Is the Bible Historically Accurate?

August 31, 2007 at 10:59 am 23 comments

PotteryEarlier we discussed the mystery of over 2 million Jews spending 40 years making an 11 day trip and leaving behind no evidence.

On a recent post, I once again got on my soapbox on the atrocities attributed to YHWH in the Old Testament. In response to this, Kim said:

Though this is a discussion for another topic, the irony of all these tales of genocide, ethnic cleansing, gore and murder in the Bible is that most of them never happened. There is absolutely no archaeological evidence to support these event ever occured. These tales were written in the 7-9th century BC by priestly class trying to develop a national identity for a people who were struggling for existance amid the cultural crossroads of several very dominant empires.

I Googled this topic and discovered the article Archeology and Biblical Accuracy by Farrel Till on infidels.org. Here are a few quotes from this article:

… The fact is that some archaeological discoveries in confirming part of the Bible simultaneously cast doubt on the accuracy of other parts. The Moabite Stone, for example, corroborates the biblical claim that there was a king of Moab named Mesha, but the inscription on the stone gives a different account of the war between Moab and the Israelites recorded in 2 Kings 3. Mesha’s inscription on the stone claimed overwhelming victory, but the biblical account claims that the Israelites routed the Moabite forces and withdrew only after they saw Mesha sacrifice his eldest son as a burnt offering on the wall of the city the Moabites had retreated to (2 Kings 3:26-27). So the Moabite Stone, rather than corroborating the accuracy of the biblical record, gives reason to suspect that both accounts are biased. Mesha’s inscription gave an account favorable to the Moabites, and the biblical account was slanted to favor the Israelites. The actual truth about the battle will probably never be known.

Other archaeological discoveries haven’t just cast doubt on the accuracy of some biblical information but have shown some accounts to be completely erroneous. A notable example would be the account of Joshua’s conquest and destruction of the Canaanite city of Ai. According to Joshua 8, Israelite forces attacked Ai, burned it, “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants,” and made it a “heap forever” (vs:26-28). Extensive archaeological work at the site of Ai, however, has revealed that the city was destroyed and burned around 2400 B. C., which would have been over a thousand years before the time of Joshua…

…The work of Kathleen Kenyon produced similar results in her excavation of the city of Jericho. Her conclusion was that the walls of Jericho were destroyed around 2300 B. C., about the same time that Ai was destroyed. Apparently, then, legends developed to explain the ruins of ancient cities, and biblical writers recorded them as tales of Joshua’s conquests. Information like this, however, is never mentioned by inerrantists when they talk about archaeological confirmation of biblical records…

Of course, there were numerous websites touting the accuracy of the Bible by citing Archeological discoveries.

– The de-Convert

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23 Comments Add your own

  • 1. cragar  |  August 31, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    If you read JW literature (the Watchtower, Awake) they LOVE to point out when archeologists find something to support part of the bible. And then they conveniently leave out anything that may falsify it. So if you are a person that doesn’t do much research yourself, you will just go by what they say. Not to mention they discourage you from reading anything that may be “apostate” material.

    Another thing is they love to bring up piltdown man, yet I can’t find anything in their pamphlets discussing Lucy.

  • 2. The de-Convert  |  August 31, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    I remember when a reference to King David was found and the Christian community saw one more reason to believe the Bible to be accurate. My thought was… wait a minute… of all the Kings of Israel, one would think that proof of David would be a given. However there are more evidence to the more obscure rulers than of David. It does make sense though since the David stories were so fantastic.

    Paul

  • 3. Epiphanist  |  August 31, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Some people maintain that it is hypocritical to accept some parts of the bible, and not others because you cannot be a true believer unless you have embraced the entire dogma. The rule is applied to other belief systems as well, for example they would assert that you couldn’t find something attractive and meaningful in Buddhism without accepting the whole religion. This way of thinking is a myth, just like inerrancy. Gods of war were popular back in the good old days, Greeks had Ares, Romans had Mars. No one would have gone out to battle if they thought their war god was a weakling. Better to stir up the young warriors with a few tales of triumph and victory and throw in some threats of disciplinary action for good measure.

  • 4. Mike  |  August 31, 2007 at 9:00 pm

    The de-Convert, I really enjoy the research you do in writing your articles and while previously unaware of some of the examples you brought to light in this article, I am curious to learn more about them.

