation. While the excavators were lifting up the pick, each toward his neighbour, and while there were yet three cubits to (excavate, there was heard) the voice of one man calling to his neighbour, for there was an excess in the rock on the right hand (and on the left). And after that, on the day of excavating, the excavators had struck pick against pick one against the other, the waters flowed from the spring to the pool for a distance of 1200 cubits, and 100 cubits was the height of the rock over the head of the excavation.” ref 16
The language points to Hezekiah’s time and the direction of the pick marks in the conduit verifies the truth of the inscription.
This prism is another piece of evidence that relates to the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah. Taylor’s prism, named after the archaeologist who discovered it, is also called Sennacherib’s prism.
King Sennacherib, a powerful king of Assyria, wrought havoc on nations around the southern kingdom of Judah and, advancing on Jerusalem, captured 46 cities of Hezekiah’s kingdom. With his army of 185 000 he set siege to the city of Jerusalem, as recorded in 2 Kings 18–19, Isaiah 36–37 and 2 Chronicles 32. It’s hard to imagine such a huge army. It outnumbered more than three to one the size of the Roman army of Vespasian and Titus that captured Jerusalem almost 800 years later.
Now, just as God kept a record of these things in his word the Bible, so Sennacherib kept a record back home in Nineveh, Assyria. Both accounts differ in some respects as you would expect with two opposing sides but there are enough similarities to pinpoint the same event.
Sennacherib claimed to lay siege to Jerusalem, with an emphasis on overthrowing many other cities, which is true. This is what he wrote:
“As for Hezekiah the Judahite, who did not submit to my yoke…like a caged bird I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city.”
He did not claim to have captured Jerusalem, and for very good reason—Hezekiah had prayed to God for deliverance. God’s reply to him through the prophet Isaiah is recorded in 2 Kings 19:
“Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, ‘That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard.” (2 Kings 19:20)
2 Kings 19 reveals how God brought about the deliverance:
“And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand; and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went and returned and dwelt at Nineveh.” (2 Kings 19:35-36)
Sennacherib had to give up the siege. He had no army left to fight with. He lost 185,000 men in one night! It was a miraculous intervention by God on behalf of a righteous man—an inspiring example of the great power of God. The Creator, who gave life, can easily take it away to suit His purpose.
When Sennacherib returned home and wrote about it, did he mention how he lost his army? Of course he didn’t. Human nature is not like that. He told half the truth! Certainly, he had Hezekiah like a bird in a cage for a while— until he lost his army! He simply didn’t mention the other half of the story. He didn’t mention any defeat! We have noted already how God’s word is most remarkable for telling the full story truthfully. In any account of his people Israel we read the bad as well as the good. There are defeats as well as victories. There are bad kings as well as good kings. It’s all part of that “ring of truth”, that aura of authenticity, which makes the Bible unique.
With the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948 the science of archaeology in the Holy Land expanded rapidly, so that we could examine dozens of sites, recently excavated in the nation of Israel alone, which verify Bible accounts. Let us look at just one—Hazor. Its ruins lie to the north of the Sea of Galilee.
“And Joshua at that time turned back and took Hazor and smote the king thereof with the sword; for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms” (Josh. 11:10).
Hazor’s earliest mention is in Egyptian execration texts of the 19th century BC, listing potential enemies of Egypt.
There are several other Bible references to Hazor but the one that interests us is in 1 Kings 9:
“And this is the reason of the levy which king Solomon raised; for to build the house of the Lord, and his own house and Millo and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer.” (1 Kings 9:15)
In 1955 a team of Israeli scientists led by the late Professor Yigael Yadin began an archaeological dig at Hazor on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They found the usual relics of numerous cities, each layer containing the remains of a city rebuilt upon the ruins of its predecessor. The more ancient the city, the lower the level. The city built by Solomon in the 10th century BC was found at the tenth level from the surface. A few layers beneath were the charred remains of the last Canaanite city, the one destroyed by fire in Joshua’s conquest of the 13th century BC. At the very bottom level the first city of Hazor was found, built some time during the third millennium BC. Several centuries later it became the largest city in the country.
As we read in 1 Kings 9:15, Solomon rebuilt it after it had been destroyed by fire in the conquest of the land of Canaan by Joshua and the children of Israel. Now Professor Yadin obviously knew his Bible and, in reading the above verse he wondered whether Solomon’s architect might have used the same plan in the construction of the gates at Hazor, as in the gates at Megiddo.
