Can You Believe the Bible?

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Can You Believe the Bible?

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A crucial battle is taking place in Western culture—a battle over God and the Bible. To boil that conflict down to its essence, many people don't like the idea of having someone tell them what to do, so they reject the idea of a God who has any say in how they are to live.

Some famous evolutionists have openly admitted as much. The well-known author and evolution proponent Aldous Huxley, for example, wrote: "I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption . . .

"Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their [purpose] that the world should be meaningless" (Ends and Means, 1938, p. 270).

"For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was . . . liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom . . ." (ibid., p. 273).

Julian Huxley, brother of Aldous Huxley and also a leading proponent of evolution, later wrote: "The sense of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a super-human being is enormous" (Essays of a Humanist, 1964, p. 219).

Of course, those who reject the idea of God also have to reject the idea that the Bible is true and could be His inspired Word. It's no coincidence that the Bible has been essentially banned from U.S. classrooms.

What does the evidence reveal?

But what do the facts show? Can we believe the Bible? What does the evidence—the historical facts dug up from the dirt of the Middle East—reveal? For those willing to examine it objectively, the evidence is quite clear that the Bible is accurate and true.

The books of the Bible have existed for millennia—the youngest around 1,900 years and the oldest around 3,500. In recording events of the time, they mention many specific details—people, places, cities, towns, customs and events. When the Bible began to be translated into more modern languages in recent centuries, virtually no independent evidence had been found to support the biblical story.

Yes, historians knew of the empires of Greece and Rome and of their rulers as mentioned in the Bible, but little else was known. Even as late as the 19th century, when criticism of and disbelief in the Bible began to take hold, it was easy to dismiss the Bible because scant supporting evidence had been found.

But with the emergence of the science of archaeology, that soon changed. As scholars and archaeologists explored and excavated ancient sites, they began to uncover abundant evidence that supported the accuracy of the Bible.

Since then entire empires that were unknown outside the Bible have been brought to light. Inscriptions or other artifacts mentioning specific people in the Bible, ranging from kings to court officials to common people, have been uncovered.

Cities and strongholds mentioned in Scripture have risen from the dust. Many events recorded in the Bible, and even minor details such as customs mentioned in passing, have been confirmed by independent discoveries. Even specific buildings and structures mentioned in Scripture have been identified!

In late 2006 I was privileged to visit one of the world's great historical treasure-houses, the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. From the 16th century until the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire ruled much of the Middle East from its capital in present-day Turkey. During that period many priceless archaeological pieces made their way from the far reaches of the empire to the Ottoman rulers in Istanbul. Eventually more than a million artifacts were gathered in the museum.

Several items on display confirm people, customs and events mentioned in the Bible. Although we don't have space to cover all of them, we'll discuss some of the most notable.

Did the Hittites really exist?

For centuries the only known references to Hittites were those found in the Bible. Because of this, some Bible critics assumed they were simply invented, just one of many myths in the Bible. After all, they reasoned, how could an entire culture and people have existed and not left any physical evidence behind?

The Hittites are mentioned in connection with the patriarch Abraham in Genesis 23 where he purchased a cave from Ephron the Hittite to use as a burial place for his beloved wife Sarah. (Abraham himself would later be buried there.)

Later Abraham's grandson Esau married two Hittite women (Genesis 26:34), and still later the Hittites were among the peoples God promised to drive out so the Israelites could inherit the Promised Land (Exodus 23:28; 33:2; 34:11). King Solomon later married Hittite women (1 Kings 11:1), probably as part of political alliances with Hittite rulers. The Hittites were still an influential power in the time of Elisha around 840 B.C. (see 2 Kings 7:6). But did they really exist?

As the lands of the Middle East were later explored, particularly in what is today central Turkey where the Hittite empire was centered, archaeologists found abundant evidence of the existence of the Hittites. Their findings correlated with the mentions of the Hittites in the Bible.

Their empire had existed for centuries alongside the other peoples mentioned in the Scriptures—at times waxing and at other times waning alongside other kingdoms and empires such as Syria, Egypt and Assyria before diminishing and eventually disappearing not long after their last mention in the Bible.

