Sometimes popular opinion is built upon good reasoning and evidence. At other times it has upheld foolishness. Within the last 150 years some of these latter embarrassments have been: Belief in the theory of ether; The confident assertion that Urey’s and Miller’s amino acid synthesis of a few of the simplest essential amino acids confirmed the naturalistic feasibility of life arising from non-organic material. As subsequent evidence revealed, sometimes the minority or outsider opinion is correct.
What this suggests is that what “everybody knows to be true” cannot be a reliable standard. To discover what is most likely true requires examining the available evidence, and not merely absorbing popular ideas. When it comes to the Bible’s reliability, where does the evidence point? Here’s a brief sampling of what we know.
The Bible is a collection of documents written over a vast period of time. As the following examples reveal, its stories contain details revealing that its authors were familiar with the historical events they recounted. In some cases, if writers had tried to fabricate these stories at a much later time, they would not have known these details.
1 Samuel 13 depicts events in the 11th century B.C. In 1 Samuel 13:21, the Hebrew text uses the word pîm in association with the sharpening of tools. Archaeological digs have revealed that pîm, two thirds of a shekel, were only used for about 150 years. What this means is that to have known about pîm, the author(s) who wrote about king Saul and king David needed to have lived within that ancient historical window, not hundreds of years later.
Going even further back in biblical history to the era of the patriarchs in Genesis, these stories are filled with names and the suffixes of names we know were common at that time, but which ceased to be common at later periods of time. The names we find in Genesis fit the historical context of their timeframe.
Even the story about the Garden of Eden correlates with a discovery within the last decades. Scripture provides some geographical landmarks placing the Garden of Eden somewhere near Kuwait or Iraq. Genesis 2:10-14 describes four rivers associated with Eden and says that the Pishon river began where there is much gold. Satellite imagery now confirms a dried up riverbed running beneath the sands of Arabia from “The Cradle of Gold” (Mahd adh Dhahab) to Kuwait. It dried up sometime between 3500 and 2000 B.C. No one inventing this story in even 1500 B.C. much less 800 B.C. would have known such a topographical detail.
Furthermore, ancient monuments, clay seals, cylinders, and tablets attest to the names of kings, prophets and other highly significant individuals mentioned in the Bible. In some cases, we even possess stories told from both a biblical perspective as well as the viewpoint of a foreign power.
Isaiah 36-37 recounts how the Assyrian king Sennacherib laid siege to Lachish and then prepared to attack Jerusalem during king Hezekiah’s reign. A wall mural in Sennacherib’s palace depicts the overthrow of Lachish, while the Taylor Prism preserves the Assyrian record of his assault on Jerusalem. While Sennacherib boasts on his prism that he shut up Hezekiah like a bird in a cage, the Bible explains why this powerful king’s attack on Jerusalem was limited to being an unsuccessful siege. In one night, before Assyria could launch its assault, the LORD killed 120,000 Assyrian soldiers thus causing Sennacherib to break off the siege and go home.
Until 1961 A.D. no archaeological evidence corroborated Pontius Pilate’s existence. Then, an engraved stone with his name upon it was discovered in Caesarea’s ancient theatre. A ring discovered at the Herodium decades ago, but just recently cleaned, also appears to bear his name.
Neither the Bible nor archaeology can tell us everything that happened in the past. However at times they do overlap. What we discover is that biblical narratives contain details that correlate with what we can ascertain about ancient history, culture and geography. It is reasonable to understand that the Bible’s stories depict events occurring within those ancient historical timeframes. We have good reason to believe the stories in the Bible recount historical events.
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