(Gr., ar·khai·o·lo·giʹa, speaking of ancient things).
Biblical archaeology is the study of the peoples and events of the Bible through the intriguing record buried in the earth. The archaeologist digs up and analyzes rock, ruined walls and buildings, and shattered cities, uncovers pottery, clay tablets, written inscriptions, tombs and other ancient remains or “artifacts” from which he gleans information. Such studies often improve understanding of the circumstances under which the Bible was written and under which ancient men of faith lived, as well as the languages they, and the peoples around them, employed. They have expanded our knowledge of all the regions touched by the Bible: Palestine, Egypt, Persia, Assyria, Babylon, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome.
Considerable background information has been gained that aids in the understanding of Biblical references to many facets of life: the family, children, clothing, homes, climate, vegetation, animals, crops, trade relations, national groups and religious customs. Of considerable benefit has been the identification of the geographical locations of cities, towns and places mentioned in the Bible history. Archaeology reveals much about the depraved religion of the Canaanite peoples. It vividly illustrates the pagans’ belief in immortality of the human soul. It confirms the Bible’s picture of ancient Palestine as being ruled by numerous local kings, constantly at war with one another. It has uncovered Assyrian reliefs that show how Semites dressed, and it contributes toward our visualizing life in Jacob’s day, Elisha’s time, and during Christ’s ministry.
Archaeological discoveries have refuted many allegations of critics of the Bible, as, for example, their claim that Moses did not know the art or writing, their denial of the historicity of Belshazzar (Dan. chap. 5) and their claim that the Bible’s record of the Hebrew patriarchs was ‘a fiction based on Bedouin life of eighth- or ninth-century Israel.’ Whereas critics once said that Israel’s worship was a mere development of ideas held by neighboring pagans, archaeology has shown how strikingly different its divinely inspired worship was from that of the surrounding nations.
The reliability of the historical records and events presented in the Bible as relating to the very times and periods indicated is also borne out by these discoveries. Thus, the supplement to the classic French Dictionnaire Biblique by Vigoroux (Vol. 1, col. 928) says that the Bible’s “authenticity finds an unshakable support in the impossibility of the rationalists to adapt the sacred history satisfactorily to a different circumstance from the one it is assigned” by the Bible itself.
Biblical archaeology is relatively a new science. Only in 1822 did decipherment of the Rosetta Stone unlock Egyptian hieroglyphics./6 Assyrian cuneiform was decoded more than twenty years later. Systematic excavations were begun in Assyria in 1843 and in Egypt in 1850, but truly scientific expeditions in the modern sense did not begin in Egypt until 1883, nor in Palestine until 1890.
METHODS OF EXCAVATION
The archaeologist’s discoveries come by patient digging. Sometimes the ruins of ancient kingdoms and nations lie buried only a few feet beneath the surface of the earth. Ancient Near Eastern cities were rebuilt many times. New floors were laid over crumbled walls, earlier remains and the foundations of ancient buildings, until these cities became great mounds. In such mounds, or “tells,” each new level served to seal the history of earlier epochs beneath it. Thus modern archaeologists often need merely to start at the top of a mound to dig down through city after city, in effect digging back through time to the earliest town built thousands of years ago.
Having chosen a tell, or mound, in which to dig, the excavator cuts a preliminary trench to identify the existing layers. Each period of habitation is identified by a clearly visible stratum in the earth. Each surface walked on for any length of time, and each layer of debris, is marked by changes in consistency, color and texture of the soil, and is visible as a distinct line in the earth when looked at in the side of a cutting. (See accompanying illustration.) Successive levels are somewhat like the pages in a book: to the extent that they can be understood they tell the continuing history of the town over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Also like a book, they must be studied in their proper sequence. Thus the archaeologist starts removing, in a specific area, only one layer at a time, to keep from mixing different periods. He carefully analyzes and records each object, sometimes even sifting the dirt with sieves to discover small items. Even more important, he notes the exact circumstances in which each item was found, in an effort to attribute it to the right epoch.
Hundreds of men may be employed, clearing away squares approximately as wide as they will be deep. Walls and rooms begin to appear. When the top building has been uncovered, its plan drawn, its contents accurately noted and photographed, and everything has been learned that can be learned about it, the building and its foundations are usually swept away so excavation on the next and older level can begin.
The analysis presents many problems and difficulties. Cities were rebuilt many times, and each generation dug holes in the previous layers. Pits and ditches, postholes and wall foundations disturbed the record. Old walls were dug out by people looking for stones for new construction. Ancient artifacts (objects made by man) were dropped on the surface after being brought up by people digging cisterns and wells. Ground containing rubbish of an entirely different epoch was used to fill holes, thus introducing objects from a far later period almost at floor level of earlier buildings. Such action usually can be deduced from the way it breaks up the layers, but the interpretation of the clues this activity left depends on the archaeologist’s skill, judgment and integrity. And he destroys the previous evidence when he digs on down to earlier levels, leaving only the records he has drawn up.
PRESERVING THE FINDS
Often great ingenuity is required to preserve what the archaeologist finds. Traces of a long narrow trench may show where a wall once existed, but was carefully dug out by someone to get stones as material for later structures. A patterned stain in carefully excavated earth may mark the remains of long-decayed timbers. Woolley found a “simple hole in the ground” in a grave at Ur, then found another. Sensing something unusual, he poured in plaster-of-Paris, and thus filled a void decaying wood had left. The result was “a complete plaster cast of a harp whose substance had long since vanished,” except for decorations later found sticking to the plaster. (Digging Up the Past, p. 93) Loose materials are secured with hot wax and muslin, enabling restorers later faithfully to reproduce originals that have been decayed for thousands of years.
Skeletons crushed almost flat are covered with boiling wax and linen, then transported halfway around the world, where they are cleaned, hardened and shown in museums exactly as found. Clay tablets that have become softer than cheese during millennia in damp soil are dried, baked until they become hard and strong, and then are easily cleaned to reveal ancient messages.
