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

Don Stewart :: Has Evidence from Archaeology and Other Sources Refuted Accusations Against the Reliability of the Old Testament?

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Has Evidence from Archaeology and Other Sources Refuted Accusations Against the Reliability of the Old Testament?

The Amazing Historical Accuracy of the Bible — Question 8

Archaeological, as well as evidence from ancient documents, have been able to cause some startling reversals of Old Testament criticism. At one time, there were certain Old Testament events, individual persons, as well as entire races of people that were spoken of in Scripture that were alleged to be mythical.

However, evidence has now come to light to show that these events took place, and the individuals and the peoples truly existed. In all of this, the Old Testament has been shown to be marvelously correct.

We can give the following examples of accusations that were once made against the Old Testament and its contents:

1. It Was Once Alleged That There Was No Writing in Moses’ Day

In the nineteenth century, it was believed by biblical critics that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Old Testament because writing was said to be virtually unknown or, at least, not commonly used at his time. This is in spite of the fact that the Bible records Moses writing down things on a number of occasions. For example, we read:

Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said. He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. (Exodus 24:4 NIV)

Modern archaeological discoveries, however, show that writing was in common use prior to the time of Moses, and that Moses had the capacity to write the first five books of the Old Testament. Therefore, today, no one makes these claims about Moses’ ability to write. However, for many years, it was assumed that Moses could not have been able to write and therefore the Bible was in error. Today we know better.

The Discovery of a Part of the Pentateuch

In 1979, a discovery was made that helped confirm that the first five books of Moses were written at the time of Moses.

A text was discovered with the priestly benediction found in Numbers 6:24 It reads:

May the Lord bless you, and keep you; may the Lord let his face shine upon you and give you peace.

This was a very important find. Indeed, these few verses from one of the books which Moses wrote predate the earliest Biblical copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls by 400 years. Furthermore, this was before the time of the Babylonian captivity.

Consequently, this find certainly refutes those scholars who claim that the books of Moses had not been written until the time of the Babylonian Captivity or later. For here we find a small portion of the five books of Moses literally quoted, well before the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the deportation of the citizens of the Kingdom of Judah to Babylonia. Thus, we have objective proof of the existence of a part of God’s Word in the seventh-sixth centuries B.C.

2. It Was Said That Moses Could Not Have Composed the Law Codes

Although critics had to admit the possibility that Moses could have had the ability to write, they still argued that the law codes found in Exodus through Deuteronomy could not have been written by him. They believed there were no law codes written as early as the time of Moses (1400 B.C.). Therefore, it is argued, Moses was not the author of the first five books of the Old Testament which contained these codes.

Such a view seriously undermines the authority of Scripture. For Moses testified that it was the living God who directly gave the Law—it did not originate with Moses. Moses was merely the recorder of what God commanded. However, archaeological discoveries have refuted the claim of the critics. At least two law codes that were written prior to the time of Moses have been discovered.

A law code from 1900 B.C. was found from Eshnunna near Baghdad. While there are surface similarities between this code and the Law of Moses, there are also great differences.

There is also the code of the famous lawgiver Hammurabi—now spelled Hammurapi. It was written about 1700 B.C. Again, we find similarities to the Law of Moses along with great differences.

Thus, we find law codes in existence at least five hundred years before the time of Moses. The discovery of these two law codes shows that Moses could have composed the law written in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Therefore, we have no historical basis to deny that Moses could have written these books that have been traditionally attributed to him.

3. The Existence of the Hittites Was Once Questioned

An ancient people, known as the Hittites, are mentioned some fifty times in the Old Testament. For example, we read the following in the Book of Exodus:

For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. (Exodus 23:23 NKJV)

For a long time, they were considered to be fabricated by the Bible. Critics said this because the only evidence of the Hittites’ existence came from the Old Testament and nowhere else. Liberal scholars assumed the biblical references to the Hittites were historically worthless.

Archaeologist A. H. Sayce was the first scholar to identify the Hittite people from a non-biblical source. In 1876 he released his information from his study of the ancient monuments and revolutionized critical theories concerning the Hittites.

In the twentieth century, much more information about the Hittites came to light. In 1906, their capital was discovered in what is today the country of Turkey. Tens of thousands of clay tablets were discovered. This discovery confirmed the historical accuracy of the Old Testament in its mention of the Hittites. The fact of their existence is beyond all doubt.

4. The Existence of Belshazzar Was Denied

The fifth chapter of the Book of Daniel mentions a ruler named Belshazzar who was ruling the city of Babylon when it fell to the Medes and the Persians:

King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand. (Daniel 5:1 ESV)

The historical record, however, said that Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon—it knew nothing of a ruler named Belshazzar. For a long time, this reference was assumed to be a made-up name by the author of Daniel. Whoever wrote Daniel supposedly composed the work hundreds of years after the alleged events took place. This, of course, would make the author of Daniel, not the biblical Daniel, but rather some unknown forger.

