What Really Happened at Jesus’ Tomb?

A Look at “The Creed” Through History & Archaeology

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as one born out of due time (1 Cor. 15:3-8)

One of the earliest records of the events surrounding the first Easter was recorded in an early saying or “creed” which the Apostle Paul mentions in his epistle (or letter) in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. It has been called the first Christian “creed” or Credo [Latin for ‘I believe’]. Although Paul refers to it, it is not original to him; it is Pre-Pauline. It very likely dates back to the earliest followers of Jesus – His first Disciples – those who waked with Him, lived with Him, those who watched the drama of His life unfold before their eyes…those who watched Him die…those who ate with Him and spoke with Him and saw Him after He reportedly arose from the dead.

Part of how we know whether or not something happened in the past or not is through eyewitness testimony. Eyewitnesses can be reliable or not. One way (certainly not the only way) we can test whether an eyewitness is speaking the truth is through internal and external evidence that is consistent with other verifiable facts in a particular time period. Unlike mathematics or deductive logic, history and archaeology yields probable answers – hopefully beyond a reasonable doubt.

From this early creed – I would like to consider three facts[1] that it is indeed genuine and bears the key marks of an authentic record of a monumental historical event – namely that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

Question 1 – Did Christ die by crucifixion? (verse 3)

Fact #1 Jesus Died Due to the Process of Roman Crucifixion

Many ancient texts, both Christian and non-Christian, record the death of Jesus providing details of the event. Nearly every scholar, liberal and conservative, attribute the passage cited earlier in 1 Cor. 15:3ff as written before PAUL and thus a foundational record of that event. The four Gospels also state that Jesus’ death was by crucifixion as well as nearly 10 non-Christian texts including the writings of Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 18:3) and the Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 15:44) which mention Jesus’ death by crucifixion.[2]

Medical studies[3] that have been conducted have concluded that the general cause of the death of Jesus to be due to crucifixion. The majority of medical studies report that crucifixion victims died of asphyxiation, as well as complications arising from other medical factors, caused by the arms being extended and fixed overhead while the weight of the body hung below.[4]

Archaeological evidence also supports the historical situation presented in the NT accounts of the Easter story with amazing accuracy.  In the past few decades archaeologists in Israel have unearthed some remarkable discoveries which confirm at least two of the major characters associated with Christ’s trial before He was crucified: Caiaphas, the High Priest in Jerusalem who interrogated Jesus before the Sanhedrin & Pontius Pilate, the Roman official in charge of governing Judea in the First Century (see Matt. 26-27).

The Caiaphas Ossuary was discovered accidentally in 1990 when workers were preparing to build a water park in Jerusalem located just south of the Temple Mount. When the construction workers were excavating for the building project, the roof of an ancient burial chamber collapsed revealing twelve first-century limestone ossuaries (bone-boxes) remarkably well preserved. One of the ossuaries stood out from all the others with its ornate inscriptions and engraved rosettes. On the side of the box was an inscription which reads Yehosef bar Qayafa (“Joseph son of Caiaphas”). As R. Price points out, “The New Testament refers to him only as Caiaphas, but Josephus gives us his full name as ‘Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priesthood.’ Inside were the bones of six different people [entire families were often buried together], including a 60-year old man (most likely Caiaphas).”[5]

Ossuary of the High Priest, Caiaphas (Wikipedia)

Ossuary of the High Priest, Caiaphas (Wikipedia)

The Pontius Pilate Inscription was discovered in 1961 by Italian archaeologists excavating in the Mediterranean port city of Caesarea Martima (named in honor of Octavian by Herod I). The Pilate inscription was discovered on a slab used for a remodeling project in the fourth-century. The Latin inscription reads, “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea” – the exact title given to him in Luke 3:1! Aside from a few references by Roman historians, the New Testament is one of the only other ancient sources which give information about Pilate and his fateful encounter with a young rabbi from Galilee named Jesus. It was that same Pilate that stood before Jesus and asked the most perennial question of all time, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

Pilate Inscription (1st Century) (Wikipedia)

Pilate Inscription (1st Century) (Wikipedia)

Crucifixion – It’s very likely that the Romans learned & perfected crucifixion from the Carthaginians, whom they warred with from 264-146 B.C. (known to historians as the Punic Wars). Even the Greek historian Herodotus records the crucifixion of a Persian General by the Athenians as early as 479 B.C. (Histories, ix. 120–122). It was certainly one of the most painful methods of execution ever contrived in history. In fact, the English word, excruciating is derived from the word crucifixion.

First-Century Crucifixion Victim – By the first-century A.D. the Romans utilized crucifixion as a means of execution in certain provinces in the Roman Empire. We know they certainly utilized it in Jerusalem in the first century. In 1968 the remains of a first-century crucified man was discovered in an ossuary in a northern suburb of Jerusalem. Based on an Aramaic inscription on the ossuary archaeologists were able to recover the name of the victim as Yohanan ben Ha’galgol.  The signifcance of this discovery was that the anklebone of the victim was still pierced with a seven-inch nail with fragments of the wooden cross still embedded in it – a vivid testimony of the historical reality of Jesus’ own crucifixion two thousand years ago.

Question #2 Was Christ’s Crucifixion and Death “According to the Scripture?” (v 3b)

Fact #2 – The Old Testament Contains Many Old Testament Passages that Predict Christ and His Death Hundreds of Years Before He Lived

The earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish, so they appealed heavily to the Old Testament Scriptures as proof that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah He claimed to be. There’s not enough space here to cover all of the references and passages about the promised & predicted Messiah, but two really stand out above all the rest: Isaiah 53 (a prophecy of Isaiah) and Psalm 22 (a lament of David) – both were discovered in a cache of Dead Sea Scrolls (recovered from 1946-56) near Wadi Qumran near the Dead Sea.

Both OT passages refer to the Jewish Messiah’s particular method of execution and one even mentions that there would be those who would gamble for His garments when He was crucified and that He would be buried in a rich man’s tomb. Both ancient manuscripts date minimally to at least two hundred years or more before Jesus was ever born and internal evidence from Isaiah dates it to seven hundred years before Christ was born (in the 8th Cent. B.C.)! The Psalms were likely composed between the 9th or 10th Century B.C.!

Psalm 22:16&18For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet. …They divide My garments among them And for My clothing they cast lots…

Dead Sea Scrolls - Psalms (Wikipedia)

Dead Sea Scrolls – Psalms (Wikipedia)

Isaiah 53:5 & 9But he was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with His wounds we are healed …And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth…

Fragment from Isaiah - Dead Sea Scrolls

Fragment from Isaiah – Dead Sea Scrolls

Question #3 Were the Eyewitnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection telling the Truth? (vv. 5-8)

Fact#3The Disciples Were Utterly and Completely Transformed by their firm conviction that they had seen the risen Jesus, even being willing to die for this belief

The Apostle John in John 7:1-5 reports that James the half-brother of Jesus was an unbeliever and apparently rather cynical regarding Jesus’ public ministry (Just imagine if it was your brother who claimed to be God!). Jesus’ other brothers even sought to remove Him from public eye because they thought He was insane (Mark 3:21) – but later in Gal. 1:18-19; Acts 15:13-21 – we learn that James had become the leader of the early church in Jerusalem. It is highly likely that James was transformed by something or someone he saw and had a huge change of heart about his half brother Jesus. What was it that changed the mind of James? The most likely explanation was that James had seen the risen Jesus.

The Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus (later, Paul) who was an early persecutor of Jesus’ followers, also had an experience that changed him forever. 1 Cor. 9:1 & 15:8-11 gives us a first-hand account of this experience and it appears three other times in Acts 9:1-9; 22:1-11; 26:9-19.

The other apostles confirmed Paul’s experience. Paul even made at least two trips to Jerusalem to speak with the apostles in order to talk to them about the “gospel message” He was preaching. On his second trip to Jerusalem Paul met with two of the chief apostles, namely Peter, James the brother of Jesus and John. Paul specifically explained that the purpose of His coming was to identify the nature of the Gospel that he was preaching and that he wanted to be absolutely sure that he was correct (Gal. 2:2).

There are many other detailed eyewitness details which testify that the New Testament writers were telling the truth. For more on this see chapter 11 ‘Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament Writers Told the Truth’ in our book, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (pg. 275ff).

What Did the Disciples Have to Gain by Making up the Resurrection? Nothing! In fact, they had everything to lose!

As Peter Kreeft (professor of philosophy at Boston College) wrote:

Why would the apostles lie? …If they lied, what was their motive, what did they get out of it? What they got out of it was misunderstanding, rejection, persecution, torture, and martyrdom. Hardly a list of perks!

When we sift through the creed recorded by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:3 – verse by verse – we can see from this brief survey, that it stands (and has stood) the test of time and history – that ancient documents of the New Testament are reliable and that Christ has indeed risen from the dead!


            [1] Adapted from Gary R. Habermas, “The Core Resurrection Data: The Minimal Facts Approach,” William Dembski and Thomas Schirrmacher, Editors, Tough Minded Christianity: Honoring the Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008), 388-405.

            [2] There are many others in addition to these, such as Suetonius, Thallus, Pliny the Younger, et. al., cited by Gary Habermas in, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing, 1996), see chapter 9.

            [3] For instance, William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel and Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” in Journal of the American Medical Association 255 (1986).

            [4] Habermas, “The Core Resurrection Data: The Minimal Facts Approach,” 401.

            [5] Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1997), 305.

Getting Over a Hump: Does the Lack of Camel Bones Disprove the Historicity of the Biblical Patriarchs?

In a recent article published in the journal Tel Aviv, Drs. Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, believe that they have pin pointed the date of the domestication of camels in Israel.

