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  • Does Archaeology Support Bible History?



    the editors invited Michael D. Coogan to list the "10 Great Finds" or discoveries from the years of modern archaeological exploration in the ancient Near East.

    His selections included:

    1. the Gilgamesh Epic tablet XI from Nineveh, a parallel with the biblical flood story;
    2. the Beni Hasan mural from nineteenth-century Egypt, showing 37 Asiatics coming to trade and depicting what the patriarchs may have looked like;
    3. the Gezer High Place near Tel Aviv from 1600 B.C.;
    4. the carved ivory knife handle from Megiddo in the thirteenth or twelfth century B.C.;
    5. the fertility goddess pendant from Ras Shamra, Syria, from the fourteenth or twelfth century B.C.;
    6. the Gibeon Pool, six miles north of Jerusalem, from the eleventh century B.C., where David's forces probably fought under Joab against the forces of Saul's son Ishbosheth under Abner (2 Sam 2:12-17);
    7. the Beersheba Altar in southern Israel from the eighth century B.C.;
    8. the seventh-century B.C. silver scroll amulet from Ketef Hinnom, near Jerusalem, with the name Yahweh on it;
    9. Masada on the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea from the second century B.C.; and
    10. the sixth-century B.C. mosaic map from Madaba, Jordan. Each of these was indeed a sensational find, illustrating some aspect of the biblical text.

    The harvest from archaeological discoveries has truly been amazing. Among some of the most startling finds that have been uncovered in recent years are:

    1. the 1993 discovery by Avraham Biran of an Aramaic inscription from Tel Dan of a mid-ninth-century mention of the "House of David";
    2. the inscription from Aphrodisias in southwestern Turkey published in 1987, mentioning for the first time indirect evidence for Luke's references to "God-fearers";
    3. the first external evidence for Pontius Pilate, discovered at Caesarea in 1961;
    4. a plaster text at Deir Alla in Jordan from the mid-eighth century, recording a vision of Balaam, son of Beor, apparently the same Balaam of Numbers 22 through 24;
    5. the 1990 discovery of twelve ossuaries, or bone chests, including two bearing the name of "Joseph, son of Caiaphas," probably the same high priest who tried Jesus; and
    6. the 1995 location of Bethsaida on the northeastern shores of Galilee from where several of Jesus' disciples came. The list could go on and on.

    But not all of the finds have occasioned an advance in our understanding of the biblical world and the Bible. Some have presented us with enormous problems of interpretation and have resulted in hotly contested opposing positions. The most outstanding of these dilemmas is that neither the Egyptian nor the Israelite data have been able to settle the issue of the date, route and nature of the exodus. This is most disappointing, for it covers almost everything from the exodus from Egypt and the wilderness wanderings to the conquest and settlement of Canaan. Today the field is in more disarray than ever before on these questions.

    For example, several issues have prevented scholars from accepting the traditional biblical evidence of a 1450 exodus and a 1410 B.C. entry into the land. Since the middle of this century, there has been a tendency to favor what has become known as the Generally Accepted Date (GAD) of 1230-1220 B.C. for entry into the land of Canaan. But even that is breaking down now as six of the sites that the Bible says were conquered by the Israelites (namely, Jericho, Ai, Gibeon, Hebron, Hormah/Zephath and Arad) have yielded no occupation evidence from the thirteenth century. The same story could be repeated for the cities of Debir and Lachish.

    This poor "fit" between the archaeological evidence and the biblical tradition of the conquest has led scholars, who had down-dated the entry into the land already by nearly 200 years from the date that the biblical evidence implied of 1410 B.C. to the revised date of 1230 or 1220 B.C., to look for different solutions. Several new theories have now gained considerable support. Among them are the peaceful infiltration theory (a view long favored by German scholars) or the more recent peasant revolt theory of George Mendenhall and Norman K. Gottwald. Both of these theories drop the necessity of a conquest altogether and substitute for it instead a revolt of local peasants against urban centers or a peaceful takeover.

    But 1 Kings 6:1 claimed that the exodus was 480 years before Solomon began to build the temple in 967 B.C., which would again place it in 1447 B.C. Judges 11:26 also claimed that the Israelites had been settled for 300 years prior to Jephthah's day, who lived about 1100 B.C., again yielding approximately 1400 B.C. for the entry into the land.

    Recently John J. Bimson and David Livingston have offered major strides forward in solving the archaeological problems and in harmonizing these results with the Bible. They accomplish this mainly by moving the dates for the end of the Middle Bronze down 100 years or so from 1550 B.C. to around 1420 B.C. When this shift is made, there is almost a perfect correlation between the archaeological evidence and the biblical account of the conquest of Canaan. It will be interesting to watch what will happen on this issue in the future.

