Observations on life; particularly spiritual

History and prophecy

Massacres and miracles at Jericho

Jericho 1 400pxSome places are associated with massacres (like Srebrenica) and some with miracles (like Lourdes), but both occurred at ancient Jericho. Jericho in the Middle East is said to be one of the oldest settlements in the world. It’s also the lowest city in the world, being in the Jordan rift valley.

Jericho was a strategic location on the route from the fords of the Jordan river to Jerusalem. This route is part of an ancient route between the Kings Highway to the east and the Via Maris (way of the sea) to the west. These were the major ancient routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Jericho was one of the gateways to the land of Canaan. It was the access point to the hill country of Palestine from the Trans-Jordan, being 8km (5 miles) west of the Jordan river and 22km (14 miles) east-northeast of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem experiences a Mediterranean climate, but due to the “rain-shadow” effect, Jericho on a plain in the Jordan valley has low rainfall. Because of a spring it’s an oasis in a desert which has been called “the city of the palms” (Dt. 34:3; Jud. 1:16; 3:13; 2 Chr. 28:15NIV).

In this post we look at some historical events that have occurred at Jericho.

The promised land

The exodus was when the Israelites journeyed from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. The first mention of Jericho in the Bible is near the end of the journey when “the Israelites travelled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across from Jericho” (Num. 22:1). At this time Jericho was a fortified city occupied by the Canaanites.

Before their leader, Moses, died, he viewed the promised land from Mount Nebo, including  “the valley of Jericho, the city of palms” (Dt. 34:1-4). Jericho was central in the land that was occupied by the Israelites: between Hazor in the north and the Negev in the south and the Trans-Jordan towards  the east and the Cis-Jordan towards the west.

When the tribes of Israel were allocated land in Canaan, Jericho was in the territory occupied by the tribe of Benjamin. Jericho was near the boundary of Benjamin with Ephraim to the north (Josh. 18:12, 21). And the southern boundary of Benjamin was the Pass of Adummim (Josh 15:7) – the road from Jericho to Jerusalem goes up this ridge.

The Bible explains why the Canaanites were invaded and driven from their land. God told Abram that his descendants would be enslaved in Egypt for 400 years and after this “your descendants will come back here (Canaan), for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:13-16). The peoples of Canaan were dispossessed of their land as an act of God’s judgement when their sin had reached God’s limit (Dt. 9:4-6). They were guilty of idolatry, sexual immorality, religious prostitution, witchcraft, and child sacrifice (Lev. 18:24-27; Dt. 9:4-6; 18:9-12).

Joshua at Jericho (1410BC)

The Israelites entered the promised land by crossing the Jordan River near Jericho. Because Joshua and the Israelites followed the Lord’s instructions, God gave them a great victory over the fortified city of Jericho. It was a miracle that the walls of the city fell down when the army shouted. Jericho was destroyed and lacked walls and gates for centuries after this because Joshua placed a curse on whoever would rebuild them (Josh.6:26). Only Rahab and her family, who cared for the spies, were rescued and saved from the massacre (Josh. 6:22-23, 25).

So the city and its occupants were destroyed because of their wickedness. And God gave it to Israel as their first possession west of the Jordan river. This incident reminds us: that Joshua had faith in the true God but the Canaanites didn’t, that God judges people’s sin, and that salvation is available to the repentant.

Israel destroys Jericho (1375BC)

But later on Jericho was destroyed by the Israelites themselves! When the Israelites punished the Benjamites because of a rape and murder at Gilead, 25,000 of the Benjamites died in battle and the Israelites “put all the (Benjamite) towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire” (Jud. 20:48).

So there was another massacre in Jericho and the town was burnt once again. In this instance, God’s people also experienced God’s judgement.

Ehud at Jericho (1316BC)

When the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, Jericho was attacked and captured by the Moabites (Jud. 3:12-30) and Jericho was ruled by the Moabites for 18 years. After the Israelites cried out the Lord, He gave them a deliverer named Ehud. Ehud assassinated Eglon the king of Moab and “took possession of the fords of the Jordan that led to Moab” (Jud. 3:28). So the Moabites were defeated and Jericho was ruled by the Israelites once again.

So, when the Israelites turned away from God, Jericho was captured and ruled by foreigners. But the city was regained by Israel after they repented and prayed.

Up to this time, Jericho was a place of battles, massacres and destruction.

David’s men at Jericho (995BC)

When king David sent some men to the king of the Ammonites, the king shaved their heads and cut off half of their beards, humiliating David’s men (2 Sam. 10:1-5). So David instructed them to stay at Jericho until their beards had grown back. This means that Jericho was still occupied at this time although it had no city walls or gates.

Fortification of Jericho (850BC)

When the kingdom was split into Judah and Israel, they became more vulnerable to foreign invasion. Two such enemies were Moab and Ammon, just east of the Jordan river. That’s probably why the city walls and gates of Jericho were rebuilt (1 Ki. 16:34) as a fortified city in the time of King Ahab (about 850 BC). Jericho had lacked such fortifications for about 560 years. Was the fact that Jericho was now fortified why Moab and Ammon attacked Judah from the south rather than from the east (2 Chr. 20:1-26)?

Elisha at Jericho (850BC)

Idolatry was prevalent in the 9th century BC in the kingdom of Israel. Even king Ahab worshipped Baal (Canaanite storm god) and Asherah (Canaanite goddess of love and fertility) (1 Ki. 18:18-19). But there were 7,000 Israelites who didn’t worship Baal (1 Ki. 19:18). These people who worshipped the true God were probably led by prophets. Besides Elijah and Elisha, there were groups of prophets at Bethel and Jericho (2 Ki. 2:3, 5). The prophets from Jericho went with Elijah and Elisha to the Jordan river to witness the miracle by which Elijah and Elisha crossed the river. But only Elisha returned and he had Elijah’s coat which symbolized that he was succeeding Elijah. Elisha began his ministry at Jericho with a miracle turning brackish spring water into pure water (2 Ki. 2:18-22).

So at this time there was a group of godly people living at Jericho and the prophet Elisha performed a miracle there.

David and king Zedekiah at Jericho (976BC & 586BC)

In God’s covenant with Israel, if they disobeyed God they were to be driven from their land (Dt. 28:32-37). And this is what happened 680 years later (when the Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel) and 820 years later (when the Babylonians conquered the kingdom of Judah).

Two Jewish kings fled from Jerusalem to Jericho. When the Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed Jerusalem, the army and king Zedekiah escaped at night and fled towards the east. But the Babylonian army chased them and captured the king in the plains of Jericho (2 Ki. 25:3-6; Jer. 39:4-5; 52:8).  David made a similar trip when he escaped from Absalom in 976BC by travelling from Jerusalem to the Jordan river (2 Sam. 15:28-16:14).

After the Babylonian exile, in about 537BC, 345 men of Jericho returned to Judah (Ezra 2:34). And in 444BC, men from Jericho helped to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 3:2). This showed that there were still godly people living at Jericho 260 years after Elisha began his ministry and that they returned to live in Jericho after the exile.

Jesus at Jericho (AD30)

The Jericho of New Testament times was built by Herod about 2.4 km south of the ancient site. It was at the mouth of Wadi Qilt, which is the valley north of the Pass of Adummim. In the middle ages the crusaders built a town about 2 km east of the ancient site and the modern town has expanded to include the ancient site.

Jericho was on the route between Galilee and Jerusalem if you wanted to avoid travelling through Samaria. It is supposed that the sites of Christ’s baptism (at the Jordan river) and temptation (at a mountain west of Jericho) are near Jericho.

In the parable of the good Samaritan (Lk. 10:29-37), the traveller was attacked as he was going down from Jerusalem (797m above sea level) to Jericho (250m below sea level). The distance was about 29 km (18 miles) and the difference in altitude about 1050m. At that time, it was a narrow, winding mountainous trail or footpath through rocky desert terrain. And there were plenty of hiding places and escape routes for bandits. Robberies in the wild and lonely terrain were so frequent that a Roman garrison had to be stationed there to protect travellers.

On the trip to Jerusalem before His death, Jesus stayed at Jericho. This was where the tax collector Zacchaeus was converted (Lk. 19:1-10) and Bartimaeus was healed of blindness (Mk. 10:46-52). This healing seemed to have occurred after Jesus left ancient Jericho (Mt. 20:29; Mk. 10:46) and before He reached Herodian Jericho (Lk. 18:35). After this Jesus climbed the ascent to Bethany, Bethphage and Jerusalem.

Discussion

This history of Jericho began with a fortified city that was destroyed by God and ended with a fortified city that witnessed miracles of God. Between these times the city lacked fortifications and was destroyed and conquered. During this time period, Jericho was occupied by the Canaanites, the Israelites, the Moabites, the Israelites, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Seleucids and the Romans.

This reminds me of what Paul told the Athenians, “From one man He (God) made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:26-27). God determines the beginning and end of nations and the lands that they would occupy.

The incidents that happened at Jericho illustrate God’s supernatural power. The city walls fell when the army shouted. Ehud was able to assassinate Eglon. And Elisha and Jesus did miracles.

The people of Jericho were punished when their sins had reached God’s limit. In a coming day God will punish our sinful world because, “her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God remembers her evil deeds” (Rev. 18:5NLT). Meanwhile, on which side of the walls of Jericho are we?

Some of the occupants of Jericho were ungodly (the Canaanites, the Moabites, and the Israelites who disobeyed God by practicing idolatry) and some were godly (Elisha and the prophets, and the Jews who returned from the Babylonian exile). And some changed from being ungodly to godly (Rahab, the Israelites who repented of their idolatry, and Zacchaeus).

Lessons for us

Over the centuries, many things happened at Jericho – massacres, rescues and miracles. But it was always under God’s control. Likewise, many things happen in our lives. But we can be assured that God is in control.

Let’s trust God like Joshua, and change from our ungodly ways like Rahab and Zacchaeus. Paul told the Athenians how to do this by repenting of their ungodly ways by trusting in Jesus because “He (God) has set a day when He will judge the world (at the second coming of Christ) with justice by the man (Jesus) He has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him (Jesus) from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

Written, June 2018

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom


Noah: Fact or fiction?

Plagiarism 400pxPlagiarism involves stealing someone else’s work and using it without acknowledgement. Plagiarism checkers are available online. But when plagiarism is detected how can we determine which is the copied version? Or whether both were copied from another original. If we know when they were written, that could indicate that the most recent version is copy. The story of Noah’s flood in the Bible is like other ancient flood stories. People speculate about which was the original account or whether they were both derived from the same event.

The story

Because of the wickedness of humanity in antiquity, God destroyed the earth with a great flood but spared Noah and his family (Gen. 6-9). God told Noah to build a huge boat to carry two of every kind of animal. Then the earth was covered with water, drowning everyone and everything that once roamed the land. Noah, his family and the animals on the boat survived and repopulated the planet. An Israelite named Moses edited these records about Noah when he compiled Genesis about 1450BC (see Appendix A).

Many scholars think that this is a religious legend or myth that came from older Mesopotamian flood stories mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Their explanation is that over time the account of flooding by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may have been embellished. And according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Noah is a “symbolic figure”.

In this post, we will evaluate these claims by looking at what the Bible says about Noah. Was he a real historic person or is he symbolic or mythical? Did he live on earth or did he come from someone’s imagination? Is he literal or literary?

Old Testament

Noah is also mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 54, Isaiah predicts that Judah will be restored after it goes into captivity. “To me (God) this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you (Judah), never to rebuke you again” (Isa. 54:9). He recalls the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood (Gen. 8:21; 9:11). The restoration will be a new beginning with no more judgment, just like the covenant with Noah. This means that a Jewish prophet who lived about 700BC (about 750 years after Moses) believed the story about Noah and the flood. So, he confirmed that the account about Noah in Genesis was factual.

Ezekiel was a Jew taken into exile in Babylon in 597BC. In 591-592BC, he predicted the fall of Jerusalem and Judah (which occurred in 586BC).
“If a country (Judah) sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Or if I send wild beasts through that country (Judah) and they leave it childless and it becomes desolate so that no one can pass through it because of the beasts, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men (Noah, Daniel and Job) were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate.
Or if I bring a sword against that country (Judah) and say, ‘Let the sword pass throughout the land,’ and I kill its people and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men (Noah, Daniel and Job) were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved.
Or if I send a plague into that land (Judah) and pour out my wrath on it through bloodshed, killing its people and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness (Ezek. 14:13-20).
Because of their idolatry, God was going to bring “four dreadful judgments—sword (war) and famine and wild beasts and plague (disease)—to kill its (Judah’s) men and their animals” (Ezek. 14:21). These were the four main causes of death among peoples of the ancient Near East. This judgement would occur even if three righteous men like Noah, Daniel and Job lived in the land. Only the righteous would be saved; people couldn’t rely on another’s righteousness. This means that a Jewish prophet who lived about 590BC (about 860 years after Moses) believed that Noah was a righteous man, which is consistent with the account about Noah in Genesis.

In 1 Chronicles 1, the first 11 generations of humanity are given as, “Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. The sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth” (1 Chron. 1:1-4NIV). This means that the Jews who compiled this book in about 450BC (about 1,000 years after Moses) considered Noah to be in the 10th generation of humanity. So, they confirmed that the account about Noah in Genesis 5:28-32 was factual.

New Testament

Noah is mentioned in six passages written by Matthew, Luke, and Peter and in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. Luke confirms that Noah was in the 10th generation of humanity, “the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam” (Lk. 3:35-38). This was written about 1,500 years after Moses.

In Matthew 24, Jesus describes the behavior of people when He returns to establish His kingdom. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (Jesus). For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark (boat); and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt. 24:37-39). This is also recorded by Luke, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man (Jesus). People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all” (Lk. 17:26-27). As people were unprepared for the flood (they were outside the ark and they had no time for God), so they will be unprepared for the second coming of Christ (they will have no time for God). Only those trusting in Christ will be delivered when He returns. The rest will ignore God’s warnings and be judged like most of Noah’s generation. So, Jesus obviously believed that Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event.

Noah’s faith is commended in Hebrews. “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith” (Heb. 11:7). When warned about the coming flood, Noah “built an ark to save his family”. Perhaps many of the early Jewish Christians often wondered why they were such a small minority. The story of Noah reminded them of the time when only eight people trusted God while the rest died in the flood. Just as the other heroes of faith lived historically (such as “David, Samuel and the prophets”, v.32), Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event.

1 Peter 3 describes what happened in the days of Moses. “In which (by the Holy Spirit) He (Christ) went and made proclamation (through Noah) to the spirits [now] in prison (the unrighteous people in Noah’s day, who were now in hades waiting for the final judgment) who in the past were disobedient (to Noah’s preaching), when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water” (1 Pt. 3:19-20CSB). The Christians that this passage was written to were suffering. And they were a small minority. In these verses they were encouraged by the prospect of being saved from the coming judgment, just as eight people were in Noah’s day. Peter describes real people that were saved by a real ark.

2 Peter 2 gives examples of God’s judgment of sin including, “He (God) did not spare the ancient world when He brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others” (2 Pt. 2:5). Here we see that Moses warned the people to turn from their wickedness or face God’s judgment. Once again, Peter describes real people that were saved from a real flood.

Discussion

The method I have used to investigate whether Noah was a real person and the flood was a real event or just a mythical story to convey a message differs from the one used most commonly. I have studied what the Bible says about this topic, whereas others usually rely on scholarship outside the Bible. The problem with scholarship that is based outside the Bible (including literature and non-experimental historic science) is that it can change from year to year. What is claimed to be true now, will probably be discredited by future generations. Such knowledge is transient and changeable. And the interpretation of literary genres is very subjective. I prefer a more objective and robust approach that is based on Scriptural facts (the text of the Bible which is unchanging). The best way to interpret a Biblical passage is to investigate the text, the context, what the author says elsewhere and what other Bible authors say about the topic. This is the approach I have used in this post.

