The discoveries we will look at all contain inscriptions of some kind. They present us with definite information that we can compare with the Bible record.
Bible quotations are in italics.
Translations of inscriptions are on grey panels
1. The Tel Dan Inscription
(Photo: Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Copyright, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Critical scholars used to doubt that the king David mentioned in the Bible ever existed. But they were forced to reconsider their opinions in 1993 when part of a 3,000-year-old inscription was found at Tel Dan (map ref. 1 - background geography) in northern Israel. A second part was subsequently found in 1994.
The fragments were part of a wall and are inscribed in a Middle Eastern language known as Aramaic. Although much of the text is missing, you can see the following points from lines 4 to 9 of the translation, in the grey panel:
“Hadad” made the writer king
The writer is boasting of his military achievements involving the king of Israel
The writer mentions “The House of David”
The Bible talks several times of war between Israel and Syria and mentions the Syrian kings who had the title "Ben- Hadad”, which means “son of Hadad”:
Now Ben-Hadad the king of Syria gathered all his forces together… And he went up and besieged Samaria, and made war against it. 1 Kings 20 v 1
Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He delivered them into the hand of Hazael king of Syria, and into the hand of Ben- Hadad the son of Hazael, all their days. 2 Kings 13 v 3
The tension between the Israelites and the Syrians was obviously a recurrent problem. The Bible records both Israel and Syria being victorious on different occasions. The Tel Dan inscription probably refers to one of the Syrian victories.
There are many references in the Bible to the “House of David”, meaning the kings who were David’s descendants.
Here are two:
And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now the kingdom may return to the house of David… 1 Kings 12 v 26
So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. 2 Chronicles 10 v 19
The Tel Dan Inscription confirms the Bible record that:
There was hostility between Syria and Israel
Ben (son of) Hadad was a title of Syrian kings involved in this hostility
The royal line from king David was known as “the house of David”
2 The Moabite Stone
The Moabite stone was found in 1868 at the ruins of Dibon (map ref. 2 - background geography ). This city mentioned in the Bible is in modern Jordan. The stone inscription is now in the Louvre in Paris.
The inscription was made by king Mesha of Moab (map ref. 3 background geography). He was an enemy of Israel in the time of Ahab, son of Omri, one of the early kings of Israel (see background history). He was boasting about a victory over Israel.
Here are the interesting portions of what is written on the stone:
The Inscription confirms three Bible references:
In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became king over Israel, and reigned twelve years. 1 Kings 16 v 23
Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel; and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 1 Kings 16 v 29
Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheepbreeder, and he regularly paid the king of Israel one hundred thousand lambs and the wool of one hundred thousand rams. But it happened, when Ahab died, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 2 Kings 3 v 4 and 5
From these verses we learn:
- Omri was a king of Israel
- His son was Ahab
- Mesha, king of Moab had been giving tribute to the king of Israel
- This tribute consisted of sheep and wool, which were given as an indication of submission
- Mesha rebelled and stopped giving the sheep and wool when king Ahab died
We can see that the Bible is saying that a period when Israel had the Moabites under tribute ended at the time of the death of Ahab. This agrees with the inscription, which says that Ahab’s father Omri “humbled Moab for many years”.
The inscription states that Moab “triumphed over” Israel in the reign of Omri’s son (Ahab). The Bible tells us that the rebellion actually happened at the time of Ahab’s death.
The “Da” part of “David” is not 100% legible, but, as we have seen in the previous section, the phrase “house of David” was commonly used in Old Testament times to refer to the kings descended from David.
The Moabite stone confirms the Bible record that:
Mesha, king of Moab was under tribute to Israel
Mesha rebelled against Israel in the time of king Ahab
The “house of David” existed
Israel had a king called Omri
3 The Kurkh Stela of Shalmaneser
This round-topped vertical slab (or stela) was found at Kurkh (map ref. 4 - background geography) in Turkey in 1861.
It shows the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III (see background history) facing the symbols of four gods.
Across the front and the back of the stela are 102 lines of writing recording the main events of his first six military campaigns.
Included in the record of those defeated by the Assyrians are the names of Ahab, king of Israel and Ben-Hadad, king of Syria.
The Bible tells us of a time when there was a league between Ahab and Ben-hadad:
So Ben-Hadad said to him, ‘The cities which my father took from your father I will restore; and you may set up marketplaces for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria,’ Then Ahab said, ‘I will send you away with this treaty.’ So he made a treaty with him and sent him away. 1 Kings 20 v 34
The stela confirms the Bible record that Ahab and Ben-Hadad were ruling at the same time.
Assyrian records also exist which mention the following Bible kings:
Hezekiah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekah, Hoshea, Uzziah, Ahaz and Hazael.
The Kurkh Stela confirms the Bible record that:
Ahab was a king of Israel
Ben-hadad was king of Syria at the same time
Other Assyrian records mention eight other kings referred to in the Bible
4 The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
This large black stone was one of the most exciting discoveries in history. It was found in a pit at the ancient Assyrian city of Calah (map ref. 5 - background geography) in 1846.But amazingly, archaeologists almost missed it. The dig was about to be closed down. It was winter, the ground was difficult to dig and not much had been found. It was agreed to dig for just one more day.Early on that last morning the workmen struck a huge stone that has become one of the most important finds relating to the Bible.
