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In this section, we delve into the skepticism surrounding the Hebrew Scriptures, commonly referred to as the Old Testament, by exploring various criticisms directed toward it. Critics frequently argue that these ancient texts are mere compilations of myths and legends, but we shall scrutinize the validity of such claims.
Consider an episode from the Book of Joshua, the sixth book of the Hebrew Scriptures, recounting events from nearly 3,500 years ago. The narrative describes an unusual military strategy employed during the siege of Jericho. For six consecutive days, the invading forces marched around the city, accompanied by priests blowing horns. On the seventh day, after circling the city seven times, the priests’ vigorous horn-blowing and the army’s thunderous battle cry precipitated the collapse of the city walls, rendering Jericho defenseless (Joshua 6:1-21).
However, many critics, including higher critics and archaeologists, dispute the veracity of this account. They contend that the events described in the Book of Joshua and the preceding five books are merely legends, penned centuries after the purported incidents. Some archaeologists also argue that Jericho might not have even existed during the Israelites’ arrival in Canaan.
These allegations warrant serious consideration, as the Bible’s teachings are intimately intertwined with history. The Divine engages with genuine individuals, families, and nations, imparting commandments to historical communities. Consequently, casting aspersions on the Bible’s historical accuracy also undermines the significance and dependability of its message. If the Bible is indeed the Word of God, its historical accounts must be credible and devoid of mere myths and legends. Therefore, the question arises: Do these critics possess a legitimate basis for questioning the Bible’s historical veracity?
Assessing the Validity of Higher Criticism
Higher criticism, an approach to scrutinizing the Bible, gained significant traction during the 18th and 19th centuries. Julius Wellhausen, a renowned German Bible critic, popularized the theory that the first six books of the Bible were composed around the fifth century B.C.E.—approximately a millennium after the events they recount. He did, however, acknowledge the presence of earlier material within these texts. The 11th edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, published in 1911, expounded on this theory by positing that Genesis was a post-exilic work comprising both post-exilic priestly sources (P) and non-priestly earlier sources, which were markedly distinct in language, style, and religious perspectives.
Proponents of Wellhausen’s theory regard the early historical records in the Hebrew Scriptures as “popular traditions of the past” rather than factual accounts. They view these records as reflections of Israel’s later history. For instance, they assert that the rivalry between Jacob and Esau never occurred but instead symbolizes the hostility between Israel and Edom in later times.
In line with this perspective, critics argue that Moses never received divine instructions to construct the Ark of the Covenant, and the tabernacle—the center of Israelite worship in the wilderness—never existed. They also contend that the Aaronic priesthood’s authority was firmly established only shortly before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, an event they believe transpired at the onset of the sixth century B.C.E.
To support their claims, higher critics purport to identify various documents within the early biblical books’ text. They generally assume that any verse using the Hebrew word for God (’Elo·himʹ) was written by one author, whereas any verse referring to God by His name, Jehovah, must have been penned by another writer. Moreover, they interpret the repetition of events within a book as evidence of multiple authors and consider any change in style indicative of a change in authorship. However, it is important to note that ancient Semitic literature contains other examples of repetition, and even contemporary authors may employ different styles in their writing, depending on the subject matter or stage in their careers.
These theories lack concrete evidence. Higher criticism, particularly in relation to the Bible, is speculative and contingent. One of its flaws, as pointed out by Gleason L. Archer, Jr., is that it begins with the assumption that Israel’s religion, like any other, originated from humans and evolved over time. This presupposition that the Bible is solely the product of human authorship forms the basis of their reasoning.
In 1909, The Jewish Encyclopedia highlighted two additional weaknesses in Wellhausen’s theory: the arguments rest on the assumptions that religious rituals become more elaborate over time and older sources necessarily discuss earlier stages of ritual development. The former assumption contradicts evidence from primitive cultures, while the latter lacks support from ritual codes like those in India.
