Does archaeology support the Bible?

The material evidence that archaeologists have discovered supports the Bible. Sadly, in the 1900s there was a great deal of archaeological work interpreted in a way that discredited the Bible. Of course, it has been said that archaeology “proves” the Bible, and this is not technically correct either. The Bible contains much information about God, the spiritual nature of the world, and the future of man that archaeology can never prove. The best archaeology can do is substantiate what the Bible says about the past, but the importance of that should not be understated. If, time after time, archaeology substantiates statements the Bible makes about the past, it would be logical to conclude that because the Bible is reliable historically, it must be reliable when it speaks of salvation, the coming of Christ, the Judgment, and everlasting life.

Many modern archaeologists do not think archaeology substantiates the Bible; they say it disproves the Bible. In fact, most of the universities that offer degrees in archaeology are staffed by archaeologists who do not believe the Bible. What is the situation? As the discipline of archeology developed, many theories were set forth concerning the dating of the ancient time periods being uncovered in the ground. As the many theories gradually gave way to an “accepted chronology,” there was a misdating of the layers in the ground. The subject is a complex one, and many books and articles have been written on it, but we can summarize the situation thusly: because archaeologists have mislabeled and misdated the eras of the ancient past that have been uncovered in excavations, the “evidence” they find in the ground does not match the biblical record. This has resulted in many of them doubting the accuracy of the Bible.

The Old Testament town of Jericho provides an excellent example of what has happened. According to the book of Joshua, when Joshua came to Jericho it was a formidable city, enclosed by a large wall and inhabited by Canaanites. Through a miracle, part of the wall of the city collapsed, which allowed the Israelite army to rush in, kill the people, and set the city on fire. Later, Jericho was rebuilt and inhabited. If the Bible is accurate, archaeologists should be able to dig into the tel, the dirt mound, at the site of Old Testament Jericho and find a large collapsed wall associated with a burn layer. Sure enough, archaeologists do find a large wall at Jericho, which is partially collapsed and associated with a deep burn layer indicating great destruction, not just a small fire. However, because of the way most modern archaeologists misdate the various layers, they claim when Joshua arrived, Jericho was either a deserted city or a small settlement. They say the wall was destroyed and the city burned before Joshua arrived, and Joshua simply took credit for what others had done by writing the story that now appears in the Bible. This viewpoint, or some similar idea that discredits the Bible, can be found in many books on the archaeology of the Bible. Warner Keller, whose book, The Bible as History, has sold more than 10 million copies, writes:

For if it is the case that Israelites did not come to Jericho until the time of the occupation, i.e., about the middle or towards the end of the 13 th century B.C., they did not need to conquer the city for they found it uninhabited! [1]

The Bible states that Jericho was inhabited, and even fortified. Remember the record of the prostitute Rahab whose house was built into the wall and who helped the spies Joshua sent? What about the wonderful account of the blowing of trumpets and the fall of the wall? Keller notes the findings of archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon who excavated Jericho from 1952-1958.

According to her findings the walls of Jericho had to be rebuilt during the Bronze Age no less than seventeen times. The walls were repeatedly destroyed either by earthquakes or erosion. Perhaps this weakness of the walls of Jericho found expression in the Bible account of how the children of Israel, in order to conquer Jericho, merely had to shout their war cry when the priests blew the trumpets. [2]

Is Keller serious when he writes that the record in the Bible is a fable, and the idea that the walls of Jericho fell when the people shouted and blew trumpets most likely came from the fact that Jericho was known to have weak walls? Sadly, he is. Let me restate that according to many modern archaeologists, archaeology actually disproves the Bible. This “disproving” happens over and over with record after record until there is little of the biblical account that they believe.

The truth about Jericho is that the weak walls were built after Joshua destroyed the Canaanite city of Jericho. Those who believe the Bible realize that the massive wall and associated burn layer in Jericho is good evidence the Bible is true; and there is more evidence from many more archaeological excavations all over Israel and the Middle East that also supports Scripture. Thankfully, in spite of the fact that archaeologists who do not believe the Bible hold very important positions in many universities, there are some who reject the “accepted” chronology and show that archaeological evidence, if interpreted properly, does support the Bible. [3] One who understands what has occurred in archaeology, and has information to help correct it is David Rohl. He does a good job of summarizing the position of modern archaeologists who do not believe the Bible, and notes why there is a problem:

What lies behind this jaundiced opinion of the Bible as history? Peeling away all the layers of scholarly debate which have tended to obscure the issue over the years, we are left with one fundamental problem for those who would advocate using the Bible as a source for history: archaeological excavations in Egypt and THE LEVANT, ongoing for the best part of the last two centuries, have produced no tangible evidence to demonstrate the historical veracity of the early biblical narratives. [4] Direct material support for the traditional history of the Israelite nation, as handed down in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, is virtually non-existent. It is as if the Israelites had somehow failed to leave their archaeological footprint in the ancient lands of the Bible.

