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wikimedia.org clay-prism
Sennacherib Prism which mentions King Hezekiah of Judah, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Archaeology supports the Bible

Published: 28 January 2017 (GMT+10)

Today’s feedback is from Jose M., from the U.S., who asks whether archaeological evidence helps to confirm Scripture.

Let me start by saying that I love how this organization (creation ministries international) refutes skeptical arguments against the bible, creation, the book of Genesis etc. this organization has shown how God's word is true and not a fairy tale of some sort. one thing I would like to know is if archaeology has contradicted or disproven the bible in some sense as claimed by atheists/skeptics, many of them have gone as far as saying that king david, king Solomon, abraham, Moses even the creator JesusChrist, never even existed, or even that the tower of babel and the exodus never happened, I know they did because the bible doesn't lie and has always been proven to be true, my point is does such evidence exists (outside of the bible) in archaeology that supports the existence of these figures and these events mentioned in the bible?

CMI’s responds:

Hello Jose,

I’m glad that CMI has been a help to you.

Archaeology has often supported the Bible’s historical claims, and I’ll give some examples below. But we should not expect any historical science to confirm every person, place, or event mentioned in Scripture, because only a small fraction of the historical artifacts that once existed have survived to the present.

We have good reasons to believe the Bible is God’s Word, so we agree with you that whatever it affirms is completely truthful and without error. When there is a lack of archaeological evidence for some biblical claim or even an apparent conflict between archaeology and the Bible, this should not cause us to waver in our Christian convictions, because the overall picture is clear that the Bible is true. (See Faith and facts.) Often, the alleged problems are merely arguments from silence or the result of misinterpretations.

Skepticism squashed

Many times in the past, the Bible has been vindicated by archaeology against skeptics. Critics once claimed that Assyrian king Sargon of Isaiah 20:1 never existed, only to have egg on their faces when his entire palace was unearthed. The Hittites were similarly dismissed by skeptics, but later their enormous capital city, Hattusa, was found, including buildings, artifacts, and writings. Also, you can read about the case of Babylonian king Belshazzar, which was thought to be a Bible error, as we covered in Creation magazine. Even the idea that domesticated camels were not available to Abraham has proved to be unfounded.

Solid support

Marion Doss, Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA 2.0 pilate-inscription
“Pontius Pilatus, Prefect of Judea” inscribed on an ancient stone from Caesarea, Israel

Thousands of archaeological discoveries could be mentioned that help to confirm biblical truth claims. For example, just consider the Judahite reformer, King Hezekiah. One can go to Jerusalem today and walk through the tunnel he built to bring water into the city, as recorded in 2 Kings 20:20. Multiple bullae (impressed clay pieces) containing his royal seal have been found. And his confrontation with Assyrian King Sennacherib (2 Kings 19) is confirmed by the Sennacherib Prism, in which this wicked king boasts of trapping Hezekiah in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage”. Note that he did not capture Jerusalem, because an angel decimated his army.

While there isn’t as much evidence for someone like the earlier King David, there is still evidence that favors Scripture. Several ancient inscriptions mention the “house of David”, for example, which supports the Bible’s claim that he was the historical founder of the Judahite dynasty.

Timing is everything

Many alleged conflicts are due to disagreements about chronology. For example, one school of thought dismisses Joshua’s victory over Jericho because it has assigned the destruction layer to the wrong time period. But once the dating is corrected, it’s clear that in Joshua’s day the walls of Jericho really did come a-tumblin’ down!

It’s less clear at present (to me, at least) how the Exodus squares with archaeology, but that doesn’t prove it never happened! The Egyptians would not have been prone to record such a defeat, and traces of an Israelite presence in Egypt or the wilderness might be hard to come by thousands of years later. Many have also argued that Egyptian chronology needs to be revised, which could potentially provide a better match between the Exodus and archaeological evidence. See the following articles about how the dates for Egypt might be amended:

Skepticism of the absurd

Those who deny the existence of Jesus belong to a whole different category of skeptic. That kind of outlandish hyper-skepticism would destroy all knowledge if it was applied consistently. Even a radical skeptic like Bart Ehrman doesn’t go that far; he has written a book arguing for a historical Jesus.

The New Testament is a collection of ancient documents that provide various streams of independent testimony to Jesus. So even if we set aside, just for the sake of the argument, our knowledge that the Bible is God-breathed, those books still provide compelling evidence that Jesus was a real person.

By contrast, the mythicist idea that Jesus was invented by recycling legends of pagan gods relies on the worst kind of conspiratorial, unscholarly reasoning. See Was Christianity plagiarized from pagan myths? and Copycat copout: Jesus was not made up from pagan myths.

Plus, archaeology lends indirect support by confirming many of the details in the Gospels. We have found an inscription that mentions Pilate as a Roman prefect, for instance. And we have found what appears to be the ossuary of Caiphas, the high priest who presided over Jesus’ crucifixion, and also the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus.