Depending on your worldview, you may not agree with my approach. But I think that a worldview based on revelation by the Creator of the universe is more reliable than one based on naturalistic human scholarship.

We have seen that the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah and Ezekiel) believed the story about Noah and the flood. As they lived over 2,600 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

And the Old Testament Jews who compiled scripture believed that Noah was a real person (1 Chron. 1:1-4). As they lived over 2,400 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

And the writers of the New Testament (Matthew, Luke, Peter and the author of Hebrews) believed that Noah was a real person. Jesus also believed that Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event. As they lived over 1,950 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

Are the Mesopotamian flood stories mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh older than the biblical flood story? Many scholars believe the Mesopotamian stories are older because they assume that Genesis was compiled in the 6th century BC. They ignore the fact that Moses compiled Genesis about 1450BC (see Appendix A). According to the Bible, Noah lived in the 3rd millennium BC. And according to scholars, Gilgamesh lived in the 3rd millennium BC. So they could possibly be describing the same event.

Implications

We have seen that the Genesis flood was an historical event which shows that people are habitual sinners who disobey God and deserve judgment. God hates sin and His patience comes to an end when He punishes unrepentant sinners. But God protects those who trust in Him. This shows that sin has consequences, and judgment is coming. If it wasn’t a real event, then its significance is reduced.

Jesus and Peter likened the flood to God’s coming judgment of the ungodly. The reality of the flood should warn us of the reality of the coming judgment by fire (2 Pt. 3-13). The account of Noah and the flood shows the prospect of being saved from God’s judgment. As the example of Noah was a real event, so there is a real prospect of being saved from God’s judgment. Trusting in Jesus is like being on the ark. But if the account of Noah is mythical and not historic, then it would be a weaker example of deliverance.

Noah lived by faith. He trusted in the revelation his generation had received about God. Since that time, we have much more revelation about God (see the remainder of the Bible). Do we live by faith in what Jesus has done in taking the punishment we all deserve for our sinfulness?

Conclusion

The Old Testament Jews believed that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events. Also, Jesus, Matthew, Luke, Peter and the author of Hebrews all believed that that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events.

Therefore, we should also believe that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events. So, Noah was a person who lived on earth, and he wasn’t symbolic or mythical nor did he come from someone’s imagination. He is literal and not literary.

Appendix A: When was Genesis compiled?

There is no mention in the book of Genesis of the name of its complier. But because the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is called “the law of Moses” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, many believe that it was Moses (1 Ki. 2:3; Lk. 2:22). When he was leading Israel, Joshua said that “the book of the law of Moses” was already written (Josh. 1:7-8; 8:30-31).

Jesus referred to the three parts of the Jewish Old Testament as “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Lk. 24:44). This makes Moses the author of the first part of the Old Testament.

First century Jews said that circumcision was a “custom taught by Moses” (Acts15:1) and “Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs)” (Jn. 7:22). This may refer to the introduction of male circumcision for the descendants of Abraham in Genesis 17.

The Bible says that “the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel” was “the 480th year after the Israelites came out of Egypt” (1Ki. 6:1). Since the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel was about 966BC, the date of the exodus was about 1446BC. It’s most likely that Moses wrote most of the Pentatuech during the 40year period (about 1446-1406BC) when Israel travelled from Egypt to Canaan. As it refers to earlier events, it is possible that Genesis was compiled before the exodus.

Who wrote the original account about Noah? Based on the structure of Genesis, it seems that Noah wrote Genesis 5:1b-6:9a, which ends with “This is the account of Noah and his family”. And his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth probably wrote Genesis 6:9b-10:1a, which ends with “This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth”. These may have been written on clay tablets in the 3rd millennium BC .

Written, May 2018

Also see: Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?
Genesis 1-11: Fact of fiction?
In six days?


Lessons from Sodom

Sodom 1 400pxOften someone with a brain injury has no outward physical signs of injury, and may have trouble convincing others that they do have a disability. It’s common for family, employers and friends to not understand there are problems when they can’t see any physical evidence. They don’t believe that there is a brain injury and think it’s a weak excuse for inappropriate behavior. Some people also doubt God’s judgment. They don’t believe that it will ever happen and think that hell is an imaginary place. But an incident in the Bible shows that God does indeed judge the ungodly.

Lot’s bad decision

Lot was Abram’s nephew who travelled with him to live in Canaan about 3,900 years ago (Gen. 12:4-5). After there was conflict between their herders, Abram suggested that they live in separate places and he let Lot choose first. Lot decided to live near the city of Sodom on the well-watered plain near the Dead Sea, while Abram lived as a nomad in the hills of Canaan (Gen. 13:10-13).

This turned out to be a bad choice by Lot. We have a foretaste of this as we are told “Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13NIV).

Temptation from Sodom

Later there was a war and Lot and his possessions were captured and taken northwards towards Damascus (Gen. 14:1-24). When Abram heard about this he took a band of men and rescued Lot and his possessions. When they returned the king of Sodom said that Abram could keep the possessions he had recovered as a reward. But Abram resisted this temptation.

Abram pleads for Sodom

When Abraham was told that God was going to destroy Sodom because of their wickedness and sinfulness, Abraham negotiated with God, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:23-25). God responded, “If I find 50 righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake”. Then Abram said what about 45 righteous people? Then he progressively reduced the number to 40, 30, 20, and finally 10. And God said, “For the sake of 10 (righteous people), I will not destroy it (Sodom)” (Gen. 18:26-32).

But the next morning, Abram looked down from the hills towards Sodom “and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (Gen. 19:27-28). This means that there had been less than ten righteous people in the city of Sodom.

Destruction of Sodom

When Lot was told to escape from Sodom with his family because God was going to destroy the city, he told his sons in law, but they thought he was joking. So they perished in the disaster. Only Lot and his two daughters reached safety in Zoar. Like in the global flood, only one family escaped the disaster. And the town of Zoar was spared from the disaster because of Lot’s request to God.

“So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, He remembered Abraham, and He brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived” (Gen. 19:29). God remembered Abram’s plea for Sodom. God destroyed it because there were less than 10 righteous people. But He answered Abraham’s prayer by rescuing Lot. Only three people escaped from Sodom.

The destruction was so complete that there is considerable doubt today as to the exact location of the ancient city of Sodom.

Sodom’s sins

When God gave the reasons for His judgement of Jerusalem, He said that they were worse than those living in Sodom who “were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me” (Ezek. 16:49-50). The Sodomites were guilty of social injustice and sexual immorality, such as practicing homosexuality (Jude 7). And they were proud of their behavior (Isa. 3:9)! These actions were the results of their rejection of God.

The sins of Sodom are still prevalent today. This shows that human nature hasn’t changed over the past 3,900 years! We’re not evolving into better people even though we have improved technology! And their sins were more serious than a lack of hospitality, which is the interpretation often given today.

Lessons for us

What can we learn from what happened at Sodom?

First, God judges the ungodly. This is a solemn lesson. The Bible says that Sodom is “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pt. 2:6). It’s “an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). Sodom was burnt to ashes. It shows how the Lord “holds the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment” (2 Pt. 2:9). As judgment day came for Sodom, it will come to all who reject God’s revelation to them. The wicked will be punished in hell. Few people believe this message from the Bible. Few people will read or “Like” this blogpost.

It also shows that God is a fair judge. He told Abram about His plan. And He was willing to mitigate the judgement based on Abram’s request. God is a just judge. The wickedness of Sodom had become so great that it would have been unjust of God not to judge it. And God is a merciful judge. He rescued three people from the judgment. He discriminated between the guilty and the innocent.

Jesus said that His second coming to judge unbelievers will be like what happened at Sodom, “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all” (Lk. 17:28-29). So the destruction of Sodom is a foretaste of a day when all rebellion against God will be judged and destroyed.

What kind of people deserve to be destroyed like this? When Jesus sent out His disciples to announce the kingdom of God, if a town rejected this message then “it will be more bearable on that day (of judgment) for Sodom than for that town” (Lk. 10:12). They will be judged more severely than the city of Sodom. What kind of people deserve to be destroyed in this way? Those who have rejected God. Those who have rejected the message about Jesus in the Bible. Until we trust in what God did through Jesus Christ, we all deserve to be judged.

If you don’t trust in Jesus, then you are like those who lived in Sodom. The Bible says, “how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).

Second, the godly receive God’s mercy. As God rescued Lot from Sodom, He “knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (2 Pt. 2:9). For those who love and trust Him, no matter how undeserving they are, God will do everything necessary to spare them from judgement. Believers can look forward to the inheritance of heaven (1 Pt. 1:4-5).

Third, our choices have consequences. Lot was a believer who wouldn’t separate from the sinful world (2 Pt. 2:7-8). He was a backslider who adjusted to the evils of Sodom and compromised his morals. Even his sons in law didn’t believe him. Consequently, he lost his wife, his sons-in-law, his friends, and his possessions.

Fourth, God answers our prayers. Abram was a believer who prayed for Lot. God answered this prayer by rescuing Lot before the city was destroyed. Do we pray for others? Do we realize that Jesus intercedes (prays) for us (Heb. 7:25)?

Fifth, God has revealed Himself to humanity. Abraham learnt about what God was like because God choose to reveal Himself to Abraham. We might have some ideas about what God is like, but the only way we can truly know Him is if He reveals Himself to us. Only in the Bible can we find out what God is really like.

Don’t be like Lot’s sons-in-law and his wife who didn’t escape from Sodom. Lot’s sons-in-law didn’t believe that were accountable to God. And Lot’s wife was too attached to the sinful world.

Lot did escape from Sodom although he was reluctant. Don’t leave it too late to trust in God’s salvation through Jesus.

Let’s be like Abraham and pray for our communities, because God answers our prayers.

Appendix: How was Sodom destroyed?

It is clear that the Biblical account of Sodom in Genesis is derived from sources that pre-date the destruction of Sodom. It says that “the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah)” (Gen. 13:10). At that time the valley was fertile and supported a large population. But after the disaster, it became a barren place.

The Bible says, “Then the Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah” (Gen 19:24NLT). And Moses “looked out across the plain toward Sodom and Gomorrah and watched as columns of smoke rose from the cities like smoke from a furnace” (Gen. 19:28NLT).

As Sodom was located near the Dead Sea in the Jordan Rift Valley, it may have been destroyed by an earthquake that unleashed showers of streaming tar. The Bible says that at that time the Dead Sea Valley “was full of tar pits” (Gen. 14:10). This bitumen contains a high percentage of sulfur. It has been suggested that pressure from an earthquake could have caused the bitumen deposits to be forced out of the earth through a fault line. As it gushed out of the earth it could have been ignited by a spark or surface fire. It would then fall to Earth as a burning, fiery mass.

Written, March 2018

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Massacres and miracles in Jericho


Lessons from Egypt

Mena Egypt - 1915 400pxAll families have stories to tell, regardless of their culture or their circumstances. When parents share family stories, their children benefit in many ways. They demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thoughts and emotions. And they more often have higher self-esteem, more robust identities, better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety.

In Psalm 78 the Israelites are reminded of lessons from their history so they could to tell the next generation about what God had done. The main historical event recalled is the exodus from Egypt (Ps. 78:13-13; 42-53).

Egypt reminds me of two great characters in the Old Testament. Joseph and Moses both rescued God’s people. Joseph rescued them from a famine and Moses rescued them from slavery. Joseph led them into Egypt and Moses led them out of Egypt.

The events in Egypt described in the Bible range from the safety of a refuge to the tyranny of slavery.

A refuge from danger

Famine was one of the dangers in the ancient world. Both Abraham and Jacob’s family (the Israelites) travelled to Egypt to avoid a famine (Gen. 12:10 – 13:1; 46:1-7). Although Abraham’s visit was short, the other visit was for about 400 years. The longer visit was enabled by Joseph who rose to a position equivalent to that of Governor or Prime Minister.

There are some similarities between the life of Joseph and the life of Jesus. They were both rejected and betrayed. But their suffering saved many (Gen. 50:20; Jn. 3:16). And they were about 30 years of age when Joseph was put in charge of Egypt and when Jesus began His ministry (Gen. 41:46; Lk. 3:23).

Others fled to Egypt to escape danger. Jeroboam fled to Egypt because Solomon wanted to kill him (1 Ki 11:40 – 12:2; 2 Chron. 10:2). After the invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, some Jews fled to Egypt (2 Ki. 25:25-26; Jer. 41:16-18) and later a group of Jews forced Jeremiah to go with them to Egypt (Jer. 43:6-7). And Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt because Herod was killing all male Jewish infants. Joseph was divinely directed to take Mary and Joseph to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod (Mt. 2:13-20).

On these occasions Egypt was a safe refuge that people could run to for protection.

Oppressive slavery

Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. But he rose to be second to the king and his family thrived in Egypt. Later they were subject to slavery when a new Pharaoh cruelly used them for slave labor. They were only delivered from this under the leadership of Moses after the miraculous ten plagues. The Bible says, “the Lord at one time delivered His people out of Egypt” (Jude 1:5NIV).

There are some similarities between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus. They both narrowly escaped being killed by a king who was murdering baby boys. They both performed miracles. They both led God’s people out of captivity, being from slavery to Egypt in the case of Moses and from slavery to sin in the case of Jesus. They both mediated a covenant between God and humanity. And the Bible says that Jesus is a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22; 7:37).

The exodus was a great victory of the God of the Israelites over the gods of Egypt, which was to be remembered in the annual Passover Festival. After the exodus, Egypt came to represent all that is opposed to God. After the decline of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon become the main distant enemies of the Israelites.

On this occasion Egypt was an oppressive place of punishment that people wanted to run away from. But during the journey from Egypt to Canaan the Israelites were tempted to return to Egypt.

An idolatrous nation

The Egyptians worshipped many gods (polytheism). And their Pharaohs were considered to be divine. Whereas the Israelites worshipped the true God and they were forbidden to marry idolatrous and immoral foreigners because they would cause them to be unfaithful to God (Dt. 7:1-4; 1 Ki. 11:1-13; Ezra 9:1-2, 10-12, 14).

When Moses was on Mount Sinai during the exodus, the Israelites built a golden calf idol (Ex. 32). So they disobeyed God and worshipped Egyptian gods instead.

Later when Israel was settled in the promised land, King Solomon married an Egyptian princess and many other foreign women who turned him to idolatry. Because of this disobedience, God caused the nation to be divided into two kingdoms (1 Ki. 11:9-13).

And when Jeroboam returned from Egypt to establish the northern kingdom of Israel, he set up calf images in Dan and Bethel (1 Ki. 12:26-33). These may have been Egyptian gods (or those of the Canaanites). Jeroboam’s sin was idolatry (1 Ki. 14:9). And subsequent kings of Israel followed his wicked example. Finally, God allowed the kingdom of Israel to be invaded by the Assyrians because of their idolatry (2 Ki. 17:7-23).

Likewise, many of the kings of Judah also worshiped idols. And finally, God allowed the kingdom of Judah to be invaded by the Babylonians because of their idolatry (Jer. 44:1-6). When some of these Jews fled to Egypt they were warned of disaster because of their idolatry (Jer. 44:1-30).

So Egypt was one of the nations that influenced the Israelites to worship idols instead of the true God. This idolatry led to the downfall of the Jewish nation when they were driven from their lands just as they had driven the Canaanites from their lands 770-900 years earlier.

Lessons for us

What can we learn from the role of Egypt in the history of the Israelites? They lived under the old covenant of Moses, whereas Christians live under the new covenant of Jesus.

First, God cares for His people. As He cared physically for the Israelites, so He cares spiritually for those who trust in Him through Jesus today. Their salvation is assured.

Second, God is powerful. As miracles accompanied the Israelites deliverance from Egypt (ten plagues; crossing the Red Sea), so miracles accompanied Christ’s act of salvation (Christ’s resurrection) and will accompany Christians deliverance from the presence of sin (their resurrection).

