by Shawn Nelson
It may come as a surprise to some that there is no historical basis for doubting the accuracy of the Bible. Instead, we find a very high degree of correlation between biblical history and known histories of the ancient Near East. Here are just a few examples.
The Bible accurately depicts the center of population explosion. We know from modern anthropology that the further we get from Ararat, the later civilization develops. Civilizations in the Indus Valley developed later than civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Civilizations in China developed later than India. In the fifteenth century A.D., the Aztecs and Incaas were doing what the Egyptians and Mesopotamians were doing in 3000 BC. The farther we get from the Ark, the later civilizations arise. The level of sophistication development is a function of distance from Ararat. How could the Bible which was written thousands of years ago precisely predict the epicenter of civilization, especially since this knowledge has only been known to us since the rise of modern anthropology? It must have been recorded by people who were close to those events.
The rise of urbanism after 3000 BC coincides nicely with the Tower of Babel. During this time we see the rise of walled cities. Archeology confirms the Semitic domination of Mesopotamia toward the end of the third millennium and into the mid-second millennium, which is consistent with the migration of Shem mentioned in Genesis 11. It also accurately depicts the lifestyles of the semi-nomadic people, as well as the mass migration of Semites like Abraham’s father, Terah, during the Intermediate Bronze and Middle Bronze Ages. When Abraham arrived into Canaan he was able to dwell near uninhabited ruins of formerly great cities like Bethel. This is consistent with what we know from archeology—that by the end of the third millennium BC all the great walled cities of the Early Bronze Age had been destroyed.
Abraham’s ability to freely speak to the Pharaoh of Egypt is consistent with what is known of nomadic travelers at the time. The dominant language of the region was Akkadian, and nomadic travelers who frequently traveled through the Near Eastern region would need to speak Akkadian for international correspondence, something which the Egyptians did as well.
The stories of Abraham, Lot and the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the plain have been confirmed with the recent excavation at Tall el-Hammam in Jordan. The destruction of this massive site with its thick layer of ash and destruction debris is now believed to have been caused through an airburst event.
Customs and practices have been corroborated. The names of ancient patriarchs have been shown to be popular during the time of the Middle Bronze Age (names staring with ya/ja/ia such as Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph). Archeologists have also confirmed the Canaanite religious worship practices on hilltops and high places. The famine has been identified which forced Jacob and his family to move to Egypt, as well as the general migration of other Asiatic Semites into the Nile Delta region (1700 BC). The statement that Pharaoh had Joseph introduced by a chariot processional (Genesis 12:43) is consistent with the Hyksos introduction of the horse and chariot into Egypt after taking control of Lower Egypt in the latter part of the Middle Bronze age. In addition, there is even evidence that the word “Hebrew” was in use during Abraham’s day. The words “Hebrew”, ‘Apiru, and Habiru are linguistically equivalent. These terms, used throughout the ancient Near East meant “marauding nomads”. This gives significance to the Bible’s mention of “Abraham the Hebrew”.
Events of Josephs’s day have been confirmed too. The saying that a king eventual arose “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) is supported by the archeological and historical records of the Late Bronze Age, when Amosis I, founder of Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty, ousted the Hyksos from Lower Egypt and unified the land. It also explains subsequent paranoia over the Hebrew people as he and future kings would want to prevent the reoccurrence of another “Hyksos-like” invasion.
There is also evidence of the Exodus. There was a stark decline in Egypt’s power and prestige immediately following the short reign of Tuthmosis IV. Something considerable must have occurred to begin the decline and collapse of Egypt’s mighty Eighteenth Dynasty. The plagues, plundering of wealth, loss of labor force, loss of military force, and death of the Pharaoh himself into the Red Sea would certainly be sufficient to explain such an untimely collapse. Perhaps the most bizarre scenario in the history of the Ancient Near east occurs during this time when Ankhesenamun, Tuthmosis’ widow, writes to Suppiliuma, the Hittite king (who previously was a sworn enemy), pleading with him to send her a son to sit on the throne of Egypt, and that she was very afraid, indicating that some event had caused the country to be in tremendous disarray (the events of the Exodus). We also know that many types of Semitic semi-nomadic people were present in the Sinai Peninsula, which makes Israel’s defeat of the Semitic Amalekites on their way to Sinai perfectly reasonable.
The Bible’s mention of writing fits perfectly with the development of writing. We read that Moses was commanded to write the law and put it on public display. This had just become possible, since the alphabet used to write northwestern Semitic languages such as Hebrew first appeared in Egypt in the eighteenth to seventeenth centuries BC. Even the practice of writing on plastered stelae or stones was common, which Joshua commanded the Israelites to do immediately after crossing into the land.
The desert wandering fits well into the fall of the Egyptian empire. There is even evidence that God, in his divine providence, was using the time of the desert wandering to completely allow for the demise of Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty. Ruling for 38 years, the son Tuthmosis IV, Amenhotep II, was self-indulgent and completely lost control over Canaan and Syria, which is why we do not read about Egypt being a problem for the Israelites by the time they are ready to occupy the land.
The depiction of large cities with fortified walls is an accurate assessment of the cities in the Transjordan area at this time. There is archeological support for the city of Jericho with the discovery of a great double walled city in this exact location dated around 1400 BC whose walls collapsed outward, and whose destruction resulted in an ash layer one meter thick in some places. Even the city of Ai, once thought to be mythical, has now been identified with the site of Khirbet el-Maqatir and its geography and topography are perfectly suited for the tactical requirements of the detailed biblical account.
There is also evidence of the peaceful relationship between Israel and the cities of Shechem as Israel dwelt between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. There is much correspondence in the Amarna Letters to indicate that the king of Shechem favored the Harbiru people, even giving them land.
Israel is described historically as a formidable people group without a king during the time of the Judges. According to the Bible, the period of the Judges was a time where Israel had a general occupation of the land, but it was still dominated by local people groups. This is consistent with archeology, where we simply cannot distinguish between Israelite and Canaanite culture until about 1200 BC. Around 1210 BC we see that Israel had become a formidable presence, as it is mentioned on Egypt’s Nine Bows “Who’s-Who” list, mentioned elsewhere during that same time as a nation without a king.
There is archeological evidence for the Philistine domination along the coast through excavations at Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. Excavations have clarified that there was a king named Belshazzar, mentioned in the book of Daniel, and that he was not only the son of Nabonidus, but also the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar through a likely marriage between Nabonidus and one of Nebuchadnezzar’s daughters, all of which fits perfectly into the biblical account.
Strong reason to trust its central message
In conclusion, we can have tremendous confidence that the biblical accounts of the patriarchs, Exodus, Conquest and events of the Israelite kingdom are historically authentic. This gives us every reason to trust the Bible’s central message of redemption through the person and work of Jesus Christ. For more information on how you can receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, see http://geekychristian.com/how-does-somebody-get-to-heaven-exactly.
For more info see Collins, S. The Defendable Faith: Lessons in Christian Apologetics. Albuquerque, NM: Trinity Southwest University Press, 2012, 232-246.