Their research is based primarily from data that they have collected from the Aravah (or Arabah) valley located in the southern Levant. The Arabah which is now desert, was a once verdant valley in antiquity. The Arabah is located just south of the Dead Sea and runs roughly north and south bordering Israel & Jordan (see image below)

The Arabah (from Google Earth)

The Arabah (from Google Earth)

The conclusion of their research indicates that camels were domesticated between the 9th – 12th century B.C.. An article which summarized the finding stated:

“In all the digs, they found that camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible.”[1]

The researchers seemed overly eager to point out the discrepancy with the Bible.

“Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.[2]

But, is it really the case that the biblical narratives which mention the patriarchs, were written after the events they describe? Or, could there be another explanation?

Camels and the Biblical Patriarchs

As far back as the book of Genesis, camels are can be linked with such Old Testament patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob, Laban and Moses. Camels are also mentioned periodically on various other occasions throughout later Old Testament history.

Francisco Hayez - 1844 (Wikicommons)

Jacob meets Esau by Francisco Hayez – 1844 (Wikicommons)

In Genesis 12:16 & 24:10-67 camels were used for a trip to Syria; they were also included as a bride price, and when Abraham was in Egypt camels were a small part of larger herds of other animals.

In Genesis 30:43; 31:34; 32:15 Jacob’s flocks along with Laban included camels as herd animals for Esau in the Seir area. In the Joseph narrative (Gen. 37:25) camels were used by Midianite-Ishmaelite traders caravanning to Egypt. In Exodus 9:3 camels were among the animals which were plagued during Moses’ day in Egypt.

Resolving the Camel Anachronism

For those of us who hold that the Old Testament patriarchal narratives are historical in nature, how does one solve the dilemma that this new research seems to reveal? Does the lack of camel bones in southern Israel (in the Arabah) during the Patriarchal period reveal the biblical narrative to be the work of late writers?

There are four good reasons why I do not believe this recent “discovery” is fatal to the historicity of the Old Testament patriarchs.

First of all, one of the many things that the history of archaeology in the Levant has shown over the past several decades is that one report is certainly not the last word on any given subject on ancient or biblical history. New research continues to overthrow long-held assumptions and biases against the Bible.[3]

Secondly, the archaeologists primary research area was conducted (according to their own report) in copper mining sites in the southern Arabah. According to the Bible, the patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, et. al.), were pastoralists and semi-nomads whose travel itinerary would not have left them in any one place for any length of time. It is not surprising why little camel remains are discovered in the southern Levant.

Third, as Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen points out, camels don’t actually figure that large in the lives of the patriarchs in any significant sense anyway. He writes:

“A common claim is that mentions of camels are anachronistic before circa 1100. What are the facts? In biblical terms, between roughly 2000 and 1200 their role is minimal.”[4]

In other words – yes – the biblical patriarchs owned camels, but it is not as if they were camel traders or camel herders. Camels played a small part in their lives.

But even so, other research suggests that camels have been present on the Arabian peninsula since at least 6,000 B.C.. From 2200-1200 B.C. rock art in Southwest Arabia and possible camel remains from Bir Risisim in the Levant suggest that camels were used for their milk and for transport.[5]

Camels were definitely present in the geographical area, as well as during the time of the patriarchs, so merely because we don’t find their remains in one specific location or archaeological period, certainly doesn’t mean that there are none at all.

This leads me to the fourth and final reason – Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – a phrase often attributed to the great American Biblical archaeologist, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi. In chaper IV of Dr. Yamauchi’s great book, The Stones and the Scriptures (written 42 years ago) he rightly asks:

“How much of the evidence has survived the ravages of time? How many ancient sites have archaeologists been able to excavate? When does the lack of evidence for a biblical statement prove that an error is involved? Does archaeology offset the negative appraisal of the Bible developed by higher criticism? …Historians of antiquity in using the archaeological evidence have very often failed to realize how slight is the evidence at our disposal. It would not be exaggerating to point out that what we have is but a fraction of the possible evidence.”[6]

For more information on the historicity of the Old Testament Patriarchs see my previous articles here


            [1]http://www.aftau.org/site/News2/2024116989?page=NewsArticle&id=19673&news_iv_ctrl=-1 (accessed, February 11, 14)

            [2]Ibid.

            [3] For example: the discovery of the “Tel-Dan inscription” in 1993-4 by Avraham Biram in Northern Israel, containing the extra-biblical name of David (in the Tel-Dan Stele)

            [4] Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Cambridge, U.K.; 2003), 338-9.

            [5] See, Juris Zarins, “Camel,” in David Noel Freedman, Editor, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 1, A-C (New York, London: Anchor Doubleday, 1992), 824-6.

            [6] Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Stones and Scriptures (Philadelphia & New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1972), 146-62.

The Case for the Reliability of the Old Testament (Bible Insert)

The Case for the Reliability of the Old Testament (Bible Insert)We’ve been investigating the case for the reliability of the Old Testament by examining the process of transmission, the verification of archaeology and the appearance of fulfilled prophecy in the text. The ancient scribes employed a trustworthy system of checks and balances as they copied the original texts, and the accuracy of transmission process was successfully tested with the discovery of the Isaiah text in the Dead Sea Scroll collection. The ancient Jewish believers and Church Fathers also embraced the Old Testament as the Word of God. In addition, archeological discoveries have since confirmed many of the Old Testament accounts, and these archaeological evidences are rich compared to other written claims about the ancient past. Finally, the Old Testament Scriptures contain fulfilled prophecies  (including amazing prophecies about the coming Messiah), establishing the Divine nature of the texts. Based on this evidence, the following summary can be created related to the case for the reliability of the Old Testament:

(1) The Old Testament Has Been Faithfully Transmitted

(a) Careful Masoretes Subscribed to an Incredibly High Standard
(b) The Dead Sea Scrolls Confirm the Transmission Process
(c) Ancient Sources Confirm the Early Canon of the Old Testament

i. Prologue to Ecclesiasticus
ii. Philo
iii. Jamnia
iv. The Early Church Fathers
v. Josephus

(2) The Old Testament Has Been Verified with Archeology

(a) Findings from Neighboring Cultures

i. The Ebla Tablet
ii. Archaeological digs in the city of Bogazkoy, Turkey
iii. Archeological Digs in Sargon’s Palace in Khorsabad
iv. The Belshazar Tablet
v. The Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet

(b) Extra-Biblical confirmation of Biblical events

i. The campaign into Israel by Pharaoh Shishak
ii. The revolt of Moab against Israel
iii. The fall of Samaria
iv. The defeat of Ashdod by Sargon II
v. The campaign of Sennacherib against Judah
vi. The siege of Lachish by Sennacherib
vii. The assassination of Sennacherib by his own sons
viii. The fall of Nineveh as predicted by the prophets
ix. The fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar
x. The captivity of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, in Babylon

(3) The Old Testament Has Been Confirmed by Prophecy

(a) Accurate Predictions of Ancient Historical Events

i. Babylon Will Rule Over Judah for 70 Years
ii. Babylon’s Gates Will Open for Cyrus
iii. Babylon’s Kingdom Will Be Permanently Overthrown
iv. Babylon Will Be Reduced to Swampland
v. The Jews Will Survive Babylonian Rule and Return
vi. The Ninevites Will Be Drunk in Their Final Hours
vii. Nineveh Will Be Destroyed By Fire
viii. Tyre Will Be Attacked By Many Nations
ix. Tyre’s Stones, Timber and Soil Will Be Cast Into Sea
x. The Jews Will Avenge the Edomites

(b) The Old Testament Accurately Predicts The Coming Messiah

i. Daniel 9:25
ii. Nehemiah 2:5,6

This brief summary has been re-created in the form of a Bible Insert and is available on our Home Page from the link in the right tool bar. Download the insert (along with the inserts from prior months) and start collecting these resources related to the case for the Christian worldview. We hope to encourage and equip you to be a better Christian Case Maker.

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

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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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Was the God of the Bible Copied from Ancient Myths?

Did the Old Testament God (Yahweh) evolve from Canaanite gods & myths such as Baal, El, etc.?

This is a common claim by liberal OT scholars which is based on several faulty assumptions & presuppositions about the Torah (Pentateuch) and the stories that are contained in it.

The biggest (faulty) assumption is: that the first five books of the Bible were essentially “invented,” compiled (cobbled together) by Jews during Babylonian Exile (ca. 586 B.C.) who borrowed material from Mesopotamian & other indigenous (i.e. Canaanite) sources.[1]

But, it’s no surprise that there would be some similarities, simply because Hebrew is a Western Semitic language and before Moses, the OT patriarchs would not have worshiped God by his covenant name YHWH (Ex. 3:13-15).

The generic Canaanite word/name for “god” was originally  il um, which later became el. So this generic Canaanite word (name) El” was used by biblical writers, yet the usage was quite different.

For instance the Old Testament patriarchs worshipped God under various (modified) names such as: El Shaddai (Ex. 6:3; Gen. 17:1; 43:14; etc.); El ‘Elyon (Gen.14:18-24); El ‘Olam (Gen. 21:33); El Ro’i (Gen. 16:13; cf. Yahweh Yir’eh, Gen. 22:14); El Bethel (Gen. 31:13; 35:7). [2]

Admittedly, the name of the God of the biblical patriarchs (El), was at times similar & identical to their pagan neighbors, but there was a marked difference in HOW they worshipped El.

