From the January/February 2015 issue of Discern Magazine

Archaeology and the Bible

The Bible claims to answer the big questions of life. How can we know it is accurate? Starting with archaeology, we examine five proofs of the truth of the Bible.

Three of the most important questions in life are: Where did I come from? Who am I? And where am I going? These questions cut to the heart of humanity.

Where would you go to find the answers? Can you look to a friend, a politician, a minister? Or is there another source where you can find the answers to life’s most difficult questions?

The Bible claims to have the answers—answers that are not available anywhere else. 

But how can you know if the Bible is true? After all, in recent years it has been rejected by many as nothing more than a collection of myths. And our modern educational system rejects the Bible as a basis for truth. So, who should we believe?

The Holy Bible: a best seller

Year in and year out, the Bible is the world’s best-selling book. Guinness World Records says: “Although it is impossible to obtain exact figures, there is little doubt that the Bible is the world’s best-selling and most widely distributed book.” The Economist magazine estimated in 2007 that there are more than 100 million Bibles printed each year. George Barna, a well-known American researcher, reports that 92 percent of American households have at least one Bible and most have two or three.

But popularity and a large volume of sales don’t make something true! How can you prove that the Bible is true?

First of five proofs of the Bible

This is the first of five articles that will focus on five basic proofs of the Bible: archaeology, the Dead Sea Scrolls, secular history, fulfilled prophecy and the consistency of statements found within the Bible. While books have been written about each of these proofs, we hope this foundational information will help you prove the truth of the Bible to yourself.

Biblical archaeology

Archaeology is defined as the “scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts and monuments) of past human life and activities” ( Archaeology should either confirm the biblical record or refute it. 

Since archaeology is a science, it is intended to reflect fact and not conjecture. But like everything else, preconceived ideas, politics and personal agendas can get in the way. It is true that there are disputed facts between the Bible and archaeology, but there is a substantial and growing body of archaeological evidence supporting the biblical account that should not be ignored.

If archaeology can confirm the existence of major characters and verify major events as recorded in the Bible, then we have an objective proof of authenticity.If archaeology can confirm the existence of major characters and verify major events as recorded in the Bible, then we have an objective proof of authenticity. There are archaeologists who reject the Bible and make the claim that many accounts recorded in Scripture never happened. These individuals are called minimalists and their position is that the biblical story must be read as fiction unless it can be confirmed by archaeology. Another group is referred to as maximalists and their position is just the opposite—the biblical story is more or less correct unless archaeologists prove that it is not. 

Let’s consider examples where the facts are agreed to by all sides. What do you know about Hezekiah’s tunnel, Jerusalem’s second wall and the death of the Assyrian King Sennacherib? The stories that surround these events are fascinating and can be found in the books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles and Isaiah. 

Archaeology and Hezekiah’s dilemma

The Bible tells the story of Hezekiah, a king of Judah, and his conflict with Sennacherib, a famous Assyrian king. This story is also confirmed in the minutest details by archaeology and history. 

Hezekiah was a godly king who was instrumental in removing idolatry from Judah (2 Kings 18:1-4). Early in his reign he witnessed the captivity of Israel (the northern 10 tribes) at the hands of the Assyrian king, Sargon II (verses 9-12). Following this victory over Israel, the Assyrians forced the cities of Judah to pay tribute to avoid the same fate. 

Hezekiah’s decision to stop paying tribute to the Assyrians resulted in a massive attack by King Sennacherib (verses 7, 13). This caused Hezekiah to change his mind. He decided to pay the Assyrians their tribute by taking gold and silver from his palace and from the temple. He even removed the gold from the temple doors to satisfy Sennacherib’s demand (verses 15-16). 

But it still wasn’t enough, and Sennacherib sent his armies to surround Jerusalem, demanding the surrender of the city.

Fortifying Jerusalem with a second wall

In the midst of this crisis, Hezekiah offered up a heartfelt prayer to God (2 Kings 19), and the prophet Isaiah told him that Sennacherib would not succeed and that Jerusalem would not fall at that time (verses 33-35). 

In preparation for Sennacherib’s invasion, Hezekiah had also fortified the city and built a second wall around the northeast portion of Jerusalem (also called the Broad Wall) that was quite massive. It was 20 feet wide and more than 10 feet high in places. This wall was to protect the city’s freshwater supply, as well as the Jews who, over time, had moved outside the main wall of the city (2 Chronicles 32:1-5). 

But for many years modern maps of ancient Jerusalem did not show this second wall. It wasn’t until excavation began in Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day War that amazingly a second wall was discovered—exactly as the Bible recorded. 