Third, God’s people needed to obey Him in order to benefit from His care and power. Obedience leads to blessing. To be delivered from Egypt the Israelites needed to obey God’s instructions given by Moses. Likewise, to be delivered from sin, we need to accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. Have you done this?

Fourth, disobedience and idolatry (following something or someone else than the true God) leads to God’s judgment. God wants His people to be faithful. Are idols keeping you from living for Jesus?

What can we tell the next generation about what God has done for us? That’s the best kind of family stories to tell.

Appendix: Egypt

Egypt is mentioned in the Bible more times than any other place outside Canaan/Israel (in 673 verses of the ESV). Egypt and Israel shared a border in antiquity as they do today. And Goshen in Egypt is about 400km (250 miles) from Jerusalem. Egypt (Mitsrayim in Hebrew, Strongs #4714) is named after the grandson of Noah (son of Ham) who settled there after the global flood (Gen. 10:6).

Israel is located between the Nile river (to the southwest) and the Euphrates river (to the north east). Nations thrived in these fertile river valleys and they were great powers in the ancient world. And it’s not surprising that the inhabitants of Israel were influenced by superpowers such as the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

Written, December 2017

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho


Archaeology confirms biblical characters

Sennacherib - king of Assyria 400pxDid you know that archaeology has confirmed the existence of many people mentioned in the Bible? In articles in the Biblical Archaeology Review, Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk lists 53 people from the Old Testament who have been confirmed archaeologically. These include Israelite kings and Mesopotamian monarchs as well as lesser-known figures. Their names appear in inscriptions written during the period described by the Bible and in most instances during or quite close to the lifetime of the person identified.

This list excludes persons in two categories. The first category includes those about whom we know so little (from the Biblical record) that we cannot identify them with anyone named in an inscription. The second category includes identifications that do not come to us from archaeology (such as the writings in the first century AD of Flavius Josephus).

Number Name Who was he? Date (BC) Bible reference
Egypt  When reigned
1 Shishak (= Sheshonq I) pharaoh 945–924 1 Kings 11:40, etc.
2 So (= Osorkon IV) pharaoh 730–715 2 Kings 17:4
3 Tirhakah (= Taharqa) pharaoh 690–664 2 Kings 19:9, etc.
4 Necho II (= Neco II) pharaoh 610–595 2 Chronicles 35:20, etc.
5 Hophra (= Apries) pharaoh 589–570 Jeremiah 44:30
Moab
6 Mesha king early to mid-ninth century 2 Kings 3:4–27
Aram-Damascus
7 Hadadezer king early ninth century to 844/842 1 Kings 11:23, etc.
8 Ben-hadad, son of Hadadezer king 844/842 2 Kings 6:24, etc.
9 Hazael king 844/842–c. 800 1 Kings 19:15, etc.
10 Ben-hadad, son of Hazael king early eighth century 2 Kings 13:3, etc.
11 Rezin king mid-eighth century to 732 2 Kings 15:37, etc.
Northern Kingdom of Israel
12 Omri king 884–873 1 Kings 16:16, etc.
13 Ahab king 873–852 1 Kings 16:28, etc.
14 Jehu king 842/841–815/814 1 Kings 19:16, etc.
15 Joash (= Jehoash) king 805–790 2 Kings 13:9, etc.
16 Jeroboam II king 790–750/749 2 Kings 13:13, etc.
17 Menahem king 749–738 2 Kings 15:14, etc.
18 Pekah king 750(?)–732/731 2 Kings 15:25, etc.
19 Hoshea king 732/731–722 2 Kings 15:30, etc.
20 Sanballat “I” governor of Samaria under Persian rule c. mid-fifth century Nehemiah 2:10, etc.
Southern Kingdom of Judah
21 David king c. 1010–970 1 Samuel 16:13, etc.
22 Uzziah (= Azariah) king 788/787–736/735 2 Kings 14:21, etc.
23 Ahaz (= Jehoahaz) king 742/741–726 2 Kings 15:38, etc.
24 Hezekiah king 726–697/696 2 Kings 16:20, etc.
25 Manasseh king 697/696–642/641 2 Kings 20:21, etc.
26 Hilkiah high priest during Josiah’s reign within 640/639–609 2 Kings 22:4, etc.
27 Shaphan scribe during Josiah’s reign within 640/639–609 2 Kings 22:3, etc.
28 Azariah high priest during Josiah’s reign within 640/639–609 1 Chronicles 5:39, etc.
29 Gemariah official during Jehoiakim’s reign within 609–598 Jeremiah 36:10, etc.
30 Jehoiachin (= Jeconiah = Coniah) king 598–597 2 Kings 24:6, etc.
31 Shelemiah father of Jehucal the royal official late seventh century Jeremiah 37:3, etc.
32 Jehucal (= Jucal) official during Zedekiah’s reign within 597–586 Jeremiah 37:3, etc.
33 Pashhur father of Gedaliah the royal official late seventh century Jeremiah 38:1
34 Gedaliah official during Zedekiah’s reign within 597–586 Jeremiah 38:1
Assyria
35 Tiglath-pileser III (= Pul) king 744–727 2 Kings 15:19, etc.
36 Shalmaneser V king 726–722 2 Kings 17:3, etc.
37 Sargon II king 721–705 Isaiah 20:1
38 Sennacherib king 704–681 2 Kings 18:13, etc.
39 Adrammelech (= Ardamullissu = Arad-mullissu) son and assassin of Sennacherib early seventh century 2 Kings 19:37, etc.
40 Esarhaddon king 680–669 2 Kings 19:37, etc.
Babylonia
41 Merodach-baladan II king 721–710 and 703 2 Kings 20:12, etc.
42 Nebuchadnezzar II king 604–562 2 Kings 24:1, etc.
43 Nebo-sarsekim official of Nebuchadnezzar II early sixth century Jeremiah 39:3
44 Nergal-sharezer officer of Nebuchadnezzar II early sixth century Jeremiah 39:3
45 Nebuzaradan a chief officer of Nebuchadnezzar II early sixth century 2 Kings 25:8, etc. & Jeremiah 39:9, etc.
46 Evil-merodach (= Awel Marduk = Amel Marduk) king 561–560 2 Kings 25:27, etc.
47 Belshazzar son and co-regent of Nabonidus c. 543?–540 Daniel 5:1, etc.
Persia
48 Cyrus II (= Cyrus the Great) king 559–530 2 Chronicles 36:22, etc.
49 Darius I (= Darius the Great) king 520–486 Ezra 4:5, etc.
50 Tattenai provincial governor of Trans-Euphrates late sixth to early fifth century Ezra 5:3, etc.
51 Xerxes I (= Ahasuerus) king 486–465 Esther 1:1, etc.
52 Artaxerxes I Longimanus king 465-425/424 Ezra 4:7, etc.
53 Darius II Nothus king 425/424-405/404 Nehemiah 12:22

Appendix: The Biblical and archaeological evidence

EGYPT

1. Shishak (= Sheshonq I), pharaoh, r. 945–924, 1 Kings 11:40 and 14:25, in his inscriptions, including the record of his military campaign in Palestine in his 924 B.C.E. inscription on the exterior south wall of the Temple of Amun at Karnak in Thebes. See OROT, pp. 10, 31–32, 502 note 1; many references to him in Third, indexed on p. 520; Kenneth A. Kitchen, review of IBP, SEE-J Hiphil 2 (2005), http://www.see-j.net/index.php/hiphil/article/viewFile/19/17, bottom of p. 3, which is briefly mentioned in “Sixteen,” p. 43 n. 22. (Note: The name of this pharaoh can be spelled Sheshonq or Shoshenq.)

Sheshonq is also referred to in a fragment of his victory stele discovered at Megiddo containing his cartouche. See Robert S. Lamon and Geoffrey M. Shipton, Megiddo I: Seasons of 1925–34, Strata I–V. (Oriental Institute Publications no. 42; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939), pp. 60–61, fig. 70; Graham I. Davies, Megiddo (Cities of the Biblical World; Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 1986), pp. 89 fig. 18, 90; OROT, p. 508 n. 68; IBP, p. 137 n. 119. (Note: The name of this pharaoh can be spelled Sheshonq or Shoshenq.)

Egyptian pharaohs had several names, including a throne name. It is known that the throne name of Sheshonq I, when translated into English, means, “Bright is the manifestation of Re, chosen of Amun/Re.” Sheshonq I’s inscription on the wall of the Temple of Amun at Karnak in Thebes (mentioned above) celebrates the victories of his military campaign in the Levant, thus presenting the possibility of his presence in that region. A small Egyptian scarab containing his exact throne name, discovered as a surface find at Khirbat Hamra Ifdan, now documents his presence at or near that location. This site is located along the Wadi Fidan, in the region of Faynan in southern Jordan.

As for the time period, disruption of copper production at Khirbet en-Nahas, also in the southern Levant, can be attributed to Sheshonq’s army, as determined by stratigraphy, high-precision radiocarbon dating, and an assemblage of Egyptian amulets dating to Sheshonq’s time. His army seems to have intentionally disrupted copper production, as is evident both at Khirbet en-Nahas and also at Khirbat Hamra Ifdan, where the scarab was discovered.

As for the singularity of this name in this remote locale, it would have been notable to find any Egyptian scarab there, much less one containing the throne name of this conquering Pharaoh; this unique discovery admits no confusion with another person. See Thomas E. Levy, Stefan Münger, and Mohammad Najjar, “A Newly Discovered Scarab of Sheshonq I: Recent Iron Age Explorations in Southern Jordan. Antiquity Project Gallery,” Antiquity (2014); online: http://journal.antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/levy341.

2. So (= Osorkon IV), pharaoh, r. 730–715, 2 Kings 17:4 only, which calls him “So, king of Egypt” (OROT, pp. 15–16). K. A. Kitchen makes a detailed case for So being Osorkon IV in Third, pp. 372–375. See Raging Torrent, p. 106 under “Shilkanni.”

3. Tirhakah (= Taharqa), pharaoh, r. 690–664, 2 Kings 19:9, etc. in many Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions; Third, pp. 387–395. For mention of Tirhakah in Assyrian inscriptions, see those of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal in Raging Torrent, pp. 138–143, 145, 150–153, 155, 156; ABC, p. 247 under “Terhaqah.” The Babylonian chronicle also refers to him (Raging Torrent, p. 187). On Tirhakah as prince, see OROT, p. 24.

4. Necho II (= Neco II), pharaoh, r. 610–595, 2 Chronicles 35:20, etc., in inscriptions of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal (ANET, pp. 294–297) and the Esarhaddon Chronicle (ANET, p. 303). See also Raging Torrent, pp. 189–199, esp. 198; OROT, p. 504 n. 26; Third, p. 407; ABC, p. 232.

5. Hophra (= Apries = Wahibre), pharaoh, r. 589–570, Jeremiah 44:30, in Egyptian inscriptions, such as the one describing his being buried by his successor, Aḥmose II (= Amasis II) (Third, p. 333 n. 498), with reflections in Babylonian inscriptions regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s defeat of Hophra in 572 and replacing him on the throne of Egypt with a general, Aḥmes (= Amasis), who later rebelled against Babylonia and was suppressed (Raging Torrent, p. 222). See OROT, pp. 9, 16, 24; Third, p. 373 n. 747, 407 and 407 n. 969; ANET, p. 308; D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (626–556 B.C.) in the British Museum (London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), pp. 94-95. Cf. ANEHST, p. 402. (The index of Third, p. 525, distinguishes between an earlier “Wahibre i” [Third, p. 98] and the 26th Dynasty’s “Wahibre ii” [= Apries], r. 589–570.)

MOAB

6. Mesha, king, r. early to mid-9th century, 2 Kings 3:4–27, in the Mesha Inscription, which he caused to be written, lines 1–2; Dearman, Studies, pp. 97, 100–101; IBP, pp. 95–108, 238; “Sixteen,” p. 43.

ARAM-DAMASCUS

7. Hadadezer, king, r. early 9th century to 844/842, 1 Kings 22:3, etc., in Assyrian inscriptions of Shalmaneser III and also, I am convinced, in the Melqart stele. The Hebrew Bible does not name him, referring to him only as “the King of Aram” in 1 Kings 22:3, 31; 2 Kings chapter 5, 6:8–23. We find out this king’s full name in some contemporaneous inscriptions of Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria (r. 858–824), such as the Black Obelisk (Raging Torrent, pp. 22–24). At Kurkh, a monolith by Shalmaneser III states that at the battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.E.), he defeated “Adad-idri [the Assyrian way of saying Hadadezer] the Damascene,” along with “Ahab the Israelite” and other kings (Raging Torrent, p. 14; RIMA 3, p. 23, A.0.102.2, col. ii, lines 89b–92). “Hadadezer the Damascene” is also mentioned in an engraving on a statue of Shalmaneser III at Aššur (RIMA 3, p. 118, A.0.102.40, col. i, line 14). The same statue engraving later mentions both Hadadezer and Hazael together (RIMA 3, p. 118, col. i, lines 25–26) in a topical arrangement of worst enemies defeated that is not necessarily chronological.
On the long-disputed readings of the Melqart stele, which was discovered in Syria in 1939, see “Corrections,” pp. 69–85, which follows the closely allied readings of Frank Moore Cross and Gotthard G. G. Reinhold. Those readings, later included in “Sixteen,” pp. 47–48, correct the earlier absence of this Hadadezer in IBP (notably on p. 237, where he is not to be confused with the tenth-century Hadadezer, son of Rehob and king of Zobah).

8. Ben-hadad, son of Hadadezer, r. or served as co-regent 844/842, 2 Kings 6:24, etc., in the Melqart stele, following the readings of Frank Moore Cross and Gotthard G. G. Reinhold and Cross’s 2003 criticisms of a different reading that now appears in COS, vol. 2, pp. 152–153 (“Corrections,” pp. 69–85). Several kings of Damascus bore the name Bar-hadad (in their native Aramaic, which is translated as Ben-hadad in the Hebrew Bible), which suggests adoption as “son” by the patron deity Hadad. This designation might indicate that he was the crown prince and/or co-regent with his father Hadadezer. It seems likely that Bar-hadad/Ben-hadad was his father’s immediate successor as king, as seems to be implied by the military policy reversal between 2 Kings 6:3–23 and 6:24. It was this Ben-Hadad, the son of Hadadezer, whom Hazael assassinated in 2 Kings 8:7–15 (quoted in Raging Torrent, p. 25). The mistaken disqualification of this biblical identification in the Melqart stele in IBP, p. 237, is revised to a strong identification in that stele in “Corrections,” pp. 69–85; “Sixteen,” p. 47.

9. Hazael, king, r. 844/842–ca. 800, 1 Kings 19:15, 2 Kings 8:8, etc., is documented in four kinds of inscriptions: 1) The inscriptions of Shalmaneser III call him “Hazael of Damascus” (Raging Torrent, pp. 23–26, 28), for example the inscription on the Kurbail Statue (RIMA 3, p. 60, line 21). He is also referred to in 2) the Zakkur stele from near Aleppo, in what is now Syria, and in 3) bridle inscriptions, i.e., two inscribed horse blinders and a horse frontlet discovered on Greek islands, and in 4) inscribed ivories seized as Assyrian war booty (Raging Torrent, p. 35). All are treated in IBP, pp. 238–239, and listed in “Sixteen,” p. 44. Cf. “Corrections,” pp. 101–103.

10. Ben-hadad, son of Hazael, king, r. early 8th century, 2 Kings 13:3, etc., in the Zakkur stele from near Aleppo. In lines 4–5, it calls him “Bar-hadad, son of Hazael, the king of Aram” (IBP, p. 240; “Sixteen,” p. 44; Raging Torrent, p. 38; ANET, p. 655: COS, vol. 2, p. 155). On the possibility of Ben-hadad, son of Hazael, being the “Mari” in Assyrian inscriptions, see Raging Torrent, pp. 35–36.