OT scholar John Bright interestingly points out that,“All of the patriarchal narratives were written from the point of view of Yahwistic theology, by men who were worshippers of Yahweh; whether they used the name or not, they had no doubt that the God of the patriarchs was actually Yahweh, God of Israel, whom the patriarchs, whether consciously or unconsciously, worshipped. Yet, there is also internal evidence in the text that the Patriarchs also knew God as Yahweh before Moses (or at least Yah”) but did not fully understand the full extent and meaning of the name until that time. [3]

One of the main (but certainly not the only) differences between God (OT – Yahweh) and Ba al, El is that, whereas the Canaanite “gods” have theogony’s (myths of their origins) such as the Baal Epic of Ugarit & others; the God of the OT has no origin. His name means “I AM.” There is no theogony for Yahweh because He has no beginning. He IS. Genesis begins with Him alone.. “In the beginning God...” (Gen. 1). Throughout the OT He is presented as standing above and apart from all other so-called “gods” & idols of the surrounding nations (see Jeremiah 10).

Another difference is that when God (Yahweh) creates, He speaks creation into existence, rather than having to fight a dragon or monster, or some other “god” in a cosmic battle for power. The Canaanite & other pagan “gods” all have to fight or go to war[4] to create, whereas God (Yahweh) merely speaks all things into existence by the power of His word (Gen. 1).

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic "Enuma Elish"

Marduk (the storm god) slaying Tiamat (chaos). Recorded in the Babylonian Creation Epic “Enuma Elish”

The last thing I would point out is that recent discoveries in archaeology (Egyptology) now show that the Pentateuch (the Exodus & Joshua in particular) is a record of historical events (exactly as they were recorded in the text). These discoveries and other internal literary factors, undermine the hypothesis/theory that the Torah was mythologized & invented during the Babylonian Exile. These discoveries will certainly frustrate those who have built their careers on the belief that Moses did not write the Torah.

Yahweh had no origin. He was and is from everlasting to everlasting. Certainly monotheism did not begin with Moses (anyone can know that there is one God from Creation – Psalm 19 & Romans 1:18-23), but the (monotheistic) God recorded in the early chapters of Genesis was known by His connection to certain men who had a personal and intimate relationship to Him by faith (Gen. 12; Heb. 11).

That same God still calls men to know Him & follow Him today. Two-thousand years ago, He revealed Himself perfectly in the form of a man (Jesus Christ) so that we could know Him as much as we possibly could (Hebrews 1).

Other Sources for further study:

John Walton’s book, Ancient Israelite Literature In It’s Cultural Context: A Survey of Parallels Between Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Texts is a great source to look at the major differences between the OT account of God and the surrounding pagan (Canaanite) accounts of God (Baal, El). There are too many to list here.

One more excellent source (although his section on the Exodus/Conquest is now out of date) is William F. Albright’s book, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (1968). The first three chapters are especially helpful in revealing the historical context of the religion of early Israel. Chapter 3 is “Archaeology and the Religion of the Canaanites.”

 

[1] This idea came to “full bloom” in the “Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch” of Julius Welhausen in his works, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (1878), and Die Composition des Hexateuchs und der historischen Bücher des Alten Testaments (1885). These works were preceded & anticipated in the previous century by the writings of  Eichorn, de Wette, Graf & others.

            [2] John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 96.

            [3] Ibid. See also, Allen P. Ross, “Did the Patriarchs Know the Name of the Lord?,” in David M. Howard Jr., & Michael A. Grisanti, Editors, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2003), 323-39.

            [4] for instance the epic battle between Marduk & Tiamat in the Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, where Tiamat is killed by Marduk, the storm god who divides her body which then becomes the heavens and the earth.

Archaeology, the Bible & the Great Dating Debate

An article posted by the Biblical Archaeology Society cites a recent report published in BASOR (the Bulletin for the American Schools of Oriental Research) which calls into question the dating of the Siloam Tunnel which was supposedly excavated during the reign of the biblical king, Hezekiah. According to references in the Old Testament (specifically 2 Kings 20:20 & 2 Chronicles 32:30), the water tunnel was dug by Hezekiah in preparation of a siege to Jerusalem which was led by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in the late eighth century B.C..

Hezekiah's Tunnel

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

The significance of this new study by Israeli geologists, Amihai Sneh, Eyal Shalev and Ram Weinberge, is the re-dating of the tunnel to the time of Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh. According to these scholars, there simply wasn’t enough time for Hezekiah’s workers to have excavated such a long tunnel. The three geologists from the Geological Survey of Israel maintain that it would have taken about 4 years to dig the 533 meter (approx. 1748 ft.) tunnel. But as archaeologists, Aren Maeir and Jeffrey Chadwick rightfully point out:

“In marshaling evidence to support their model, however, the authors entirely ignore the only contemporaneous or near-contemporaneous textual sources that shed light on Jerusalem in the Iron Age II (and that specifically mention aspects of the city’s water system)—namely the narrative passages in Isaiah 7–8 and the historical allusions in Isaiah 36 and 2 Kings 18. The only reference to Biblical material in the article is the authors’ after-the-fact quotation of the single verse in 2 Chronicles 32:30, which recalls that Hezekiah stopped the upper watercourse of Gihon and brought it down to the west side of the City of David.”[1]

In addition to this oversight, another glaring omission of the geologists is information gleaned from Assyrian inscriptional sources.[2] According to a reconstruction of this period based on Assyrian records, Judah’s revolt against Assyria began at about 705 B.C., exactly four years before Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem – exactly the amount of time that the geologists said that Hezekiah’s workers needed to complete the tunnel!

Siloam Tunnel inscription records when workers from the 8th Cent. B.C. met when digging from opposite directions. The inscription is now located in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Siloam Tunnel inscription records when workers from the 8th Cent. B.C. met when digging from opposite directions. The inscription is now located in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum

There are two observations I would like to make about this:

  1. As I have stated in my previous posts on archaeology – one of the major areas of debate in Old Testament archaeology is dating and not a lack of material evidence. We have seen this sort of thing crop up in other debates in the Old Testament such as the dating of the Exodus and the Conquest – specifically the debate over Tel es-Sultan (or ancient Jericho) between John Garstang and Kathleen Kenyon and the recent work of Dr. Bryant Wood.

Skeptics of the Bible and theological liberals complain that the stories in the Bible are mostly fabrications but when we do find archaeological corroboration then they move the goal-post back by re-dating the discovery to an earlier or later date.

  1. The second observation is that this episode highlights the prevalence of an extreme bias against the historical trustworthiness of the Biblical text in professional scholarly and archaeological circles (specifically ASOR – the American Schools of Oriental Research and their peer-reviewed publication BASOR – the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research).

If the article was “peer-reviewed” before it was published, then how could they have missed such an oversight of basic historical knowledge?

I suspect that there will be more dating debates in the days ahead, as ongoing research and excavations in Bible lands reveal even more corroboration and affirmation that the Biblical text is indeed trustworthy when it records events that happened in the past.

As the late novelist Michael Crichton once wrote, “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”

All of the “leaves” of the New Testament are connected to branches which reach down to the trunk and roots of the Old Testament. As Jesus taught, “…if they would not believe Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Lk. 16:31).


[1] http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/jerusalem/regarding-recent-suggestions-redating-the-siloam-tunnel/?mqsc=E3610342&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDDailyNewsletter&utm_campaign=E3B827, (accessed August 30, 2013).

[2] See, A. Kirk Grayson and Jamie Novotny, The Royal Inscriptions of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704-681 BC), Part 1 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2012).

Unbelievable? Is Luke’s Description of Quirinius Historically Inaccurate?

Is Luke's Description of Quirinius Historically InaccurateIn my recent appearance on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley (airing Saturday, August 24th2013), I had the opportunity to speak with a skeptic who cited Luke’s description of Quirinius (Luke 2:1–3) as a historical contradiction. Luke wrote that Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem for a census and “this was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” The Jewish historian, Josephus, confirmed the existence of this governor, but placed Quirinius’ ruling term from AD 5 to AD 6. This period of time is too late, however, as Matthew wrote that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great (who according to Josephus, died nine years prior to the governorship of Quirinius). The authority of Josephus seems to be at odds with the accuracy of the Gospel writers, and like the account related to the execution of John the Baptist, we are left to decide which account is accurate (and which is not). Once again, it’s time to apply the overarching principles of witness reliability:

Principle One: Make Sure the Witnesses Were Present in the First Place
Both Luke and Josephus are historians relying on the observations and testimony of others (See Luke’s introduction in Luke 1:1-4), but Luke (writing in the late 50’s AD) has access to witnesses and sources far closer to the event than does Josephus (writing in the late 70’s AD and in the early 90’s AD). There is good reason to believe Luke is relying heavily on the testimony of Mark and Peter, and Mark’s Gospel is the earliest narrative of these events (written within 20 years of John’s execution); the case for the early dating of Luke’s text is cumulative and compelling. Luke’s account was, therefore, available to the early Christian and non-Christian observers of the life of Jesus. Interestingly, archaeological discoveries in the nineteenth century seem to confirm Quirinius (or someone with the same name) was also proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC to the death of Herod. Quirinius’s name has been discovered on a coin from this period of time (as cited by John McRay in Archaeology and the New Testament), and on the base of a statue erected in Pisidian Antioch (as cited by Sir William Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament). Quirinius may actually have ruled Syria during two separate periods and have taken two separate censuses. This is consistent with Luke’s account. In Luke 2:2, Luke refers to the “first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (describing Quirinius’ rule as the governor’s procurator), and in Acts 5:37, Luke describes a second census taken most likely between 6-7AD (as described by Josephus) when Quirinius was the formal governor of the region. Both Josephus and Luke link this second census to an uprising under Judas of Galilee. Only Luke’s sources were present during the actual events; as a result, Luke’s description of two separate censuses is reasonable.

