The discipline of Biblical Archaeology provides support and understanding for the veracity of the Scriptures, however, its purpose is not to "prove" the Bible. Robert Bradshaw in his 1992 paper on Archaeology and the Patriarchs (Biblical Studies. Org.uk) notes, "Yahweh is uniquely the God who acts in history, and inasmuch as archaeology sheds light on that history it is important to Biblical studies." W.S. Lasor in "Archaeology" in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's 1979) points out that "faith does not ask for proof, but archaeology provides a context of reality for the Biblical story and a reasonability for Biblical faith." It is from this perspective that the following samples of archaeological evidence corroborating the Scriptures are presented.
In the 18th and 19th centuries a growing European field interest in the great past civilizations of the Middle East (Sumer, Akkadia, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Egypt), centered principally on the search for large impressive items of "antiquity" to be taken back to museums in London, Paris, Berlin, etc. Notwithstanding the frequent laxity of site-documentation and context-sensitive methods regarding the provenance of items found, this early period yielded some of the most impressive evidence extant today that is supportive of the Old Testament record. Some examples from this Antiquities/Early Archaeology Period are reviewed below.
First - Unraveling the Languages: Two unrelated discoveries of trilingual inscriptions in stone during this period led to unraveling the mysteries of Egyptian hieroglyphic symbols and Mesopotamian cuneiform characters.
The first trilingual record was the "Rosetta Stone" discovered in 1799 by one of Napoleon's soldiers while digging a trench in Egypt. It contained a message in three languages: Hieroglyphic, Demotic (a hieroglyphic shorthand) and Greek. In 1822 a young French scholar used the Greek to finally unlock the Hieroglyphics and this led to opening up the vast 3000+ year old Egyptian inscriptions of the Nile basin to the world. Two examples are:
The stone stele of Pharaoh Meneptah (c.1215 B.C.) was discovered in 1896 at Thebes, Egypt. Its hieroglyphics provide irrefutable confirmation of the presence of Israel as a people in the land of Canaan at the time of the Judges. It is the oldest known extra-Biblical reference to Israel extant today. The text reads... "Canaan is plundered with every evil way. Ashkelon is conquered and brought away captive, Gezer seized, Yanoam made nonexistent, Israel is wasted, bare of seed..." (emphasis added).
The record of Pharaoh Shoshenq (Shishak - 944-924 BC) found on the south wall of the great temple of Amon at Karnak, Egypt is another example. Here Shishak recorded his 10th Century B.C. military campaign against Judea and King Rehoboam. In it he lists the cities he sacked including Jerusalem, Gibeon, and Megiddo. The Bible in 1 Kings 14:25-26 and 2 Chronicles 12: 2-4, 9 relates this invasion in the 5th year of Rehoboam's reign.
The second trilingual key to ancient languages was found in 1833 by Sir Henry Rawlinson while in Persia to organize the Shah's army. He discovered that the huge ancient inscription carved high on the face of Mt. Behistun was in three different cuneiform systems: Old Persian, Elamite and Akkadian. By 1836 he managed to translate the Old Persian and by 1845 the other two languages were deciphered. With this breakthrough, scholars were now able to read the meaning of literally thousands of cuneiform records from all over Mesopotamia. One result, among others, has been the discovery of dramatic evidence corroborating the Old Testament history of Israel and Judah. Some examples are:
The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III which was uncovered by Austen Henry Layard in 1845 at Nimrud. This seven foot high black stone prism is inscribed with pictures and cuneiform on all four sides and clearly shows King Jehu of Israel bowing to the ground and paying tribute monies to Shalmaneser III. The cuneiform text identifies the prostrate King as "Jehu the son of Omri" and also mentions Hazael of Aram/Damascus (see 2 Kings 8:7-15 & 10:28-36).
The Name of Tiglath-Pileser III: In 1 Chronicles 5:26 the beginning of the Assyrian captivity of the northern kingdom of Israel is described thusly: And the Lord God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, King of Assyria, and the spirit of Tiglath-Pilneser, king of Assyria and he carried away even the Reubenites and Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them into Halah and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day. At first this seems to be a contradiction by describing two separate kings of Assyria with the names of Pul and Tiglath-Pilneser. 2 Kings 15:19-20 tells us that Menahem, King of Israel, paid tribute to Pul, King of Assyria, to save his capital, Samaria, from destruction. Assyrian scholars agree that during the first part of Menahem's 10 year reign, around 746 B.C., a usurper named Tiglath-Pileser seized the Assyrian throne and ruled for some 18 years. Cuneiform records on clay tablets found at Nimrud have silenced the critic's cry that the Bible is false. Two separate tablets give parallel accounts for this Assyrian monarch, the one uses Pul, the other uses Tiglath-Pileser III. The fact is, the usurper, Pul (Pulu) changed his name to Tiglath-Pileser (as the third monarch to choose that title) in order to enhance his authority/legitimacy. Interestingly, the Hebrew idiom in 1 Chronicles 5:26 that bridges the two names with "and" can apparently also be translated "even," thus the text can appropriately be understood to read... the spirit of Pul, King of Assyria, even the spirit of Tiglath-Pileser King of Assyria (emphasis added). Archaeological cuneiform evidence preserved in nearly 3000 year old clay tablets now corroborates this rendering!
