Does Archaeology Help? That’s the topic for the week from Paul Little’s book Know Why You Believe.
Does archaeology help us to believe the Bible? Does archaeology help us to confirm Bible happenings? What does he mean by titling his chapter “Does Archaeology Help?
Critics of the Bible question everything from the existence of Old Testament patriarchs to the existence of the ancient people of the Bible, the Hittites. What about Solomon’s wealth? Many think it was greatly exaggerated. Belshazzar, the King of Babylon, was considered open to question. Critics think he did not even exist.
Paul Little states that in the mid 19th Century, people began to travel more to the middle east. People began to explore the antiquities of the area and modern archaeologists were soon to follow.
Travelers just explored and sometimes looted antiquities but archaeologists have a different agenda. They want to dig into the earth’s surface to find ancient remnants of earlier civilizations.
Did these findings help us believe the Bible? Did these findings confirm Bible happenings?
This helps us to realize what archaeology does.
It gives us background for Biblical history.
According to the “Christian Answers Webpage”, we have proof that the patriarchs did exist when the “Elba Archive” of clay tablets in Northern Syria was discovered in the 1970’s. On the clay tablets in this archive, names of the patriarchs were used which confirmed that they did exist and were not fictional characters.
The Hittites were once thought to be a Biblical legend, until their capital city and records were discovered at Bogazkoy, Turkey.
Recovered records from the past show that wealth in antiquity was concentrated with the king and Solomon’s prosperity was entirely feasible and not exaggerated.
The last king of Babylon was Nabonidus according to recorded history. Then tablets were found showing that Belshazzar was Nabonidus’ son who served as coregent in Babylon. Thus, Belshazzar could offer to make Daniel “third highest ruler in the kingdom” (Dan. 5:16) the highest available position. Here we see the “eye-witness” nature of the Biblical record, as is so often brought out by the discoveries of archaeology.
By the middle of the 20th Century, Biblical historians were beginning to see that archaeologists were beginning to substantiate the Biblical record. Little cites Dr. W.F. Albright of Johns Hopkins University who said “There can be no doubt that archeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of the Old Testament tradition.”
The more archaeologists dig, the more doubted and ridiculed Biblical events are confirmed. The more archaeologists dig, the more we learn about the background of the Bible, the culture and practices of the Biblical times.
I don’t want to oversell archaeology. Little admits that what these findings do is tell us a lot but they don’t tell us everything. He says “we cannot prove the Bible by archaeology nor do we believe the Bible on the basis of archaeological proof.” What archaeology does is provide independent evidence of the existence of certain places, persons or events mentioned in the Bible but it does not tell anything about whether God had anything to do with any of it.
The element of faith is still needed.
Let’s return to the opening questions.
Does archaeology help? Does archaeology help us to believe the Bible? Does archaeology help us to confirm Bible happenings?
Yes, yes, to a certain extent.
If something never existed and there is no proof that it existed, then it would take a lot of faith to believe it ever existed. If proof were presented that something did exist, we may not know what part the artifact played in the life of the contemporary person who used it, but it could have played a significant role.
We just don’t know.
Little concludes: “Added to faith, it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately confirms the truth of the Scripture to us. Spiritual truth can never be confirmed by archaeology. But we can be thankful for the historical details which have been confirmed by archaeology even though we recognize the apparent conflicts that still exist” [Little, p. 72].