Faith & Self Defense

Building Confidence Through Evidence

Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 35

Convince Me Theres A GodIn the last part of our series we saw that according to the Bible (Old Testament) King Solomon built the first Temple and the Babylonian Army destroyed it. We also know from the Old Testament that Zerubbabel built the second Temple. We learn from Jewish and other historical writings that the Hasmoneans refurbished the second Temple, King Herod expanded it, and the Roman Army destroyed it.

As I researched the Old Testament as an atheist to see if it was a credible historical document, I came across the writings of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. They all refer to a time following the forced exile of Jews to Babylon. According to the Bible that forced exile began under Babylonian King Nebuchaddnezar in 605 BC (Daniel 1) and ended when Persian King Cyrus the Great allowed Jews to return to Judah in about 538 BC.

We have previously looked at evidence for Ezra, so let’s look next at archaeological evidence for Haggai and Zechariah.

Evidence for Haggai and Zechariah

Haggai and Zechariah are listed as being Hebrew prophets at the end of the 6th century BC, several decades before Ezra. Both played an important role in calling the people of Israel to rebuild the Temple.

In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, ‘The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.’ Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.’ Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,’ says the Lord. ‘You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.” Haggai 1:1-11

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, ‘The Lord has been very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Return to Me,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts … On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet … Then the Angel of the Lord answered and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will You not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which You were angry these seventy years?’ And the Lord answered the angel who talked to me, with good and comforting words. So the angel who spoke with me said to me, ‘Proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I am zealous for Jerusalem And for Zion with great zeal. I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease; For I was a little angry, And they helped—but with evil intent.’ ‘Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it,” says the Lord of hosts, ‘And a surveyor’s line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.’ ‘Again proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘My cities shall again spread out through prosperity; The Lord will again comfort Zion, And will again choose Jerusalem.” Zechariah 1:1-2, 7, 12-17

The Book of Ezra, which we have already seen, mentioned Haggai and Zechariah as being the prophets God used to speak to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem about rebuilding the Temple.

Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them.” Ezra 5:1-2

Then Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, Shethar-Boznai, and their companions diligently did according to what King Darius had sent. So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.” Ezra 6:13-15

So, the question is what archaeological evidence might exist that supports Haggai and Zechariah being involved in prophesying to the Jews living at the end of the 6th century BC about rebuilding the Second Temple in Jerusalem?

Evidence for Haggai and Zechariah would include much of the same evidence we’ve seen for the writings of Ezra. If Ezra is a credible history of the Jewish people, so then would be Haggai and Zechariah since Ezra attributes to both the calling of God as prophets in Judah and Jerusalem at the end of the 6th century BC.

Haggai and Zechariah both include specific dates about God’s Word to them that can be compared to Ezra and the reigns of King Ahasuerus, King Artaxerses, and King Darius.

In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. In the days of Artaxerxes also, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabel, and the rest of their companions wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the letter was written in Aramaic script, and translated into the Aramaic language. Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes.” Ezra 4:6-8

Now when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem against the Jews, and by force of arms made them cease. Thus the work of the house of God which isat Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” Ezra 4:23-24

Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them. At the same time Tattenai the governor of the region beyond the River and Shethar-Boznai and their companions came to them and spoke thus to them: ‘Who has commanded you to build this temple and finish this wall?’ Then, accordingly, we told them the names of the men who were constructing this building. But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, so that they could not make them cease till a report could go to Darius. Then a written answer was returned concerning this matter. This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai sent: The governor of the region beyond the River, and Shethar-Boznai, and his companions, the Persians who were in the region beyond the River, to Darius the king …” Ezra 5:1-6

Then King Darius issued a decree, and a search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon. And at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of Media, a scroll was found, and in it a record was written thus: In the first year of King Cyrus, King Cyrus issued a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem: ‘Let the house be rebuilt, the place where they offered sacrifices; and let the foundations of it be firmly laid, its height sixty cubits and its width sixty cubits, with three rows of heavy stones and one row of new timber. Let the expenses be paid from the king’s treasury. Also let the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple which is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and taken back to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place; and deposit them in the house of God’—Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, and Shethar-Boznai, and your companions the Persians who are beyond the River, keep yourselves far from there. Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God on its site … Then Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, Shethar-Boznai, and their companions diligently did according to what King Darius had sent. So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia. Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.” Ezra 6:1-7, 13-15

In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, ‘The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” Haggai 1:1-2

So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month, in the second year of King Darius.” Haggai 1:14-15

In the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying: ‘Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying: ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts. According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!’” Haggai 2:1-5

On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Now, ask the priests concerning the law, saying, ‘If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?’ Then the priests answered and said, ‘No.” Haggai 2:10-12

Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid—consider it: Is the seed still in the barn? As yet the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have not yielded fruit. But from this day I will bless you.” Haggai 2:18-19

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, ‘The Lord has been very angry with your fathers.” Zechariah 1:1-2

“On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet.” Zechariah 1:7

Now in the fourth year of King Darius it came to pass that the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, on the fourth day of the ninth month, Chislev, when the people sent Sherezer, with Regem-Melech and his men, to the house of God, to pray before the Lord, and to ask the priests who were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and the prophets, saying, ‘Should I weep in the fifth month and fast as I have done for so many years?” Zechariah 7:1-3

 These words read clearly like history, so we can put all of this to a historical test. Haggai and Zechariah are believed to have prophesied at the end of the 6th century BC. How do those dates compare to the information ascribed to them? What about the ancient towns mentioned in the texts?

