Archaeology Confirms the Bible
TO PROUD men who obstinately refused to recognize his Messiahship and despised his disciples, Jesus said: “If these remained silent, the stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) Happily, Jesus had, and still has, disciples who refuse to remain silent. Yet, in a way, stones that were silent witnesses of Biblical events have been made to cry out, testifying that the Bible is trustworthy. The science that has allowed such stones to speak up in favor of the Bible is called archaeology, defined as “the scientific study of the material remains of the past.”
In his scholarly work Light from the Ancient Past, Jack Finegan informs us that “modern archeology may be said to have had its beginning in 1798, when nearly one hundred French scholars and artists accompanied Napoleon on his invasion of Egypt.” In 1822 French Egyptologist Champollion succeeded in deciphering the hieroglyphics on the Rosetta stone. By the end of the 19th century archaeological excavations were being carried out systematically in Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Palestine, and they have continued until the present time. Has the archaeologist’s spade confirmed the Bible record?
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORLD AND MAN
One discovery made in Egyptian tombs allows us to compare the Bible explanation of the origin of man with the creation account contained in an ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, one of which can be seen in a long glass case in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Writing in the authoritative Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, Louis Speleers, curator of the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels, Belgium, explains: “The Book of the Dead relates that one day [the sun-god] Ra left his divine Eye shining in heaven. Shu and Tefnut brought him back his Eye, which began to cry, and men appeared from Ra’s tears.”
Another archaeological discovery that makes possible an interesting comparison with the Bible account is a series of seven clay tablets containing the Enuma elish, or Sumerian-Babylonian “Epic of Creation.” According to this ancient record, Marduk, city-god of Babylon, vanquished the primeval sea goddess Tiamat and cut her in two. “From one half he fashioned the vault of the heavens, from the other the solid earth. That done, he organized the world. . . . Then ‘in order that the gods should live in a world to rejoice their hearts’ Marduk created humanity.”—Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology.
Do you believe man came from Ra’s tears? Many highly civilized and educated Egyptians did. Or can you accept the assertion that the cloven body of a goddess gave rise to the heavens and the earth? These are just two examples of the creation myths that were believed by succeeding generations of people in times gone by.
Today, many highly educated men ask us to believe that the universe and all life forms came about spontaneously, without the intervention of any superior living Being, in spite of the fact that French scientist Louis Pasteur proved conclusively that life comes from life. Is it not more logical to accept the Bible account that states quite simply that the material universe is an expression of God’s “dynamic energy” (for Einstein and others have shown that matter is a form of energy)? And is it not more reasonable to believe the Holy Scriptures, which show that all life forms owe their existence to God, the great Source of life, and that man was created “in God’s image”?—Gen. 1:27; Ps. 36:9; Isa. 40:26-28; Jer. 10:10-13.
ARCHAEOLOGY AND ABRAHAM
A key character in the Bible is Abraham. Not only is he the ancestor of all the Bible writers, of the Jews and of many Arabs, but he is also called “the father of all those having faith.” (Rom. 4:11) Moreover, peoples of all nations should be interested in knowing if the Bible account concerning Abraham is authentic. Why? Because it was to him that God promised: “By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Gen. 22:16-18) If we desire to be among “those having faith” who will be blessed through the seed of Abraham, evidence showing the accuracy of details given in the Bible about Abraham’s life and times should be of the utmost interest to us.
The Bible informs us that Abraham (then called Abram) was raised in “Ur of the Chaldeans.” (Gen. 11:27, 28) Is this a legendary site? What have the picks and shovels of the archaeologists revealed? As early as 1854, J. E. Taylor tentatively identified Ur with Tell el-Muqayyar (“Mound of Bitumen”), just a few miles west of the Euphrates. In 1869, French Orientalist Jules Oppert gave a report at the Collège de France, in Paris, definitely identifying the site with Ur, on the basis of cuneiform-inscribed clay cylinders found there by Taylor. Then, much later, from 1922 to 1934, British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley not only confirmed this identification but also discovered that the Ur left by Abraham was a flourishing and highly civilized city with comfortable houses and a huge temple tower, or ziggurat, dedicated to the worship of the moon-god Nanna, or Sin. Historians had long expressed doubts about the city of Ur mentioned in the Bible in connection with Abraham. But the archaeologist’s spade proved the Bible to be true.
