Historical Proof of the Bible
We are going to consider five eras for historical proof of the Bible:
- The first era, creation, was covered in the article Are there any scientific proofs of the Bible?
- The second era is found in Genesis chapters 3-12. This is too far back in antiquity to either prove or disprove. Scientists will argue on both sides for and against a world wide flood, the tower of Babel and more.
- The third era is from Abraham to Solomon
- The fourth era is from Solomon to the end of the Old Testament.
- The fifth era is Christ and the apostolic era.
Before we start let’s consider what it is we are looking for. The Bible is essentially a religious history. Even those who wrote the Bible made it clear it was not a secular history, even though secular events are referred to. It is a book about God and his relationship with man. That cannot be proven or dis-proven logically. It is a spiritual matter. However, people and events mentioned in the Bible might be found in the historical writings of other nearby countries and in the historical records of the Israelite nations other than the Bible proving the history of the Bible is correct.
The earliest records of the Israelites were written on papyrus, rather than clay tablets that were used by other cultures at that time. Many of those papyri have been destroyed. The ancient Israelites, while they loom large in our eyes, were a small city state for the most part.
There is little proof of the use of slaves in Egypt or of the Exodus, of the conquering of the Canaanites by the Israelites or (prior to 1993) of King David’s reign. But absence of proof is not proof of absence. It only takes one find to change that picture.
For example, until 1993 there was no proof of the existence of King David or even of Israel as a nation prior to Solomon. Then in 1993 archeologists found proof of King David’s existence outside the Bible. At an ancient mound called Tel Dan, in the north of Israel, words carved into a chunk of basalt were translated as “House of David” and “King of Israel” proving that he was more than just a legend.
Then in 2005 Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar found King David’s palace relying on the Bible as one of her many tools. She says:
“What is amazing about the Bible is that very often we see that it is very accurate and sometimes amazingly accurate.” (from Using the Bible As Her Guide)
In 1990 Frank Yurco, an Egyptologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, used hieroglyphic clues from a monolith known as the Merneptah Stele to identify figures in a Luxor wall relief as ancient Israelites. The stele itself, dated to 1207 B.C. celebrates a military victory by the Pharaoh Merneptah. “Israel is laid waste” it reads. This lets us know the Israelites were a separate people more than 3,000 years ago. (for more on the steleh)
So far no proof of the Exodus or wandering has been found. Some historians insist the Canaanites were a dying culture when the Israelites gradually moved in and took over their lands. None of this absence of proof serves as proof of absence as one new archeological find could change that in an instant.
Now let’s look at the era from Solomon to around 400 BC where the Old Testament ends. The Smithsonian Department of Anthropology is reported to have said this about the Bible (referring to history not spiritual teachings.)
“Much of the Bible, in particular the historical books of the old testament, are as accurate historical documents as any that we have from antiquity and are in fact more accurate than many of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Greek histories. These Biblical records can be and are used as are other ancient documents in archeological work. For the most part, historical events described took place and the peoples cited really existed. This is not to say that names of all peoples and places mentioned can be identified today, or that every event as reported in the historical books happened exactly as stated.” (you can write the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, Washington DC for the full text.)
Here’s part of a letter from the National Geographic as quoted on http://www.grace-n-truth.com/thebible.html
I referred your inquiries to our staff archeologist, Dr. George Stuart. He said that archaeologists do indeed find the Bible a valuable reference tool, and use it many times for geographical relationships, old names and relative chronologies. On the enclosed list, you will find many articles concerning discoveries verifying events discussed in the Bible. ~ National Geographic Society, Washington D.C.
R.D. Wilson who wrote “A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament” pointed out that the names of 29 Kings from ten nations (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and more) are mentioned not only in the Bible but are also found on monuments of their own time. Every single name is transliterated in the Old Testament exactly as it appears on the archaeological artifact – syllable for syllable, consonant for consonant. The chronological order of the kings is correct.