Much depends upon the archaeologist’s observation. From the thickness of a pillar he may try to estimate a room’s original height. From a building’s shape, its use may be fairly evident. The broken pottery he finds may identify the branch of culture to which the people belonged. Sudden appearance of well-made copper tools of a type found in another country is considered strong evidence of commercial contact. A quick change in pottery style (since pottery-making was mostly a local activity) possibly marks a foreign conquest. If the new pottery style is a known one, it may identify the ancient conquerors. Ashes spread over a site, with fire marks on the walls, may tell of the town’s destruction. A layer of windblown sand probably indicates that the site was abandoned for a time. In Palestine such changes are found at the estimated time of Egyptian conquests, as well as that of the Israelite conquest.
Ornaments made of precious stones, found far from their place of origin, may show the extent of ancient commerce. Bones scattered in ruins indicate what domestic animals were kept, as well as what wild animals were hunted and eaten. Dried contents of ancient jars show what grains and fruits people ate. As regards all such methods of interpretation, however, it must be said that conclusions vary among the archaeologists and views once held may later be rejected.
Buildings are dated by what is found in their walls, or immediately under their floors. From the fifth century B.C.E., and especially from the third century, coins become abundant, and greatly aid in dating the buildings in which they are found. Mesopotamian temples may be dated by bricks that often bear, not only the name of the temple and the god to whom it was dedicated, but also the name of the king it honors. Egyptian cornerstones and foundation deposits may give the name of the Pharaoh under whom the building was constructed.
A more ingenious method of determining relative dates was discovered in 1890 by the famed archaeologist Flinders Petrie. At the old Biblical city of Lachish he carefully studied the cups and mugs, jugs and jars from which generations of people ate and drank—things used in daily life, which were readily discarded when broken. He discovered that the styles of this pottery changed in succeeding levels, and he worked out a chart in which every type of vessel was assigned its place in a historic sequence. Lowly potsherds (pieces of broken pottery) are found in quantity on any excavation, sometimes as many as fifty to a hundred basketsful in a single day. When a type found on Petrie’s chart is also found in a neighboring city, it is assumed to be of approximately the same epoch.
SOME MAJOR SITES AND FINDS
Archaeology has served to confirm many historical features of the Biblical account with regard to these lands and to substantiate points once held in question by modern critics. Skepticism as regards the Tower of Babel, denials of the existence of a Babylonian king named Belshazzar and of an Assyrian king named Sargon (whose names, up until the nineteenth century C.E., were not found in sources independent of the Bible record), and other adverse criticisms as to Bible data relating to these lands, have all been demonstrated to be without foundation. Contrariwise, a wealth of evidence has been unearthed that harmonizes fully with the Scriptural account.
Excavations in and around the ancient city of Babylon have revealed the sites of several ziggurats, or pyramidlike, staged temple-towers, including the ruined temple of Etemenanki inside Babylon’s walls. Records and inscriptions found concerning such temples often contain the words, “Its top shall reach the heavens,” and King Nebuchadnezzar is recorded as saying: “I raised the summit of the Tower of stages at Etemenanki so that its top rivalled the heavens.” One fragment found north of Marduk temple in Babylon related the fall of such a ziggurat in these words: “The building of this temple offended the gods. In a night they threw down what had been built. They scattered them abroad, and made strange their speech. The progress they impeded.” The ziggurat located at Uruk (Biblical Erech) was found to be built with clay, bricks and asphalt.—Compare Genesis 11:1-9.
Near the Ishtar Gate in Babylon some three hundred cuneiform tablets were uncovered relating to the period of King Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Among lists of the names of workers and captives then living in Babylon to whom provisions were given appears that of “Yaukin, king of the land of Yahud,” that is, “Jehoiachin, the king of Judah,” who was taken to Babylon at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem in 618-617 B.C.E., but was released from the house of detention by Evil-merodach, Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, and given a daily allowance of food for the rest of his life. (2 Ki. 25:27-30) Five of his sons are also mentioned on these tablets.—1 Chron. 3:17, 18.
Abundant evidence has been found of Babylon’s pantheon of gods, including the chief god Marduk, commonly referred to later as Bel, and the god Nebo, both mentioned at Isaiah 46:1, 2. Much of the information on Nebuchadnezzar’s own inscriptions deals with his vast building program that made Babylon such a magnificent city. (Compare Daniel 4:30.) The name of his successor Amel-Marduk (called Evil-merodach at 2 Kings 25:27) appears on a vase discovered at Susa (Elam).
Near modern Baghdad excavations in the latter half of the nineteenth century produced numerous clay tablets and cylinders, including the now famous Nabunaid Chronicle. All objections to the record at Daniel chapter 5 as to Belshazzar’s ruling in Babylon at the time of its fall were dispelled by this document, which proved that Belshazzar, eldest son of Nabonidus, was coregent of his father and that in the latter part of his reign Nabonidus entrusted the government of Babylon to his son Belshazzar.
Ur, the ancient home of Abraham (Gen. 11:28-31), similarly proved to have been a prominent metropolis with a highly developed civilization. A Sumerian city, it was located on the Euphrates near the Persian Gulf. Excavations there by Sir Leonard Woolley indicate that it was at the height of its power and prestige at the time of Abraham’s departure for Canaan. (Before 1943 B.C.E.) Its ziggurat temple is the best preserved of those found. The royal tombs of Ur yielded an abundance of gold objects and jewelry of very high artistic caliber; also musical instruments, such as the harp. (Compare Genesis 4:21.) A small steel (not merely iron) ax was also found. (Compare Genesis 4:22.) Here, too, thousands of clay tablets revealed much of the details of life nearly four thousand years in the past. As a result of these discoveries, Woolley expressed himself thus: “We must radically alter our view of the Hebrew patriarch [Abraham] when we see that his earlier years were passed in such sophisticated surroundings.”—See UR.
At the site Of ancient Sippar on the Euphrates about twenty miles (32 kilometers) from Baghdad, a clay cylinder of King Cyrus the conqueror of Babylon was found. Cyrus, whose conquest is also described in the Nabunaid Chronicle, recounts his easy capture of the city and also outlines his policy of restoring to their native lands the captive peoples residing in Babylon, thus harmonizing with the Biblical account of Cyrus as the prophesied conqueror of Babylon and of the restoration of the Jews to Palestine during Cyrus’ reign.—Isa. 44:28; 45:1; 2 Chron. 36:23.