In addition, the record of King Menahem giving tribute to 'Pul' in order to buy off the destruction of Samaria as recorded in 2 Kings 15:19-20 is also corroborated by one of the 'Tiglath-Pileser's' own cuneiform inscriptions that reads: "I received tribute from Menahem of Samaria...Like a bird alone he fled and submitted to me."
The Clay Prism of Sargon II discovered in Khorsabab in 1843 by P. E. Botta tells of a siege of Samaria, the taking away of captives and replacing them with Assyrian captives from other lands. It reads, "I besieged and captured Samaria and carried off 27,290 of its inhabitants as booty... The city I rebuilt better than it was before and settled therein people from countries which I myself had conquered." This Assyrian practice of replacing captives with foreigners is clearly seen in 2 Kings 17:5-6 and 23-24.
The Hexagonal Clay Prism of Sennacherib discovered at Nineveh. This artifact boasts of the victories of Sennacherib but never mentions any defeats. It tells of the siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. during the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and says... "I shut up Hezekiah, the Judahite, like a caged bird within Jerusalem his own royal city." In three accounts (2 Kings 18:13 - 19:37; 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 36 & 37) the Bible clearly outlines Yahweh's miraculous defeat of Sennacherib's mighty army besieging Jerusalem. If Sennacherib had breached the city, conquered Hezekiah and taken captives from Jerusalem, one would expect this 'boasting' prism to highlight such a signal event. Understandably, it says nothing of 'victory' at Jerusalem just as it says nothing of his defeat there. It is interesting to note, however, that Egyptian sources of the day do mention the Assyrian defeat at Jerusalem. They claimed it was one of their gods who sent field mice into the Assyrian camp at night to eat up all their bowstrings, rendering the soldiers unable to fight, thus forcing Sennacherib to flee back to Nineveh. Such was the propaganda of one great military power against another even in those days!
An amazing event associated with Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem was the urgent work before the siege of Hezekiah's engineers to secure a vital water source safely within the city defenses. Tunneling under Jerusalem from opposite ends they linked together the Gihon Spring just outside the wall in the Kidron Valley on the east side of Jerusalem to the pool of Siloam 30 feet lower inside the city walls more than 1700 feet to the southwest. They stopped up the external flows of the Gihon and redirected all its waters through this secret tunnel into Jerusalem only. This long twisting 'S' shaped tunnel was completed when the workmen from each end met in the middle. The American Orientalist, Edward Robinson, discovered the tunnel in 1838 and later, in 1880, a young boy accidentally discovered a Hebrew inscription carved into the tunnel wall near the center where the two teams met. This now famous 'Siloam Inscription' describes how the two teams met in the middle by listening for the sound of each other's voices and hammers. This incredible feat, blessed by Yahweh, and re-discovered thousands of years later, dramatically confirms the veracity of 2 Chronicles 32:2-4 and 2 Kings 20:20.
Many other archaeological finds from the subsequent empires of Babylon and Persia provide similar confirmation of the Scriptures. Babylonian cuneiform tablets mentioning rations for captive Jehoiachin, King of Judah, and other relatives (cf. 2 Kings 24:10-16) and the Babylonian Chronicle tablets recording the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (cf. 2 Kings 25:8-11) are examples. The 'Cyrus Cylinder' written in Babylonian cuneiform after Cyrus II conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. sets out his tolerant views on the treatment of conquered peoples and their right to religious freedom. Its tone and intent correlate strongly with the Bible record of his proclamation allowing the Jewish captives in Babylon to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. (See 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Isaiah 44:28 and Ezra 1 all)
The work of Sir Flinders Petrie from 1890 to 1920 and the work of William F. Albright from 1920 to the 1960's had a profound impact on 20th Century Palestinian and Biblical Archaeology. As a result of their work it became more scientific and systematic as well as more integrated with historical/cultural geography, Biblical research, and general Near Eastern Studies. Space here allows only a short listing of a few Bible-relevant archaeological findings since 1900. In approximate chronological order they are:
The Gezer Calendar (D\dated c. 925-1000 B.C.?) found at ancient Gezer northwest of Jerusalem in 1908 by R.A. Macalister. It lists annual agricultural tasks by month. It shows clear evidence of literacy in Israel at this time.
