Questions About the Bible: Does Archeology Disprove the Bible?

This is the second post in a series looking at the many questions surrounding the Bible. In my previous post, I began answering the question of how we can know the Bible is the Word of God. I gave the acronym M-A-P-S as a guide and a helpful way to remember the answer. I began by tackling the first letter in the acronym, which stands for Manuscript Evidence. I also answered the question of whether or not the Bible is riddled with errors—as many as 300,000. This post is going to deal with the second letter of the acronym, which stands for Archeological Evidence. Does archeology support the Bible or does it contradict the Bible?

Archeological Evidence
Before one can answer this with a simple yes or no, some things have to be understood about archeology, the Bible, and how the two relate. Archeology is a very limited field of study. It is a discipline in which one attempts to reconstruct the past through the evidence on hand. Now, this is not unlike modern forensics that has been so famously featured on shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigators. However, forensics looks at recent evidence that is often abundant whereas archeologists look at ancient evidence that is often in poor shape and is rather scarce.

Often times, what archeologists are able to locate is what would be considered garbage. Discarded pottery, utensils, and human remains comprise the majority of evidence submitted into the archeological forensic laboratory. Some of these can be quite helpful. For instance, pottery is very helpful in dating an archeological site because there are very distinct patterns on pottery through different periods. However, pottery cannot tell an archeologist about the daily life of the people who owned it nor can it disclose the religious beliefs of those people.

The limits of archeology are truly highlighted by the fact that far less than 5% of historical sites have been excavated whatsoever and far fewer have been meaningfully excavated. So we have very little in terms of the available archeological evidence on hand. Furthermore, as I noted above, most of this evidence is “left-overs” from the culture. Even more problematic is the fact that most of what archeology has discovered in the way of artifacts is not published and, therefore, is not available for review or for information purposes.

It is also important to understand how archeology and the Bible relate. The Bible was not written to be a historical record. Its purpose was not to record details in a historical light; its purpose was to record details in a theological light. The Bible deals with information about God, the spiritual realm, salvation, etc. and these are all things with which archeology cannot interact.

So where does archeology fit into the Bible? While the Bible does not primarily deal with history, it does record historical facts. This is where archeology comes into play. For example, Luke records a lot in the way of historical facts in the book of Acts located in the New Testament. Likewise, there are names of people groups, cities, kings and the like mentioned throughout the Bible. This is where archeology has aimed its sights at proving or disproving the Bible.

At this point, one must note that the possibility exists for archeology to prove the Bible false on these historical facts. However, this would only prove the Bible historically inaccurate at that singular point at best and wholly inaccurate at worst. Even more important to realize though, is that this does nothing to prove or disprove the Bibles spiritual claims—and this is the Bible’s primary focus and purpose.

While the possibility exists for archeology to show the Bible historically inaccurate, this simply has not been done at this point in time. There are many places in the Bible where it has been attempted to show that archeology demonstrates the Bible to be unreliable or wrong. Some of these examples include the Exodus event, the Hittites mentioned in the Old Testament, and Luke’s details in the book of Acts.

The Exodus Event
It has long been argued that the events as recorded in the book of Exodus could not have occurred or that they vary from the account contained in the Bible. The biggest “fact” cited in opposition to the Exodus event is that no evidence can be found which places the Israelites in Egypt—at all. There is one serious problem with this notion. The Egyptians were notorious for destroying historical records. Some of these examples include the “erasing” of Queen Hatshepsut (see left), the Hyksos rulers, and Akhenaten. With examples like these of strong revisionist history in Egypt, should it come as a surprise that there is no evidence in Egypt that the Israelites were there—slaves that eventually ruined their land and then left without as much as a skirmish.

Even though this is the case, there is a discovery that corroborates the timeline of the Exodus event. The discovery is known as Merneptah’s Stele (see right). It is a catalogue honoring Pharoah Merneptah’s military campaigns leading up to his defeat of the Libyans. The stele mentions his defeat of Israel and places them in the land of Canaan at about the same time as what is recorded in the book of Judges or possibly the end of Joshua.

The Hittites
For a long time, the naming of this and other people groups mentioned in the Old Testament (specifically Genesis) was cited because there was no evidence of them. However, recent archeological finds discovered documents and remains of what is considered to be their capital city located in modern day Turkey.

Luke’s Historical Record in Acts
For centuries, scholars attempted to show that Luke was not an accurate historian because he incorrectly used names regions, cities, routes, etc. One of the specific instances of this was Luke’s use of politarchai to describe the city officials in Thessalonica. This criticism has been shown to be unfounded since the word was inscribed in stone at the base of an arch as well as in several other inscriptions. So the argument that Luke made this word up because it was not used anywhere else simply failed to materialize in support of the claim that Luke was inaccurate when recording the names and places found in Acts.

Archeology has not proven the Bible to be historically wrong thus far. In fact, it seems quite the opposite has been the case. Where archeology and the Bible has intersected, it has demonstrated the Bible to be historically accurate. But can the Bible be trusted with its spiritual claims? It is this question I will answer in the next post.
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