Archeology and Scripture
Updated: Aug 14, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
Some radical skeptics believe that the Bible is just a bunch of myths, devoid of historical truth. Such skeptics may imagine that various biblical events, such as the Babylonian exile or the Persian restoration, were made up. However, if that were the case, then archeology should contradict these stories. Yet they do no such thing. There have been archeological finds which corroborate these stories. The written documents are in unison with the written stones. Archeology has discovered items that, for example, refer to certain Jewish kings. Consider these ten connections between the Bible and archeology.
1. Israel and the Merneptah Stele
The biblical text describes the nation of Israel living in Egypt, exiting Egypt, and subsequently conquering the pagan nations existing in the land of Palestine by around the 1300’s BC. Some skeptics imagine that the nation of Israel was a much later development than the biblical text, though. Who is correct? The Bible or the skeptics? Thanks to archeology, Scripture is correct. The ancient Merneptah Stele refers to the nation of Israel in hieroglyphics around 1209 BC. In the stele, Pharaoh Merneptah’s victory against Israel is described. This means that Israel was an established nation before 1209 BC, corroborating the biblical text.
2. The book of Numbers and the Tell Deir ‘Alla Inscription
The book of Numbers describes the events in between Israel’s exodus from Egypt and overtaking of Palestine. One of the events described is the leader of Moab hiring a powerful seer named Balaam, son of Beor, to curse Israel. This story is mentioned in Numbers 22-24. Is Balaam a made-up person from the mythical Scriptures of Israel? Not so. Archeology has discovered an Aramaic inscription from Tell Deir ‘Alla which refers to Balaam. The inscription from the 8th century BC speaks of Balaam, son of Beor, receiving messages from various Canaanite deities. This description corroborates with the Scriptural testimony that Balaam was a prophetic seer.
3. Joshua and the Altar on Mount Ebal
Scripture says that Moses’s successor, Joshua, built an altar on Mount Ebal in Joshua 8:30-31. Adam Zertal shows that this episode from Scripture very likely has been discovered in the ground! Zertal published a paper titled, “Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?” in Biblical Archeology Review (1985). He notes how a large rectangle figure, about 23’ X 30’ and 3 meters tall, resembles a cultic center. This rectangular figure, dated to the 12th century BC, was filled with thousands of animal bones, such as “young male bulls, sheep, goats and fallow deer” which were mainly “burnt in open-flame fires of low temperatures (200-600 degrees C.)” (Zertal, p. 31). The key seems to be that this is an altar upon which Israel sacrificed animals to God. Old Testament scholars Provan, Long, and Longman III say that “Zertal and his team began checking descriptions of altars in the Bible (e.g., Exod. 27:8) and the Mishnah and were astonished at how well these descriptions matched not only the basic features of the structure but also many of its particular features” (p. 249). This altar seems to corroborate the biblical testimony.
4. King David and the Tel Dan Inscription
The Bible describes the emergence of the shepherd boy named David to the throne of Israel. Many people have heard of him, such as his defeat of mighty Goliath with a slingshot. From David came a long line of Davidic kings, which Scripture attests to in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Yet some suggest that king David of Israel was merely a legend. That can no longer be accepted, though. For in Tel Dan, an inscription from the late 800's BC was discovered that refers to David. Within the inscription, an Aramean king refers to killing various people, one of which is a king from the "House of David." Apparently, the Davidic dynasty described in Scripture was known throughout the ancient near east. This validates the biblical texts.
5. King Jehu and the Black Obelisk of Shalmoneser III
Most of the kings of Jerusalem were from the lineage of king David. The Tel Dan inscription speaks of this line or “house,” but it is not alone. King Jehu, described in 2 Kings 9, is referred to in another piece of archeology. The Black Obelisk of Shalmoneser III is a chunk of limestone which refers to the Assyrian king subjugating various nations underneath him. The Obelisk represents king Jehu giving tribute to the Assyrian king Shalmoneser III. Dated to 858-824 BC, it specifies, "Jehu, son of Omri.” This indicates that Scripture is based on real, historical people, and cannot be brushed aside as mere “myth.”