John M. Lundquist writes
“A significant example of the contribution ancient inscriptions have made to our understanding of the Old Testament is the Moabite Stone, also known as the Mesha Inscription.
Mesha, king of the Moabites, those distant cousins of the Israelites who lived on the east side of the Dead Sea, is introduced in the Bible in the third chapter of 2 Kings [2 Kgs. 3] as a vassal to the King of Israel, about 849 B.C. With the death of Ahab, Mesha rebelled against this relationship. This prompted Ahab’s son, Jehoram, to engage the alliance of Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, and the King of Edom in a military campaign against Mesha. With the help of prophetic advice from Elisha, the alliance was able to gain a victory over the Moabites. Mesha retreated behind the walls of his citadel, Kir-hareseth, and it was there, upon one of these walls, that he sacrificed his first-born son as a burnt offering in order to invoke the wrath of his god, Chemosh, against Jehoram’s army. The Bible tells us that the Israelites were so horrified by this act that they returned home. (See 2 Kgs. 3:27.)
This ends the biblical account of Mesha, and if it weren’t for the discovery of the Moabite Stone in 1868 by a German missionary, the story would have ended there.
The Moabite Stone is an inscription in the Moabite language, a Semitic language closely related to biblical Hebrew. The inscription, of about thirty-five lines, was chiseled into a piece of black basalt measuring about three feet tall by one-and-one-half feet wide. That inscription, dated approximately 830 B.C., was set up by King Mesha in a temple at Dhiban to commemorate his “victory” over the Israelites. The Moabite Stone, in fact, gives King Mesha’s side of the story. As such it provides a rare glimpse from a genuinely ancient but non-biblical source of an incident in biblical history.
The overriding theme of the inscription is very familiar: that the deity, in this case Chemosh, guided Mesha in his trials and finally gave him victory. The inscription states that Chemosh had allowed King Omri of Israel to oppress Moab for many years because of the Moabites’ sins. (See Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. Walter Beyerlin, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978, pp. 237-40.) During this time, Omri and his followers had taken much land in Moab and fortified it. (The Bible itself does not mention these campaigns by northern kings-with the exception of the account already quoted from 2 Kgs. 3.) At that point, Chemosh turns his favor toward Mesha and instructs him to defeat the Israelites. Mesha follows instructions, defeats the Israelites, and then uses Israelite prisoners to make repairs on the temple of Chemosh at Dhiban.
From a historian’s point of view, Mesha’s account of his successful rebellion against Israelite domination can probably be given credibility. As we have already seen, the Israelite-Judahite-Edomite coalition against him in 849 B.C. was successfully rebuffed by the human sacrifice which Mesha offered to Chemosh on the wall of his citadel. (See 2 Kgs. 3.) What’s more, if the date of 830 B.C. for the setting up of this monument is accurate, then Mesha’s statement about the fate of the house of Omri would also be accurate, since we know that Omri’s royal line was wiped out by Jehu in about 842 B.C. (See 2 Kgs. 9.) Thus, Mesha no doubt saw himself and his god, Chemosh, vindicated by events.
The fact that Israel’s neighbors viewed their gods in the same light as Israel viewed the Lord, and the fact that certain biblical customs should also be found among some of these neighbors, should in no way disturb anyone. Perhaps the Moabites and others borrowed these customs from the Israelites, or, more probably, since the Moabites are descendants from Abraham’s nephew Lot through the latter’s daughter (see Gen. 19:37), there would be much in the way of religion and culture that they would share in common. One of the sobering facts that we learn from a study of the Bible during the period of the united and divided monarchies is that sometimes the worship of idols such as Chemosh appears to have been more popular among the Israelites than the worship of the Lord himself. (See 1 Kgs. 11:7; 1 Kgs. 19:18; 2 Kgs. 17; 2 Kgs. 21; 1 Ne. 1:19-20.) The Moabite Stone gives us a picture of such an idol as one of his native adherents would have viewed him.
