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Intelligent Design, the best explanation of Origins » Bible / Christian faith / Apolotetics » Is the Bible Historically Accurate?

Is the Bible Historically Accurate?

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1 Is the Bible Historically Accurate? on Mon Jan 04, 2016 4:27 pm

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Is the Bible Historically Accurate?

http://reasonandscience.catsboard.com/t1974-is-the-bible-historically-accurate

 There are 3 essential tests that researchers use to ascertain historical reliability. The Bible stands up strongly to these tests, if not more strongly than any other historical document recorded:

Internal Test: Examining linguistic, cultural, and literary context can clear away apparent contradictions in the Bible. For example, some claim that the genealogies of Christ are contradictory. Not so: Matthew lists Joseph’s family line, and Luke lists Mary’s.

External Test: Nelson Glueck, a Jewish archaeologist says, “… it may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or exact detail statements in the Bible.”

Bibliographic Test: Bibliographic Test: The document must contain eyewitness accounts, there must be a short amount of time between copy and original, and several copies must be made. Pass. Even many non-Christian historians who were not sympathetic to Christianity such as Flavius Josephus, Thallus and Phlegon lend support to Biblical facts.


The Bible’s Power and Influence
In some countries today, the Bible is forbidden. Bringing a Bible into Saudi Arabia, for example, or North Korea, or China, or Libya, or Burma — along with many other countries — can result in expulsion for the westerner or arrest and torture if you’re native to the country. It wasn’t that long ago that the Bible was banned in communist Eastern Europe, too; a good friend of mine was involved in Bible smuggling into places like Romania and Hungary during the 1970s and 80s and can tell hair-raising stories of near arrests and fortunate escapes.
Banned in many countries, yet desperately sought by persecuted Christians. The best selling, most widely studied piece of literature, whose influence is unquestionable, whatever you think of the book. Much of our art, law, philosophy, music and literature have drawn upon the Bible.
Yet this potency and influence aside, many people today want to ignore, rubbish, or reject the Bible. “How can you trust the Bible?” sceptics often ask. “New Atheist” writers like Richard Dawkins regularly attack the Bible, calling those who believe in it, “died in the wool faith-heads”.
Three Initial Thoughts
So how might we answer the sceptic? How can Christians show that is rational and reasonable to trust the Bible and take seriously what it says? There are numerous ways one might approach this question but this evening, I want to focus on a historical approach, as that’s my own academic background. But before that, let me start by making three general comments.
First, when somebody says “why trust the Bible?” I sometimes respond “why not trust the Bible?” One can only really doubt something if one has something more solid to believe in. Unless you merely want to be a sceptic. Whilst that’s very fashionable, it’s hard to be a consistent sceptic. Why not be sceptical about your scepticism?
Second, lots of people have bought into popular assumptions and myths about the Bible. So if somebody suggests the Bible is unreliable, ask them to be specific. How exactly? If they claim it’s full of myths, ask them which one they had in mind? Encourage them to read the Bible for themselves before passing judgement on it.
Third, there’s a lot of chronological snobbery about these days. Just because something is old or ancient, doesn’t make it false. Indeed, ancient-icity doesn’t tell us anything about whether something is true or false. Something can be ancient and true. Likewise something can be bang up to date and false.


The Internal Evidence for the Historicity of the New Testament

THE POPULAR HANDBOOK OF ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE, pg.142

In addition to the strong external evidence for the reliability of the Gospels, there is also very good internal evidence. In fact, if one knew nothing about the Bible or Christianity but discovered a New Testament in an antique book sale, he could get a strong sense of its credibility just by reading it. Here are several reasons why:

1. The writers did not try to harmonize their accounts, which shows they were not in collusion but were independent witnesses 
2. The New Testament retained texts that placed Jesus in a bad light. Someone trying to prove that Jesus was God would not have done this.
3. The writers also included difficult passages in the text (which a fraudulent author would not have done).
4. They wrote self-incriminating stories (fraudulent authors do not invent bad stories about themselves).
5. They distinguished Jesus’ words from their own (showing they were reporting, not creating, His words).
6. They did not deny their testimony under persecution or the threat of death (which weeds out the insincere).

