For hundreds of years people like you and me have been reading the Bible. We have believed that what it says is true. We have read its stories and cherished its heroes. But, the Bible has not always been accepted as true.
Some critics have said that the Bible is just another old book of stories and has no value as true history. They have said that events in the Old Testament like Noah's Ark and the lawgiving of Moses are only legends and never really happened. They even say that some of the great heroes of the Bible, like Abraham and Joseph are only made up characters and never really lived.
If you have ever wondered about the truthfulness of the Bible, the science of archaeology has a message for you. For over 200 years now, archaeologists have been digging in the Bible lands and they have made many discoveries that show us that the Bible really is an accurate record of the past. In this lesson we are going to learn about some of these discoveries. But maybe you want to know: "What is archaeology?" and "What does it have to do with the Bible?"
Archaeology is a study of the past. When archaeologists dig into old ruins they find artifacts like oil lamps, pottery, weapons, clay tablets, and even entire cities. The search for these artifacts began over 200 years ago but the search is continued even until today as their methods have become more systematic and scientific.
Ancient cities and their artifacts are often found in mounds of dirt like this one. Archaeologists call it a "tell" from an Arabic word meaning hill. It looks like a simple hill of dirt but it really is a large, dirt-covered city. Let us look at how a tell is made.
An ancient city was usually built on a hill because it was easier to defend a city if the enemies had to climb up a hill to attack the city walls. But even cities on hills were sometimes destroyed either by enemies, or by earthquakes or other natural disasters
Some time later, a new city would be built on top of the ruins of the old city. Because of this, over a time period of hundreds and thousands of years, many cities would be built on the same spot each on top of the ruins of the earlier city.
At the Biblical city of Jericho, for example, seventeen different levels of cities have been found
When archaeologists excavate a site, they dig through one layer of civilization after another
The deeper they dig, the older and more primitive the artifacts they find.
The most common objects they find are pieces of pottery. The pieces can help determine how old the different levels of the ruins are
Figurines can be found that will tell about the people's religion.
Stone and ivory carvings show war and attacks on ancient cities.
Sometimes a whole library of clay tablets will be found. In the 1920's, a library was found at Nuzi, and among the thousands of tablets was a map - - - the oldest map ever found. The four circles are cities and the one at the lower left is the city named Ebla.
But the location of Ebla was unknown until 1975 when the city was discovered in Syria by two Italian archaeologists. This was one of the most exciting discoveries of the 20th century.
At Ebla, they found another great library containing 20,000 clay tablets. These tablets were made about 2400 B.C. some 500 years BEFORE Abraham. They tell about Eber, the greatest king of Ebla who is probably the king named in Genesis 10:21. The Ebla tablets also mention the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the first reference to these cities ever found outside of the Bible.
But, what does all this have to do with believing the Bible is true? Archaeology has confirmed that the Bible IS a book of history, telling about real people, real places and real events from long ago.
Other great religious books of mankind like the Koran of Islam and the Vedas of Hinduism are not books of history. The Bible is unique because it actually tells about real people who really lived. Yes, archaeology is proving, day by day, that the Bible is rooted in real history.
Many great discoveries have been made - - like the great Hittite city at Hattusus - - that confirm the historical accuracy of the Bible. In many cases archaeology has proven that parts of the Bible, which were previously thought to be myth and legend, are in fact true. Let's take a trip through the Old Testament and look at some of these archaeological discoveries.
The Sumerians were the first people to live in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Hundreds of years later, Abraham grew up in the same area.
Here is a Sumerian seal, about 5,000 years old. We can see some sacrifices being offered. Vegetables are already on the altar and a man is bringing a lamb to be offered. This reminds us of the first sacrifices in the Bible. "Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock" (Genesis 4:3-4)
Genesis chapters 6-8 tell about a great flood that covered the earth. For hundreds of years, people wondered if this incredible event could have actually happened or if it was just an unusual story from the Bible.
Stories about the Biblical flood have now been found outside of the Bible. Today, we know that many ancient people have stories about a great flood and a big boat that saved people from the flood waters. Shown here is the Gilgamesh Epic, one of these stories. It was discovered in 1872 in the ruins of Ninevah. These Babylonian tablets give many of the same facts we see in the story of the flood in the Bible.