    There are other examples of a present incongruity between archaeology and the Bible. One case is that of Genesis 14. If ever there was a chapter that promised to link the patriarchs with the outside world of that day, it is Genesis 14. Alas, we have not been able to identify with certainty any one of the four kings from Mesopotamia. Some think that "Arioch king of Ellasar" (Gen 14:1) might be the Arriyuk mentioned in the eighteenth-century Mari tablets, but that too is not certain. Years ago some thought Hammurabi (allegedly the Amraphel of Gen 14:1) was one of the four, but that proved to be incorrect both on philological grounds and the grounds that Hammurabi came much later in time (c. 1792-1750 B.C.) than the setting given in Genesis 14.

    In Genesis 14:13 there is the first occurrence of an ethnic name in the Bible, "Abram the Hebrew." In the Mari tablets and in the Tell el-Amarna letters of the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries B.C., there is frequent mention of a mysterious ethnic group of people who at times also served as mercenaries called the Hapiru, Habiru, Hapiri or Apirim--all variants on what might be a group of people who were associated in one way or another with the Hebrews. Etymologically, the name Hebrew comes from the name Eber, one of Shem's descendants. Still, it is thought that the Hebrews may have been one group that made up the Hapiru.

    The reference to the "trained men" in Genesis 14:14 is a technical term that is a loan word from Egyptian texts dating about 2000 B.C. for "retainers" of Palestinian chieftains.

    Finally the title for God found in Genesis 14:19 , "God Most High," el-elyon, "Creator of heaven and earth," occurs in a Phoenician inscription found in Karatepe, dating about the eighth century B.C. Thus, even though we have not found the main characters in any of the external epigraphic materials from archaeology, there are already a number of other points in the chapter that prompt us to continue to look for the evidence that this chapter is an authentic report of actual events.

    Scholars have tended to become extremely skeptical, as we have already illustrated in the exodus and conquest debates, about almost all events prior to the days of Omri and Ahab in the middle of the ninth century B.C., when it is felt that the history of Israel, in the technical sense, actually begins. Thus even such figures as David and Solomon are thought by some to be Persian time creations retrojected back onto the eleven and tenth centuries in order to glorify Israel. But the recent find of an inscription from Tel Dan reading "House of David" may have assuaged some of this skepticism and given promise of more evidence to come.

    Another sort of archaeological evidence from the Near East is The Instruction of Amen-em-opet, which many believe bears a strong resemblance to Proverbs 22:17--24:22 . Papyrus 10474 in the British Museum, or The Instruction of Amen-em- opet, consists of thirty somewhat brief chapters and is of uncertain date, though usually assigned somewhere between the tenth and sixth centuries B.C.

    What is most startling about this connection with the Bible is that Proverbs 22:20-21 reads, "Have I not written thirty sayings for you, . . . so that you may give sound answers to him who sent you?" The parallel to these two verses is found in the Egyptian document at xxvi.15, "See thou these thirty chapters: They entertain; they instruct . . . to know how to return an answer to him who said it." The similarity is striking. There are several other close, but not exact, parallels to this short section in the book of Proverbs.

    Biblical scholars differ over whether there is a direct or indirect literary dependence of Proverbs on Egyptian wisdom. Since the dating is lower for the Egyptian proverbs than those traditionally assigned as coming from Solomon (971-931 B.C.), there is just as strong a question as to whether there is a direct or indirect dependence of The Instruction of Amen-em-opet on Proverbs. Even if some kind of dependence could be proved, the book of Proverbs remains free of all allusions and senses that are distinctive to the cultural, political and religious environment of Egypt. It would only be an example of common grace of the created order in which all persons are made in the image of God and therefore reflect his truth in bits and pieces all over the world.

    Archaeology will continue to produce many exciting moments since it has been estimated that less than one percent of the available material on the tells of Israel have been excavated, not to mention those in the rest of the ancient Near East. Moreover, there are still great quantities of tablets and manuscripts in the basements of many universities that have conducted excavations over the years that still need decipherment and publication. In that sense, the future for this discipline could hardly be brighter.

    Notes: 1 Michael D. Coogan, "10 Great Finds," Biblical Archaeology Review 21, no. 3 (1995): 36-47. 2 See Zvi Greenhut, "Burial Cave of the Caiphas Family," Biblical Archaeology Review 18, no. 5 (1992): 28-36, 76; and Ronny Reich, "Caiphas Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes," Biblical Archaeology Review 18, no. 5 (1992): 38-44, 76. 3 John J. Bimson and David Livingston, "Redating the Exodus," Biblical Archaeology Review 13, no. 5 (1987): 40-53, 66-68.

    This document was clipped from, Hard Sayings of the Bible:

    WITH OVER A QUARTER MILLION COPIES IN PRINT, the Hard Sayings series has proved itself among readers as a helpful guide to Bible difficulties. The series was launched with the publication of F. F. Bruce's The Hard Sayings of Jesus in 1983, with subsequent volumes appearing in 1988, 1989, 1991 and 1992. Those volumes included Hard Sayings of the Old Testament and More Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., and Hard Sayings of Paul and More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, by Manfred T. Brauch and Peter H. Davids, respectively. This edition combines the five earlier versions with new material from Walter Kaiser and Peter Davids.

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