Principle Two: Try to Find Some Corroboration for the Claims of the Witnesses
Historical accounts (like accounts from cold-case homicide witnesses) can be verified in a variety of ways. Sometimes we use physical evidence external to the account (like archaeological discoveries) and sometimes we use the testimony of other witnesses. While early skeptics of Luke’s account in the Book of Acts argued Luke to be unreliable (given he was the only ancient source for many of the events he described), archaeological discoveries quickly exonerated Luke as a historian. Luke accurately described a number of ancient people and locations (i.e. Lysanias, Pontius Pilate, Sergius Paulus, Gallio, Iconium and the Politarchs). In addition, Luke included a correct description of two ways to gain Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28), an accurate explanation of provincial penal procedure (Acts 24:1-9), a true depiction of invoking one’s roman citizenship, including the legal formula, de quibus cognoscere volebam (Acts 25:18), and an accurate account of being in Roman custody and the conditions of being imprisoned at one’s own expense (Acts 28:16 and Acts 28:30-31). Archaeologist and former Lukan skeptic, Sir William Ramsey investigated the archaeological discoveries relevant to Luke’s account and wrote, “(There are) reasons for placing the author of Acts among the historians of the first rank” (from St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen).

Principle Three: Examine the Consistency and Accuracy of the Witnesses
Accuracy and consistency are additional important aspects of eyewitness reliability. If we’re going to use Josephus’ record to discredit Luke, we need to at least be fair about assessing Josephus’ methodology and accuracy. For many years, the “post-enlightenment” academic consensus related to Luke and Josephus favored Josephus’ version of events, but recent scholarship, focusing solely on the textual criticism of Josephus, has challenged the consensus. Theodor Zahn, W. Lodder, Friedrich Spitta, W. Weber and more recently, D. R. Schwartz and John H. Rhoads have highlighted specific detrimental practices employed by Josephus. These scholars have noted Josephus’ susceptibility to “mistaken duplications” and to reporting simultaneous events from different sources “as if they happened at different times” (Rhoads). In addition, Josephus’ accounts are sometimes less focused on chronological beginnings or endings than they are on narrative “usefulness”. Josephus was not consistent nor completely accurate in his historical record. While many supporters of the Josephan account will at least admit Josephus was susceptible to numerical error and mistaken dating, they insist Josephus did not err with the date of Quirinius’ census. To make matters worse, the earliest copy of any of Josephus’ work is separated from the original authorship by 1100 years; we can’t even be sure we have an accurate version of what Josephus originally wrote.

Principle Four: Examine the Presence of Bias on the Part of the Witnesses
Skeptics often claim we can’t trust the gospel authors because they were Christians and presented Jesus in a unfairly favorable manner. I’ve written about this in Cold Case Christianity and demonstrated the difference between a presuppositional bias and a conviction based on observation, but even if Luke was biased in some way, what advantage does his dating of the census give his account? Luke’s version of events was written much earlier than that of Josephus; an inaccuracy in Luke’s birth narrative would not serve his purpose in providing Theophilus and accurate and “orderly account,” but would instead expose Luke as a liar. The birth narrative was clearly present in the earliest versions of Matthew and Luke’s gospels, as the birth and infancy details are referenced by the first students of the Apostles, including Ignatius, Polycarp and Clement. Scholars have observed that Josephus was not without bias of his own. As a patron of the emperor (Vespasian), Josephus often displays a pro-Roman partiality (even though he claims to be resisting such bias).

In trying to evaluate which ancient historical account (Luke or Josephus) is accurate, I once again apply the four dimensional template I’ve just described. I know better than to disqualify a witness simply because he or she might be wrong about a particular detail, but in this instance, I see no reason to favor Josephus’ account over that of Luke, particularly after evaluating the two accounts for historical proximity, corroboration, consistency, accuracy and bias. Once again, scholars don’t discredit the entire record of Josephus simply because they recognize was wrong in a number of places. We ought to afford the Biblical gospel authors the same benefit of the doubt.

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

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Was There an Exodus & Conquest?

Jericho

Frank Turek stands at a small section of the northern wall of Jericho that did not collapse during the conquest. Most sections of the wall fell outward as the Bible says allowing the Israelites to walk up and into the city.

In this last of my posts on archaeology and early Israel, I will focus attention on what is perhaps one of the biggest hang-ups that critics have with the historical trustworthiness of the Old Testament – the Exodus & Conquest. In the biblical record the two events stand or fall together. If there was an exodus as the Bible states, then there was also a military conquest which followed it. Both of these events (if they happened), should be discernible from the historical and archaeological record. If we follow the Pentateuch’s exact account, then we know that there was a 40 year interval between the exodus and conquest.

Because of the nature of the subject matter, it has been very difficult to condense the massive amounts of research about this into a blog format. Even now it’s probably too long for a blog (I tried to be as brief as I could!). Many Christians and skeptics, however, consistently ask me about this, so I felt it necessary to try to summarize, as best as possible, an affirmative view of the historical events recorded in the Pentateuch and historical book of Joshua.

Of course, the origins of ancient Israel, the Exodus and Conquest, is an ongoing debate among NE archaeologists and scholars and I am sure it will be until Christ comes again! What I hope to show below are the main supporting pillars of the case that the Bible’s account of Israel’s exodus from Egypt and subsequent military excursion into Canaan happened exactly as the Bible states.

First, let’s review what we have established so far (in the previous blog articles)

Back to Chronology (What Time Frame Did it Happen?)

As we have stated before, the precise dating of the events in the Bible is the KEY to discovering them in the archaeological record! Another word for this, is chronology. To review, Eugene Merrill summarizes about the likely year in which the Exodus took place:

According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus occurred 480 years prior to the laying of the foundations of Solomon’s temple. This Solomon undertook in his fourth year, 966 B.C., so the exodus according to normal hermeneutics and serious appraisal of the biblical chronological data, took place in 1446 [B.C.].[1]

This dating scheme has been called the “Early-Date Exodus/Conquest Model” and if it is the correct time frame of the Exodus & Conquest, then this would place the supposed Conquest between the archaeological eras known as the Late Bronze I (1550-1400 B.C.) and the Late Bronze II (1400-1200 B.C.).[2]

The Identification of the Pharaoh – Amenhotep II

From this date (circa, 1446 B.C.), and knowledge of the 18th Dynasty in ancient Egypt (which we discussed in a previous post), it was Amenhotep II who was the Pharaoh of the Israelite exodus and not Rameses II as many people currently believe. When we explore further into the life of Amenhotep II, a picture emerges which is quite consistent with what the Bible states concerning this king and some of the momentous events which happened during his reign. From what we know of Egypt’s pharaohs, inscribed on tombs, walls, and monuments, they didn’t record military losses, only victories. So it is highly unlikely that some future archaeologist is going to find an inscription where Amenhotep II touts that a foreign “god” [i.e. Yahweh of the Jews] made a mockery of the Egyptian gods (including the Pharaoh who was himself considered a god), defeated his armies in the desert, and safely delivered an enslaved people to freedom. What we do see in Amenhotep II, however, is a radical change in his foreign policy (which was very much unlike him), a re-alignment of his Naval forces which he used to launch military forays into Asia, and a religious “crisis” which led to the defacement of many Egyptian “gods” in the 9th year of his reign.  Hmmm… I wonder what that crisis could have been?

The Abandonment of Avaris During the Reign of Amenhotep II

Archaeologist, Douglas Petrovich at the University of Toronto has written a fascinating article[3] which explores the precise timing of the abandonment of the ancient Egyptian city of Avaris during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty. In the article, Petrovich explores the various theories about the exact timing of the abandonment of the city of Avaris which seems to coincide with Amenhotep II. The significance of this and its possible relevance to the exodus, is that it is indirect evidence of a major crisis event which happened in the 9th year of Amenhotep’s rule. That event could very well be the Israelite exodus. This is not exactly what Petrovich is stating in the article, but it could be what he is implying. The timing is exactly in line with the “Early-Date Exodus/Conquest” model.

At the end of the article Petrovich makes some starling observations in his conclusions:

More inscriptional evidence may attest directly to the Year-9 crisis is Amenhotep II’s commissioning of a decree for his couriers to destroy all the images of the gods, singling out Amun-Re in particular. Given that Thutmose III and Amenhotep II expressly ascribed praise to Amun-Re for military victories on their Asiatic campaigns, and that Amenhotep II originated and/or perpetuated the desecration of Hatshepsut’s images throughout Egypt, there is plenty of reason to hypothesize that the religious crisis—and subsequent decree to destroy all the “bodies” of Egyptian deities throughout the land—may be intricately bound to the military and political turmoil of his Year-9. Moreover, a potential interruption in the high priesthood of Amun during this time may also attest to this “perfect storm” of events. Therefore, a religious crisis focused on Amun-Re at this time may have been initiated by Amenhotep II as a result of a devastating loss in battle which coincided with the abandonment of their principle naval base from which military operations into Asia were launched, and led to an unavoidable shift in foreign policy.[4]

Why would Amenhotep II order the destruction of the images of Egyptian gods? Why was there major turmoil & upheaval in Egypt’s religious practices? Why was there a complete change of foreign policy with regard Egypt’s nearest neighbors in Asia [in the Levant] in the later part of Amenhotep II’s reign? This evidence alone does not prove the exodus, but it is certainly consistent with the behavior of an autocratic & military ruler such as Amenhotep II, if such an event such as the biblical exodus took place. The exodus was an event in which Egypt’s gods were rendered impotent and pharaoh’s military forces were drastically reduced. I submit that the exodus, as it is exactly described in the Bible, is the most reasonable explanation for this turn of event’s Amenhotep II’s rule.

Jericho & the Conquest

According to the Bible, immediately following the exodus, the Jews wandered in the wilderness for four decades (40 years). Because of time & space, I’m not going to wade into the debate (in this blog) about the location/identification of the Red Sea? or Reed Sea? crossing or the identification of Mount Sinai. I’m not ignoring it, but shelving it for another post some day. That is a very interesting story in it’s own right. For now let’s look at evidence of a “Conquest” which, according to the Bible, took place approximately 40 years after the exodus. This would place the conquest at or around 1401-1406 B.C. (assuming the exodus was in 1446 B.C.).

