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Study Number 9—Archaeology and the Inspired Record

Study Number 9—Archaeology and the Inspired Record

Studies on the Inspired Scriptures and Their Background

Study Number 9​—Archaeology and the Inspired Record

A study of archaeological discoveries and of ancient records of secular history that corroborate the Bible record.

1. What is meant by (a) Bible archaeology? (b) artifacts?

BIBLE archaeology is the study of the peoples and events of Bible times through writings, implements, buildings, and other remains that are found in the earth. The search for ancient remains, or artifacts, at ancient Bible locations has involved much exploration and the moving of millions of tons of dirt. An artifact is any object that shows human workmanship and that gives evidence of man’s activity and life. Artifacts may include such items as pottery, ruins of buildings, clay tablets, written inscriptions, documents, monuments, and chronicles recorded on stone.

2. Of what value is Bible archaeology?

2 By the early 20th century, archaeology had been developed into a careful field of study, with expeditions to Bible lands being sponsored by major universities and museums in Europe and America. As a result, archaeologists have uncovered a wealth of information that sheds light on the way things were in Bible times. Sometimes archaeological finds have demonstrated the Bible’s authenticity, showing its accuracy right down to the tiniest detail.


3. What ancient ruins and records confirm the existence of ziggurats in ancient Babylon?

3 The Tower of Babel. According to the Bible, the Tower of Babel was a mighty construction work. (Gen. 11:1-9) Interestingly, archaeologists have uncovered in and around the ruins of ancient Babylon the sites of several ziggurats, or pyramidlike, staged temple-towers, including the ruined temple of Etemenanki, which was within Babylon’s walls. Ancient records concerning such temples often contain the words, “Its top shall reach the heavens.” King Nebuchadnezzar is reported to have said, “I raised the summit of the Tower of stages at Etemenanki so that its top rivalled the heavens.” One fragment relates the fall of such a ziggurat in these words: “The building of this temple offended the gods. In a night they threw down what had been built. They scattered them abroad, and made strange their speech. The progress they impeded.” *

4. What archaeological discoveries were made at Gihon, and what connection may these have with the Bible record?

4 The Water Tunnels at the Spring of Gihon. In 1867 in the Jerusalem area, Charles Warren discovered a water channel running from the Spring of Gihon back into the hill, with a shaft leading upward toward the City of David. Here, apparently, was the way in which David’s men first penetrated the city. (2 Sam. 5:6-10) It was in 1909-11 that the entire system of tunnels leading from the Gihon spring was cleared. One massive tunnel, averaging 6 feet [1.8 m] in height, was chiseled for 1,749 feet [533 m] through solid rock. It led from Gihon to the Pool of Siloam in the Tyropoeon Valley (within the city) and is apparently the one that Hezekiah built. An inscription in early Hebrew script was found on the wall of the narrow tunnel. It reads, in part: “And this was the way in which it was cut through:​—While [ . . . ] (were) still [ . . . ] axe(s), each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right [and on the left]. And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1,200 cubits, and the height of the rock above the head(s) of the quarrymen was 100 cubits.” What a remarkable feat of engineering for those times! *​—2 Ki. 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:30.

5. What archaeological evidence found at Karnak is there of Shishak’s invasion and Bible place-names?

5 Shishak’s Victory Relief. Shishak, king of Egypt, is mentioned seven times in the Bible. Because King Rehoboam left the law of Jehovah, Jehovah permitted Shishak to invade Judah, in 993 B.C.E., but not to bring it to complete ruin. (1 Ki. 14:25-28; 2 Chron. 12:1-12) Until recent years, there appeared to be only the Bible record of this invasion. Then there came to light a large document of the Pharaoh whom the Bible calls Shishak (Sheshonk I). This was in the form of an imposing relief in hieroglyphics and pictures on the south wall of a vast Egyptian temple at Karnak (ancient Thebes). On this gigantic relief, there is depicted the Egyptian god Amon, who is holding in his right hand a sickle-shaped sword. He is bringing to Pharaoh Shishak 156 manacled Palestinian prisoners, who are attached by cords to his left hand. Each prisoner represents a city or village, the name of which is shown in hieroglyphics. Among those that can still be read and identified are Rabbith (Josh. 19:20); Taanach, Beth-shean, and Megiddo (Josh. 17:11); Shunem (Josh. 19:18); Rehob (Josh. 19:28); Hapharaim (Josh. 19:19); Gibeon (Josh. 18:25); Beth-horon (Josh. 21:22); Aijalon (Josh. 21:24); Socoh (Josh. 15:35); and Arad (Josh. 12:14). The document also makes reference to the “Field of Abram,” this being the earliest mention of Abraham in Egyptian records. *