Of course, if you are a devout Christian, Jew or Muslim you may have no doubts about the historical accuracy of the Old Testament or TANAKH [The Jewish Bible] narratives and the parallel stories found in the Koran. Your weapon against this critical biblical scholarship is your absolute faith. If, on the other hand, like me, you are primarily interested in the search for historical truth—without the sustaining support of any particular religious belief—it is essential to find archaeological evidence to demonstrate that the events recorded in the Bible actually happened and that characters such as Joseph, Moses, Saul, David and Solomon really walked this Earth some three to four thousand years ago. It is the lack of such evidence which, in essence, lies at the very heart of the academic skepticism now prevalent in some areas of biblical scholarship. [5]

Rohl concludes that the reason that archaeologists do not have evidence for the biblical events is they are looking in the wrong layers of the dirt. They have misdated the layers and assigned the wrong dates to the evidence in the ground. Rohl writes about the need to reinterpret the dating of the evidence in the earth:

This book will demonstrate that all is not well with the “conventional” chronology and that the only real solution to the archaeological problems which have been created is to pull down the whole structure and start again, reconstructing from the foundation upwards. [6]

Once the chronology of the layers in the ground is correctly interpreted, the earth yields wonderful evidence for the biblical events and helps us picture exactly what happened in the biblical records. The depth of ash at Jericho, the strong walls of Megiddo, the pool at Gibeon, the pieces of ivory at Ahab’s “ivory palace,” the household utensils, the weapons, and much more, allow us to get a mental picture of what life was really like when the biblical characters lived. Rohl is one historian who has seen that picture, and he writes about what is there to see when the chronology is corrected.

I will endeavor to guide you to a Promised Land ablaze with the destructions of Joshua and the twelve tribes. We can then take another step back into the distant past to try and identify the cultural remains of the Israelites left behind in Egypt after the Exodus. A tantalizing prospect presents itself. We will be given the opportunity to wander along the dusty lanes between the houses of Jacob’s descendants and look into their courtyards to see bread-baking clay ovens, grain silos and the mudbrick vaults of their tombs. If the overall chronological framework proposed in this book is anywhere near historical reality, then the period of the Israelite Sojourn will become readily apparent in the archaeology of Egypt’s eastern delta. The mass graves of the victims of the final horrendous plague which fell upon Egypt will lie at our feet. The archaeological remains of the store-city built with the sweat of Israelite slaves during the Bondage period will be identified. Finally, I intend to take you into the Egyptian tomb of the patriarch Joseph. [7]

Although it may be debated whether or not Rohl has properly reconstructed the ancient chronology, it cannot be debated that in order to reestablish a correct chronology, the one accepted today by most archaeologists needs to be completely reconstructed. Another scholar who recognized the need to completely reconstruct the chronology of the Exodus and the early years of the Israelite occupation of the land of Israel is the late Donovan Courville. His rare two-volume work, The Exodus Problem and Its Ramifications, is a masterpiece offering a very plausible explanation of the chronology of the Exodus, including the name of the Pharaoh who opposed Moses. [8] The late Joseph P. Free, author of Archaeology and Bible History, is another scholar who recognized the need to adjust the “accepted dating” of many of the archaeological sites in Israel. [9] Once the chronology of the Middle East is corrected and the layers of dirt the archaeologists are digging in are correctly labeled, all the “missing evidence” for the biblical accounts will be right there in front of our eyes.