Achaemenid Dynasty

As we saw in earlier studies, the Persian defeat of Babylon in the 6th century BC is well-documented. The empire had its humble beginnings in the 7th century BC with Achaemenes and grew through the leadership of Teispes into two lineages that included Ariaramnes, Cyrus I, Cambyses I, Cyrus II, and Cambyses II, Darius I, Xerxes IDarius II, Artaxerses II, and Darius III. Knowing the ruling dates of these Persian kings will help us date and test several Old Testament writings. We will look at those dates in the next part of our series, Convince Me There’s A God. We’ll also look at the ancient towns and cities to see what we can learn about them from archaeology.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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4 thoughts on “Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 35

  1. In general, the Old Testament is very well-attested from extra-biblical sources from ~Rehoboam’s reign and on (Solomon’s son). Daniel is just about the only book given quite a bit of flak (also Jonah and Joel), but nothing in it is actually historically deficient – just the typical subjective theories about date of composition. Jonah’s famous 60 mile city (Jonah 3:3) simply means the countryside surrounding the city, as other authors mean, and this was roughly how much land would have been within Nineveh’s jurisdiction.

    Even Solomon’s Temple has some extrabiblical support (through the counting of Josephus’ source who used a Tyrean historian’s king list to derive King Hiram), and David is known through inscriptions to be historical. There are only two major objections alive against the time period from David to Ezra: (1) that David’s kingdom was nothing but a collection of a small tribe and he was a petty chieftain; (2) That Israel and Judah were never one people but evolved out of local Canaanite peoples.

    But these objections rest on the supposition that Judah’s poorly developed cities compared to Israel means they were inferior and separate. Khirbet Qeyiafa proves otherwise for both, and one doesn’t need to have advanced cities to conquer others as Alexander the Great proves – there was little time to develop these in small, war-torn Judah in David’s day, when they had barely become a kingdom ~40 years earlier under Saul. Moreover, Finkelstein, the proponent of (2), points out both Israel and Judah spoke a dialect of Hebrew – quite strange if they were never one people. And the Judahite kings in the early 9th century BC never reinforced their northern borders (only south, west, and east) whereas Israel did – as if wanting to reclaim Israel. Only after the Israelite king Baasha made a large incursion was this intention abandoned in the late 800’s BC.

    The Israelites were never Canaanites – different building styles and technology (local but still unique). They had no pigs since at least 1200 BC even though they lived in an area ideal for breeding them, and the Canaanites had no such qualms about raising swine. The similarity between Semites and Israelites would always be there, since the Israelites lived in the Semitic region of Egypt, so one can’t maintain they must’ve had a completely novel culture. Far fewer than 2-3 million though, they could’ve numbered no more than ~50,000-100,000 – numbers and names are the first things to get corrupted in copying manuscripts.

    Just about the only problems scholars raise from archaeology (and objective, non-subjective facts vs the various theories like the JEDP hypothesis) are the Exodus and Conquest. The Exodus is easily resolvable by understanding the numbers were quite smaller. The Conquest is a bit more involved because of the numerous areas included, but there is a lot of evidence for both sides’ arguments.

    Moses is a typical name from the time period in Egypt. So is Joshua (mentioned in the Amarna Tablets – Jashuya). The names of the Patriarchs are all known from their time periods: Abraham (Avi-Ram) is Mesopotamian. His ancestors’ names are also known (Terah, Nahor, etc) from e.g. the Nuzi Tablets. Jacob is known in Palestine from 1725 BC. The customs are all spot on: Abraham’s migration patterns, burial of him and Sarah, the fact that Eliezer, a slave, would’ve inherited all Abraham had before Isaac; the oral contract Isaac made with Jacob was unbreakable and as legitimate as a written one as we know from the Mari Texts. The material mentioned in Moses’ story in Exodus 1-2 is exactly the name and material the Egyptians used in sealing (Everyman’s Commentary). Endless facts upon facts compared to any other ancient secular or religious book. There is no way they could have known these things when they wrote Genesis and on. There’s a good summary of the evidence in Biblical Archaeology Review, Volume 2 – special extended edition – I can send a pdf if you’re interested.

    • I sent it, and I’ll say – I read several of your other articles on archaeology here – I really like them, very good introductions and summaries, keep up the good work. I have more books if you’re interested, just email me 🙂

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