Skeptics maintain that biblical accounts of history are total fiction made up in recent times by promotors of the Judeo/Christian tradition. Recent research in the science of archaeology supports the biblical record regarding two of the examples some skeptics gave.
One is the Judges 4 account of judge Deborah and a Kenite woman who killed the Canaanite general Sisera by driving a tent peg through his head. Skeptics have claimed that no woman could have been a judge or a heroic avenger because of the lowly state of women at that time. Archeologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill excavating at Huqoq in northern Israel have uncovered ancient mosaics depicting Deborah and the Kenite woman, Jael, verifying the biblical account. The dating of the mosaics is late fourth or early fifth century A.D., so the claim that the account is modern cannot be true.
New studies of Mesha’s Stele have debunked skeptic claims that David is a fictitious character. The stele (an upright stone monument) was discovered in 1868 at a site east of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan. A research team from the West Semitic Research Project of the University of Southern California using a new research method called Reflective Transformation Imaging (RTI) has shown the reference in the Mesha Stele to the “House of David” is valid.
The first Dead Sea Scrolls were accidentally discovered seventy-five years ago. Ever since that time, archeologists, biblical scholars, and politicians have struggled for control of the scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls disprove claims made by many atheists and skeptics who deny the accuracy and authenticity of the Bible. Unfortunately, however, there are a substantial number of missing Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
The fall 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review reported that missing Dead Sea Scroll fragments include a large fragment from a Samuel scroll and three fragments from a Daniel scroll. There are more than 1,000 others. They have either been stolen, destroyed, misplaced, or possessed by someone who does not want them to be available to scholars and the public. Fortunately, scholars photographed some of the missing fragments before they disappeared.
Thirty years ago, Hershel Shanks, a well-known author and publisher, campaigned to get the people controlling the scrolls to make them available to scholars and the public. Tens of thousands of scroll fragments have been discovered, and most scholars have still not gained access to the ones known to be in repositories, not to mention the missing Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
This situation reflects negatively on the state of archaeology in the world today. Competition among archaeologists and biblical scholars has morphed into an attempt to control who has access to these artifacts. This conflict involves national interests, professional reputations, and grants. The religious beliefs of some archaeologists are also a factor.
Hopefully, the missing fragments will eventually be found, and all of them will be made available to everyone who should have access to them. These scrolls verify much of the biblical record and answer many of the challenges of those who oppose Christianity.
Skeptics frequently take a historical biblical story and attempt to show that it is impossible. Some religious folks have answered these challenges by saying the event is a miracle of God and thus is not open for discussion. The Bible certainly describes miracles of God that can’t be explained by natural causes and are therefore not available for investigation. For example, we can’t prove that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead by scientific evidence because we were not there and can’t go back in time. If a person doesn’t believe in God, then a biblical record will certainly not convince them and may encourage them to reject the Bible as a bunch of fairy tales. In the case of David and Goliath, however, the evidence is strong that the account is credible.
Several years ago, I had an American Field Service student from South America in my physics class at Riley High School. When our class was studying centrifugal force and circular motion, he offered to show us what he called a “shepherd sling.” This was a pouch with a long cord attached at each end made from some non-stretchable material. One of the cords had a loop at the end of it, and the other cord was straight.
My student put a golf ball in the pouch and swirled the pouch and ball around his head, holding the two cords in his hand, the one with the loop wrapped around his finger. He got the ball/pouch going at a very high speed and then released the straight end of the cord, sending the golf ball flying at an incredible speed. Taking this outside, he could knock a tin can off a post at 100 feet. The force of the strike was so strong that the can flew a considerable distance. From 100 feet, this student could put a rock through a thick board. Biblical Archaeology Review published an article examining the statistics for the encounter of David and Goliath. Archaeologists have discovered reliefs in the mortuary temple of Ramesses III showing Egyptian slingers defending a ship. An Assyrian relief from Nineveh celebrating Sennacherib’s military victories shows Assyrian slingers in 701 B.C. whirling stones toward Judahite defenders atop the walls at Lachish. Archaeologists have found the remains of slings and the stones used in them.
These ancient slings had military uses up to 400 yards, and Roman slingers used them at distances of 200 yards. Arabian slingers hunt game at 30 to 50 yards today, and a moderately skilled slinger can achieve up to 113 miles per hour. Goliath had a javelin that he could throw 20 to 30 yards, meaning that David’s sling was vastly superior with about twice the range.
