I recently did a 3 blog series that was more of a response to a Twitter firestorm which was itself a response to an article I shared entitled 5 Uncomfortable Facts Atheists Need To Hear by Barak Lurie, a former atheist. (You can read the responses here, here, and here.) At the end of the 3rd post, I mentioned that there were 2 articles that were sent as a response that, while they had nothing to do with the original article, I thought worthy of responding to.
One of the articles I received was entitled Leading archaeologist says Old testament storeis are fiction (yes, the type is in the headline of the article, which itself gives a red flag. If it’s a professional article, then why is there a typo? (Yes, I might have typos in my blogs, but I’m no professional. I’m just a guy with a laptop.)) The opening sentence of this article, posted on Sunday, March 28, 1993, says: “ABRAHAM, Jacob, Moses, King David, and King Solomon in all his splendour, never existed, a 15-year study of archaeological evidence has concluded.”
One thing to understand is that archaeology will not corroborate every detail of history. As J. Warner Wallace points out in his article Why Doesn’t Archaeology Corroborate Every Detail of the New Testament Accounts?:
But what are we to say to those who argue the Biblical archeological record is incomplete? The answer is best delivered by another expert witness in the field, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi, historian and Professor Emeritus at Miami University. Yamauchi wrote a book entitled, The Stones and the Scripture, where he rightly noted that archaeological evidence is a matter of “fractions”:
Only a fraction of the world’s archaeological evidence still survives in the ground.
Only a fraction of the possible archaeological sites have been discovered.
Only a fraction have been excavated, and those only partially.
Only a fraction of those partial excavations have been thoroughly examined and published.
Only a fraction of what has been examined and published has anything to do with the claims of the Bible!
Old Testament scholar James Hoffmeier (who specializes in issues of Old Testament historicity and archaeology) says:
As a field archaeologist myself, I am keenly aware of how little has actually survived from the ancient past, owing to natural forces, such as moisture in many forms, deflation, and earthquakes, as well as human impact in the form of later occupation (in ancient times), reusing earlier building materials, human destruction (war and burning), and modern development (urban and agricultural). Realistic expectations about what archaeology can and cannot do for biblical studies must always be kept in mind.
Peter S. Williams quotes in his article Archaeology and the Historical Reliability of the New Testament:
As Nelson Glueck states, on the one hand “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever contraverted a biblical reference”, whereas on the other “Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail historical statements in the Bible.”…
Likewise, Joseph Free confirms: “Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which had been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contrary to known facts.”…
And as Lee Strobel observes:
In trying to determine if a witness is being truthful, journalists and lawyers will test all the elements of his or her testimony that can be tested. If this investigation reveals that the person was wrong in those details, this casts considerable doubt on the veracity of his or her entire story. However, if the minutiae check out, this is some indication – not conclusive proof but some evidence – that maybe the witness is being reliable in his or her overall account
This post is only going to look at the claim for Abraham and Jacob. I will address the claims of Moses, David, and Solomon in my next post.
- Abraham and Jacob
Yes, it’s true that we have no direct archaeological evidence for Abraham, but why should we? He was just one man, a nomad if you will. (The same rule applies to Jacob.) James Hoffmeier says:
No serious archaeologist thinks that direct archaeological evidence will be found that can verify the historicity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or that the latter and his clan moved to Egypt.
But if there is evidence surrounding Abraham, then that makes the case a little stronger.
In fact, the Archaeological Study Bible says this:
No mention of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel) has been found in extrabiblical documents from their era (c. 1950-1550 B.C.), nor should we expect to find such references. Living as nomads on the fringes of populated areas, the patriachs wandered between the great empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt, and their activities would have been insignificant to scribes and annalists of that period. The Biblical narratives, which from their side make few references to political events of those times, are nevertheless historical, not myth or fiction. Biblical writers simply selected material appropriate to their theological objectives.
There are various reasons (above and beyond basic faith commitments) for us to acccept the Biblical accounts as historically reliable, among them:
Because writing systems were in use by the third millenium B.C, it is unnecessary to assume that a long period of oral transmission existed between the events themselves and their documentation in written records. People of the late third millenium and the early second millenium B.C. maintained written records and did not depend on memory for matters they condisered to be important. The events of the patriarchal period may have been recorded soon after their occurrence in texts that the Biblical writers later utilized as sources.
Names similar to Serug, Nahor, Terah, Abram/Abraham (Gen 11) and Jacob (ch. 25) appear in documents of the first half ot he second millenium B.C., showing that these names were common during that period. The names of kings mentioned in Genesis 14 are difficult to account for, but the evidence does collaborate the story itself.
