For nearly as long as the Bible has existed, there have been biblical skeptics. As atheism continues to increase in political and social power in the modern day, it has become fashionable to claim that the Bible is false or the events described within purely metaphorical. Even as biblical skeptics attempt to spread this view, however, the men and women who have dedicated their lives to understanding the past continue to make archaeological finds that point toward the truth of the Bible. From inscriptions to figurines, the amount of evidence supporting the Bible continues to pile up with every new dig season. While each find is important, there are some that stand out both due to their biblical importance as well as the publicity they received.
Age of Christ’s TombThe Church of the Holy Sepulcher sits in Jerusalem’s Old City and is visited by millions of Christians every year. The reason for this pilgrimage is that the site of the Holy Sepulcher has long been identified with where Jesus died and was buried. In one section of the church is the place believed to be Golgotha. In another, beneath the Edicule, is what is believed to be the tomb of Christ Himself.
The location of Christ’s tomb has long been debated, and skeptics have claimed repeatedly that the Holy Sepulcher could not possibly be the actual location of Jesus’ final resting place. The main argument for this was that previous dating of the Edicule placed it as being no older than the 11th century. Given that the Holy Sepulcher had been razed and rebuilt repeatedly throughout history, most people accepted that the actual location of Christ’s tomb had been lost.
In 2016, however, the purported tomb of Christ was opened for the first time in centuries as a part of restoring the Edicule. When samples of the actual burial bed and simple marble slab covering were dated, researchers got a surprise. The samples dated to A.D. 345, the same time as when Constantine first had the tomb of Christ officially recognized. As such, the Holy Sepulcher may well be the actual burial place of Christ.
Honorable Burial of Crucified ManBiblical skeptics love to try and disprove the Resurrection, and one of their arguments was that crucifixion was reserved for serious criminals. As such, the unfortunate souls who so suffered and died would not have been given an honorable burial. Instead, their bodies would have fed to beasts, tossed in a shallow grave reserved for executed criminals or left to rot on the cross as a warning to all who saw them. This would mean, the argument went, that Jesus would not have been laid in a tomb, and the story of the stone rolled away was impossible. The discovery of an ancient burial chamber, however, proved this theory wrong.
In order to conserve space, the bones of the ancient Jewish dead were kept in stone boxes known as ossuaries. These would be as long as the femur, tall as the skull and wide as the pelvis of the person who died. All the bones would be stored inside the ossuary. The ossuaries took up much less space than coffins or single graves and so allowed generations of families to be buried together.
During an excavation of one such burial site, an ossuary was found that dated to roughly a century before Jesus’ birth. Among the bones in the ossuary was the heel bone of the dead man’s left foot. Lodged through the bone was a seven inch nail with fragments of olive wood. The man had been executed by crucifixion, but had still been buried honorably with his family. Just as the Bible claims, crucified men could be buried in family tombs.
Seal of the Prophet IsaiahIsaiah is one of the best known prophets in the Bible. His work, however, has long been subjected to intense scrutiny. Prevailing scholarly theories claim that the Book of Isaiah was written by at least two people, possibly three, who all used the name of the well-known prophet. Other academics, however, claim that the Book of Isaiah was written by many people and that the prophecies within it were written after the events they “foretold.”
A 2015 discovery threw a clay monkey wrench into the theories claiming that Isaiah had never existed. Archaeologists working in Israel discovered a bulla, the clay impression of a seal, that belonged to King Hezekiah. Ten feet away was another bulla. This one bore the name “Isaiah.”
The Isaiah of the Bible was Hezekiah’s advisor in the late 8th and early 7th centuries B.C. As such, it would be no surprise to find the fate of these two men remained intertwined even in death. In an even more exciting twist, the name “Isaiah” was followed by the Hebrew letters “nvy.” A prevailing theory is that “nvy” would have been followed by the Hebrew letter aleph. If this were true, the seal would spell out what would translate to “Isaiah the Prophet.”
The Pool of SiloamOne of the numerous miracles detailed in the Book of John describes how Jesus healed a man who was born blind. “[Jesus] spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ He told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam.’ So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”
Biblical skeptics and critics claimed that this episode, and many other accounts of Christ’s miracles, was pure fiction. The discovery of the Pool of Siloam, however, made that theory hard to uphold. Engineers stumbled upon the stops of a first century ritual pool in 2004 when they were working near the mouth of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Investigators found coins in the plaster of the pool dated back to the time of Jesus’ life and death. By 2005, archaeologists said that this was undoubtedly the Pool of Siloam.
Cylinder of Cyrus the GreatGenerally speaking, the older a claim is the harder it is to find evidence to uphold it. This has been something of the bane of archaeology focused on the Old Testament, however, the challenge of proving the Old Testament true has not stopped archaeologists from searching for answers to ancient questions. It has also not stopped them from finding said answers.
Ezra and 2 Chronicles both report that Cyrus the Great of Persia allowed the exiled Jews in Babylon to return to Israel after he conquered Babylonia. This unusually tolerant policy has raised questions for decades about whether Cyrus the Great really allowed this to happen or if this was a fictitious episode. A nine inch clay cylinder from 539 B.C., however, details not only Cyrus’ victory over Babylon but his unexpected decision to allow Babylonia captives to return to their own ancestral homelands and rebuild their temples.
Tel Dan InscriptionInscriptions are just about the most exciting thing than an archaeologist can find. Even as far as inscriptions go, however, a 1993 discovery at Tel Dan set the world on fire. A ninth century B.C. stone stela unearthed at Tel Dan carried the first evidence found outside the Bible for the existence of King David. The inscription was carved by an Aramean king who claimed to have defeated his two southern neighbors, the “king of Israel” and the “king of the House of David.” Biblical scholars and archaeologists, unsurprisingly, were thrilled at this discovery. The stela, unfortunately, did not manage to preserve the actual names of the kings involved in this war, but most scholars believe that the inscription refers to the defeat of Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah by Hazael of Damascus.
There have been and always will be those who believe that the Bible is fictitious, but advancements in archaeology have led men and women to excavate an ever increasing body of evidence that upholds the Bible’s account of events. From small inscriptions to the discovery of entire towns, biblical archaeology has time and again unearthed evidence that the Bible is more than just a moral story. It is simple historical fact which is preserved not just on paper and ink pages but in graves, ruins and fertile soil of the Holy Land.