According to the Gilgamesh epic, 3 birds, a dove, a raven and a swallow were sent out of the ark to see if the flood water had gone down. Two of these are mentioned in Genesis.
In the Gilgamesh Epic, after the people left the ark the first thing they did was build an altar to offer sacrifices. That is exactly how it happened in the Bible.
Although we see some similarities between the Genesis account and the Gilgamesh Epic, we also see some great differences, especially in their view of God. The Babylonian story is clearly polytheistic. It says that after the flood, the gods were so hungry they swarmed around the sacrifice like flies. In the Bible we see a monotheistic view of God.
The Gilgamesh epic was discovered in 1872. Since then, other flood stories have been found in the history of people all over the world.
One of the main characters in Genesis is Abraham, "the father of the faithful". God called Abraham and told him "Go from your country and your father's house to the land I will show you...” (Genesis 12:1-3).
The city that Abraham left was Ur of the Chaldees. Ur was excavated in 1922 by Sir Leonard Woolley, a British Archaeologist.
Among Woolley's discoveries was the "Standard of Ur", a mosaic artwork made of seashell and blue stone. It shows Sumerian men fighting in a battle and afterwards celebrating their victory. The standard of Ur also shows a battle chariot.
After the victory, the men lead a bull to the altar to be sacrificed and then eaten in a feast.
A prince is serenaded by a musician plucking the strings of a lyre – a smaller version of our modern day harp. Notice the sound box of the lyre shaped like the head of a bull.
Abraham left Ur and traveled to the land of Palestine, or Canaan, over 1,600 kilometers away. At the time, the Hittites were one of the nations living in Canaan. The Lord promised Abraham, “I will give the land of the Hittites to your descendants." The Hittites must have been an important people because they are mentioned 35 times in the Old Testament.
However, until 1906 there was no mention of the Hittites outside of the Bible. The records of ancient Greece and Rome never mentioned the Hittites and some people doubted their existence. Critics of the Bible said things like "A great race of people could not just vanish completely".
These doubts are settled today however. In 1906 a German archaeologist discovered Hattusas -- the long lost capital of the Hittite empire.
The ruins of Hattusas are about 150 kilometers east of Ankara, Turkey.
Hattusas was a city with walls. Notice here at the king's gate how the large stones on top are tilted forming an arch. We use this same building principle even today.
This sculpture of a Hittite soldier was found at the king's gate. Uriah the Hittite might have looked like this. If you remember the story, Uriah was the man whose wife, Bathsheba, was taken by King David.
Since Hattusas was discovered, records of the Hittites have been found in Egypt. There are sculptures which show Hittite soldiers who were prisoners of the Egyptians. Archaeologists have learned that in 1286 B.C. the Hittites and the Egyptians fought a great battle on the Orontes River in Syria and these Hittites were taken prisoner in that battle.
Here is a piece of Hittite sculpture showing a dog attacking a lion. It was made around 1500 B.C. near the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is important not because of the artwork but because of where it was found… at Bethshan in Palestine. This shows that the Hittites did live in the land of Canaan during the time of Abraham, just as the Bible says.
The Old Testament has another reference to the Hittites in connection with the death of Sarah, Abraham's wife. Abraham and Sarah spent much of their lives wandering with their flocks through the hills of Judea, shown here, near the ancient city of Hebron.
When Sarah died, Abraham bought the cave of Machpelah from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site for his wife (see Genesis 23). The tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron probably covers the cave of Machpela where Abraham, Sarah and their descendants were buried.
Back in the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the city of Nuzi, located east of the Tigris River was an important city. The people of Nuzi are called Horites in the Bible (see Gen. 14:6; 36:21 & Deu. 2:12, 22).
When Nuzi was excavated in the 1920's, a large library of 20,000 clay tablets like this one was found. These Nuzi tablets have told us much about the customs and way of life in the days of Abraham and these tablets also prove that Genesis gives a very accurate picture of everyday life at that time.
For example, the Nuzi tablets tell us about marriage agreements that usually included a provision that if a wife was unable to have a son, she would provide a second wife, or a handmaid, for her husband to have a son through.