Is it possible to evaluate the accuracy of higher criticism? The Jewish Encyclopedia suggested examining the theories from an institutional archaeological standpoint. As time passed, did archaeology confirm or refute Wellhausen’s theories? The New Encyclopædia Britannica states that archaeological criticism generally substantiated the historical details of even the Bible’s oldest periods and discredited the notion that the Pentateuchal accounts merely reflected a much later era.
Higher criticism’s popularity among intellectuals may be attributed to its alignment with their existing beliefs. The theories serve a similar purpose as evolution: just as evolution obviates the need for a Creator, higher criticism eliminates the necessity of accepting the Bible as divinely inspired. Consequently, the rationalist and intellectual milieu of the modern age finds the idea that the Bible is a product of human authorship rather than divine inspiration more palatable. These individuals are more inclined to believe that prophecies were written after their fulfillment than to accept them as genuine. They opt to dismiss accounts of miracles as myths, legends, or folk tales rather than entertain the possibility of their occurrence.
However, such a viewpoint is inherently prejudiced and does not provide a solid basis for rejecting the Bible as true. Higher criticism is replete with flaws, and its attempts to discredit the Bible have failed to conclusively demonstrate that the Bible is not the Word of God. In conclusion, while higher criticism raises questions and sparks intellectual debate, it remains speculative and has not definitively invalidated the Bible’s historical authenticity or divine origins.
The Role of Archaeology in Supporting Biblical Accounts
Archaeology, as a more empirical field of study compared to higher criticism, has contributed significantly to our understanding of ancient civilizations. It is worth noting that archaeological findings often align with the Bible’s accounts, and in some instances, have defended the Bible against its critics.
For instance, the Book of Daniel describes Belshazzar as the final ruler of Babylon before its fall to the Persians (Daniel 5:1-30). Critics argued that the Bible was mistaken, as no evidence of Belshazzar’s existence could be found outside of the biblical text. However, in the 19th century, several cuneiform-inscribed cylinders were unearthed in southern Iraq, containing a prayer for the health of Nabonidus, the king of Babylon’s eldest son. This son was identified as Belshazzar.
While Belshazzar’s existence was confirmed, questions remained about his status as a king when Babylon fell. Most discovered documents referred to him as the crown prince, the king’s son. However, a cuneiform text known as the “Verse Account of Nabonidus” provided further insight into Belshazzar’s position. The document stated that Nabonidus entrusted the kingship and military command to Belshazzar, effectively making him a king. This information clarifies the account in Daniel 5:16, in which Belshazzar offers to make Daniel the third ruler of the kingdom, as Nabonidus and Belshazzar occupied the first and second ruling positions, respectively.
Additional Archaeological Evidence
Numerous archaeological findings have demonstrated the historical accuracy of the Bible. For instance, the Bible describes a period of prosperity in Israel under King Solomon’s rule, succeeding his father, David (1 Kings 4:20). Archaeological evidence supports this, revealing a significant population growth in Judah during and after the 10th century B.C., which allowed for the construction of numerous new towns.
Furthermore, the Bible narrates the conflict between Israel and Moab, where Israel, having split into two nations, conquered the neighboring land of Moab. Moab’s King Mesha later led a revolt, prompting Israel to form an alliance with Judah and Edom to fight against Moab (2 Kings 3:4-27). Remarkably, a stela inscribed with Mesha’s account of this conflict in the Moabite language was discovered in Jordan in 1868.
In 722-721 B.C.E., the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel as a result of their rebellion (2 Kings 17:6-18). Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon notes that although one might suspect biblical exaggeration, the archaeological evidence, such as the complete obliteration of the Israelite towns of Samaria and Hazor, demonstrates the accuracy of the Bible’s account.
The Bible also recounts the Babylonian siege and defeat of Jerusalem under King Jehoiachin. This event is corroborated by the Babylonian Chronicle, a cuneiform tablet discovered by archaeologists. Additionally, administrative documents found in Babylon support the biblical account of Jehoiachin’s release from prison and subsequent food allowance (2 Kings 24:8-15; 25:27-30).