At Khorsabad, on a northern tributary of the Tigris River, in 1843 the palace of Assyrian King Sargon II, covering some twenty-five acres (10 hectares), was discovered and subsequent archaeological work there brought this king, mentioned at Isaiah 20:1, out of secular obscurity to a position of historical prominence. In one of his annals he describes the capture of Samaria (740 B.C.E.) as an outstanding point of his reign. He also records the capture of Ashdod, described at Isaiah 20:1. Once considered nonexistent by many prominent scholars, Sargon II is now one of the best known of the kings of Assyria.
Nineveh, Assyria’s capital, was the site of excavations that unearthed the immense palace of Sennacherib, containing some seventy-one rooms with sculptured slabs lining 9,880 feet (3,011 meters) of the walls, one depicting Judean prisoners being led into captivity following the fall of Lachish in 732 B.C.E. (2 Ki. 18:13-17; 2 Chron. 32:9) Of even greater interest, here at Nineveh (modern Kuyunjik) were the annals of Sennacherib found recorded on prisms (clay cylingers). On one prism Sennacherib describes the Assyrian campaign against Palestine in Hezekiah’s reign (732 B.C.E.), but, notably, the boastful monarch makes no claim of having taken the city, thus confirming the Bible account. (See SENNACHERIB.) The account of Sennacherib’s assassination at the hands of his sons is also recorded on an inscription of Esar-haddon, Sennacherib’s successor, and referred to in an inscription of the following king, Ashurbanipal. (2 Ki. 19:37) In addition to the mention of King Hezekiah by Sennacherib, the names of Judean Kings Ahaz and Manasseh, and the names of Israelite Kings Omri, Jehu, Menahem and Hoshea, and also Hazael of Damascus, all appear on cuneiform records Of various Assyrian emperors.
Near Behistun, Iran (ancient Persia), King Darius I (521-485 B.C.E.; Ezra 6:1-15) had an immense inscription carved high up on a limestone cliff, describing his unification of the Persian Empire and attributing his success to his god Ahura Mazda. Of primary value is the fact that the inscription was recorded in three languages, Babylonian (Akkadian), “Elamite” and old Persian, thus serving as a key for the deciphering of the Assyro-Babylonian cuneiform, till then undeciphered. Thousands of clay tablets and inscriptions in the Babylonian language can now be read as a result of this work.
Shushan, the scene of the events recorded in the book of Esther, was excavated by French archaeologists between 1880 and 1890. The royal palace of Xerxes, covering some two and a half acres (about one hectare), was uncovered, revealing the splendor and magnificence of the Persian kings. The finds confirmed the exactitude of details set down by the writer of Esther as relating to the administration of the Persian kingdom and the construction of the palace. The book The Monuments and the Old Testament (1925) by Ira Price (p. 408) comments: “There is no event described in the Old Testament whose structural surroundings can be so vividly and accurately restored from actual excavations as ‘Shushan the Palace.’”
Mari and Nuzi
The ancient royal city of Mari (Tell Hariri) on the Euphrates River, some 150 miles (240 kilometers) above the town of Hit, was the site of excavations from 1933 on. An enormous palace covering some fifteen acres (6.1 hectares) and containing three hundred rooms was discovered, and its archives yielded more than twenty thousand clay tablets. The palace complex included not only the royal apartments but also administrative offices and a school for scribes. Great mural paintings or frescoes decorated many of the walls, the bathrooms were equipped with tubs, and cake molds were found in the kitchens. The city appears to have been one of the most outstanding and brilliant of the period in the early second millennium B.C.E. The texts on the clay tablets included royal decrees, public notices, accounts, orders for construction of canals, locks, dams and other irrigation projects as well as correspondence concerning imports and exports and foreign affairs. Frequent censuses were taken involving taxation and military enrollment. Religion was prominent, particularly the worship of Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, whose temple was also found. Divination was practiced as in Babylon, by observation of livers, astronomy and similar methods. The city was largely destroyed by Babylonian King Hammurabi. Of particular interest was the appearance of the names of Peleg, Serug, Nahor, Terah and Haran, all listed as cities of northern Mesopotamia and reflecting the names of the relatives of Abraham.—Gen. 11:17-32.
Nuzi, an ancient city to the E of the Tigris and SE of Nineveh, excavated during 1925-31, yielded an inscribed clay map, the oldest yet discovered, as well as evidence of buying and selling on the installment plan as early as the fifteenth century B.C.E. Some twenty thousand clay tablets were unearthed, considered to have been written by Hurrian scribes in the Babylonian language. These contain a wealth of detail regarding the legal jurisprudence at that time, involving such things as adoption, marriage contracts, rights of inheritance, and wills. Certain aspects show a relatively close parallel to customs described in the Genesis account concerning the patriarchs. The practice of a childless couple’s adopting a son, whether freeborn or slave, to care for them, bury them, and be their heir, shows a similarity to the statement by Abraham concerning his trusted slave Eliezer at Genesis 15:2. The selling of birthrights is described, recalling the case of Jacob and Esau. (Gen. 25:29-34) The texts also show that possession of the family gods, often small clay figurines, was viewed as similar to holding a title deed, so that the one possessing the gods was considered to hold the right to the property or the inheritance thereof. This may illustrate the situation involving Rachel’s taking her father’s teraphim and his grave concern for their recovery.—Gen. 31:14-16, 19, 25-35.
The closest view given in the Bible of Egypt centers around Joseph’s entry there and the subsequent arrival and sojourn of the entire family of Jacob in that land. Archaeological finds show this picture to be an extremely accurate one, and one that could not reasonably have been thus presented by a writer living at a much later time (as some critics have tried to say was the case with the recorder of that portion of the Genesis account). As the book New Light on Hebrew Origins by Garrow Duncan (p. 174) states concerning the writer of the account about Joseph: “He employs the correct title in use and exactly as it was used at the period referred to, and, where there is no Hebrew equivalent, he simply adopts the Egyptian word and transliterates it into Hebrew.” The Egyptian names, the position of Joseph as Potiphar’s house manager, the prison houses, the titles “the chief of the cupbearers” and “the chief of the bakers,” the importance placed on dreams by the Egyptians, the practice of Egyptian bakers of carrying baskets of bread on their heads (Gen. 40:1, 2, 16, 17), the position as prime minister and food administrator accorded Joseph by Pharaoh, the manner of inducting him into office, the Egyptian detestation of herders of sheep, the strong influence of magicians in the Egyptian court, the settling of the sojourning Israelites in the land of Goshen, the Egyptian burial practices—all these and many other points described in the Bible record are clearly substantiated by the archaeological evidence produced in Egypt.—Gen. 39:1–47:27; 50:1-3.