We have examples of this in Genesis. Sarah brought her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham and through her Abraham had a son, Ishmael. (see Genesis 16)
The Nuzi tablets also tell us that when a young man had no dowry for his wife, he could work for his father-in-law for a number of years instead. This is exactly what Jacob did when he worked for Laban for 14 years for Leah and Rachel (see Genesis 29).
This unusual image is called a “teraphim”. It is a household god. At Nuzi the Teraphim was the legal proof that property belonged to a family, just like we use paper documents and deeds today.
In Genesis 31 we read that after Jacob took his wives and flocks and secretly left his father-in-law Laban's home, Laban discovered his teraphim was missing and he followed Jacob with armed men. When he caught up with Jacob, he asked, "Why have you stolen my teraphim?" (See Genesis 31). Now, because of the Nuzi tablets, we know why he was so worried about it. The teraphim was the title to his family property.
Yes, the Nuzi tablets have given us much information about everyday life in the ancient world. These insights show that Genesis is very accurate in its portrayal of daily life in the time of Abraham and his descendants.
In the 19th century there were scholars like Julius Wellhausen, who said that nearly everything in Genesis was legend or folklore and not real history. But, with discoveries like the Nuzi tablets, we can see that the book of Genesis is accurate and credible.
Ancient Egypt, also known as the Land of the Pharaohs, often played a role in Bible history. The first time was when Abraham went down to Egypt in time of famine. Abraham and Sarah may have gazed in wonder at the pyramids
and the sphinx, already a thousand years old in their day, just as tourists do today.
Later in Genesis, Joseph was sold as a slave and then rose into power in Egypt. Then when famine came again to the land of Canaan, Jacob and his family went to Egypt and lived there.
There are tomb paintings in Egypt that show that it was not unusual for Semitic people, like Jacob's family, to turn to Egypt in time of famine (Genesis 42). Here is a tomb painting (20) from Beni Hasan which dates from the time of Abraham or earlier. It shows 37 Semitic people entering Egypt just like Genesis 46 tells us Jacob's family did.
Some of the men are carrying weapons.
They are followed by women and children.
The family of Jacob lived in Egypt for hundreds of years and they grew in number and then became slaves of the Egyptians.
One of the pharaohs during this period was Akhenaton who began to reign in 1369 B.C. Akhenaton is the only pharaoh in the long history of Egypt who believed in only one god.
Here is Akhenaton with his beautiful queen Nefertiti, worshipping the one god Aton under the image of the sun. We can only wonder if maybe the Israelite slaves somehow influenced this pharaoh to abandon the many gods of Egypt and worship only one god.
The son of Akhenaton was Tutankhamen more commonly known as King Tut. King Tut is the best known among the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, not because he was a great ruler, for he was not, but because his tomb is the only one discovered with its treasures intact. This mask, made of solid gold, covered the young pharaoh's mummy, and is one of the most beautiful pieces of art from the ancient world. Tutankhamen's throne was covered with gold and was decorated with beautiful gold art work on the back.
The treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamen have no direct relation to the Bible. But they do help us appreciate the faith of Moses. The Bible says "By faith, Moses considered the abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt". (Hebrews 11:26)
Oh! The treasures of Egypt! Tutankhamen and Moses lived within 100 years of one another. The treasures of Tutankhamen show the dazzling wealth of ancient Egypt, wealth that Moses might have had.
The ancient Egyptians had a saying, "To speak the name of the dead is to make him live again." In this sense, Tutankhamen lives today as people look in wonder at his treasures.
But Abraham, Joseph and Moses also live again. Thanks to the discoveries of Archaeology, these men of the Old Testament rise from the past. They live again as real people, and the Bible continues to live as a trustworthy record of the work of God in ages past.
Original text and slides from "Proof from the Past: How Archaeology Confirms the Bible", ©1979 Religious Services Company, Inc. Used by permission. Various edits and new audio recordings by the Bible Study Center 2006-2014.
The Bible Study Center
C. C. Regis Building
N. Bacalso Avenue, Corner Eucalyptus
Basak San Nicholas
6000 Cebu City, Philippines
(+63) (32) 414-6311
Monday through Friday:
1:00 PM - 7:00 PM