Some radical skeptics believe that the Old Testament is just a bunch of myths, devoid of historical truth. However, if that were the case, then archeology should not have found written into the earth evidence of many episodes and personages scattered throughout the Old Testament. Consider these ten connections between the Bible and archeology.
1. Existence of the Nation of Israel
The Bible describes the nation of Israel living in Egypt, exiting Egypt, and subsequently conquering the pagan nations existing in the land of Palestine by around the 1300s B.C. Some skeptics imagine that the nation of Israel was a much later development than the biblical text, though.
Who is correct? The Bible or the skeptics? Archeology lends strong support to the former. The ancient Merneptah Stele refers to the nation of Israel in hieroglyphics around 1209 B.C. In the stele, Pharaoh Merneptah’s victory against Israel is described. This means that Israel was an established nation before 1209 B.C., corroborating the biblical text.
2. Reliability of the Book of Numbers
The book of Numbers describes the events between Israel’s exodus from Egypt and overtaking of Palestine. One of the events described is the leader of Moab hiring a powerful seer named Balaam, son of Beor, to curse Israel (Num. 22-24). Is Balaam a made-up person from the mythical Scriptures of Israel? No! Archeology has discovered an Aramaic inscription from Tell Deir ’Alla that refers to Balaam. The inscription from the eighth century B.C. speaks of Balaam, son of Beor, receiving messages from various Canaanite deities. This description jibes with the scriptural testimony that Balaam was a seer.
3. Existence of Joshua
Scripture says in Joshua 8:30-55 that Moses’ successor, Joshua, built an altar on Mount Ebal. Adam Zertal showed that the proof of this episode from Scripture likely was discovered in the ground! He published a paper titled “Has Joshua’s Altar Been Found on Mt. Ebal?” in Biblical Archeology Review (1985). He noted how a large rectangular figure, about twenty-three by thirty feet and ten feet tall, resembles a cultic center. This figure, dated to the twelfth century B.C., was filled with thousands of animal bones, such as “young male bulls, sheep, goats and fallow deer,” which were mainly “burnt in open-flame fires of low temperatures (200-600 degrees C.)” (Zertal, p. 31). This seems to be an altar upon which Israel sacrificed animals to God. Provan, Long, and Longman III say that “Zertal and his team began checking descriptions of altars in the Bible (e.g., Exod. 27:8) and the Mishnah and were astonished at how well these descriptions matched not only the basic features of the structure but also many of its particular features” (p. 249).
4. Existence of King David
The Bible describes the elevation of the shepherd boy David to the throne of Israel. Many people have heard of him, such as his defeat of mighty Goliath with a slingshot. From David came a long line of Davidic kings, which Scripture attests to in the books of Kings and Chronicles.
Some suggest that king David of Israel was merely a legend, but that can no longer be accepted. For in Tel Dan, an inscription from the late 800s B.C. was discovered that refers to him. Within the inscription, an Aramean king refers to killing various people, one of which is a king from the “House of David.” Apparently, the Davidic dynasty described in Scripture was known throughout the ancient Near East. This validates the biblical texts.
5. Existence of King Jehu
The Tel Dan inscription speaks of the line or “house” of David, and it is not alone. King Jehu, described in 2 Kings 9, is referred to in another piece of archeology. The Black Obelisk of Shalmoneser III is a chunk of limestone that refers to the Assyrian king subjugating various nations underneath him. The obelisk represents King Jehu giving tribute to the Assyrian king Shalmoneser III. Dated to 858-824 B.C., it specifies, “Jehu, son of Omri.” This indicates that Scripture is based on real, historical people and cannot be brushed aside as mere myth.
6. Existence of King Omri
The Bible describes king Omri of Israel fighting a war against Israel’s neighbor, Moab, in 2 Kings 3. The skeptic might ask if this is a legitimate, historical battle. Look no farther than the archeological find known as the Moabite stone or Mesha inscription. Written in Moabite, this stone was commissioned under King Mesha of Moab and looks back upon the war between Moab and Israel in 850 B.C. King Omri of Israel “humbled” Moab, according to the inscription, but King Mesha had a victory afterward. Scripture speaks of the war from the Israelite perspective, whereas the Moabite stone speaks of the war from the Moabite perspective.
7. Existence of King Hezekiah
One of the kings of the house of David was Hezekiah. Scripture praises him for his religious reforms. The nation to the east of Jerusalem was Assyria. The king of Assyria during the late 700s B.C. was Sennacherib.
Sennacherib invaded king Hezekiah of Judah because Hezekiah “was perceived as not submitting to Assyrian overlordship” (Provan, Long, Longman III, p. 370).
According to archeology, the skeptic has no reason to doubt that the Bible is talking about real history. The annals of Sennacherib have been discovered, in which are recounted his military adventures. One of those adventures was attacking Hezekiah. Sennacherib’s annals support what the biblical texts say about Assyria and Hezekiah in Isaiah 33 and 36-37, 2 Kings 18-19, and 2 Chronicles 32.
Granted, there are a few differences in the specifics. One is that the biblical texts say Sennacherib’s forces are turned back by an angel, whereas the annals of Sennacherib leave that part out. This would probably be typical of a king who wanted to recount only his victories. All in all, Scripture and archeology work together here, too.
8. Reliability of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles
After king Hezekiah’s struggle with Sennacherib, Scripture says he commissioned a tunnel to be built to prepare for a time of siege in the future from an enemy (2 Kings 20; 2 Chron. 32). The tunnel would bring water from the spring of Gihon into the city of Jerusalem to the pool of Siloam. The tunnel built by Hezekiah still exists to this day, and an inscription in Hebrew has been found there. The inscription is by an engineer who says the tunnel was built by burrowing through the limestone from both ends. This inscription is dated to the eighth century B.C., the time period of king Hezekiah.
9. Existence of the Babylonian Attack on Jerusalem
According to Scripture, the people of Israel broke their covenant with God. One of the curses for breaking that covenant is exile from the land, and that happened according to 2 Kings 24, 2 Chronicles 36, and Jeremiah 39. King Nebuchadnezzar (605-552 B.C.) of Babylon, east of Israel, came and conquered Jerusalem.
Those who do not believe in the trustworthiness of Scripture might question this whole ordeal. Yet archeology has discovered something that supports Scripture’s testimony. The Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle describes Babylon attempting to overtake the kingdom of Judah, centered in Jerusalem. The chronicle refers to the siege of Jerusalem in 597 B.C., which substantiates the biblical authors.
10. The Reliability of Ezra and Nehemiah
Nebuchadnezzar captured and relocated many people from Israel. A few decades later, king Cyrus of Persia became the leading power in the ancient Near East. He believed that his subjects would not rebel if they were given their land and gods. Scripture says in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that Cyrus sent the exiled Jewish people back to Jerusalem to worship. This event is more believable now for the skeptic with the help of the archeological find popularly known as the Cyrus Cylinder. This cylindrical cuneiform document describes King Cyrus of Persia’s religious toleration policies toward various nations. The Cyrus from the cylinder acts similarly to the Cyrus from Scripture. King Cyrus not only helped the Jews, but helped other exiled nations as well.
To dismiss the Bible as legends by disregarding the archeological findings described here would indicate a foolish skepticism. Far from being baseless in its assertions, Scripture has evidence in archeology that backs up its historical claims—in the above cases, about the nation of Israel. So you can see that the Bible is a trustworthy book detailing the origins of the Jewish people. —and if it’s trustworthy here, it’s worth the skeptic’s while to consider that it may be trustworthy throughout.