When you walk up the steps to the Temple that Jesus walked up, when you hold a 3,000 year old oil lamp, when you stand on the remains of the castle wall at Samaria, or walk through the water tunnel Hezekiah built to protect his people from the Assyrians, there is a powerful emotional connection that occurs between you and the Bible, you and the biblical characters, and you and your God. That is why many people visiting Israel weep at the ancient and holy sites. The misdating of the layers of the earth by modern archaeologists has prevented many people from seeing the rich evidence for the truth of the Bible. Furthermore, it has contributed to their being skeptical of the Bible and disconnected from God. It is a blessing that we live in a time when there are some historians and archaeologists who are not content to accept the standard chronology with all the doubt and unbelief that goes along with it, but rather are working to restore the true chronology of the layers in the earth. Anyone searching for the truth can read what these men and women have to say. It is my sincere prayer that there will come a day when the histories and chronologies of the archaeological sites are corrected, and the discipline of archaeology itself is reconstructed to reflect the true history of the world.

Endnotes

[1] Warner Keller, The Bible as History (Bantam Books, New York, 1982), pp. 163 and 164.
[2] Ibid., p. 162. These weak walls would have postdated Joshua.
[3] A good example is Joseph P. Free, author of Archaeology and Bible History (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1969), revised and updated by Howard Vos in 1992.
[4]“Levant” is a general term for all the countries on the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.
[5] David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest (Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1995), pp. 7 and 8.
[6] Ibid., p. 9.
[7] Ibid., p. 11.
[8] Donovan A. Courville, The Exodus Problem and Its Ramifications (Challenge Books, Loma Linda, CA, 1971). It is unfortunate that this set of books is so rare. Courville was ahead of his time, and since his views were considered absurd by archaeologists who hold the high positions in the discipline, his book was not widely published or distributed.
[9] Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1969).

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3 comments

  1. Dever found that Syro-Palestinian archaeology had been treated in American institutions as a sub discipline of bible studies. Where it was expected that American archaeologists would try to “provide valid historical evidence of episodes from the biblical tradition”. According to Dever “the most naïve [idea regarding Syro-Palestinian archaeology] is that the reason and purpose of “biblical archaeology” (and, by extrapolation, of Syro-Palestinian archaeology) is simply elucidate facts regarding the Bible and the Holy Land”[26](p. 358).

    Dever has also written that:

    “Archaeology certainly doesn’t prove literal readings of the Bible…It calls them into question, and that’s what bothers some people. Most people really think that archaeology is out there to prove the Bible. No archaeologist thinks so.”[27] From the beginnings of what we call biblical archaeology, perhaps 150 years ago, scholars, mostly western scholars, have attempted to use archaeological data to prove the Bible. And for a long time it was thought to work. William Albright, the great father of our discipline, often spoke of the “archaeological revolution.” Well, the revolution has come but not in the way that Albright thought. The truth of the matter today is that archaeology raises more questions about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible and even the New Testament than it provides answers, and that’s very disturbing to some people.[28]

    Dever also wrote:

    Archaeology as it is practiced today must be able to challenge, as well as confirm, the Bible stories. Some things described there really did happen, but others did not. The biblical narratives about Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Solomon probably reflect some historical memories of people and places, but the ‘larger than life’ portraits of the Bible are unrealistic and contradicted by the archaeological evidence….[29] I am not reading the Bible as Scripture… I am in fact not even a theist. My view all along—and especially in the recent books—is first that the biblical narratives are indeed ‘stories,’ often fictional and almost always propagandistic, but that here and there they contain some valid historical information…[30]

    Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog wrote in the Haaretz newspaper:

    This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. And it will come as an unpleasant shock to many that the God of Israel, YHWH, had a female consort and that the early Israelite religion adopted monotheism only in the waning period of the monarchy and not at Mount Sinai.[31][32]

    Professor Finkelstein, who is known as “the father of biblical archaeology”, told the Jerusalem Post that Jewish archaeologists have found no historical or archaeological evidence to back the biblical narrative on the Exodus, the Jews’ wandering in Sinai or Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. On the alleged Temple of Solomon, Finkelstein said that there is no archaeological evidence to prove it really existed.[33] Professor Yoni Mizrahi, an independent archaeologist who has worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency, agreed with Israel Finkelstein.[33]

    Regarding the Exodus of Israelites from Egypt, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass said:

    “Really, it’s a myth,”… “This is my career as an archaeologist. I should tell them the truth. If the people are upset, that is not my problem.”[34]

    1. A Short Answer to Why Modern Archaeology Does Not Fit with the Bible

      Modern archaeology is like most other academic disciplines that deal with biblical topics; it is dominated by unbelievers and riddled with mistakes and misconceptions. Modern archaeology says that the Bible is not true. Why? The bottom line is that if you look for something in the wrong place and the wrong time you won’t find it. For example, if I want to find out if George Washington existed, but I search for him in the records of fifteenth century England, I won’t find him. So if I confidently assert he did not exist based on my research, it does not mean George Washington did not exist, it means that lots of things about my assumptions and my search were wrong.

