Christians who believe in the Biblical Inerrancy try sometimes to justify their faith by using archaeological evidence to prove the historical accuracy of the Bible. The results leave much to be desired. One such Christian directed my attention to this website, so I will deal with their claims in detail.
In Genesis 40 we are told how Joseph interpreted the dream of Pharaoh’s butler. In this dream grapes are mentioned. But the ancient historian, Herodotus, states that the Egyptians grew no grapes and drank no wine, and many therefore questioned the accuracy of the biblical account. However, paintings discovered on the ancient Egyptian tombs, show the dressing, pruning, and cultivating of the vines, and also the process of extracting the juice of grapes, as well as scenes of drunkenness. There can be little doubt then that Herodotus was wrong and the Bible right.
This is basically a straw man. Herodotus is not known for historical accuracy, especially about the areas he never visited himself and reports things second-hand even when they contradict each other. No modern historian would rely on Herodotus alone.
Forty-eight times in the Scriptures, a people called the Hittites are mentioned. We find them blocking Israel’s path as it sought to enter the promised land. We read of Uriah, the Hittite, whom David sent to his untimely death. However, in all the records of antiquity, not a reference to those people was to be found, and therefore, the skeptics attributed them to the (sic) imagination and fiction. In 1876, George Smith, began a study of monuments at a place called Djerabis in Asia Minor. This city proved out to be old Carchemish, a capital of the ancient Hatti. We now know that the Hatti were the Hittites of the Bible, who, according to Prof. A.H. Sayce, “contended on equal terms with both Egypt and Assyria.” The Hittites not only proved to be a real people, but their empire was shown to be one of the great ones of ancient times.
The problem with this claim is that while the Hittite Empire was a historical reality, not all the references in the Bible are about the Anatolian Hittites. The majority of the references are to a Canaanite people, bənê-ḥēṯ, first mentioned in the Patriarchal narratives of Abraham and his family. The names of these Hittites are from a Semitic language: Ephron at Gen 23:8-17, Judith at Gen 26:34 and Zohar at Gen 23:8. The Hittite language was Indo-European, so clearly these names are not Anatolian Hittite. Moreover, when the reference is to the Anatolian Hittites, they are not called bənê-ḥēṯ, but haḥitîm, so the confusion should not even be possible, were the Biblical transcription of these names in translations even remotely accurate. We do not have any historical corroboration of this Canaanite hill people, so the attempt to prove the accuracy of the Bible by confusing the two Hittites is disingenuous at best.
In Isaiah 20:1, we read, “In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him)…” This is the only mention of King Sargon in the Bible, and the only one in ancient literature. His place in history was severely questioned on this account. But in the years, 1842-1845, P.E. Botta, uncovered the tremendous royal palace of Sargon. Among the other things discovered was an account of the siege of Ashdod mentioned in Isaiah. Once more the Bible was right, the critics wrong.
I really have to wonder about the straw man building of the writer here. Nobody today would deny that Sargon II (Šarru-kên), 722 – 705 BCE, is a real historical figure, since we have excavated his capital, modern-day Khorsabad, and have original texts from his era. All this proves is that the scientific study of history is self-correcting – which is far more than what I can say about fundamentalist claims.
Genesis 7 and 8 tell us of the destruction of the world by a great flood. To many, the story of the flood is actually a recording of ancient myths. However, we have much evidence outside the Bible to show that the flood was a reality and that the Bible is true. Notice the flood traditions of ancient peoples. One scholar lists 88 different traditional accounts. Almost all of these agree that there was a universal destruction of the human race and all living creatures by a flood. Almost all agree that an ark or a boat was the means of escape. Almost all are in accord in saying that a seed of mankind was left to perpetuate the race. Many add that wickedness of man brought about the flood. Some even mention Noe. Several speak of the dove and the raven, and some discuss a sacrifice offered by those who were saved. To anyone familiar with the biblical account, the similarity is astounding. The universality of this tradition is such as to establish that the biblical flood was not a figment of someone’s imagination.