God certainly facilitated the actions of David, but the story of David and Goliath has historical validity, indicating that it was not miraculous and not a myth.
I have many interesting stories from my years as a public school science teacher. One of my favorites involves a pyramid power mystery. A student in my physics class maintained that the Great Pyramid in Egypt was a creation of aliens who used methods unknown to modern science. He claimed that the pyramid had mystic forces that could benefit humans if we only understood it.
This young man claimed that one property of the Great Pyramid was that anything contained within it would not deteriorate. He had a “Great Pyramid” model that he said he could use to prove it. I had some apples in my classroom refrigerator, so I offered him a challenge. He would put one apple in his “Great Pyramid” model, and I would keep mine in the fridge. Then, in 14 days, we would both eat our apples in front of the class. He agreed, and the contest was on.
My classroom had windows on the east side of the building and no air conditioning. Not only was the classroom frequently hot, but sunlight bathed the room because there were no window shades. Every day, I would bring my apple out of the refrigerator, and the kids would join me in challenging the Great Pyramid promoter. About a week into the contest, the pyramid apple changed color, and dark spots appeared. Some fluid seeped onto the floor of the “Great Pyramid,” and the kids in the class started kidding my challenger about how bad that apple was going to taste. After the weekend, I came into my classroom, and the “Great Pyramid” was gone, and the apple that was in it had also disappeared. You could call this a pyramid power mystery because the pyramid and the apple were nowhere to be seen.
That was only a minor case of pyramid power mystery claims. For example, over the years, authors have written books and articles making unsupported alien claims about the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. In truth, it is an amazing demonstration of human engineering talent and shows that ancient people knew how to build structures on a colossal scale. According to World Archaeology magazine, discoveries in the last ten years leave no doubt that the Great Pyramid was not an alien creation. It was the product of humans who understood how to make massive structures. We see a connection to the biblical account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.
In 2013, researchers found fragments of papyri documents near the Red Sea containing logbooks and records. The documents detailed the activities of teams building the Great Pyramid, known to the locals as Akhet Khufu for the 4th Dynasty king who reigned from 2633 BC to 2605 BC. Dubbed “The Red Sea Scrolls,” they show the planning and construction logistics, from mining copper to make tools to cutting the stones to the housing arrangements for the workers.
Humans often attempt to extend their physical livesin costly ways, and the pyramids of Giza are a classic example. Unfortunately, the reality is that this physical body will return to the dust from which it came, and nothing humans can do can change that. However, we can preserve the real “us,” our spiritual bodies, for eternity. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, Paul describes “a mystery,” which is the resurrection to incorruptible spiritual bodies. The pyramid power mystery is no longer, but the promise that God will preserve our soul for eternity will remain a mystery to those of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ until that great day of the resurrection.
Biblical minimalists and skeptics are always looking for ways to discredit the Bible and support their claim that it is a useless collection of ancient myths. For example, skeptics claimed that the mention of horses in passages like Genesis 47:17, Exodus 9:3, and 14:9-23 could not be accurate because horses had not been domesticated at that time. So, did Pharoah have horses or not?
Previous studies had shown that domesticated horses arrived in Mesopotamia around 2000 BC, so they considered any claim of horses before that time to be in error. Recently, researchers from the Jaques Monod Institute in Paris led by paleogeneticist Eva-Maria Geigl have laid that claim to rest.
Sumerian scribes wrote about “kungas”–a type of horse in the equid family, but unlike today’s domesticated horses. Researchers had not studied these animals until recently when they sequenced the genomes of kunga skeletons found in Syria. They discovered that kungas were a hybrid of an extinct wild ass called a “hemippe” and a female domesticated donkey. Dr. Geigl explained that the ancient Mesopotamians deliberately hybridized these animals to create “fast, strong equids that they could train to carry soldiers into battle.”
This is another case where skeptics have taken erroneous understandings of the practices of ancient people. The use of equids by people at the time of Joseph and the Egyptians was accurate. Breeding animals for specific purposes involved high levels of understanding, and this is “the earliest known evidence of animal hybridization.”
Did Pharoah have horses? Yes, he did, but they may have been different from modern horses. The historical accuracy of the Bible continues to be verified by discoveries using new techniques that science makes available.
