When it comes to religious literature, the uniqueness of the Bible is that the record of its events are linked to named people, times, and places. Many of these places and cultures are recognizable: Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula, Syria, Jerusalem, and Galilee.
But some are ancient and obscure enough for their historicity to be doubted. For instance, around the turn of the 20th century, archaeologist John Garstang made a discovery that had far-reaching effects in the world of biblical studies—he discovered archaeological evidence for the Hittite Empire.
In Garstang’s time, the trustworthiness of the Bible was being hotly contested. Those who questioned the Bible’s inspiration and authority contended that the historical and archaeological evidence for the Bible’s accuracy did not add up, and they cited the lack of this type of evidence for the Hittite Empire as a specific example.
Defenders of the Scriptures, for the most part, agreed with critics that the Bible’s primary purpose is not to serve as a history book or scientific work, but they maintained that the Bible is historically accurate, including its reference to the existence of the Hittite Empire.
Even though other ancient literature referred to the Hittites,1 the critics’ argument convinced many until Garstang’s 1908 discovery. His archaeological find exposed an ancient civilization that existed for over four centuries (1600–1200 bc) and revealed a treasure trove of information about its people.2 Since then, so much has been discovered about the Hittite Empire that it is now possible to study ancient Hittite culture, religion, and language at places like the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.
And it’s not just the Hittite evidence. Engraved stones or cylinders from other ancient civilizations verify other biblical accounts. For example, the Taylor Prism confirms the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem that the Bible describes in 2 Kings 18–19, 2 Chronicles 32, and Isaiah 36–37. The discovery of the Tel Dan Stele confirms the existence of Israel’s King David. The Cyrus Cylinder records Cyrus of Persia’s decree that allowed Babylonian captives to return to their homes and resume their religious practices. The Moabite Stone substantiates the events of 2 Kings 3. The stone not only chronicles the rebellion led by Mesha king of Moab but even mentions the name Yahweh.3
Historical documents also support the Bible’s testimony about Jesus and the ancient church’s commitment to the gospel story. Jewish and Roman historians referred to the life and works of Jesus.4 Josephus wrote about Jesus’ miracles. And Pliny the Younger, an ancient ruler, recorded that Christians in his province maintained their belief in and worship of Jesus even when faced with death.5
While these examples are just a sample of the available information supporting the accuracy of the Bible, they are sufficient to contradict the skeptics’ assertion that there is no significant historical or archaeological support for believing that the Bible is historically accurate. That claim is simply not true.
1 Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 2. The New Kingdom (Berkeley: University of California Press), 57.
2 Avraham Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, 3rd ed. (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990).
3 K. A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 34-50. See also http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10899-moabite-stone. The Cyrus Cylinder is on display at the British Museum in London, England, and the Moabite Stone is on display at the Louvre in Paris, France.
4 Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, trans. William Whiston (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987).
5 Doug Powell, Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2006), 164-66.