Faith & Self Defense

Building Confidence Through Evidence

Archive for the tag “Israel”

Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 36

Convince Me Theres A GodIn 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?

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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As I researched the Old Testament as an atheist to see if it was a credible historical document, I came across the writings of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.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 34

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.

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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 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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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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Evangelistic Apologetics – The Church Under Attack (Part 18)

Potters WheelIn the last part of our study we looked at how God used the craft of making pottery to explain His relationship to His creation.

But now, O LordYou are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.” Isaiah 67:8

Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ says the Lord. ‘Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” Jeremiah 18:5-6

But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” Romans 9:20-21

Christians, this is for our understanding. As unbelievers attack the teachings of Christ, we understand the attack at its source. Satan has done everything in his power to deceive, manipulate and confuse the masses of humanity from the very beginning.

This brings us then to the core of the difficulty between believers and unbelievers – the analogy of being in language construction. We speak of God as being the “Supreme Being” and ourselves as “human beings.” What does that mean and how do we overcome the attack against the clear teachings of God’s Word concerning God and humanity?

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 12

Baby Moses and Daughter of PharaohDid pharaoh’s daughter find baby Moses in an ark of bulrushes in the reeds by the bank of the river and raise him as her son? Did Moses become the leader of the slave nation of Israel? Did Moses lead Israel out of Egypt in a great exodus after humiliating the pharaoh through miracles of God?

During my investigation into the claims of theism more than 40 years ago, specifically Christianity, I had learned that many archaeological discoveries during the 19th and 20th centuries AD supported a variety of truth claims in the Bible from the 19th and 20th centuries BC. However, no truth claim of the Old Testament may have been more of a challenge than the supposed exodus of Israel from Egypt. Anyone who had any knowledge of ancient civilizations knew there was not a shred of evidence that the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt was true – including no archaeological discovery.

Or so I thought.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 11

 

 Permission to use, GNU Free Documentation License, Morburre

Permission to use, GNU Free Documentation License, Morburre

I don’t remember being interested in archaeology as a child or teenager. However, as a young man searching for answers to questions about the existence of God, archaeology became of great interest to me.

It was early 1971 and writings about archaeological discoveries in the Middle East were abundant. Some of the books and articles available to me dated from the 19th century AD, but the majority were from the early to middle 20th century.

I remember asking Dr. Edward Hindson question after question about people and places in the Bible and was quite surprised to hear that archaeological evidence already existed for many of them. He was answering my questions with evidence! It is most helpful when people who say they believe something actually have evidence to support their beliefs.

In our most recent posts, we looked at some of the archaeological evidence concerning the Hebrew patriarchs including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons. We pick up the story after Jacob’s sons sold their brother Joseph into slavery.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 9

Sphinx and PyramidAs I mentioned in the last post, the Bible story about Abraham became a “possibility” for me as an atheist based on the archaeological evidence available during my 1971 investigation into theism and Christianity. It seemed from what I was researching that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s sons “could” have lived during the time frame the Old Testament claimed in the locations it described.

I continued to ask questions about the patriarchs and discovered more evidence from archaeology. Each discovery seemed to lend more support to the credibility of the writings in the Old Testament from an archeological perspective. Archaeologists had found evidence for many of the ancient cities mentioned in the Bible with details about how people lived, worked and worshipped that matched much of what the Old Testament writers included in the process of describing how the Hebrew patriarchs lived and how they interacted with people from other people groups and nationalities.

Rather than the Bible being (as I supposed at the time) a fairy tale filled with legends and myths, I began to see it as history. I had a lot more researching to do to see if the history it presented was credible and believable, but the important point for me was that I was seeing the Old Testament as an historical document that could be tested against other historical documents and against the discoveries of archaeology.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 5

Mesha SteleAs an atheist I believed in what I could see, not in what I could not see. The “natural” was something I could see – the “supernatural” was not. So, the archaeological finds that supported various aspects of the historicity of the Old Testament impressed me. Even though most of the ancient discoveries were located in museums around the world, being able to see photos of the objects and knowing that I could see them in person if I wanted to helped me in my investigation about whether the Old Testament of the Bible was verifiable on any level. I was especially interested in whether the Old Testament was rooted in myth and legend or in history.

The 19th and 20th centuries AD were a great period of time for archaeological discoveries about some of the oldest civilizations of the world. Oriental studies and research led many explorers and archaeologists into the Middle and Far East looking for ancient treasures. Some of them that we’ve already looked at include the Philistines, Hittites, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Assyrians. Another ancient people recorded in the Old Testament and uncovered by archaeologists are the Moabites.

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Convince Me There’s A God – Archaeology 4

As any good atheist would have done more than 40 years ago, I ridiculed the history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament of the Bible. How could anyone believe what the Jews wrote about their national history when they were just trying to promote their own brand of “religion?” Why should I believe them?

Taylor PrismThe problem with that line of thinking, I discovered, was what to do about the histories of other ancient nations that gave credibility to many of the historical records in the Old Testament? Were the historians of other countries who served other gods somehow joined in the Jewish conspiracy to promote the one God of Israel? That didn’t seem logical to me, so I looked deeper into several archaeological discoveries to see if I could find the truth. Could archaeology have the answer to my challenge to “Convince me there’s a God?”

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