HOW CAN ANYONE be expected to believe in the myths and legends of the Bible? How can we take seriously a religion which comes from such a book?
For thousands of people a great question mark hangs over the Bible on account of its alleged fictions. But where does the idea come from that the Bible is full of myths?
The answer is – it comes from an out-of-date smear campaign conducted by nineteenth-century cynics. In those days a tidal wave of rationalism from certain high-brow writers heaped enough scorn on the Bible to sink a continent.
They ridiculed the historical narratives of the Bible as a mixture of legend and invention, and they denounced the great prophecies as forgeries written long after the ‘predicted’events had taken place.
The tragedy is that the success of this smear campaign has survived to the present day, so that thousands of intelligent and well-informed people have picked up these jibes against the Bible without realising how hopelessly dated they have become.
The truth is that those nineteenth-century rationalists were leaping far ahead of their knowledge. And many of them lived to see the start of an era of archaeological discovery, when the sandy deserts of old Palestine began to yield up their massive stores of solid evidence in favour of the Bible.
Today, most of the confident complaints against the Bible have been turned into embarrassed mutters, as myth after myth has proved to be true history. Numerous cities have been found beneath the sand, together with countless inscriptions, letters and other items, all proving conclusively that the biblical narratives are an authentic record, and that the great characters referred to truly existed at the times stated.
For example, there is an amazing amount of evidence showing how authentic the biblical account of Abraham is. (Abraham lived around 2000 BC.) In the nineteenth century it became fashionable for those critical writers to make Abraham their ‘number one’ myth. They said the biblical description of life in his day was full of mistakes.
They said there were no signs of such civilisations as the Bible implied, and that cities like Ur of the Chaldees (where Abraham lived through childhood and early manhood) and Sodom and Gomorrah (in the area he later moved to) could not have existed.
In the case of Ur, some said that the whole area was uninhabitable desert. As late as 1880 a renowned German scholar pronounced a verdict which was to be copied by anti-religious writers for years. He said that from the biblical record of Abraham it is ‘impossible to obtain any historical information’. According to this scholar, all we see is the culture of a much later age when the stories were ‘invented’, ‘projected back into hoary antiquity’.
But the archaeological digging found the site of ancient Ur, and the experts began to expose the most sophisticated of towns. Excavations at Ur reached their climax during 1924-32, by which time the following facts were thoroughly known.
Ur had been established long before the time of Abraham and was a walled city built around a massive, 70-foot high artificial hill constructed of solid brick and surrounded by ornate staircase systems. (This brick mound is now exposed to view.)
The city boasted a harbour, for in those days the great Euphrates River followed a different course and ran through the region which, to nineteenth-century eyes, had become a total desert.
The city also had shops, workshops, law courts, a school, offices and, of course, many houses, decorated with colour-washed plaster ceilings. Objects of art taken from Ur and dating from before 2000 BC may be seen today in the British Museum – all demonstrating the accuracy of the Bible.
According to the Bible Abraham went to the Jordan plain where cities such as Sodom and Gomorrah were located. Did they really exist? Were the nineteenth-century writers correct in saying that no civilisation ever existed in those parts?
On the contrary, the evidence is now piled high, proving that this area (at the southern end of the Dead Sea) was then populated just as the Bible says. Even the natural asphalt pits of the Jordan plain referred to in the Bible may be verified, along with the heavy sulphur deposits.
The nineteenth-century critics were as wrong as they could possibly have been. But their cynical errors linger on.
During the centuries after Abraham, the growing nation of Israel went into captivity in Egypt, and were eventually led out by Moses. Then, when Joshua succeeded Moses, they entered into the land of Canaan and conquered it. This whole episode of Bible history was torn to shreds by writers of the last century. But once again, the evidence of archaeology has completely silenced all such criticism.
The question is: do folk who go on repeating the anti-Bible jibes of the last century know about the many discoveries which confirm the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, and which may be viewed in the British Museum, as well as other leading museums of the world?
Today we can see for ourselves numerous pieces of pottery taken from ancient Canaanite cities, which tell the story of these places at the time when the Israelites (according to the Bible) marched into Canaan. We can see the evidence of Canaanite culture suddenly succeeded by Israelite culture at the very period during which great battles were taking place (described in the Bible in the books of Joshua and Judges).
