(1900=Abraham, 1700=Joseph, 1447=Moses, 1000=David)
The documentary evidence for the reliability of the Bible has been an area of research which has been increasing rapidly over the last few decades. But this hasn’t always been so. The assumption by many former archaeologists was that the Old Testament was written not in the tenth to fourteenth centuries B.C. by the authors described within its text, but by later Jewish historians during the much later second to sixth century B.C., and that the stories were then redacted back onto the great prophets such as Moses and David, etc… Yet, with the enormous quantity of data which has been uncovered and is continuing to be uncovered, as well as the new forensic research methods being employed to study them, what we are now finding is that many of these preconceived notions of authorship are simply no longer valid. For instance:
(1) The skeptics contended that the Pentateuch could not have been written by Moses, because there was no evidence of any writing that early. Then the Black Stele was found with the detailed laws of Hammurabi which were written 300 years before Moses, and in the same region.
(2) There was much doubt as to the reliability of the Old Testament documents, since the oldest manuscript in our possession was the Massoretic Text, written in 916 A.D. How, the skeptics asked, can we depend on a set of writings whose earliest manuscripts are so recent? Then came the amazing discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls written around 125 B.C. These scrolls show us that outside of minute copying errors it is identical to the Massoretic Text and yet it predates it by over 1,000 years! We have further corroboration in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text, translated around 150-200 B.C.
Yet to please the skeptics, the best documentary evidence for the reliability of the Biblical text must come from documents external to the Biblical text themselves. There has always been doubt concerning the stories of Abraham and the Patriarchs found in the books attributed to Moses, the Pentateuch. The skeptics maintained that there is no method of ascertaining their reliability since we have no corroboration from external secular accounts. This has all changed; for instance:
(3) Discoveries from excavations at Nuzu, Mari and Assyrian, Hittite, Sumerian and Eshunna Codes point out that Hebrew poetry, Mosaic legislation as well as the Hebrew social customs all fit the period and region of the patriarchs.
(4) According to the historians there were no Hittites at the time of Abraham, thus the historicity of the Biblical accounts describing them was questionable. Now we know from inscriptions of that period that there were 1,200 years of Hittite civilization, much of it corresponding with the Patriarchal period.
(5) Historians also told us that no such people as the Horites existed. It is these people whom we find mentioned in the genealogy of Esau in Genesis 36:20. Yet now they have been discovered as a group of warriors also living in Mesopotamia during the Patriarchal period.
(6) The account of Daniel, according to the sceptical historians, must have been written in the second century and not the sixth century B.C. because of all the precise historical detail found in its content. Yet now the sixth century’s East India Inscription corresponds with the Daniel 4:30 account of Nebuchadnezzar’s building, proving that the author of Daniel must have been an eye-witness from that period. Either way it is amazing.
The strongest case for extra-Biblical corroboration of the Patriarchal period is found in four sets of tablets which have been and are continuing to be uncovered from that area of the world. They demonstrate that the Biblical account is indeed historically reliable. Let’s briefly look at all four sets of tablets.
(7) *Armana tablets: (from Egypt) mention the Habiru or Apiru in Hebrew, which was first applied to Abraham in Genesis 14:13.
(8) *Ebla tablets: 17,000 tablets from Tell Mardikh (Northern Syria), dating from 2300 B.C., shows us that a thousand years before Moses, laws, customs and events were recorded in writing in that part of the world, and that the judicial proceedings and case laws were very similar to the Deuteronomy law code (i.e. Deuteronomy 22:22-30 codes on punishment for sex offenses). One tablet mentions and lists the five cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar in the exact sequence which we find in Genesis 14:8! Until these tablets were uncovered the existence of Sodom and Gomorrah had always been in doubt by historians.
(9) *Mari tablets: (from the Euphrates) mentions king Arriyuk, or Arioch of Genesis 14, and lists the towns of Nahor and Harran (from Genesis 24:10), as well as the names Benjamin and Habiru.
(10) *Nuzi tablets: (from Iraq) speaks about a number of customs which we find in the Pentateuch, such as:
- a barren wife giving a handmaiden to her husband (i.e. Hagar)
- a bride chosen for the son by the father (i.e. Rebekah)
- a dowry paid to the father-in-law (i.e. Jacob)
- work done to pay a dowry (i.e. Jacob)
- the unchanging oral will of a father (i.e. Isaac)
- a father giving his daughter a slave-girl (i.e. Leah, Rachel)
- the sentence of death for stealing a cult gods (i.e. Jacob).
Because of these extra-Biblical discoveries many of the historians are now changing their position. Thus Joseph Free states: “New discoveries now show us that a host of supposed [Biblical] errors and contradictions are not errors at all: such as, that Sargon existed and lived in a palatial dwelling 12 miles north of Ninevah, that the Hittites were a significant people, that the concept of a sevenfold lamp existed in the early Iron Age, that a significant city given in the record of David’s empire lies far to the north, and that Belshazzar existed and ruled over Babylon.”
While documentary evidence for the Bible in the form of secular inscriptions and tablets not only corroborates the existence of some of the oldest Biblical traditions, similar and more recent documentary evidence (such as the Doctrina Iacobi, and the Armenian Chronicler) eradicates some of the more cherished Islamic traditions, that Islam was a uniquely Arab creation, and that Mecca, the supposed centre for Islam, has little historicity whatsoever before or during the time of Muhammad.
We look forward to further documentary discoveries coming to light, as they continue to substantiate and underline the Biblical record, while simultaneously putting doubt to the record of the Qur’an. Let’s now look at the archaeological evidence for both the Bible and the Qur’an: