Biblical Archaeology: Ancient Civilization
Biblical archaeology really begins with the Sumerian civilization of about 2500 BC. To date, numerous sites and artifacts have been uncovered that reveal a great deal about the ancient Mesopotamian culture. One of the most dramatic finds is the Sumerian King List, which dates to approximately 2100 BC. This collection of clay tablets and prisms is most exciting because it divides the Sumerian kings into two categories; those who reigned before the “great flood” and those who reigned after it. The lists are also dramatic because they include the ages of the kings before and after the “great flood,” which show the same phenomenal life span changes mentioned in the Bible. Actually, records of a global flood are found throughout most ancient cultures. For instance, the Epic of Gilgamesh from the ancient Babylonians contains an extensive flood story. Discovered on clay tablets in locations such as Ninevah and Megiddo, the Epic even includes a hero who built a great ship, filled it with animals, and used birds to see if the water had receded (see Genesis 7-8).
Biblical Archaeology: Ancient Law & Culture
Biblical archaeology continues with the great military civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and their ultimate impact on law and culture throughout the region. One significant find is the Law Code of Hammurabi, which is a seven foot tall, black diorite carving containing about 300 laws of Babylon’s King Hammurabi (Hammurapi). Dated to about 1750 BC, the Law Code contains many civil laws that are similar to those found in the first five books of the Bible. Another find at the ancient city of Nuzi near the Tigris River uncovered approximately 20,000 clay tablets. Dated between 1500 and 1400 BC, these cuneiform texts explain the culture and customs of the time, many of which are similar to those found in the early books of the Bible.
Biblical Archaeology: Ancient Israel
Biblical archaeology then turns to the evidence for the early Israelites. The Merneptah Stele (also known as the Israel Stele) is an upright stone slab measuring over seven feet tall that contains carved hieroglyphic text dating to approximately 1230 BC. The Egyptian stele describes the military victories of Pharaoh Merneptah and includes the earliest mention of “Israel” outside the Bible. Although the specific battles covered by the stele are not included in the Bible, the stele establishes extra-biblical evidence that the Israelites were already living as a people in ancient Canaan by 1230 BC. In addition to the Stele, a large wall picture was discovered in the great Karnak Temple of Luxor (ancient Thebes), which shows battle scenes between the Egyptians and Israelites. These scenes have also been attributed to Pharaoh Merneptah and date to approximately 1209 BC. The Karnak Temple also contains records of Pharaoh Shishak’s military victories about 280 years later. Specifically, the Shishak Relief depicts Egypt’s victory over King Rehoboam in about 925 BC, when Solomon’s Temple in Judah was plundered. This is the exact event mentioned in 1 Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 12.
Outside Egypt, we also discover a wealth of evidence for the early Israelites. The Moabite Stone (Mesha Stele) is a three-foot stone slab discovered near Dibon ,East of the Dead Sea, that describes the reign of Mesha, King of Moab, around 850 BC. According to Genesis 19; the Moabites were neighbors of the Israelites. The stele covers victories by King Omri and Ahab of Israel against Moab, and Mesha’s later victories on behalf of Moab against King Ahab’s descendants (2 Kings 3). The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser is a seven-foot, four-sided pillar of basalt that describes the victories of King Shalmaneser III of Assyria. Dated to about 841 BC, the Obelisk was discovered in the ancient palace of Nimrud and shows Israel’s King Jehu kneeling before the Assyrian king in humble tribute (see 2 Kings 9-10).
Biblical Archaeology: The House of David and Solomon’s Temple
Biblical archaeology covering ancient Israeli kings and culture received a huge lift in 1994 when archaeologists discovered a stone inscription at the ancient city of Dan, which refers to the “House of David.” The House of David Inscription (Tel Dan Inscription) is important because it’s the first ancient reference to King David outside the Bible. Specifically, the stone is a victory pillar of a King in Damascus dated about 250 years after David’s reign, which mentions a “king of Israel” (probably Joram, son of Ahab) and a king of the “House of David” (probably Ahaziah of Judah). Another important find is the House of Yahweh Ostracon, which is a pottery shard dated to about 800 BC that contains a written receipt for a donation of silver shekels to Solomon’s Temple. Written approximately 130 years after the completion of the Temple, this appears to be the earliest mention of Solomon’s Temple outside the Bible.