At Karnak (ancient Thebes), several hundred miles up the Nile River, a vast Egyptian temple contains an inscription on its S wall confirming the campaign of Egyptian King Shishak (Sheshonk I) in Palestine, described at 1 Kings 14:25, 26 and 2 Chronicles 12:1-9. The giant relief depicting his victories shows 156 manacled Palestinian prisoners, each representing a city or village, the name of which is given in hieroglyphics. Among the names identifiable are those of Rabbith (Josh. 19:20), Taanach, Beth-shean and Megiddo (where a portion of a stele or inscribed pillar of Shishak has been excavated) (Josh. 17:11), Shunem (Josh. 19:18), Rehob (Josh. 19:28), Hapharaim (Josh. 19:19), Gibeon (Josh. 18:25), Beth-horon (Josh. 21:22), Aijalon (Josh. 21:24), Socoh (Josh. 15:35) and Arad (Josh. 12:14). He even lists the “Field of Abram” as one of his captures, the earliest reference to Abraham in Egyptian records. Also found in this area was a monument of Merneptah, son of Ramses II, containing a hymn in which the only occurrence of the name “Israel” in Egyptian texts is to be found.
At Tell el-Amarna, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) N on the Nile from Karnak, a peasant woman accidentally discovered clay tablets that led to the uncovering of some 377 documents in Akkadian from the royal archives of Amen-hotep III and his son Akh-en-aton. The tablets comprise correspondence to Pharaoh from the vassal princes of the numerous city-kingdoms of Syria and Palestine, including some from the governor of Urusalim (Jerusalem), and reveal a picture of warring feuds and intrigue completely concordant with the Scriptural description of those times. The “Habiru,” about whom numerous complaints are made in these letters, have been related by some with the Hebrews, but the evidence tends to indicate that they were, rather, simply diverse nomadic peoples occupying a low social status in the society of that period.
Elephantine, an island in the Nile to the extreme S of Egypt (near Aswan) bearing this Greek name, was the site of a Jewish colony following the fall of Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. A large number of documents, mainly on papyrus, were found here in 1903 dating from the fifth century B.C.E. and the reign of the Medo-Persian Empire. Written in Aramaic, the documents make mention of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria. (Neh. 4:1) However, they have been of interest principally because they are nearly contemporaneous with the writing of the letters presented in chapter four of Ezra, as passing between the Persian king and the opponents of the Jews around the year 522 B.C.E. Eminent scholars had previously criticized the Bible record of these letters as not being authentic and as not being representative of those times. The Elephantine Papyri, however, substantiate the Bible record in showing that the Aramaic used in the book of Ezra is characteristic of that period and that the recorded letters are written in style and language similar to these papyri.
Undoubtedly the most valuable finds produced in Egypt have been the papyrus fragments and portions of Bible books, both of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, dating all the way back to the second and third centuries C.E. Egypt’s dry climate and sandy soil made it an unexcelled storehouse for preserving such papyrus documents.—See MANUSCRIPTS OF THE BIBLE.
Palestine and Syria
Some six hundred datable sites have been excavated in these areas. Much of the data obtained is of a general nature, supporting the Bible record on a broad basis rather than specifically relating to certain details or events. As an example, in the past, efforts were made to discredit the Bible’s account of the complete desolation of Judah during the Babylonian captivity. The excavations, however, collectively substantiate the Bible. As W. F. Albright states: “There is not a single known case where a town of Judah proper was continuously occupied through the exilic period. Just to point the contrast, Bethel, which lay just outside the northern boundary of Judah in pre-exilic times, was not destroyed at that time, but was continuously occupied down into the latter part of the sixth century.”—The Archaeology of Palestine, p. 142.
Beth-shan (Beth-shean), an ancient fortress city that guarded the approach to the Valley of Esdraelon from the E, was the site of major excavations that revealed eighteen different levels of occupation, requiring digging to a depth of over seventy feet (21.3 meters). The Scriptural account shows that Beth-shan was not among the towns originally occupied by the invading Israelites and that at the time of Saul it was occupied by the Philistines. (Josh. 17:11; Judg. 1:27; 1 Sam. 31:8-12) The excavations in general support this record and indicate a destruction of Beth-shan sometime after the Israelites’ defeat near Shiloh. (Jer. 7:12) Of particular interest was the discovery of certain Canaanite temples at Beth-shan. First Samuel 31:10 states that the Philistines put King Saul’s armor “in the house of the Ashtoreth images, and his corpse they fastened on the wall or Beth-shan,” while 1 Chronicles 10:10 says “they put his armor in the house of their god, and his skull they fastened to the house of Dagon.” Two of the temples unearthed were of the same time period and one gives evidence of being the temple of Ashtoreth, while the other is thought to be that of Dagon, thus harmonizing with the above texts as to the existence of two temples in Beth-shan.
At Debir (Tell Beit Mirsim) in southern Judah the archaeologists dug through ten strata within an area of seven acres (2.8 hectares). The site showed signs of heavy destruction, followed by what is considered to be evidence of Israelite occupation. Later strata indicated a partial destruction in the time of Sennacherib; signs of two invasions by Nebuchadnezzar were found, with the second showing complete destruction, after which the site continued uninhabited. (2 Ki. chaps. 24, 25) Debir was also found to have been a major center of the weaving and dyeing industry, with some twenty or more dye plants. On one inscribed pillar unearthed, a Canaanite serpent goddess was depicted.