      There are a lot of reasons most modern archaeology cannot be reconciled with the Bible—far too many to cover in this brief statement. Many books have been written about the disparity between modern archaeology and the biblical record. This is only a quick statement of the problem. One reason modern archaeology as an accepted discipline does not fit with the Bible is that it denies Noah’s flood. This in itself has huge implications. For example, if you Google the history of the city of Damascus, the capital of modern Syria and an important biblical city, modern archaeology dates it to at least 6000 BC and perhaps even as early as 9000 BC. Since the Flood of Noah was about 2300 BC, Damascus cannot be any older than that, and is likely to have been founded around 2000 BC. This one example shows that the dating used by archaeologists and that found in the Bible are going to be different and thus the argument boils down to who is right, the Bible or some archaeologists (I need to say that there are some archaeologists who do believe that the Bible is a valid historical document).

      The arguments boil down to, “Is the Bible trustworthy?” Let’s take the excavation of Jericho. According to the Book of Joshua, an excavation Jericho (today called Tel es-Sultan by archaeologists) should reveal:
      • The destroyed remains of a fairly advanced civilization (the Canaanites)
      • The destroyed city conjoined with a large wall that has at least partially collapsed (the walls of Jericho fell)
      • The city ruins mixed with and covered by a burn layer (Joshua burned Jericho)
      • Above the burn layer a period of sparse and unsophisticated occupation (Joshua cursed Jericho saying that the oldest and youngest son of the person who built it would die so the city was not rebuilt for centuries)
      • Remains of a new city that grew and developed (in the time of Ahab and Jezebel, a man named Hiel rebuilt Jericho).

      When Tel es-Sultan was excavated the archaeologists found a huge, partially collapsed wall with large towers that was associated with a city that had been burned, covered by a layer of sparse occupation that lasted a long time, followed by a time of rebuilding. Thus, what archaeologists found at the site perfectly fits with what the Bible says should be there. But in 1952-1958, Kathleen Kenyon re-excavated Jericho and declared that earlier archaeologists had misdated Jericho. She claimed that the old and well-fortified city that had collapsed and been burned by fire actually existed earlier than Joshua. A new story was then told that goes like this: Joshua arrived at Jericho and thought, “Wow, I wish we had destroyed this city. Let’s write that we did.” And so he wrote the Book of Joshua and invented the story about the Israelite conquest of Jericho.

      This kind of re-telling the biblical story” has gone on all over the Middle East. There are so many misidentified layers and misidentified locations that modern archaeology does not offer much support for the Bible. Many times Christian tradition and well-meaning Christians are at fault for the problem. For example, it was Christians who many centuries ago decided the Israelites wandered in the Sinai Peninsula for forty years immediately after the Exodus. The fact that there are no remains in the Sinai from the Israelites has caused modern archaeologists to doubt, and rightly so, their existence there, and thus they doubt the Exodus. But the Bible says Mount Sinai is in Arabia (Gal. 4:25)! If we are looking on the Sinai Peninsula for evidence of the Exodus we won’t find any—not because the Exodus did not happen—but because we are looking for the evidence in the wrong place. Unfortunately, the government of Saudi Arabia will not allow modern researchers to look where we believe the Israelites did live for forty years (it is now a military zone), but it is likely that if we could look there we would find the “missing Israelites” and the evidence of the Exodus.

      John W. Schoenheit

  2. The Bible claims to be the word of God, the chronological system used by modern Archaeologists is man made! If there is error in either side of the equation, I know which I find more believable. Archaeology is not an exact science, I have taken part in digs, where previous excavation has missed the important finds, in some instances by feet. If we cannot find artefacts that we know are on a site, what EVIDENCE are we to use for the correctness of our chronology? Are we to simply accept the accepted chronology unchallenged? This seems to me to be unacceptable. If we seek the truth we would do better to CHECK the assumptions that we have made.

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