The October 25th edition (1999) of U. S. News & World Report carried a sensational cover story titled “Is The Bible True?” The sub-caption declared: “New discoveries offer surprising support for key moments in the Scriptures.” The article was actually an excerpt from author Jeffrey Sheler’s new book, Is The Bible True? Sheler is a senior writer for U. S. News.
If you have your hopes up that this is a fair and accurate assessment of the archaeological evidence relating to the Bible, you will be disappointed. The author’s presentation is a mixed bag indeed. Let us take note of several items in the article:
(1) Sheler calls attention to a recent (1993) discovery of a monument fragment from the ninth century B.C., on which was found the name of David, Israel’s great king. Note the author’s comment:
The reference to David was a historical bombshell. Never before had the familiar name of Judah’s ancient warrior king, a central figure of the Hebrew Bible and, according to Christian Scripture, an ancestor of Jesus, been found in the records of antiquity outside the pages of the Bible. Skeptics had long seized upon that fact to argue that David was a mere legend, invented by Hebrew scribes during or shortly after Israel’s Babylonian exile, roughly 500 years before the birth of Christ. Now, at last, there was material evidence: an inscription written not by Hebrew scribes but by an enemy of the Israelites a little more than a century after David’s presumptive lifetime.
(For further discussion of this and related matters concerning David, see Jackson 1999.)
(2) Next, Sheler discusses the biblical record relating to matters “in the beginning.” He contends that “a growing number of conservative scholars embrace theistic evolution.” He is wrong. To speak of “conservative” and “theistic evolution” in the same breath is oxymoronic. Darwinism is adverse to both science and Scripture, claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Those who subscribe to evolutionary concepts of human origin are modernistic to the bone.
Sheler also suggests that “most biblical scholars consider the story of the Flood a myth.” He cites no objective studies buttressing his claim that “most” scholars disregard the historicity of the flood—as if that mattered anyhow. The fact is, there is ample evidence for a universal deluge as described in the Bible (see The Woolly Mammoth and the Ice Age and Questions About the Genesis Flood). These compromising statements are sufficient to establish the perspective from which the author proceeds.
(3) In a consideration of the “age [era] of the patriarchs,” Sheler opines that the Old Testament narratives contain anachronistic (i.e., out of the proper time frame) references. For example, he says that Genesis 11 alludes to “Ur of the Chaldeans,” whereas, in fact, the Chaldeans did not even settle the region until some four hundred years after Moses. This objection has been addressed repeatedly. Merrill Unger says “this is not an anachronism as some critics hold” (1954, 108). He suggests the reference is a later scribal insertion to identify the location of Ur to later generations long after the city had perished.
On the other hand, D. J. Wiseman, professor of Assyriology at the University of London, contends that the term “Chaldea” probably reflects “a much older name. It is likely that seminomads of the Kaldu occupied the deserts of N. Arabia (Job 1:17) and settled in the Persian Gulf area late in the 3rd mil. B.C. [well before Abraham]” (1998, 320).
(4) Sheler says that “archaeologists have found no direct evidence to corroborate the biblical story” of Israel’s departure from Egypt. Yet he concedes that “lack of direct evidence is insufficient reason to deny that the Exodus actually happened.” The fact is, lack of compelling evidence in Egypt for the Exodus is not at all surprising, since the Egyptians had no interest in recording their setbacks—which the departure of more than two million slaves surely would have been.
But there is some evidence. Tacitus, the Roman historian (ca. A.D. 55-210), in his Histories (5.3), said that “most writers agree” that a “plague” broke out in ancient Egypt. He contends that the cause was a people who were “a race hateful to the gods,” which group was removed “to foreign lands.” He describes a “vast multitude” which was led forth and “left in the desert.” The leader of the group was named “Moses.” George Rawlinson, professor of ancient history at Oxford, suggested that “a copious contemporary literature” must have preserved this record, however garbled it had become in the various accounts (1873, 67).
(5) Moving to the New Testament, Sheler notes that while the earthly lifespan of Jesus was but a third of a century, and thus a rather “narrow target” for archaeological investigation, nonetheless, “during the past four decades, spectacular discoveries have produced a wealth of data illuminating the story of Jesus and the birth of Christianity.”
For example, the bones of the first-discovered crucified victim were found in Jerusalem in 1968. The evidence revealed striking similarities to the death of Jesus (see The Crucifixion of Christ). In 1990, a grave was discovered in Jerusalem which experts believe houses the bones of Caiaphas, the high priest before whom Jesus was tried. In 1961, an inscription was unearthed in Caesarea that contained the phrase, “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.” Sheler notes that this discovery “confirms that the man depicted in the Gospels as Judea’s Roman governor has precisely the responsibilities and authority that the Gospel writers ascribed to him.”
In conclusion, the most significant thing about Sheler’s article, perhaps, is this: it reveals the telling concessions that even the most left-leaning thinkers are forced to make. Bludgeoned heads are forced to bow to the evidence! We welcome such testimony; it is all the more valuable coming from a source that is jaded with liberal bias.