Ezion-geber, Solomon’s seaport city on the Gulf of Aqabah, excavated during 1937-1940, produced evidence of a copper-smelting site, copper slag and bits of copper ore being found on a low mound in that region. However, the original conclusions of archaeologist Nelson Glueck concerning the site have recently been radically revised by him in an article in The Biblical Archaeologist (Vol. XXVIII, September 1965). His opinion that there was a “blast furnace” system of smelting employed there was based on the finding of what were thought to be “flue-holes” in the principal building excavated. He now has come to the conclusion that these holes in the building’s walls are the result of “the decay and/or burning of wooden beams laid across the width of the walls for bonding or anchoring purposes.” The building, previously thought to be a smelter, is now believed to be a storehouse-granary structure. While it is still believed that metallurgical operations did take place here, they are not now considered to be of the dimensions previously conjectured. This underscores the fact that archaeological data are dependent primarily upon the individual interpretation of the archaeologist, which interpretation is by no means infallible. The Bible itself mentions no copper industry at Ezion-geber, describing only the casting of copper items at a site in the Jordan valley.—1 Ki. 7:45, 46.
Hazor in Galilee was described as being “the head of all these kingdoms,” in Joshua’s time. (Josh. 11:10) Excavations there showed that the city once covered some 150 acres (61 hectares), with a large population, making it one of the major cities of that region. Solomon fortified the city, and the evidence from that period indicates it to have been a chariot city with stable units and chariot sheds similar to those found at Megiddo.—1 Ki. 9:15, 19.
Jericho has been subjected to excavations during three different expeditions (1907-1909; 1930-1936; 1952-1958) and the successive interpretations of the findings demonstrate again the fact that archaeology, like other fields of human science, is not a source of positively stable information. Each of the three expeditions has produced data but each has arrived at differing conclusions as to the history of the city and particularly as to the date of its fall before the Israelite conquerors. At any rate, the combined results may be said to present the general picture set forth in the book Biblical Archaeology (1957) by G. Ernest Wright (p. 78), which states: “The city underwent a terrible destruction or a series of destructions between the 16th and 13th centuries B.C., and remained virtually unoccupied for centuries.” The destruction was accompanied by intense fire, as shown by the excavated evidence.—Compare Joshua 6:20-26.
In Jerusalem in 1867 an old water tunnel was discovered, running from the fountain of Gihon back into the hill behind, with a vertical shaft there leading up into what was once the old city of Jebus. This may illustrate the account of David’s capture of the city at 2 Samuel 5:6-10. In 1909-1911 the entire system of tunnels connected with the Gihon spring was cleared. One tunnel, known as the Siloam tunnel, averaged six feet (1.8 meters) in height and was cut through solid rock for a distance of some 1,749 feet (533 meters) from Gihon to the pool of Siloam in the Tyropoean Valley (within the city). It thus seems to be the project of King Hezekiah described at 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30. Of great interest was the ancient inscription found on the tunnel wall in early Hebrew monumental script describing the cutting of the tunnel and its length. This inscription is used for comparison in dating other Hebrew inscriptions found.
Lachish, about thirty miles (48 kilometers) SW of Jerusalem, was a principal fortress protecting the Judean hill country. At Jeremiah 34:7 the prophet tells of Nebuchadnezzar’s forces fighting against “Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left remaining, against Lachish and against Azekah; for they, the fortified cities, were the ones that remained over among the cities of Judah.” Excavations at Lachish produced evidence of destruction by fire twice within a period of a few years, believed to represent two attacks by the Babylonians (618-617 and 609-607 B.C.E.), after which it lay uninhabited for a long period.
In the ashes of the second burning were found eighteen ostraca (pieces of pottery inscribed with writing), believed to represent correspondence shortly before the destruction of the city in Nebuchadnezzar’s final assault. Known as the Lachish Letters, these writings reflect a period of crisis and anxiety and appear to have been written from remaining outposts of Judean troops to Yaosh, a military commander in Lachish. Letter number IV contains the statement: “May YHWH [Tetragrammaton, Jehovah] let my lord hear even now tidings of good. . . . we are watching for the signal-stations of Lachish, according to all the signs which my lord gives, because we do not see Azekah.” This passage remarkably expresses the situation described at Jeremiah 34:7, quoted above, and apparently indicates that Azekah had already fallen or at least was failing to send out the fire or smoke signals expected.
Letter number III, written by “Hoshaiah,” includes the following: “May the Lord [YHWH] cause my lord to hear tidings of peace! . . . And it hath been reported to thy servant saying: ‘The commander of the host, Coniah son of Elnathan, hath come down in order to go into Egypt and unto Hodaviah son of Ahijah and his men hath he sent me to obtain supplies from him.”’ This portion could well represent the fact of Judah’s turning to Egypt for help, as condemned by the prophets. (Isa. 31:1; Jer. 46:25, 26) The names Elnathan and Hoshaiah, occurring in the complete text of this letter, are also found at Jeremiah 36:12 and Jeremiah 42:1. Other names appearing in the letters also occur in the book of Jeremiah: Gemariah (36:10), Neriah (32:12) and Jaazaniah (35:3). Whether in any case they represent the same individual or not cannot be said, but the coincidence in itself is notable in view of Jeremiah’s being a contemporary of that period.
Of special interest is the frequent use of the name Jehovah as represented by the Tetragrammaton in these letters, thus manifesting that at that time the Jews held no aversion toward the use of the divine name. Also of interest is a clay seal impression found that refers to “Gedaliah who is over the house.” Gedaliah is the name of the governor appointed over Judah by Nebuchadnezzar after Jerusalem’s fall and many consider it likely that the seal impression refers to him.—2 Ki. 25:22; compare Isaiah 22:15; 36:3.
Megiddo was a strategic fortress city commanding an important pass to the Valley of Esdraelon. It was rebuilt by Solomon and is mentioned with the storage and chariot cities of his reign. (1 Ki. 9:15-19) Excavations at the site (Tell el-Mutesellim), a thirteen-acre (5.3-hectare) mound, uncovered what appears to be a group of stables with stone hitching posts and mangers capable of caring for some 450 horses and housing about 150 chariots. The stratum on which some of these were found is assigned to the general period of Solomon’s rule.