Ashtoreth (Astarte), goddess of fertility

A major sin mentioned again and again in the Old Testament was idolatry and the worship of foreign gods. God repeatedly condemned the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth, the primary male and female deities of the Canaanites and other surrounding peoples.

Baal and Ashtoreth were the primary god and goddess of fertility. As such, their worship typically involved ritual sex with a priest or priestess, for which an offering was given. This essentially amounted to sex for pay, which is why the Bible often equates worship of these gods and goddesses with prostitution.

The common name of the goddess in Babylonia and Mesopotamia was Ishtar, which survives today in the name of the holiday Easter. Her name among the nations around Israel was Astarte, but the biblical writers apparently deliberately distorted the name to Ashtoreth to make it sound like the Hebrew word for "shame"—as indeed the way she was worshipped, involving sex with her priests and priestesses, was degrading and shameful.

Small figurines of this and other fertility goddesses are commonly found in Israel and the surrounding countries, clear evidence of the popularity of such worship. Worship of this goddess is mentioned from soon after the death of Joshua in Judges 2:13 (ca. 1210 B.C.) until the reign of King Josiah in 2 Kings 23:13 (ca. 640 B.C.).

Assyria devastates the kingdom of Israel

As a result of the sins of idolatry and rejecting God's laws over several centuries, and their absolute refusal to repent, God warned the Israelites that since they refused to serve Him in their own land, they would serve other gods in foreign lands. He began to punish them through the Assyrian Empire, a new superpower emerging in what is today the country of Iraq.

The Bible records a whole series of Assyrian kings who made war on Israel, and archaeologists have uncovered abundant evidence testifying to the existence of these same kings. Their capital cities, palaces, archives and in some cases even their portraits and statues have been found. Much of this material is in the great museums of Europe, but evidence of these kings is also displayed in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

Tiglath-Pileser III

We find the names of the first two Assyrian kings mentioned in the Bible inscribed on a stone stele commemorating the achievements of a high Assyrian official named Bel-harran-beli-usur. He served in the royal court of Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C.) and Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C.). The inscription describes how he served in the court of these two Assyrian kings and founded a city he named after himself.

This same Tiglath-Pileser is referred to by a shortened form of his name, Pul, in 2 Kings 15:19-20, which states that he received tribute money from the Israelite King Menahem (ca. 743 B.C.). Exacting tribute was a common practice at the time. It amounted to extortion on a national scale since the Assyrians would invade and plunder the land, destroying its cities and enslaving its inhabitants, if the Israelites didn't pay this protection money.

Around 734 B.C., as recorded in verse 29, the Israelite King Pekah rebelled against Tiglath-Pileser, who invaded Israel and took thousands of its people captive to other faraway territories. At the same time Ahaz, king of Judah, stripped the temple of its gold and silver and emptied the national treasury to enlist the Assyrian king's help in fighting against Pekah and the king of Syria (2 Kings 16:5-9). Syria, like Israel, was devastated by the Assyrian invasion.

Shalmaneser V

Tiglath-Pileser died in 727 B.C. and was succeeded by Shalmaneser V. Picking up the story in 2 Kings 17:3, we learn that Shalmaneser marched against the Israelite King Hoshea, who paid him off with tribute. A few years later Shalmaneser returned and besieged Israel's capital, Samaria, for three years before its fall in 722 B.C., then exiled the remaining Israelites to other Assyrian-controlled territories (verses 5-6).

This marked the end of the kingdom of Israel; its exiled people would then lose their identity and become known in history as "the lost 10 tribes."

Sargon II

The next Assyrian monarch mentioned in Scripture is Shalmaneser's successor, Sargon II (722-705 B.C.), who had been Shalmaneser's field commander in the conquest of Samaria. Sargon is mentioned in Isaiah 20:1, which refers to him sending one of his generals in 712 B.C. to capture the Philistine city of Ashdod on the Mediterranean coast west of Jerusalem.

Sargon, while marching against other kingdoms around Judah, did not attack Judah itself—apparently honoring the alliance the Judean king Ahaz had forged with Tiglath-Pileser several years earlier.


