A Brief Sample of Old Testament Archaeological Corroboration

A Brief Sample of Old Testament Archaeological CorroborationI’ve learned to test witnesses in my criminal investigations before trusting their testimony, and I evaluate them with the template we typically use in jury trials. One dimension of this template is corroboration: Is there any verifying evidence supporting the claims of the eyewitness? Corroborative evidence is what I refer to as “touch point” evidence. I don’t expect a surveillance video confirming every statement made by a witness, but I do expect small “touch point” corroborations. The authors of the Bible make a variety of historical claims, and many of these claims are corroborated by archaeological evidence. Archaeology is notoriously partial and incomplete, but it does offer us “touch point” verification of many Biblical claims. Here are just a few of the more impressive findings related to the Old Testament:

Related to the Customs of the Patriarchs
Critics of the Old Testament have argued against the historicity of the books of Moses, doubting the authenticity of many of the stories found in Genesis (and sometimes rejecting the authorship of Moses along the way). Skeptics doubted primitive people groups were capable of recording history with any significant detail, and they questioned the existence of many of the people and cities mentioned in the oldest of Biblical accounts. When the Ebla archive was discovered in Syria (modern Tell Mardikh) in the 1970′s, many of these criticisms became less reasonable. During the excavations of the Ebla palace in 1975, the excavators found a large library filled with tablets dating from 2400 -2300 BC. These tablets confirmed many of the personal titles and locations described in the patriarchal Old Testament accounts.

For years, critics also believed the name “Canaan” was used incorrectly in the early books of the Bible, doubting the term was used at this time in history and suspecting it was a late insertion (or evidence of late authorship). But “Canaan” appears in the Ebla tablets. The term was used in ancient Syria during the time in which the Old Testament was written. Critics were also skeptical of the word, “Tehom” (“the deep” in Genesis 1:2), believing it was also a late addition or evidence again of late authorship. But “Tehom” was also part of the vocabulary at Ebla, in use 800 years before Moses. In fact, there is a creation record in the Ebla Tablets remarkably similar to the Genesis account. In addition, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (once thought to be fictional) 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, critics doubted the existence of this ancient city. The Ebla discovery confirmed the locations of several ancient cities, corroborated the use of several terms and titles, and confirmed ancient people were capable of being eloquent and conscientious historians.

Related to the Hittites
The historicity and cultural customs of the Patriarchs have also been corroborated in clay tablets uncovered in the cities of Nuzi, Mari and Bogazkoy. Archaeological discoveries in these three cities have confirmed the existence of the Hittites. These findings also revealed an example of an ancient king with an incredible concentration of wealth. Prior to this discovery, skeptics doubted such ancient affluence was possible and considered the story of Solomon to be greatly exaggerated. This discovery provided an example of such a situation, however. Solomon’s prosperity is now considered to be entirely feasible.

Related to Sargon
The historicity of the Assyrian king, Sargon (recorded in Isaiah 20:1) has also been confirmed, in spite of the fact his name was not seen in any non-Biblical record. Archeology again proved the Biblical account to be true when Sargon’s palace was discovered in Khorsabad, Iraq. More importantly, the event mentioned in Isaiah 20, Sargon’s capture of Ashdod, was recorded on the palace walls, confirming the history recorded in Old Testament Scripture. Fragments of a stela (an inscribed stone pillar) were also found at Ashdod. This stela was originally carved to memorialize the victory of Sargon.

Related to Belshazzar
Belshazzar, king of Babylon, was another historic king 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 discovered, however, describing Belshazzar as Nabonidus’ son and documenting his service as coregent in Babylon. If this is the case, Belshazzar would have been able to appoint Daniel “third highest ruler in the kingdom” for reading the handwriting on the wall (as recorded in Daniel 5:16). This would have been the highest available position for Daniel. Here, once again, we see the historicity of the Biblical record has been confirmed by archaeology.

Related to Nebo-Sarsekim
It’s not just kings and well-known figures who have been verified by archeology over the years. There are thousands of “lesser known,” relatively unimportant characters in the Bible who would easily be overlooked if archeology did not continue 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 Old Testament.

Related to Nehemiah’s Wall
Skeptical 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 concurrent claims King David’s palace was also found at the site. Experts now agree that the wall has been discovered along with the palace. Once again the Old Testament has been corroborated.

Archaeology is an ever-developing discipline, providing new insight into the past with every new discovery. Many of these findings are featured at the Biblical Archaeology Society and at other similar sources. The claims of Judaism and Christianity are more than proverbial insights; they are claims about the historic past. As such, they can be verified or falsified. Archeology is one way we can test the claims of the Old and New Testament, and this discipline continues to provide “touch point” corroborative evidence affirming the claims of the Bible.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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10 replies
  1. Charles says:

    The evidence, if you will, may not seem as such to those who don’t believe but it obviously points in the direction of Biblical accuracy. I just don’t think nonbelievers are willing to accept it. If I were to find a lead shard in an open field somewhere in Manassas, VA today and told someone that a battle took place there about 150 years ago where would that evidence point? It would be reasonable to believe that a battle did actually happen wouldn’t it?

