This question has been asked many times over the years and will no doubt continue to be asked until the Lord Jesus returns. For some, the answer is simple – of course it can: it is the word of God. For others, the issue is not so straightforward. The accuracy of the Bible is constantly under attack, especially in the media. Such attacks can bedeeply unsettling for believers if we do not have the wherewithal to combat them or else a faith that will hold unshakeably to the accuracy of scripture despite apparent evidence to the contrary. Not only is the Bible itself under attack, but we, as Christians, are described as ‘brainwashed’ or ‘blinkered’ for believing it. What do we reply? What answers do we have? How can we help those who are wavering? The purpose of this article is to provide some suggestions that we trust will be of help.
Over the centuries, all sorts of things have been called into question about the historical accuracy of the Bible. The existence of Hezekiah’s tunnel, for example, was doubted, until its discovery in 1838.1 Not only was the tunnel itself discovered but there was an inscription on the wall inside that gave details of its construction and which enabled archaeologists to date the tunnel securely to Hezekiah’s time. Indeed, over the past two hundred years there has been an explosion of information relating to places (and people) mentioned in the Bible arising from extensive archaeological excavations at various sites in the land of Israel and elsewhere. Not only does this mean that we are able to get a flavour of what life was like in Bible times but kings and other characters, particularly from the period of the divided kingdom, have stepped out from the pages of scripture firmly onto the pages of history. Sceptics who questioned whether they ever existed have been forced to change their tune. The growth of the internet, too, has meant that a lot of this information has become much more accessible to the general public. It should be said that we will never be able to recover a complete picture of the past: for example, some sites are still inhabited, especially Jerusalem, which means that it is only possible to dig in certain areas. In other cases, later occupation or natural processes have erased what was there before. The result is a jigsaw with many of the pieces missing. However, the picture that emerges both complements and confirms the Biblical record. In a later article we will look at textual evidence and its implications. For now we will concentrate on bricks and mortar, so to speak.
Two periods of biblical history that have been the focus of particular scepticism are the periods of the united monarchy under David and Solomon and the conquest of Canaan under Joshua. For many years it has been claimed that David and Solomon are fictional characters who never really existed and that there was no conquest, no fall of Jericho, and so on. Such claims, if left unchallenged, are unnerving at the least and we do well to question the basis of them. In essence, the first is based on a lack of information, that is, ‘we haven’t found it yet,so it isn’t there, therefore the Bible must be wrong’. The second, as we will see, is based on a misreading and misapplication of what has already been discovered, leading to the wrong conclusions.
However, even if it is true that we do not have the seal of either David or Solomon ora contemporary inscription detailing their exploits2 there is still evidence, already discovered and still emerging, that supports the biblical account. For example, in 1 Kings chapter 9 verse 15 it says that Solomon built ‘the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer’. We have already noted the difficulties associated with excavations in Jerusalem itself. However, there are no such difficulties in the other three places mentioned, and, at all three, similar, massive six-chambered gate structures have been found, which can be dated to the correct time period.
1 Kings also speaks of chariots and horsemen that Solomon amassed and placed in various cities throughout his kingdom, 1 Kgs. 10. 26.One prime location for this would be Megiddo and, once again, this is borne out by the discovery of stables there, which have been dated to Solomon’s time.3. Despite the difficulties associated with digging in Jerusalem, even here there are relevant points of interest. The so-called ‘stepped stone structure’, uncovered on the eastern side of the City of David, is probably the ‘millo’ mentioned at various points, 2 Sam. 6. 9; 1 Kgs. 9. 24; 2 Chr. 32. 5, constructed to support the public buildings on top of the hill. Indeed, it is on top of the hill that we have perhaps the most exciting find of recent years, and it is also a classic example of what is possible if we are prepared to take the Bible at face value. In February 2005 an Israeli archaeologist, Dr Eilat Mazar went in search of the palace of King David in Jerusalem, using 2 Samuel chapter 5 as her guide. In verse 17 it states that when the Philistines came against David he ‘went down to the hold’. ‘The hold’ is the original Jebusite citadel otherwise known as ‘Zion’, or the ‘city of David’, vv. 7, 9. When Hiram of Tyre sent workmen to build David a palace they would have built it outside the cramped confines of the old fortress as part of a new expansion. When danger threatened, however, he would have moved into the fortress for safety. The phrase ‘went down’ suggests that the new site was higher up the hill. Based on these deductions she started digging and found a substantial monumental building, the walls of which were up to seven metres thick in places. Is it David’s palace? Probably, but we don’t know for sure yet. It certainly looks to be about the right age but, as usual, it is the subject of intense debate and controversy. Mazar has been severely criticized for her faith in the biblical text, but once again the accuracy of scripture even down to the tiniest details can be seen. One further point of interest about this building is that from it was recovered the bull a (seal) of a man called Jehucal, son of Shelemiah, son of Shevi. This man is mentioned twice in Jeremiah, 37. 3; 38. 1, and was apparently one of the men responsible for putting Jeremiah in the dungeon.