However, discoveries in Babylon have shown that Belshazzar did indeed exist as ruler in the fifth century B.C. A tablet was found that has the name Nabonidus on the top along with his son Belshazzar. It goes on to say that Nabonidus was away from Babylon for about ten years. During his absence, he appointed his son, Belshazzar, to rule in his place.

This explains why Belshazzar made the following offer that is recorded in Daniel chapter five:

The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declared to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” (Daniel 5:7 ESV)

The fact that Belshazzar offered the one who interpreted the writing to be the third ruler in the kingdom is minutely accurate. Belshazzar was the second ruler behind his father Nabonidus. Therefore, the highest position he could offer was the third place in the kingdom.

Consequently, the author was not only historically accurate; he knew that Belshazzar was not the main ruler in Babylon. Thus, it gives us no reason to doubt that the author was exactly whom he claimed to be—Daniel the prophet.

5. The Assyrian Ruler Sargon Was Unknown Except in the Bible

For many years, the name Sargon, the king of Assyria, was only found in Scripture. We read about him in the Book of Isaiah:

In the year that the commander came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him and he fought against Ashdod and captured it. (Isaiah 20:1 NASB)

Because the only reference to Sargon was found in the Bible, it was assumed that it was a made-up name. Critics used the lack of confirming evidence to claim an error in the Bible. This is no longer the case. In 1843, the palace of Sargon was discovered. Today he is one of the best-known of all Assyrian rulers. However, until the middle of the nineteenth century, his name was only found in Scripture.

6. The Horites (Hivites) Were Assumed to Be Mythical

The Old Testament speaks of a people called the Horites. In the Book of Genesis, the Bible says:

In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings who were his allies came and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran, which is near the desert. (Genesis 14:5-6 NET)

The Horites are also called the Hivites in the Bible. Yet, until recently, their existence was only known from the Scripture. It was not until 1995 that their capital city was discovered 400 miles northeast of Damascus, Syria on the border with Turkey. Again, we know that the Bible has accurately described these people.

7. The Route of the Exodus Was Said to Be Impossible

The Scripture is very specific as to the route that the nation of Israel took from Egypt on its way to the Promised Land. For example, in Numbers 33, there is a detailed description of where the Israelites camped on their way to Jericho. It says:

They left Iye Abarim and camped at Dibon Gad. They left Dibon Gad and camped at Almon Diblathaim. They left Almon Diblathaim and camped in the mountains of Abarim, near Nebo. They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. There on the plains of Moab they camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim. On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho the LORD said to Moses. (Numbers 33:45-50 TNIV)

Notice the detail. We are told specifically where the nation camped on their way to Jericho. This route was once considered to be unhistorical. Yet the discovery of three ancient Egyptian maps, dating from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth century B.C., shows that this was the same route that was taken in those days. The cities mentioned in Numbers were also mentioned in the Egyptian maps. It was a heavily traveled road in those days. Again, the historical details of the Scripture prove to be true.

8. It Was Uncertain Whether King David Existed

One of the most central figures in the Old Testament was the first rightful king of Israel—David. According to Scripture, David lived about one thousand years before the time of Christ. However, there were many who denied his existence. However, an inscription was discovered in northern Israel in 1994 that dated to the ninth century before the time of Christ. Known as the Tel Dan inscription, it mentions the “house of David.” This gives clear testimony to David’s existence.

9. The Miraculous Destruction of Jericho in Joshua’s Day Was Denied

One of the major events in the Old Testament was the fall of the city of Jericho. The Bible describes the event as follows:

When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. (Joshua 6:20-21 NIV)

The investigation over the site of ancient Jericho has had an interesting history. In the 1930’s, an English archaeologist by the name of John Garstang investigated the site and concluded that the walls fell down as the Bible said.

However, in the 1950’s, another British archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon, excavated Jericho and concluded that Garstang was wrong and the walls had not fallen out as the Scripture said. She said there was no evidence of the destruction of Jericho at the time of Joshua.

Recently, there has been a shift back to the findings of Garstang. Archaeologist Bryant Wood, who has done extensive work on this issue, has concluded that Jericho was indeed destroyed in the time frame which the Scripture says it occurred and the walls did fall out. Therefore, the latest archaeological testimony supports the biblical claims.

10. The Wealth of Ophir Was Denied

The Bible speaks of a place called Ophir which had vast wealth. In the Book of First Kings, the Bible says the following:

And they went to Ophir, and acquired four hundred and twenty talents of gold from there, and brought it to King Solomon. (1 Kings 9:28 NKJV)

We also read in the Book of Isaiah about the gold of Ophir:

Few will be left alive when I have finished my work. People will be as scarce as gold—more rare than the gold of Ophir. (Isaiah 13:12 NLT)

The wealth of Solomon has been denied, as well as the existence of a place called Ophir. However, in 1956, a small piece of ostracon, or piece of pottery, was found north of Tel Aviv in Israel. The inscription was a shipment notice which read, “gold of Ophir, from Beth-Horon, thirty shekels.” The discovery of this ostracon not only proved that Ophir was a genuine place but that it was also a source of gold.

