Faith & Self Defense

Building Confidence Through Evidence

Archive for the tag “Archaeology”

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As I researched the Old Testament as an atheist to see if it was a credible historical document, I came across the writings of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.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.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 33

Convince Me Theres A GodWe come now to the Post-Exile and Second Temple periods in the Old Testament history of Israel. Cyrus the Great of Persia decreed in about 538 BC that Jews could return to their homeland from Babylonian exile. That is the beginning of what is called the Post-Exilic period where Jews lived under the rule of the Persians. Cyrus ordered that the Jews rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. After delays because of opposition, the temple was completed about 516 BC during the reign of Darius I of Persia.

That’s a lot of history, so there should be at least “some” archaeological evidence for it. Right?

[I say “some” archaeological evidence because only a small number of archaeological sites have been discovered and excavated in the Middle East. Even the small number of sites that have been discovered and excavated have not been examined thoroughly and published.]

Let’s see what evidence was available when I was investigating the Old Testament texts in 1971.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 32

Convince Me Theres A GodBefore we move to the next phase of Israel’s history, let’s review what was available from archaeology about Israel’s kings and other Iron Age II (1000 – 539 BC) notables mentioned in the Bible during the time I was investigating the historical reliability of the Old Testament 45 years ago (except where listed with asterisk **).

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 31

Convince Me Theres A God

In the last part of our series, we looked at historical evidence that supports some of the prophecies of Ezekiel. In this article we will look at some of the archaeological evidence supporting the details of those prophecies.

Ezekiel spent several years prophesying about God’s judgment on Jerusalem and other nations in the region (Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, Egypt). Those years are important to know when comparing prophecy “proclaimed” to prophecy “fulfilled.”

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 30

Convince Me Theres A GodEzekiel is known as one of Israel’s greatest prophets, but how good was he really? His prophecies against Israel’s enemies were specific, so how did Ezekiel do? How many did he get right and how many did he get wrong?

In recent studies we have looked at archaeological discoveries that support claims that Ezekiel prophesied in Babylon while in exile during the early part of the 6th century BC. In this study we will look at the accuracy (or lack thereof) of Ezekiel’s prophecies.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 29

Convince Me Theres A GodIn past studies we saw that archaeologists have discovered records of three ancient deportations of people from Judah to Babylon: 605 BC, 597 BC, and 586 BC. Daniel was taken during the first captivity in 605 BC (Daniel 1:1-7). Many scholars believe Ezekiel was taken during the second captivity in 597 BC.

One thing the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel have in common among critics is they believe both were written later than the 6th century BC. The reason for that is simple – if Daniel and Ezekiel wrote during the 6th century BC, then the accuracy of their prophecies would be formidible to their opponents. As we saw in earlier studies, the Hebrew writing in Daniel is consistent with a 6th century BC dating, similar to Ezekiel’s Hebrew. Could it be that critics oppose these findings because of their anti-supernatural bias?

Let’s see what we can learn from archaeology – keeping in mind that this series is about what archaeological evidence existed in 1971 when I was an atheist investigating the claims of the Bible.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 28

Convince Me Theres A GodDarius or Cyrus?

That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.” Daniel 5:30-31

Daniel wrote that Darius the Mede received the Kingdom of Babylon, but Herodotus wrote that Cyrus received it. Who is right?

In the last part of our series we looked at how archaeological discoveries from ancient Babylon support many of the historical claims found in the Book of Daniel in the Bible. There is support for the co-regency of Belshazzar (with his father Nabonidus) and Belshazzar’s death at the hands of the Persians. However, what archaeological support is there for a 62-year-old Darius the Mede receiving the kingdom?

That’s where I  had Christians when I was an atheist. All I had to do was ask Christians to ‘prove it’ and they were stuck. They were not able to present any proof that Darius the Mede received the Kingdom of Babylon. In fact, Darius didn’t even become king until almost 20 years after Persia defeated Babylon. Right? Well …

Archaeologists have discovered evidence for two leaders named Darius during the 6th century BC. One is known as Darius the Mede and the other is known as Darius I.  Let’s begin with a look at the history of “Darius.”

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 26

Convince Me Theres A GodThe Book of Daniel is one of the most contested writings in the Bible. Atheists understand the significance of Daniel and attack it with regularity.

Here’s a note on the Secular Web about Daniel:

“The prophecies of the Book of Daniel have fascinated readers and created controversy for the past two thousand years. Evangelical Christians believe that the prophet Daniel, an official in the courts of Near-Eastern emperors in the sixth century BC, foretold the future of the world from his own time to the end of the age. Actually, the book was written in Palestine in the mid-second century BC by an author who expected God to set up his everlasting kingdom in his own near future, as we read in the mainline commentaries and Bible dictionaries.

