Saturday, 23 January 2016

Archaeology Confirms That the Bible Is History

Jehu, King of Israel, gives tribute to King Shalmaneser III of Assyria. Image courtesy of Steven G. Johnson, Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Joel Kontinen

In 2007, assyriologist Dr Michael Jursa found the name Nebo-Sarsekim in a clay document in the British Museum. The details mentioned in the tablet written around 595 BC correspond to what the Book of Jeremiah says about the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem that took place during the reign of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II.

The document is significant, as the Babylonian official who briefly appears in Jeremiah 39:3 is a very minor character in the account, and shows the biblical author has recorded the facts correctly.

Nebo-Sarsekim was indeed present at the time of the siege, just like Jeremiah says.

Finding archaeological support for the Bible has become so commonplace that in 2014 Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) published an article entitled Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.

The title is somewhat misleading, though, as it only deals with Old Testament characters. Had it included people mentioned in the New Testament, the list could have been much longer. In Jerusalem, for instance, archaeologists have dug up tons of evidence supporting the Bible’s history.

Sir William Ramsey (1852–1916) set out as a sceptic to disprove the reliability of the Bible. But the more he delved into the details of the Acts of the Apostles, the more convinced he became that Luke, its author, was a first-class historian and had recorded even small details, such as the titles of local Roman officials, correctly.

This is more impressive than it sounds, as the titles varied according to place and time and a particular title might only have been used for a brief period in history.

It appears that Luke made no mistakes.

A similar trend can be found in beliefs about the reliability of the Old Testament. The Hittites were once thought to be non-existent, until archaeologists found evidence that showed the Old Testament writers had been right.

Another fascinating detail has to do with Belshazzar and Nabonidus. In 1854 archaeologist Sir Henry Rawlinson, who was excavating at the ancient city of Ur, found an inscription, which stated that Nabonidus decreed that his eldest son Bel-shar-usur (i.e. Belshazzar) could use the royal title.

Thus, this helps us to understand why the Book of Daniel records that Belshazzar is called king (Dan. 5:1) and why he promised to make the one who could explain a terrible vision the third ruler in the kingdom (Dan. 5:7).

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, currently kept at the British Museum, includes an interesting detail: a vassal ruler prostrates himself before the Assyrian king.

This happened during the time when Hazael, King of Syria, fought against Jehu, King of Israel in the 9th century B.C. In 841 B.C Jehu obviously went to ask the Assyrian ruler to help him against Hazael. The text on the Black Obelisk says:

The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears."

Omri was the name Shalmaneser III used of the royal house of Israel.

A few years ago sceptics doubted the historicity of Kind David. But then archaeologists found a 9th century B.C. inscription with the text House of David in Tel Dan in northern Galilee.

Biblical precision does not only have to do with kings, royal officials or high priests. Archaeologists tend to find ruins and old monuments in just the places where the Bible indicates they should be. In 2015 they dug up the city of Gath where the Philistine giant Goliath used to live.

Archaeology also confirms catastrophes that took place in Bible times. In 2010, Israeli archaeologists found the remains of a Philistine temple near Kiryat Gat. It bore the signs of an Old Testament time earthquake of approximately eight on the Richter scale.

The disaster, which occurred around 750 BC, is probably the one mentioned in Amos 1:1.

Geologist Dr. Steven Austin has in recent years studied seismites, i.e., sedimentary beds disturbed by seismic shaking, in the Dead Sea area in Israel and Jordan. He has noticed that the seismites show clear signs of earthquakes mentioned in the Bible, such as the one mentioned by Amos and even the quake that took place during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Many other small details in the Bible suggest that it was penned by eyewitnesses, who were familiar with the times and people they described.

In other words, they were writing reliable history.


24 Hour Museum. 2007. British Museum Makes Important Breakthrough In Biblical Archaeology (10 July).

Mykytiuk, Lawrence. 2014. Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible. Biblical Archaeology Review 40 (2): 42–50, 68.