Archaeologists have also confirmed many customs referred to in the Bible account concerning Abraham. For example, at Nuzu, or Nuzi, an ancient Hurrian city southeast of Nineveh, clay tablets have been found that authenticate such customs as these: Slaves becoming heirs to childless parents (compare Abraham’s remarks about his slave Eliezer—Genesis 15:1-4); a barren wife’s being obligated to provide her husband with a concubine (Sarah, or Sarai, gave Hagar to Abraham—Genesis 16:1, 2); and business transactions taking place at the gate of a city (compare Abraham’s purchase of the field and cave of Machpelah, near Hebron—Genesis 23:1-20). Examples of how the Nuzi excavations back up the Bible fill over eight small-print columns in the scholarly French Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible. (Volume VI, columns 663-672) The Encyclopædia Britannica states: “This Nuzi material has clarified many difficult passages in the contemporary patriarchal narratives of Genesis.”
PROPER NAMES CONFIRMED
French archaeologist André Parrot carried out extensive diggings on the site of the ancient royal city of Mari, on the Middle Euphrates. The city-state of Mari was one of the dominant powers in Upper Mesopotamia in the early second millennium B.C.E., until it was taken and destroyed by Babylonian King Hammurabi. In the ruins of the huge palace discovered there, the French team of archaeologists found over 20,000 clay tablets. Some of these cuneiform tablets mention cities by the name of Peleg, Serug, Nahor, Terah and Haran. Interestingly, all these names occur in the Genesis account as names of Abraham’s relatives.—Gen. 11:17-26.
Commenting on this similarity of early proper names, John Bright writes in his History of Israel: “In none of these cases do we . . . have a mention of the Biblical patriarchs themselves. But the profusion of such evidence from contemporary documents shows clearly that their names fit perfectly in the nomenclature of the Amorite population of the early second millennium, rather than in that of any later day. The patriarchal narratives are thus in this respect quite authentic.”
As recently as 1976, Italian and Syrian archaeologists identified, in northern Syria, the ancient city-state of Ebla. Like Mari, Ebla is not mentioned in the Bible, but both names appear in ancient texts dating back to the patriarchal period. So what did the digger’s spade uncover on this new site? In the library of the royal palace, thousands of clay tablets were found, dating from the late third or early second millennium before the Common Era. Reporting on this discovery in its March 19, 1979, issue, the French newsweekly Le Point stated: “The proper names are amazingly similar [to those in the Scriptures]. In the Bible we find ‘Abraham;’ in the Ebla tablets, ‘Ab-ra-um;’ Esau—E-sa-um; Michael—Mi-ki-ilu; David—Da-u-dum; Ishmael—Ish-ma-ilum; Israel—Ish-ra-ilu. The archives of Ebla also contain the names of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities mentioned in the Bible, but whose historicity was long challenged by scholars. . . . What is more, the tablets list cities in exactly the same order in which they are mentioned in the Old Testament: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela [Gen. 14:2].” According to Boyce Rensberger, writing in the New York Times, “some biblical scholars believe [the Ebla tablets] rival the Dead Sea Scrolls in authenticating and adding to knowledge of life in biblical . . . times.”