11. The Existence of Lions in Nineveh and Babylon Was Questioned

The Bible speaks of lions existing in Nineveh as well as in Babylon. Nahum the prophet, who spoke the Lord’s judgment against Nineveh, made the following statement:

Nineveh is doomed! Destroyed! Her people tremble with fear; their faces turn pale. What happened to this city? They were safer there than powerful lions in a den, with no one to disturb them. These are the same lions that ferociously attacked their victims, then dragged away the flesh to feed their young. (Nahum 2:10-12 CEV)

There is also the famous story of Daniel being thrown into the den of lions in Babylon. The Bible says:

So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, “Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.” (Daniel 6:16 NKJV)

Critics of Scripture denied this could be literally true since lions were not native to Nineveh. However, there has been a discovery of a picture of a wounded lion on the palace walls of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. There is also a statue in Babylon of a lion. It seems that lions were brought into Nineveh and Babylon for the sport of the kings. Again, the details of the Bible are proven to be correct.

12. The Existence of Domesticated Camels at the Time of Abraham Was Denied

According to some Bible critics, camels were not domesticated at the time Abraham lived. Yet the Bible says that when Abraham came to Egypt he was given gifts that included camels. We read in Genesis:

Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her-- sheep, cattle, donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. (Genesis 12:11 NLT)

While this reference was once considered to be unhistorical, such is not the case any longer. A figurine has been discovered in Egypt dating to 3000 B.C. It pictures a man alongside a kneeling camel. Another camel figurine, dating about 2600 B.C. was discovered at Lagash. Therefore, the story of Abraham receiving the gift of camels from Pharaoh fits into that historical period. Indeed, we now know that camels were domesticated in Egypt 1,000 years before the time of Abraham.

These Examples Should Teach an Important Lesson: the Old Testament Should Be Given the Benefit of the Doubt

These are some of the many confirmations of Old Testament Scripture that were once originally thought to be incorrect. Thus, we find that archaeological, as well as other discoveries, have confirmed some of the details of Old Testament history. While there are still a number of things contained in the Old Testament that have not yet been confirmed outside of Scripture, these examples demonstrate its basic reliability.

Consequently, when something is recorded in Scripture, it should be taken seriously and not rejected because of lack of confirmation in secular historical sources. The Bible, sooner or later, will be confirmed as being trustworthy. This brings up an important principle that should not be forgotten. Because the Old Testament has proved itself to be accurate time and time again, it should be given the benefit of the doubt on issues that are unresolved.

Unfortunately, many people take the opposite approach—they assume the Old Testament is in error unless proven otherwise. However, the idea of innocent until proven guilty should be the attitude toward the events recorded in the Old Testament.

Summary – Question 8
Has Evidence from Archaeology and Other Sources Refuted Accusations Against the Reliability of the Old Testament?

On a number of occasions, the Old Testament has proven the critics wrong. For example, there was a common opinion that writing did not exist during the time of Moses. We now know that writing went back to the time of Abraham.

Not only was there writing at the time of Moses, there were also law codes written at least five hundred years before he was born. Therefore, it is certainly possible that he could have composed the laws attributed to him that were given through the direct commandments of God, as written in the Books of Exodus through Deuteronomy.

There is also the example of the Hittites. Their existence is recorded over fifty times in the Old Testament, but until the middle of the nineteenth century they were unknown apart from the Bible. This led many to question their existence. However, we now know that the Hittites were a great empire in the ancient world. Again, the Bible is proven to be correct and the critics wrong.

The existence of Belshazzar as a ruler in Babylon was denied even though we have the clear testimony of Daniel 5. Today, no one doubts that this man lived and ruled in Babylon—just as the Bible says. In addition, we know that his promise to Daniel to be the “third” ruler in the kingdom was minutely accurate.

There are also the examples of people known as the Horites, or Hivites, whose existence was doubted. This is no longer the case because of archaeological discoveries.

The existence of the city of Ophir, as well as its wealth, was considered to be mythical by many until an ostracon was discovered that carried a shipping bill for gold.

The existence of lions in Nineveh was once rejected as mythical. However, the discovery of a wounded lion in an ancient Assyrian palace has refuted that accusation. Likewise, we have evidence that camels were domesticated at the time of Abraham. These, along with other examples show that the Bible should not be disregarded when it mentions something that has not yet been confirmed by non-biblical sources.

Because the Old Testament has been confirmed time and time again, the benefit of the doubt should be given to it in areas where history or archaeology has not yet been able to confirm it.

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Were the New Testament Writers Qualified as Witnesses to the Events They Recorded? Next Section →
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