Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Many of us are confronted by people who level criticism against the Bible concerning its historical reliability. These folks will generally say that there is a lack of evidence from outside sources confirming the Biblical record. And because the Bible is a religious book, many people take the position that it is biased and cannot be trusted unless we have corroborating evidence from extra-Biblical sources. In other words, the Bible is guilty until proven innocent, and a lack of outside evidence places the Biblical account in doubt. People will NOT give the Bible the benefit of the doubt at all.
These same people don’t require this of other ancient documents, even though many, if not most, have a religious element. These other documents are considered to be accurate unless there is evidence to show that they are not. In other words, for ancient documents other than the Bible, people will always assume them to be INNOCENT of error until proven guilty, not the other way around! Although it may not be possible to verify EVERY incident in the Bible, the discoveries of archeology since the mid-1800′s have demonstrated the reliability and plausibility of the Biblical narrative. We know enough now to measure the reliability of the Scripture as a historical text, and the Bible DOES measure up.
The Ebla Discovery
For many years, critics of the Old Testament argued that the most ancient of Patriarchs (Abraham among them) did not contribute anything in writing to the scriptures. They basically claimed that Moses invented the stories found in Genesis (if Moses even wrote them at all!) They argued that ancient people of these times were too primitive to record documents with any detail. In addition, these same critics argued that there was no verification that the people and cities mentioned in the oldest of Biblical accounts ever really existed.
Well, the discovery of the Ebla archive in northern Syria in the 1970′s has confirmed that the Biblical writings concerning the Patriarchs are viable. During the excavations of the palace in 1975, the excavators found a large library (in a royal archive room), filled with tablets dating from 2400 -2300 BC. Nearly 15,000 tablets and fragments were found, but when joined together they account for about 2,500 tablets. These tablets demonstrate that personal and location titles in the Patriarchal accounts are genuine. For years, critics said that the name ‘Canaan’ was used incorrectly in the early chapters of the Bible; that the term was never used at this time in history, proving that it was a late insertion and that the earliest books were not written in the times that are described. But in the Ebla tablets, the word “Canaan” does appear, contrary to the critics’ claim. The tablets proved that the term was actually used in ancient Syria during the time in which the Old Testament was written.
In addition, critics also claimed that the word ‘Tehom’ (‘the deep’ in Genesis 1:2) was a late addition demonstrating the late writing of the creation story. But ‘Tehom’ was part of the vocabulary at Ebla as well, in use some 800 years before Moses! In fact, there is a creation record in the Ebla Tablets that is remarkably similar to the Genesis account! In addition this, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (once thought to be pure fiction) are also identified in the Ebla tablets, as well as the city of Haran. This latter city is described in Genesis as the city of Abram’s father, Terah. Prior to this discovery, ‘scholars’ doubted the presence of the ancient city.
The Ebla discovery bolstered the Biblical account and it did this in several ways. First, it confirmed the locations of several ancient cities that had long been doubted. In addition to this, however, it confirmed the use of several terms and names hat had also been doubted. And finally, it confirmed that ancient people living in the city of Ebla, (only 150 miles from Haran) were eloquent and conscientious historians and authors. Critics had argued that ancient people of this time were NOT capable of intricate and detailed record keeping, but the Ebla Tablets prove otherwise. It is well within reason to believe that Abraham recorded detailed accounts of his life and his family and that these records were used later by Moses to write the account we presently have in the Book of Genesis.
Other Ancient Confirmation
In addition to the Ebla Tablets, other archaeological findings have also confirmed the ancient truth and customs reflected in the stories of the Patriarchs. These cultural customs have been confirmed in clay tablets found in digs in the cities of Nuzi and Mari. In addition to these, archaeological digs in the city of Bogazkoy, Turkey have confirmed the existence of the Hittites who were once thought to be a Biblical legend (until their capital and records were discovered)! In a similar way, many thought the Biblical references to Solomon’s wealth were greatly exaggerated. But recovered records from the past show that wealth in antiquity was concentrated with the king and Solomon’s prosperity is now considered to be entirely feasible.
“Scholars” have also claimed that there was no Assyrian king named Sargon as recorded in Isaiah 20:1, (because this name was not known in any other record). But archeology once again proved the Biblical account to be true. Sargon’s palace was discovered in Khorsabad, Iraq. The very event mentioned in Isaiah 20, his capture of Ashdod, was recorded on the palace walls! What is more, fragments of a stela memorializing the victory were found at Ashdod itself.