We pointed out in our last article that many atheists attack Daniel as being written centuries after King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and King Cyrus of Persia actually ruled. They know that a late dating of Daniel would bring Daniel’s visions and prophecies into question and would also cause problems with the New Testament texts where Jesus uses the term ‘Son of Man’ (from Daniel 7:13) for Himself.

I would have agreed with atheists 45 years ago when I was also an atheist. However, that was before I looked into the evidence for the historical accuracy of the Book of Daniel.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 25

Convince Me Theres A GodDr. Richard Carrier is a well-known atheist who does not believe Jesus of Nazareth was a real person. Carrier is a leading proponent of the ‘origin of Christianity without a historical Jesus’ (richardcarrier.info). Carrier also believes that many of the most important biblical figures were also fictional.

“The patriarchs are safely assumed now to be nonhistorical, and thus entirely mythical. This is no longer considered radical or fringe, but is in fact the most widespread mainstream view among scholars (see sources and discussion in Chapter 5, Element 44 ). Thus Moses is now regarded as fictional, yet like Jesus he performed miracles, had a whole family and huge numbers of followers, gave speeches and had travels, and dictated laws. No mainstream historian today believes the book of Deuteronomy was even written in the same century as Moses, much less by Moses, or that it preserves anything Moses actually said or did— yet it purports to do so, at extraordinary length and in remarkable detail. No real historian today would accept as valid an argument like ‘Moses had to have existed, because so many sayings and teachings were attributed to him!’ And yet if this argument is invalid for Moses, it’s invalid for Jesus.” Carrier, Richard, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, Sheffield Phoenix Press, Kindle Edition, 2014

Dr. Carrier is not as certain about whether the Hebrew prophet Daniel actually existed, but does believe the Book of Daniel is a late work of fiction.

“Similarly, it’s now the mainstream view that the book of Daniel was written in the second century bce and is a complete fiction, representing the elaborate adventures and speeches of the sixth-century prophet Daniel as if they were a fact ( see sources and discussion in Chapter 4, Element 7). Historians doubt even the existence of Daniel. But even if he existed, historians are certain the book of Daniel does not contain anything he authentically said or did. Rather, this Daniel, and everything he is supposed to have said and done, was invented to create a historical authority for a new vision of society, to inspire a new unity and a new moral order against the immoral rule of dominating foreigners.” Carrier, Richard, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, Sheffield Phoenix Press, Kindle Edition, 2014

I believed the same thing a few years before Dr. Carrier was born (1969), so these ideas about figures in the Bible not being historical and their writings being made up by unidentified people centuries after the supposed historical dating are nothing new to me. I was a loud, mocking atheist with a radio talk show in a major metropolitan area 46 years ago … so what happened to me?

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 24

Convince Me Theres A GodWe are looking at what archaeological evidence was available in 1971 to support the writings of the Hebrew prophets in the Old Testament of the Bible. That’s when I was conducting an investigation, as an atheist, into the truth claims of theism and Christianity.

We’ve seen evidence for the men who prophesied during the years of the kings of Israel and Judah and the evidence for Jeremiah who prophesied during the years leading up to and following the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and beginning of Hebrew captivity in Babylon. Now we turn to the years of captivity.

According to secular sources, deported Jews spent 70 years of captivity in Babylon – from the beginning of forced detention in 597 BC to the end of exile in 538 BC. [One of the Babylonian Chronicles (ABC 5) details the involvement of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar in capturing Jerusalem.] While King Nebuchadnezzar had many wealthy and influential Jews deported to Babylon, thousands of the poorer Jews remained in Judah or fled to nearby countries.

Two Hebrew prophets lived in Babylon during the exile period: Daniel and Ezekiel. Jeremiah remained in Judah for a time until he was forcibly moved to Egypt. What archaeological evidence do we have to support the historical references in the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel? Let’s begin with Daniel.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 23

Convince Me Theres A GodWhen a theist presents ‘evidence’ to an atheist for the existence of God, the atheist will often challenge the theist with whether the supernatural is ‘falsifiable.’ In other words, is a belief in God ‘testable?’ Atheists say that ‘religious beliefs,’ beliefs in the existence of a supernatural God, are not falsifiable because they cannot be verified or denied.

