Archaeology is a fascinating field of study that can help us better understand the Bible in a number of ways.
Nevertheless, it is an area in which we should exercise caution because a great deal of what appears on the internet and in print regarding the so-called “archaeology” of the Bible is unsubstantiated and not based on the actual findings of archaeology at all.
Each year stories surface on the internet, in newspapers and eventually in books, of the remains of Pharaoh’s army found in the Red Sea (see an example of this refuted on our sister site, here), parts of Noah’s ark found on Mount Ararat and other, similar stories which claim to substantiate some story in the Scriptures. Most of these spectacular claims are not based on fact, however, and are often unsuspectingly spread by those who would like to believe them, but do not know how to confirm or disprove the stories themselves.
On the other hand, much has been found in the course of archaeological research that has not only confirmed aspects of the Bible, but also greatly enriched our understanding of its details. As someone who was trained in archaeology and who has personally been involved in excavations in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East the author can certainly attest to the continuous flow of material being found in ancient sites that is completely real and that does illuminate the biblical narrative. Consider the following examples of some of the discoveries made in recent years.
An important Scripture-related “find” widely reported in the news is of a seal imprint of the famous biblical king Hezekiah. Several years ago, a team of archaeologists digging near the southern part of the wall surrounding Jerusalem's “Old City” found an ancient refuse dump dating to some eight hundred years before Christ. Among the many discarded items found in the ancient trash heap were thirty-three clay objects bearing seal impressions. Only recently, when these seal impressions were studied, was it found that one of them was inscribed “Belonging to Hezekiah [the son of] Ahaz king of Judah.” This find has been widely publicized as proving the existence of the biblical Hezekiah, which it certainly does, but the find also has even broader significance.
A number of objects have been found in excavations in Israel bearing the names of ancient biblical characters or groups. Sceptics are often quick to dismiss these objects when the names are not directly associated with the individuals to whom they might refer, but in the case of this seal, Hezekiah is clearly said to be the son of Ahaz (2 Kings 18:1), removing any doubt that this Hezekiah is the Hezekiah of the Bible. This irrefutable connection helps show that other biblical names found in archaeological contexts very possibly also attest actual biblical characters. Other biblical kings who are very probably or certainly attested in archaeological finds include King David (on a 9th century B.C. stele from northern Israel which mentions a “king of Israel” and the “House of David”) and King Jehu (on an inscribed obelisk of the Assyrian king Shalmanesar III which mentions tribute paid by “Jehu, the son of Omri”).
Archaeology has, in fact, silenced skeptism about the Bible in a number of areas. If we go back a little over a hundred years, doubters regarded the Hittite people mentioned in the Old Testament as a fiction because apart from references to them in the Bible, there was no evidence they actually existed. Today, Hittitology is an important part of Ancient Near Eastern studies, the palaces and cities of these people have been excavated, and many thousands of Hittite texts have been found and translated. Far from not existing, the Hittites were, in fact, a dominant power in Asia Minor until around 1200 B.C.
There are many such instances where archaeology has shown the Bible record is not suspect, as it is often claimed to be. Skeptics once claimed that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Bible because it was presumed that Semitic peoples did not have writing until long after his time. Because of archaeology, we know now that phonetically spelled writing in Semitic languages existed from at least the early 2nd millennium BC.
Consider one more example of something the Bible clearly records which is still rejected by many today. Leviticus 18 tells us that God planned to cast the Canaanites and related peoples out of the Promised Land due to their extreme depravity. That chapter accuses the Canaanites of many evil practices including child sacrifice. Some modern sceptics have challenged the likelihood that this practice actually existed in ancient Canaan, and claim that there is no actual historical evidence for it (you can read an article on this on our sister site, here).
Archaeological evidence of child sacrifice by the Canaanites has been found, however. Several ancient reliefs carved around the time of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II, in the temples of Karnak and Luxor, actually depict this abominable Canaanite practice. The reliefs were made to celebrate Egypt’s victories over her northern neighbors and depict Egyptian soldiers attacking Canaanite fortified cities of the type described in the Book of Joshua. In these scenes, the kings of the cities are shown with braziers making fiery offerings to their gods over the dead bodies of children on the city walls (exactly as is described of the king of Moab in 2 Kings 3:27). That these representations unquestionably depict Canaanite child sacrifice is the conclusion of the scholarly publication of the Egyptian scenes (A. Spalinger, “A Canaanite Ritual Found in Egyptian Reliefs,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 8 (1978):47-60). But the importance of archaeology for biblical study goes far beyond the fact that it confirms many aspects of the biblical record. Equally important for believers is the understanding of the Scriptures archaeology can provide in giving us an image of what life was like in Old and New Testament times and helping us to gain a much deeper understanding of many of the things the Bible says.