11. Rezin (= Raḥianu), king, r. mid-8th century to 732, 2 Kings 15:37, etc., in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III, king of Assyria (in these inscriptions, Raging Torrent records frequent mention of Rezin in  pp. 51–78); OROT, p. 14. Inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III refer to “Rezin” several times, “Rezin of Damascus” in Annal 13, line 10 (ITP, pp. 68–69), and “the dynasty of Rezin of Damascus” in Annal 23, line 13 (ITP, pp. 80–81). Tiglath-pileser III’s stele from Iran contains an explicit reference to Rezin as king of Damascus in column III, the right side, A: “[line 1] The kings of the land of Hatti (and of) the Aramaeans of the western seashore . . .  [line 4] Rezin of Damascus”  (ITP, pp. 106–107).

NORTHERN KINGDOM OF ISRAEL

12. Omri, king, r. 884–873, 1 Kings 16:16, etc., in Assyrian inscriptions and in the Mesha Inscription. Because he founded a famous dynasty which ruled the northern kingdom of Israel, the Assyrians refer not only to him as a king of Israel (ANET, pp. 280, 281), but also to the later rulers of that territory as kings of “the house of Omri” and that territory itself literally as “the house of Omri” (Raging Torrent, pp. 34, 35; ANET, pp. 284, 285). Many a later king of Israel who was not his descendant, beginning with Jehu, was called “the son of Omri” (Raging Torrent, p. 18). The Mesha Inscription also refers to Omri as “the king of Israel” in lines 4–5, 7 (Dearman, Studies, pp. 97, 100–101; COS, vol. 2, p. 137; IBP, pp. 108–110, 216; “Sixteen,” p. 43.

13. Ahab, king, r. 873–852, 1 Kings 16:28, etc., in the Kurkh Monolith by his enemy, Shalmaneser III of Assyria. There, referring to the battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.E.), Shalmaneser calls him “Ahab the Israelite” (Raging Torrent, pp. 14, 18–19; RIMA 3, p. 23, A.0.102.2, col. 2, lines 91–92; ANET, p. 279; COS, vol. 2, p. 263).

14. Jehu, king, r. 842/841–815/814, 1 Kings 19:16, etc., in inscriptions of Shalmaneser III. In these, “son” means nothing more than that he is the successor, in this instance, of Omri (Raging Torrent, p. 20 under “Ba’asha . . . ” and p. 26). A long version of Shalmaneser III’s annals on a stone tablet in the outer wall of the city of Aššur refers to Jehu in col. 4, line 11, as “Jehu, son of Omri” (Raging Torrent, p. 28; RIMA 3, p. 54, A.0.102.10, col. 4, line 11; cf. ANET, p. 280, the parallel “fragment of an annalistic text”). Also, on the Kurba’il Statue, lines 29–30 refer to “Jehu, son of Omri” (RIMA 3, p. 60, A.0.102.12, lines 29–30).

In Shalmaneser III’s Black Obelisk, current scholarship regards the notation over relief B, depicting payment of tribute from Israel, as referring to “Jehu, son of Omri” (Raging Torrent, p. 23; RIMA 3, p. 149, A.0. 102.88), but cf. P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., “‘Yaw, Son of ‘Omri’: A Philological Note on Israelite Chronology,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 216 (1974): pp. 5–7.

15. Joash (= Jehoash), king, r. 805–790, 2 Kings 13:9, etc., in the Tell al-Rimaḥ inscription of Adad-Nirari III, king of Assyria (r. 810–783), which mentions “the tribute of Joash [= Iu’asu] the Samarian” (Stephanie Page, “A Stela of Adad-Nirari III and Nergal-Ereš from Tell Al Rimaḥ,” Iraq 30 [1968]: pp. 142–145, line 8, Pl. 38–41; RIMA 3, p. 211, line 8 of A.0.104.7; Raging Torrent, pp. 39–41).

16. Jeroboam II, king, r. 790–750/749, 2 Kings 13:13, etc., in the seal of his royal servant Shema, discovered at Megiddo (WSS, p. 49 no. 2; IBP, pp. 133–139, 217; “Sixteen,” p. 46).

17. Menahem, king, r. 749–738, 2 Kings 15:14, etc., in the Calah Annals of Tiglath-pileser III. Annal 13, line 10 refers to “Menahem of Samaria” in a list of kings who paid tribute (ITP, pp. 68–69, Pl. IX). Tiglath-pileser III’s stele from Iran, his only known stele, refers explicitly to Menahem as king of Samaria in column III, the right side, A: “[line 1] The kings of the land of Hatti (and of) the Aramaeans of the western seashore . . .  [line 5] Menahem of Samaria.”  (ITP, pp. 106–107). See also Raging Torrent, pp. 51, 52, 54, 55, 59; ANET, p. 283.

18. Pekah, king, r. 750(?)–732/731, 2 Kings 15:25, etc., in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III. Among various references to “Pekah,” the most explicit concerns the replacement of Pekah in Summary Inscription 4, lines 15–17: “[line 15] . . . The land of Bit-Humria . . . . [line 17] Peqah, their king [I/they killed] and I installed Hoshea [line 18] [as king] over them” (ITP, pp. 140–141; Raging Torrent, pp. 66–67).

19. Hoshea, king, r. 732/731–722, 2 Kings 15:30, etc., in Tiglath-pileser’s Summary Inscription 4, described in preceding note 18, where Hoshea is mentioned as Pekah’s immediate successor.

20. Sanballat “I”, governor of Samaria under Persian rule, ca. mid-fifth century, Nehemiah 2:10, etc., in a letter among the papyri from the Jewish community at Elephantine in Egypt (A. E. Cowley, ed., Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1923; reprinted Osnabrück, Germany: Zeller, 1967), p. 114 English translation of line 29, and p. 118 note regarding line 29; ANET, p. 492.

Also, the reference to “[  ]ballat,” most likely Sanballat, in Wadi Daliyeh bulla WD 22 appears to refer to the biblical Sanballat as the father of a governor of Samaria who succeeded him in the first half of the fourth century. As Jan Dušek shows, it cannot be demonstrated that any Sanballat II and III existed, which is the reason for the present article’s quotation marks around the “I” in Sanballat “I”; see Jan Dušek, “Archaeology and Texts in the Persian Period: Focus on Sanballat,” in Martti Nissinen, ed., Congress Volume: Helsinki 2010 (Boston: Brill. 2012), pp. 117–132.

SOUTHERN KINGDOM OF JUDAH

21. David, king, r. ca. 1010–970, 1 Samuel 16:13, etc. in three inscriptions. Most notable is the victory stele in Aramaic known as the “house of David” inscription, discovered at Tel Dan; Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh, “An Aramaic Stele from Tel Dan,” IEJ 43 (1993), pp. 81–98, and idem, “The Tel Dan Inscription: A New Fragment,” IEJ 45 (1995), pp. 1–18. An ancient Aramaic word pattern in line 9 designates David as the founder of the dynasty of Judah in the phrase “house of David” (2 Sam 2:11 and 5:5; Gary A. Rendsburg, “On the Writing ביתדיד [BYTDWD] in the Aramaic Inscription from Tel Dan,” IEJ 45 [1995], pp. 22–25; Raging Torrent, p. 20, under “Ba’asha . . .”; IBP, pp. 110–132, 265–77; “Sixteen,” pp. 41–43).

In the second inscription, the Mesha Inscription, the phrase “house of David” appears in Moabite in line 31 with the same meaning: that he is the founder of the dynasty. There David’s name appears with only its first letter destroyed, and no other letter in that spot makes sense without creating a very strained, awkward reading (André Lemaire, “‘House of David’ Restored in Moabite Inscription,” BAR 20, no. 3 [May/June 1994]: pp. 30–37. David’s name also appears in line 12 of the Mesha Inscription (Anson F. Rainey, “Mesha‘ and Syntax,” in J. Andrew Dearman and M. Patrick Graham, eds., The Land That I Will Show You: Essays on the History and Archaeology of the Ancient Near East in Honor of J. Maxwell Miller. (JSOT Supplement series, no. 343; Sheffield, England:Sheffield Academic, 2001), pp. 287–307; IBP, pp. 265–277; “Sixteen,” pp. 41–43).

The third inscription, in Egyptian, mentions a region in the Negev called “the heights of David” after King David (Kenneth A. Kitchen, “A Possible Mention of David in the Late Tenth Century B.C.E., and Deity *Dod as Dead as the Dodo?” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 76 [1997], pp. 39–41; IBP, p. 214 note 3, which is revised in “Corrections,” pp. 119–121; “Sixteen,” p. 43).

In the table on p. 46 of BAR, David is listed as king of Judah. According to 2 Samuel 5:5, for his first seven years and six months as a monarch, he ruled only the southern kingdom of Judah. We have no inscription that refers to David as king over all Israel (that is, the united kingdom) as also stated in 2 Sam 5:5.

22. Uzziah (= Azariah), king, r. 788/787–736/735, 2 Kings 14:21, etc., in the inscribed stone seals of two of his royal servants: Abiyaw and Shubnayaw (more commonly called Shebanyaw); WSS, p. 51 no. 4 and p. 50 no. 3, respectively; IBP, pp. 153–159 and 159–163, respectively, and p. 219 no. 20 (a correction to IBP is that on p. 219, references to WSS nos. 3 and 4 are reversed); “Sixteen,” pp. 46–47. Cf. also his secondary burial inscription from the Second Temple era (IBP, p. 219 n. 22).

23. Ahaz (= Jehoahaz), king, r. 742/741–726, 2 Kings 15:38, etc., in Tiglath-pileser III’s Summary Inscription 7, reverse, line 11, refers to “Jehoahaz of Judah” in a list of kings who paid tribute (ITP, pp. 170–171; Raging Torrent, pp. 58–59). The Bible refers to him by the shortened form of his full name, Ahaz, rather than by the full form of his name, Jehoahaz, which the Assyrian inscription uses.
Cf. the unprovenanced seal of ’Ushna’, more commonly called ’Ashna’, the name Ahaz appears (IBP, pp. 163–169, with corrections from Kitchen’s review of IBP as noted in “Corrections,” p. 117; “Sixteen,” pp. 38–39 n. 11). Because this king already stands clearly documented in an Assyrian inscription, documentation in another inscription is not necessary to confirm the existence of the biblical Ahaz, king of Judah.

24. Hezekiah, king, r. 726–697/696, 2 Kings 16:20, etc., initially in the Rassam Cylinder of Sennacherib (in this inscription, Raging Torrent records frequent mention of Hezekiah in pp. 111–123; COS, pp. 302–303). It mentions “Hezekiah the Judahite” (col. 2 line 76 and col. 3 line 1 in Luckenbill, Annals of Sennacherib, pp. 31, 32) and “Jerusalem, his royal city” (ibid., col. 3 lines 28, 40; ibid., p. 33) Other, later copies of the annals of Sennacherib, such as the Oriental Institute prism and the Taylor prism, mostly repeat the content of the Rassam cylinder, duplicating its way of referring to Hezekiah and Jerusalem (ANET, pp. 287, 288). The Bull Inscription from the palace at Nineveh (ANET, p. 288; Raging Torrent, pp. 126–127) also mentions “Hezekiah the Judahite” (lines 23, 27 in Luckenbill, Annals of Sennacherib, pp. 69, 70) and “Jerusalem, his royal city” (line 29; ibid., p. 33).

During 2009, a royal bulla of Hezekiah, king of Judah, was discovered in the renewed Ophel excavations of Eilat Mazar. Imperfections along the left edge of the impression in the clay contributed to a delay in correct reading of the bulla until late in 2015. An English translation of the bulla is: “Belonging to Heze[k]iah, [son of] ’A[h]az, king of Jud[ah]” (letters within square brackets [ ] are supplied where missing or only partly legible). This is the first impression of a Hebrew king’s seal ever discovered in a scientific excavation.

See the online article by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “Impression of King Hezekiah’s Royal Seal Discovered in Ophel Excavations South of Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” December 2, 2015; a video under copyright of Eilat Mazar and Herbert W. Armstrong College, 2015; Robin Ngo, “King Hezekiah in the Bible: Royal Seal of Hezekiah Comes to Light,” Bible History Daily (blog), originally published on December 3, 2015; Meir Lubetski, “King Hezekiah’s Seal Revisited,” BAR, July/August 2001. Apparently unavailable as of August 2017 (except for a rare library copy or two) is Eilat Mazar, ed., The Ophel Excavations to the South of the Temple Mount 2009-2013: Final Reports, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Shoham Academic Research and Publication, c2015).

25. Manasseh, king, r. 697/696–642/641, 2 Kings 20:21, etc., in the inscriptions of Assyrian kings Esarhaddon (Raging Torrent, pp. 131, 133, 136) and Ashurbanipal (ibid., p. 154). “Manasseh, king of Judah,” according to Esarhaddon (r. 680–669), was among those who paid tribute to him (Esarhaddon’s Prism B, column 5, line 55; R. Campbell Thompson, The Prisms of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal [London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1931], p. 25; ANET, p. 291). Also, Ashurbanipal (r. 668–627) records that “Manasseh, king of Judah” paid tribute to him (Ashurbanipal’s Cylinder C, col. 1, line 25; Maximilian Streck, Assurbanipal und die letzten assyrischen Könige bis zum Untergang Niniveh’s, [Vorderasiatische Bibliothek 7; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1916], vol. 2, pp. 138–139; ANET, p. 294.

26. Hilkiah, high priest during Josiah’s reign, within 640/639–609, 2 Kings 22:4, etc., in the City of David bulla of Azariah, son of Hilkiah (WSS, p. 224 no. 596; IBP, pp. 148–151; 229 only in [50] City of David bulla; “Sixteen,” p. 49).

The oldest part of Jerusalem, called the City of David, is the location where the Bible places all four men named in the bullae covered in the present endnotes 26 through 29.

Analysis of the clay of these bullae shows that they were produced in the locale of Jerusalem (Eran Arie, Yuval Goren, and Inbal Samet, “Indelible Impression: Petrographic Analysis of Judahite Bullae,” in The Fire Signals of Lachish: Studies in the Archaeology and History of Israel in the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Persian Period in Honor of David Ussishkin [ed. Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011], p. 10, quoted in “Sixteen,” pp. 48–49 n. 34).

27. Shaphan, scribe during Josiah’s reign, within 640/639–609, 2 Kings 22:3, etc., in the City of David bulla of Gemariah, son of Shaphan (WSS, p. 190 no. 470; IBP, pp. 139–146, 228). See endnote 26 above regarding “Sixteen,” pp. 48–49 n. 34.

28. Azariah, high priest during Josiah’s reign, within 640/639–609, 1 Chronicles 5:39, etc., in the City of David bulla of Azariah, son of Hilkiah (WSS, p. 224 no. 596; IBP, pp. 151–152; 229). See endnote 26 above regarding “Sixteen,” pp. 48–49 n. 34.

29. Gemariah, official during Jehoiakim’s reign, within 609–598, Jeremiah 36:10, etc., in the City of David bulla of Gemariah, son of Shaphan (WSS, p. 190 no. 470; IBP, pp. 147, 232). See endnote 26 above regarding “Sixteen,” pp. 48–49 n. 34.

30. Jehoiachin (= Jeconiah = Coniah), king, r. 598–597, 2 Kings 24:5, etc., in four Babylonian administrative tablets regarding oil rations or deliveries, during his exile in Babylonia (Raging Torrent, p. 209; ANEHST, pp. 386–387). Discovered at Babylon, they are dated from the tenth to the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylonia and conqueror of Jerusalem. One tablet calls Jehoiachin “king” (Text Babylon 28122, obverse, line 29; ANET, p. 308). A second, fragmentary text mentions him as king in an immediate context that refers to “[. . . so]ns of the king of Judah” and “Judahites” (Text Babylon 28178, obverse, col. 2, lines 38–40; ANET, p. 308). The third tablet calls him “the son of the king of Judah” and refers to “the five sons of the king of Judah” (Text Babylon 28186, reverse, col. 2, lines 17–18; ANET, p. 308). The fourth text, the most fragmentary of all, confirms “Judah” and part of Jehoiachin’s name, but contributes no data that is not found in the other texts.

