Atheists and skeptics have waged war against the Bible, with the history of Israel as one of their main targets. Philip R. Davies wrote a book in 1992 titled, In Search of Ancient Israel which is widely quoted by biblical minimalists. The minimalist view of history is that the Bible is a doubtful source for information about ancient Israel. They consider it to be unreliable. In Dr. Davies’ book, he states what he maintains are three possible views of Israel:
There may have been a “historical Israel,” but it is not really accessible to us because the Bible text is largely unreliable.
“Biblical Israel” is only a late construct of the biblical writers.
“Ancient Israel” is a modern scholar’s construct, that is, also not real but fictitious.
The answer to all of these claims is to ask for an unbiased examination of the evidence. Assuming the Bible text is unreliable is a closed-minded approach to the issues involved. We have maintained in this “layman’s journal” for nearly 50 years now that if you look at who wrote the Bible, to whom, and why, it is clear and accurate. We have also shown that there are examples of statements in the Bible that are testable. We deal with that in our video series which is available on DVDs, or you can watch it at no cost on our DoesGodExist.tv website.
Archaeological data supports many of the factual statements of the Bible and new data has become available in the twenty-first century. The picture shows the “City of David” archaeological site in Jerusalem. Language and translation problems are certainly an issue, but to say the Bible is inaccessible or unreliable demeans what scholars can do.
In 2017, Hershel Shanks retired. He was the founder of the Biblical Archaeology Society and the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review for 42 years. Shanks is important to those of us interested in apologetics because he caused the contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls to become available to the general public. He also has been useful in getting material supporting belief in the Bible as the Word of God into the hands of the public. A recent example is evidence that David was, in fact, the historical figure the Bible depicts–a belief biblical minimalists have challenged.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940s, and thousands of fragments were housed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum which is now called the Rockefeller Museum. A scroll publication team with an editor-in-chief supervised the assembling and reproduction of the scrolls. However, virtually no reproductions had been made available so research on the contents of the scrolls not possible.
When the Dead Sea Scrolls were unavailable for study, skeptics attacked the Bible, and the media carried all kinds of claims about what the scrolls contained. One story was that the scrolls said that Jesus was “the great teacher of the Essenes.” Some people made claims that the scrolls showed that apocryphal books should be validated as part of the biblical canon. Shanks began a public campaign to make the scrolls available to researchers, students, and the general public. Hebrew University professor, Emanuel Tov, became the editor-in-chief of the publication team and during his tenure over 100 scholars contributed to the release of the scrolls’ contents.
Hershel Shanks published a preliminary edition of the unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls in 1991, and a landslide of demands for full disclosure of all of the documents followed. Today the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed in a special building in Jerusalem called “The Shrine of the Book.” They are also available to view in high definition for free on the internet. To see them click here.
The prophet Isaiah is often called the “Messianic Prophet.” In his lengthy (66 chapter) book of the Old Testament, he told of the coming Messiah. We have his words, but now we may also have Isaiah’s signature.
In 2015 archaeologists found the royal seal of King Hezekiah stamped in a clay seal at Ophel, the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Written on the seal is a Hebrew inscription which reads “Belonging to Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, king of Judah.”
Now in the same location, a new seal has been found. This one appears to belong to the prophet Isaiah. The March-June issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (pages 64-73) has pictures and an explanation of the find. Because there is some damage to the seal, or bulla, the final judgment will have to come after scholarly review. If the scholars give their approval, they will make a formal announcement.
When I took my earth science students on our annual field trip to Lake Michigan, we did a “magnetism and history” exercise showing Earth’s magnetic reversals. We would go to the large sand dune known as “Old Baldy” (no, not named after me), cover a bar magnet with a white handkerchief, and stick it into the sand. The handkerchief would come out completely covered with little black needles of magnetite which is a magnetic iron oxide.
There was a nearby pool where the water was calm and where you could see the magnetic pieces with a pair of binoculars. They pretty much lined up in the same direction, and I showed the students that they were lined up with a compass needle. We would then dig down several feet into the sand to a layer of mud where the magnetite pieces pointed every which way. I would ask my students to tell me why that would be. Most of them said that the Earth must have lost its magnetic field at the time when that mud was deposited. I then told them if we dug down deeper we would find the magnetite pieces lined up again, but in the opposite direction. The point was obvious–the magnetic field of the Earth had flipped.