After Sargon died in 705 B.C., Sennacherib (705-682 B.C.) followed him on the throne. Sennacherib is mentioned prominently in Scripture, chiefly for his invasion of the kingdom of Judah in 701 B.C. during the reign of Hezekiah. The Bible records this invasion  in 2 Kings 18:13–19:37, 2 Chronicles 32:1-22 and Isaiah 36–37.

Hezekiah refused to pay the oppressive tribute his father Ahaz had paid, prompting Sennacherib's campaign against Judah. Both the Bible and Sennacherib's archives record that the Assyrians captured virtually all of the Judean kingdom save its capital, Jerusalem. Hezekiah initially paid off the Assyrian king with tribute, but was only delivered by a great miracle—the divine destruction of the Assyrian army outside the walls of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35).

Sennacherib, defeated and humiliated, returned to his capital where he was later assassinated by his own sons.

Hezekiah's tunnel inscription

While it is fairly common to find inscriptions or other evidence of specific individuals and places mentioned in the Bible, it's much rarer to find archaeological verification of specific events recorded in Scripture. Events by their nature are transitory and seldom recorded in ways that can survive the ravages of time. Yet proof of an event from the reign of Hezekiah is on display in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

In 2 Kings 20:20 we read the following about King Hezekiah: "Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah—all his might, and how he made a pool and a tunnel and brought water into the city—are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?"

Today visitors to Jerusalem can walk through this very tunnel by which Hezekiah's engineers managed to divert the normal flow of the Gihon Spring, which normally flowed outside the city, by carving a tunnel under the city so the water would flow to a pool inside the city walls.

The 1,750-foot tunnel, constructed in or about the year 701 B.C., is one of the great engineering marvels of the ancient world. Discovered by the famed American archaeologist Edward Robinson in 1838, the tunnel yielded up a secret to its method of construction in 1880 when an Arab boy found an ancient Hebrew inscription carved on the tunnel wall describing how two teams of men, working from opposite ends, tunneled toward each other to meet in the middle. The inscription was later removed to Istanbul by order of the Ottoman rulers of the city.

Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon

After the miraculous destruction of Sennacherib's army during Hezekiah's reign, Assyria never again invaded Judah. Assyria, from that point forward, was on the wane as a new empire rose to become the superpower in the Middle East—Babylon.

The greatest ruler of the Babylonian Empire is a figure well known to Bible readers, King Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled from 605 to 562 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned 88 times in the Bible, in the books of 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.

Nebuchadnezzar marched on the kingdom of Judah multiple times. The first was in 605 B.C. when he drove an Egyptian army out of Syria back to Egypt as part of his overthrow of the Assyrian Empire. The next was when Judah's King Jehoiakim refused to pay tribute to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar stripped the Jerusalem temple of many of its valuables and took them back to Babylon.

After subsequent rebellions, Nebuchadnezzar resolved to put a permanent end to the problem. After a siege of about two years, Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. and the city, including its walls and temple, were utterly destroyed. Nearly all the remaining Jews in the land were then taken away captive to Babylon where they would stay until the fall of Babylon decades later.

Many Babylonian records have been found detailing Nebuchadnezzar's reign. Many of the Bible's mentions of him are found in the book of Daniel, as Daniel interacted with Nebuchadnezzar as a high-ranking official in the king's government.

Daniel 4:30 records how at one point Nebuchadnezzar boasted, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?" And Babylon truly was magnificent, one of the major cities of the ancient world for many centuries.

One of its most notable features was the Ishtar Gate, named for the goddess Ishtar discussed earlier, and the processional way leading up to it. The actual gate itself has been reconstructed in Berlin, where the German archaeologists who excavated it rebuilt it using the original brightly colored glazed bricks.

However, parts of the processional way leading up to the gate can be seen today in the Istanbul Museum. It's truly an amazing experience to see parts of the elaborate decorations of ancient Babylon that Nebuchadnezzar and the prophet Daniel had no doubt walked past many times.

Bel/Marduk, chief god of Babylon

The primary god of Babylon, Marduk, also called Bel, was represented by a dragon prominently displayed in the processional way. The prophet Jeremiah, in foretelling the downfall of Babylon, twice mentions this particular Babylonian god:

"The word that the Lord spoke against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet. "Declare among the nations . . . " Babylon is taken, Bel is shamed. Merodach [Marduk] is broken in pieces; her [ Babylon's] idols are humiliated, her images are broken in pieces"'" (Jeremiah 50:1-2).