That was one of my challenges to theists, and Christians in particular, when I was an atheist. How can the theory of supernaturalism be tested empirically and shown to be false based on results from the testing (falsifiable)? Christians I talked with on my daily radio show would answer with a one-word answer — ‘faith.’ My answer to them was usually a question — ‘faith in what? You can’t see God, touch God, hear God, taste God or smell God. How can you test something that is not there?’ You can imagine how popular I was with Christians in those days.

When I began my investigation into the truth claims of theism and Christianity, that issue of falsifiability was paramount in my processing the ‘supposed evidence’ of the supernatural. I kept searching for evidence that could be tested and found historical, archaeological and textual evidences testable.

Atheists now ask me why I even bothered with those evidences since none of them ‘prove’ the existence of God (the supernatural). My answer is simple: if Christianity could not stand up to an investigation of the most basic of natural information, then it certainly couldn’t support the weightier matters of supernatural investigation. If Christianity failed at the basic level, I believed my investigation would have ended there.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 22

Convince Me Theres A God“And the Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy. Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak; He gave them all into his hand. And all the articles from the house of God, great and small, the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his leaders, all these he took to Babylon. Then they burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious possessions. And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.” 2 Chronicles 36:15-21

Ishtar GateIn our last post about ancient Israel, I shared that there was enough archaeological evidence about Assyria taking Israel captive for me to continue investigating the claims of the Bible. I was an ardent atheist and journalist in search of the truth.

The next step in the investigation was to see what archaeological support there was for Babylon defeating Judah, taking the people captive and destroying the capital city, Jerusalem.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 21

“Now it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and encamped against it; and they built a siege wall against it all around. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.” 2 Kings 25:1-2

Convince Me Theres A GodAccording to the Bible’s description and timeline, the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah were conquered by foreign armies in the late 8th century BC (Israel) and early 6th century BC (Judah).

Really? Prove it!

That was my attitude as an atheist. Make all the claims you want, Bible believer, the burden is on you to prove it. As it turned out during my investigation into the ‘truth claims’ in the Bible, Christian apologists were able to show me evidence that pointed toward the existence of God.

I had found enough archaeological and historical evidence to warrant the continuation of my investigation into the Bible’s claims about Israel leaving Egypt and settling into Canaan. I also found extra-biblical evidence for Israel and Judah as kingdoms during the Iron Age (Iron II), but would I find any evidence for foreign invasion, exile and return?

Jews in Babylon Tablets

Credit: Daily Mail

I read an interesting article recently about a new exhibition of ancient clay tablets. The tablets were discovered in Iraq and archaeologists with expertise in ancient Babylonia and Assyria said they shed light on the time Jews spent in Babylonia more than 2500 years ago.

More than a hundred cuneiform tablets were on exhibition that included details about the lives of Jewish families that had moved from Judea to Babylon during the early part of the 6th century BC.

As interesting as that is to me now, those tablets were not available to me 44 years ago when I was investigating whether the Bible contained credible historical information. I was an atheist and thought the Bible was filled with myth and legend and lacked any evidence that would support the existence of the ‘God’ of the Bible.

So, what did I find during my search in 1971 and was it enough to keep me searching for evidence?

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 20

Courtesy: Israeli Antiquities Authority

Courtesy: Israeli Antiquities Authority

If you were fortunate enough to be able to visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City the last few months of 2014, you could have visited the amazing exhibition titled – “Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age.” One of the extraordinary archaeological objects available to view was the House of David Stele from the 9th century BC.

The year was 1993 AD. Israeli archaeologist Avahaim Biran and his team were excavating at Tel Dan in northern Israel. They discovered the first of three stone fragments known as the Tel Dan Stele. In lines 8 and 9 of the stele, written in ancient Aramaic, the words “king of Israel” and “house of David” are written.

The stele is a commemoration of the victory of an Aramean king over two kings to the south: one a “king of Israel” and the other a “king of the House of David.” Many scholars who have studied the stele believe it recounts a campaign of Hazael of Damascus against Israel’s King Jehoram and Judah’s King Ahaziah.

What is significant about the Tel Dan Stele is that it was the first archaeological evidence of the name of the Bible’s King David. However, that was 1993. My investigation into the claims of the Bible was during the first part of 1971, more than 20 years before the discovery of the Tel Dan Stele. Did that mean no archaeological evidence was available to me that would confirm the existence of King David?