Belshazzar, king of Babylon, was another historic king who was doubted by critics. Belshazzar is named in Daniel 5, but according to the non-Biblical historic record, the last king of Babylon was Nabonidus. Tablets have been found, however, that reveal that Belshazzar was Nabonidus’ son and Belshazzar served as coregent in Babylon. If this is the case, Belshazzar could offer to make Daniel ‘third highest ruler in the kingdom’ (as recorded in Daniel 5:16) for reading the handwriting on the wall, and this would have been the highest available position. Here, once again we see the ‘eye-witness’ nature of the Biblical record has been confirmed by archaeology.
But it’s not just kings and well known figures who have been verified by archeology over the years! There are thousands of ‘lesser known’ and relatively unimportant characters in the Bible who could easily be overlooked if not for the fact that archeology continues to verify them. One such person is Nebo-Sarsekim. Nebo-Sarsekim is mentioned in the Bible in chapter 39 of the Book of Jeremiah. According to Jeremiah, this man was Nebuchadnezzar II’s “chief officer” and was with him at the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC, when the Babylonians overran the city. Many skeptics have doubted this claim, but in July of 2007, Michael Jursa, a visiting professor from Vienna, discovered Nebo-Sarsekim’s name (Nabu-sharrussu-ukin) written on an Assyrian cuneiform tablet! This tablet was used as a receipt acknowledging Nabu-sharrussu-ukin’s payment of 0.75 kg of gold to a temple in Babylon, and it described Nebo-Sarsekim as “the chief eunuch” of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon. The tablet is dated to the 10th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 595BC, 12 years before the siege of Jerusalem, once again verifying the dating and record of the Bible!
Another “lessor known” Biblical character (or family in this case) has also been confirmed archaeologically. In January of 2008, archaeologists discovered a stone seal bearing the name of one of the families who acted as servants in the First Temple (and then returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to Babylonia). The seal was uncovered in an archaeological excavation in Jerusalem’s City of David. It was 2,500 years old at the time of its discovery, and it contained the name “Temech” engraved on its surface. It was discovered amid stratified debris in an excavation just outside the Old City walls near the Dung Gate. According to the Book of Nehemiah, the Temech family were servants of the First Temple and were exiled to Babylon following its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Nehemiah lists them among many other families in Nehemiah 7:6, 46, 55: “These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city…The Nethinim … The children of Temech.” The seal of one of the members of the Temech family was discovered just dozens of meters away from the Opel area, where the servants of the Temple, or “Nethinim,” lived in the time of Nehemiah.
Archeology has confirmed more than individuals and people groups found in the Old Testament. Over and over again, archeology has confirmed historical facts that were once doubted by the “experts”. As an example, historians once doubted the historicity of Nehemiah’s account of the restoration of Jerusalem that is found in the Bible. Nehemiah lived during the period when Judah was a province of the Persian Empire, and he arrived in Jerusalem as governor in 445 BC. With the permission of the Persian king, he decided to rebuild and restore the city after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians (which occurred a century earlier, in 586 BC). The Book of Nehemiah records the completion of this wall in just 52 days, and many historians did not believe this to be true, since the wall itself was never discovered. But in November of 2007, the remnants of the wall were uncovered in an archaeological excavation in Jerusalem’s ancient City of David, strengthening recent claims that King David’s palace was also found at the site. Experts now agree that the wall has been discovered along with the palace and once again the Old Testament has been verified.
They Recorded A Flood Too!
But of all the Biblical historical accounts, perhaps the most doubted has been the Biblical account of the Flood (as described in Genesis 6-9). Well, it just so happens that the most doubted event is also the most archaeologically documented. A number of Babylonian documents have been discovered which describe the same flood. The Sumerian King List, for example, lists kings who reigned for long periods of time. Then a great flood came. Following the flood, this Babylonian document records that Sumerian kings ruled for much shorter periods of time. This just so happens to be the same pattern that is found in the Bible. Men had long life spans before the flood and shorter life spans after the flood. In addition, the 11th tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic speaks of an ark, animals taken on the ark, birds sent out during the course of the flood, the ark landing on a mountain, and a sacrifice offered after the ark landed.