In the 1920’s and 30’s it was assumed by most archaeologists working in Israel and the Near East that there was a mass exodus of Israelites from Egypt and a military campaign by the Israelites in the Levant [the land that comprises modern day Israel today] as the Bible states. In the 1930’s archaeologist John Garstang working at Tell es-Sultan (or the ancient city of Jericho)[5] found a destruction and wall breach at city IV. He dated the layer to approximately the Middle Bronze III period, the time frame in which the purported conquest of Israel took place. Years later in the 1950’s British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, excavating at Jericho adjusted Garstang’s dating of city IV to around 150-200 years earlier. In essence, this re-dating by Kenyon took away the conquest as described in the Bible.

Since the time of Kathleen Kenyon’s re-dating of John Garstang’s city IV at Tel-Jericho archaeologists, have placed the date of the exodus at around 1290 B.C.. This date in turn, affects the dating of the conquest and its precise location in the archaeological record. Like a row of dominoes, the re-dating of city IV at Jericho by Kenyon had a ripple effect on all subsequent discussion of an Israelite presence on Canaan. If the purported exodus took place in the 1200’s B.C. then this would in turn affect how we look at both events historically. Consequently, since that time, there have been a number of theories about Israelite origins and identity in Canaan [the Levant]. Who exactly were these people? Why did they begin to identify themselves as Israelites? Here are three of the main theories today about the origins of Israel.

The Peaceful-Infiltration Model (also called The Traditio-Historical Model)

This theory was proposed by Albrecht Alt in his article “The Settlement of the Israelites in Palestine,” which appeared in Essays on Old Testament History and Religion (Oxford: Blackwell, 1966) According to Rasmussen, “What Alt  proposed was that instead of a ‘conquest; as described in Joshua 1-11, that there was a gradual, but growing influx of nomads (or seminomads) with their flocks from the eastern deserts into the central hill country. These incursions were initially temporary, as the infiltrators searched for pasturage, but eventually settled the sparsely populated gaps between urban centers – thus the ‘Peaceful-Infiltration Model.’”[6]

The Peasant-Revolt Model

The Peasant-Revolt model was put forth by George Mendenhall in the 60’s which suggested that the origin of Israel (ca. 1250-1100 B.C.) was not the result of a military conquest but rather the idea that the self-identified “Israelites” grew out of the indigenous shepherds, peasants and farmers against their Canaanite rulers.

The Agricultural-Resettlement Model

This model arises from the results of archaeological surveys done in the central hill country of Israel and the material & architectural remains which were discovered in those surveys. The research seems to indicate that at around 1200 B.C. there was no conquest or peaceful infiltration at all. One of the main proponents of this theory today is Israeli archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein.[7] To understand this view Rasmussen provides a succinct statement by Finkelstein himself: “Finkelstein writes that ‘the emergence of early Israel was an outcome of the collapse of Canaanite culture, not its cause. And most of the Israelites did not come from outside Canaan—they emerged from within it.’”[8] Finkelstein’s conclusions are based on sweeping, unproven assumptions and a radically skeptical view of the biblical record.

POTTERY & THE REDATING JERICHO

All of the theories listed above assume an exodus date of around 1290 B.C. and none of them correspond to a military conquest like the one described in Joshua 1-11. Why then, do archaeologists and scholars not accept the biblical account of events and opt for more skeptical theories concerning the text? The short answer is that archaeologists are not as objective with the evidence as one might presume. The archaeological evidence must be interpreted and archaeologists have skeptical presuppositions and philosophical assumptions just like other scientists. A case in point is the dating of Jericho.

When John Garstang excavated in Jericho in the 1930’s and he dated city IV to the Late Bronze age, he was using pottery to date the site. As most people are generally aware, archaeologists have been using pottery to accurately date tells for decades. The science of dating archaeological sites by pottery is called “ceramic typology.”[9] Ceramic typology, or pottery dating, was established by such notables as William Foxwell Albright, G.E. Wright and Nelson Glueck.

In the early 90’s an archaeologist named Dr. Bryant Wood (PhD, University of Toronto), began to question Kenyon’s interpretation of the pottery and dating of Jericho.[10]

In short, Wood maintains that Garstang’s original dating of Jericho was correct and that Kenyon was wrong. Wood based his conclusions not on his opinion or his ideas about the Bible, but on the evidence of the pottery itself! If the dating of archaeological sites should be based on pottery and other historical considerations (such as the chronology of Egypt’s pharaohs), then all of the evidence from Tell Jericho argues for its destruction and burning around 1401-1406 B.C. All of the evidence from Jericho at this time (ca. 1401-6 B.C.) fits the biblical record in an amazing way, from the details about the city being burned along with everything in it [offered to God as a burnt offering] (see Joshua 6), to the walls having dwelling places [houses] where Rahab helped the Jewish spies enter the city to spy its defenses (Joshua 2).

Continuing research at Jericho and now new research at Tel-el Maqatir (biblical Ai?) is yielding results that confirm the biblical record of Joshua’s conquest in amazing ways. Most critical scholars place Ai at et-Tell but there is no archaeological evidence of a destruction there which fits the biblical description. However, just one kilometer west is another site (Tel el-Maqatir)which very well could be the biblical site of Ai. This conclusion is based, once again, not on opinion but on hard evidence.[11]

This is an exciting time to be alive if you are a person who trusts the biblical account of the past! Every day as archaeologists continue to explore and research the annals of time, the biblical account of history is confirmed again and again. With nearly every turn of the spade, critics of the Bible are proved wrong.

We have much to learn from the past, especially the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. But like the disciples we are slow to learn and slow to believe in all that has been written.

On the road to Emmaus after His resurrection Jesus rebuked his disciples for their unbelief and their skepticism towards the Torah (the Bible).

’O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all of the Scriptures [the OT] the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)

After all – is not Jesus the true Yeshua (Joshua)?

 

**for those interested here is a link to Dr. Wood’s article on Ai

[1] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 58. (emphasis mine)

[2] Carl G. Rasmussen, ‘Conquest, Infiltration, Revolt, or Resettlement? What Really Happened During the Exodus-Judges Period?’ in David M. Howard Jr., and Michael A. Grisanti, Editors, Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 2003), pg. 142.

[3] Douglas Petrovich, ‘Toward Pinpointing the Timing of the Abandonment of Avaris During the Middle of the 18th Dynasty,’ in Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, Vol. 5:2, 2013, 9-28.

[4] Ibid., 22.

[5] Also called “The city of Palms,” the ancient ruins of Jericho are some of the oldest in the world with strata which date back to the PPN (Pre-Pottery Neolithic).

[6] Rasmussen, 146.

[7] See his article, ‘Searching for Israelite Origins,’ in Biblical Archaeology Review 14/5: 34-45, 58, 1988.

[8] Rasmussen, 150.

[9] A standard text which outlines the proper handling of ceramics (pottery) at archaeological sites is William G. Dever and H. Darrell Lance, Editors, A Manual of Field Excavation: Handbook for Field Archaeologists (Jerusalem: Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, 1978). See especially Joe D. Seger’s chapter, ‘The Pottery Recording System,’ 107-128.

[10] You can see a full summary of his main research on Jericho here http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/01/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx#Article

[11] see, Bryant Wood’s, ‘The Search for Joshua’s Ai,’ in Richard S. Hess, Gerald A. Klingbeil and Paul K. Ray Jr., Editors, Critical Issues in Early Israelite History (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 205-40.

Who Was the Pharaoh of the Exodus?

First off, I apologize for the long delay in getting this post up.

As promised, let us now consider what is perhaps THE greatest salvation event in the entire Old Testament – the Exodus. The Exodus is not just an old Hollywood movie in which Charlton Heston played Moses, it was an event grounded in history and is a record of the redemption of an entire nation based on God’s promises to Abraham centuries earlier (see Gen. 12; 18; & 22).

10Command56

As many Christians are aware, the entire Old Testament predicts and anticipates Christ in type and in prophecy.[1]  The biblical Exodus and Passover, both point to Christ as the symbolic and true Passover lamb whose blood was shed to atone for the sins of the nation and redeem all those who believe – not just for Jews but anyone who will believe. The 64 million dollar question, however, is how do we know the exodus actually happened like the Bible says it did?  Most Christians take the biblical account at face value and believe that it happened as the Bible says, yet few can point to evidence outside of the Bible that it actually took place. Understandably, many skeptics are quick to point out that there is not a shred of historical evidence for any Israelite exodus from Egypt.

Let me state here that a blog article is certainly NOT the place to learn everything there is to know about all of the complex historical dimensions of the Exodus, but hopefully it will answer some of your questions and provide an answer to those who would question the biblical record.

As I have stated in my previous post, chronology is the key to unlocking the history of ancient Israel and to our understanding of how events recorded in the Bible parallel the histories of other nations in the Ancient Near East. If we assume an incorrect chronological date for a biblical event, then it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to locate that event in the past. Such is the case, not only with locating the biblical patriarchs, but also in discovering the exodus, the conquest, or Israelite kingdom under the rule of David and Solomon in the archaeological record. In truth, this is where much (but certainly not all) of the battle lies when it comes to debates in biblical archaeology [a term now abandoned by most scholars][2]

The Date of the Exodus

In his book on the Old Testament historical period, professor Eugene Merrill states,

“The date of the exodus, the most important event in Israel’s past, is so crucial to the rest of the story that it is mandatory to give some consideration to the problem of ascertaining that date and as many other important dates as possible. Obviously, there is no reckoning of time in the Old Testament with reference to B.C. or A.D. or any other point fixed and known to the Old Testament authors, so the matter is more complicated than it might ordinarily seem.”[3]

Most critical scholars and archaeologists today date the writing of the book of Exodus from around the time of the Babylonian exile (circa 586 B.C.), and usually hold that the Exodus is an etiological story created by Jewish scribes during Babylonian captivity to lend credibility and a sense of purpose to their plight. It certainly has no basis in history or fact. But if one uses the Bible’s own internal references concerning the Exodus then the date should be evident. Elsewhere Merrill explains:

“According to 1 Kings 6:1, the exodus occurred 480 years prior to the laying of the foundations of Solomon’s temple. This Solomon undertook in his fourth year, 966 B.C., so the exodus according to normal hermeneutics and serious appraisal of the biblical chronological data, took place in 1446 [B.C.].”[4]

IF this is the correct date of the exodus then, in theory, we should be able to locate archaeological remains of that event in ancient Egypt. But not so fast. Just because we might have the right date doesn’t mean that Egyptian evidence will be evident. More questions need to be asked. Before we look at some of those questions, let’s begin with what is probable: the identity of the pharaoh of the Exodus. Who was he? Furthermore, what do we know about him? This might seem like a simple question, but it is a bit more complex than one might imagine.