Regarding the connection between archaeology and the Bible, Professor David Noel Freedman states that archaeology has generally supported the historical validity of the biblical narrative. He also notes that modern scholarly attempts to reconstruct biblical history, such as Wellhausen’s theory about the patriarchal age, have not withstood the test of archaeological data as well as the biblical narrative itself.
Discrepancies in the Fall of Jericho?
It is important to note that archaeology does not always align with the biblical narrative. One example is the dramatic conquest of Jericho, as described in the Bible. According to the text, Jericho was the first city conquered by Joshua while leading the Israelites into the land of Canaan. Based on biblical chronology, this event occurred during the first half of the 15th century B.C.E. Following the conquest, Jericho was burned and left uninhabited for centuries (Joshua 6:1-26; 1 Kings 16:34).
Prior to World War II, Professor John Garstang excavated the site believed to be Jericho. He found that the city had been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times. In one instance, the walls appeared to have fallen due to an earthquake, and the city was burned. Garstang dated this event to around 1400 B.C.E., which is reasonably close to the biblical timeframe for Jericho’s destruction under Joshua.
However, after the war, archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon conducted further excavations at Jericho. She disagreed with Garstang’s dating, concluding that the collapsed walls were from an earlier period. While she identified a major destruction event in the 16th century B.C.E., she argued that no city existed at the site during the 15th century B.C.E. when the Bible claims Joshua’s invasion took place. Kenyon did note a possible destruction event around 1325 B.C.E. and suggested that, if Jericho’s destruction was associated with Joshua’s invasion, this later date might be more accurate.
These discrepancies do not necessarily discredit the biblical account. Archaeological evidence can be fragmentary and limited, particularly for earlier periods of Israelite history. Moreover, the site of Jericho has experienced significant erosion, further complicating interpretations of the findings. As such, while archaeology provides insight into the past, it does not always offer a definitive perspective on historical events.
“The Walls of Jericho” by Dr. Bryant G. Wood
The story of the walls of Jericho is one of the most well-known accounts in the Bible. This ancient city’s destruction, as narrated in the Book of Joshua, is both fascinating and controversial. Dr. Bryant G. Wood, a renowned archaeologist, has conducted extensive research on Jericho and its walls, contributing to our understanding of the city’s history and the biblical account’s accuracy. In his work, Dr. Wood reexamines the archaeological evidence and provides a compelling case for the biblical narrative.
Jericho, located in the Jordan Valley, is considered one of the oldest continually inhabited cities globally. Its strategic location, abundant water sources, and fertile soil made it an essential settlement throughout history. The story of the walls of Jericho, found in Joshua 6, describes how the Israelites, led by Joshua, marched around the city for seven days. On the seventh day, after marching around the city seven times and blowing their trumpets, the walls of Jericho miraculously collapsed, allowing the Israelites to conquer the city.
Dr. Bryant G. Wood’s research focuses on reevaluating the findings from previous excavations at Jericho, primarily those conducted by John Garstang in the 1930s and Kathleen Kenyon in the 1950s. Wood contends that the earlier conclusions drawn by these archaeologists were incorrect, and he provides new interpretations that better align with the biblical account.
- The Fallen Walls
One of the most significant pieces of evidence supporting the biblical narrative is the collapsed walls discovered during the excavations. Garstang found evidence of walls that had fallen outward, consistent with the account in Joshua 6. However, Kenyon disagreed with Garstang’s conclusions, dating the fallen walls to an earlier period. Dr. Wood reexamined the pottery and other artifacts found at the site, arguing that the dating should be placed closer to the biblical timeframe, in the late 15th century B.C.E.
- The Burned City
Another crucial piece of evidence is the extensive destruction layer found at Jericho, indicating that the city was burned after the walls had fallen. This aligns with the biblical narrative, which states that the Israelites burned the city after conquering it (Joshua 6:24). Dr. Wood’s research supports this, as he discovered that the destruction layer contained ashes, burnt wood, and evidence of intense heat, suggesting a massive fire.
- The Uncommon Siege Tactics
The siege tactics employed by the Israelites, as described in the Bible, are quite unusual. Instead of using traditional methods such as battering rams or siege towers, the Israelites relied on divine intervention to bring down the walls. This unique approach is supported by the archaeological evidence, as there is no indication of typical siege warfare at the site.