The cumulative weight of the multiple and independent lines of testimony is overwhelming support for the historicity of the New Testament. No other book in the world has anything close to this much evidence for its authenticity.

The Historian and the Bible
Those comments aside, why trust the Bible? Well, first, many people are not aware that most historians take the Bible, especially the New Testament, very seriously indeed. The Bible has been subjected to extremely vigorous literary and historical criticism, probably more than any other ancient work, and it’s emerged unscathed. Hans Kung put it nicely:

Lay people are usually unaware that the scrupulous scholarly work achieved by modern biblical criticism … represented by scrupulous academic work over about 300 years, belongs among the greatest intellectual achievements of the human race. Has any of the great world religions outside of the Jewish-Christian tradition investigated its own foundations and its own history so thoroughly and impartially? None of them has remotely approached this. The Bible is far and away the most studied book in world literature.

In other words, the Bible doesn’t need defending or protecting from historical criticism — Christians haven’t shut themselves off from academic questions — far from it. Indeed, as the 19th century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once quipped: “Defend the Bible? I’d sooner defend a lion!”
When one approaches the Bible from a historical perspective, one can approach it much as one would any other ancient work. Broadly speaking, there are three tests a historian can utilise to determine the veracity of an ancient document. The bibliographic test, the internal test, and the external test. Let’s briefly look at each of these and how they apply to the Bible.
The Bibliographic Test
The bibliographic test looks at the ancient manuscripts of the Bible and asks whether the text of the Bible we have today is the same as the original? The simple answer is “yes”. There are thousands upon thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Bible, dating from the early second century down to the middle ages. When you compare what we have for the Bible with, say, what we have in terms of manuscripts for other important works of antiquity — Plato or Thucydides — it’s striking. For the Bible, we have 5,000 Greek manuscripts, hundreds of papyri, almost 350 Syriac copies (most dating to the 400s). On top of this, virtually the entire New Testament could be reproduced from quotations in the early church fathers; 32,000 such quotations exist before the Council of Nicaea in AD325, for example.
Many of these manuscripts are staggeringly early. For example, the John Rylands fragment (P52) dates to around AD120. Codex Sinaiticus dates to about 350AD and contains virtually all of the New Testament — I remember visiting the British Library a few years ago and staring at this beautiful object, just a few centimetres away from me behind a pane of glass. One felt that one was in touch with history.
Why are these manuscripts important? Because they enable us to be confident that the text of the Bible we have today is extremely accurate and close to the original. Historian and textual critic Ben Witherington has remarked that critical scholarship is about 99% certain of all of the New Testament text now — indeed, that we’re closer to the original text of the New Testament now than anytime since the first couple of centuries, so good is the scholarship.
The Internal Test
What about the historian’s second test, the internal test? This test asks whether we can determine whether the document we have before us was written by eyewitnesses. When it comes to the Bible, especially to the New Testament, things get very interesting.
First, we have multiple witnesses. Many people who are unfamiliar with the Bible tend to think of it as one book — but, of course, the Bible contains multiple books — it’s more like a library than a book. So, when we come to the New Testament, for example, we have multiple authors writing about the life of Jesus. Critical scholars would count at least six — Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and probably also “Q”, a collection of sayings of Jesus that Matthew and Luke referred to.
Furthermore, these sources are all very early. Most scholars date the Gospels to the 60s, 70s and 80s AD, although some argue that Mark, especially, is much earlier. British New Testament scholar James Crossley — who, I’d note, is not a Christian — believes Mark was written in the late 30s or early 40s — that’s within a decade of Jesus. Another very early witness is Paul, who is writing his letters between AD48 and AD65, well within the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses. Why is this important?
Because one thing historians get very excited about is multiple attestation and early dating.
To return to the Gospels, though, for a moment. Not merely are they very early, but it’s now fairly universally accepted in critical scholarship that the Gospel writers were trying to write history; in terms of genre, the Gospels are biographies. The seminal work that demonstrated this was a book called What Are the Gospels? by Richard Burridge. Interestingly, Burridge set out to disprove that the gospels are biographies but the evidence caused him to change his mind. Historian David Aune sums up the implications of this:


[Bios, ancient biography] was firmly rooted in historical fact rather than literary fiction. Thus while the Evangelists clearly had an important theological agenda, the very fact that they chose to adapt Greco-Roman biographical conventions to tell the story of Jesus indicated that they were centrally concerned to communicate what they really thought happened.”