    I couldnt help but notice that you did not really go into detail about any of the archeological finds that support biblical depiction. I realize that the nature of this site is to provide a voice outside and apart from the dogmatic claims of the church, but I would have thought you might provide a more fleshed out version of the other side of the argument. I didnt know if you were trying to do that with your follow-up comment, but I was just curious.

  • 5. The de-Convert  |  August 31, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    Mike,

    Blog entries need to be short and sweet and really just the start of a discussion. Hence they won’t ever be comprehensive. I’m more of a conversational writer anyway instead of academic. I leave that up to some of the others. I find that you can spark some great discussion with very simple entries.

    To your point, I believe that there is evidence to support certain historical facts in the Bible. However, that doesn’t make the Bible itself accurate. For example, I could write a Western novel and reference actual places and people in the old West but the entire story be fabricated. A few hundred years from now, my book would be Archaeologically accurate but not a true story.

    It seems as if the Bible authors took real people, stories, legends, etc. are rewrote history to favor their own people and further their religious beliefs. Hence one may find the walls of Jericho but the timeline is different as to when the walls fell and the circumstances surrounding their fall.

    Paul

  • 6. Tony Bennett  |  September 1, 2007 at 3:03 am

    It’s amazing how people who oppose the Bible latch on to any apparent fact that claims to disprove the Bible. The de-Convert, your claim that Kathleen Kenyon dated the destruction of the walls at Jericho at 2,300 B.C. is hopelessely wrong.

    Look for example at this carefuly researched entry on Wikipedia:

    Walls of Jericho

    The Biblical account of the destruction of Jericho is found in the Book of Joshua. The Bible describes the destruction as having proceeded from the actions of Joshua, Moses’ successor. The Exodus is usually dated to the 13th century BC (based on Ussherian calculation) − according to interpretation of archaeological evidence from the Merneptah Stele followed by new settlements in the next century. At that time the Pharaoh of Egypt would be Ramses II. Alternatively, the exodus is dated to the 15th century BC − according to a prevailing Christian reckoning of biblical chronology, which is synchronized with several ancient calendars with astronomical observation.

    At that time the Pharaoh would be Thutmose III (1490-1430). Neither biblical chronology matches the popular interpretation of the archaeological evidence at Jericho.

    The Taking of Jericho, by Jean FouquetA destruction of Jericho’s walls dates archaeologically to around 1550 BC in the 16th century BC at the end of the Middle Bronze Age, by a siege or an earthquake in the context of a burn layer, called City IV destruction. Opinions differ as to whether they are the walls referred to in the Bible. According to one biblical chronology, the Israelites destroyed Jericho after its walls fell out around 1407 BC: the end of the 15th century.

    Originally, John Garstang’s excavation in the 1930s dated Jericho’s destruction to around 1400 BC, in confirmation, but like much early biblical archaeology, his work became criticised for using the Bible to interpret the evidence rather than letting the facts on the ground draw their own conclusions. Kathleen Kenyon’s excavation in the 1950s redated it to around 1550 BC, a date that most archaeologists support. [8] [9]

    In 1990, Bryant Wood critiqued Kenyon’s work after her field notes became fully available. Observing ambiguities and relying on the only available carbon dating of the burn layer, which yielded a date of 1410 BC plus or minus 40 years, Wood dated the destruction to this carbon dating, confirming Garstang and the biblical chronology. Unfortunately, this carbon date was itself the result of faulty calibration.

    In 1995, Hendrik J. Bruins and Johannes van der Plicht used high-precision radiocarbon dating for eighteen samples from Jericho, including six samples of charred cereal grains from the burn layer, and overall dated the destruction to an average 1562 BC plus or minus 38 years.(Radiocarbon Vol. 37, Number 2, 1995.) [10] [11] Kenyon’s date of around 1550 BC is widely accepted based on this methodology of dating. Notably, many other Canaanite cities were destroyed around this time.

  • 7. Stephen P  |  September 1, 2007 at 10:16 am

    While Wikipedia contains a lot of good information, it would be unwise to rely on it unconditionally, particularly with controversial subjects.