In reality, there are several other possible causes for the scrambled magnetite pieces, but the magnetic reversal did happen. In the mid-ocean ridge of the Atlantic, lava flows have trapped the magnetite. The process is called “thermoremanent magnetization.” Because the lava flows happened multiple times, they show a picture of the history of the Earth’s magnetic reversals. These lava flows have recorded over a dozen “flips” in the magnetic field of Earth.
Archaeologist Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University has led studies of the history of magnetic changes on the Earth. Ancient pottery has tiny magnetic minerals that were aligned with the Earth’s magnetic field when the pottery was fired in the kiln. The stronger the magnetic field, the greater the alignment of the magnetic particles. From the late eighth to the second century B.C., ceramic jars bearing the impressions of royal stamps were manufactured in and around Jerusalem. Scientists have studied handles from 67 pieces of pottery, and they have found that the magnetic field of the Earth has gone through periodic rises and falls throughout history. The mapping of the magnetic fields gives a record of history, with small changes producing a pattern that improves dating techniques by a huge factor.
What causes the Earth’s magnetic field is still not completely understood, and the magnetic reversals are even more of a mystery. By measuring the magnetic particles in the pottery, scientists can date the pottery very accurately. This dating method can answer many questions about ancient kings and kingdoms including the major figures in the history of Israel.
In the 1970s there was a lot of attention paid to a community of ascetics known as the Essenes. This group lived in the Qumran area near the Dead Sea and were probably the producers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the past, skeptics of Christianity have suggested that they were the originators of Christian teachings and of Jesus himself. The Essenes expected a “Teacher of Righteousness” who would rise from the dead.
As scholars probed more deeply, it became obvious that there were huge differences that invalidated attempts to discredit Christianity by ascribing its teachings to the Essenes. The Essenes were ultraconservative Jews, many of whom rejected marriage and attempted to hide from the Romans.
On November 16, 2017, anthropologist Yossi Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem presented a study of 33 newly discovered skeletons found at Qumran. Carbon-14 dating puts the bones at 2200 years ago, close to the dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The bones are mostly, if not all, from adult males and have no signs of having been in combat, so they were not soldiers.
In February of 2017, researchers found another cave that seems to have held more scrolls or pieces of leather or papyrus that were ready to be used for writing. The significance of the finds is that they may lead to more scrolls in the area. Questions about who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls do need to be answered to establish the validity of the documents.
The Does God Exist? ministry is heavily involved in educational programs. Right now we have 3600 students taking our correspondence courses in apologetics. Most of those students are confined to prisons all over the country. With our financial assistance, twelve of the students have gone on to receive college degrees.
Every year we have offered $1000 scholarships to graduating seniors to help them attend a university program. Students are selected based on their writing a paper on the compatibility of science and faith. Many of those papers have appeared in our printed journal.
We hope to offer another “Canyonlands Field Trip” this fall. This trip is also an educational program because it includes a college-level course in the geology and geomorphology of the Grand Canyon and the surrounding area.
In 2015 the “Clayton Museum of Ancient History” opened at York College in York, Nebraska. It displays artifacts collected by Foster Stanback. Foster selected the name for the museum as a token of appreciation for this ministry. Amber Soderholm has been the museum designer and curator. She has built a program of interactive learning for children in the museum and developed a program with 15 “Junior Docents” which meet each week. The museum also features temporary exhibits, like the current one on Martin Luther. Thanks to Amber’s hard work, 10,000 visitors have come to the museum since it opened. For more about the museum go to www.claytonmuseumofancienthistory.org.
Skeptics like to claim that the Bible is full of errors and cannot be trusted as a guide to how we should live. Some of them spend a great amount of time and energy trying to find errors in the Bible. They look for anything they think is historically wrong, or in contradiction to something stated elsewhere in the Bible.
We can often answer the skeptics’ challenges by looking carefully at the original language and the oldest manuscripts. What biblical critics tend to ignore is the constant verification of biblical statements. Archaeological finds continue to support the biblical record, but since they don’t have political value, the press rarely reports them.
