I recently listened to an interview of Dr. Craig Evans, who wrote the book, Jesus and the Remains of His Day: Studies in Jesus and the Evidence of Material Culture. The book is described as a collection of articles demonstrating how archaeological evidence “enlightens our understanding of the life and death of Jesus and the culture in which he lived”. The interview focused on archaeology, generally, and especially on the way archaeology sheds light on the New Testament.
In this piece, I am following up on the more general discussion. When asked if he was aware of any finds that have failed to support the biblical record, Dr. Evans could not think of any. Rather, he commented that archaeological evidence is found every year that confirms the biblical record. Of particular note are the people mentioned in the Bible that archaeology has affirmed.
As an example of a recent discovery affirming the biblical record, Dr. Evans referenced evidence of the biblical prophet, Isaiah, discovered by third generation, Israeli archaeologist, Eilat Mizar. She obtained her Ph.D. from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and remains affiliated with them. Specializing in Jerusalem and Phoenician archaeology, she has worked on the Temple Mount and other excavations. (See Wikipedia)
Mazur is the archaeologist who maintains she has found ruins of the palace of King David dating to the late 11th and early 10th Century BC located in the south of the Temple Mount. More recently, Evans related, she found a clay seal that mentions Isaiah, the prophet in early 2018. Clay seals were used to secure scrolls to show that they were not tampered with. They were roasted in fire and turned into ceramic. They often survive many hundreds of years.
Evans reports that the Isaiah seal (clay bulla) was found two feet from where the King Hezekiah seal was found in 2015. According to the Old Testament, Isaiah and King Hezekiah were contemporaries. Isaiah, the prophet, often counseled King Hezekiah.
Scholars are very familiar with Isaiah from older archaeological finds at the caves of Qumran, where an entire scroll of the book of Isaiah was found, dating to about 200 BC. The so-called Dead Sea Scrolls contained portions of every book in the Old Testament except for Esther. (See The Dead Sea Scrolls Shed Light on the Accuracy of our Bible) Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, the oldest Hebrew Old Testament text dated to 935 AD (the Masoretic Aleppo Codex).
The significance of these old texts can’t be understated because they allow a comparison between the same text found in the Masoretic Aleppo Codex approximately 1000 years later and present day texts, another 1000 years after that. Amazingly, the texts are about 95% identical!
“One of the most respected Old Testament scholars, the late Gleason Archer, examined the two Isaiah scrolls found in Cave 1 and wrote, ‘Even though the two copies of Isaiah discovered in Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea in 1947 were a thousand years earlier than the oldest dated manuscript previously known (A.D. 980), they proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 percent of the text. The five percent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.’ (Id. citing Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, IL.: Moody Press, 1985), 25)
Dr. Evans comments that the archaeological discoveries show over again and over again that the Biblical record is not fiction. It chronicles real people in real places.
According to Wikipedia, Eiliat Mazur has found artifacts inscribed with the names of a number of people identified in the biblical records. Some lesser persons include Jehucal, son of Shelemiah, son of Shevi, an official mentioned at least twice in the Book of Jeremiah and Gedaliah ben Pashhur, mentioned together with Jehucal in Jeremiah 38:1. These are in addition to the clay bullas inscribed to King Hezekiah and the Prophet Isaiah.
Many, many people identified in the biblical records have been verified through archaeology in recent years, and the discoveries increase every year. Biblical Archaeology Review published a summary in 2014 noting at least 50 people mentioned in the Bible that have been corroborated through archaeology. (See 50 People In The Bible Confirmed By Archaeology, Biblical Archaeology Society, February 20, 2014).
Until the early 1990’s skeptics doubted that King David was a real historical person. In 1993, an inscription was found referring to David and his dynasty the “House of David”. Dating to about 100 years after he was reported to have lived. This wasn’t an Hebrew inscription, but the inscription of a foreign monarch boasting of a victory over King David and the Israelites.
The persons in the Bible corroborated by archaeological finds include a number of Hebrew Kings (Hezekiah, Ahaz, Ahab, Manasseh, Omri, Jehu and others) and foreign monarchs like Sennacherib (Assyria), Shoshenq (or Shisak)(Egypt) and other Egyptian Pharaohs. The number of persons identified in the biblical records affirmed by archaeological finds was increased to 53 as reported in 2017 (See 53 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically, Biblical Archaeology Society, April 12, 2017)
While many people remain skeptical of the Bible, modern archaeological discoveries made every year add more weight to scale, piece by piece, in favor of the historicity of the biblical record. Section by Section, like a point by number project, archaeology has been filling in the picture of the Bible as history, and not myth.
Dr. Evans estimates that only five percent (5%) of the biblical land has been excavated up to the present time. That would be one location out of every twenty places referenced in the biblical record. Of the locations that have been excavated, those locations are only partially excavated – anywhere from five percent (5%) to twenty percent (20%) of the actual area at a given site. In the relatively small area that has been excavated, Evans says, archaeologists have found proof of 55 names of people mentioned through the date of the interview.