    According to Tim Callahan’s book “Secret Origins of the Bible”, Kenyon’s work did indeed date the destrution of the city at around 2300 BC. Anyone got access to the original papers to check what they actually say?

  • 8. superhappyjen  |  September 1, 2007 at 10:48 am

    For example, I could write a Western novel and reference actual places and people in the old West but the entire story be fabricated. A few hundred years from now, my book would be Archaeologically accurate but not a true story.

    Exactly. I’m amazed at how many of these people don’t seem to have heard of HISTORICAL FICTION, a whole genre with made up stories that are based on historical fact.

  • 9. Jim  |  September 1, 2007 at 10:53 am

    Interesting article.

    I want to point you all to this story from last year (“Town Unearths Colonial Slave Cemetery“), when a slave cemetery was lost, and then accidentally discovered, in New Hampshire. No one knew what happened to it. No one knew it was lost! No one was looking for it, they just happened to find it.

    I guess my point? Records of slaves aren’t kept up too well. Before this grave discovery, there would have been no evidence. Does that mean it didn’t happen?

    So the Bible asserts the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, and then traveled a long ways. But archeological evidence is waning. Does that mean it didn’t happen? If we Americans can lose track of slaves from a few hundred years ago, it’s more than possible for that to occur with slaves from the Old Testament.

  • 10. Heather  |  September 1, 2007 at 11:35 am

    But archeological evidence is waning. Does that mean it didn’t happen? If we Americans can lose track of slaves from a few hundred years ago, it’s more than possible for that to occur with slaves from the Old Testament.

    Doesn’t it go a bit beyond this, though? IN the original article, DagoodS said that he couldn’t find any records of the political or economic ramifcations of either the Exodus or the 10 Plagues. And these are 2 million people walking around somewhere for 40 years. Isn’t that supposed to leave some sort of trace? This wasn’t simply losing track of people: this involved killing all of Egypt’s firstborn, and didn’t it also cause Egypt to lose (at least according to the Bible) a huge prodcution source for them?

  • 11. Jim  |  September 1, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    I’m not an archeologist. I wonder if any of us are. But taking one person’s word for not finding anything and trumpeting it seems a double standard, the very thing some Christians are rightly denounced for.

    “DagoodS said that he couldn’t find any records of the political or economic ramifcations of either the Exodus or the 10 Plagues.”

    If you were a proud dynasty that had absolute rule over your nation and had a reputation to keep, would you keep a history of getting schooled by a people you held as slaves? There was no independent media at this time keeping track. Not surprising he couldn’t find any records.

    “And these are 2 million people walking around somewhere for 40 years. Isn’t that supposed to leave some sort of trace?”

    Not sure. Are we to assume it automatically would? Arid winds blow and shift all the time, covering tracks left days earlier. Just because one person hasn’t found anything doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or it didn’t happen.

    My earlier link to the cemetery story shows how easily it is to lose all record of a whole group of people in less than 300 years in America, where we keep track of so much. How much moreso it would be with additional time and distance, and in a completely different culture.

  • 12. Yenald Looshi  |  September 1, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    I found a good blog article on an archaeology blog while googling this some time back. Take a look at The Archaeology of Exodus.

    There are some decent references listed and I actually picked up the Bible Unearthed book after reading this article.

  • 13. Heather  |  September 1, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Jim,

    I don’t think it’s just taking one person’s word for it. From much of what I read, a lot of archeologists hold that Exodus did not literally happen. I don’t even think there’s a record that Egypt had the Hebrew slaves, period, at the time they were supposed to have them — and this isn’t just about the Hebrew slaves escaping, this is about having them at all, for as long as they were supposed to. And if the water turned to blood, and all the first-born sons were killed, that would’ve left some sort of trace in the records because of the economic effects and basic effects on society.

    Not sure. Are we to assume it automatically would? Arid winds blow and shift all the time, covering tracks left days earlier. Just because one person hasn’t found anything doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or it didn’t happen.

    It’s not just a matter of footprints. If we take a look at the link Yenald provided, it’s a matter of not finding shards of things used, or campsites, for a large group of people. Because again, there is a huge difference between 300 people and an entire society that requires food, campsites, travelling equipment, and is supposed to be in the same general area for at least 40 years before hitting the Promise Land.