Who Was The Pharaoh of the Exodus? 

I find it rather interesting that the Exodus account in the Old Testament doesn’t mention the name of the pharaoh. Since Moses was the author, he certainly could have named him. So why didn’t he?  In short, I believe that pharaoh’s name is not mentioned on purpose. Throughout the Exodus narrative, the pharaoh either implies or asks “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go” (Ex. 5:2). The irony, perhaps intentional, is that we don’t know pharaoh’s name, but we do know the Lord’s name (Yahweh – “I AM”).  The book of Exodus, was not written to exalt the Egyptian pharaoh (who was considered  “the divine god-king”), but rather the God of Israel.

Annex - Brynner, Yul (Ten Commandments, The)_NRFPT_06

Yul Brynner as Ramesses I in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic movie, “The Ten Commandments”

An additional problem in ascertaining the exact pharaoh of the Exodus has to do with a debate within Egyptology itself. The debate concerns assigning correct dates to the reigns of Pharaohs. The dating of Egypt’s pharaohs comes primarily (although not exclusively) from the 3rd century B.C. Egyptian priest & historian Manetho who ordered the reigns of the pharaohs into thirty dynasties or families, in his work Aegyptiaca (History of Egypt).[5] The ancient Egyptians themselves kept record of time according to an astronomical cycle called the Sothic cycle. One of the reasons why many scholars today argue for a revised chronology of ancient Egypt is the question of whether or not the Sothic cycle is a reliable method for dating.[6] To make a very long and complex story short, I’ll state here that I hold to the revised chronology which makes minor adjustments on dates and therefore affects the identity of the pharaoh.

According to the standard chronology, most critical scholars believe that Rameses II (ca. 1304-1236 B.C.) was the pharaoh of the exodus. There are, however, many problems with identifying Rameses II as the pharaoh of the exodus, one of which is  that he was one of the longest reigning kings in ancient Egypt. As Merrill points out, “If Rameses’ death had brought Moses back to Egypt, the exodus would have taken place after 1236, a date too late to satisfy anybody.”[7] But perhaps, more importantly, there is no archaeological or inscriptional evidence in Egypt or ancient Canaan which fit the biblical descriptions.

But, don’t despair! With a little detective work; a starting point of around 1446 B.C.; and a knowledge of the Egyptian 18th Dynasty, it is possible to ascertain the probable identity of the pharaoh in the book of Exodus. Interestingly, there are about three pharaohs whose lives parallel and interact with the OT Exodus narrative: (1) the pharaoh who issued the decree to kill the firstborns; (2) the pharaoh of the oppression of Israel and (3) the pharaoh of the actual exodus event itself. Because of space, we’ll look at the first and last one.

The Pharaoh Who Decreed to Kill the Firstborn Jewish Children

From chronological considerations found in the biblical text[8], it is very possible that Amenhotep I was the pharaoh who issued the decree in Exodus 1:15-16 to kill all male Hebrews. As we look closer at this time frame in Egyptian history we also discover that Thutmose I (1528-1508 B.C.), the son of Amenhotep I, had a daughter named Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut is fairly well known from historical and archaeological sources and has a very interesting story herself. In order to secure royal inheritance rights for herself, Hatshepsut married her half-brother Thutmose II. When Thutmose II died prematurely, Hatshepsut assumed the role of pharaoh along with and her younger (male) nephew (& stepson) Thutmose III. As William Murnane observes, “Although Hatshepsut did not dethrone her nephew, she asserted a claim to royal power equal to his and, as senior coregent, took precedence over him in contemporary monuments.”[9] During her co-regency with the younger Thutmose III, Egypt enjoyed a time of prosperity and great building. One of the most well known structures which survives today is the queen’s mortuary temple (also called Deir el-Bahari) located in the Valley of the Kings.

Il_tempio_di_Hatshepsut

Deir el-Bahari or Hatshepsut’s temple located near Luxor, Egypt (Wikipedia)

It is very possible that when she was younger, it was this bold young queen who drew Moses from the Nile (Ex. 2:5-10). In another touch of irony, Hatshepsut is said to be one of the first women in ancient history of whom we are well informed.[10] If she is the daughter of pharaoh who rescued Moses from the Nile against the decree of her grandfather Amenhotep I, then it seems appropriate that she is remembered in both Egyptian and biblical history.

The Pharaoh of the Exodus

Finally, we consider the identity of the famous pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Following the conclusions of the above discussion, and if the revised chronology of Egyptian history is correct, then Amenhotep II (1450-1425 B.C.) must be the pharaoh of the biblical exodus. Merrill elaborates:

Our identification of Amenhotep II as the pharaoh of the exodus is supported by two other considerations. First, although most of the kings of Dynasty 18 made their principle residence at Thebes, far to the south of the Israelites in the Delta, Amenhotep was at home in Memphis and apparently reigned from there most of the time. This placed him in close proximity to the land of Goshen and made him readily accessible to Moses and Aaron. Second, the best understanding suggests that Amenhotep’s power did not pass to his eldest son, but rather to Thutmose IV, a younger son. This is at least implied in the so-called dream stela found at the base of the Great Sphinx near Memphis.[11]

Other inscriptional evidence outside of the biblical record gives us a picture of what Amenhotep was like. According to Alfred J. Hoerth,

Amenhotep II was a famous sportsman in his youth and he left several stories of his physical abilities (ANET 243-45). For example, it was recorded that no one else was strong enough to draw his bow. One day he tested two hundred stiff bows and then began riding his chariot around a series of copper targets, each about three inches thick. According to the story, every shot hit the mark, and the arrows fell through the back of the targets.[12]

In addition to these and other traits of bravado and military prowess, it is understandable why Moses was reluctant to confront the pharaoh as God had commanded him. Yet, as the story unfolded in Exodus and the Lord God sent the ten plagues to Amenhotep II, we read that the he “hardened his heart” against God and against setting the Jews free. This seemingly benign statement – “the hardening of pharaoh’s heart” – is also an argument for the authenticity of the biblical account. If (or since) Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, and he had first-hand knowledge of Egyptian culture and religion, then he certainly would have understood that the “hardening of the heart” was not a good thing. This is according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani). This document was a religious text which describes what happened in the afterlife according to Egyptian religion. After death, the pharaoh’s heart was weighed in a scale balance by Anubis (the god of the underworld) against the feather of ma’at or truth.[13] To have a heavy heart or a hardened heart (i.e. a stubborn/proud heart) would have condemned the pharaoh in the afterlife. Interestingly, most ancient Egyptian mummies (especially pharaohs) have been found buried with sacred trinkets and scarabs (dung beetles)[14] made from gold or other materials, and would have been placed over the heart to protect it in the afterlife. These scarabs were inscribed with spells from the Book of the Dead.[15]

There is so much more that I could mention here, but as you can see from the above discussion, this is just the tip of the iceberg (as they say) of evidence for the biblical exodus. There is actually much more internal textual and literary evidence that the Exodus account is genuine, but space and time will not allow us to review it here. For more detailed information I would recommend two of the best sources I know of which are accessible to most people: (1) Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament by John D. Currid, and (2) Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition by James K. Hoffmeier.

I think it’s probably safe to say that many biblical skeptics demand spectacular evidence and spectacular evidence may be forthcoming. Research is continuing in this fascinating field and new discoveries are being made every year. One thing I can say confidently, is that so far, the Egyptian evidence, when properly understood is consistent with the biblical record. Even our adherence to the new chronology is within the pale of academic respectability and orthodoxy.

In my final blog on this subject (which hopefully will not be this long!), we’ll examine other evidences of the Exodus as well as evidence for the military conquest of Canaan under Joshua.


[1] See, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.’s, The Messiah in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1995) & Sam Nadler’s, Messiah in the Feasts of Israel (Charlotte, NC: Word of Messiah Ministries, 2006).

[2] See Ziony Zevit, “The Biblical Archaeology versus Syro-Palestinian Archaeology Debate in Its American Institutional and Intellectual Contexts,” in James K. Hoffmeier and Alan Millard, Eds, The Future of Biblical Archaeology: Reassessing Methodologies and Assumptions (Grand Rapids, London: Eerdmans  Publishing Company, 2004), 3-19.

[3] Eugene H. Merrill, An Historical Survey of the Old Testament, Second Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1991), 97.

[4] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 58.

[5] See, William W. Hallo & William Kelly Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History (London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1971), 210-213.

[6] For more on this, see David M. Rohl’s book, Pharaoh’s and Kings: A Biblical Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995). In this book Rohl argues for a revised chronology of ancient Egypt based on refinements in archaeology and inscriptional evidence.

[7] Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 62.

[8] Such as the reference in 1 Kings 6:1 and Ex. 7:7 which states that Moses was 80 years old when he led the people from Egypt (assuming an approximate exodus date of 1446 B.C.)