- The Preservation of Rahab’s House
In the biblical account, Rahab, a resident of Jericho, aided the Israelite spies and was promised protection when the city fell. Her house, located on the city wall, was spared during the destruction (Joshua 2:12-21; 6:22-25). Dr. Wood’s research identified a section of the collapsed wall where houses had been built. Remarkably, one of these houses remained standing, providing further evidence for the biblical narrative’s accuracy.
- The Timing of the Conquest
The Bible indicates that the Israelites attacked Jericho during the harvest season when the Jordan River was at flood stage (Joshua 3:15; 5:10). Dr. Wood’s research supports this timing, as the storage jars found at the site were full of grain. This suggests that the city was conquered shortly after the harvest had been collected, which is consistent with the biblical account. Additionally, the large quantity of grain found indicates that the siege was relatively short, as the inhabitants did not have time to consume their food supplies. This detail also aligns with the biblical narrative, which states that the city was conquered in just seven days (Joshua 6:15-20).
- The Cessation of Occupation
Following the destruction of Jericho, the Bible states that the city was cursed and remained uninhabited for some time (Joshua 6:26). Archaeological evidence corroborates this claim, as there is a noticeable gap in occupation layers after the destruction. This gap signifies that the city was abandoned for a considerable period, consistent with the biblical account.
- The Radiocarbon Dating
Dr. Wood’s research also includes radiocarbon dating of samples found at the site. This method provides an independent means of dating the destruction layer, which has been a subject of debate among archaeologists. The radiocarbon dates obtained by Dr. Wood support his proposed dating of the destruction to the late 15th century B.C.E., lending further credence to the biblical narrative.
Critiques and Counterarguments
Despite Dr. Wood’s compelling evidence, some critics argue that his interpretation of the archaeological data is biased and seeks to validate the biblical account. They contend that alternative explanations for the destruction of Jericho, such as natural disasters or internal conflicts, should be considered.
However, Dr. Wood’s research methodology and his reexamination of previous excavation findings have been praised by many scholars. While alternative theories may exist, the evidence provided by Dr. Wood offers a strong case for the biblical account’s historicity. The congruence between the archaeological record and the biblical narrative suggests that the story of Jericho’s walls may be more than just a myth or allegory.
“The Walls of Jericho” by Dr. Bryant G. Wood presents a comprehensive examination of the archaeological evidence related to the famous biblical account. By reevaluating previous excavations and offering new interpretations, Dr. Wood has provided a robust case for the historical accuracy of the biblical narrative. His research demonstrates that archaeology can offer valuable insights into the past, shedding light on ancient events and strengthening our understanding of the Bible’s historical accounts.
In the case of Jericho, Dr. Wood’s work illustrates the potential for archaeological discoveries to confirm and clarify the biblical narrative. Although some disagreements and debates will inevitably persist, the evidence presented by Dr. Wood offers a compelling argument for the historicity of the walls of Jericho’s account. Ultimately, this research not only enhances our knowledge of the ancient city of Jericho but also contributes to the broader conversation about the relationship between archaeology and the Bible.
The Benefits of Biblical Archaeology
Biblical archaeology is an interdisciplinary field that explores the cultural and historical context of biblical narratives through the examination of archaeological sites and artifacts. By investigating remnants of ancient civilizations, such as ruins, pottery, inscriptions, and tombs, researchers gain insights into the conditions under which biblical texts were written and the lives of the individuals described therein. This knowledge extends to the languages spoken by these historical figures and the peoples they interacted with, encompassing regions including Palestine, Egypt, Persia, Assyria, Babylonia, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome.
The field of biblical archaeology is relatively new, with significant progress made in the early 19th century as scholars deciphered the Rosetta Stone and Assyrian cuneiform. Systematic excavations began in Assyria in 1843 and in Egypt in 1850. Through these efforts, archaeology has confirmed many historical aspects of the Bible, addressing skepticism surrounding events such as the Tower of Babel and the existence of kings Belshazzar and Sargon.