The Lachish Ostraca found at ancient Lachish south west of Jerusalem in the 1930's by James Starkey. These are pottery shards that were used as 'scrap paper' to send urgent messages about the conditions just before the 1st Babylonian invasion. Letter #3 refers to warnings from "the prophet," #4 says Lachish and Azekah are among the last to come under siege (Jeremiah 34:7) and #6 tells of conspiracy in language that echoes Jeremiah 38:4,19.
Collapsed Walls of Jericho investigated by Garstang in the 1930's, Kenyon in the 1950's and Wood in the 1980's - 90. Physical evidence (especially from Kenyon's work) shows sudden catastrophic destruction and burning consistent with Joshua 6:20, 24. Garstang dated it to 1400 B.C. and Kenyon to 1550 B.C. Wood endorses Garstang's dating.
Dead Sea Scrolls discovered 60 years ago (1947-56) in caves at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Biblical and non-Biblical manuscripts in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic were found. There are over 800 documents and thousands of fragments dating from the 1st - 3rd centuries B.C. The complete scroll of Isaiah is the most spectacular find. When compared to the previous oldest sources for Isaiah (nearly 1000 years younger), this scroll and Masoretic texts are virtually identical. This provides a powerful case for the reliability of the Scriptures over time.
Temple Mount Studies have been greatly extended since the 6 Day War of 1967. The initial work of Benjamin Mazar and the work of Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer uncovered the Second Temple Pre-Herodian walls. This is the most definitive assessment to date of the Temple Mount boundaries and walls from the pre-Herodian period. Work at the southwest corner reveals either Second Temple foundation elements or possibly Solomonic foundation blocks.
The Ebla Tablets from Tel Mardikh in northern Syria, excavated by Paolo Matthaie 1964-1975+ reach far back into Bible times. Fifteen thousand clay tablets in cuneiform were found in a library thought to be associated with royalty. Many date to 3rd Century B.C. and some even as far back as the time of Abraham. It has been reported that several Bible places, Ur, Sodom, Gomorrah, Haran, Lachish, Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, etc. and names such as Abraham, Israel, Esau, David and Micah were discovered in Ebalite, a Semitic language resembling ancient Hebrew. There is intense archeological dispute over these early claims and the matter is still far from settled. The Syrian government continues to withhold full publication of the texts.
Tel Dan Stele (dated 9th Century B.C.) discovered in 1994 by Avraham Biran in northern Galilee. This is a broken victory stele of a northern king describing his conquests over Israel. It contains the phrases, 'King of Israel' and 'House of David.' This is the earliest extra-Biblical reference to the royal line of David.
The Pool of Siloam: Recently in 2004 deeper excavations at this Jerusalem site uncovered, at a lower elevation, the true ancient pool of Siloam (John 9:11).
The Gath Ostracon (a pottery fragment) was found in 2005 by Aren Masir at Tel es-Safi (Biblical Gath of the Philistines). This shard has nine letters incised into it representing two names. Linguistically they are connected to 'Goliath.'
This short article is a brief glance at a much larger body of archaeological evidence that supports the veracity of the Bible. The common thread is that these long silent testimonies speak to us today with sureness and a constancy unchanged through the ages. They encourage our faith that God's word is true, sure, steadfast, and a lamp to our feet in a darkening age. We do well to remember these enduring words, Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away (Matthew 24:35).
James Horton, Grimsby, ON
In archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out at the behest of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, in the northwestern part of the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, a rare and impressive Hebrew seal was discovered that dates to the latter part of the First Temple period. The seal was found in a building that is currently being uncovered, which dates to the seventh century B.C. - to the time when the kings Manasseh and Josiah reigned.
According to the excavation director, archaeologist Shlomit Wexler-Bdolah of the IAA, "The seal, which apparently belonged to a private individual, is made of black stone, is elliptical in shape and measures 1.2 x 1.4 cm. It is adorned with an engraved decoration of an archer shooting a bow and arrow. The name of the archer is engraved in ancient Hebrew script next to him and reads LHGB (meaning: for Hagab). The name Hagab is mentioned in the Bible in Ezra 2:46, as well as in the Lachish Letters, which also date to the time of the First Temple." Ezra's Hagab was a temple servant, from a different period in Israel's history and not, therefore, the same individual. The Hebrew name Hagab means grasshopper.
The seal is unique since this is the first time that a private seal has been discovered that bears a Hebrew name and is decorated in the Assyrian style. The seal attests to the strong Assyrian influence that existed in Jerusalem in the seventh century B.C.. It is usually assumed that the owner of private seals were individuals who held government positions. The name appears in reverse so that when impressed in clay, it would come out right.
Sources : IMRA, October 30, 2008 and Ritmeyer Archaeological Design's website. The representation of the seal depicted above was taken from this site: www.ritmeyer.com