The work of archaeology in Jerusalem is changing with the current national political situation and the use of new scientific tools. Three religions have an interest in Jerusalem. Judaism has great interest in the Western Wall. Islam is very concerned about the Dome of the Rock. Various Christian sects express interest in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The obstacles to progress in archaeological excavations in Jerusalem are many and quite complex. First, the Israel Antiquities Authority controls all Jerusalem excavations. They will not give any permits to Palestinian teams and rarely grant permits to foreigners.
In Jerusalem, the chief building stone was a relatively soft limestone that was easy to quarry and got harder when exposed to the air. This stone was reused over the centuries by tearing down the remains of an ancient culture and using the limestone for new construction, leaving little evidence of the past. There was virtually no wood in the area, so standard dating methods like dendrochronology and carbon 14 were impossible.
Another problem with archaeology in Jerusalem is that treasure seekers used violent and unscientific methods as these untrained people pillaged the area. They were often looking for an item claimed to have mystical powers, such as the Ark of the Covenant. Dreams of wealth and notoriety were their goals.
Still complicating the situation is that while early archaeologists were Christian believers who saw archaeology as a means to verify the integrity of scripture, modern archaeologists are “overwhelmingly made up of agnostics and atheists.” They have often allowed their personal beliefs to attach a negative bias to whatever artifacts they find.
Despite these challenges to archaeology in Jerusalem, researchers are progressing in understanding the city’s history thanks to new scientific tools. Geomagnetic instruments with great sensitivity allow researchers to use changes in the Earth’s magnetic field to date some artifacts accurately. New laboratory techniques enable researchers to learn from tiny bone fragments and detritus that reveal the diets and diseases of people in the past. Much of archaeology in this century is going on in the laboratory, where scientists analyze the uncovered artifacts.
Archaeological work is hard, but Webster defines “science” as “knowledge,” and new scientific techniques provide us with knowledge. That knowledge continues to support the accuracy of the biblical narrative. While nationalism, politics, and Zionism complicate archaeology in Jerusalem, the unfolding story supports the accuracy of the Bible. The science of archaeology must be supported by the facts, not the opinions of archaeologists.
A problem we face in this ministry is that no matter what we do, our material becomes dated. We have had an excellent response to our new video series on archaeology and the Bible titled “Beyond Reasonable Doubt.” However, recent archaeological journals have reported new finds that offer more archaeological support for the Bible and its historical integrity.
Archaeologists have discovered an inscription containing the name “Jerubbaal” at Khirbet al-Rai near Lachish in the Judaean Foothills. The inscription was in a grain silo dated to the 12th or early 11th century B.C. Judges 6:32 mentions Jerubbaal as a name given to Gideon. Earlier, in the same area, archaeologists found an inscription on the floor of a city believed to be the biblical Shaarayim dating to the early 10th century B.C. This inscription has the name “Eshbaal.” That was the name of Saul’s son who challenged David’s kingship in 1 Chronicles 8:33 and 2 Samuel 2-4. These inscriptions show that those names were in use at the very time of the biblical references.
Another interesting archaeological support for the Bible has to do with the Philistines. It is well-known that pork was a taboo for the Israelites but a mainstay of the diets of the Philistines, Greeks, and Romans. Archaeological digs in Israelite cities do not show any bones of pigs, but digs involving cultures other than the Israelites contain massive numbers of pig bones. Understanding that fact adds importance to Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, who, at his lowest point while in “a far country,” took a job feeding pigs.
Archaeological digs in Arabia are showing increasing evidence that Christianity was highly successful by the fifth or sixth century A.D. The move to monotheistic texts is attributed to Christians who rejected the paganism that was a part of Arabia at that time.
Recent finds have more archaeological support for the Bible and its historical integrity. They heavily challenge the skeptics who suggest that the Bible is only a bunch of ancient Jewish myths and historically unreliable. The controversy between biblical minimalists and maximalists has prevented a clear picture of how much evidence shows that the Bible is credible and reliable. It is not only an expression of God’s will for humanity, but it is a record with historical integrity.
Genesis 1:11-12 describes Earth having three kinds of plants which most versions translate as grass (“deshe” in Hebrew), herbs (“eseb” in Hebrew, meaning a non-woody plant with seasonal foliage such as most vegetables), and fruit trees (“ets” bearing fruit “peri” in Hebrew). Genesis 2:9 tells us that “the Lord God made every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.” The first mention of cities in the Bible is in Genesis 11:1-9 with the Tower of Babel. Then in Genesis 13:12, Lot chooses to live “in the cities of the plain,” Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible shows a contrast between forests and cities.