Numerous significant archaeological sites and discoveries have shed light on the biblical world. For example, excavations in Babylonia have revealed evidence of ziggurats, including the temple of Etemenanki, which parallels the biblical account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). Additionally, cuneiform tablets discovered in Babylon mention Jehoiachin, a Judean king taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:27-30; 1 Chronicles 3:17, 18).
Assyrian archaeological sites have also yielded valuable information, such as the palace of King Sargon II, confirming his historical existence mentioned in Isaiah 20:1. Excavations in Nineveh revealed the palace of Sennacherib, aligning with biblical accounts of the Assyrian campaign against Palestine during Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:13-17; 2 Chronicles 32:9).
In Persia, the Behistun inscription of King Darius I (Ezra 6:1-15) provided a key for deciphering cuneiform, enabling the interpretation of thousands of clay tablets and inscriptions. Excavations in Shushan (Esther 1:2) unearthed the royal palace of Xerxes, validating the historical accuracy of the book of Esther.
Other archaeological sites, such as Mari and Nuzi, have contributed valuable information about the cultural and legal practices of the time, offering insights into the lives of biblical patriarchs like Abraham (Genesis 11:17-32).
Egyptian archaeology has further corroborated biblical accounts. For instance, the inscription at Karnak describes the campaign of Egyptian King Shishak (1 Kings 14:25, 26; 2 Chronicles 12:1-9), while the Merneptah Stele, dating to 1208 BCE, references the people of Israel as a group already established in Canaan (Exodus 1:1-14).
Incorporating biblical passages into the discussion, it is evident that archaeological findings have enhanced our understanding of the biblical world and confirmed the accuracy of various historical details. This research provides a rich context for interpreting the Bible and deepens our appreciation for the lives and experiences of the individuals depicted within its pages.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, in a series of 11 caves near the site of Qumran. These scrolls are a collection of Jewish texts, including parts of the Hebrew Bible, as well as other religious and non-religious texts. They date from the Second Temple period (ca. 530 BCE to 70 CE) and are of significant historical, religious, and linguistic importance. The scrolls have shed light on the religious practices and beliefs of the Jewish people during that time and have provided a more accurate understanding of the development of the Hebrew Bible.
As for the Tell el-Amarna tablets, they were discovered in the late 19th century at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, which was once the capital city of Pharaoh Akhenaten. The tablets contain correspondence between the Egyptian Pharaohs Amenhotep III and Akhenaten and the rulers of the city-states in Canaan and Syria. They are written in Akkadian, the diplomatic language of the time, and provide a detailed picture of the political landscape in the region during the 14th century BCE. The term “Habiru” appears in many of these letters, and while some have attempted to connect this term to the Hebrews, it is more likely to refer to a group of diverse nomadic peoples occupying a low social status in that period.
The Elephantine Papyri, discovered in 1903 on Elephantine Island in the Nile River near Aswan, are a collection of documents written in Aramaic from the 5th century BCE. These documents were produced during the reign of the Medo-Persian Empire and provide evidence of a Jewish community living on the island after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. Among the texts are mentions of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, who is also mentioned in the biblical book of Nehemiah (Ne 4:1). The Elephantine Papyri offer valuable insight into the daily lives and religious practices of this Jewish community in Egypt during that time.
The regions of Palestine and Syria encompass approximately 600 archaeological sites that provide information supporting the Biblical record. Excavations have revealed important insights into the history of these areas, including the desolation of Judah during the Babylonian exile. According to W.F. Albright, no town in Judah was continuously occupied during this time, corroborating the Bible’s account (The Archaeology of Palestine, 1971, p. 142).
The ancient fortress city of Beth-shan, which guarded the eastern entrance to the Valley of Jezreel, exhibited 18 different levels of occupation. Scriptural accounts show that Beth-shan was not initially occupied by the invading Israelites and later fell under Philistine control (Joshua 17:11; Judges 1:27; 1 Samuel 31:8-12). Excavations support this narrative, indicating the city’s destruction after the capture of the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 4:1-11). The discovery of two Canaanite temples, one dedicated to Ashtoreth and the other possibly to Dagon, aligns with Biblical texts describing the existence of two temples in Beth-shan (1 Samuel 31:10; 1 Chronicles 10:10).