  2. Stephen B says:

    The battle may well have taken place, yes. But if someone tells me they saw a talking snake in the battle, or at one point a river that soldiers were crossing split in two, allowing them to cross without getting wet, then I’d want more evidence before I accepted those claims, regardless of whether I accept that the battle itself may be a real event.

  3. Charles says:

    “But if someone tells me they saw a talking snake in the battle, or at one point a river that soldiers were crossing split in two, allowing them to cross without getting wet, then I’d want more evidence before I accepted those claims, regardless of whether I accept that the battle itself may be a real event.”

    Ok, so regarding miracles I can understand the desire for some to seek physical evidence. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact; many believers are actively searching for physical evidence for miraculous claims.

    You reference the Red Sea being parted and the claim made that Hebrew slaves were able to cross without getting wet. Does this negate the consensus that Pharaoh had Hebrew slaves? Does it negate that they escaped? Does it negate Hebrew occupation of Canaan or that it took them 40 years to find their promised land? So there were some seemingly impossible things that occurred. So what? My point is it is not delusional nor does it cause anyone any harm to have faith in Scripture not knowing exactly how these things happened.

    You know; Personally, I think too many people focus on miracle claims (believers and nonbelievers alike). Yeah; miracles, healings and deliverances are fine but Yehashua wasn’t focused on them. They were byproducts; what He was concerned with was man’s reconciliation with his Creator.

    • Stephen B says:

      You bring up the slaves, their escape and their 40-year search. Evidence for that is not only very thin, the paucity of evidence actually suggests the story is false. The Egyptians were great record-keepers, yet never mentioned this mass escape (apologists suggest the Egyptians were simply embarrassed). And such a large number of ex-slaves living for 40 years in the desert should have left much archaeological evidence, yet it’s simply not there.

  4. Charles says:

    “The Egyptians were great record-keepers, yet never mentioned this mass escape (apologists suggest the Egyptians were simply embarrassed). And such a large number of ex-slaves living for 40 years in the desert should have left much archaeological evidence, yet it’s simply not there.”

    Yes the Egyptians were great record keepers; interestingly enough, there are little if any records of lost battles or much else that would indicate they had any weaknesses. It seems that the adage stands that writing history is a winner’s privilege.

    As far as a archaeological evidence simply not being there; I’m sure you’ve heard this one before. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It may just be that these things haven’t been found yet.

    • Stephen B says:

      Sure I’ve heard that phrase before, and almost as famous as the following addendum (paraphrased): The absence of evidence is evidence of absence only in case in which, were the postulated entity to exist, we should expect to have more evidence of its existence than we do.

      And yes, we would expect to see evidence of such large numbers of people living in the desert for such a long period. There’s occasional camp-site evidence from previous centuries and from later periods, but nothing about a few million people living there over the time the Bible mentions.

      We’re not talking about Egyptians failing to mention a battle they lost, we’re talking about a race of made complex notes on all kids of contracts and transactions somehow failing to mention a race of slaves in their midst for a period of around 430 years. This would be about 2.5 million men, women and children – substantially more than half the total population of Egypt at that time. Losing that number of slaves would have had an ENORMOUS impact on an economy, yet there’s no mention of it at all.

  5. Robert says:

    Historical fiction almost always mentions real people, places and even events. I fail to see how any of these things this supposed former detective mentioned can be tied to anything in the Bible. If all American police detectives used this kind of “evidence” to draw their conclusions we’d have innocent people in jail and the criminals like George Zimmerman would roaming the streets and our government would be run by crooks. Wait a minute! We do have thousands of innocent people in jail, Zimmerman did strike again and again and again and crooks have bought and sold our government. Thanks Warner Wallace. Nice job.

  6. Charles says:

    “Wait a minute! We do have thousands of innocent people in jail, Zimmerman did strike again and again and again and crooks have bought and sold our government.”

    With this I actually agree…

  7. Charles says:

    I don’t dispute that there is a lack of concrete archaeological evidence of a an “Exodus”. I am optimistic that were anyone to look in the right places something may come up. Its not my area of expertise and besides the middle and near east is a huge area. Who knows what exact routes would have been taken 4000 years ago?

  8. Greg says:

    Charles, many have been looking in the right place for over a century and most have been sadly disappointed. I’m not just talking about skeptics who went there to “disprove the bible” as you may fear. I’m talking about believers who went there to “prove the bible”. See Dever and “Who Were The Ancient Israelites and Where Did They Come From?”.


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