There are a number of other ancient inscriptions that have provided valuable insights into biblical history from a non-biblical perspective. Among these are the Gezar Calendar, the Samaria Ostraca, the Siloam Inscription, the Lachish Letters, and numerous Phoenician and Aramaic inscriptions. (These can be examined in translation, with reference to the originals, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard, 2nd ed., Princeton: Princeton University, 1955, pp. 320-24; 3rd ed., 1969, pp. 653-62.) Among the most important of these are the royal inscriptions of the Assyrian and Babylonian kings. We have inscriptions of the Assyrian kings Sargon II and Sennacherib describing their sieges of Samaria in 721 and Jerusalem in 701, respectively, as well as inscriptions relating the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s conquests of Jerusalem in the latter years of Judah’s existence before the exile. (See Pritchard, 2nd ed., pp. 284-88; 3rd ed., pp. 563-64.)
What value have such inscriptions added to our understanding of the Bible? In addition to providing new perspective, they “pinpoint events and … supply a wider view of the biblical past, discovering phenomena in ancient Israel not preserved in its literature.” (See Gaalyahu Cornfeld, Archaeology of the Bible)”
From: Lundquist, John (August, 1983) The Value of New Textual Sources to the King James Bible.
The following information is taken from a site dedicated to discoveries made by archaeologists working in and around present day Jerusalem.
Ostraca (inscribed potsherds) Over 100 ostraca inscribed in biblical Hebrew (in paleo-Hebrew script) were found in the citadel of Arad. This is the largest and richest collection of inscriptions from the biblical period ever discovered in Israel. The letters are from all periods of the citadel’s existence, but most date to the last decades of the kingdom of Judah. Dates and several names of places in the Negev are mentioned, including Be’er Sheva.
Among the personal names are those of the priestly families Pashur and Meremoth, both mentioned in the Bible. (Jeremiah 20:1; Ezra 8:33) Some of the letters were addressed to the commander of the citadel of Arad, Eliashiv ben Ashiyahu, and deal with the distribution of bread (flour), wine and oil to the soldiers serving in the fortresses of the Negev. Seals bearing the inscription “Eliashiv ben Ashiyahu” were also found.
Some of the commander’s letters (probably “file” copies) were addressed to his superior and deal with the deteriorating security situation in the Negev. In one of them, he gives warning of an emergency and requests reinforcements to be sent to another citadel in the region to repulse an Edomite invasion. Also, in one of the letters, the “house of YHWH” is mentioned. For more information click here.
Finally let’s look at Jesus.
What evidence do we have the he existed?
The Roman historian Tacitus writing between 115-117 A.D. had this to say:
“They got their name from Christ, who was executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. That checked the pernicious superstition for a short time, but it broke out afresh-not only in Judea, where the plague first arose, but in Rome itself, where all the horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home.” From his Annals, xv. 44.
Here is a pagan historian, hostile to Christianity, who had access to records about what happened to Jesus Christ. Mention of Jesus can also be found in Jewish Rabbinical writings from what is known as the Tannaitic period, between 70-200 A.D. In Sanhedrin 43a it says:
“Jesus was hanged on Passover Eve. Forty days previously the herald had cried, ‘He is being led out for stoning, because he has practiced sorcery and led Israel astray and enticed them into apostasy. Whoever has anything to say in his defence, let him come and declare it.’ As nothing was brought forward in his defence, he was hanged on Passover Eve.”
That there is any mention of Jesus at all is unususal. As far as the Roman world was concerned, Jesus was a nobody who live in an insignificant province, sentenced to death by a minor procurator.
To conclude, there is plenty of historical proof that the Bible is historically accurate.
Are the books of the Bible in the order they were written? Did John really write John 1 and 2 after Revelation?
How did we get the English Bible?
What are the Apochrypha? Why are the Catholic and Protestant Bibles different?
Who wrote the Bible? When? How Many Years Did it Take?
King James Bible Facts and Statistics