Ezion-geber, King Solomon’s seaport city on the Gulf of Aqaba, may have been the site of a copper-smelting operation, but archaeological findings and interpretations have changed over time. The Bible does not mention a copper industry in Ezion-geber, only the casting of copper items in the Jordan Valley (1 Kings 7:45, 46).
Hazor in Galilee was a major city during Joshua’s time (Joshua 11:10). Excavations revealed a city covering 150 acres, with a large population and fortifications built by Solomon, possibly making it a chariot city (1 Kings 9:15, 19).
Jericho, another notable site, has been excavated by three different expeditions, each producing differing conclusions about the city’s history and the date of its fall to the Israelite conquerors. However, a general picture emerges from the combined results, suggesting the city experienced a series of destructions during the second millennium B.C. and remained virtually unoccupied for generations (Biblical Archaeology, G.E. Wright, 1962, p. 78).
Excavations in Jerusalem have unearthed ancient water tunnels, such as the one discovered in 1867 running from the Gihon spring back into the hill behind. This finding may illustrate the account of David’s capture of the city (2 Samuel 5:6-10). Additionally, the Siloam Tunnel cleared between 1909 and 1911, appears to be the project of King Hezekiah described in 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:30.
Lachish, a major fortress in Judea, was destroyed by fire twice within a few years, possibly during two Babylonian attacks (618-617 and 609-607 B.C.), and then remained uninhabited for a long period. Archaeological findings include the Lachish Letters, 21 ostraca believed to represent correspondence shortly before the city’s destruction.
Other significant sites include Megiddo, a strategic fortress city rebuilt by Solomon (1 Kings 9:15-19), and Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), which provided information about Canaanite worship practices. The Moabite Stone, discovered in 1868, contains a record of Moabite King Mesha’s revolt against Israel, mentioning King Omri and the Tetragrammaton, the four Hebrew letters representing God’s name.
A Brief Look at the New Testament
In relation to the Greek New Testament, Jesus’ use of a denarius coin bearing the head of Tiberius Caesar (Mark 12:15-17) is supported by the discovery of a silver denarius coin featuring Tiberius’ image, which was circulated around 15 C.E. (compare Luke 3:1, 2). Additionally, Pontius Pilate’s role as the Roman governor of Judea is substantiated by a stone slab found at Caesarea containing the Latin names Pontius Pilatus and Tiberieum.
The Acts of the Apostles, likely written by Luke, contains numerous references to cities, provinces, and various officials, illustrating Luke’s remarkable accuracy. For example, at Acts 14:1-6, Luke situates Lystra and Derbe within Lycaonia while implying that Iconium belonged to another territory. Although Roman writers such as Cicero claimed that Iconium was in Lycaonia, a monument discovered in 1910 demonstrates that Iconium was actually considered a city of Phrygia.
In another example, an inscription found at Delphi confirms that Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, probably in 51-52 C.E. (Acts 18:12). Nineteen inscriptions from the second century B.C.E. to the third century C.E. verify Luke’s use of the title “city rulers” (singular, po·li·tarʹkhes) for officials of Thessalonica (Acts 17:6, 8), with five specifically mentioning the city. Additionally, the reference to Publius as “the principal man” (proʹtos) of Malta (Acts 28:7) is accurate, as evidenced by two Maltese inscriptions, one in Latin and one in Greek. Ephesus, mentioned in Acts 19:19, 27, has yielded magical texts and the temple of Artemis, as well as a theater with a capacity of 25,000 people and inscriptions referring to “the commissioners of festivals and games” and a “recorder,” like those who intervened on Paul’s behalf and quieted the mob (Acts 19:29-31, 35, 41).
Charles Gore, in A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, wrote about Luke’s accuracy: “Modern archaeology has almost forced upon critics of St. Luke a verdict of remarkable accuracy in all his allusions to secular facts and events” (edited by Gore, Goudge, and Guillaume, 1929, p. 210).