The Moabite Stone was one of the earliest discoveries of importance in Transjordan. Found in 1868 at Dibon, N of the Arnon Valley, it presents Moabite King Mesha’s version of his revolt against Israel. (Compare 2 Kings 1:1; 3:4, 5.) In part the inscription says: “I am Mesha, son of Chemosh . . . , king of Moab, the Dibonite. . . . Omri, king of Israel . . . oppressed Moab many days because Chemosh [the god of Moab] was angry with his land. And his son succeeded him, and he also said, I will oppress Moab. In my days, he spoke. But I saw my desire upon him and upon his house, and Israel perished forever.” “And Chemosh said unto me, Go, take Nebo against Israel. And I went by night and fought against it from the break of dawn until noon. And I took it and slew the whole of it. . . . And I took thence the vessels of Yahweh and I dragged them before Chemosh.” Thus the stone not only mentions the name of King Omri of Israel but also, in the eighteenth line, contains the tetragrammaton form of the name Jehovah and is the oldest preserved extra-biblical document containing the divine name in the ancient script used.
The Moabite Stone also mentions numerous places referred to in the Bible: Ataroth and Nebo (Num. 32:34, 38), the Arnon, Aroer, Medeba and Dibon (Josh. 13:9), Bamoth-baal, Beth-baal-meon, Jahaz and Kiriathaim (Josh. 13:17-19), Bezer (Josh. 20:8), Horonaim (Isa. 15:5), Beth-diblathaim and Kerioth. (Jer. 48:22, 24) It thus supports the historicity of all these places.
Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), on the N Syrian coast opposite the island of Cyprus, has provided information about worship quite similar to Canaan’s, including its gods and goddesses, temples, “sacred” prostitutes, rites, sacrifices and prayers. A room was found between a temple to Baal and another temple devoted to Dagon that contained a library of hundreds of religious texts considered to date from the fifteenth and early fourteenth centuries B.C.E. The mythological poetical texts reveal much about the Canaanite divinities El, Baal and Asherah and the degrading form of idolatry that accompanied their worship. Merrill F. Unger in his book Archaeology and the Old Testament (1954, p. 175) comments: “The Ugaritic epic literature has helped to reveal the depth of depravity which characterized Canaanite religion. Being a polytheism of an extremely debased type, Canaanite cultic practice was barbarous and thoroughly licentious.” Images of Baal and other gods were also found. (See GODS AND GODDESSES, Canaanite Deities.) A previously unknown type of alphabetic cuneiform writing (different from the Akkadian cuneiform) distinguished these texts. It follows the same order as Hebrew but adds other letters to make a total of thirty. As at Ur, a steel battle-ax was also unearthed.
Samaria, the strongly fortified capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, was built on a hill rising some three hundred feet (91 meters) above the valley floor. Proof of its strength to resist long sieges, such as those described at 2 Kings 6:24-30 in the case of Syria, and 2 Kings 17:5 in the case of the powerful Assyrian host, is evidenced by the remains of sturdy double walls, at some points forming a bulwark thirty-two feet (9.8 meters) wide. The stone masonry found on the site, considered as of the time of Kings Omri, Ahab and Jehu, is of splendid workmanship. What appears to be the palace platform measures some 315 feet (96 meters) from N to S. Large quantities of ivory pieces, plaques and panels were found in the palace area and may relate to Ahab’s house of ivory mentioned at 1 Kings 22:39. (Compare Amos 6:4.) At the NW corner of the summit a large cemented pool was found measuring some thirty-three feet (10 meters) in length and about seventeen feet (5.2 meters) in width. It could be the “pool of Samaria,” in which Ahab’s chariot was washed of his blood.—1 Ki. 22:38.
Of interest were some sixty or so potsherds with ink inscriptions (ostraca) considered as dating from the eighth century B.C.E. Receipts for shipments of wine and oil to Samaria from other towns show an Israelite system of writing numbers by use of vertical, horizontal and slanted strokes. A typical receipt reads as follows:
In the tenth year.
To Gaddiyau [probably the steward of the treasury].
From Azah [perhaps the village or district sending the wine or oil].
These receipts also reveal a frequent use of the name “Baal” as part of the names, about seven names including this name for every eleven containing some form of the name Jehovah, likely indicating the infiltration of Baal worship as described in the Bible account.
The fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the existence of pits of bitumen (asphalt) in that region are described in the Bible. (Gen. 14:3, 10; 19:12-28) It is thought that the waters of the Dead Sea may have risen in the past and extended the southern end of the sea for a considerable distance, thus covering what may have been the sites of these two cities. However, explorations conducted show the area to be a burnt-out region of oil and asphalt. Concerning the matter, the book Light from the Ancient Past by Jack Finegan (1946, p. 126) states: “A careful survey of the literary, geological and archeological evidence points to the conclusion that the infamous ‘cities of the Plain’ (Genesis 19:29) were in the area which now is submerged . . . , and that their ruin was accomplished by a great earthquake, probably accompanied by explosions, lightning, ignition of natural gas and general conflagration.”
Archaeological evidence relating to the Christian Greek Scriptures
Luke’s account (2:1-3) concerning the registration that caused Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem was at one time viewed by many as inaccurate as regards the census itself, the position of Quirinius as governor of Syria at the time indicated, and the requirement for all registrants to go to their ancestral homes. However, papyrus documents have been found showing such a census was carried out periodically and that Quirinius was governor in Syria not once but twice, and also an edict of the year 104 C.E. by the Roman governor of Egypt illustrating the requirement that those being registered had to do so at their ancestral homes.
The use by Jesus of a denarius coin bearing the head of Tiberius Caesar (Mark 12:15-17) is confirmed by the finding of a silver denarius coin bearing the head of Tiberius and put in circulation about the year 15 C.E. (Compare Luke 3:1, 2.) The fact that Pontius Pilate was then Roman governor of Judea is also demonstrated by a stone slab found at Caesarea bearing the Latin names Pontius Pilatus and Tiberius.