6, 7. What is the history of the Moabite Stone, and what information does it give concerning the warfare between Israel and Moab?

6 The Moabite Stone. In 1868 the German missionary F. A. Klein made a remarkable discovery of an ancient inscription at Dhiban (Dibon). This has become known as the Moabite Stone. A cast was made of its writing, but the stone itself was broken up by the Bedouin before it could be moved. However, most of the pieces were recovered, and the stone is now preserved in the Louvre, Paris, with a copy in the British Museum, London. It was originally erected at Dibon, in Moab, and gives King Mesha’s version of his revolt against Israel. (2 Ki. 1:1; 3:4, 5) It reads, in part: “I (am) Mesha, son of Chemosh-[ . . . ], king of Moab, the Dibonite . . . As for Omri, king of Israel, he humbled Moab many years (lit., days), for Chemosh [the god of Moab] was angry at his land. And his son followed him and he also said, ‘I will humble Moab.’ In my time he spoke (thus), but I have triumphed over him and over his house, while Israel hath perished for ever! . . . And Chemosh said to me, ‘Go, take Nebo from Israel!’ So I went by night and fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, taking it and slaying all . . . And I took from there the [vessels] of Yahweh, dragging them before Chemosh.” * Note the mention of the divine name in the last sentence. This can be seen in the accompanying picture of the Moabite Stone. It is in the form of the Tetragrammaton, to the right of the document, in line 18.

7 The Moabite Stone also mentions the following Bible places: Ataroth and Nebo (Num. 32:34, 38); the Arnon, Aroer, Medeba, and Dibon (Josh. 13:9); Bamoth-baal, Beth-baal-meon, Jahaz, and Kiriathaim (Josh. 13:17-19); Bezer (Josh. 20:8), Horonaim (Isa. 15:5); and Beth-diblathaim and Kerioth (Jer. 48:22, 24). It thus supports the historicity of these places.

8. What does the Bible record concerning Sennacherib, and what have excavations of his palace revealed?

8 King Sennacherib’s Prism. The Bible records in considerable detail the invasion by the Assyrians under King Sennacherib in the year 732 B.C.E. (2 Ki. 18:13–19:37; 2 Chron. 32:1-22; Isa. 35:1–37:38) It was during 1847-51 that the English archaeologist A. H. Layard excavated the ruins of Sennacherib’s great palace at Nineveh in the territory of ancient Assyria. The palace was found to have about 70 rooms, with nearly 10,000 feet [over 3,000 m] of walls lined with sculptured slabs. The yearly reports of events, or annals, of Sennacherib were recorded on clay cylinders, or prisms. The final edition of these annals, apparently made shortly before his death, appears on what is known as the Taylor Prism, preserved in the British Museum, but the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has an even finer copy on a prism that was discovered near the site of ancient Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire.