Nowhere is the accuracy of scripture more beautifully seen than at Jericho. This site reinforces biblical rather than secular chronology and incidental details from excavations here tie in precisely with the account in the book of Joshua. Let us turn first of all to the Bible to establish a time frame for our investigation and to see exactly what we should expect to find.
In 1 Kings chapter 6 verse 1 it is recorded that Solomon began to build the temple in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel had left Egypt, in the fourth year of his reign. This means, then, that the fall of Jericho took place 440 years before Solomon, thus roughly about 1450 BC. Those who deny that there is any evidence for the conquest of Jericho by Joshua usually date it much later, during the time that Jericho was unoccupied. We shall see, however, that there is plenty of evidence for the fall of Jericho at the time that the Bible says. Of the cities in Canaan the account of the spies was that they were ‘great and walled up to heaven’, Deut. 1. 28. Of Rahab’s house it records that her house was ‘upon the town wall’, Josh. 2.15, which could otherwise be translated ‘in’ or ‘against’ the wall.4 What does this mean, exactly? When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan it was ‘the time of harvest’, Josh.3. 15. When the Lord is giving instructions to Joshua, He says, ‘The wall of the city shall fall down flat (lit.‚ Äúunder it‚ Äù), and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him’ (predicted in Joshua chapter 6 verse 5, fulfilled in Joshua chapter 6 verse 20). Finally,the city was ‘burnt with fire’, Josh. 6. 24.
In the picture we can see an artist’s reconstruction of part of the north side of Jericho from around the fifteenth to sixteenth century BC, based on the German excavations of 1906-07. From it we can notice a few things. First, we can see that the city was constructed on a mound and was surrounded by two walls with houses in between and against the outer wall. This explains the location of Rahab’s house – it was between the inner and the outer walls, presumably against the outer wall. The city would have been an impressive sight. There was a steep, stone retaining wall at the bottom 4-5m (13-19 feet) high, topped by a mud-brick wall 2m thick and 6-8m (20-26feet) high. A great earthen embankment led up to the inner mud-brick wall, the crest of which would have been 14m (46 feet) above ground level. For anyone looking on from outside it would indeed have looked like the city was ‘walled up to heaven’. It was also virtually impregnable. The city had a population of around 1200, which would have swollen considerably when the surrounding villages fled there in the face of the impending Israelite invasion.
How were the Israelites to get in? How were they to get past the first wall, let alone make it up the slope to the second? The famous archaeologist, DAME KATHLEEN KENYON, found ‘fallen red bricks piling nearly to the top of the revetment [that is, the stone retaining wall]. These probably came from the wall on the summit of the bank [and/or]the brickwork above the revetment’. That is,the walls fell down, filled up the gap and the Israelites were able to climb straight up over the debris and into the city. The impregnable city had, in one moment been laid wide open.
Within the city itself the excavators found jar upon jar of grain, consistent with the account that it was harvest time. The grain would have been laid up for a long siege. It is strange, in fact, that there should be any grain there at all – it would have been one of the first things that a conquering army would have looted. Yet, according to scripture, nothing was taken from Jericho except the precious metals, which were placed in the treasury of the Lord’s house, Josh. 6. 24. This is not the only noteworthy thing about the grain: it was all charred,consistent with the city having been burned with fire.
In the course of the conquest of Canaan the Israelites captured Hazor and ‘burnt it with fire’, Josh. 11. 11. Evidence of destruction by fire has been recovered from Hazor from the same time period.
What can we conclude, then, from this study? We have seen, I trust, striking evidence not just for the general historicity of our Bible but its absolute accuracy on points of detail. We will never have concrete archaeological evidence for every event and time period of biblical history – the rising water table in Babylon means that we will never be able to recover the tower of Babel, for example – but for those periods and events for which we do have evidence, when we stick to what it actually says, we find that we can trust the Bible in every detail.
For Bible references to this tunnel see 2 Kgs. 20.20; 2 Chr. 32. 30.
For a helpful article and pictures seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hezekiah%27s_Tunnel.
The ‘house of David’, referring to David’s dynasty is mentioned in an inscription from Tel Dan and is quite possibly contained in the inscription of Mesha, king of Moab. For further information for convenience see the Wikipedia articles online on both inscriptions. David is thereby confirmed as an historical figure even without further discoveries.Although not without controversy, some would date them to Ahab’s reign. Some would deny that they are stables at all and call them storehouses, but they contain feeding troughs and tethering posts which fit better with stables.
‘built into the city wall’ ESV, ‘part of the city wall’ NIV.