"I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will bring out of his mouth what he has swallowed; and the nations shall not stream to him anymore. Yes, the wall of Babylon shall fall" (Jeremiah 51:44).

Indeed Babylon did fall in 539 B.C., 47 years after Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Jerusalem. The Babylonian Empire was succeeded by the Medo-Persian Empire, which in turn was followed by the Greco-Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great and his successors, and then by the Roman Empire—all as foretold in the book of Daniel.

"To the unknown god"

From New Testament times we find two items in particular that relate to the apostle Paul and events from his life. Acts 17:22-23 tells us that when Paul visited Athens, he "stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you . . .'"

This particular area of Athens was surrounded by temples and shrines to the various gods and goddesses the Greeks and Romans worshipped. Major temples to Zeus and Athena stood there, as well as altars and shrines to various lesser deities. To be sure that they had all their bases covered, the Athenians also had an altar inscribed, "to the Unknown God" for any they may have inadvertently left out.

Several such inscriptions and shrines have been found among ruins of the ancient Roman Empire. Three are on display in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, all dedicated "to the nameless god"—i.e., a god whose name they did not know. These came from other cities in the Roman Empire, so it wasn't just Athens that had an altar and inscription like this.

Warning sign from the temple

Acts 21 records an event from Paul's life that set in motion the chain of events that would lead to his arrest, his appearances before two Roman governors, his fateful journey to Rome and his confinement there.

Paul and several companions were in Jerusalem at the temple when a tumult broke out that almost cost Paul his life. Verses 27-32 vividly capture the events:

"The Jews from Asia [the Roman province in what is now western Turkey], seeing him [Paul] in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.' (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)

"And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul."

Paul barely escaped with his life, and likely would've been killed had the Roman military commander nearby not intervened and rescued him.

So what was this uproar about? As we read here, they wanted to kill Paul because they thought he had defiled the temple by bringing gentiles into a part of the temple complex where only Israelites were allowed to go. This was something the Jews had originated, going far beyond anything God had instructed.

We see stark evidence of this attitude in a carved warning sign from the temple, one of many that were erected at regular intervals along a five-foot-high barrier wall in the temple area in the time of Jesus and the apostles. Two of these have been found, a partial one on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and a complete one discovered in Jerusalem under Ottoman rule and shipped to Istanbul.

Originally these were white with the inscribed letters painted in red to make them stand out. The sign warns: "No gentile is allowed beyond this barrier in the plaza of the temple zone. Whoever enters will have himself to blame for his ensuing death."

Gentiles were allowed in the outer courtyard of the temple, but the area beyond that was restricted to Israelites only. If you were a gentile, to go beyond that was considered defiling the temple, an offense punishable by death. In Paul's case, His Jewish religious opponents thought he had brought a gentile beyond that barrier, thus defiling the temple, and were about to kill him when the Roman military force intervened and rescued him.

Later, when Paul was under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial, he was likely reflecting back on this event when he wrote to the church in Ephesus that Jesus Christ "has broken down the middle wall of separation" between Jews and gentiles, "reconcil[ing] them both to God in one body," the Church, through His sacrificial death (Ephesians 2:14-16).

The term "middle wall of separation," most commentators agree, refers to the barrier in the temple complex beyond which gentiles could not go, the same one in which these warning signs were imbedded.

More evidence available for viewing

A battle is indeed being waged in Western culture over God and the Bible. This article covers some of the evidence from one museum in Turkey. You could visit several others around the world displaying similar finds that verify many other parts of the Bible—the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, among others.

Oddly enough, those who argue against the Bible typically say that those of us who believe in it base our beliefs in ignorance and superstition. But in reality, once one seriously examines the evidence, the truth is the opposite. It's those who don't believe the Bible who show that their beliefs are based in superstition and ignorance.

Often they've simply never seriously looked at the evidence and in many cases seem unaware that such things as those described in this article even exist. But you need not be ignorant. You certainly can believe the Bible. Its accuracy has been proven time and time again, and continues to be proven year after year as archaeologists and scholars continue their work digging up history in the lands of the Bible. GN