9. What does Sennacherib record, in harmony with the Bible account, but what does he fail to mention, and why?

9 In these last annals, Sennacherib gives his own boastful version of his invasion of Judah: “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped (earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered (them) booty. Himself [Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. . . . His towns which I had plundered, I took away from his country and gave them (over) to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Sillibel, king of Gaza. . . . Hezekiah himself . . . did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone, couches (inlaid) with ivory, nimedu -chairs (inlaid) with ivory, elephant-hides, ebony-wood, boxwood (and) all kinds of valuable treasures, his (own) daughters, concubines, male and female musicians. In order to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger.” * As for this tribute imposed by Sennacherib upon Hezekiah, the Bible confirms the 30 talents of gold but mentions only 300 talents of silver. Moreover, it shows that this was before Sennacherib threatened Jerusalem with siege. In Sennacherib’s slanted report for Assyrian history, he purposely omits mention of his crushing defeat in Judah, when in one night Jehovah’s angel destroyed 185,000 of his soldiers, thus forcing him to flee back to Nineveh like a whipped dog. Nevertheless, this boastful written record on Sennacherib’s Prism indicates an immense invasion of Judah before Jehovah turned the Assyrians back after they threatened Jerusalem.​—2 Ki. 18:14; 19:35, 36.

10, 11. (a) What are the Lachish Letters, and what do they reflect? (b) How do they support Jeremiah’s writings?

10 The Lachish Letters. The famous fortress city of Lachish is mentioned more than 20 times in the Bible. It was located 27 miles [44 km] west-southwest of Jerusalem. The ruins have been extensively excavated. In 1935, in a guardroom of the double gatehouse, there were found 18 ostraca, or pieces of pottery inscribed with writing (3 more were found in 1938). These turned out to be a number of letters written in ancient Hebrew characters. This collection of 21 is now known as the Lachish Letters. Lachish was one of the last strongholds of Judah to hold out against Nebuchadnezzar, being reduced to a pile of charred ruins during the period of 609-607 B.C.E. The letters reflect the urgency of the times. They appear to be letters written from remaining outposts of Judean troops to Yaosh, a military commander at Lachish. One of these (number IV) reads in part: “May YHWH [Tetragrammaton, “Jehovah”] let my lord hear even now tidings of good. . . . we are watching for the fire signals of Lachish, according to all the signs which my lord gives, because we do not see Azekah.” This is a striking confirmation of Jeremiah 34:7, which mentions Lachish and Azekah as the last two fortified cities left remaining. This letter apparently indicates that Azekah had now fallen. The divine name, in the form of the Tetragrammaton, appears frequently in the letters, showing that the name Jehovah enjoyed everyday usage among the Jews at that time.

11 Another letter (number III) commences as follows: “May YHWH [that is, Jehovah] cause my lord to hear tidings of peace! . . . And it has been reported to your servant saying, ‘The commander of the army, Coniah son of Elnathan, has come down in order to go into Egypt and to Hodaviah son of Ahijah and his men he has sent to obtain [supplies] from him.’” This letter appears to confirm that Judah went down to Egypt for assistance, in violation of Jehovah’s command and to her own destruction. (Isa. 31:1; Jer. 46:25, 26) The names Elnathan and Hoshaiah, appearing in the complete text of this letter, are also found at Jeremiah 36:12 and Jeremiah 42:1. Three other names mentioned in the letters are also found in the Bible book of Jeremiah. They are Gemariah, Neriah, and Jaazaniah.​—Jer. 32:12; 35:3; 36:10. *

12, 13. What does the Nabonidus Chronicle describe, and why is it of special value?

12 The Nabonidus Chronicle. In the latter half of the 19th century, excavations near Baghdad produced many finds of clay tablets and cylinders that threw much light on the history of ancient Babylon. One of these was the very valuable document known as the Nabonidus Chronicle, which is now in the British Museum. King Nabonidus of Babylon was the father of his coregent, Belshazzar. He outlived his son, who was killed on the night that troops of Cyrus the Persian took Babylon, October 5, 539 B.C.E. (Dan. 5:30, 31) The Nabonidus Chronicle, a remarkably well-dated record of the fall of Babylon, helps to establish on what day this event occurred. Following is a translation of a small part of the Nabonidus Chronicle: “In the month of Tashritu [Tishri (September-October)], when Cyrus attacked the army of Akkad in Opis on the Tigris . . . the 14th day, Sippar was seized without battle. Nabonidus fled. The 16th day [October 11, 539 B.C.E., Julian, or October 5, Gregorian] Gobryas (Ugbaru), the governor of Gutium and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterwards Nabonidus was arrested in Babylon when he returned (there). . . . In the month of Arahshamnu [Marchesvan (October-November)], the 3rd day [October 28, Julian], Cyrus entered Babylon, green twigs were spread in front of him​—the state of ‘Peace’ (sulmu) was imposed upon the city. Cyrus sent greetings to all Babylon. Gobryas, his governor, installed (sub-)governors in Babylon.” *

