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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible

Don Stewart :: Is the Old Testament Accurate in Its Incidental Details?

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Is the Old Testament Accurate in Its Incidental Details?

The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible – Question 7

The Old Testament is not only accurate in its main outline; it is also accurate in incidental details. This is important because it shows an intimate familiarity with people, places and customs of that time.

We can cite the following examples of how the Bible fits with known local laws of the time, the local customs, the geographical references, the correct titles of individuals and the correct listing and spelling of pagan kings.

1. The Old Testament Is Familiar with Local Laws

There are a number of biblical episodes that show intimate understanding of local laws at the time. The following are examples of this:

When Sarah the wife of Abraham was childless, she suggested that Abraham take Hagar his handmaiden as a secondary wife and raise up an heir through her. This fits well the practice at that time as recorded in the Eshnunna law code—a law code that dates about 1900 B.C. The Nuzi tablets, 20,000 clay tablets that were discovered 150 miles north of Baghdad, also confirm such customs as the role of secondary wives and their rights of inheritance. Therefore, the episode of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar fits the local laws of the time.

Local Customs Are Correctly Recorded

We find that the customs recorded in Scripture fit the time frame in which the stories were said to have occurred. We can give some examples.

The Selling of a Birthright Is Allowed

From the Nuzi tablets we also find that one brother sold his birthright for three sheep—similar to Esau selling his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup. This confirms that the practice was legally binding at that time in history. It also tells us that the price paid for the birthright did not have to be of equal value.

The Price of a Slave in Joseph’s Day Accurately Reflects the Time

The Bible states that Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver. We read in Genesis:

Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt... (Genesis 37:28 NKJV)

Although the price paid for Joseph is an incidental detail, it proves to be an exact representation of what slaves were being sold for in that day. Joseph lived in the eighteenth century B.C. Before that time, the price of slaves was cheaper—ten to fifteen shekels. As time went by, the price of a slave increased. The price of twenty pieces of silver fits into the period when the Bible says that Joseph lived. After that time, the price of a slave further increased. Thus the recording of Joseph being sold for twenty pieces of silver fits only a limited historical period; the same one in which the Scripture says the story took place.

2. The Geographical References Are Minutely Accurate

There are a number of geographical references that are consistent with what the Scripture teaches.

Abraham’s Visit to Various Cities Is Historically Accurate

The biblical account of the life of Abraham documents a number of cities that he visited. The location of almost every one of these cities is now known. All of those that have been positively identified were important caravan centers during the time the Bible says that Abraham lived. However, in later times, not all of these cities were important centers. This is another indication that the travels of Abraham fit exactly into what is known of that historical period, but would not fit with a later period.

The River Jordan Was Blocked

In the Book of Joshua we are told that the river Jordan dried up as Israel went across it to the Promised Land. The Bible says:

The waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. (Joshua 3:16 ESV)

According to the Book of Joshua, the waters went back all the way to the city of Adam some twenty miles away. While this event was miraculous, occurring at the precise time the people were crossing the river, we find that at least six other times in history this blocking up of the water has happened. As recently as 1927, a landslide occurred at the city of Adam and blocked the river Jordan in the same manner as is recorded in Joshua. Therefore, given the known facts, the record in Joshua is certainly possible on a natural level.

3. The Correct Titles Were Used to Describe People

In every nation, the titles given to people are different. In addition, these titles can actually change throughout history. In the Old Testament, we find a number of different people given titles. When compared with the known evidence we find that the biblical writers used the exact title for the people in the time period when the narrative took place. We can give the following examples:

In the story of Joseph, there are a number of titles that are mentioned. We are told that Joseph was put in prison with the chef, or royal baker:

After these things happened, the cupbearer to the king of Egypt and the royal baker offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was enraged with his two officials the cupbearer and the baker... (Genesis 40:1-2 NET)

While this was once considered to be an incorrect reference, an ancient Egyptian picture recorded acknowledgment of wheat by the royal baker of the Temple of Amun.

Thus, the title royal baker, or chief baker, was accurately used. This gives credence to the story as literally occurring instead of being some type of parable or myth.

4. The List of Pagan Kings Is Amazingly Accurate

The Bible lists a number of kings who ruled countries other than Israel. Although they were not the main characters in the story, they are always recorded in an accurate manner. Indeed, the writers of Scripture placed these kings in the exact chronological order in which they ruled. This is in contrast to some of the historians from these countries.

This has been documented in the work of the great Old Testament scholar Robert Dick Wilson. In examining the Old Testament Scripture, Wilson noted that there are twenty-six pagan kings of various nations that are mentioned. The names of these rulers are also found on the monuments of these kings as well as in documents of their own times. Wilson found that all of these names of the pagan kings are spelled correctly in the Hebrew text.

In contrast to the accuracy of the Bible, in the secular literature of the same period, the names of those rulers frequently garbled. Indeed, there are times when it is hard to identify the person.

An example of this is Ptolemy; an ancient writer who drew up a list of eighteen Babylonian kings. However, on his list, none of the names of these eighteen kings is spelled correctly.

On the other hand, the biblical writers were always precise in the spelling of the names of their enemies. If they took this much concern to spell the names of the pagan kings correctly, how much more concerned would they have given to spell the names of their own people correctly, as well as to accurately record the events connected with their rule? This is a further testimony of the basic reliability of the Old Testament.

Details of the Biblical Accounts Are Confirmed by Archaeology

Many more examples could be given. The point is that the writers of the Old Testament showed intimate knowledge of the times. While these examples do not prove that the events recorded in the Old Testament actually occurred, they do demonstrate that the writers were living at the time of the events they recorded and knew the local laws, customs, geography, titles and names of the pagan kings. Consequently, it gives strong evidence to the reliability of what was written.

Observations on the Historical Accuracy of the Old Testament

The fact that the main outline, as well as many of the incidental historical details, of the Old Testament has been confirmed by archaeological and historical sources is important for a number of reasons.

1. We Are Not Dealing with Mythology

First, it tells us that we are dealing with genuine history, not mythology. The stories recorded actually took place in the ancient world. The nations were real nations, the individuals were real people, the cities existed in the exact location that the Bible said they existed and the customs and laws were those which we practiced at that time in history.

2. The Writings Should Be Dated to the Time of the Events Recorded

Second, the authors are not only accurate, they are meticulously accurate. In other words, the writers of the Old Testament must have been eyewitnesses to the events they recorded.

Consequently, there is every reason to believe in the traditional authorship of the biblical books. Instead of dating much of the Old Testament writings to the time of Ezra, as liberal critics do, they should be dated hundreds of years earlier to the time when the events were claimed to have literally occurred. Therefore, the trustworthiness of the Old Testament record is borne out by the evidence.

In sum, while not every detail from the Old Testament has been confirmed, or even can be confirmed, we do find that a remarkable amount of information has come to light that has demonstrated the basic reliability of the historical statements. The verdict is that the Old Testament can be trusted.

Summary – Question 7
Is the Old Testament Accurate in Its Incidental Details?

In its main outline, and in its incidental details, the Old Testament proves itself to be historically reliable. The writers correctly knew the geography, the various nations, certain individuals and the laws and customs of the ancient world.

Thus, the stories recorded are given in a believable context. To be the Word of God, the Bible must, at the very least, be accurate in the historical details that it records. We find that the Old Testament is consistent with what we would expect in the realm of historical accuracy.

Is the Old Testament Historically Accurate? ← Prior Section
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