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Mario Seiglie, UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, November 28 2019

How archaeology confirms the Bible

Archaeology is the scientific study of ancient things, which enables us to take a fascinating journey back in time to examine stones and artifacts that bear mute, but compelling witness to the truth of Scripture.

How archaeology confirms the Bible
Sir Henry Rawlinson deciphered the Behistun Rock inscription cuneiform (images composited from WikiCommons)

It was not until the 19th century that scientific methods were rigorously applied to the excavation of historical sites. Flinders Petrie is generally considered the individual who put archaeological methodology on a scientific footing. But as early as the late 1700s Napoleon Bonaparte, who had an interest in Egyptian culture and wanted to decipher the strange drawings he had seen on ancient monuments, set up an institute in Egypt to study the writings and ancient relics.

Accurate translations of ancient inscriptions were finally made possible in 1799 when French soldiers discovered a large black basalt rock at the town of Rosetta. Later to be known as the Rosetta Stone, it bore a trilingual inscription in Old Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic (a later, simplified form of Egyptian hieroglyphics) and Greek. With this stone as a reference, Jean François Champollion in 1822, was finally able to decipher the writings.

The credit for the deciphering of cuneiform, another ancient form of communication, goes mostly to Henry C. Rawlinson. He began a systematic study of cuneiform writing found on the Behistun Rock inscription, sometimes known as the “Rosetta Stone of cuneiform.” This was an inscription, chiselled in three scripts: Persian, Elamite and Babylonian when, thousands of years earlier, Darius the Great, king of Persia, had an account of his exploits recorded on the face of a 1,700-foot cliff.

As a result of these and other successes during the next decades the great cities, mentioned in the Bible, such as the ancient Assyrian capital, Nineveh, Calah and Troy were discovered and excavated, with many of the unearthed ancient artefacts making their way to the British Museum.

Unfortunately, the zeal for fame and treasure also led to unfounded claims, such as the supposed discovery of King Solomon’s mines and David’s tomb, which were later proven false. This fed the skepticism regarding the accuracy of the biblical accounts in spite of the many authentic discoveries.

Added to this Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and others, espousing theories of evolution and an economic, materialistic interpretation of the past further encouraged a questioning of the historicity of the Bible. A tugging match ensued between believers in the inspiration and accuracy of the Bible and scoffers, influenced by Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel.

In spite of this genuine archeological discoveries continued, with irrefutable evidence being found of the existence of the Hittite empire and the fall of Jericho finally being correctly dated to the time of the judges as recorded in the Bible. This finding overturned Kathleen Kenyon original conclusion that Jericho’s downfall could not have happened during those years. Another important event confirming the accuracy of the Bible was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947,which contained books of the Old Testament written more than 100 years before Christ’s time, in an ancient Hebrew script.

The abundance of archaeological evidence in support of the Bible can strengthen faith, and in some cases it has greatly contributed to giving birth to belief where none existed before. An example of this is the life of Englishman William M. Ramsay (1851-1939). He was raised as a nonbeliever by his atheist parents, graduating from Oxford with a doctorate in philosophy and eventually becoming a professor at the University of Aberdeen. Determined to undermine the historical accuracy of the Bible, he studied archaeology and eventually travelled to Palestine expecting to refute the accounts in the book of Acts as nothing more than myth.

However, after a quarter-century of work, Ramsay was awestruck by the accuracy of the book of Acts. He had to concede that Luke’s account of the events and setting were exact in the smallest detail. Far from attacking the biblical account, Ramsay produced a book entitled, St. Paul, the Traveller and Roman Citizen, which supported it.

Eventually, William Ramsay shook the intellectual world by converting to Christianity. Ironically, this man who set out to refute the Bible, found himself accepting the Bible as God’s Word because of his explorations and discoveries.

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