Some of the most prevalent criticisms leveled against the Bible are concerning its historical reliability. These criticisms are usually based on a supposed lack of evidence from non-biblical sources to confirm the Biblical record. Because the Bible is filled with supernatural claims and is inherently a religious book, many take the position that its record cannot be trusted as historical fact. Some stop there and say that the Bible is still a good book of moral lessons despite historical inaccuracy. Others go further and claim that it cannot be a standard of morality because of its historical errors. Either way, their claims spring from a “guilty until proven innocent” charge based on a lack of outside evidence. Nevertheless, the Bible’s “innocence”, and more specifically its reliability, has been evidenced time and again, particularly in the field of archaeology.
The following are only a few of the multitude of discoveries that have been made since the mid-1800s which demonstrate the reliability of the Bible record.
The Elba Archive
In the 1970’s excavations of the Elba archive in northernSyriauncovered writings dating back to ca. 2300 B.C. These writings verified many names of people and places mentioned in Genesis and other Old Testament books that were, prior to these discoveries, thought to be mythical in nature. The authorship of many Old Testament books came into question because many of these names were formerly thought to be younger than the Biblical record would have them appear.
For example, the name Canaan was in use in theElba writings, a name skeptics once said was not used as early as the Biblical record depicts. However, not only is the name used, but the geographic depiction coincides with the Bible as well.
Also, the word tehom (Genesis 1:2) was said to be a word used in much later civilizations than those spoken of in Genesis. It was therefore argued that Genesis must have been written much later then the time of Moses. However, in the writings of the Elba archive tehom appeared repeatedly as a regular word in their vocabulary, proving its usage some 800 years before Moses.
Frequently, throughout the Old Testament, the Bible describes a nation known as the Hittites. Due to lack of archaeological support, they were once thought to be a Biblical legend. Then, in the late 19th century, tablets were found at the Assyrian colony of Kultepe (ancient Karum Kanesh), containing records of trade between Assyrian merchants and a certain “land ofHatti”. Soon, the Hittite capital was discovered atBogazkoy,Turkey, along with an overwhelming amount of artifacts, verifying the Biblical description.
It was once claimed there was no Assyrian king named Sargon as recorded in Isaiah 20:1, because this name was not known in any other record. However, French archaeologist Paul-Emile Botta discovered a palace called Dur-Sharrukin (‘the fortress of Sargon’) in the city known today asKhorsabad,Iraq. As it turns out, the event mentioned in Isaiah 20, Sargon’s capture ofAshdod, was recorded on the palace walls. And, if that weren’t enough, fragments memorializing the victory were found atAshdod itself.
These are only a few of literally thousands of archeological finds that confirm the historical integrity of the Bible. Nevertheless, the question remains: So, what? So, a few thousand things that the Bible says happened have been proven as historical fact. Does that prove the supernatural and spiritual claims of the Bible are reality?
Archaeology may not necessarily prove the Bible’s inspiration directly, or any other spiritual claim for that matter. But, it does prove its historicity. Archeology does confirm that the Bible is a unique book and must be dealt with as such. It is simply more evidence that demands a verdict. A verdict like the one archaeologist Sir William Ramsay came to.
Ramsay was educated at Oxford University and a professor at both Oxford and Cambridge. He was a man dedicated to a pervasively anti-biblical bias due to his 19th-century education. For years, he prepared himself to head an expedition into Asia Minor andPalestine, in order to prove that the Bible was the product of ambitious monks, and not the inspired Word of God it claimed to be.
He saw the weakest part in the whole New Testament to be the record of Paul’s travels. He was as equipped as any man could be. He spent fifteen years literally ‘digging for the evidence.’ Then in 1896 he published a large volume, Saint Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen.
The book caused an uproar in the educated elite throughout Europe. The conclusion of the book was in direct contrast to the goal of Ramsay’s mission. Ramsay spent the next twenty years publishing book after book, overflowing with evidence of the precise, minute truthfulness of the New Testament. Many contemporary skeptics came to turn from their unbelief and accepted Christianity. To this day, Ramsay’s books have yet to be credibly repudiated.
Ramsay’s belief came through his own archaeological confirmation of the Bible and the truth of what it taught. His belief came because “Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness” and that “Luke is a historian of the first rank…. In short, this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”
Sir Ramsay’s work may prove the historical reliability of the Bible. However, his change of heart from skepticism to belief stands as a testimony of the spiritual vitality of the Bible.