Crucial evidence for a universal flood is sorely missing, such as a global flood layer datable to 2348 BCE (the date comes from the AiG website). There are a few other tiny problems associated with this date as well, such as that only 14 years after the flood, in 2334 BCE, Sargon (Šarru-kīnu) I the Great began his empire-building. Where did he and his Akkadians come from in such a short time, not to mention the pretty large population (the size of the sites and catchment analysis show that these two cities had a population in excess of 100,000 during Sargon’s era) of the Sumerian city-states, such as Lagaš and Uruk, that he conquered? Also, the Egyptians must have been the best divers in recorded history, since they went on happily building the pyramid complex of Saqqara (in use between c.3000-100 BCE) during this time, not caring that the site would have been very deep under water. Moreover, as the oldest known papyrus scroll comes from Saqqara and is dated to c. 2900 BCE, how did it survive the alleged inundation? Papyrus disintegrates in water.
As for the flood legends of various ancient peoples, since most ancient civilizations were born in river valleys, floods would have been a regular event. It is no stretch of imagination that people who experienced devastating floods every so often would come up with a myth of a flood covering the entire known world.
Starting in 1929, Dr. John Garstang, excavated the ruins of ancient Jericho. His discoveries corresponded remarkably with the Biblical account. Jericho, he found, had a double wall, with houses built across the two walls. This explains how Rahab’s house could have been built upon a wall. He learned that the wall was destroyed by some kind of violent convulsion such as that described in the Bible, and that when the wall feel that it fell outward, down the hillside, or as the Bible says, it fell down flat. Had the wall been destroyed by the battering rams of an enemy army, the walls would have fallen inward instead of outward. Furthermore, the city had been burned. Once again, the spade of archaeology has established the accuracy of the Bible.
First of all, there appears to be two different versions of the battle for Jericho by the Israelites. The more famous one, the one with the walls miraculously falling down, is found in Joshua chapter 6. There are quite a few problems with this narrative. After the city is named in the opening two verses of the chapter, Jericho is not mentioned again until verse 25. There is no reference of any king, and what is even more strange, there is no mention of any resistance by the city’s inhabitants.
The story in 24: 11, however, is a much more enigmatic narrative that links the defeat of Jericho with that of other peoples including the Amorites and Canaanites. In this passage there are specific mentions of the citizens of Jericho fighting against Israel (24: 11b). What is completely absent, however, are any mentions of marching around the city, sounding trumpets, walls coming down, rescue of the spies by a harlot, or imposition of the ban (6: 17). Incorporated in the larger Shechem Renewal Speech by the Biblical redactors, this version of the capture and destruction of Jericho comes from a very different tradition than the one used for Chapter 6. And, as usual, such discrepancies are a mark of rather clumsy redaction.
No matter what the origin of these stories is, they are shown to be based on inaccurate traditions when the archaeological data of Jericho are examined. Kathleen Kenyon – who was a devout Christian – did not find a city at Jericho at the end of Late Bronze, on the contrary, she discovered that Jericho was not even fortified at all during this era. All she could date with any certainty to this period was an oven and a small juglet found on a house floor dating to the 14th century BCE. This means that no Late Bronze Jericho of Biblical description could have existed here. The efforts by some Biblical literalists to explain this problem away by claiming that Tell es-Sultan is not the site of Jericho, or that the Late Bronze city has eroded away are not convincing in the slightest and amount to what one archaeologist has called “wishful thinking.” When combined with other archaeological data now known about Palestine at the end of the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age I – such as the complete lack of any city of Ai during this era for Joshua to conquer – the case for a historical Conquest becomes impossible.
What all of the above examples show is that Christian Apologists, when they attempt to use archaeological and historical evidence, must perforce resort to cherry-picking, straw men, inaccuracies, and plain willing ignorance – if not outright dishonesty. For this reason it is a good idea never to accept what websites like this one claim, but always to check from a reliable source, such as a scholarly work dealing with the area and period or a real academic website.
- P. Bienkowski: Jericho in the Late Bronze Age (Warminster 1986)
- K. Kenyon: Digging Up Jericho: The Results of the Jericho Excavations, 1952-1956 (London, 1957)
- A. Kuhrt: The Ancient Near East (London 1995)
- A. Mazar: Archaeology of the Lands of the Bible 10,000-586 BCE (Anchor Bible Reference Library, 1992)
- B. Metzger & M. Coogan (eds): The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford, 1993)
- How Creationists Lie To Us – 12 (rosarubicondior.blogspot.com)