The plans of the Megiddo gates were already known from a previous archaeological dig at Megiddo from 1925–39, so before digging further, Yadin and his archaeologists marked out on the ground, the plan of the Megiddo gate with the corridor, three chambers on either side and towers, to see if they’d conform. They turned out to be a perfect match. The ruins may be inspected today. ref 17
Archaeology and the New Testament
Most people associate archaeology with the Old Testament but there have also been discoveries that verify the New Testament as well. We read in Luke 2:
“In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled…and all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child” (Luke 2:1, 3 and 5 RSV).
In other words, a census was to be taken throughout the Roman world. A public notice has recently emerged from the rainless sand of Egypt to verify a minor yet important point from the inspired record. Joseph and Mary, his espoused wife, had to return to Bethlehem to be enrolled. The last thing the carpenter Joseph needed was to have to take Mary, at such a late stage of her pregnancy, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. But the Roman bureaucrats had little care for the comfort of those they ruled, because for census purposes, it was more convenient for them to gather the population into their hometowns.
Now, a great blessing has been bestowed on us all by the unknown Egyptians who invented papyrus paper and the ink with which to mark it, for the document we mentioned is still clearly legible, at least in its first paragraph:
“Gaius Vibius, chief prefect of Egypt. Because of the approaching census it is necessary for all those residing for any cause away from their own districts to prepare to return at once to their own governments, in order that they may complete the family administration of the enrolment, and that the tilled lands may retain those belonging to them. Knowing that your city has need of provisions, I desire…”
After this the document becomes too fragmentary to decipher.
Obviously that was not the same notice Joseph and Mary responded to, but it does show the credibility of the whole account of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. ref 18
Many such documents, letters and other pieces of evidence are coming to light all the time.
Another example comes from the archaeological work of Sir William Ramsay. When he began his work he accepted without question the popular opinion that the book Acts of the Apostles was written late in the second century, a sort of imaginative reconstruction of long-past events. But it was the compulsion of fact upon fact working on an honest mind that brought about his change of opinion on the accuracy of the Bible. We read in Acts 17:
“And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, ‘These that have turned the world upside down, are come hither also’…and they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.” (Acts 17:6, 8)
In the original Greek, Luke calls the “rulers” of the city “politarchs.” Since this term was unknown elsewhere, the higher critics of the scriptures dismissed the word as yet another mistake. Today, thanks to archaeology, it is to be read high and clear in an arch spanning a street of Salonica i.e. old Thessalonica. Many other such examples have been found.
The writer of the Acts, traditionally Luke, has been proved correct by Ramsay in his geographical and political remarks in chapters 13–16; his reporting of local customs in chapters 14, 17 and 19; his names for local officials in chapters 13–18; his local religious facts in chapters 14 and 19; and in his
knowledge of Greek and Asian cities in chapters 16–19.
Sir William Ramsay, by his work, research and integrity, found the Bible accurate. He is not the only person to be so affected by God’s word. Frank Morrison, author of Who Moved the Stone, originally set out to write a book disproving the resurrection of Jesus. However, once he had done his research and closely examined the scriptural record, he wrote a completely different book—one showing that the resurrection of Jesus was a fact!
If archaeology shows the truth of small details then the truth of the major details, such as miracles, must be much easier to accept. Any who are still unconvinced should be like Ramsay and Morrison and do some research of their own. B. A. Urquhart’s, The Bible Triumphant in Twentieth Century Discovery and Research, is a standard reference on this fascinating subject. But don’t put it off. Don’t be like the learned men of Athens who said to Paul,
“We’ll hear you again of this matter,” but never did. They missed the best opportunity of their lives. Paul was telling them about the resurrection of the dead, among other things. It was too much for them. Like Morrison before his conversion and most ‘learned’ folk today, they scoffed at the resurrection. Bible believers have no problem with the resurrection. They believe that if God made heaven and earth, man and woman, animals and plants, he can raise people from the dead. He raised his own son Jesus from the dead. Where is the difficulty for God? He has already set in motion a miraculous process whereby people are being made every day. They are slowly formed over time by a process we are familiar with, yet don’t understand. Surely God, who can bring about new human life slowly can perform resurrection instantly!
God has been pleased to reveal proof of His word through the science of archaeology. The faith of true believers stood firm, even before the archaeologist’s spade brought proof to light and, even today, archaeology is just one more proof of the authenticity of the Bible.
More information on the Bible and Archaeology here.