Although archaeology has provided valuable information for understanding the Bible, its languages, and the lives of ancient peoples, it is a nonessential supplement and an unrequired confirmation of the Bible’s authenticity and reliability. As the apostle Paul states: “Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld… We are walking by faith, not by sight” (Hebrews 11:1, 3; 2 Corinthians 5:7).
Caution is needed when interpreting inscriptions and ancient languages, as errors can occur. The Bible’s Author, however, ensures that we obtain the correct understanding of its message through available translations into modern languages. This is not the case with the uninspired writings of pagan nations.
Slavery in Egypt
While there is no direct equivalent to the modern English concept of “slave” in ancient Egyptian, there were words that referred to individuals who were in servitude or bondage. One such term is “hem” (or “ḥm”), which can be translated as “servant” or “worker.” This term was used to describe various levels of servitude, ranging from those who served in temples to those who labored on royal projects.
Terminology and anachronism: It is true that the terms “Semitic” and “Caucasian” were coined in the 18th century. However, using a modern term to describe ancient peoples does not negate the existence of these peoples in the past. For example, the term “Hittite” was not used by the Hittites themselves, but we can still use it to describe the people who lived in the Hittite Empire. Similarly, referring to the Israelites as “Semitic” is a useful way of describing their linguistic and cultural affiliations, even if the term itself is anachronistic.
Ancient Egyptian word for slave: While it is true that there may not be a direct equivalent for the word “slave” in the ancient Egyptian language, this does not mean that forced labor or servitude did not exist in ancient Egypt. The Hebrew word for “slave” (עבד, eved) has a broader meaning than the modern English word “slave” and can also refer to “servant” or “worker.” The existence of a specific term is not necessary to demonstrate the presence of forced labor or servitude in ancient Egypt.
Biblical narrative and historical evidence: The Bible contains many historical narratives that have been validated by archaeological evidence, and even in cases where direct evidence has not yet been discovered, it does not mean that the biblical accounts are untrue. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The Bible has proven to be a reliable historical source in many cases, and its accounts should not be dismissed simply because some elements have not yet been corroborated by external sources.
The Exodus narrative: The biblical account of the Israelites’ enslavement and subsequent exodus from Egypt serves as a foundational story in the religious and cultural identity of the Jewish people. While there may be debates among scholars regarding the specific details, timelines, and archaeological evidence, this does not negate the importance of the story as a core part of Jewish and Christian religious tradition.
While the argument raises some valid points about terminology and anachronism, it does not adequately address the broader historical and religious context of the biblical narrative. As a Christian apologist, it is important to recognize the complexities and nuances of ancient history and language, while also maintaining confidence in the Bible’s reliability and relevance as a source of truth and guidance.
Archaeological evidence for slavery in Egypt and the Exodus:
While direct archaeological evidence specifically connecting the Israelites to slavery in Egypt and the Exodus is limited, there are several findings that suggest the presence of forced labor and Semitic peoples in ancient Egypt. Some of these findings include:
- a) Semitic settlements in Egypt: Archaeological evidence of Semitic settlements in Egypt has been found at sites such as Tell el-Dab’a (ancient Avaris) and Tell el-Maskhuta. These sites contain evidence of Semitic architecture, pottery, and inscriptions, suggesting that a significant Semitic population lived in Egypt during the Middle and Late Bronze Age.
- b) Semitic names in ancient Egyptian texts: Several Egyptian texts from the New Kingdom period mention Semitic names, suggesting that Semitic people were living and working in Egypt. For example, the Brooklyn Papyrus lists several Semitic names among the household slaves of an Egyptian official.
- c) Forced labor in ancient Egypt: Various ancient Egyptian texts and inscriptions describe the use of forced labor, particularly for large-scale construction projects. The tomb of Rekhmire, an 18th dynasty vizier, contains a depiction of foreign workers being subjected to forced labor. The workers are shown making bricks and hauling heavy stones, which aligns with the biblical description of the Israelites being forced to build Egyptian cities like Pithom and Ramses (Exodus 1:11).