Isaiah 22:9-11 tells us: “You also saw the damage to the city of David, that it was great; and you gathered together the waters of the lower pool. You numbered the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses you broke down to fortify the wall. You also made a reservoir between the two walls.” 

And archaeology verifies these facts: Hezekiah built a reservoir and a tunnel at the only freshwater source for Jerusalem, the Gihon Spring. He also built a second wall to protect this source. And he tore down houses that were in the way and in one place actually built the wall through a house. The spring and reservoir were located “between the two walls.”

Hezekiah’s tunnel

Hezekiah constructed a tunnel to bring freshwater into Jerusalem in preparation for an invasion by the Assyrians. This is recorded in 2 Kings 20:20: “Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah—all his might, and how he made a pool and a tunnel and brought water into the city—are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?”

In 2 Chronicles 32:30 we read: “This same Hezekiah also stopped the water outlet of Upper Gihon, and brought the water by tunnel to the west side of the City of David.” 

The Bible says that Hezekiah diverted the water so that it would flow from the east to the west. Archaeology confirms that the water in Hezekiah’s tunnel flows from east to west. In fact, you can walk through the tunnel today and witness for yourself the direction of the water flow.

Sennacherib’s campaigns and death

The siege of Jerusalem and the Judean campaign of Sennacherib are recorded on three clay artifacts—known today as the Taylor Prism (after the name of its discoverer, Colonel R. Taylor), the Oriental Institute Prism and the Jerusalem Prism. 

On the six inscribed sides of the prism, King Sennacherib recorded eight military campaigns undertaken against various peoples who refused to submit to Assyrian rule. The text records Sennacherib’s account of what happened in his military campaign against Judah. He records victories over 46 fortified cities, but does not mention Jerusalem among them. 

Hezekiah is identified by name as the king of Judah and is referred to as a prisoner in his own city. The text reads: “Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city’s gate.”

In 2 Chronicles 32:9 we find a record of Sennacherib conquering the city of Lachish, near Jerusalem. This victory is confirmed on a giant wall relief that was discovered in the ruins of ancient Nineveh. From there Sennacherib sent his army to surround Jerusalem, but the historical and archaeological records are deafeningly quiet as to what happened at Jerusalem.

There seems to be a good reason for this absence of information. Notice the account of what happened in 2 Chronicles 32:21: “Then the Lord sent an angel who cut down every mighty man of valor, leader, and captain in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned shamefaced to his own land. And when he had gone into the temple of his god, some of his own offspring struck him down with the sword there.”

This defeat is not recorded by the Assyrians nor can it be confirmed by archaeology; but the death of Sennacherib is recorded; and it happened exactly as the Bible says. Assyrian records tell us that Sennacherib was attacked and killed by two of his sons while he was in the temple of Nisroch in 681 B.C. 

This happened almost 20 years after the siege of Jerusalem, and the Bible records it in 2 Kings 19:37, even naming the two sons who killed Sennacherib and a third son, Esarhaddon, who became king in his place. This is all confirmed in the annals of the Assyrian King Esarhaddon.

An archaeologist’s conclusion

One of the greatest Jewish archaeologists of the 20th century was Nelson Glueck (1900-1971), who even appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1963. He wrote the following about the authenticity of Scripture when compared to archaeology: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries” (Rivers in the Desert, 1960, p. 31).

The story of Hezekiah’s tunnel and second wall, the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem and the death of King Sennacherib are only a few of the scores of biblical accounts that have been confirmed by archaeology. While there are archaeologists who reject the Bible as authentic, the record of archaeology, taken as a whole, supports the biblical text. 

More than 30 years ago, James Mann wrote the following in an article for U.S. News and World Report: “A wave of archaeological discoveries is altering old ideas about the roots of Christianity and Judaism—affirming that the Bible is more historically accurate than many scholars thought” (“New Finds Cast Fresh Light on the Bible,” Aug. 24, 1981).

So, if the Bible has an accurate historical record, might it also be correct in its answers to the big questions about life? There is much objective evidence to support a belief that the Bible is accurate and contains the answers to man’s most perplexing questions: Where did I come from? Who am I? And where am I going? 

In the second article in this series we will look into the Dead Sea Scrolls, arguably the greatest biblical discovery of our time, and see what they add to our question, “Is the Bible true?” 

For more about archaeological evidence for the accuracy of the Bible, see our articles “How Do We Know the Bible Is True?” and “Biblical Archaeology.”

About the Author

Jim Franks

Jim Franks is president of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He and his wife, Sharron, live in the Dallas, Texas, area.

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