The Acts of Apostles, which gives clear evidence of having been written by Luke, contains numerous references to cities and their provinces and to officials of different types and with varying titles, holding office at a particular time, a presentation fraught with possibility of error on the part of the writer. (Note also Luke 3:1, 2.) Yet the archaeological evidence produced demonstrates to a remarkable degree Luke’s accuracy. Thus, at Acts 14:1-6, Luke places Lystra and Derbe within the territory of Lycaonia but implies that Iconium was in another territory. Roman writers, including Cicero, referred to Iconium as being in Lycaonia. However, a monument discovered in 1910 shows that Iconium was considered to be indeed a city of Phrygia rather than of Lycaonia.
Similarly, at Soli, on the N coast of the island of Cyprus, an inscription was found referring to “Paulus proconsul” (Acts 13:7); an inscription discovered at Delphi confirms that Gallio was proconsul of Achaia in 52 C.E. (Acts 18:12) Some nineteen inscriptions dating from the second century B.C.E. to the third century C.E. confirm the correctness of Luke’s use of the title “city rulers” (singular, po·li·tarʹkhes) as applying to the officials of Thessalonica (Acts 17:6, 8), five of these inscriptions referring specifically to that city; likewise, the reference to Publius as the “principal man” (proʹtos) of Malta (Acts 28:7) is the exact title to be used, as shown by its appearance on two Maltese inscriptions, one in Latin and one in Greek. Magical texts were found at Ephesus, as well as the temple of Artemis (Acts 19:19, 27); excavations there also unearthed a theater capable of holding some twenty-five thousand persons and inscriptions referring to the “commissioners of festivals and games,” like those who intervened on Paul’s behalf, and also to a “recorder,” like the one who quieted the mob on that occasion.—Acts 19:29-31, 35, 41.
Some of such findings moved Charles Gore to write of Luke’s accuracy in the New Commentary on Holy Scripture: “It should, of course, be recognized that modern archaeology has almost forced upon critics of St. Luke a verdict of remarkable accuracy in all his allusions to secular facts and events.”
COMPARATIVE VALUE OF ARCHAEOLOGY
Archaeology has produced beneficial information that has aided in the identification (often tentative) of Biblical sites, has unearthed written documents that have contributed to a better understanding of the original languages in which the Scriptures were written, and has shed light on the living conditions and activities of ancient peoples and rulers referred to in the Bible. Yet, insofar as it relates to the authenticity and reliability of the Bible and to faith in the Bible, its teachings and its revelation of God’s purposes and promises, it must be said that archaeology is a nonessential supplement and an unrequired confirmation of the truth of God’s Word. As the apostle Paul expresses it: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld. By faith we perceive that the systems of things were put in order by God’s word, so that what is beheld came to be out of things that do not appear.” (Heb. 11:1, 3) “We are walking by faith, not by sight.”—2 Cor. 5:7.
This does not mean that Christian faith does not have any basis in what can be seen or that it deals only with intangibles. But it is true that in every period and age there has been ample contemporary evidence surrounding people, as well as within themselves and their own experiences, that could convince them that the Bible is the true source of divine revelation and that it contains nothing that is out of harmony with provable facts. (Rom. 1:18-23) The knowledge of the past in the light of archaeological discovery is interesting and appreciated, but not vital. The knowledge of the past in the light of the Bible is, alone, essential and solidly reliable. The Bible, with or without archaeology, gives true meaning to the present and illuminates the future. (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:19-21) It is, in reality, a weak faith that must rely on moldering bricks, broken vases and crumbling walls to bolster it up and serve as a crutch.
Uncertainty underlying archaeological conclusions
While archaeological discoveries at times have provided a convenient answer to those who have carped at Bible accounts or criticized the historicity of certain events, and have helped to disencumber the minds of sincere persons who have been overly impressed by the arguments of such critics, yet archaeology has not silenced Bible critics nor is it a truly sound foundation for basing one’s belief in the Bible record. The conclusions drawn from the majority of the excavations made depend mainly upon the deductive and inductive reasoning of the investigators, who, somewhat like detectives, assemble a case for which they argue. Even in modern times, although detectives may uncover and amass an impressive array of circumstantial and material evidence, any case founded purely upon such evidence while lacking in the testimony of creditable witnesses directly relating to the matter in question would, if brought to court, be considered very weak. Decisions based solely on such evidence have resulted in gross error and injustice. How much more so must this be the case when two or three thousand years intervene between the investigators and the time of the event.
A similar parallel is drawn by archaeologist R. J. C. Atkinson, who says: “One has only to think how difficult would be the task of future archaeologists if they had to reconstruct the ritual, dogma and doctrine of the Christian Churches from the ruins of the church buildings alone, without the aid of any written record or inscription. We have thus the paradoxical situation that archaeology, the only method of investigating man’s past in the absence of written records, becomes increasingly less effective as a means of inquiry the more nearly it approaches those aspects of human life which are the more specifically human.”—Stonehenge, p. 167 (quoted in the book Fair Gods and Stone Faces by Constance Irwin, 1963, pp. 161, 162).
Illustrating the wide difference of opinion or interpretation that authorities may give to evidence unearthed are the ruins of certain large pillared buildings with paved courtyard found at both Megiddo and Hazor. Most reference works identify these as the remains of stables, likely of Solomon’s chariot horses. Yet, D. J. Wiseman, professor of Assyriology at the University of London, in an article in The New Bible Dictionary (J. D. Douglas, Organizing Editor; p. 77) suggests that these “may well be public chancelleries and other offices rather than military establishments.”
Complicating the matter further is the fact that, in addition to their obvious inability to bring the ancient past into focus with anything more than approximate accuracy, and in spite of their endeavoring to maintain a purely objective viewpoint in considering the evidence they unearth, the archaeologists, like other scientists, are nonetheless subject to human failings and personal leanings and ambitions, which can stimulate fallible reasoning. Pointing up the problem, Professor W. F. Albright comments: “On the other hand, there is danger in seeking new discoveries and novel points of view at the expense of more solid earlier work. This is particularly true in fields like Biblical archaeology and geography, where mastery of tools and of methods of investigation is so arduous that there is always a temptation to neglect sound method, substituting clever combinations and brilliant guesses for slower and more systematic work.”—The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible, Revised Edition, p. 9.