And be aware of the fact that flood stories have been discovered among nearly ALL nations and tribes. Though most common on the Asian mainland, the islands immediately south of the continent and on the North American continent, they have been found on ALL the continents. There are approximately 270 known Flood stories. Although these traditions have been modified through the ages and some have taken on fantastic elements, most of them have certain basic elements in common:
- 88% of them single out a favored individual or family.
- 70% point to survival due to a boat.
- 66% see the Flood coming as a result of human wickedness.
- 67% speak of animals saved along with human beings.
- 57 % record that the survivors end up on a mountain.
- 66% indicate that the hero receives warning of the coming catastrophe.
Critics sometimes claim that these flood stories came from recent contact with Christian missionaries, but this claim will not stand up; most of the stories were gathered and documented by anthropologists who were uninterested in confirming the truth of the Bible. In addition to this, these common tales of a worldwide flood are filled with fanciful and pagan elements, evidently the result of the telling and re-telling of the story for extended periods of time in a non-Biblical society. It should also be noted that the ancient accounts were written by people who very much opposed the Hebrew-Christian tradition.
There Are Other Common Historical Accounts
In addition to the flood story, there are other non-Biblical accounts that record events that are also found in the Bible. The Story of Adapa tells of a test for immortality involving food, similar to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Sumerian tablets record the confusion of language as we have in the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). This account records a golden age when all mankind spoke the same language. Speech was then confused by the god Enki, lord of wisdom. The Babylonians had a similar account in which the gods destroyed a temple tower and ‘scattered them abroad and made strange their speech.’
And There’s a Whole Lot More!
In addition to all of this, there are many Biblical events that have now been confirmed by extra-Biblical sources. There are so many examples of Biblical confirmation, in fact, that it would be ridiculous to try to list it all in a single webpage. Volumes of books have already been written. But, let’s just take a look at a few examples:
- The campaign into Israel by Pharaoh Shishak (1 Kings 14:25-26) is recorded on the walls of the Temple of Amun in Thebes, Egypt.
- The revolt of Moab against Israel (2 Kings 1:1; 3:4-27) is recorded on the Mesha Inscription.
- The fall of Samaria
- (2 Kings 17:3-6, 24; 18:9-11) to Sargon II, king of Assyria, is recorded on his palace walls.
- The defeat of Ashdod by Sargon II (Isaiah 20:1) is recorded on his palace walls.
- The campaign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib against Judah (2 Kings 18:13-16) is recorded on the Taylor Prism.
- The siege of Lachish by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14, 17) is recorded on the Lachish reliefs.
- The assassination of Sennacherib by his own sons (2 Kings 19:37) is recorded in the annals of his son Esarhaddon.
- The fall of Nineveh as predicted by the prophets Nahum and Zephaniah (2 Kings 2:13-15) is recorded on the Tablet of Nabopolasar.
- The fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-14) is recorded in the Babylonian Chronicles.
- The captivity of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, in Babylon (2 Kings 24:15-16) is recorded on the Babylonian Ration Records.
- The fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:30-31) is recorded on the Cyrus Cylinder.
- The freeing of captives in Babylon by Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4; 6:3-4) is recorded on the Cyrus Cylinder.
Have They Been Fair?
For years, critics of the Biblical account have doubted its reliability, not because there existed archaeological evidence that DISPROVED its claims, but simply because there was no discovered archaeological evidence found to SUBSTANTIATE its claims. In essence, because there was nothing to prove the Bible innocent, they simply assumed it was guilty of a lie. Is that really fair? Even now, critics will admit that much of what has been written in the Bible has been confirmed archaeologically, yet these same critics will continue to argue that extra-Biblical confirmation of SOME of the Bible does not constitute confirmation of ALL of the Bible. Of course that is true. But with so much confirmation in the archaeological record, why must the critics assume the Bible is lying first, until forced to admit the truth under the pressure of an ever increasing body of archaeological evidence? Why must the Bible be guilty until proven innocent?
Perhaps it is because the Bible, unlike secular records and histories, not only tells a tale of an ancient people, but also tells a tale of an ancient God who has a purpose for our lives and an expectation that accompanies this purpose. Are the critics of the Bible uncomfortable with the Biblical history, or are they simply uncomfortable with the Biblical God of accountability?