13 It may be noted that Darius the Mede is not mentioned in this chronicle, and thus far, no mention has been found of this Darius in any non-Biblical inscription, nor is he mentioned in any secular historical document prior to the time of Josephus (Jewish historian of the first century C.E.). Some have therefore suggested that he might be the Gobryas mentioned in the above account. While the information available concerning Gobryas seems to parallel that regarding Darius, such identification cannot be considered conclusive. * In any event, secular history definitely establishes that Cyrus was a key figure in the conquest of Babylon and that he thereafter ruled there as king.

14. What is recorded on the Cyrus Cylinder?

14 The Cyrus Cylinder. Some time after he began ruling as king of the Persian World Power, Cyrus’ capture of Babylon in 539 B.C.E. was recorded on a clay cylinder. This outstanding document is also preserved in the British Museum. A part of the translated text follows: “I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four rims (of the earth), . . . I returned to [certain previously named] sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations.” *

15. What does the Cyrus Cylinder reveal about Cyrus, and how does this harmonize with the Bible?

15 The Cyrus Cylinder thus makes known the king’s policy of restoring captive peoples to their former places. In harmony with this, Cyrus issued his decree for the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the house of Jehovah there. Interestingly, 200 years previously, Jehovah had prophetically named Cyrus as the one who would take Babylon and bring about the restoration of Jehovah’s people.​—Isa. 44:28; 45:1; 2 Chron. 36:23.


16. What has archaeology brought to light in connection with the Greek Scriptures?

16 As it did with the Hebrew Scriptures, archaeology has brought to light many interesting artifacts in support of the inspired record contained in the Christian Greek Scriptures.

17. How does archaeology support Jesus’ discussion of the tax question?

17 Denarius Coin With Tiberius’ Inscription. The Bible shows clearly that Jesus’ ministry took place during the rule of Tiberius Caesar. Some of Jesus’ opposers tried to trap him by asking about the matter of paying head tax to Caesar. The record reads: “Detecting their hypocrisy, he said to them: ‘Why do you put me to the test? Bring me a denarius to look at.’ They brought one. And he said to them: ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to him: ‘Caesar’s.’ Jesus then said: ‘Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’ And they began to marvel at him.” (Mark 12:15-17) Archaeologists have found a silver denarius coin bearing the head of Tiberius Caesar! It was put in circulation about 15 C.E. This is consistent with Tiberius’ period of rule as emperor, which began in 14 C.E., and it brings added support to the record stating that John the Baptizer’s ministry commenced in the 15th year of Tiberius, or the spring of 29 C.E.​—Luke 3:1, 2.

18. What find has been made with reference to Pontius Pilate?

18 Pontius Pilate Inscription. It was in 1961 that the first archaeological find was made with reference to Pontius Pilate. This was a stone slab located at Caesarea, which bore in Latin the name of Pontius Pilate.

19. What still remains in Athens, confirming the setting of Acts 17:16-34?

19 The Areopagus. Paul delivered one of his most famous recorded speeches in Athens, Greece, in 50 C.E. (Acts 17:16-34) This was when certain Athenians laid hold of Paul and led him to the Areopagus. The Areopagus, or Hill of Ares (Mars’ Hill), is the name of a bare, rocky hill, about 370 feet [113 m] high, immediately northwest of the Acropolis of Athens. Steps cut in the rock lead to the top, where rough, rock-hewn benches, forming three sides of a square, can still be seen. The Areopagus still remains, confirming the Bible’s recorded setting for Paul’s historic speech.