The city of Hazor, for example, is mentioned in the Bible as having been conquered twice over by Israelites. In 1955 Professor Yiguel Yadin began to dig up vital evidence which proved beyond all doubt the takeover of the city by the Israelites.
This very brief look at such a large subject can only scratch the surface. There is now such a wealth of archaeological information to verify the narratives of the Bible that it is impossible to do justice to it here. However, the following two great discoveries will give a hint of the substantial nature of this ‘evidence from the sands’.
Take the famous Black Obelisk of Shalmanezer III, discovered as long ago as 1846 and now exhibited in the British Museum. Over six feet tall, this black stone monument was found in the remains of the Assyrian palace of Shalmanezer III, who ruled that great empire of the East in the ninth century BC.
It commemorates the triumphs of Shalmanezer and includes a reference to Jehu (king of Judah from 841-814 BC). It even includes a picture of Jehu and describes how he brought considerable gifts of gold, silver and tin articles, as homage to buy the goodwill of the mighty Assyrian emperor.
The obelisk solidly confirms both the dating and historical accuracy of the Bible. Here is a portrait of a Hebrew king whose reign is recorded at length in the Bible. But it is only one of a very large number of steles, tombstones and inscriptions which solidly authenticate the Bible in the same way. When people speak of Hebrew myths, they are simply unaware of the great mass of irrefutable support for the Bible from such findings of archaeology.
For a final example of the kind of evidence which has been provided by these excavations, we must glance at the hundreds of square feet of royal ‘wallpaper’ retrieved from the palace of Sennacherib, emperor of Assyria from 705-681 BC. His palace was at Nineveh, first excavated in 1846, and the ‘wallpaper’ consists of enormous stone slabs with the most intricate illustrations of Sennacherib’s victories chiselled out of them.
The great importance of these, together with long narrative inscriptions and clay cylinders bearing detailed accounts of all the emperor’s campaigns, is that they give us Sennacherib’s own official version of his invasion of Israel in 701 BC.
This is also described in detail in three books of the Bible. As can be imagined, to bring together the biblical account and the official record of the Assyrian emperor, is of great significance.
The result is – a total vindication of the Bible as historical fact. The Bible says that while Hezekiah was king in Jerusalem, Sennacherib proceeded to sack his minor walled cities, and then besiege Hezekiah in Jerusalem. Sennacherib’s account says the same.
The Bible says that Hezekiah tried to appease Sennacherib with homage. The latter says the same (except that it exaggerates the amount of treasure which changed hands, as the Assyrians tended to do).
The Bible says Sennacherib’s troops had to withdraw for a time. Sennacherib’s records say the same. The Bible says that in the meantime Hezekiah constructed a remarkable water tunnel to supply the city from outside sources during the siege, which would inevitably be resumed when the Assyrians returned. That tunnel has been found and may be examined by tourists today.
The Bible says Sennacherib returned, and his forces were destroyed by divine act (possibly by plague). Sennacherib’s records go strangely silent about the final result. He claims no victory, and it is a historical fact that the Assyrians fought no more major battles for years!
At any time crowds of people may be seen milling about the section of the British Museum which is devoted to Sennacherib’s ‘wallpaper’ sculptures of the siege of Lachish (the last walled city to fall before Sennacherib surrounded Jerusalem in 701 BC). Usually, most of the crowd gaze at these Assyrian records completely unaware that they are viewing stunning, solid, irrefutable confirmation of the authenticity of the Bible.
Today there is no basis at all for feeling qualms about the integrity of the Bible. The nineteenth-century rash of super-critics doubted everything – particularly the dates in the Bible. But now we know that Bible dates are right. The emerging evidence has confirmed the Bible’s places, events, people and dates!
The pendulum has swung, and today there are many, many books, both scholarly and popular, which are filled with the avalanche of archaeological and other discoveries which have shown the Bible to be unique for its historical accuracy.
(Written by Dr Peter Masters (Pastor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London) reproduced by kind permission.)