31. Shelemiah, father of Jehucal the official, late 7th century, Jeremiah 37:3; 38:1 and 32. Jehucal (= Jucal), official during Zedekiah’s reign, fl. within 597–586, Jeremiah 37:3; 38:1 only, both referred to in a bulla discovered in the City of David in 2005 (Eilat Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” BAR 32, no. 1 [January/February 2006], pp. 16–27, 70; idem, Preliminary Report on the City of David Excavations 2005 at the Visitors Center Area [Jerusalem and New York: Shalem, 2007], pp. 67–69; idem, “The Wall that Nehemiah Built,” BAR 35, no. 2 [March/April 2009], pp. 24–33,66; idem, The Palace of King David: Excavations at the Summit of the City of David: Preliminary Report of Seasons 2005-2007 [Jerusalem/New York: Shoham AcademicResearch and Publication, 2009], pp. 66–71). Only the possibility of firm identifications is left open in “Corrections,” pp. 85–92; “Sixteen,” pp. 50–51; this article is my first affirmation of four identifications, both here in notes 31 and 32 and below in notes 33 and 34.

After cautiously observing publications and withholding judgment for several years, I am now affirming the four identifications in notes 31 through 34, because I am now convinced that this bulla is a remnant from an administrative center in the City of David, a possibility suggested in “Corrections,” p. 100 second-to-last paragraph, and “Sixteen,” p. 51. For me, the tipping point came by comparing the description and pictures of the nearby and immediate archaeological context in Eilat Mazar, “Palace of King David,” pp. 66–70,  with the administrative contexts described in Eran Arie, Yuval Goren, and Inbal Samet, “Indelible Impression: Petrographic Analysis of Judahite Bullae,” in Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman, eds., The Fire Signals of Lachish: Studies in the Archaeology and History of Israel in the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Persian Period in Honor of David Ussishkin (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2011), pp. 12–13 (the section titled “The Database: Judahite Bullae from Controlled Excavations”) and pp. 23–24. See also Nadav Na’aman, “The Interchange between Bible and Archaeology: The Case of David’s Palace and the Millo,” BAR 40, no. 1 (January/February 2014), pp. 57–61, 68–69, which is drawn from idem, “Biblical and Historical Jerusalem in the Tenth and Fifth-Fourth Centuries B.C.E.,” Biblica 93 (2012): pp. 21–42. See also idem, “Five Notes on Jerusalem in the First and Second Temple Periods,” Tel Aviv 39 (2012): p. 93.

33. Pashhur, father of Gedaliah the official, late 7th century, Jeremiah 38:1 and
34. Gedaliah, official during Zedekiah’s reign, fl. within 597–586, Jeremiah 38:1 only, both referred to in a bulla discovered in the City of David in 2008. See “Corrections,” pp. 92–96; “Sixteen,” pp. 50–51; and the preceding endnote 31 and 32 for bibliographic details on E. Mazar, “Wall,” pp. 24–33, 66; idem, Palace of King David, pp. 68–71) and for the comments in the paragraph that begins, “After cautiously … ”

ASSYRIA

35. Tiglath-pileser III (= Pul), king, r. 744–727, 2 Kings 15:19, etc., in his many inscriptions. See Raging Torrent, pp. 46–79; COS, vol. 2, pp. 284–292; ITP; Mikko Lukko, The Correspondence of Tiglath-pileser III and Sargon II from Calah/Nimrud (State Archives of Assyria, no. 19; Assyrian Text Corpus Project; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2013); ABC, pp. 248–249. On Pul as referring to Tiglath-pileser III, which is implicit in ABC, p. 333 under “Pulu,” see ITP, p. 280 n. 5 for discussion and bibliography.

On the identification of Tiglath-pileser III in the Aramaic monumental inscription honoring Panamu II, in Aramaic monumental inscriptions 1 and 8 of Bar-Rekub (now in Istanbul and Berlin, respectively), and in the Ashur Ostracon, see IBP, p. 240; COS, pp. 158–161.

36. Shalmaneser V (= Ululaya), king, r. 726–722, 2 Kings 17:2, etc., in chronicles, in king-lists, and in rare remaining inscriptions of his own (ABC, p. 242; COS, vol. 2, p. 325). Most notable is the Neo-Babylonian Chronicle series, Chronicle 1, i, lines 24–32.  In those lines, year 2 of the Chronicle mentions his plundering the city of Samaria (Raging Torrent, pp. 178, 182; ANEHST, p. 408). (“Shalman” in Hosea 10:14 is likely a historical allusion, but modern lack of information makes it difficult to assign it to a particular historical situation or ruler, Assyrian or otherwise. See below for the endnotes to the box at the top of p. 50.)

37. Sargon II, king, r. 721–705, Isaiah 20:1, in many inscriptions, including his own. See Raging Torrent, pp. 80–109, 176–179, 182; COS, vol. 2, pp. 293–300; Mikko Lukko, The Correspondence of Tiglath-pileser III and Sargon II from Calah/Nimrud (State Archives of Assyria, no. 19; Assyrian Text Corpus Project; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2013); ABC, pp. 236–238; IBP, pp. 240–241 no. (74).

38. Sennacherib, king, r. 704–681, 2 Kings 18:13, etc., in many inscriptions, including his own. See Raging Torrent, pp. 110–129; COS, vol. 2, pp. 300–305; ABC, pp. 238–240; ANEHST, pp. 407–411, esp. 410; IBP, pp. 241–242.

39. Adrammelech (= Ardamullissu = Arad-mullissu), son and assassin of Sennacherib, fl. early 7th century, 2 Kings 19:37, etc., in a letter sent to Esarhaddon, who succeeded Sennacherib on the throne of Assyria. See Raging Torrent, pp. 111, 184, and COS, vol. 3, p. 244, both of which describe and cite with approval Simo Parpola, “The Murderer of Sennacherib,” in Death in Mesopotamia: Papers Read at the XXVie Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, ed. Bendt Alster (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1980), pp. 171–182. See also ABC, p. 240.

An upcoming scholarly challenge is the identification of Sennacherib’s successor, Esarhaddon, as a more likely assassin in Andrew Knapp’s paper, “The Murderer of Sennacherib, Yet Again,” to be read in a February 2014 Midwest regional conference in Bourbonnais, Ill. (SBL/AOS/ASOR).

On various renderings of the neo-Assyrian name of the assassin, see RlA s.v. “Ninlil,” vol. 9, pp. 452–453 (in German). On the mode of execution of those thought to have been  conspirators in the assassination, see the selection from Ashurbanipal’s Rassam cylinder in ANET, p. 288.

40. Esarhaddon, king, r. 680–669, 2 Kings 19:37, etc., in his many inscriptions. See Raging Torrent, pp. 130–147; COS, vol. 2, p. 306; ABC, pp. 217–219. Esarhaddon’s name appears in many cuneiform inscriptions (ANET, pp. 272–274, 288–290, 292–294, 296, 297, 301–303, 426–428, 449, 450, 531, 533–541, 605, 606), including his Succession Treaty (ANEHST, p. 355).

BABYLONIA

41. Merodach-baladan II (=Marduk-apla-idinna II), king, r. 721–710 and 703, 2 Kings 20:12, etc., in the inscriptions of Sennacherib and the Neo-Babylonian Chronicles (Raging Torrent, pp. 111, 174, 178–179, 182–183. For Sennacherib’s account of his first campaign, which was against Merodach-baladan II, see COS, vol. 2, pp. 300-302. For the Neo-Babylonian Chronicle series, Chronicle 1, i, 33–42, see ANEHST, pp. 408–409. This king is also included in the Babylonian King List A (ANET, p. 271), and the latter part of his name remains in the reference to him in the Synchronistic King List (ANET, pp. 271–272), on which see ABC, pp. 226, 237.

42. Nebuchadnezzar II, king, r. 604–562, 2 Kings 24:1, etc., in many cuneiform tablets, including his own inscriptions. See Raging Torrent, pp. 220–223; COS, vol. 2, pp. 308–310; ANET, pp. 221, 307–311; ABC, p. 232. The Neo-Babylonian Chronicle series refers to him in Chronicles 4 and 5 (ANEHST, pp. 415, 416–417, respectively). Chronicle 5, reverse, lines 11–13, briefly refers to his conquest of Jerusalem (“the city of Judah”) in 597 by defeating “its king” (Jehoiachin), as well as his appointment of “a king of his own choosing” (Zedekiah) as king of Judah.

43. Nebo-sarsekim, chief official of Nebuchadnezzar II, fl. early 6th century, Jeremiah 39:3, in a cuneiform inscription on Babylonian clay tablet BM 114789 (1920-12-13, 81), dated to 595 B.C.E. The time reference in Jeremiah 39:3 is very close, to the year 586. Since it is extremely unlikely that two individuals having precisely the same personal name would have been, in turn, the sole holders of precisely this unique position within a decade of each other, it is safe to assume that the inscription and the book of Jeremiah refer to the same person in different years of his time in office. In July 2007 in the British Museum, Austrian researcher Michael Jursa discovered this Babylonian reference to the biblical “Nebo-sarsekim, the Rab-saris” (rab ša-rēši, meaning “chief official”) of Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 604–562). Jursa identified this official in his article, “Nabu-šarrūssu-ukīn, rab ša-rēši, und ‘Nebusarsekim’ (Jer. 39:3),” Nouvelles Assyriologiques Breves et Utilitaires2008/1 (March): pp. 9–10 (in German). See also Bob Becking, “Identity of Nabusharrussu-ukin, the Chamberlain: An Epigraphic Note on Jeremiah 39,3. With an Appendix on the Nebu(!)sarsekim Tablet by Henry Stadhouders,” Biblische Notizen NF 140 (2009): pp. 35–46; “Corrections,” pp. 121–124; “Sixteen,” p. 47 n. 31. On the correct translation of ráb ša-rēši (and three older, published instances of it having been incorrect translated as rab šaqê), see ITP, p. 171 n. 16.

44. Nergal-sharezer (= Nergal-sharuṣur the Sin-magir = Nergal-šarru-uṣur the simmagir), officer of Nebuchadnezzar II, early sixth century, Jeremiah 39:3, in a Babylonian cuneiform inscription known as Nebuchadnezzar II’s Prism (column 3 of prism EŞ 7834, in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum). See ANET, pp. 307‒308; Rocio Da Riva, “Nebuchadnezzar II’s Prism (EŞ 7834): A New Edition,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie, vol. 103, no. 2 (2013): 204, Group 3.

45. Nebuzaradan (= Nabuzeriddinam = Nabû-zēr-iddin),
a chief officer of Nebuchadnezzar II, early sixth century, 2 Kings 25:8, etc. & Jeremiah 39:9, etc.
, in a Babylonian cuneiform inscription known as Nebuchadnezzar II’s Prism (column 3, line 36 of prism EŞ 7834, in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum). See ANET, p. 307; Rocio Da Riva, “Nebuchadnezzar II’s Prism (EŞ 7834): A New Edition,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie, vol. 103, no. 2 (2013): 202, Group 1.

46. Evil-merodach (= Awel Marduk, = Amel Marduk), king, r. 561–560, 2 Kings 25:27, etc., in various inscriptions (ANET, p. 309; OROT, pp. 15, 504 n. 23). See especially Ronald H. Sack, Amel-Marduk: 562-560 B.C.; A Study Based on Cuneiform, Old Testament, Greek, Latin and Rabbinical Sources (Alter Orient und Altes Testament, no. 4; Kevelaer, Butzon & Bercker, and Neukirchen-Vluyn, Neukirchener, 1972).

47. Belshazzar, son and co-regent of Nabonidus, fl. ca. 543?–540, Daniel 5:1, etc., in Babylonian administrative documents and the “Verse Account” (Muhammed A. Dandamayev, “Nabonid, A,” RlA, vol. 9, p. 10; Raging Torrent, pp. 215–216; OROT, pp. 73–74). A neo-Babylonian text refers to him as “Belshazzar the crown prince” (ANET, pp. 309–310 n. 5).

PERSIA

48. Cyrus II (=Cyrus the great), king, r. 559–530, 2 Chronicles 36:22, etc., in various inscriptions (including his own), for which and on which see ANEHST, pp. 418–426, ABC, p. 214. For Cyrus’ cylinder inscription, see Raging Torrent, pp. 224–230; ANET, pp. 315–316; COS, vol. 2, pp. 314–316; ANEHST, pp. 426–430; P&B, pp. 87–92. For larger context and implications in the biblical text, see OROT, pp. 70-76.

49. Darius I (=Darius the Great), king, r. 520–486, Ezra 4:5, etc., in various inscriptions, including his own trilingual cliff inscription at Behistun, on which see P&B, pp. 131–134. See also COS, vol. 2, p. 407, vol. 3, p. 130; ANET, pp. 221, 316, 492; ABC, p. 214; ANEHST, pp. 407, 411. On the setting, see OROT, pp. 70–75.

50. Tattenai (=Tatnai), provincial governor of Trans-Euphrates, late sixth to early fifth century, Ezra 5:3, etc., in a tablet of Darius I the Great, king of Persia, which can be dated to exactly June 5, 502 B.C.E. See David E. Suiter, “Tattenai,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), vol. 6, p. 336; A. T. Olmstead, “Tattenai, Governor of ‘Beyond the River,’” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 3 (1944): p. 46. A drawing of the cuneiform text appears in Arthur Ungnad, Vorderasiatische Schriftdenkmäler Der Königlichen Museen Zu Berlin (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1907), vol. IV, p. 48, no. 152 (VAT 43560). VAT is the abbreviation for the series Vorderasiatische Abteilung Tontafel, published by the Berlin Museum. The author of the BAR article wishes to acknowledge the query regarding Tattenai from Mr. Nathan Yadon of Houston, Texas, private correspondence, 8 September 2015.

51. Xerxes I (=Ahasuerus), king, r. 486–465, Esther 1:1, etc., in various inscriptions, including his own (P&B, p. 301; ANET, pp. 316–317), and in the dates of documents from the time of his reign (COS, vol. 2, p. 188, vol. 3, pp. 142, 145. On the setting, see OROT, pp. 70–75.

52. Artaxerxes I Longimanus, king, r. 465-425/424, Ezra 4:6, 7, etc., in various inscriptions, including his own (P&B, pp. 242–243), and in the dates of documents from the time of his reign (COS, vol. 2, p. 163, vol. 3, p. 145; ANET, p. 548).

53. Darius II Nothus, king, r. 425/424-405/404, Nehemiah 12:22, in various inscriptions, including his own (for example, P&B, pp. 158–159) and in the dates of documents from the time of his reign (ANET, p. 548; COS, vol. 3, pp. 116–117).