The stone has five panels of carved “pictures” on each of its four sides. Each panel has an inscription.On one side, the second panel from the top shows the Jewish king Jehu bowing before Shalmaneser III, bringing tribute to him.
The inscription directly above the picture says:
As you can see in the picture, Jehu is pictured with a short, rounded beard, a sleeveless jacket, a long fringed shirt, a belt, and a soft cap. This is the earliest “picture” of an Israelite.
The Bible tells us of some of the exploits of Jehu in 2 Kings 9 and 10.
Shalmaneser was the name of several kings of Assyria. We meet one of them later on in the Bible:
Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him; and Hoshea became his vassal, and paid him tribute money. 2 Kings17 v 3
Here we read of Hoshea, a later king of Israel. He paid tribute in the same way as Jehu, who is shown on the obelisk.
The Black Obelisk confirms the Bible record that:
Israel had a king named Jehu
Jehu reigned in the period when Assyria was a superpower
The Assyrians had kings named Shalmaneser
The Assyrians made subject nations pay tribute
5 Relief of Sargon II
The picture shows part of a relief from the palace of Sargon, king of Assyria, at Khorsabad (map ref. 6 - background geography) in Iraq.
Sargon is seen holding a staff and facing one of his officials.
Part of an inscription found in the same palace is in the grey panel below.
(For Samaria, see map ref. 7 on background geography page)
The inscription confirms what we read in the Bible:
Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria … 2 Kings 17 v 5 and 6
The king of Assyria conquered Samaria
He took the inhabitants away captive
6 The six-sided Sennacherib Cylinder
This is a six-sided clay prism found at Nineveh (near to Khorsabad – map ref. 6 - background geography). It is inscribed with an account of eight military campaigns of Sennacherib king of Assyria.
The most interesting part of the record is in the grey panel below.
The record interestingly does not claim that Jerusalem – the capital city – was taken. The Bible account tells us why!
In the book of 2 Kings we read:
And in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them. 2 Kings 18 v 13
Then the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris and the Rabshakeh from Lachish with a great army against Jerusalem, to king Hezekiah. 2 Kings 18 v 17
But the Bible – the honest history book – reveals why Sennacherib avoids mentioning Jerusalem:
And it came to pass on a certain night that the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand … So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed … 2 Kings 19 v 35 and 36
Such an embarrassing defeat is not likely to have been mentioned by Sennacherib.
The Sennacherib Cylinder confirms the Bible record that:
Sennacherib conquered “all the fortified cities” in Judah
Sennacherib failed to take Jerusalem
7 Babylonian Chronicle
This clay tablet is one of a series of Babylonian records summarising the main events of each year. Each entry is separated from the next by a horizontal line, and begins with a reference to the year of the reign of the particular king.
The tablet includes the record of the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Part of what it says is in the grey panel below.
From this we can see that Jerusalem, the main city of Judah, was conquered, tribute taken and the king replaced by one of Nebuchadnezzar’s choice.
This agrees with the Bible record of these events:
… the king of Babylon, in the eighth year of his reign, took him [Jehoiachin] prisoner. And he carried out from there all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king's house …
And he carried Jehoiachin captive to Babylon…
Then the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin's uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah. 2 Kings 24 v 12, 13, 15 and 17
The Babylonian Chronicle confirms the Bible record that:
Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem
The king of Judah was taken captive and another king put in his place
8 The Cylinder of Nabonidus
The Old Testament book of Daniel is well known for its stories of heroes. One of these stories has given us the well-known phrase, “the writing’s on the wall”. Belshazzar, king of Babylon, (map ref. 8 - background geography) was holding a drunken feast. As he and his lords revelled, a hand wrote on the wall in front of him. The king offered great rewards to anyone who could tell him what the writing meant. The writing was interpreted by Daniel. He told Belshazzar that his kingdom was going to be overthrown. Belshazzar kept his promise, and the record in Daniel tells us:
Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. Daniel 5 v 29
Critics of the Bible used to say that these were only made-up stories with no historical foundation. In 1850 one eminent German wrote in a commentary on the book of Daniel that Belshazzar was simply a figment of the author’s imagination. Just four years later the small cylinder in the picture above was discovered, which showed how wrong the critics were!
The inscription on the cylinder was written by Nabonidus, king of Babylon. The words were a prayer for a long life and good health for himself and his eldest son. The name of that son, clearly written, was Belshazzar! Other inscriptions have been discovered that indicate that Belshazzar was “second in command” to his father. This would explain why Belshazzar offered to make Daniel the “third ruler in the kingdom” and not the second.
The Cylinder of Nabonidus confirms the Bible:
Belshazzar was king of Babylon
He was second in command in the kingdom
9 Brick of Cyrus
Ancient rulers had bricks inscribed with their names to use in important buildings. This practice provides valuable evidence for archaeologists. The inscription on the brick in the picture is in the grey panel below.