There’s a further point here, too. If one wants to reject the Gospels as history, then one is still left with the problem of explaining the early church. It had to come from somewhere and if Jesus’ life and career didn’t play out as the Gospels claim, one has to explain where. As German historian Martin Dibelius put it: you have to posit an X big enough to explain the Y of the early church. The best explanation remains that given in the Gospels: that Jesus existed and something very remarkable happened to him.
The External Test
Finally, there’s the external evidence for the Bible, in particular archaeology. Time and time again, archaeology has confirmed that the writers of the biblical texts knew what they were talking about. Along with the writings of non-Christian historians from the first century, men like the Jewish historian, Josephus, archaeology endorses the biblical text at many points. As Millar Burrows, former professor of archaeology at Yale wrote:


On the whole … archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine. Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics.

Let me give you a few fascinating examples. First, two examples from Luke. In Acts 17:6-8, Luke uses the Greek word politarchs to describe the city officials in Thessalonica. That word doesn’t appear in classical Greek literature so for many years, critics accused Luke of making a mistake. Then archaeologists discovered a first-century arch in the town that used this very term — showing that the term was in use for government officials at the very time Luke was writing. It was a similar phenomena with Acts 18:12, where Luke uses the term “proconsul” to describe a gentleman called Gallio. That word didn’t appear either in classical literature so, again, scholars questioned Luke’s accuracy. Then an inscription was found at Delphi, dating to AD51, using the same term — and amazingly, to describe the very same official, Gallio. Once again Luke was proven to be a very accurate historian.
It’s a similar story with the other Gospel writers. For example, in John 5:1-2, the fourth Gospel writer speaks of “a pool in Jerusalem, by the Sheep Gate, called in Hebrew ‘Bethesda’, which has five porticoes”. Until the 20th century, there was no evidence outside of John’s Gospel for such a place and, again, critics questioned John’s reliability. Then in the 1930s, the pool was uncovered by archaeologists — complete with four colonnades around the edges and one across the middle.
One more example will suffice and it’s perhaps the most intriguing — the so-called “James Ossuary”. According to the Gospels — and to the Jewish historian, Josephus, James was the brother of Jesus and was killed in AD62. In 2002, a mid-first century bone box or ossuary was discovered in Jerusalem, bearing the Aramaic inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”. There is very strong evidence that the box and its inscription are authentic. Ed Keall, of the Royal Ontario Museum here in Toronto, has said “we stand by our opinion that the James Ossuary is not a forgery”. As New Testament historian Ben Witherington put it:

If, as seems probable, the ossuary found in the vicinity of Jerusalem and dated to about AD 63 is indeed the burial box of James, the brother of Jesus, this inscription is the most important extra-biblical evidence of its kind.

If we had more time, numerous other examples could be listed. The key point is this: archaeology doesn’t prove the New Testament is true. But what it does do is endorse the narratives. It shows that the biblical writings are historical and geographical in character — and thus deserve to be weighed and treated as seriously as an other texts from antiquity.

Conclusions
In the short time available to us, we’ve only been able to scratch the surface of what is a fascinating and rich area of study. But I hope in this brief survey I’ve been able to show that there are very good reasons to trust the Bible. And thus very good reasons to approach it with an open mind, willing to take what it says seriously and weigh its claims seriously.

So why read the Bible? Because from a historian’s perspective, we have good reason to trust it. Why read the Bible? Because only by reading it can you draw your own conclusions, rather than uncritically swallow somebody else’s second-hand-scepticism. Why read the Bible? Because through the pages of the four biographies in the New Testament, the gospels, one encounters a historical figure — Jesus of Nazareth — whose powerful personality continues to resonate and impact lives two thousand years on.