With President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, one seemingly minor find has been reported. On January 1, 2018, the Israel Antiquities Commission released information about a token that was found in the old city near the Western Wall. It is 2700 years old and bears an inscription that says, “Property of the Governor of the City.”
The implications of the find for the politics of today are obvious. What interests us is that fact that this validates passages of Scripture that say there was a “Governor of the City” in Old Testament times. One is in 2 Kings 23:8 which identifies a man named Joshua with that role. At another time 2 Chronicles 34:8 identifies Maaseiah as governor of the city.
Egyptians constructed the Great Pyramid of Giza around 4500 years ago. Ever since then people have admired it, and in recent generations, they have speculated about its construction. Some have maintained that aliens built it because of the complexities of its structure and its relationship to the Sun, Moon, and other planets.
The main interior section of the pyramid is called the “grand gallery.” It is a sloping corridor in the heart of the pyramid linking the burial chambers of the king and queen. Egyptologists have established many facts about the ruler who built the pyramid, and there is now very little question about how they constructed it and how it fits into the religious views of the ancient Egyptian culture.
As scientific tools become more refined, we discover new information about the pyramid. Recently muon radiography has allowed scientists to investigate areas within the pyramid that they were not able to explore. What they found was a room above the grand gallery that is 98 feet (29.3 m) long and 26 feet (7.9 m) high. Scientists don’t know why the room is there and what, if anything, might be stored in it. Unfortunately, they cannot get access to the room without damaging the structure of the pyramid. What it does show is that the engineering and architecture of the Great Pyramid of Giza are even more amazing than we had understood in the past.
We tend to think that our technology and engineering skills are solely a product of our recent evolution. We overlook the fact that ancient people had the same intellectual capacity that we have today. We stand on their shoulders and have the blessing of the foundations they gave us to advance our technology. That does not mean that we are superior in any way.
Roy Nance of Murphreesboro, Tennessee, has spent a lifetime investigating the scientific credibility of the Torah. One of the areas he has specialized in is the medical teachings of Moses in the context of the time and culture in which he lived.
In his lectures, Nance discusses the Egyptian medical journals discovered by archaeologists over the centuries. Lee Strobel has discussed many of these in his books, and also Dr. S.I. McMillan discussed some of them in a book he wrote over 50 years ago titled None of These Diseases.
The Egyptian list of medicinal materials includes lizard blood, the blood of worms, swine teeth, putrid meat, pig ear moisture, goose grease, and the excrement of various animals. Moses grew up in the Egyptian culture that used these materials in medical treatment. In spite of his Egyptian education and the culture in which he was raised, Moses gave hygienic laws and practices that not only contradicted the teachings of his day but are correct by today’s standards.
The results of treating infections and cuts of all kinds with animal products had to be catastrophic, and the writings of Moses contain none of that. We understand the list of “unclean” animals in Leviticus 11. We see the importance of burying waste instead of throwing it into the street. Other hygiene standards presented by Moses are correct.
One of the most interesting of the teachings of Moses is the instruction for the timing of circumcision. Infants have two chemicals that develop in their bodies to allow clotting. Vitamin K is one, which at birth is at only about 20% of the adult level. The other is prothrombin which is at about 30% of the adult level by the fourth day of life. It isn’t until the eighth day that these two chemicals reach the adult level. Leviticus 12:3 says to circumcise boys on the eighth day. The timing couldn’t be better.
Jesus addressed lukewarm Laodicea in a letter recorded in Revelation 3:14-22. In verses 15 and 16, Jesus told the congregation in that city that they make him sick because of their lukewarmness. There are many reasons for this lukewarmness. One of them appears to have been their compromise with religious pluralism.
An article in the March/April 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review describes the apparent history of the church in that city. The archaeological artifacts found there give evidence of great financial prosperity in the city. There are also columns and tablets showing a collection of religious symbols from different faiths. One column has a menorah, a lulav (palm branch), a shofar (ram’s horn), and a cross. The Christian cross extends from the Jewish menorah and seems to connect the Laodicean church to the synagogue.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he addressed all of the churches in that region, including Laodicea. Paul primarily argued against the way many Christians were returning to following the laws and restrictions of the Old Testament. He wrote these rebuking words:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ, and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6, 7 NIV).