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 19

Now the Lord said to Joshua: ‘Do not be afraid, nor be dismayed; take all the people of war with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king.’ Joshua 8:1-2

Joshua and Israel Crossing Jordan riverInvestigating what the Bible claims Joshua and the army of Israel did in Canaan involves a lot of detailed work. That’s because the Bible claims Israel defeated 31 city kings during the 14th century BC. As an atheist journalist in 1971, that looked like evidence that could be verified or denied using the tools of both history and archaeology. What did I find?

The 12th Chapter of the Book of Joshua lists the 31 kings that Israel supposedly defeated during its military campaign in Canaan.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 18

“And Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Joshua 3:5

Joshua and Israel Crossing Jordan riverHere we go again with the supernatural. Atheists don’t believe in the supernatural, so it’s time to close the book. But I didn’t close the book – I kept reading.

This series, Convince Me There’s A God, is my answer to questions atheists have been asking me for more than 40 years about why I ‘abandoned’ atheism and ‘converted’ to Christianity. Many have accused me of being on drugs at the time of my conversion or having gone insane. Neither is true. I became convinced after a lengthy investigation into the claims of Christianity that the God of the Bible exists and Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

My conversion from atheism to theism was intellectual, not emotional. It was based on many kinds of evidence, but the evidence that kept me reading and asking questions about the Bible was archaeological evidence. Did that evidence “prove” God’s existence to me? No, but it did show me that the Bible was a credible ancient historical document and kept me interested in learning more.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 17

“And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the Lord.” 1 Kings 6:1

Moses Parting Red SeaAs an atheist, I thought the Bible was a bunch of fairy tales. I grew up learning stories in the Bible about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, Moses parting the water, Joshua knocking down the wall of Jericho, Samson and his super strength, David killing Goliath, Solomon and his wisdom; but that’s all they were to me – just stories. I didn’t think any of it was true, not even stories about Jesus of Nazareth dying and rising.

It was during my investigation into the truth claims of the Bible and Christianity in 1971 that I came face to face with a mountain of historical and archaeological evidence that challenged my long-held belief that there was ‘zero’ evidence supporting any of the claims of the Bible.

As I read through the Old Testament in early 1971 and asked Christians questions about what I was reading, I saw that the Bible included hundreds of names, numbers and events that could be verified or falsified. I found that interesting for a document that was supposedly written by unknown writers centuries after it was reputed to have been written. If the goal of writing the Bible was to ‘fool’ people into believing it was the ‘Word of God,’ why write anything that could be investigated? Why indeed!

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Evangelistic Apologetics – The Church Under Attack (Part 23)

Church ApologeticsArchaeology supports the Bible’s history about the human race being polytheistic from the 3rd millennium B.C. Following the lineage of Noah in Genesis 10 and 11, we see that the human race spread out after the confusion of language at Babel and moved to many parts of the earth. There the families of man worshipped many gods.

As far as we can tell from the Bible, archaeology and history, the entire human race had become polytheistic. We have no record of anyone worshipping the God of the Bible, the God who created the heavens and the earth and the first human beings. The human race served other gods, but not the true God.

What happened when the human race became practical atheists? God intervened? What happened when the human race built a city and tower toward heaven? God intervened. What happened when the human race became polytheists and worshipped anything except God? God intervened.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 16

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.” Exodus 6:1

Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Show a miracle for yourselves,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh, and let it become a serpent.’ So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the Lord commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent.” Exodus 7:8-10

Moses Parting Red SeaMiracles. What’s an atheist going to do with miracles? I didn’t believe in the supernatural, so miracles were impossible. That’s what I believed, so how could I as an atheist deal with all of the supposed miracles Moses and Aaron performed in Egypt? Was my investigation into theism and Christianity going to end in that ancient land because of my disbelief in the supernatural?

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 15

Now the Lord said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.’ Then Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on a donkey, and he returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the rod of God in his hand. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.” Exodus 4:19-23

Moses Parting Red SeaThe Bible story about Moses is about to get extremely supernatural. So far, except for the burning bush incident, the story about Moses seemed plausible, but now God is sending Moses back to Egypt to do “wonders before Pharaoh”.

As an atheist, I saw this part of the story as myth/legend/fairytale. The rest of Exodus seemed false because it was a supernatural being commanding human beings how to live, where to go, what to do, what to believe.

How in the world could I investigate something like the ten plagues and parting of the sea so the children of Israel could escape from Egyptian soldiers? How could I investigate the people of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years? How could I investigate a man named Joshua leading the wandering Israelites from the desert into Canaan to fight against foreign peoples and capture cities and land for themselves? How as an atheist who vehemently denied the existence of God and the supernatural could I possibly investigate this subject honestly and objectively?

I turned to history and archaeology to see what answers might lie there.

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