Digging deeper

I’ve only scratched the surface here. But if you want to learn more about archaeology and the things you brought up that I didn’t cover specifically, I recommend you read the articles on our Archaeology Q&A page or use our search engine, and pick up some books from our webstore, like Evidence for the Bible or Heritage of Evidence in the British Museum.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Jean B.
There is a problem in taking this kind of history literally in that the writer can skew events to accentuate parts they want to. Take David and Goliath (1 Sam 17), an immensely popular story, the hero is the one who kills Goliath..thats David ..right? No, wrong.. it was Elhanan (2 Sam 21:19). The chronicler ( 1 chr 20:5) addresses the problem and changes the story to it being Goliath's brother. The problem here is we don't understand the authority of the Jewish scriptures, where 2 Samuel is in the Nevim (Prophets) and chronicles is in the Keturah (Writings) and the prophets always carry more authority than the writings, so the more authoritative version is in Samuel. The story with David as the champion has its obvious weaknesses as well. Saul, on seeing David, asks, who is this? Well he had recently been in court as His personal minstrel and after this was his armour bearer who walked next to him, and Saul didn't recognise him! You don't have armour bearers you don't know (!) they have to be highly trusted individuals. The story also falls down where David beheads Goliath and shows the head in Jerusalem..bit of a problem this as it wasn't until 10-20 years later that David took it from the Jebusites. This then makes the story an overlay, where a hugely popular story has a hugely popular future King inserted into the hero's role, which at the last moment , almost as an aside , gives due credit to the real hero..Elhanan. The story may not be historically accurate but it does its part in elevating David, and we still talk about David's "exploits" today, which makes this quite a brilliant piece of propaganda.
Keaton Halley
The apparent contradiction between 2 Sam. 21:19 and 1 Chr. 20:5 is a well-known Bible difficulty to which scholars have proposed various solutions. It's likely an issue of textual transmission, since the books of Samuel have the poorest preservation of all OT books. See the note on 2 Samuel 21:19 in the NET translation. And a simple internet search turns up reasonable explanations for the other alleged difficulties as well.

But it's a bit presumptuous of you to read so much into the history of the texts and motivations of the authors based on such meager evidence. It smacks of what C.S. Lewis called "Bulverism". Various solutions harmonize the passages and preserve inerrancy, which Jesus affirmed (John 10:35). The idea that the Prophets are more authoritative than the Writings would be foreign to Jesus (Luke 24:44).
Jim M.
I am a big fan, a question that has been bothering me is the Tower of Babel and whether it was possible to have a population large enough for them to attempt such a feat. I don't remember exactly but it was only a couple of hundred years after the flood.
Keaton Halley
A few hundred years is plenty of time for 8 people to turn into thousands, more than enough to build a single tower in one city. See: Where are all the people?, Adam, Eve and Noah vs Modern Genetics, and Modeling biblical human population growth. You might also enjoy Towering Change.
Peter P.
The "Patterns of Evidence" DVD advertised at the side is well worth watching for another view of Egyptian chronology - including an abandoned Semitic city in the Nile delta that could be where the Israelites lived before the Exodus.
richard L.
Thank you, Jose, for your positive attitude!

An attempted summary of what Keaton (great article!) and scripture say on this issue:

** First, trust God. After that, obey God and look for evidence (whether archeological or otherwise). **

One of the mandates for this "obey" is 1 Thessalonians 5:21: "But test all things; hold fast the good". From previous context, this is "test all authoritative-looking truth-claims from outside the written Bible; hold fast the good".

This verse is fantastically optimistic! God is not afraid of what we will discover when we investigate! God not only allows us to inspect potentially rival truth claims (sometimes producing doubts), he also ORDERS us to do this testing-through-inspection/research! Nothing found, ultimately, will prove God wrong.

What don't we do? We are not to mentally hunker down, saying "I'll believe; I won't look". Instead, God's wants us to say, "I first believe, so I now have the courage to expect God to prove true, and I now find it easy to trust/obey God and inspect the (archeological) evidence".

Please put in yourself this God-glorifying optimism. Please say, "When all truth is known; science (archeology) will perfectly line up with the bible. If it doesn't do so today, that is because we yet have incomplete information, or have known data misrepresented to us, or both--what Keaton has referenced."

One particular point of caution: please be careful of earlier Christians being overeager to prove the Bible true archeologically. A person, in the early 1800s, wrongly identified Ramesses II as the pharaoh of the Exile [sic—Exodus (ed.)]. When ancient-Egypt dating solidified, Christians locked into that linkage felt obligated to make Exodus be in the 1200s rather than in the Biblically-insisted 1400s BC. A lot of grief happened.

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