I’ve always loved a good documentary. Whenever I was off school ill I would gorge on TV documentaries. Some of my favourites included The World at War narrated by Laurence Olivier and David Attenborough’s The Trials of Life.
Naturally, programmes with titles such as “Biblical Mysteries Revealed” and “The Real Jesus” were of interest to me. As a young Christian, I was eager to hear what scholars had to say on the subject. Was there any historical or archaeological evidence to support or deny what I had grown up believing? Of course, the scholars featured on these so-called ‘exposé’ documentaries were usually hyper-sceptics. Their inquiry always began from a guilty until proven innocent stance. Assuming that the biblical narratives were just that, narratives but not history, until proven otherwise.
“This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the land of Israel: The Israelites were never in Egypt, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.” Professor Ze’ev Herzog
As such, I myself began to feel rather sceptical, not necessarily of the Bible, but of these documentaries. Could it be that the great luminaries of the Christian faith; Lewis, Chesterton, Calvin, Aquinas had been duped into believing a lie? Had these TV scholars really unearthed new faith-shattering evidence?
“It may sound disappointing that the excavations have discovered none of the buildings of David’s city…virtually no area remains in which there is any hope of the period…the whole of this area must therefore be written off as far as any knowledge of early Jerusalem is concerned.” Kathleen Kenyon
New archaeological sites are being excavated in Israel all the time, many of these sites are yielding new and remarkable information pertaining to the Israelites and the veracity of the Bible. Here are seven of the more recent finds that have shed light on the history of Israel.
1. Joshua’s Altar on Mt Ebal
The site was excavated by Dr. Adam Zertal and his team. Zertal, working in the territory of Manasseh for some considerable time has uncovered such a wealth of evidence supporting Old Testament account that it has turned him from atheism to Christianity. Perhaps the most startling discovery is what is believed to be Joshua’s altar on Mount Ebal mentioned in Deuteronomy 27. He found its remains around two-thirds of the way up the mountain, made from unworked stone and facing mount Gerazim.
“And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. And there you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God,”
When researchers excavated the centre of the altar they found it full of bones and ashes. The team sent these remains off the the University of Haifa for examination. The sample was found to contain 942 bones which indicated some 50-100 animals, the remains found belonged exclusively to sheep, goats and cattle. Researchers were also able to determine the age and sex of some of these animals using the more complete bone fragments; all male and one year old. Had it been a Canaanite altar we could expect to find non-kosher animal remains, but the evidence strongly points to this being an Israelite altar. Pottery was also found at the altar dating from the time of the exodus.
“If a sacrificial altar stood on Mount Ebal, it’s impact on our research is revolutionary. All of us have to go back to kindergarten!” Dr. Lawrence Stagar, Harvard
2. The Ruins of Ancient Jericho
“And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.”
Joshua 6:5 ESV
According to the Bible, Jericho was the first Canaanite city taken by the Israelites after they crossed the Jordan into the promised land. The walls of the city are said to have collapsed at the sound of the trumpet and the shout of the people of Israel. They then devoted the city and everything in it to destruction, burning what was left. There has been a level of dispute as to the location of the ancient city of Jericho. Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon had this to say when digging at the site most suspected to be its location back in the 50’s:
“These ruins belong to a time much earlier and could not be biblical Jericho due to the absence of the imported Cypriote ware pottery.”
However, she did affirm the discovery of fallen debris that had been blackened or reddened by fire. Kenyon’s assertions held sway in academia for a long time, until the site was excavated once more in the late 90’s by Dr. Bryant Wood and his team. Digging on the eastern side of the city he discovered the Cypriot pottery deemed absent by Kenyon, and lots of it. Moreover, he found a series of Egyptian scarabs with dated inscriptions on the bottom. This unbroken series ran from the 18th century BC to around 1400BC, the generally accepted time of the Israelite conquest.
Wood found the same collapsed debris around the city that Kenyon had found nearly fifty years prior, but perhaps most remarkably he found one portion of the wall on the north side of the city still standing. This portion of the wall had windows and houses built into it. Who do we know from the biblical account lived in the wall, had an external window and survived the sack of Jericho? Rahab.
“Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall.”
Joshua 2:15 ESV
3. The Prophet Balaam
The Biblical account in the book of Numbers claims that Balak King of Moab hired a prophet named Balaam to prophesy against the Israelites as they passed by. Famously, Balaam is unable to perform this role. The prophet is also spoken to by his donkey in the biblical narrative, a story which is the subject of much ridicule by skeptics.