  • 14. Mike  |  September 1, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Actually, there is an archeological dig in Goshen that has revealed a city-sized settlement of Asiatic origin. The timing dates to when the Jews are reported to have been in that location by scripture, and the descriptions of them being “asiatic” fits the language of the day for how the egyptians described the Jews.

  • 15. Tony Bennett  |  September 3, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    I take the point about Wikipedia, nevertheless that particular Wiki article about Jericho and Dame Kathleen Kenyon etc. is well researched and written up.

    For those who still have an open mind about the historical accuracy of the Bible, and want serious information about Jericho, Kathleen Kenyon’s findings, archaeological records which bear on Israelite history, including the time in the wilderness, Goshen (period of Egyptian slavery) and even pre-Goshen periods of Israelite history, you coud do worse than visit the article ‘A New Chronology’ at:

    http://debate.org.uk/topics/history/rohl-1.htm

    It prints out at 17 pages long. Every page has fascinating information to dwell on and maybe research further

  • 16. PsiCop  |  September 10, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Religionists and, particularly, Biblical literalists love to point out when “archaeology confirms the Bible.” But as in the Moabite stone example, the “confirmation” is not really there when you really look at it. The “James ossuary” episode a couple years back is another example … it turned out to have been fraudulent (i.e. it was a genuine 1st century ossuary but its inscription had been amended recently), but you will find people still committed to the view that it was real and that it confirms Jesus lived.

    Their problem is, even if the ossuary weren’t fraudulent, it would still prove nothing other than that there was a Joseph who had two sons, Jesus/Joshua and James/Jacob. It says nothing specifically about the Jesus that people worship today.

    The reason people do this, is ignorance. Despite the occidental world’s education system (or perhaps because of it!) people do not really understand ancient history or the meaning of an archaeological find. They hear a tiny piece of something, then imagine all sorts of other things about it, expanding it beyond its true nature, so it appears to “support” their beliefs.

    As someone with a degree in history, I know better. Historical and archaeological finds are subtle and surface appearances rarely play out fully. The cold hard fact is that history and archaeology, so far, do not in any way aver that the Bible stories are correct; the vast amount of Egyptian history we know, for example, makes the Exodus tale impossible. It is also unlikely that the ancestors of the Hebrews (represented in the OT by Abraham) migrated from a long distance … they were most likely native Canaanites, albeit a semi-nomadic tribe which roamed around the Levant as conditions forced them to. There was no warfare involved in them taking over Canaan; they simply overran the natives (socially, not militarily) and absorbed them.

    Having said that, totally dismissing the Bible as a historical tool is foolish. There are a number of things which the Bible has shown to have existed. One are the Hittites (Khatti in the OT), whose inscriptions were found c. the turn of the 20th century. There are some other things which the Bible has helped us understand when nothing else helped. But the uncovering of HIttites, while widely interpreted as having “confirmed” the Bible, is like the Moabite stone, a two-edged sword: What we have found out about the Hittites is that they ran a massive empire which at different points stonewalled the Egyptians and overran the Babylonians, yet the OT mentions of them do not in any way suggest they had any supremacy in the Levant (they did, in fact, have such supremacy leading up to and shortly after the Battle of Kadesh c. 1,275 BCE). In other words … the Bible ought to have had a lot more to say about them, but it doesn’t.

    On the one hand, I love it when religionists declare that some historical or archaeological finding has “confirmed” the Bible, since they are usually wrong about that; but on the other, I don’t like it, because most people are not informed enough … and don’t even care enough … to realize this. Very few people have enough historical knowledge to know better. Thus, most people are fooled.

  • 17. karen  |  September 10, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    On the one hand, I love it when religionists declare that some historical or archaeological finding has “confirmed” the Bible, since they are usually wrong about that; but on the other, I don’t like it, because most people are not informed enough … and don’t even care enough … to realize this. Very few people have enough historical knowledge to know better. Thus, most people are fooled.

    Well, that’s par for the course, given how easily most people are fooled in general, whether it’s about religion, ESP, UFOs, mystical healing, or general con artistry. What did wise old P.T. Barnum say? ;-)

    Every objective historical source I have read confirms what you say about archeology not backing up Biblical “history.” Yet true believers seemingly will never stop grasping at straws, twisting the details and trying to fit round pegs into square holes in the attempt to “prove” their beliefs are accurate.