- d) Ipuwer Papyrus: Although not a direct evidence for the Exodus, the Ipuwer Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian text that describes a series of calamities striking Egypt, which some scholars have suggested may parallel the biblical plagues. However, it should be noted that the Ipuwer Papyrus is dated to the Middle Kingdom, significantly earlier than the generally accepted timeline for the Exodus.
- e) Absence of evidence is not evidence: It is important to note that the absence of direct archaeological evidence for the Exodus does not mean the event did not happen. The nature of archaeological research is such that not all events or periods of history will leave behind clear, tangible evidence.
The ancient Egyptians were known for their selective recording of history, particularly when it came to events that were unfavorable or embarrassing to their civilization. They took great pride in their accomplishments and often sought to present themselves in the best possible light. As such, it is unsurprising that they would choose not to record or even actively erase accounts of events that reflected poorly on their society or leaders.
One notable example of this behavior is the reign of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, who introduced the worship of the monotheistic sun deity, Aten, and attempted to replace Egypt’s traditional polytheistic religious practices. After Akhenaten’s death, his successors went to great lengths to erase any mention of his reign and religious reforms from the historical record, including the destruction of his monuments and the removal of his name from inscriptions.
Similarly, the biblical account of the Exodus would have been considered highly unfavorable to the Egyptians, as it depicts their society and leaders suffering a series of devastating plagues and ultimately losing a large population of enslaved laborers. The humiliation of the Egyptian military at the Red Sea would have also been an event they would want to suppress from their historical records. Given this context, it is not surprising that we lack direct Egyptian records of the Exodus event.
The absence of such records, however, should not be taken as conclusive evidence against the historicity of the Exodus. As mentioned earlier, the nature of archaeological research is such that not all events or periods of history will leave behind clear, tangible evidence. The presence of Semitic settlements and evidence of forced labor in ancient Egypt, as well as their tendency to suppress unfavorable history, provide a context in which the biblical narrative of the Israelites’ enslavement and subsequent exodus could have taken place.
In conclusion, archaeology can provide beneficial information and aid in understanding the Bible, but faith in the Bible’s authenticity and reliability does not require archaeological confirmation. The Bible, with or without archaeology, provides true meaning to the present and illuminates the future (Psalm 119:105; 2 Peter 1:19-21).
The Authenticity of the Bible as a Historical Document
Divergent perspectives are common among archaeologists, which accounts for the varying interpretations of the Bible’s historicity. Nevertheless, an increasing number of scholars acknowledge the Bible as a fundamentally accurate historical document, even if certain details remain contested. Renowned archaeologist William Foxwell Albright articulated this viewpoint, stating that contemporary scholarship is returning to an appreciation for the historical veracity of the Bible’s religious history.
The Bible’s structure and content further support its historical authenticity. Unlike many ancient myths and legends, the Bible anchors events to specific times and dates. Additionally, numerous biblical events are corroborated by inscriptions from the same time periods. When discrepancies arise between the Bible and ancient inscriptions, they can often be attributed to the ancient rulers’ reluctance to record their own failures and their inclination to exaggerate their triumphs.
In contrast to ancient inscriptions that served as official propaganda, the Bible exhibits a remarkable level of honesty. Significant figures like Moses, Aaron, and King David are portrayed with their flaws and virtues alike. The nation’s collective shortcomings are also consistently exposed. This forthrightness bolsters the credibility of the Hebrew Scriptures, aligning with Jesus’ declaration in John 17:17: “Your word is truth.”
Albright further emphasized the Bible’s unique stature, stating that it surpasses all other religious literature in both its content and the universality of its appeal. The Bible’s profound message, rather than the assessments of various scholars, testifies to its divine inspiration. While contemporary rationalistic thinkers have not succeeded in disproving the Hebrew Scriptures’ historical accuracy, the Bible itself offers ample evidence of its reliability. An examination of the Greek New Testament’s historical veracity will be addressed in a subsequent discussion.