In find of biblical proportions, seal of Prophet Isaiah said found in Jerusalem
22 February 2018
The hand of the Prophet Isaiah himself may have created an 8th century BCE seal impression discovered in First Temple remains near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, according to Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar.
“We appear to have discovered a seal impression, which may have belonged to the prophet Isaiah, in a scientific, archaeological excavation,” said Mazar this week in a press release announcing the breathtaking discovery.
https://www.timesofisrael.com/in-find-of-biblical-proportions-proof-of-prophet-isaiah-believed-unearthed/


http://www.rzim.eu/why-trust-the-bible



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2 Re: Is the Bible Historically Accurate? on Mon Jan 04, 2016 4:28 pm

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“Critics have claimed that the Bible contains all kinds of factual errors. Is the Bible trustworthy when it speaks of historical matters?”
The Bible contains two kinds of information. Some of it can be checked; some of it cannot. For example, it is not possible to “check” scientifically the accuracy of Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” While the affirmation is not in any way inconsistent with available scientific data, at the same time the statement is one of pre-human history and therefore does not lend itself to empirical investigation.
On the other hand, the Scriptures contain hundreds of references that arise out of the background of human history. These may be tested for accuracy. If it is the case that the Bible is demonstrated to be precise in thousands of historical details, it is not unreasonable to conclude that its information in other matters is equally correct.
In fact, one of the most amazing features of the Bible is its uncanny reliability in the smallest of details. Let us note a few examples of biblical precision.
(1) During His personal ministry, Jesus once passed through the region of Samaria. Near Sychar, the Lord stopped for a brief rest at Jacob’s well. He engaged a Samaritan woman in conversation, during which He suggested that He could provide the woman with water that could perpetually quench her thirst. Misunderstanding the nature of the Master’s instruction, the woman, alluding to Jacob’s well, declared: “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep” (Jn. 4:11). The statement is quite correct, for even now, some twenty centuries later, Jacob’s well is approximately 80 feet deep — the equivalent of an eight-story building!
(2) Reflect upon another example. In Acts 10 there is the account of Peter’s visit in the city of Joppa. Luke declared that Peter was staying in the home of Simon, a tanner of animal hides. Then the historian said, almost as an afterthought, “whose house is by the seaside” (Acts 10:6). Hugh J. Schonfield, author of the infamous book, The Passover Plot (and certainly no friend of Christianity), has commented on this passage as follows:


“This is an interesting factual detail, because the tanners used sea water in the process of converting hides into leather. The skins were soaked in the sea and then treated with lime before the hair was scraped of” (The Bible Was Right, New York: The New American Library, 1959, p. 98).


(3) Consider another interesting case of Bible precision. When Paul was en route to Rome for trial, the ship upon which he sailed became involved in a terrible storm. When it eventually became apparent that the vessel was in a very dangerous circumstance, the crew cast the ship’s anchors into the water. At the same time, they “loosed the rudder bands, hoisted up the foresail, and aimed the ship towards the beach” (Acts 27:40 ).
There is an interesting and subtle point in the Greek text that is not apparent in the King James Version. The original language actually says that they “loosed the bands of the rudders” (plural – see ). This is amazingly precise, for in ancient times, ships actually possessed two paddle-rudders, not a single rudder as with modern vessels. In 1969, a submerged ancient ship was discovered in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Cyprus. An examination of the ruins gave evidence of dual rudder-oars by which the boat was steered (see National Geographic, November 1974), thus demonstrating the remarkable accuracy of Luke’s record.
The Bible can be tested — historically, geographically, scientifically, etc. And it always passes the test. Its incredible accuracy can be explained only in light of its divine inspiration.

https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/690-is-the-bible-historically-accurate

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3 TOWER OF BABEL STELE on Mon Mar 20, 2017 1:34 pm

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TOWER OF BABEL STELE

http://www.schoyencollection.com/history-collection-introduction/babylonian-history-collection/tower-babel-stele-ms-2063

The ziggurat in Babylon was originally built around the time of Hammurabi 1792-1750 BC. The restoration and enlargement began under Nabopolassar, and was finished after 43 years of work under Nebuchadnezzar II, 604-562 BC.