CUSTOMS AND LAWS
Archaeology has done much to explain customs alluded to in the Bible, thus showing the accuracy of the Biblical record. One instance of this is the account in Genesis, chapter 31, where it is reported that Jacob’s wife Rachel “stole the teraphim that belonged to her father,” Laban. (Gen 31 Vs. 19) It is stated why Laban went to the trouble of chasing after his daughter and her husband for seven days. It was in order to retrieve his “gods.” (Gen 31 Vss. 23, 30) Interestingly, an archaeological discovery in the ancient northern Mesopotamian city of Nuzi has revealed the existence of a patriarchal law whereby the possession of family gods gave a man the title deeds to the estate of his deceased father-in-law. When a person remembers that Laban was a native of northwestern Mesopotamia and how treacherously he had dealt with Jacob, knowledge of this law sheds light on Rachel’s strange theft and on Laban’s frantic efforts to recover his “gods.” The Louvre Museum, in Paris, displays several such “household gods” discovered in various cities of Mesopotamia. Their small size (four to six inches [10 to 15 cm]) also helps to explain how Rachel was able to hide the teraphim by sitting on a saddle basket containing them and refusing to get up when Laban made his search.—Gen 31 Vss. 34, 35.
One of the most treasured possessions of the Louvre Museum is an upright black stone slab nearly eight feet (exactly 2.25 m) tall and commonly known as the “Code of Hammurabi.” Under a relief showing King Hammurabi of Babylon receiving authority from the sun-god Shamash, there are 282 laws written in columns of cuneiform writing. Since Hammurabi is said to have reigned from 1728 to 1686 B.C.E., some Bible critics have claimed that Moses, who recorded the laws of Israel over a century and a half later, merely plagiarized the code of this Babylonian king. Giving the lie to this accusation, W. J. Martin writes in the book Documents from Old Testament Times:
“Despite many resemblances, there is no ground for assuming any direct borrowing by the Hebrew from the Babylonian. Even where the two sets of laws differ little in the letter, they differ much in the spirit. For example, in the Hammurabi Code, theft and receiving stolen goods were punished by the death penalty (Laws 6 and 22), but in Israel’s laws the punishment was compensation. (Ex. 22:1; Lev. 6:1-5) Whereas the Mosaic law forbade handing over an escaped slave to his master (Deut. 23:15, 16), the Babylonian laws punished by death anyone taking in a fugitive slave.—Laws 15, 16, 19.”
In the Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, French Orientalist Joseph Plessis wrote: “It does not appear that the Hebrew legislator made any use of the various codes of Babylonia and Assyria. Nothing in his work can be proved to have been borrowed. Although there are interesting similarities, they are not such that they cannot easily be explained by the codifying of customs shared by people with a common origin.”
Whereas the Code of Hammurabi reflects a spirit of retaliation, the Mosaic law states: “You must not hate your brother in your heart. . . . You must not take vengeance nor have a grudge against the sons of your people; and you must love your fellow as yourself.” (Lev. 19:17, 18) So not only is it proved that Moses did not borrow from Hammurabi but a comparison of the Bible laws and those inscribed on the tablets and steles dug up by archaeologists shows the Biblical laws to be far superior to those governing other ancient peoples.
ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE GREEK SCRIPTURES
What about the Greek Scriptures, commonly known as the “New Testament”? Has archaeology confirmed the accuracy of this important part of the Bible? Whole books have been written showing that there is such confirmation. As early as 1890, French Bible scholar F. Vigouroux published a book of over 400 pages entitled “Le Nouveau Testament et les découvertes archéologiques modernes” (The New Testament and Modern Archaeological Discoveries). In it he supplied abundant proof supporting the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and the letters contained in the Greek Scriptures. In 1895, W. M. Ramsay published his now classic book St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, providing much valuable material showing the authenticity of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
More recently, many other books and scholarly articles have been published showing how archaeology has shown the truthfulness of the entire Bible. In his book The Archaeology of the New Testament, first published in 1970, E. M. Blaiklock writes: “Striking vindications of biblical historiography have taught historians to respect the authority of both Old Testament and New, and to admire the accuracy, the deep concern for truth, and the inspired historical insight of the varied writers who gave the Bible its books of history.”
Yes, archaeology clearly backs up the Bible. But what about other fields of science?
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Ziggurat uncovered in Ur of ancient Chaldea
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Household god (found in Lagash)
The Code of Hammurabi