6. King Jehoram and the Moabite Stone/Mesha Inscription
The Bible describes the political struggles between the king of Israel and Israel's neighbor, Moab, in 2 Kings 3. Isn't it interesting that the Moabite stone or Mesha inscription also details political struggles between Moab and Israel. Written in Moabite, this stone was commissioned under King Mesha of Moab and looks back upon the military war between Moab and Israel in 850 BC. King Omri of Israel “humbled” Moab, according to the inscription, but king Mesha had a victory afterward. The Scriptures speak of the struggles between the two nations from an Israelite perspective, whereas the Moabite stone speak of it from the Moabite perspective. King Omri (1 Kings 16:21-28) and king Mesha (2 Kings 3:4) are referenced in the Bible and in this archeological find.
7. King Hezekiah and the Annals of Sennacherib
One of the kings of the house of David was Hezekiah. Scripture praises him for his religious reforms. The nation to the east of Jerusalem was Assyria. The king of Assyria from 705-681 BC was Sennacherib. According to Isaiah 36-37, 2 Kings 28-19, and 2 Chronicles 32, Sennacherib invaded Judah. This was because Hezekiah “was perceived as not submitting to Assyrian overlordship” (A Biblical History of Israel, p. 370). Archeology has discovered the annals of Sennacherib, and it agrees with the biblical text, saying that Sennacherib did in fact invade Judah. There are a few differences in the specifics, though. One is that the biblical texts say that Sennacherib’s forces are turned back by an angel, whereas the annals of Sennacherib leave that part out. Maybe the Assyrians mysteriously got hit with a plague and had to leave Hezekiah alone. Whatever happened, it was a shameful aspect of Sennacherib's history. Kings only want to be remembered for their victories, so this aspect is only recounted in Scripture. All in all, Scripture and archeology work together.
8. King Hezekiah and the Siloam Inscription
After king Hezekiah’s struggle with Sennacherib, Scripture says that he commissioned a tunnel to be built. According to 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30, Hezekiah commissioned a tunnel to be built to prepare for a time of siege in the future from an enemy. The tunnel would bring water from the spring of Gihon into the city of Jerusalem to the pool of Siloam. This tunnel, built by Hezekiah, still exists to this day, and an inscription in Hebrew has been found on the tunnel. The inscription is by an engineer who says that the tunnel was built by burrowing through the limestone from both ends of the tunnel. This inscription is dated to the 8th century BC, the time period of king Hezekiah. Believe it or not, the Bible is much more trustworthy than the skeptic makes it out to be.
9. The defeat of Jerusalem and the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle
According to Scripture, the people of Israel broke their covenant with God. One of the covenant curses for breaking the covenant was exile from the land, and that happened according to 2 Kings 24, 2 Chronicles 36, and Jeremiah 39. King Nebuchadnezzar (605-552 BC) of Babylon, east of Israel, conquered Jerusalem and exiled her inhabitants. This event is established even in archeological records. The Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle describes Babylon attempting to overtake the kingdom of Judah centered in Jerusalem. The Chronicle refers to the siege of Jerusalem back in 597 BC, which substantiates the biblical authors. Yet again Scripture and archeology go hand in hand.
10. The return from exile and the Cyrus Cylinder
Many people from Israel were captured by Nebuchadnezzar and were relocated. A few decades later, king Cyrus of Persia became the leading power in the ancient near east. He operated under the persuasion that his subjects would not rebel if they were given their land and gods and goddesses. Scripture says in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that Cyrus sent the exiled Jewish people back to Jerusalem to worship their God, Yahweh. This event is more believable now for the skeptic with the help of the archeological find popularly known as the Cyrus Cylinder. This cylindrical cuneiform document describes king Cyrus of Persia’s religious toleration policies towards various nations. The Cyrus from the cylinder found is the same Cyrus from Scripture. King Cyrus not only helped the Jews, but he helped the other previously exiled nations by Babylon as well. Scripture and archeology both present history.
Scripture has evidence in archeology that backs up its historical claims about the nation of Israel. The Bible is a trustworthy book detailing the origins of the Jewish people. To dismiss the Bible as legends by disregarding the archeological findings described would indicate a foolish skepticism. The altar on Mount Ebal, the annals of Sennacherib, and the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle are just a few of the many archeological finds that work well with Scripture’s testimony.