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9 archaeology finds that confirm the New Testament

https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2017/March-2017/9-archaeology-finds-that-confirm-the-New-Testament

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THE POPULAR HANDBOOK OF ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE



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The Internal Evidence for the Historicity of the New Testament

THE POPULAR HANDBOOK OF ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE, pg.142

In addition to the strong external evidence for the reliability of the Gospels, there is also very good internal evidence. In fact, if one knew nothing about the Bible or Christianity but discovered a New Testament in an antique book sale, he could get a strong sense of its credibility just by reading it. Here are several reasons why:

1. The writers did not try to harmonize their accounts, which shows they were not in collusion but were independent witnesses 
2. The New Testament retained texts that placed Jesus in a bad light. Someone trying to prove that Jesus was God would not have done this.
3. The writers also included difficult passages in the text (which a fraudulent author would not have done).
4. They wrote self-incriminating stories (fraudulent authors do not invent bad stories about themselves).
5. They distinguished Jesus’ words from their own (showing they were reporting, not creating, His words).
6. They did not deny their testimony under persecution or the threat of death (which weeds out the insincere).

The cumulative weight of the multiple and independent lines of testimony is overwhelming support for the historicity of the New Testament. No other book in the world has anything close to this much evidence for its authenticity.

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Jerusalem reference found on ancient wine ledger

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) seized the 2,700-year-old papyrus from thieves who had taken it from a desert cave near the Dead Sea.
Two lines in Hebrew detail the shipment of wine from the king's household.
"From the king's maidservant, from Na'arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem," it reads.
"The document represents extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah," said Dr Eitan Klein of the IAA.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/december-web-only/biblical-archaeology-top-ten-discoveries-of-2016.html?start=1

Archaeologists link remains of destroyed palace to reign of King Solomon


A MONUMENTAL palace from the era of Israel’s King Solomon has been uncovered in the ancient royal city of Gezer, sparking new hope of evidence for the elusive biblical king.

http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/archaeology/archaeologists-link-remains-of-destroyed-palace-to-reign-of-king-solomon/news-story/3240eb29a19f8b09e5377c72f15ab0d1

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Archaeological Evidence Which Proves the Bible is True

https://planetzion.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/archaeological-evidence-which-proves-the-bible-is-true/

Professor Adam Zertal, chairman of Archaeology Department of the University of Haifa, found this altar on April 6, 1980 on Mt. Ebal while doing an archaeological survey of the area. He was once an atheist, when asked about his find he replied, “We discovered this place, all covered with stones, in April 1980. At that time I never dreamt that we were dealing with the altar, because I was taught in Tel Aviv University – the center of anti-Biblical tendencies, where I learned that Biblical theories are untrue, and that Biblical accounts were written later, and the like. I didn’t even know of the story of the Joshua’s altar. But we surveyed every meter of the site, and in the course of nine years of excavation, we discovered a very old structure with no parallels to anything we had seen before. It was 9 by 7 meters, and 4 meters high, with two stone ramps, and a kind of veranda, known as the ‘sovev,’ around.” This altar is described to us in the following scriptures:

Joshua 8:30, 31
Then Joshua built an altar unto the LORD God of Israel in mount Ebal,
As Moses the servant of the LORD commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron: and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.

Deuteronomy 27:4, 5
Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister.
And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them.

