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Does archaeology support the Bible?

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

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

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

For if it is the case that Israelites did not come to Jericho until the time of the occupation, i.e., about the middle or towards the end of the 13 th century B.C., they did not need to conquer the city for they found it uninhabited! [22]

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

According to her findings the walls of Jericho had to be rebuilt during the Bronze Age no less than seventeen times. The walls were repeatedly destroyed either by earthquakes or erosion. Perhaps this weakness of the walls of Jericho found expression in the Bible account of how the children of Israel, in order to conquer Jericho, merely had to shout their war cry when the priests blew the trumpets. [23]

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

The truth about Jericho is that the weak walls were built after Joshua destroyed the Canaanite city of Jericho. Those who believe the Bible realize that the massive wall and associated burn layer in Jericho is good evidence the Bible is true; and there is more evidence from many more archaeological excavations all over Israel and the Middle East that also supports Scripture. Thankfully, in spite of the fact that archaeologists who do not believe the Bible hold very important positions in many universities, there are some who reject the “accepted” chronology and show that archaeological evidence, if interpreted properly, does support the Bible. [24] One who understands what has occurred in archaeology, and has information to help correct it is David Rohl. He does a good job of summarizing the position of modern archaeologists who do not believe the Bible, and notes why there is a problem:

What lies behind this jaundiced opinion of the Bible as history? Peeling away all the layers of scholarly debate which have tended to obscure the issue over the years, we are left with one fundamental problem for those who would advocate using the Bible as a source for history: archaeological excavations in Egypt and THE LEVANT, ongoing for the best part of the last two centuries, have produced no tangible evidence to demonstrate the historical veracity of the early biblical narratives. [25] Direct material support for the traditional history of the Israelite nation, as handed down in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, is virtually non-existent. It is as if the Israelites had somehow failed to leave their archaeological footprint in the ancient lands of the Bible.

Of course, if you are a devout Christian, Jew or Muslim you may have no doubts about the historical accuracy of the Old Testament or TANAKH [The Jewish Bible] narratives and the parallel stories found in the Koran. Your weapon against this critical biblical scholarship is your absolute faith. If, on the other hand, like me, you are primarily interested in the search for historical truth—without the sustaining support of any particular religious belief—it is essential to find archaeological evidence to demonstrate that the events recorded in the Bible actually happened and that characters such as Joseph, Moses, Saul, David and Solomon really walked this Earth some three to four thousand years ago. It is the lack of such evidence which, in essence, lies at the very heart of the academic skepticism now prevalent in some areas of biblical scholarship. [26]

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

This book will demonstrate that all is not well with the “conventional” chronology and that the only real solution to the archaeological problems which have been created is to pull down the whole structure and start again, reconstructing from the foundation upwards. [27]

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

I will endeavor to guide you to a Promised Land ablaze with the destructions of Joshua and the twelve tribes. We can then take another step back into the distant past to try and identify the cultural remains of the Israelites left behind in Egypt after the Exodus. A tantalizing prospect presents itself. We will be given the opportunity to wander along the dusty lanes between the houses of Jacob’s descendants and look into their courtyards to see bread-baking clay ovens, grain silos and the mudbrick vaults of their tombs. If the overall chronological framework proposed in this book is anywhere near historical reality, then the period of the Israelite Sojourn will become readily apparent in the archaeology of Egypt’s eastern delta. The mass graves of the victims of the final horrendous plague which fell upon Egypt will lie at our feet. The archaeological remains of the store-city built with the sweat of Israelite slaves during the Bondage period will be identified. Finally, I intend to take you into the Egyptian tomb of the patriarch Joseph. [28]

Although it may be debated whether or not Rohl has properly reconstructed the ancient chronology, it cannot be debated that in order to reestablish a correct chronology, the one accepted today by most archaeologists needs to be completely reconstructed. Another scholar who recognized the need to completely reconstruct the chronology of the Exodus and the early years of the Israelite occupation of the land of Israel is the late Donovan Courville. His rare two-volume work, The Exodus Problem and Its Ramifications, is a masterpiece offering a very plausible explanation of the chronology of the Exodus, including the name of the Pharaoh who opposed Moses. [29] The late Joseph P. Free, author of Archaeology and Bible History, is another scholar who recognized the need to adjust the “accepted dating” of many of the archaeological sites in Israel. [30] Once the chronology of the Middle East is corrected and the layers of dirt the archaeologists are digging in are correctly labeled, all the “missing evidence” for the biblical accounts will be right there in front of our eyes.

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

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