The habitat of early humans described in the first chapters of Genesis is very different from the cement-paved cities filled with massive structures that we see in the western world today. The construction of cement jungles has brought on an enormous number of social problems as well as pandemics and nutritional issues. As we see the contrast between forests and cities, we are slowly beginning to understand that God’s original design works best.
Archaeologists have a new airborne laser research tool called LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). It enables them to see through the canopy of vegetation, and they are discovering ancient cities hidden by the rainforests. Researchers are finding causeways, hydrological networks, massive structures, and elaborate ceremonial centers. They are seeing the remains of the Maya in South America, the Angkor in Cambodia, and an area called Kuk Swamp in New Guinea.
In these ancient cities, palm trees, Brazil nuts, sugar cane, bananas, and many tropical fruits were harvested from trees that surrounded dwellings. In addition, people grew small patches of maize and millet between the trees. Today, we are beginning to insert green spaces into our cities, and new varieties of plant products are showing up in our grocery stores.
Archaeologists have found evidence of millions of people living in cities in the Amazon basin, Africa, and Asia. The first attempt at farming in Britain was some 6,000 years ago, but in the Fertile Crescent, farming dates back to 11,000 years ago. The Fertile Crescent is the biblical location of the Garden of Eden, which brings us back to God’s original plan for human habitation.
A failure to properly use all the resources God has given ushas brought pain, disease, and hunger throughout history. As we see the contrast between forests and cities, we come to appreciate the blessing of the resources God originally created.
Reference: “Rethinking the Jungle” by Matthew Symonds in Current World Archaeology Magazine (#110) for December 2021/January 2022. Symonds shows that the jungle can support massive human populations without all the ills of modern agriculture and city dwelling. His approach is evolutionary, and much of the article comes from a new book by Patrick Roberts titled Jungle: How Tropical Forests Shaped the World – and Us (Viking/Penguin 2021, ISBN – 978-0241472743).
A frequent challenge from atheists concerns the lifespan of early Bible characters. Genesis 5 contains the “generations of Adam” up to the time of Noah. It lists Methuselah as having lived 969 years. This chapter raises many questions, and atheists have ridiculed the idea that people ever lived that long. Anthropologists have methods for determining how old a person was when they died, and no data shows people ever living hundreds of years as we measure years today. Then what was the age of Methuselah?
It is essential to understand that this is not just a biblical peculiarity. Other ancient cultures have records of people living a very long time. The ancient Sumerian King List said that King Alulim ruled for 28,800 years, and others longer than that! However, the all-time longevity champ is a spiritual teacher in Jainism named Shreyansanatha, who was recorded to have lived 8,400,000 years. The message should be clear to us that none of these are our familiar calendar years as established by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.
There have been studies to determine how ancient people expressed time. The Hebrews used lunar cycles for reckoning time, but they have modified that because certain numbers had special significance. For example, seven indicated completeness, and six was just short of completeness. The Book of Revelation contains symbolic numbers that people have often erroneously misinterpreted.
A careful study of this subject will show that the intent of Genesis 5 is not to establish time or the chronological ages. Applying modern calendar concepts to Genesis would mean that Methuselah was killed by the flood of Noah. The message of the passage is not the age of Methuselah, but that he was a descendent of Enoch and an ancestor of Noah.
The winter 2021 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review contains an announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority of what they call a “groundbreaking discovery.” Archaeologists have uncovered the wall Hezekiah built around 701 B.C. Isaiah 22:9-10 describes the wall’s construction, and 2 Kings 25:10 tells of its destruction during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem about a century later. In addition to the wall itself, the archaeologists found various objects, including seals, along the wall’s base to confirm its date.
The archaeologists say that the wall was 10 feet (3 m) tall and more than 15 feet (4.5 m) wide. It was built along the slopes of the steep-sided Kidron Valley, making an imposing barrier on that side of Jerusalem. Researchers previously found other sections of the wall Hezekiah built, but this find connects those sections and provides more verification of the biblical account. The same issue carries a report of finding evidence of the powerful earthquake that occurred during the reign of King Uzziah and is described in Amos 1:1 and Zechariah 14:5.
Many people don’t realize that archaeological work in the Middle East is in its infancy. Hundreds of identified sites have not been excavated because of the expense involved. In addition, the field of archaeology is complicated by politics, nationalism, funding, and the prejudice of some of the people directing the digs and the museums displaying the artifacts.