Symbols and Abbreviations

ANEHST  Mark W. Chavalas, ed., The Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation (Blackwell Sources in Ancient History; Victoria, Australia: Blackwell, 2006).
ABC  A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2000).
ANET  James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969).
B.C.E.  before the common era, used as an equivalent to B.C.
BASOR  Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
c.  century (all are B.C.E.)
ca.  circa, a Latin word meaning “around”
cf.  compare
CAH  John Boardman et al., eds., The Cambridge Ancient History (2nd ed.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970).
CIIP Hanna M. Cotton et al., eds., Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae, vol. 1: Jerusalem, Part 1 (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2010). Vol. 1 consists of two separately bound Parts, each a physical “book.”
“Corrections”  Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, “Corrections and Updates to ‘Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E.,” Maarav 16 (2009), pp. 49–132, free online at docs.lib.purdue.edu/lib_research/129/.
COS  William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, eds., The Context of Scripture, vol. 2: Archival Documents from the Biblical World (Boston: Brill, 2000).
Dearman, Studies  J. Andrew Dearman, ed., Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989).
esp.  especially
fl.  flourished
IBP  Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, Identifying Biblical Persons in Northwest Semitic Inscriptions of 1200–539 B.C.E. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004). This book is a revised Ph.D. dissertation in Hebrew and Semitic Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1998, which began with a 1992 graduate seminar paper. Most of IBP is available on the Google Books web site:  www.google.com/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=mykytiuk+identifying&num=10
ibid.  (Latin) “the same thing,” meaning the same publication as the one mentioned immediately before
idem  (Latin) “the same one(s),” meaning “the same person or persons,” used for referring to the author(s) mentioned immediately before.
IEJ  Israel Exploration Journal
ITP  Hayim Tadmor, The Inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III, King of Assyria (Fontes ad Res Judaicas Spectantes; Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2nd 2007 printing with addenda et corrigenda, 1994).
n.  note (a footnote or endnote)
no.  number (of an item, usually on a page)
OROT  Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003).
P&B  Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1990).
Pl.  plate(s) (a page of photos or drawings in a scholarly publication, normally unnumbered,)
r.  reigned
Raging Torrent  Mordechai Cogan, The Raging Torrent: Historical Inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia Relating to Ancient Israel (A Carta Handbook; Jerusalem: Carta, 2008).
RlA  Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie (New York, Berlin: de Gruyter, ©1932, 1971).
RIMA  a series of books: The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia: Assyrian Periods
RIMA 3  A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC, II (858–745 BC) (RIMA, no. 3; Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1996).
“Sixteen”  Lawrence J. Mykytiuk, “Sixteen Strong Identifications of Biblical Persons (Plus Nine Other Identifications) in Authentic Northwest Semitic Inscriptions from before 539 B.C.E.,” pp. 35–58 in Meir Lubetski and Edith Lubetski, eds., New Inscriptions and Seals Relating to the Biblical World (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), free online at docs.lib.purdue.edu/lib_research/150/.
Third  Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 B.C.) (2nd rev. ed. with supplement; Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1986).
WSS  Nahman Avigad and Benjamin Sass, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Israel Exploration Society, and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Institute of Archaeology, 1997).

Date Sources

This table uses Kitchen’s dates for rulers of Egypt, Pitard’s for kings of Damascus (with some differences), Galil’s for monarchs of Judah and for those of the northern kingdom of Israel, Grayson’s for Neo-Assyrian kings, Wiseman’s for Neo-Babylonian kings and Briant’s, if given, for Persian kings and for the Persian province of Yehud. Other dates follow traditional high biblical chronology, rather than the low chronology proposed by Israel Finkelstein.

References

Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 B.C.) (2nd rev. ed. with supplement; Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1986), pp. 466–468.

Wayne T. Pitard, Ancient Damascus: A Historical Study of the Syrian City-State from Earliest Times until its Fall to the Assyrians in 732 B.C.E. (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1987), pp. 138–144, 189.

Gershon Galil, The Chronology of the Kings of Israel and Judah (SHCANE 9; New York: Brill, 1996), p. 147.

A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC, II (858–745 BC) (RIMA 3; Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1996), p. vii; idem, “Assyria: Ashur-dan II to Ashur-nirari V (934–745 B.C.),” in CAH, vol. III, part I, pp. 238–281; idem, “Assyria: Tiglath-pileser III to Sargon II (744–705 B.C.),” in CAH, vol. III, part II, pp. 71–102; idem, “Assyria: Sennacherib and Esarhaddon (704–669 B.C.),” in CAH, vol. III, part II, pp. 103–141; idem, “Assyria 668–635 B.C.: The Reign of Ashurbanipal,” in CAH, vol. III, part II, pp. 142–161.

Donald J. Wiseman, “Babylonia 605–539 B.C.” in CAH, vol. III, part II, pp. 229–251.

Pierre Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander : A History of the Persian Empire (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2002), “Index of Personal Names,” pp.  1149–1160.

Acknowledgement

This post has been sourced from the Biblical Archaeology Society.

Posted November 2017

Also see: Does archaeology support the Bible?


Does archaeology support the Bible?

Archaeology collage 1300px

The Bible is more reliable than archaeology

Old houses are being demolished in my suburb to make way for new ones. If we came back in 50 year’s time, what evidence will there be of how people lived in the old houses? Very little. But there would be more evidence if we excavated a rubbish dump. If the time gap was longer, like thousands of years, not much would be left to discover and it would be harder to work out the purpose and age of what was found.

In antiquity, instead of demolishing an old city, people would just build a new one on top of it. So the city grew higher with time until it became a hill called a tell. A tell is a mound of ruins and debris that is mainly comprised of mud bricks, which disintegrate rapidly. Excavating a tell can reveal buried buildings, pottery and other relics, located at different depths depending on their date of use. Archaeologists excavate tell sites to interpret the architecture, purpose, and date of occupation.

In this post we are looking at whether archaeology supports the Bible or not. The word archaeology comes from two Greek words meaning “ancient” and “knowledge”. So it means the study of ancient things. Archaeology is a historical science that studies ancient cultures through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts, inscriptions, monuments and other physical remains. It’s like forensic science because it studies the past.

This topic is important because archaeology can impact our attitude towards the Bible. For example, a statement by an archaeologist that “the Israelites were never in Egypt or the Sinai desert”, can cause us to doubt the reliability of the Bible. But we will see that the Bible is more reliable than archaeology.

History and the Bible

Source of faith 400pxWhat is the foundation of the Christian faith? Is it Jesus Christ? Is it His death and resurrection? Is it because we needed a Savior because of the sin of Adam and Eve? These are historical people and historical events. So you could say Christianity is based on history. But it’s not just any history, it’s biblical history. Only the Bible gives the history and its meaning that’s essential to becoming a Christian. Paul says that Christian faith comes through accepting “the word about Christ”, which is the good news in the Bible (Rom. 10:17NIV). The source of Christian faith is shown in this schematic diagram. When we hear the good news in the Bible about Jesus and the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need to accept it, we can come to trust in what Jesus has done for us.

But the Bible is often under attack. And disciplines such as history, archaeology, geology and biology are often used to attack the Bible. Today we are focusing on archaeology. We will begin by looking at examples from two ancient cities.

Hezekiah’s tunnel

The first example is in Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom of Judah at about 700BC. What does the Bible say happened?

“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself. When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to wage war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him. They gathered a large group of people who blocked all the springs and the stream that flowed through the land. “Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?” they said” (2 Chr. 32:1-4).
“It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channelled the water down to the west side of the City of David” (2 Chr. 32:30).
“As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool (of Siloam) and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?” (2 Ki. 20:20).

Jerusalem’s water supply was vulnerable to enemy attack since it was outside the main city wall. And Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was invading Judah. So king Hezekiah, who reigned 715BC to 686BC, built a tunnel to bring water from the spring to a new pool. If these events really happened as described in the Bible, what would we expect an archaeologist to find? Maybe a tunnel through the rock from a water source outside the city to a pool inside the city.

Hezekiahs tunnel 3 400pxWhat did they find? In 1880 a tunnel was discovered from Gihon Spring in Kidron Valley to bring water into the city. It is about 530 meters (1750 feet) long. Being cut into solid rock and 40 m (131 feet) underground, it’s one of the greatest engineering feats of the ancient world. Tourists can walk through the tunnel and it still carries water from Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, 2,700 years after it was built. The other archaeological evidence of King Hezekiah includes many bullae (impressed clay pieces that were used to secure the strings tied around rolled-up documents) of his royal seal and Sennacherib boasting that he trapped Hezekiah in Jerusalem “like a bird in a cage” (Sennacherib Prism). But Sennacherib doesn’t mention taking Jerusalem because the Bible says that God intervened (2 Ki. 19:35-36; 2 Chr. 32:20-21a; Isa. 37:36-37). So archaeology can support the Bible.

Sultan’s Hill

The second example is in the city of Jericho at about 1400BC. It was an oasis north of the Dead Sea called the city of palms (Dt. 34:3; Jud. 1:16; 3:13; 2 Chr. 28:15).

What does the Bible say happened? When Joshua lead the Israelites into Canaan, Jericho was the first city they conquered. After circling Jericho 13 times over seven days, “When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in (“up” is a better translation), and they took the city … Then they burned the whole city and everything in it” (Josh. 6:20, 24).
“At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: ‘Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates’” (Josh. 6:26). This curse was fulfilled when Heil rebuilt the city walls in about 850BC (1 Ki. 16:34). So the city went about 550 years without a wall.

If these events really happened as described in the Bible, what would we expect an archaeologist to find? Evidence of: toppled walls, destruction by fire, a new people with a new culture coming into the land, a gap in occupation, and then the city being rebuilt.

Jericho - anciernt 2 400pxWhat did they find at Tel es-Sultan (Sultan’s hill)?
– Carl Watzinger found the remains of two walls which he dated 1950-1550BC, and said that “in the time of Joshua, Jericho was a heap of ruins, on which stood perhaps a few isolated huts”.
– Kathleen Kenyon found many walls, some of which she thought may have been destroyed by earthquakes. The last of the walls was put together in a hurry, indicating that the settlement had been destroyed by nomadic invaders. She thought all these walls predated Joshua – they were in the middle Bronze age, not the Late Bronze age. After this there was little activity in Jericho until the 7th century BC. She did not find substantial evidence for renewed occupation in the Late Bronze Age at the time of Joshua and the biblical story of the battle of Jericho. Kenyon thought that there was no city and no wall at that time. She dated the demise of the city 150 years before the Israelites came into the land. Although Jericho was heavily fortified, it had been burned.

So in this case, archaeology and radiocarbon dating does not support the Bible. Instead it seems to contradict the Bible. How do we resolve this situation?

Interpretation of the evidence

At Jericho everything seems to fit in with the Bible except for the timing. When archaeologists excavate a tell they find items like broken pottery that require interpretation. These items don’t have labels to give their purpose and age. These depend on the assumptions or presuppositions used by the archaeologist.

What are the presuppositions of a secular archaeologist? These are beliefs about how the evidence is interpreted. And they depend on one’s worldview.

The Darwinian evolutionary theory in biology is often used to explain the process of cultural change with time. For example, cultural development is divided into three stages: Stone age, Bronze age, and Iron age. And the Stone age is usually divided into geological periods: Palaeolithic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic. It is assumed that humanity developed gradually, both physically and intellectually, over millions of years. This timescale usually extends backwards past the creation of the universe according to the Bible! Whereas according to the Bible, the timescale should only go back the flood in about 2400BC. For example, Down suggested the following dates for Israel:
– Stone age – 2300 to 2100 BC
– Bronze age – 2100 to 540 BC
– Iron age – 540 to 300 BC
However, Anderson and Edwards quote the “generally acceptable” (secular) timing of:
– Stone age – creation to 3300 BC
– Bronze age – 3300 to 1200 BC
– Iron age – 1200 to 600 BC

Radiocarbon dating is often used without acknowledging the unreliability of this method (see Appendix A).

Naturalism is the belief that nature (or physical processes) is all that exists. It rules out the unseen, the spiritual and the divine. It also rules out the historical record in the Bible. They are biased against the Bible. The naturalist attempts to use logic and reason to support their position, but logic is not part of nature! Where in the physical world do the laws of logic come from? They can’t be explained by evolutionary processes. So the naturalist is inconsistent!

So a historical (forensic) science is a worldview discipline. Also, disciplines that depend on it like archaeology rely on one’s worldview. It’s findings largely depend on one’s worldview. We need to have the right worldview to get the right answer. If we reject the best account of ancient history in the Bible, our interpretation of archaeological evidence could be wrong, like that at Jericho. But when Bryant Wood made a better assessment of the pottery found at Jericho, he found that they were dated about 1400BC, which was consistent with the Bible (see Appendix B). He also realised when Israel destroyed Jericho, mud brick walls that were on top of a stone retaining wall fell to the ground to form a ramp so they could climb up into the city.

More archaeological findings

Here’s some more archaeological findings that are related to the Bible.

Merneptah Monument – About 1200BC

In 1898 a victory monument of Pharaoh Merneptah, the son of Ramesses II was found in the ancient Egyptian capital of Thebes. According to the traditional chronology, he reigned about 1200BC (but if Down can give a tentative date of 700BC, it shows that these dates are not robust). It has ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs engraved on granite rock. The monument documents his military victories such as over peoples and city-states in Canaan, including the Israelites. It says “Israel is laid waste; its seed is not”. This is claimed to be the earliest archaeological evidence of the Israelites.

Archaeologists have also dated the gates of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer in Israel to the 10th century BC and the Bible says that Solomon had these constructed (1 Ki. 9:15-17).

Obelisk of Shalmaneser III – 840BC

In 1846 a black limestone obelisk that commemorates the deeds of King Shalmaneser III of Assyria (reigned 858-824 BC) was found at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) in Iraq. It lists tribute paid by foreign kings, including Jehu the king of Israel. It has a relief of Jehu paying tribute to Shalmanaser, which is the only contemporary depiction of anyone mentioned in the Bible. It says, “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears”.

Tel Dan monument – About 840BC

This broken monument (inscribed stone) was discovered in 1993-94 during excavations of Tel Dan in northern Israel. It is written on basalt in an Aramaic dialect. In it the king of Aram boasts of his military victories over the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David” (Judah). This is the earliest mention of David outside the Hebrew Bible. The king of Aram was probably Hazael because Elisha appointed Hazael to be king (2 Ki. 8:7-15) in order to punish Israel for their sins (2 Ki. 9:14-16; 10:32; 12:17-18; 13:3, 22). The monument seems to have been set up by Hazael, king of Aram to commemorate his victory over Joram (king of Israel) and Ahaziah (king of Judah) at Ramoth-Gilead in 841 BC (2 Ki. 8:28–29; 9:15-28; 2 Chron. 22:1-9).

Assyrian Lachish Reliefs – About 690BC

Lachish, the second largest city in Israel, was destroyed by siege by the Assyrians in 701BC. In 1847 a huge relief of the battle was found in the ruins of Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh. It was a waiting room for people getting ready to see the king. The relief covered all the four limestone walls and was 2.4 m (8 foot) tall and 24 m (80 foot) long. It demonstrated the power of the king and the fate of those who resist his rule. This indicates that Israel was a powerful country at this time and that he didn’t destroy Jerusalem (otherwise that would have been illustrated). The Bible says that Sennacherib “attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them”, including laying siege to Lachish (2 Ki. 18:13; 2 Chr. 32:9; Isa. 36:1).

Keetef Hinnom amulet – About 600BC

In 1979 two tiny silver scrolls were fund in a burial chamber on the old road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. An amulet is an ornament or small piece of jewellery used to protect its owner from danger or harm. When they were unrolled, it was evident that they were inscribed with a priestly blessing from Numbers written in ancient Hebrew (Num. 6:24-26):
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace”.

This is the oldest copy of any portion of scripture (at least 400 years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls). It also shows that the Pentateuch was written earlier than is claimed by some critics.

House of God inscription – About 600BC

In ancient times notes were often written on pottery because it was more common than papyrus. Such a message was found at Tel Arad (near the Dead Sea) that mentions “the house of God (YHWH)” in ancient Hebrew script. It is written in ink by a professional scribe. It seems to be a letter sent from Jerusalem to the commander of the Arad. It is an early reference to the temple in Jerusalem that was destroyed in 586BC.

Cyrus cylinder – 530BC

A clay cylinder was found in the ruins of Babylon in Iraq in 1879. It is inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform script with an account made by Cyrus king of Persia (559-530 BC). It records his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, as mentioned in scripture. Cyrus allowed various captives to return to their homelands (as recorded on the cylinder), which is consistent with the end of the Jewish exile in Babylon (2 Chr. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11). Isaiah mentions Cyrus 150 years before his birth (Isa. 44:28) and predicted the release of the Jews after the exile and their rebuilding of Jerusalem (Isa. 13:1, 17-19; 44:26 – 45:3).

Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) – 250BC to AD70

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection 980 Hebrew documents found in the Qumran limestone caves between in 1947 and 2017. Most of the texts are written on parchment. About 40% were copies from the Old Testament. Before the discovery of the DSS, the oldest Hebrew-language manuscripts of the Bible were Masoretic texts dating to the 10th century AD, such as the Aleppo Codex. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls push that date back over one thousand years. The DSS have demonstrated that the Old Testament was accurately transmitted during this interval. This indicates that the Old Testament we have today is a very accurate copy of the original text (autograph) of Old Testament. By the way, the earliest copies of the Greek Septuagint Old Testament are dated about AD 350.

Pilate inscription – AD 36

In 1961 a block of limestone was discovered in Caesarea with the inscription “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea”. Pilate was the prefect (governor) of the Roman-controlled province of Judaea from 26–36 AD. After AD 6 Caesarea replaced Jerusalem as the administrative capital and military headquarters of the province. The civil trial of Jesus was before Pilate and Herod Antipas (Mt. 27:11-26; Mk. 15:6-12; Lk. 23:6-15) and Pilate made the decision, “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate … had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified” (Mk. 15:15). This inscription confirms the existence of a central character in the crucifixion of Christ.

Yehohanan crucifixion – AD 7 to70

In 1968 the remains of a crucified man were found in a stone ossuary (casket for bones) outside Jerusalem. According to the Hebrew inscription, his name was Yehohanan. A 11.5 cm (4.5 inches) iron nail pierced a heel bone. Iron was rare in Roman times so they would always remove the nails to use them again. However, in this case they could not remove this nail because it was bent so much at the tip. His feet had been nailed separately to the sides of the pole of the cross. The lack of traumatic injury to the arms and hands indicates that his hands were probably tied rather than nailed to the crossbar of the cross. The bones give clear evidence of first century AD Roman crucifixion. And this find proves that a victim of crucifixion (like Jesus) could receive a proper Jewish burial.

Ephesian theatre – AD 54

The theatre at Ephesus (in Turkey) was constructed in the 3rd century BC and enlarged to a seating capacity of 25,000 in the Roman period. Besides drama and gladiatorial combats, political and religious events were carried out in it as well. The Bible records conflict between Christians and the followers of Artemis in AD 54 when Paul’s safety was threatened. Luke records this riot as follows, “Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.” (Acts 19:29-31).

These archaeological findings do support the Bible.

Lessons for us

We have seen that some archaeology supports the Bible and some doesn’t. Like in Jericho, many alleged conflicts are due to disagreements about chronology (timing). This is because archaeological findings can be strongly influenced by the worldview of the archaeologist. The findings are based on evidence that must be interpreted. Every archaeologist has a worldview and every person has a worldview. What about us? Is our worldview trustworthy? Does it include God’s revelation in the Bible? Is our worldview true or false?

As all knowledge about the past is fragmentary, all history (and archaeology) is fragmentary. How much do you know about your great-grandparents? You can’t read their life story on Facebook! We probably know more about Moses, who lived 3,500 years ago! So history and archaeology are limited by the amount of evidence available. Very little evidence remains from ancient history. This limits the scope of history. Only a small fraction of historical artefacts that once existed have survived to the present. This limits the scope of archaeology because conclusions can only be made from the evidence that is available. However, like fossils, artefacts are more likely to be preserved if they remain buried in the ground.

Archaeology is also limited by the small extent of excavations made to date. Only a fraction of ancient sites have been surveyed, excavated, and the results published.

In archaeological investigations, the absence of evidence doesn’t prove anything. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Archaeology needs to draw conclusions from what it finds, not what it doesn’t find. For example, in 1961 Khrushchev spread atheist propaganda that the Soviet cosmonaut “Gagarin flew into space and didn’t see God”. Does that prove God doesn’t exist? No, because God is invisible! And if someone excavates the ground near a house in my suburb in 50-years’ time and sees no evidence of any previous houses, it doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. And the same applies to archaeological statements like, “the Israelites were never in Egypt”. I’m not surprised if there is no evidence of this after 3,500 years.

A lot of archaeological evidence doesn’t overlap with the Bible because it’s from a different place or a different time period. Only a fraction of what is discovered and published relates to the Bible. So we should be careful in trying to correlate biblical accounts and archaeological data.

Archaeology can’t prove the Bible. And it can’t disprove the Bible. And archaeology is unable to address the Bible’s theological claims. But archaeology can confirm and support some of the biblical record. For example, it confirms the predicted demise of ancient Babylon, Nineveh and Tyre (Jer. 51:37; Ezek. 26:4, 12; Zeph. 2:13-15). It also helps us understand aspects of the ancient world. As shown in the previous section, many archaeological discoveries are consistent with biblical history. However, those with a different world view have challenged some of these interpretations. This shows that archaeological discoveries can be open to more than one interpretation.

The Bible stands alone and needs no affirmative evidence to verify its truth. The Bible was written by eyewitnesses, and eyewitnesses trump archaeology in confirming ancient events. History trumps science when dealing with the past. The Bible is reliable and trustworthy (2 Pt. 1:19). But do we “pay attention to it”? Because the Bible is more reliable than archaeology, it’s best to use the Bible to understand archaeology rather than vice versa.

Archaeology can supply some information about the past, but it is limited and requires interpretation. The Bible also supplies some information about the past, but it provides its own interpretation. The Bible provides sufficient information for us to know what was important about the past, but it doesn’t answer all our questions.

Finally, we are looking at this topic because history and faith are connected. For example, we can’t separate the historical nature of Christ’s death and resurrection from the spiritual forgiveness of sin. Jesus told Nicodemus, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (Jn. 3:12).

Our attitude towards the Bible

Source of faith 400pxGoing back to the diagram about the source of Christian faith. When we hear the good news in the Bible about Jesus and the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need to accept it, we can come to trust in what Jesus has done for us.

The Bible teaches that we are separated from God because we have rebelled against Him. And so we deserve to be punished. But God has acted to address this serious situation. He sent Jesus to take our punishment. Jesus’ followers, the apostles, taught people how to get right with God and this is written down in the Bible (1 Cor. 2:10-13). God also sent the Holy Spirit to help us get right with God. He does this in two ways:
– Convicting us of our sinful situation (Jn. 10:8-9), and
– Helping us understand the true meaning of the historical events recorded in the Bible (1 Cor. 2:14-16). For example, Paul preached about the meaning of Genesis history (Acts 17:24-26), Israel’s history and Jesus’ history (Acts 13:16-41).

These are the first steps towards becoming a follower of Jesus. And they are both based on the Bible. If we don’t make this step, it’s like not getting to first base in baseball. If we think the Bible is unreliable, then we stay in our sinful situation. If we don’t trust the Bible, we remain separated from God and face His punishment. So our attitude towards the Bible can be a barrier to belief. We have seen that archaeology can provide some support for the reliability of the Bible. Are we willing to read the Bible with an open mind? And are we willing to reject the views of those who reject the Bible? Are we willing to get right with God?

If we are already following Jesus, is the Bible really our authority? Or do we trust in what we read and hear from the internet, movies, videos and TV? Do we critique these with a biblical worldview? We can use “If …, then …” statements like:
– If the Bible is true, then that is true and good, or
– If the Bible is true, then that is false and rubbish.
Otherwise, it’s like swallowing polluted water without filtering it. We need to keep our biblical glasses and filters on our eyes, ears and minds. And don’t just accept what is preached by the ungodly world.

Summary

The answer to the question, “Does archaeology support the Bible?” is yes and no! We have seen that archaeology can support the Bible. But because archaeology relies so much on the worldview of the archaeologist, it can also contradict the Bible. This is because archaeological discoveries can be open to more than one interpretation. And archaeology is limited because its discoveries only relate to very few parts of history. For these reasons, the Bible is more reliable than archaeology. So, let’s test archaeological claims before accepting them, while trusting the Bible and its history because it can lead to salvation.

Appendix A: Radiocarbon dating

Radiocarbon dating uses the fact that an isotope of carbon (14C) is radioactive and decays at a known rate (it has a half-life of 5,730 years, which means that it is undetectable after about 50,000 years). In the carbon cycle, carbon atoms move between the atmosphere, plants and animals and the rest of the environment. If we assume that the 14C/12C ratio is the same across the environment and across the last 50,000 years, then when a plant or animal dies, it will contain carbon with this ratio of isotopes. If it is assumed that 14C decays at a fixed rate after a plant or animal dies, then an elapsed time can be calculated from the difference between the 14C/12C ratio in the sample compared to that in the atmosphere. This also assumes that 14C isn’t added to or removed selectively from the dead plant or animal. The elapsed time gives the “raw” age of the sample. It is claimed that the assumption that 14C/12C in the environment is fixed across all time periods (in the past 50,000 years) is removed by calibration with the international radiocarbon calibration curve (which is used to convert the raw age to a calendar age). This curve is based on the raw ages and calendar ages obtained from trees and corals. The trees are dated by counting the rings and assuming that each ring represent a calendar year (an annual cycle of seasons). The corals are dated by other radioactive dating methods (such as thorium/uranium). So the dates on this curve are inferred and not verified against historical records.

For the following reasons, this radiocarbon dating method is an example of historical science that is based on a secular (unbiblical) worldview (viewpoint):
– Radiocarbon dating is only done for samples which are believed to be younger than 50,000 years (on the secular timescale). If a sample (believed to be older than 50,000 years) is tested and gives an age less than 50,000 years, the result is said to have been influenced by contamination (by more recent carbon).
– If a sample (believed to be less than 50,000 years) is tested and gives an unexpected age, the result is said to have been influenced by contamination (by foreign carbon).
– The tree ring record has been extrapolated well past verified historical records (see below).
– Because the assumed dates of tree rings are determined from their 14C/12C ratio, and these assumed dates are used to determine the international radiocarbon calibration curve, the method of radiocarbon dating uses circular reasoning. It uses radiocarbon dating to calibrate radiocarbon dating!
– Because the assumed dates of corals are determined by radioactive dating, and these assumed dates are used to determine the international radiocarbon calibration curve, the method of radiocarbon dating uses circular reasoning. It uses radioactive dating to calibrate radiocarbon dating!

Historically verifiable dates

As history trumps science when dealing with the past, radiocarbon dates should be verified against historical records. The Bible has historical records back to the creation of the earth. The oldest of these that have been verified independently by archaeology are dated in the 9th century BC:
– Omri king of Israel (880BC) is mentioned on the Moabite Stone (Mesha Monument), which is dated about 850BC.
– Jehu king of Israel is mentioned on the Obelisk of Shalmaneser, which is dated 840BC.
This means that the radiocarbon dating method hasn’t been verified against historical data past 3,000 years ago. Yet the international radiocarbon calibration curve extends to 50,000 years ago! This is an extrapolation of more than an order of magnitude!

Also, the global flood (~ 2,400BC), which buried plant and animal life, would have upset the earth’s environment. What impact did this have on the carbon cycle and the rate of 14C decay? This is unknown, but is likely to have been significant. It throws significant doubt on the international radiocarbon calibration curve which assumes uniformity in the carbon cycle across the last 50,000 years.

So, although the concentrations of carbon isotopes can be measured with great precision, the radiocarbon dating method has many assumptions which result in significant uncertainties. I believe that the uncertainty in the determination of dates 3,500 years ago by the radiocarbon method would be greater than 5%, which is the difference between the historical and carbon dating predictions of the fall of Jericho (see Appendix B). Therefore, there is no significant difference between these historical and radiocarbon dates.

Appendix B: Archaeological assessment of Tel Es-Sultan

There are two views on the date of the major destruction of ancient city of Jericho in the second millennium BC:
– Kathleen Kenyon claims it was about 1550BC.
– Bryant Wood claims it was about 1400BC.

There is evidence that there were two walls around Jericho:
– An outer stone revetment (retaining) wall (about 4.6 m or 15 feet high) upon which there was a mudbrick parapet wall (vertical extension), and
– An inner mudbrick wall which served as Jericho’s city wall proper.
There was a sloping earth embankment (rampart) between the inner and outer walls. A photo and drawing of an excavation on the northern end of the tell shows the revetment wall, the mudbrick parapet wall (a height of 2.4 m or 8 feet had been preserved) and the remains of mudbrick houses on top of the rampart between the inner and outer walls (Watzinger, 1911).

Kenyon based her opinion almost exclusively on the absence of pottery imported from Cyprus and common to the Late Bronze I period (1550-1400 BC). This is a major deficiency in her methodology. As noted above, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And she paid little attention to the pottery that was excavated, although the primary method of dating should be a thorough analysis of the local (not imported) pottery. The presence or absence of imported pottery can be used as a supporting argument, but it should not be the sole basis for determining a date.

Wood also claims that “Kenyon dug in a poor quarter of the city where they found only humble domestic dwellings. She based her dating on the fact that she failed to find expensive, imported pottery in a small excavation area in an impoverished part of a city located far from major trade routes!”

Wood based his opinion on four lines of evidence: the ceramic data; stratigraphical considerations; scarab evidence, and a radiocarbon date. However, because of the uncertainty associated with radioactive dating, this method is unable to discriminate between the different dates proposed by Kenyon and Wood (see Appendix A). Wood’s major finding were:
– The pottery excavated by Kenyon are from the Late Bronze I period and not the Middle Bronze Age.
– Kenyon’s dating requires the city to go through 20 different architectural phases (with evidence that some of these phases lasted for long periods of time) in approximately 100 years of time!
– The cemetery outside Jericho yielded a continuous series of Egyptian scarabs from the 18th through the early-14th centuries BC (Garstang, 1936) contradicting Kenyon’s claim that the city was abandoned after 1550 BC. Scarabs are small Egyptian amulets shaped like a beetle with an inscription.

Bienkowski wrote an article disputing Wood’s conclusions. But a review of the evidence relevant to the date of the destruction of Jericho by Wood revealed that Bienkowski’s objections do not stand up to critical assessment.

It has been pointed out that scarabs tend to be handed down as heirlooms. But this means that scarabs only set an upper limit for the date and the actual date may be lower than indicated than the scarab. This doesn’t invalidate Wood’s dating, but it makes Kenyon’s dating less likely. However, Woods also states that “It is extremely difficult to correlate the tomb groups with the tell strata”.

For the above reasons, I think that Wood’s dating is more robust than Kenyon’s. The only other probable conclusion is that secular history and archaeology is unable to differentiate between the two dates because of the significant uncertainty in their determination of these dates.

Was this destruction of Jericho at the hands of the Israelites? The correlation between the archaeological evidence and the Biblical narrative is substantial:
– The city was strongly fortified (Josh. 2:5,7,15; 6:5,20).
– The attack occurred just after harvest time in the spring (Josh. 2:6; 3:15; 5:10).
– The inhabitants had no opportunity to flee with their foodstuffs (Josh. 6:1).
– The siege was short (Josh. 6:15).
– The mudbrick walls collapsed, possibly due to an earthquake (Josh. 6:20).
– The city was not plundered as the grain harvested was ignored by the conquering army (Josh. 6:17-18).
– The city was burned (Joshua 6:24).

References

Anderson C and Edwards B (2014) “Evidence for the Bible”, Day One Publications.

Down D (2010) “The archaeology book”, Master Books.

Lisle J (2013) “The ultimate proof of creation – Presuppositional apologetics”, YouTube.

