Is the Bible Really True?
‘People back then in Bible times were ignorant and superstitious. They could not read or write. They just passed on history by word of mouth. So how can the Bible really be true?’ Have you ever felt that way about the Bible?
MANY sincere persons have. Others, of course, just use such reasoning as a means of evading responsibility. But is it true that society was so primitive and ignorant in Bible times?
In recent years excavations in Ebla, Syria, have uncovered a library of over 16,500 cuneiform tablets (wedge-shaped writing in clay) and fragments depicting many aspects of life in that area. What is the period they cover? The most recent estimates of the archaeologists indicate the third millennium before our Common Era (B.C.E.).
What do they tell us about that ancient human society? Was it primitive, ignorant and illiterate? Philologist Giovanni Pettinato states: “We can already deduce from the initial study of the material that Ebla was a highly industrialized state whose economy was not based on agriculture and sheep-rearing but rather on industrial products and international trade.”
What kind of information was stored in that extensive official library? Scholar Pettinato explains: “70 percent of the texts preserved are economic-administrative . . . Another 10 percent are historical and, containing important international treaties, were jealously to be guarded. A good 20 percent are literary.”
Whether this library at Ebla will cast light on Bible events and places remains to be seen. However, the point is made that life was not so primitive over four thousand years ago as some would have us believe.
Is There Proof of the Bible’s Accuracy?
Now the question is: Do any ancient cuneiform writings and inscriptions cast light on what the Bible presents as history? Let us examine a few brief examples from the Bible record. First, consider a case from the Israelite conquest of Canaan in the 14th century B.C.E.
1. “Joshua turned about at that time and captured Hazor . . . and he burned Hazor in the fire.”—Joshua 11:10, 11.
In 1928 the late professor John Garstang identified Tell-el-Qedah, north of the Sea of Galilee, as the site of the Canaanite city of Hazor. During the period of 1955-58 a team of archaeologists excavated the site. A cuneiform tablet was found there that establishes its identification as Hazor. And “in the south-west corner of the lower City were found Canaanite houses . . . The city level of which these houses formed part . . . showed signs of violent destruction and abandonment. This now fits excellently with the tradition of its capture by Joshua after the Exodus.” (Illustrations of Old Testament History, R. D. Barnett) This clearly supports the Bible’s accuracy.
2. In the book of Ezra the Bible tells us that Cyrus, king of Persia and conqueror of Babylonia, issued an edict of religious freedom that allowed the Jewish exiles to return to their former lands and reestablish their form of worship. (Ezra 1:1-3) Is there any proof of this policy of religious tolerance that contrasts so vividly with that followed earlier by Babylon and Assyria?
In 1879 H. Rassam, excavating in Babylon on behalf of the British Museum, discovered what is known as the Cyrus Cylinder, inscribed in cuneiform writing. In 1970 an additional fragment was identified as belonging to that cylinder. Thus another part of the text was restored. What does the translation of the text’s conclusion indicate?
“As far as Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshnunna . . . as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations.”
This cuneiform text is a remarkable confirmation of the Bible’s accuracy regarding Cyrus’ tolerant policy toward foreign religions.
3. The Bible states that “in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib the king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and proceeded to seize them.” In the face of this threat Hezekiah opted to pay a tribute to Sennacherib. “Accordingly the king of Assyria laid upon Hezekiah the king of Judah three hundred silver talents and thirty gold talents.”—2 Kings 18:13-16.
Are these events confirmed by any other source? During 1847-51 the British archaeologist A. H. Layard discovered, in the ruins of Sennacherib’s palace, what is now known as King Sennacherib’s Prism or the Taylor Prism. In cuneiform writing it presents Sennacherib’s version of his exploits. Is Hezekiah mentioned? Does it say anything about the tribute? A translation reads:
“As for Hezekiah the Jew, who did not submit to my yoke, 46 of his strong, walled cities, as well as the small cities in their neighbourhood, . . . I besieged and took.” The account continues, “Himself like a caged bird, I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city.” Please note that Sennacherib does not claim he conquered Jerusalem, which agrees with the Bible account. But what about the tribute? “I added to the former tribute, and laid upon him as their yearly payment, a tax . . . 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver . . . [and] all kinds of valuable treasures.” The Bible version clearly agrees with Sennacherib’s Prism except in the value of the tribute of silver. Should that make us doubt the Bible’s accuracy? Why should we believe Sennacherib’s boastful version rather than the low-key Bible account?
In Sennacherib’s Prism account he also claims that he took 200,150 prisoners from Judah, while the Bible record shows he himself suffered a terrible loss of 185,000 soldiers in one night. (2 Kings 18:13–19:36) How can we account for these differences?
In his book Light From the Ancient Past Professor Jack Finegan speaks of the “general note of boasting which pervades the inscriptions of the Assyrian kings.” Professor Olmstead, in Assyrian Historiography, offers the opinion: “When Sennacherib tells us that he took from . . . Judah no less than 200,150 prisoners, and that in spite of the fact that Jerusalem itself was not captured, we may deduct the 200,000 as a product of the exuberant fancy of the Assyrian scribe and accept the 150 as somewhere near the actual number captured.”
Evidently exaggerated war reports are not something peculiar to the 20th century! And the failure to recognize a crushing defeat in an official annal is nothing new. But the point is that the inscription on the Taylor Prism points to the Bible’s accuracy!
4. Let us take one more example of Bible history confirmed. When the Israelites occupied the Promised Land over 3,400 years ago, the tribe of Dan took over territory to the north of Galilee. The Bible’s record says:
“And the sons of Dan proceeded to go up and war against [the Canaanite city of] Leshem [Laish] and to capture it . . . and they began to call Leshem Dan, according to the name of Dan their forefather.”—Joshua 19:47; Judges 18:29.
Did such a city ever exist? Was it ever called Dan? At Tell el-Qadi, in 1976, archaeologist Avraham Biran discovered a limestone slab with an inscription in Greek and Aramaic. The Greek text refers to a person named Zoilos who made a vow to the “god who is in Dan.” Thus archaeologists know they are working on the site of the ancient Israelite city of Dan, formerly known as Laish or Leshem. Once again the Bible is shown to be accurate. This could be further illustrated with many more examples from archaeological findings if space permitted.
Is the Bible a Reliable Basis?
In fact, time and again the Bible has been used by archaeologists to establish the geographical location of many ancient sites. The value of the Bible in this respect is highlighted by archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni, who wrote: “The Bible still remains the main source for historical geography of Palestine during the Israelite period. Its narratives and descriptions reflect their geographical environment as well as the historical events that took place. It contains references to some 475 local geographical names, many of them in contexts which supply pertinent details about the nature, location and history of the place.” This is true in spite of the fact that “the Bible is neither a textbook on geography nor an encyclopedia.”
The more one delves into the facts and artifacts related to the Bible the deeper becomes one’s appreciation of its accuracy. But facts and artifacts are one thing. Interpretation, theory and speculation are another. Are the archaeologists always united in their interpretations? Are they always completely objective? Are their theories to be preferred over the Bible’s historical account?
[Pictures on page 4]
The Cyrus Cylinder confirms Cyrus’ religious tolerance
The Taylor Prism parallels the Bible account of tribute paid to Sennacherib