A site at Tel Deir’Alla in Jordan was excavated just a few years ago which uncovered the remains of an Amorite administrative building with inscriptions on the walls. Amongst a collection of administrative instructions they found the story of this Balaam, son of Beor, said to be a “seer of the gods”. Bear in mind that the Amorites were the enemies of Israel, with no interest in upholding their scriptures or narratives.
The fragments of this inscription can now be found on display in Amman, Jordan.
4. Ancient Hebrew Amulets
Discovered in a collapsed tomb in Jerusalem in 1979 by Dr. Gordon Franz and his team were a collection of silver amulets with biblical text engraved upon them dating back to the time of Jeremiah circa 600BC.
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
Numbers 6:24-26 ESV – The portion of scripture inscribed on the amulets
Crucially, these amulets date to before the exile in Babylon and pre-date the Dead Sea scrolls by 400 years, destroying the liberal narrative that the Old Testament wasn’t written until after the exile.
5. Jeroboam’s Altar
When the Davidic Kingdom of Israel split, Jeroboam was said to have taken the ten tribes to the north and Rehobaom the two tribes to the south. The account of 1 Kings has Jeroboam building two altars in the north, one at Bethel and the other at Dan.
“So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.”
1 Kings 12:28-29 ESV
His altar at Dan has been discovered at Tell-Dan and is acknowledged by the department of antiquities. It has even been commemorated and information signs put up at the location.
Just outside the ancient city gate at Tell-Dan an ancient stone with an inscription was discovered in 1993 describing a battle between the King of Aram and the Kings of Israel and Judah in which Aram was victorious. The inscription was written by the Aramites and details the account found in 2 Chronicles 22 in which Hazael king of Syria defeats Israel and Judah, and claims a humiliating victory over the House of David, proving that David truly was a historical King of Israel with a legacy acknowledged even by enemies of Israel.
6. The City of David
“Archaeological data has now definitely confirmed that the empire of David and Solomon never existed” Niles Peter Lemch, University of Copenhagen
Recent finds in the City of David have determined the statement above to be false. Building upon the work begun by Yagal Shiloh in the early 80’s a team led by Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have made some startling discoveries.
In the ruins of an ancient administrative building they found 51 ‘bullae’ or seals used for embossing correspondence. These bullae carried inscriptions upon them bearing the names and titles of their owners.
26 attest to individuals mentioned in the bible including Azariah son of Hilkiah- 1 Chronicles 9, Geremiah son of Shaphan – Jeremiah 36, Baruch son of Neriah – Jeremiah 36 and Jehrameel son of the king – Jeremiah 36.
7. Hezekiah & Isaiah Bullae
On a dig near the Temple Mount on the outskirts of the City of David in 2009, archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered several bullae in what is believed to be ancient bakery dating to the time of Solomon. In 2015 after several years of investigation she revealed to the public that one of the seals belonged to none other than King Hezekiah.
In recent weeks she has made another even more startling announcement. In an adjacent room to the one where the Hezekiah bulla was found a seal bearing the inscription of Isaiah, Prophet. Though the Isaiah bullae has been damaged (it bears the fingerprint of the individual who marked it roughly 2,700 years ago) the inscription can still be read clearly, though there is some dispute about the word Nvi’ (prophet) missing the letter aleph which is smudged by the fingerprint.
“Archaeology is technical but you dig with an open mind to historical sources, and anything can help. I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other, and I try to consider everything.” Dr. Eilat Mazar, Hebrew University
With ever increasing frequency discoveries are being made in the Holy land which put to the sword the hyper-sceptical position commonly put forth by main stream media. As ever when it pertains to questions of Christianity, Jesus and the veracity of scripture one must do a little digging of their own to ascertain the facts of the matter. When you next chance upon a documentary or an article purporting to debunk the bible as myth and legend, do what any thinking person ought and take it with a very liberal pinch of salt.
“Has Eilat Mazar Discovered Archaeological Evidence for The Prophet Isaiah?” The Trumpet – https://www.thetrumpet.com/16947-has-eilat-mazar-discovered-archaeological-evidence-of-isaiah-the-prophet?
“Stones of Israel”, Don Patton Ph.D – https://youtu.be/TPLiKDciPi8
“When Skeptics Ask”, Dr. Norman Geisler