Wood B (2008) Did the Israelites conquer Jericho? A new look at the archaeological evidence. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/05/Did-the-Israelites-Conquer-Jericho-A-New-Look-at-the-Archaeological-Evidence.aspx#Article

Wood B (2012) “Dating Jericho’s destruction: Bienkowshi is wrong on all counts” http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2012/03/28/Dating-Jerichos-Destruction-Bienkowski-is-Wrong-on-All-Counts.aspx

Written, June 2017

Also see: Archaeology confirms Biblical characters


Extra-biblical evidence of Jesus

jigsaw-3-400pxHave you ever worked on a giant jigsaw puzzle? What if some of the pieces are missing? How about piecing together the 20,000 Dead Sea Scroll fragments! Historians piece together pictures of what life was like in days gone by. They also look for patterns – what has remained the same, what has changed, and why. In their investigations, historians follow a process of historical inquiry – they ask questions, form opinions and theories, locate and analyze sources, and use evidence from these sources to develop an informed explanation about the past.

Most of what is known of the ancient world comes from written accounts by ancient historians. But these only record a sample of human events and only a few of these documents have survived. Few people could write such histories as illiteracy was widespread in ancient times. And the reliability of the surviving accounts needs to be considered.

According to Christian history, Jesus lived in Palestine about 5 BC to 33 AD. The gospels record His birth, teaching, death, burial and resurrection. But all historians are biased and selective. Christians are biased towards believing that Jesus existed as a historical person, whereas non-Christians can be biased towards doubting the existence of Jesus. Could the story of Jesus be just a Christian myth or conspiracy and He doesn’t exist outside the Bible or outside early church history? By the way, almost no early ancient historian believes this. But how robust is the historical evidence about Jesus? How confident are we that Jesus lived in history?

Jesus was a Jew (a minor race) who lived in Galilee, which was a part of Palestine (not the capital, Jerusalem), which was an outpost of the Roman Empire (a tiny part of a vast empire). He was a long way away from the local center of power and from Rome (the capital of the empire). So the fact that we can find any written record of Jesus outside the New Testament is significant. Based on this, the best place to look for extra-biblical (outside the Bible) evidence of Jesus is in ancient Roman and Jewish literature.

Roman literature

In His work “Lives of the twelve Caesars” (AD 120, about 85 years after Christ’s death), the Roman historian Suetonius (AD 69 – AD 122) says,
He (Claudius) expelled the Jews from Rome, on account of the riots in which they were constantly indulging, at the instigation of Chrestus” (Book 5, Life of Claudius 25.4).
Claudius was the Emperor of Rome in AD 41-54. “Chrestus” may be a misspelling of Christ (this is debated by classical scholars). If Chrestus refers to Christ, the riots were about Him, rather than led by Him. Alternatively, it has been suggested that Suetonius misunderstood conflicts between Jews and Christians over “the Christ” as a conflict involving a person named Chrestus (a common slave name). This passage may refer to the expulsion of Jews from Rome in AD 49 mentioned in Acts 18:2. Or, Chrestus could have been an agitator in Rome. As the meaning of this passage is inconclusive, it’s debatable whether it refers to Jesus Christ or not.

Now we move to an earlier reference that is more conclusive. In his “Annals” (AD 115-117, about 80 years after Christ’s death), the Roman historian Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 120) says,
They (Christians) got their name from Christ, who was executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. That checked the pernicious superstition (Christianity) for a short time, but it broke out afresh not only in Judea, where the plague first arose, but in Rome itself, where all horrible and shameful things in the world collect and find a home” (15, 44).
The most recent complete copy of the Annals was copied in the 11th century AD (1,000 years after it was written). The Annals is a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero (AD 14–68). The context of this passage is the 6-day fire that burned much of Rome in July 64 AD. The integrity of the passage isn’t disputed by classical scholars. It indicates the manner and time period of Christ’s death. Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) accused the Christians of starting the fire and persecuted them. This means that the Christians in Rome must have been a well-known group, with many members, and with good internal organization. Paul Barnett suggested that as a former consul in Rome, Tacitus would have had access to official archives and may have seen Pilate’s report to Tiberius about the execution of Jesus and others in Judea in AD 33.

We now move from Rome to Bithynia in Asia Minor (now Turkey). Pliny the Younger was the Roman governor of Pontus/Bithynia in 111-113 AD. We have a whole set of exchanges of his letters with the emperor Trajan on a variety of administrative political matters. Letters 10, 96-97 describe his encounter with Christianity (See Appendix A and B), where the emperor advises that Christians be punished unless they denounce Christianity by worshipping Roman gods.

Pliny said that Christians:
– Wouldn’t offer prayer with incense and wine to images of the Emperor and Roman gods.
– Wouldn’t offer sacrificial animals at temples to the Emperor and Roman gods.
– Wouldn’t curse Christ.
– Met on a fixed day before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a god (worship).
– Pledged not to commit any crimes such as fraud, theft, or adultery, or be dishonest or untrustworthy.
– Assembled together to eat ordinary food (communal meal).
– Practiced depraved, excessive superstition. “Superstition” was what the Romans called religions they didn’t like.
Trajan supported Pliny’s approach, provided he acted justly and not on the basis of rumor.

Pliny’s letter supports the existence of the early Christian Church (80 years after Christ’s death) and its rapid growth and mentions aspects of its belief system. It shows that the movement had spread from Jerusalem into Asia Minor and to Rome. And it was widespread in Turkey at that time. Clearly the movement was named after its founder, Christ. This meant that Jesus existed. Because if Jesus didn’t exist, then Christianity wouldn’t exist. Furthermore, Christians worshipped Christ “as to a god”. Clearly Pliny said this because Christ was a human being, unlike their Roman gods. Also, it states that Christians died for their faith (Pliny executed Christians who refused to renounce their faith), which is unlikely to have happened if Jesus was only a mythical figure that had not existed. So this passage shows the impact of Jesus about 80 years after His death.

Jewish literature

Josephus (37 – 100 AD) is the best known Jewish historian. He was born in Jerusalem and went to Rome in 71 AD where he wrote his histories under Roman patronage. Jesus Christ is mentioned twice in his “Antiquities of the Jews” (a history of Israel from Genesis to the first century AD) published around 93 AD (about 60 years after the death of Jesus). The oldest manuscripts of the works of Josephus in their original language of Greek date to the tenth and eleventh centuries (800 years after it was written).

Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the “Antiquities of the Jews” says,
he (Ananus the high priest) assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned”.
This event is dated at 62 AD. The Bible also says that James was the brother of Jesus (Gal. 1:19). According to Dr. Chris Forbes (Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Macquarie University), no historian suggests that this passage is forged or not authentic. This passage assumes you already know about Jesus, which is true because Josephus has already mentioned him two books earlier (see below).

The exact wording of Book 18, 63-64 of the “Antiquities of the Jews” is disputed as it comes down to us only through Christians. It has probably been edited by a Christian scribe (whose annotations have been added to the text) and it’s fairly easy to decide which parts were written by Josephus and by the scribe. Here is a likely wording of what Josephus wrote:
Now, there was about this time (a source of further trouble) Jesus, for he was a doer of surprising works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure (men who welcome strange things). He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him (cease to cause trouble). And the tribe of Christians, so named for him are not extinct to this day” (D. Bock, 2016)

The context of this passage is the political disturbances that the Roman rulers dealt with during this period. It’s clear from what Josephus wrote that:
– Jesus lived during the time of Pilate.
– Jesus had a reputation for doing unusual works (miracles).
– The Jewish leadership pressured Pilate to condemn Jesus to the cross.
– Jesus died by crucifixion.
– Christianity and Christians came out of Christ’s ministry.

Does any tampering with a passage like this make it inadmissible? No, because historians always face incomplete and inconclusive evidence. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with lots of pieces missing! In this case, the consensus is that there is a historical nucleus written by Josephus, but it was edited by a Christian scribe.

According to Justin Martyr (Apology 69.7; AD 160), the Jewish view of Jesus was “They said it (Christ’s miracles) was a display of magic art, for they even dared to say that he was a magician and a deceiver of the people” (D. Bock, 2016). So the Jews acknowledged the existence of Jesus and explained His unusual ministry by saying He was a “magician”, “deceiver” and a “false prophet”. In this context a “magician” was an appeal to spiritual forces, and not to an entertainer. Because they tried to explain the source of His power, they accepted Christ’s miracles. This is consistent with the account in the gospels where the Jews say that Jesus:
– was “subverting our nation” (Lk. 23:2).
– “stirs up the people all over Judea by His teaching” (Lk. 23:5).
– was “inciting the people to rebellion” (Lk. 23:14).
– “It is by the prince of demons that He drives out demons” (Mt. 9:34; 12:24).
– was “called Beelzebul (Satan or the prince of demons)” (Mt. 10:25). Here He was accused of being a deceiver.
Also, the Israelites were told in the Pentateuch that a prophet that urged them to follow other gods “must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God” (Dt. 13:1-5). So false prophets were to be put to death (Dt. 18:20-22). Furthermore, during Christ’s religious trial, the high priest Caiaphas accused Him of blaspheme, which was punishable by death under the law of Moses (Lev. 24:16; Mt. 26:65-66).

Dead Sea scrolls

Is Jesus mentioned in the Dead Sea scrolls (DSS)?  Scholars have dated the scrolls from approximately 200 BC to 70 AD (the date of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans). According to scholars most of the scrolls were written before Christ’s birth and so we wouldn’t expect Jesus to be mentioned in them. That’s why most scholars have dismissed any connection between the community that hid the scrolls in caves at Qumran about 2,000 years ago and the earliest followers of Jesus. Therefore, they assume that Jesus isn’t mentioned in the Dead Sea scrolls. And this preconceived idea may influence how they translate the text of some of the scrolls.

It has been suggested that words such as “dove”, “nail”, “cross” and “mourning” in DSS fragment “4Q451” may refer to Jesus. And “11QT54” says that a person who is a “glutton and drunkard” and a traitor is to be crucified. But it is debatable as to whether these refer to Jesus or not.

Discussion

Skeptics are biased towards doubting the existence of Jesus. Because the contents of these documents differ from their bias, they usually doubt the authenticity of these passages. But if we discard so many different passages, then we are in effect saying that any ancient document is unreliable and that we know very little about ancient history.

Because of the temporal spread of these documents, it’s unlikely that all the statements about Jesus were interpolated into the original texts. Together with the consistency between these passages, this is strong evidence of the existence of Jesus. The documents stated that:
– Jesus lived in Judea/Palestine.
– Jesus was a wise man and a teacher.
– Jesus did “surprising works” (miracles) which the Jews said was magic.
– Jesus was Jewish and had a brother called James.
– James (who was martyred in AD 62) was a contemporary of Josephus.
– Some people said Jesus was the Christ (that is, the Jewish Messiah).
– Jesus was accused by the Jews.
– Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius.
– Jesus had followers (called Christians) who were persecuted for their faith in Christ.
– Early Christians believed Jesus was GOD.
– Early Christians upheld a high moral code.
– Early Christians met regularly to worship Jesus.
– Early Christians were persecuted and some were martyred.
– Christians were named after Christ.
– Within 85 years, Christianity spread from Judea to Asia Minor and Rome and the Christians in Rome were well-known, with many members, and with good internal organization.

So there is significant evidence outside the Bible for the existence of Jesus. This means that the story of Jesus isn’t a Christian myth or conspiracy. By the way, the mere existence of someone in history is (often) easily established on the basis of small textual samples (sometimes even a single name in a list or sentence). So, we are confident that Jesus lived in history. These historical sources rule out the option that the story of Jesus was a fabrication (it was made up).

There are no “contemporary” accounts of Jesus. But the fact is, almost no ancient historical figure has contemporary accounts of their existence, including Alexander the Great, and we don’t see anyone questioning his existence.

It’s also instructive to look at the “copy gap” (between the original autograph and the oldest manuscript) for these historical documents. For the works of Josephus in their original language of Greek, the copy gap was about 800 years and for the Annals of Tacitus it was about 1,000 years. On the other hand, for the New Testament, the copy gap was about 300 years – Codex Vaticanus was copied in 300-325 AD and Codex Sinaiticus in 330-360 AD. So the gap is significantly shorter for the New Testament. A longer gap means more copies of copies, which means more potential for copy errors to appear in the text. So the version of the New Testament we have today should be a more accurate copy of the original than is the case for these other Roman and Jewish historical documents.

Conclusion

Extracts from ancient Roman and Jewish extrabiblical literature confirm that there is a historical basis for the existence of Jesus outside the Bible and outside early church history. So the evidence that Jesus existed is conclusive. Furthermore, these independent extrabiblical sources are consistent with the biography of Jesus given in the gospels of the Bible. This means that the story of Jesus isn’t a Christian myth or conspiracy. And we are confident that the Jesus described in the Bible lived in history.

Appendix A: Pliny’s letter (AD 111)

“It is my rule, Your Majesty, to report to you anything that worries me, for I know well that you are best able to speed my hesitation or instruct me in my ignorance. I have never in the past been present at the investigations into Christians, and so I am at a loss to know the nature and extent of the normal questions and punishments.

I have also been seriously perplexed whether age should make some difference, or whether the very young should be treated in exactly the same way as the more mature. Should the penitent be pardoned, or should no mercy be shown a man who has recanted if he has really been a Christian? Should the mere name be reason enough for punishment however free from crime a man may be, or should only the sins and crimes that attend the name be punished?

Till I hear from you, I have adopted the following course towards those who have been brought before me as Christians. First, I have asked them if they were Christians. If they confessed that they were, I repeated, my question a second and a third time, accompanying it with threats of punishment. If they still persisted in their statements, I ordered them to be taken out (executed). For I was in no doubt that, whatever it was to which they were confessing, they had merited some punishment by their stubbornness and unbending obstinacy. There were others possessed by similar madness, but these I detailed to be sent to Rome, for they were Roman citizens.

Soon, as I investigated the matter, types began to multiply as so often happens, and charges started to spread. An anonymous notebook was presented with many names in it. Those who denied that they were or ever had been Christians I thought should be released, provided that they called on the gods in my presence, and offered incense and wine to your statue (which I had expressly brought in with the images of the gods for that very purpose), and, above all, if they renounced Christ, which no true Christian, I am told, can be made to do. Others informed against admitted that they were Christians but later denied it; they had been, but had given up, some three years past, some further back and one person as long as 25 years ago. All of them reverenced your statue and the images of the gods, and renounced Christ.

They stated that the sum total of their fault or error was as follows. On a fixed day they used to assemble before dawn to sing an antiphonal hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath not for any criminal purpose, but to commit no fraud, no robbery or adultery, to bear no false witness, and not to deny any debt when asked to pay up. After this it was their custom to separate and to reassemble to eat a communion meal, all together and quite harmless. They claimed that they had stopped even that after my edict in which I followed your commands in banning society meetings. So I felt it all the more necessary to find out the truth under torture from two slave girls whom they called Deaconesses. But I found nothing but a depraved and groundless superstition.

So I postponed my inquiry to consult you. The matter seemed worth your attention, especially since the number of those slipping is great. Many people of all ages and classes and of both sexes are now being enticed into mortal peril and will be in the future. The superstition has spread like the plague, not only in the cities but in the villages and the countryside as well. I feel it must be stopped and checked. It is true that everyone is agreed that temples once deserted are now being attended once again, and that sacred ceremonies once neglected are again being performed. Victims for sacrifice are everywhere on sale, for which only an odd buyer could be found a short while ago. All this goes to show how many men could be saved if there is room for repentance.”

Appendix B: Emperor Trajan’s reply

“You have acted quite properly, Pliny, in examining the cases of those Christians brought before you. Nothing definite can be laid down as a general rule. They should not be hunted out. If accusations are made and they are found guilty, they must be punished.

But remember that a man may expect pardon from repentance if he denies that he is a Christian, and proves this to your satisfaction, that is by worshiping our gods, however much you may have suspected him in the past. Anonymous lists should have no part in any charge made. That is thoroughly bad practice and not in accordance with the spirit of the age.”

Written, January 2017

Also see: Jesus:history or myth?