[9] William J. Murnane, “New Kingdom (Dynasties 18-20)” in David Noel Freedman, Editor in Chief, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2 D-G (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 348-53.

[10] Attributed to Egyptologist, James Henry Breasted – not sure of the original source.

[11] Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 63.

[12] Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 161.

[13] For very rich and enlightening discussion on this topic see, John D. Currid’s excellent book, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), especially his discussion ‘The Hardening of the Pharaoh’s Heart’ pp. 96-103

[14] Considered sacred in ancient Egypt. Thousands of these have been discovered in the Ancient Near East.

[15] See, The Book of the Dead (The Papyrus of Ani) Egyptian Text Transliteration and Translation by E.A. Wallis Budge (New York: Dover Publication, 1967). This work contains many fascinating details on Egyptian culture, religion and beliefs about the afterlife.

Ancient Israel: Myth or History? Part 3b

Part 3b

Archaeological Evidence for the Historicity of the Old Testament: The Patriarchs

THE OLD TESTAMENT PERIOD IS AN AREA OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH WHICH IS BEGINNING TO YIELD SUPRISING RESULTS

Contrary to the biblical minimalists and others, there is good historical evidence for the Old Testament as a historical narrative. The problem today is that theories and interpretations which defend the historical and archaeological contexts of the Patriarchal period are for the most part, not accepted in the current politically-correct climate of main-line universities. Funding, grants and tenure are at stake for many professors. The situation is really very similar to what is happening to scientists who would dare endorse and or accept Intelligent Design (ID). To most archaeologists working in the field today and ancient Near Eastern historians, the question of whether or not the biblical patriarchs ever existed (much less a Supernatural God’s dealings with them and promises to them) is just a meta-question. It’s a non-sense issue because the questions that drive biblical research today are not questions of biblical inerrancy or integrity. To many liberal scholars the text is nothing more than entertaining stories; the Patriarchal stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are no more true than the epic myths of Hesiod, Ovid and Homer which tell of Zeus and Apollo. But, as Dr. Eugene Merrill points out, “…if the Bible is in no sense revelatory but merely the religious reflections of an ancient Semitic tribal people, it hardly deserves serious theological inquiry. Like the great religious texts of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Hittites, it may be of interest to students of comparative religion; but it can hardly qualify as authoritative for faith and life.”[1] In other words, if we can’t trust the Bible with earthly things, then how can we trust it with eternal things? Sounds familiar.

CHONOLOGY IS THE BACKBONE OF HISTORY

In the 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy and his sidekick Sallah have located where they believe the famous Ark of the Covenant is buried. The Nazis are also looking for the Ark, but Sallah lowers Indy into the “Well of Souls” and they discover that the Nazis are digging in the wrong place.

jones_c

Something very similar is happening with the Bible. Many Bible scholars are looking for historical evidence of the Bible in the wrong TIME period. Of course they won’t find it because it isn’t there! But what if they look in the right time period? These questions highlight the vital topic known as biblical chronology. Chronology is vitally important in aligning purported events to their corresponding calendar date, and this is no easy task for any ancient historian! One of the difficulties in reconstructing an accurate chronology of events is that cultures of the past had different ways of reckoning time. Or to put it different way, when an archaeologist digs up a pottery fragment there is no date stamped on it.

Dr. Edwin R. Thiele was one of the first scholars in the twentieth-century to realize the importance of chronology in the Old Testament. In 1951 he published his ground-breaking book, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings where he set out to accurately reconcile the reigns of the Hebrew kings mentioned in the Old Testament to neighboring Near Eastern cultures. It was in the Ancient Near East that all of the major events recorded in the Old Testament took place and the two accounts must correlate. In chapter one Dr. Thiele’s opening words are worth reading again and again. He writes:

Chronology is the backbone of history. Absolute chronology is the fixed central core around which the events of the nation must be correctly grouped before they may assume their exact positions in history and before their mutual relationships may be properly understood. Without exact chronology there can be no exact history. Until a correct chronology of a nation has been established, the events of that nation cannot be correctly integrated into the events of neighboring states. If history is to be a true and exact science, then it is of fundamental importance to construct a sound chronological framework about which may be fitted the events of states and the international world.[2]

Because of the huge influence of the Documentary Hypothesis by the German scholar Julius Welhausen in the 19th Century, most Old Testament scholars now date the Pentateuch to around the time of the Babylonian exile (circa 586 B.C.). But, if this is how the Pentateuch is dated, then all of the events recorded in it vanish or become mere metaphors or allegories. It was in this climate that the discipline of Biblical Archaeology was born. Biblical archaeology was and is by its very nature, unapologetically apologetic.

One of the earliest defenders of the historical trustworthiness of the Bible was Edward Robinson.

Robinson was a professor of Old Testament at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts; later called Union Theological Seminary in New York. In 1837 he and Eli Smith a Protestant missionary in Beirut, set out to explore the Holy Land. Robinson and Smith hoped to find evidence supporting the Bible’s historicity. From Cairo (in Egypt) they followed the presumed route of the Exodus through the Sinai to Palestine. When he arrived in Jerusalem Robinson noticed some oddly projecting stones in the lower portion of the retaining wall around the Haram esh-Sherif, the Moslem sanctuary on the site of the ancient Israelite temple. He recognized these as the base of an arch that supported a monumental entrance to the temple built by King Herod the Great in the First Century A.D.. These remains are now known today as “Robinson’s Arch.”

More importantly, however, were the discoveries made by Robinson and Smith as they criss-crossed the countryside on their way to Beirut. On his journey with Smith, Robinson was able to recognize the locations and Arabic names of small towns or abandoned mounds of the original places described in the Bible.

For example: ‘Bir es-Seba’ was Beersheba; ‘Beitin’ was Bethel; ‘El-Jib’ was biblical Gibeon; and so forth. By looking at the Arabic names Robinson was able to identify many biblical sites located throughout the Holy Land.

In addition, Robinson along with Sir Charles Warren and Charles Wilson conducted research in and around Jerusalem identifying Hezekiah’s tunnel which was hewn under the city 2700 years ago during the reign of the Biblical king Hezekiah. In the 8th Cent. B.C. Jerusalem was under siege by the Assyrians.[3]

Robinson’s identifications of sites, and cities became the starting point for all later work in biblical geography and archaeology.[4]

The mid-twentieth century saw the high watermark of biblical archaeology in the work of the American archaeologist William Foxwell Albright. Albright, along with his colleague George Ernest Wright and others attempted to synthesize the general picture of the Old Testament narrative with linguistics and the archaeological & cultural background of the Ancient Near East.

The importance of these men for archaeology and the Bible is that they re-discovered real places, actual cities, and sites that were mentioned in the Bible but had been lost to history for millennia. The Bible was proving to be a solid primary source for ancient history in a small corridor of the Near East.

But what about the biblical Patriarchs mentioned in Genesis and the Pentateuch? What time period do we locate them?

The “Problem” of Locating the Time of the Patriarchs

Conservative Old Testament scholars seem to place the biblical patriarchs in the [Middle Bronze age] MBI –II or both.[5] Although there is not total agreement, this is the general agreed upon “time-frame” of the biblical Patriarchs. British Old Testament scholar, John Bimson has explored extensively the dating of the patriarchal period in “Essays in the Patriarchal Narratives,” edited by A. Millard and D. J. Wiseman (1980).[6]  Essentially Bimson believes that the Patriarch’s straddle the MBI and II – so around 2000 to 1800/1750 B.C.. This is partly based on occupational levels of the cities at this time relative to how the biblical text refers to them (i.e. as occupied, thriving cities, well-outposts. etc…).

Cities Mentioned and/or Occupied during the Patriarchal Period

In the archaeological record there are many cities known to have existed and to have been occupied during the times of the Biblical Patriarchs.  Some of these include the cities of Shechem, Bethel, Ai, Zoar/bela, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, Ashtaroth-karnaim, Ham, Salem, Oaks of Mamre, Kadesh, Shur, Beer lahai roi, Gerar, Beersheba, as well as many others. The ancient city of Beersheba is by far the largest city of the Negev. Tel Beer-sheba, the site of the ancient city, is located on a hill overlooking the Wadi-Beer-sheba about two and one half miles east of the modern city of Beer-sheba. The mound itself covers only two and one half acres.

As reflected in the patriarchal narratives, Beer-sheba is the most important center in the Negev during this period. Abraham dwelt in Beer-sheba (Gen. 22:19). Abraham and Abimelech entered into a covenant at Beer-sheba (Gen. 21:32). Abraham planted a tamerisk tree at Beer-sheba (Gen. 21:33). The Lord spoke to both Isaac and Jacob at Beer-sheba (Gen. 26:23; 46:1). Beer-sheba is also the site of some famous wells. Abraham’s well at Beer-sheba was seized by Abimelech’s men (Gen. 21:25). Isaac’s servants dug a well at Beer-sheba also (Gen. 26:25).

Beer-sheba was excavated during eight seasons (1969-1976) by a team from Tel-Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology under the direction of the late professor Yohanon Aharoni.[7] Some objections have been raised in relation to Tel es Saba as the biblical Beer-sheba – because the biblical Beer-sheba might have been just a well – or a watering hole in a barren region. But according to Israeli archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog, the Patriarchal Beer-sheba is found in the 13th or 12th Century B.C. (from Stratum IX and VIII).  “In other words, the patriarchal stories concerning Beer-sheba should be regarded as originating at the end of the second millennium B.C. during the so-called settlement period.”[8] In addition, Herzog also believes that he may have found Abraham’s “Well of the Oath” where Abraham and Abimelech made their covenant (Gen. 21:32).[9]

The Nuzi Tablets & The Patriarchs

In addition to these remarkable cities, there is a site southwest of Nineveh near modern Iraqi city of Kirkuk that was excavated between 1925-1941 by Edward Chiera, Robert Pfeiffer, and Richard Starr under the auspices of the Iraqi Museum and the Baghdad School of the American Schools of Oriental Research and later the Harvard University.  That site is the location of the famous tablets called the “Nuzi” tablets.