Cyrus was the first powerful king of Persia (map ref. 9 - background geography). He allowed the Jews to return from captivity (see below). Here is one of the Bible references to him:
Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me…’Ezra 1 v 2
Bricks bearing the names of other kings mentioned in the Bible have been found, such as:
Shalmaneser Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him…2 Kings 17 v 3
Sargon… when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him … Isaiah 20 v 1
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and … 2 Kings 19 v 36
EsarhaddonThen Esarhaddon his son reigned… 2 Kings 19 v 37
NebuchadnezzarIn his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came … 2 Kings 24 v 1
The Bible is correct when it records the names of kings
10 The Cyrus Cylinder
This is another clay cylinder, written this time by Cyrus, king of Persia. It was found at Babylon (map ref. 8 - background geography). The cylinder contains an account of the conquest of the city of Babylon by Cyrus.
The cylinder spells out Persian policy towards captive people, such as the Israelites, and their sacred ritual objects:
The Babylonians had captured all the sacred objects from the Jerusalem temple. These would have passed into the hands of the Persians when they overthrew the Babylonian Empire. We read in the book of Ezra of the policy outlined in the Cyrus cylinder being put into practice:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia … he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom …
‘Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel … which is in Jerusalem.’ Ezra 1 v 1 and 3
The Cyrus Cylinder confirms the Bible record:
Cyrus allowed people to go back to their own cities and practise their own religion
a) Silver denarius of Augustus
The denarius was the basic Roman coin. It is mentioned in several places in the New Testament (in the King James Version it is always translated “penny”).
Jesus mentions it in his parable of the vineyard and seems to imply that a denarius is about a day’s pay:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. Matthew 20 v 1 and 2
The denarius was the coin used by the religious leaders in their attempt to trick Jesus. They thought up a question about paying tribute money:
But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, ‘Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.'. Mark 12 v 15
b) Coin of Herod
Herod was made king over the Jews by the Romans. On the reverse side of the coin shown in the picture the legend reads “of King Herod”.
It is this king who appears in the record of the birth of Jesus:
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, Matthew 2 v 1
Historians tell us that he was a very suspicious character. He even killed three of his own sons who he thought were plotting against him. The Bible record reflects this when it tells what Herod did when the wise men did not return as agreed:
Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Matthew 2 v 16
c) Silver cistophorus of Claudius
The picture shows a Greek coin minted at Ephesus (Map ref. 10) in Turkey. On the reverse side of the coin there is an image of the statue of the goddess Diana of the Ephesians and the words “Diana Ephesia”.
This relates very well to an episode recorded in the book of Acts. The preaching of the apostle Paul in Ephesus against this false goddess caused an uproar among the silversmiths who made souvenirs of her. The Bible tells us that the silversmiths complained:
So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.’
Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’
Acts 19 v 27 and 28
These coins confirm the Bible record:
The denarius was a coin around in New Testament times
Herod was a ruler of the Jews
“Diana of the Ephesians” was a popular goddess in Ephesus
12 The Pilate Inscription
(Photo: Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Copyright, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Not long ago many scholars were questioning the existence of a Roman Governor with the name Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion.
In June 1961 Italian archaeologists led by Dr. Frova were excavating an ancient Roman amphitheatre near Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima) (map ref. 11 - background geography) and uncovered this interesting limestone block. On the face is a monumental inscription, part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar. It says:
This agrees perfectly with what we read in the Bible:
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea… Luke 3 v 1
The Pilate Inscription supports the Bible:
Pontius Pilate was governor (or “prefect”) of Judea in the reign of emperor Tiberius Caesar
13 The Politarch Inscription and the accuracy of Luke’s writings
In the past, some scholars said that Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, was an inaccurate and unreliable historian. His inconsistent use of official titles showed that he either did not know what he was writing about, or perhaps just couldn’t be bothered to do the research. For example, Luke’s use of the word “politarch” occurred nowhere else in Greek literature. People said that Luke must have got it wrong!
But recent discoveries show that local rulers and officials had different titles in different places. Furthermore, they tell us that Luke always used the right title for the right place.
The picture on the right shows a Greek inscription discovered in 1835 on an arch in Thessalonika (map ref. 12 - background geography) which lists the officials in the town in the second century AD. It begins by listing six“politarchs.” Since then the same term has been found on other inscriptions in Thessalonika.
This agrees with Luke’s account of problems in Thessalonika in Acts 17:
… they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers [politarchs in Greek] of the city, crying out, ‘These who have turned the world upside down have come here too… And they troubled the crowd and the rulers [politarchs] of the city when they heard these things…’ Acts 17 v 6 and 8
Other examples of Luke’s correct use of titles for rulers are:
“praetors” – rulers of Philippi (map ref. 13 - background geography)
“proconsul” – the ruler of Corinth (map ref. 14 - background geography)
“leading man of the island” – the ruler of Malta
Why is it that Archaeology shows the Bible to be reliable despite the repeated assertions of critics to the contrary?
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