Apparently some locations mentioned in the patriarchal narrative were sparsely inhabited during the time of the patriarchs and thus are difficult to account for archaeologically. Other locations, however, had larger populations and are known from archaeology and/or texts contemporary to the lives of the patriarchs. There is strong evidence, for example, related to the location of the cities of the plain.
The patriarchs’ travel is not to be regarded as improbable. Texts from Ebla (c. 2300 B.C.) and Cappadocia (C. 2000 B.C.) indicate that travel, commerce and trade regularly occurred throughout the ancient Near East.
Hurrian family law, in force in Haran (see chs. 12; 24) and Nuzi, shed light on some of the activities of Abraham’s family that might otherwise perplex us. Another parallel has been found in a letter from Larsa (an ancient Summerian city on the Euphrates River), indicating that a childless man could indeed adopt his slave as his heir (see 15:2).
The patriarchal stories faithfully reflect customs that were not practiced and institutions that did not exist during later periods, some of which were even prohibited under the religious norms of later Israel. For example, marriage to a half sister (cf. Lev 18:9) or to tow sisters simultaneously (cf. Lev 18:18) was permissible during patriarchal times but forbidden in later Israelite society. This fact argues against the idea claimed by some critics that these stories were invented during the period of the Israelite monarchy.
Thus, various contemporary Near Eastern sources lend support to the historicity of the Genesis narrative.
And adds this about evidence for Serug, Nahor, and Terah:
According to the Old Testament the patriarch’s original homeland was in south-central Turkey, in an area known as Aram Naharaim (Ge 24:10) or Paddan-Aram (25:20). Among the genealogical names of individuals listed in Genesis 11, three – Serug, Nahor and Terah – have survived from antiquity also as names of towns in this region. The names of these Biblical characters have been preserved in the very area from which the Bible specifies the patriarchs to have originated.
Serug, Abram’s great-grandfather, fathered Nahor at age 30 and died at age 230 (11:22-23). His name, which corresponds to the place called Sargi in Assyrian inscriptions of the seventh century B.C., lives on as modern Suruc, 35 miles (56.5 km) northwest of Haran…
Nahor, Abram’s grandfather, fathered Terah at age 29 and died at age 148 (11:24-25). A town called Nahor is mentioned in 24:10 as the home of the descendants of Bethuel, another son of Nahor (24:24). This particular town also is mentioned in texts from Mari and Cappadocia from the nineteenth through the eighteenth centuries B.C., as well as in Assyrian inscriptions from the fourteenth century B.C. Later Assyrian records from the seventh century B.C. refer to it as Til akhiri, which means “Mound of Nahor.” Although Nahor’s exact location is unknown today, numerous references in ancient texts place it in the Balikh River valley south of Haran.
Terah fathered Abram at age 70 and died at age 205 (11:26,32). A town called Til Turahi (“Mound of Terah”) is mentioned in ninth-century B.C. Assyrian texts as being north of Haran…also on the Balikh River.
Interestingly, Learn Religion has this fascinating article, Archaeological Evidence About the Biblical Story of Abraham, about how archaeological evidence from the texts from Mari gives good credence to why Abram’s father Terah left Ur and headed north, fleeing civil strife.
Answers in Genesis records 3 major pieces of evidence in regards to Abraham:
- Abraham’s home city of Ur was excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley, with surprising evidence of near-luxury.
- The customs of Patriarchal times, as described in the Bible, are endorsed by archaeological finds at such places as Ur, Mari, Boghazkoi, and Nineveh. These were written records from that day—not just put down in writing many centuries later. They bear the marks of eyewitness reporting.Thus, Abraham’s relationship with Hagar is seen in a different light by understanding that the woman who could not personally bear a child for her husband should provide him with one of her maidservants. In the Bible record we are told that it was Sarah who made the approach to Abraham, and her maid Hagar was a willing accomplice in having Abraham’s child. Thus, she gained economic security and personal prestige. We stress it was not Abraham who made the first approach to Hagar, but Abraham’s wife Sarah did in keeping with the customs of the day.The records of the five kings who fought against four kings (Genesis 14) are interesting, in that the names of the people concerned fit the known words and names of the times.
- Abraham’s negotiations with the Hittites (Genesis 23) are accurate and follow the known forms of such Hittite transactions. Neo-Hittites came later, but there were distinct language relationships. The Bible was right in calling the earlier people “sons of Hatti” or “Hittites.”
For Sodom and Gomora, there’s a leading theory from evidence from science that they have discovered Sodom and it was destroyed by an exploding meteor. Also, Josephus, Clement of Rome, and Irenaeus all independently claimed in the 1st and 2nd century to have seen the pillar of salt that was Lot’s wife.
The other points of the article are responded to: