I’d like to focus briefly on what is known as the Intertestamental Period. Though I didn’t spend much time as an atheist investigating that period, a little background may be helpful if you are not familiar with what happened to Israel during those years.
In the last part of our series about archaeology we began looking at archaeological evidence for the Old Testament writings of Hebrew prophets Haggai and Zechariah. Prior to that we looked at evidence for the writings of the Hebrew leader and scribe Ezra. All three contain specific information about the relationship of Jews to the Persian government. The historical data of the Old Testament can be compared to historical information from extra-biblical sources, meaning the Bible can be tested.
I “tested” the Bible as an atheist in 1971 to see if the writings were credible. Was the Bible, as I believed at the time, only legends and fables? Or was it history? If it was just legends and fables, then it didn’t matter what it claimed was true .. but if it was historically accurate, then what about its truth claims? Would that make a difference to me as an atheist? Should it?
In 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As I researched the Old Testament as an atheist to see if it was a credible historical document, I came across the writings of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.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.
Temple Mount Archaeology
According to the Bible (Old Testament) King Solomon built the first Temple, the Babylonian Army destroyed it; Zerubbabel built the second Temple, the Hasmoneans refurbished the second Temple, King Herod expanded it, and the Roman Army destroyed it. Jesus Christ prophesied in the early part of the 1st century AD about the destruction of the Second Temple.
“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44
About 40 years after Jesus spoke those words, the Roman General Titus (later became Emperor) led his soldiers to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple after a lengthy siege of the ancient city.
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.”
“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
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?
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?
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?