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.
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.
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.
Skeptics who challenge the Bible’s accuracy often point to the story of Joseph in Egypt recorded in Genesis 37–50. First, the Bible tells of Joseph being sold by his brothers to a passing caravan and then sold as a household slave to an Egyptian officer named Potiphar. Next, after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph lands in prison, becoming a model prisoner. Finally, by interpreting Pharoah’s dream, he becomes second in command in Egypt. Then the famine Joseph predicted forces Joseph’s brothers to go to Egypt for food. Eventually, the whole family settles in Egypt in an area the Bible refers to as Goshen (Genesis 47).
Living in Egypt continues for 400 years (Exodus 12:40). Eventually, a new pharaoh becomes unhappy about this foreign group residing in his land, perceives them as a threat, and enslaves them (Exodus 1:8-14). Then a leader named Moses helps the enslaved people escape, pursued as far as the Red Sea by the Egyptian army. Finally, after 40 years of wandering, they end up back in Canaan.
Atheists and skeptics claim that the story of Joseph in Egypt can’t be accurate because there is no record of any of this outside of the biblical account. Therefore, they say, it must not be true. However, Biblical Archaeology Review magazine (Fall 2021, pages 40-47) carried an article by Rachel Hallote titled “Does Archaeology Confirm Joseph’s Time in Egypt?” It said, “Egyptian material is nearly identical with the short summary of the biblical account.”
The problem seems to be that the Egyptian sources referred to the Canaanites as “Hyksos.” Secular writers often fail to recognize that the Hyksos were the descendants of Jacob and his son Joseph. The article concludes that “the stories of Joseph and his brothers are clearly rooted in the rise of the Hyksos in Egypt.” Thus the biblical story of Joseph in Egypt does not conflict with archaeological evidence.
You can see an amazing collection of artifacts from the time of Christ and earlier in the Clayton Museum of Ancient History. That museum, located on the campus of York College in York, Nebraska, displays artifacts collected by Foster Stanback. One of the first questions we asked when this project began was how he secured the relics. The problem is that many collectors buy artifacts from black-market dealers who have either stolen the artifacts or faked them. Foster Stanback and the Clayton Museum wanted to ensure that items we displayed were secured from government-approved sources and validated by qualified experts.
Biblical Archaeological Review published an article (fall 2020 issue, page 6) about artifacts in the Museum of the Bible collected by Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby. Green spent massive amounts of money to secure artifacts that were “unprovenanced,” meaning that their origin and authenticity were unverified. In April of 2020, a study commissioned by the museum proved that all of the supposed Dead Sea Scroll fragments in its collection were fakes. Around the same time, the museum announced that 11,500 artifacts in their possession had been stolen from Iraq and Egypt and would be returned. Three years earlier, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency seized thousands of artifacts and fined Steve Green three million dollars for illegally bringing them into the United States. Green released a statement saying that when buying the items, “I have trusted the wrong people to guide me, and unwittingly dealt with unscrupulous dealers.”
Unprovenanced relics are an issue for scholars and for people who collect artifacts. You may wonder how all of this affects the Clayton Museum of Ancient History. First of all, Stanback’s collections have all been secured from government-approved sources and have been studied by scholars and proven to be authentic. Foster Stanback and the Clayton Museum are working for educational purposes, not financial interests. In the past two years, the museum has added a children’s interactive section. School groups come in regularly to learn the history of the Roman world at the time Jesus lived and the Church began.
Unfortunately, greed and a desire for fame have invaded the antiquities market. We can be thankful that Foster Stanback and the Clayton Museum seek to help people understand the history of the time in which Jesus lived.
One of the more trusted sources of science and history is the National Geographic Society. Their popular magazine, books, and TV programs have been used to promote particular viewpoints, and sometimes they have been deceived. Many of our older readers will remember a cover story in the magazine about a Chinese fossil that the magazine ran as proof of a particular evolutionary theory. It later turned out to have been constructed by local people as a means of selling claimed fossils. Now there is an issue with fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
The Museum of the Bible collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments, which the National Geographic has used extensively, are fakes. They consist of 16 fragments claimed to be from authentic Dead Sea Scrolls. The forgers used old pieces of leather, and after writing on them, they treated the documents, so they looked ancient. The museum released a report by Colette Loll on March 13, 2020, explaining that microscopic analysis of the fragments showed cracks in the leather filled with pools of the ink. That means the leather had cracked after a long period of time, and the ink ran into the cracks in modern times. Other evidence also showed that these were fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments.
The message for all of us is to realize that any scientific claim based on historical objects needs careful study. Claims of antiquity should be read with a skeptical eye to the evidence. There is a lot of money involved in ancient artifacts, documents, and writings. Since National Geographic has such acceptance and worldwide circulation, they are particularly vulnerable to forgery attempts.
The “Does God Exist?” ministry is concerned about education. We try to draw on factual evidence and the best scholarship available to inform people who are willing to learn, but we do not claim to know all the answers. Much of the disagreement between atheists and believers is rooted in misunderstandings by both. One misconception involves pyramids and bricks.
We recently heard an atheist rant about the fact that there is no evidence that the Israelites built the pyramids. He claimed that proved the Bible stories about Joseph, Moses, and the exodus were all just silly myths. There are several mistakes in that statement. First of all, it is true that the Israelites did not build the pyramids. The pyramids were built hundreds of years before the time of Abraham. They were made of native stone and were built by native Egyptians who specialized in stone construction. There are even inscriptions on some of the pyramid stones identifying the primary engineer of the structure. Stone was used because it was permanent and not affected by weather or environmental change.
other building material used in Egypt was mudbricks made from Nile
alluvium which contained clay and sand. The amount of clay determined
the properties of the bricks. If the amount of clay was low, the
bricks tended to fall apart. By adding straw, the clay content could
be low, and the bricks would not fall apart as they dried. Making
bricks was a job done by slaves. Slaves were not allowed on the
pyramids because of the significance of the structure, but they made
bricks for use in building storage depots and other logistical
Exodus 1:11 tells us that the Israelites built “storage cities” for the Pharaoh. In Exodus 5:7-13, we read of the Israelites being told that straw for the bricks would not be made available to them. There are reliefs found in many places in Egypt that show slaves gathering straw, making bricks, and building temples and houses with them. The evidence indicates what the Bible says about brick-making is correct. We should not confuse stone pyramids and bricks.
Biblical Archaeology Reviewhas published several articles on brick construction and Israelite slavery. See “With and Without Straw: How Israelite Slaves Made Bricks” in March/April 2014. Also, “Brick by Brick” in the Spring issue 2020 pages 54-57.
Skeptics often challenge the accuracy of the Bible manuscripts. The idea is that copies have been made of copies, causing errors to creep in as each copier makes mistakes and repeats the errors of previous copyists. Also, words change their meaning. An obvious modern example is the word “gay,” which does not have the same meaning now that it had 50 years ago. It is true that the original documents written in the first century do not exist. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain Old Testament documents from before the time of Christ. In January of 2018, the Library of Congress announced that it had obtained the oldest complete ancient Torah scroll sheet totally legible to the naked eye.
So how do we determine the accuracy of Bible manuscripts? We use copies of the biblical manuscripts that are very old and compare them to the documents that were used to produce a particular translation of the Bible. Gary Rendsburg writing in Biblical Archaeology Review (November/December 2019, page 51), said this about the Torah scroll in the Library of Congress: “The document is nothing short of outstanding! Compared to the other old Torah scroll sheets and fragments surveyed, this sheet, composed of five columns of text, is perfectly legible. Every single letter can be read easily.”
Archaeological discoveries are becoming public at an astonishing rate. Some of those finds have been around for a long time, but only recently has new technology shown us what they are. An example is Pontius Pilate’s ring.
In 1969 Professor Gideon Foerster found the ring in the Judean Desert fortress known as Herodium (pictured). Now, fifty years later the ring was cleaned and examined by new tools of photographic technology. The scientists discovered that it bore a Greek inscription with the name of Pilate. Skeptics have maintained that the spelling of the Greek text suggests that it was not Pontius Pilate’s ring. Instead, it was the ring of a regional administrator who was collecting taxes for the Romans and wore the ring to stamp items for Pilate.
Historians and archaeologists will debate the actual owner and user of the ring for a long time without coming to a consensus. From an apologetic standpoint, the significance of the ring is huge no matter who wore it. Skeptics claim that the Bible is historically inaccurate. They suggest that the claims about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus are folklore and the product of a vivid imagination. The archaeological discovery of the James burial box a few years ago was wrongly interpreted because of the heavy influence of skeptical bias.
Every time a part of the biblical account is verified by an archaeological find, the skeptics’ arguments are weakened. Doubts about the existence, power, and influence of the man who condemned Jesus to death can be laid to rest with the finding of Pontius Pilate’s ring. That is true whether he wore the ring or if someone who served him wore it.
We know that Herodium was built by Herod the Great and had fallen into disrepair. Pilate restored it to serve as a Roman administrative center. Finding Pilate’s ring there, only confirms the reach of his influence and power.
One thing that confuses both atheists and fundamentalists is understanding the evolution of language. Atheists like to point out “mistakes” in the King James Version, and fundamentalists sometimes say it is the only accurate translation. The English language is continually evolving, and the Hebrew language evolved also.
In the early history of Hebrew, words were not written with the vowels we see today. Over time, vowels were added. That means there are variant spellings in the texts translators use. The word “Jerusalem,” for example, appears 660 times in the Hebrew Bible. Five times the spelling includes an extra vowel (Jeremiah 26:18, Esther 2:6, 1 Chronicles 3:5,2 Chronicles 25: 1 and 32:9). Those books were written later than other passages where the vowel “yod” is not present. The difference is between the older “Yerushalem” and the later “Yerushalayim.” Today in Israel the city’s name is “Yerushalayim.”
On October 9, 2018, archaeologists at the Israel Museum unveiled a recently discovered stone column with a Hebrew inscription. The inscription is around 2000 years old, and it shows that Jerusalem in Hebrew was spelled and pronounced “Yerushalayim” in the time of Christ. That is the spelling used in those five instances in the Old Testament.
Biblical Archaeological Review reported this discovery in their January/February 2019 issue on page 6. The ancient inscription deals only with the spelling of Jerusalem, but other Hebrew words have changed over the centuries by adding vowels to make reading easier. All of this is of no consequence for you and I casually reading our Bibles. However, when we get into discussions of translations of the Bible and the meaning of words going all of the way back to the Genesis account, we have to dig a little deeper. Just like English, the Hebrew language evolved.
By the way, here is an example of the evolution of English. The “yod” vowel is only a small mark. Jesus referred to it in Matthew 5:18. The King James translators transliterated it into a new English word. We still use that word today to refer to a small mark or something written quickly. The word is “jot.”