Differences in dating
It is important to realize this when considering the dates offered by archaeologists with regard to their finds. H. H. Rowley, an authority in the field, states: “Undue weight should not be given to archaeologists’ estimates of dates, since they depend in part, at any rate, on subjective factors, as the wide differences between them sufficiently prove.” (Archaeology and the Old Testament, Unger, p. 152) Illustrating this, Merrill F. Unger says (p. 164, ftn. 15): “For example, Garstang dates the fall of Jericho c. 1400 B.C. . . .; Albright subscribes to the date c. 1290 B.C. . . . ; Hugues Vincent, the celebrated Palestinian archeologist, holds to the date 1250 B.C. . . . ; while H. H. Rowley views Rameses II as the Pharaoh of the Oppression, and the Exodus as having taken place under his successor Marniptah [Merneptah] about 1225 B.C.” While arguing on behalf of the reliability of modern archaeological process and analysis, Professor Albright acknowledges that “it is still very difficult for the non-specialist to pick his way among the conflicting dates and conclusions of archaeologists.”—The Archaeology of Palestine, p. 253.
It is true that the “radiocarbon clock” has been employed, along with other modern methods, for dating the artifacts found. However, that this method is not completely accurate is evidenced in the following statement by G. Ernest Wright in The Biblical Archaeologist (Vol. XVIII, 1955, p. 46): “It may be noted that the new Carbon 14 method of dating ancient remains has not turned out to be as free from error as had been hoped. . . . Certain runs have produced obviously wrong results, probably for a number of reasons. At the moment, one can depend upon the results without question only when several runs have been made which give virtually identical results and when the date seems correct from other methods of computation [italics ours].” The continued variance of opinion among archaeologists as to conclusions reached shows that this method has not solved the problem of dating.—See CHRONOLOGY.
Relative worth of inscriptions
Thousands upon thousands of ancient inscriptions have been found and are being interpreted. Albright states: “Written documents form by far the most important single body of material discovered by archaeologists. Hence it is extremely important to gain a clear idea of their character and of our ability to interpret them.” (The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible, Revised Edition, p. 11) They may be written on broken pottery, clay tablets, papyrus, or carved in granite rock. Whatever the material, the information they convey must still be weighed and tested as to its reliability and worth. Error or outright falsehood can be and frequently has been set down in stone as well as on paper.—See CHRONOLOGY; SARGON.
As an illustration, the Bible record states that King Sennacherib of Assyria was killed by his two sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer, and was succeeded to the throne by another son, Esar-haddon. (2 Ki. 19:36, 37) Yet, the Babylonian Chronicle found by archaeologists stated that, on the twentieth of Tebet, Sennacherib was killed by his son in a revolt. Both Berossus, Babylonian priest of the third century B.C.E., and Nabonidus, Babylonian king of the sixth century B.C.E., in their writings gave the same account, to the effect that Sennacherib was assassinated by only one of his sons. However, in a more recently discovered fragment of the prism of Esarhaddon, the son who succeeded Sennacherib, he clearly states that his brothers (plural) revolted and killed their father and then took flight. Commenting on this, Philip Biberfeld, in Universal Jewish History (1948, p. 27), says: “The Babylonian Chronicle, Nabonaid, and Berossus were mistaken; only the Biblical account proved to be correct. It was confirmed in all the minor details by the inscription of Esarhaddon and proved to be more accurate regarding this event of Babylonian-Assyrian history than the Babylonian sources themselves. This is a fact of utmost importance for the evaluation of even contemporary sources not in accord with Biblical tradition.”
Problems in deciphering and translating
There is also need for due caution on the part of the Christian as to accepting without question the interpretation made of the many inscriptions found in the diverse ancient languages. In some cases, as with the Rosetta Stone and the Behistun inscription, the decipherers of the languages have been given considerable insight into a previously unknown language by parallel presentations of that language alongside another known language. Yet, it should not be expected that such helps solve all problems or allow for a full understanding of the language with all its shades of meanings and idiomatic expressions. Even the understanding of the basic Bible languages, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, has progressed considerably in recent times and these languages are still under study. As to the inspired Word of God, we can rightly expect that the Bible’s Author would enable us to obtain the correct understanding of its message through the available translations into the modern languages. This is not the case, however, with the uninspired writings of the pagan nations.
Illustrating this need for caution and also manifesting again that an objective approach to the problems existing in the deciphering of the ancient inscriptions is often not as prominent as one might think, the book The Secret of the Hittites by C. W. Ceram contains the following information concerning a prominent Assyriologist who worked at decoding the “Hittite” language (pp. 106-109): “His work is absolutely phenomenal—a brilliant intermingling of wild blunders with remarkable perceptions, . . . Some of his errors were supported by arguments so cogent that decades of study were necessary to overcome them. His ingenious reasoning was backed by such a wealth of philological learning that winnowing the chaff from the wheat was no easy affair.” The writer then describes the strong obstinacy of this scholar about any modification of his findings; after many years he finally did agree to make some changes—only to change the very readings that later proved to be the correct ones! In relating the violent dispute, fraught with personal recriminations, that arose between this scholar and another decipherer of the “Hittite” cuneiform, the author states: “Yet the very fanaticism which brings on such quarrels is a necessary motive force if scholars are to make discoveries.” Hence, although time and study have eliminated many errors in the understanding of ancient inscriptions, we do well to realize that further investigation may likely bring additional corrections.
The preeminence of the Bible as the source of reliable knowledge, truthful information and sure guidance is enhanced by these facts. As a body of written documents it gives us the clearest picture of man’s past and it has reached us, not by excavation, but through its preservation by its Author, Jehovah God. It is “alive and exerts power” (Heb. 4:12) and is the “word of the living and enduring God.” “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like a blossom of grass; the grass becomes withered, and the flower falls off, but the saying of Jehovah endures forever.”—1 Pet. 1:23-25.
[Diagram on page 106]
Diagram of an archaeological excavation. Mounds on which some cities are located resulted from repeated building on the ruins of former cities.
The Divided Kingdom
Saul to Solomon
[Picture on page 107]
[Picture on page 108]
[Picture on page 110]
Taken from the Siloam Inscription, apparently from the days of King Hezekiah
[Picture on page 111]
Clay seal impression from Lachish refers to “Gedaliah, who is over the house”