Exodus 20:25, 26
And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.
Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

Adam quickly changed his beliefs and became a Christian a few years after he fully realized what he had found. Adam says that there is actually two altars on the same site, the one visible dates back around 1250 B.C. based on the pottery found, which puts it at the time of Deborah of Judges 4, during the period of the Judges. Beneath this altar, Adam found a circular altar made from unhewn stone about 6.5 feet across. This circular altar has been dated to be about 1405 B.C. which puts it just about 40 years after the time of the Exodus, which took place around 1446 BC. This circular altar has been found with the remains of kosher animals and thus eliminates any idea of it being a pagan altar. The date of 1405 B.C. was determined by the discovery of an Egyptian scarab of Tuthmose III (the scarab shown to the left in the picture below), dated to around the time of the Exodus. The scarab to the right below is actually quite rare, only five known parallels exist- one from Egypt, three from Israel and one from Cyprus. These two Egyptian scarabs found at the site are quite telling as they indirectly confirm the Exodus story exactly as the Bible says, because Mt. Ebal was one of the first settlements of the Israelites once they left Egypt, finally crossed the river Jordan and came into the promised land.

Frank Paine states convincingly that the Exodus from Egypt was 1639 BC (Not around 1446)
The 2,000 years from Adam to Abram

Solar Years BC Years of Scripture Event Age Scripture Reference
4075 Creation and fall of Adam Gen. 1-3
4028 49 Abel born at 1st Jubilee Gen. 4: 2
3995 82 Abel's death Adam 82 yrs Gen. 4: 8
3949 130 Seth born Adam 130 yrs Gen. 5: 3
3847 235 Enosh born Seth 105 yrs Gen. 5: 6
3760 325 Cainan born Enosh 90 yrs Gen. 5: 9
3692 395 Mahalaleel born Cainan 70 yrs Gen. 5: 12
3629 460 Jared born Mahalaleel 65 yrs Gen. 5: 15
3472 622 Enoch born Jared 162 yrs Gen. 5: 18
3409 687 Methuselah born Enoch 65 yrs Gen. 5: 21
3228 874 Lamech born Methuselah 187 yrs Gen. 5: 25
3052 1056 Noah born Lamech 182 yrs Gen. 5: 28
2565 1558 Shem born Noah 502 yrs Gen.11: 10
2470 1656 The Flood Noah 600 yrs Gen. 7: 11
2468 1658 Arphaxad born Shem 100 yrs Gen.11: 10
2434 1693 Salah born Arphaxad 35 yrs Gen.11: 12
2405 1723 Eber born Salah 30 yrs Gen.11: 14
2372 1757 Peleg born Eber 34 yrs Gen.11: 16
2343 1787 Reu born Peleg 30 yrs Gen.11: 18
2312 1819 Serug born Reu 32 yrs Gen.11: 20
2283 1849 Nahor born Serug 30 yrs Gen.11: 22
2255 1878 Terah born Nahor 29 yrs Gen.11: 24
2129 2008 Abram born Terah 130 yrs Gen.11: 32 & 12: 4

The 500 years from Abram to the Exodus

Solar Year BC Years of Scripture
Event
Age/Comment Scripture Reference
2129 2008 Abram born Terah 130 yrs Gen.11:32,12:4
2056 2083 Abram leaves Haran Abram 75 yrs Gen.12:1-4
2047 2093 Abram marries Hagar Ishmael conceived Gen.16:3
2046 2094 Ishmael born Abram 86 yrs Gen.16:16
2032 2108 Isaac born Abram 100 yrs Gen.21:5,17:17
2027 2113 Isaac weaned Ishmael cast out Gen.21: 8 & 14
1996 2145 Sarah's death Sarah 127 yrs Gen.23: 1
1993 2148 Marriage of Isaac Isaac 40 yrs Gen.25:20
1974 2168 Esau & Jacob born Isaac 60 yrs Gen.25:26
1848 2298 Jacob & his sons enter Egypt Jacob 130 yrs Gen.47: 9
1639 2513 The Exodus of Israel from Egypt Exodus 12:41

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Israelites in Biblical Dan Worshipped Idols – and Yahweh Too, Archaeologists Discover
Oct 31, 2018

Finds in the northern biblical city of Dan suggest that even if King Jeroboam pushed worship of golden calves and goat demons to spite Jerusalem, there was a big YHWH temple