    Time to bring out my favorite quote:

    “Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” –Demosthenes

  • 18. Stephen P  |  September 11, 2007 at 11:57 am

    For those who … want serious information … you coud do worse than visit the article ‘A New Chronology’ at: http://debate.org.uk/topics/history/rohl-1.htm

    Well, I’ve been through it, and even with my limited knowledge of the subject found some sections in it that seemed pretty curious and unlikely. On researching further, I see that the book I mentioned earlier gives several reasons for doubting Rohl’s work. And there are several relevant articles online as well, such as Rohls Chronology Deconstructed and Pharaohs and the Bible.

    So I’m not at all convinced that “serious information” is a good description.

  • 19. christian  |  September 28, 2007 at 10:07 am

    i’m not a archaeologist.
    But considering archaeologist opinion about exodus who claimed that bible fact aboout is fiction are fool.
    the reason :
    1)If you are christian or not, see the Jesus existence, if He is really-really exist, and i think most of archaeologist think that He really lived on earth, we must be convinced about His teaching, that talked about Moses that the Archaeologist thought never happened.
    2)If i really lived maybe 1800 BCyears ago and died in around egypt or when i exit from egypt, and i leaved some artefact or bronze or somethings like this when i died, and if i am israel, then someone for another country brought my bronze to another country (called “country A) in 1700 BC, then archaeologist shall say that i’m from country A. What a funny things.
    3) It is foolish things to investigations human that 3800 years ago compare to israel that only took 40 years in wilderness and about 400 years in egypt. in physics lecture,
    4) there are many many many reasons for this.
    My reason maybe : why there are not documentation about israel slavery in egypt (maybe the excavation only 2% by archaeologist) because the disaster toward egypt by God of Israel is most horroble event to them.
    5)Many archaelogist was frustrated when they could find something sensational or special.
    6) Investigation Bible completely,ok.

    tian

  • 20. rafe white  |  December 15, 2010 at 7:47 am

    1/10th of the supposed # of jews taken out of the egyptian economy would have left a huge hole. no amount of political coverup could have hidden from neighboring countries or trade partners. there were many historians back then. Other countries leaders hungry for a sign of weakness. the would have spies.
    even the reduced # of jews leave alot of evidence wandering around a relatively small area for 40 years. resourses would have
    been decimated.(locusts) Fire wood. massive pottery works. show me one of the huge latrines. thats alot of poop in a day. they had to steal alot (or trade) when they weren’t slaughtering the rightfull owners of the lands they wandered though.
    They couldnt cover up the effects let alone the actual plagues.
    there would have been non egyptian witnesses. ambassiders
    trade caravans, hell, tourists. And 40 years of border incursions and caravan / village plundering, SOMEONE WOULD HAVE NOTICED.

    I would be ashamed and horrified to think that my god punished men women and children for 40 years. AND ordered the slaughter of untold thousands of men women and children over and over for 40 years. I wish someone would prove it didnt happen and that god is loving and forgiving.

  • 21. LRP55  |  May 6, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    I just wanted to point out that the first instance given regarding the king of Moab doesn’t prove historical inaccuracy of the biblical account but only that there is an account that seems to disagree. Often if you talk to two different people witnessing the same event you can have two very different stories even though they will both believe that they are accurate describing what happened. This is where perspectives come in.
    And with both the Joshua stories, it seems more than a coincidence that archeology dated them around the same time. Wouldn’t it make sense that the dating is off either on when Joshua lived or when these cities were destroyed. Methods of dating have been know to be flawed before (such as carbon dating… but we won’t get into that).

  • 22. Joey LoForti  |  July 18, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I know very little about history but I certainly hope the Old testament is nor true. I don’t know why so many people want to believe in a God who ordered his children the Jews to commit genocidal atrocities over and over again. If the bible was proven to be true all it would prove is that God is evil and hypocritical for saying, “thou shalt not kill” and then turning around and telling his people to kill men women and little babies without any mercy. Why do Christians even want to believe in a God that would send good people to everlasting damnation just because of the “sin” of unbelief. There has to be a better God than this biblical God. God is Love right?

  • 23. cag  |  July 19, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Joey #22 – not to worry, there are no gods. There is no better god than the biblical god, as no gods exist. God is love non-existent. Right!

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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