The over 5000 tablets discovered there provide numerous and amazing illustrations of the customs and culture which existed in the Patriarchal period thus providing conformation, clarification and illumination on this time period.

The tablets, although not directly mentioning the patriarchs, still constituted such valuable testimony about their life-styles that the late Professor William F. Albright (the then-acknowledged “dean” of Palestinian archaeologists) concluded that “the narratives of Genesis dealing with Abram may now be integrated into the life and history of the time [the second millennium B.C.] in such surprisingly consistent ways that there can be little doubt about their substantial historicity”[10]. Professor Albright’s conclusion was based on the following evidence from the Mari and Nuzi tablets:

  1. Names like Abraham and Jacob were in common use among the Amorites in northern Mesopotamia about 2000 B.C. and later.
  2. Mari was the center of a vast network of trade routes ranging from Crete to Elam, from Cappadocia to Megiddo. Merchants constantly traveled these routes from one end to the other. Seen in this context, Abraham’s journey from Ur to Haran, then to Canaan and Egypt, is not as improbable as the critics once thought.
  3. Abraham’s relationship with Hagar (Genesis 16) and Jacob’s with Bilhah (Genesis 30) can be better understood by a comparison with a marriage contract from Nuzi, in which the wife was required, if she proved to be barren, to provide a substitute for her husband.
  4. Abraham’s reluctance to drive out Hagar and Ishmael (Genesis 16:6) is understandable in the light of Nuzi customs governing such relationships.
  5. Another Nuzi tablet revealed the adoption by a childless couple of a servant born in their house. He became the heir if he cared for them in their old age (see Genesis 15:2-3).
  6. Jacob’s relationship with Laban (Gen 29-31) becomes more understandable when compared to other tablets from Nuzi (adoption customs) as well as Abraham and Eliazar his slave (Gen. 15:4)
  7. Rachel’s theft of Laban’s teraphim (household gods/idols) (Gen. 31:34) is better understood now in light of the Nuzi tablets

All of these observations provide astonishing evidence of the general historical background of the Patriarchal narratives. Each point could be a study in and of itself. Concerning the last observation about the teraphim, in the previous list given above, the late Old Testament scholar, Dr. Merrill Unger of Dallas Seminary observed:

Evidently the possession of these household gods implied leadership of the family and in the case of a married daughter assured her husband the right to the property of her father. Since Laban evidently had sons of his own when Jacob left for Canaan, they alone had the rights to their father’s gods, and theft of these household idols by Rachel was a serious offense (Gen. 31:19,30,35), aimed at preserving for her husband the chief title of Laban’s estate.  …the fact that the patriarchal narratives correctly reflect customs that would long since have become obsolete in the age when the critics contend these documents were…[written].[11]

The Mari Tablets & Abraham

At the site of the ancient city of Mari twenty-thousand clay tablets were excavated beginning in 1933 by the French archaeologist Andre Parrot. These clay tablets were archives from the royal palace at Mari. In addition, Parrot also excavated a temple of Ishtar and a ziggurat. Mari was a flourishing city in Mesopotamia during the early days of Terah (Abraham’s father) who might have passed through on his way to Haran.

A large number of the Mari tablets represent diplomatic correspondence between Zimri-Lim, the last king of Mari and his ambassadors as well as Hammurabi king of Babylon writer of the famous law code that bears his name.

The biblical city of Nahor (Gen 24:10) is mentioned frequently in the Mari letters.

The occurrence of the word – Habiru “Hebrew?” (‘Ibri, Gen 14:13) in the Mari letters (‘Apiru from Egyptian sources) attests to its ancient linguistic lineage. Interestingly, Abraham is the first person mentioned in the Bible to bear the name “Hebrew.”

The wide occurrence of the world Habiru shows that the term: “…is not an ethnic designation, for the Habiru of these various texts are of mixed racial origin, including both Semitic and non-Semitic elements, but its fundamental meaning seems to be “wanderers,” “those who pass from place to place.”[12]

In addition to the Nuzi tablets, the tablets discovered at Mari also provide additional support and backing to the general historical foundation of the Biblical Patriarchs.

The Discovery of Sodom & Gomorrah

Pertinent to a debate in own culture is the story of the great sin and subsequent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah found in Genesis 18-19. Did these cities ever exist, and furthermore, were they destroyed in the manner the Bible describes? What does archaeological research reveal? Without getting into the fine detail, in the 1970’s researchers in Jordan were led “to an Early Bronze Age graveyard on the southeastern side of the Dead Sea that was in the midst of being plundered. Along five “wadis” (dry riverbeds) flowing westward into the southern Dead Sea, an archaeological survey identified five ruined cities that appear to be the cities of the plain mentioned in Genesis 14:8. The most prominent and northerly one was in ancient times called Bab edh-Dhra, which seems to be the Arabic rendering of Sodom. Next in line was Numeira (Gomorrah), then the modern city of Safi (Zoar or Bela, to which Lot fled and which was not destroyed), then Admah and Zeboiim. The key was finding Zoar.”[13]

One of the major sources for help identifying the identity of the five cities was the Bible! According to archaeologist Dr. Bryant Wood:

Sodom and Gomorrah were two of five cities referred to in Scripture as the Cities of the Plain. From references to the “plain of the Jordan” (Gn 13:10), “the Valley of Siddim (the Salt Sea)” (Gn 14:3) and Abraham looking down to see the Cities of the Plain from the area of Hebron (Gn 19:28), it is clear that the cities were located in the vicinity of the Dead Sea. Since the mountains come close to the shore on both the east and west, the cities must have been located either north or south of the Dead Sea. Various commentators over the centuries have suggested locations both north and south (Mulder 1992: 101 102). The reference to “bitumen pits” in Genesis 14:10, however, tips the scale in favor of a southern location (Howard 1984). Bitumen (a natural petroleum product similar to asphalt) was commonly found in the shallow southern basin of the Dead Sea in antiquity. (Bilkadi 1984; 1994; Clapp 1936a: 901–902; 1936b: 341–342).[14]

In 1974-75 Italian archaeologist Paolo Matthiae uncovered one of the largest archives of clay tablets ever discovered at an ancient site. The tablets now known as the Ebla archives, (from the ancient city of Ebla) and they date from 2400-2350 B.C.. One of the tablets contains a geographical atlas containing 289 place names which include the cities of the plain mentioned in the Genesis along with the biblical city of Sodom.

In addition, further research strongly suggests that the ancient cities of Bab Edh-Dhra and Numeira, located southeast of the Dead Sea, were destroyed in a manner and in the general time frame that is described in the Bible. The cities were crushed and burned it seems, from a linear fault located near the Dead Sea rift – a geological feature which can suddenly erupt in violence and destruction. [For a more detailed archaeological summary of Bab Edh Dhra (“Sodom”) see, W.E. Rast, ‘Bab edh-Dhrain’ in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, ed. D.N. Freedman, (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 559-61.

From this brief survey we can see that there is more to the Patriarchal narratives than meets the eye. Contrary to current scholarship there are good historical and archaeological reasons to believe the Bible’s account of the past.  It provides eyewitness detail that could only be known by someone who was there.

In my next post I will review the historical and archaeological evidence for the Exodus and Conquest as well as the existence of the Davidic kingdom.


[1] Eugene H. Merrill, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 24-5.

[2] Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1983), 33.

[3] The Biblical account maintains that Hezekiah anticipated the Assyrian invasion and made at least two major preparations to resist conquest: construction of Hezekiah’s Tunnel, also known as the Siloam Tunnel, and construction of the Broad Wall. The tunnel is 533 meters long and was dug in order to provide Jerusalem underground access to the waters of the Spring of Gihon/The Siloam Pool, which lay outside the city. This work is described in the Siloam Inscription, which has been dated to his reign on the basis of its script. At the same time a wall was built around the Pool of Siloam, into which the waters from the spring flowed (Isaiah 22:11) which was where all the spring waters were channeled. The wall surrounded the entire city, which bored up to Mount Zion. An impressive vestige of this structure is the broad wall in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. “When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officers and warriors about stopping the flow of the springs outside the city … for otherwise, they thought, the King of Assyria would come and find water in abundance (2 Chronicles 32:2-4)”

 

[4] see, William H. Steibing, Jr., Uncovering the Past: A History of Archaeology (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1993), 87-89.

[5] See, John Bright, A History of Israel, Second Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 67-85; & Alfred J. Hoerth, Archaeology & the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 56-123; & Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 21-55.

[6] John Bimson, “Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs,” in Essays in the Patriarchal Narratives, Edited by A.R. Millard and D.J. Wiseman (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 59-93.

[7] Ze’ev Herzog, “Beer-Sheba of the Patriarchs,” in Archaeology and the Bible, Volume 1 Early Israel, Hershel Shanks and Dan P. Cole, Editors (Washington D.C.: The Biblical Archaeology Society, 1992), 2-18.

[8] Ibid., 16.

[9] Ibid., 18

[10] Biblical Archaeologist, July 1973, p.10.

[11] Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954),123.

[12] Ibid., 125.

[13] John D. Morrs, “Have Sodom and Gomorrah Been Discovered?” http://www.icr.org/article/7312/ (accessed, June 17 2013)

[14] Bryant Wood, “The Discovery of the Sin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah” Originally published in Bible & Spade (Summer 1999). For more on this including images from the sites see, http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/04/16/The-Discovery-of-the-Sin-Cities-of-Sodom-and-Gomorrah.aspx#Article