20. To what does the Arch of Titus continue to testify, and how?

20 The Arch of Titus. Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed by the Romans under Titus, in 70 C.E. The next year, in Rome, Titus celebrated his triumph, together with his father, Emperor Vespasian. Seven hundred selected Jewish prisoners were marched in the triumphal procession. Loads of the spoils of war were also paraded, including temple treasures. Titus himself became emperor, serving as such from 79 to 81 C.E., and after his death a large monument, the Arch of Titus, was completed and dedicated divo Tito (to the deified Titus). His triumphant procession is represented in bas-relief, carved on each side of the passage through the arch. On the one side, there are depicted the Roman soldiers, holding headless spears and crowned with laurels, carrying the sacred furniture from Jerusalem’s temple. This includes the seven-branched lampstand and the table of showbread, upon which the sacred trumpets are seen resting. The relief on the other side of the passage shows the victorious Titus standing in a chariot drawn by four horses and conducted by a woman representing the city of Rome. * Each year thousands of sightseers view this triumphal Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome as silent testimony to the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy and the terrible execution of Jehovah’s judgment upon rebellious Jerusalem.​—Matt. 23:37–24:2; Luke 19:43, 44; 21:20-24.

21. (a) In what way has archaeology worked hand in hand with the discovery of manuscripts? (b) What is the proper attitude to have concerning archaeology?

21 In the same way that the discovery of ancient manuscripts has helped to restore the pure, original text of the Bible, so the discovery of the multitude of artifacts has often demonstrated that the things stated in the Bible text are historically, chronologically, and geographically reliable, right down to the minutest details. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that archaeology agrees with the Bible in every case. It must be remembered that archaeology is not an infallible field of study. Archaeological findings are subject to human interpretations, and some of these interpretations have changed from time to time. Archaeology has at times provided unrequired support for the truthfulness of God’s Word. Further, as stated by the late Sir Frederic Kenyon, director and principal librarian of the British Museum for many years, archaeology has rendered the Bible “more intelligible through a fuller knowledge of its background and setting.” * But faith must rest on the Bible, not on archaeology.​—Rom. 10:9; Heb. 11:6.

22. What evidence will be considered in the next study?

22 The Bible contains within itself incontrovertible evidence that it is indeed the authentic “word of the living and enduring God,” as we will see in the next study.​—1 Pet. 1:23.


^ par. 3 Bible and Spade, 1938, S. L. Caiger, page 29.

^ par. 4 Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 1974, J. B. Pritchard, page 321; Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, pages 941-2, 1104.

^ par. 5 Light From the Ancient Past, 1959, J. Finegan, pages 91, 126.

^ par. 6 Ancient Near Eastern Texts, page 320.

^ par. 9 Ancient Near Eastern Texts, page 288.

^ par. 11 Insight on the Scriptures, Vol. 1, pages 151-2; Light From the Ancient Past, pages 192-5.

^ par. 12 Ancient Near Eastern Texts, page 306.

^ par. 14 Ancient Near Eastern Texts, page 316.

^ par. 20 Light From the Ancient Past, page 329.

^ par. 21 The Bible and Archaeology, 1940, page 279.

[Study Questions]

[Pictures on page 333]

The Moabite Stone

An enlargement of the Tetragrammaton, which appears in an ancient lettering, in the 18th line, to the right

[Picture on page 334]

King Sennacherib’s Prism

[Picture on page 335]

The Nabonidus Chronicle

[Picture on page 336]

Denarius coin with Tiberius’ inscription

[Picture on page 337]

The Arch of Titus

[Picture Credit Lines on page 337]

Picture Credits for Study 9 listed by page:

page 333, Musée du Louvre, Paris;

page 334, Courtesy of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago;

page 335, Courtesy of the Trustees of The British Museum;

page 336, Courtesy of the Trustees of The British Museum.