Sunday, April 28, 2013

Archaeology and the Bible

Biblical Archaeology
Photo taken by Jan Smith [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The last One hundred and seventy years have witnessed the birth, growth, and development of the science of Biblical Archaeology. The new science has furnished useful background materials for illustrating, illuminating and in many cases authenticating the message and meaning of the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

Biblical archaeology may be defined as a study based on the excavation, deciphering and critical evaluation of the records of the past as they affect the Bible. It is fascinating to study the Bible but it is more fascinating to be able to authenticate and prove the historicity of the Bible.

The word archaeology is composed of two Greek words: Archaios meaning old or ancient and Logos meaning word, treatise or study. It is therefore the study of antiquity. It is basically a science devoted to the recovery of ancient civilizations with a view to reconstructing the story...  progress or fall.

Biblical archaeology has developed so rapidly for several reasons:

It has helped to enhance the scientific study of some Bible texts. It has helped to check the accuracy of the manuscript, understanding of technical words and the development of more dependable lexicons. It also acts as a check in the area of critical studies. One Bible critic now has this to say 
“More and more, the older view that the Biblical data were suspect and even likely to be false unless corroborated by extra-Biblical facts  is giving way to one which holds that, by and large, the Biblical accounts are more likely to be true than false unless clear cut evidence from sources outside the Bible demonstrate the reverse.”

Biblical archaeology has helped to illustrate and explain various Biblical passages. It enhances the knowledge of the economic, cultural, social and political background of Biblical passages. Also archaeology contributes to the understanding of other religions that bordered Israel.

Archaeology has shed more interesting light on the capture of Jerusalem by David. This event as recorded in Second Samuel 5:6-8 and First Chronicles 11:6 are rather obscure without the help gained from archaeological evidence.

Archaeology helps to supplement areas not dealt with in the Bible. A good example is the inter-testament period, kings, military campaigns and empires not mentioned in the Scriptures.

Areas of gains so far made in Archaeology include the stories of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Archaeology has shown that the oral blessing of Isaac on Jacob in Genesis 27 was legally binding even after he discovered that he had blessed the wrong person. It was a law in their culture. In the same way, the sale of Esau’s birthright recorded in Genesis 25 by mere words on oath was binding and a full transaction.

Archaeology has also shown that death was the punishment for stealing household gods – that was why Jacob consented to Laban’s search. But Laban’s fear was based on a law that allows the possessor of a family god to lay claim to the rest of the family property- Genesis 31. You can now understand why Laban required Jacob to swear to an oath of territorial non-interference in verse 52.

Archaeology has also shown that it was the practice for a father to give a maid to the daughter at marriage. A practice which made Jacob have four wives when he actually married two in Genesis 29.

Archaeology has proved the authenticity of the report that Joseph went to Egypt, was promoted in Egypt and that his body was carried in the mummified form by the Israelites when they left Egypt.

The conquest of Canaan by Joshua has been proved by archaeological finds. One of the races mentioned in the Bible but not in secular history is the Hittites. Clay tablets found in Assyria and Egypt give us our first picture of the Hittites and their way of life. Egyptian artists depicted them as having features we identify as Armenian race. An Egyptian tablet records a fierce battle between Ramses the second and the Hittites at Kadesh on the Orontes River in 1287 BC

There are a few statements in the Bible which you will find extremely difficult to understand except with a background historical backing. One of such statements is the reduction of Egypt to a second rate nation. A recent discovery of the Rosetta stone in 1798 showed that Egypt once had a very splendid past. The Code of Hammurabi discovered in 1901 shed a lot of light on the tablets of the Mosaic Law. We may have read of the Mari Letters which shed light on the world of the Patriarchs, the Lachish Ostraca which brought to life again Jeremiah’s age. The Dead Sea Scrolls which contained two scrolls of Isaiah, some chapters of Habakkuk and fragments of the books of the Old Testament except Esther. There were fragments of Psalms, Jeremiah and Daniel all in manuscript. A number of parchments of the New Testament have been found especially the Gospel of John, the Book of Hebrews and the Book of the Revelation.

Archaeological Study Bible Recommended reading   
Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture
Available at Silaroli Bookstores


Archaeological study has made a tremendous impact on the study of the Bible. No doubt it has enhanced the understanding and the historicity of the Bible. Archaeological discoveries show at point after point that the Biblical record is confirmed and commended as trustworthy. This confirmation is not confined to a few general instances.

But there a few things that archaeology cannot do. All too often we hear the “Archaeology proves the Bible”. There needs to be a word of caution. Archaeology cannot “prove” the Bible, if by that we mean, “prove it to be inspired and revealed by God”. If by "prove" one means showing some Biblical events or passages to be historical, then it would be a correct usage.

I believe archaeology contributes to Biblical criticism, not in the area of inspiration or revelation but in historical accuracy. Archaeology can confirm that there were rocks, the Ten Commandments were written on them and that they came from the period of Moses; it cannot prove that God had written them. It can tell a great deal about the topography of a military campaign. It can tell us nothing about the nature of God.

In conclusion, Archaeology does not prove the Bible; it confirms its historicity and explains various passages. It has therefore refuted and explained some of the grounds on which Bible critics would have based their criticism. It is a rapidly growing science. It has a lot more to offer as many are currently engaged in the study.

The great and true proof of the Bible is you. The Testament distributed by The Gideons International contains the following statement about the Bible: 
“The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s charter. Here Paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good the design, and the glory of God, its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labour, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents”. 
You cannot know the Bible except you read it. You cannot know its power until you believe it. It is then that you can prove that the Bible is indeed the Word of God 

In these days when people only believe what others say about the Bible- Brother ‘x’ said this and Sister ‘y’ said that; you are only acting on second hand evidence. I urge you to read your Bible yourself. Begin today to read the Bible each year from Genesis to Revelation. If you do, you will be a walking Bible and will not need anybody to tell you that the Bible is the Word of God. John 4:42 says: – “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”

God bless you all. 

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