The Ten Tribes living in the Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century B.C.E. practiced a mixed religion, but contrary to the conventional wisdom among biblical scholars, their main deity was Yahweh after all, not the Canaanite god El and his envoys, golden calves and goat-shaped demons.
New excavations headed by Dr. David Ilan and Dr. Yifat Thareani of the Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem discovered that Dan also housed Arameans and Phoenicians as well as Israelites. But the gigantic sanctuary, originally found over four decades ago, has the hallmarks of Yahwistic practice, not pagan ritual.
"Dan was ruled by Aram Damascus circa 830-770 B.C.E. We know this from both the Bible and from the Tel Dan inscription," says Ilan. "The Aramaeans practiced their cult at Dan too. The question is whether Israelite worship was carried out concurrently during this time. We still aren’t sure but this is one of our research questions."

Mainly based on the biblical narrative, scholars had thought that Yahweh became the main god in Israel only after that kingdom's obliteration by the Assyrians in 720 B.C.E. But new analysis of epigraphic, archaeological and textual evidence in Tel Dan, a key center of worship in the northern kingdom, strongly indicates that the people were worshipping Yahweh in an organized manner as early as the 9th century B.C.E.

At the time, some 2,700 years ago, the land was split between the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south, which were rivals, occasionally bitter ones. Israel's capital was Samaria but its religious centers were Bethel and Dan, while Judah's capital and religious center was Jerusalem.


A theoretical map of the region around 830 BCE. Moab is shown in purple on this map, between the Arnon and Zered rivers.

While the priests in Israel and Judah may have devoted themselves to the "one god," evidence of the people's unrepentent polytheism is rife.
"So he put out of business the foreign-god priests, whom the kings of Judah had appointed to make sacrificial smoke on the high places in the cities of Judah and the surroundings of Jerusalem, as well as those making sacrificial smoke to Baal, to the sun, to the moon, to the constellations of the zodiac, and to all the army of the heavens" - 2 Kings 23:5
However, according to the biblical story, in the north, rivalry between the two kingdoms led to a sharp deviation from the path toward monotheism.

Competing with Jerusalem
It seems that Jeroboam, the first king of Israel from around 922 B.C.E. to 901 B.C.E. (the dates are arguable) had a beef with Rehoboam, son of Solomon and king of Judah.
The priests and Levites sided with Rehoboam; fearful that his people would too, Jeroboam deliberately drove them to idol worship in the Kingdom of Israel's main cities, Bethel and Dan.


Artist's reconstruction of the temple at Dan: It looks a lot like what Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem is believed to look like

On Jeroboam's predilection for paganism ("the golden calves that Jeroboam made to be your gods" – Chronicles 13.8 ), the Bible says:

"The Levites even abandoned their pasturelands and property and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them as priests of the Lord when he appointed his own priests for the high places and for the goat and calf idols he had made." 2 Chronicles 14-15

On why Jeroboam would push idolatry, the Bible says:

"If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices at the house of Yahweh in Jerusalem, the heart of this people will also return to their lord, King Rehoboam of Judah… the king made two golden calves and said to the people: It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here is your God, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt." – Kings 12

God's severe view of Jeroboam's faithlessness is described in the Book of Kings 13:1-5 which evocatively describes his punishment: a withered hand.
Mainly based on all this, some modern scholars have been assuming that a key distinction between Israel and Judah lay in fundamental beliefs: that the priests and people of the north, Israel, worshipped El and pagan idols while the Judahite kingdom was faithful to Yahweh.

It's starting to look like the biblical account was heavily biased.



Heraldic symbol of Dan or the ruler of Dan in the 8th century BCE. Nelson Glueck / School of Biblical Archaeology

First of all, Chronicles apparently dates to the 4th – 2th century B.C.E., so it was written hundreds of years after the events described. Also, it would have been written by scribes in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. The ethics of writing history accurately did not exist then, and they may have had an interest in trashing their long-dead brethren of Israel. True, the writer acknowledges
Now the new analysis of the evidence excavated under the late Avraham Biran at Tel Dan indicates that in fact, both kingdoms worshipped Yahweh, as well as pagan idols.

Aerial view of Tell Dan. Nelson Glueck / School of Biblical Archaeology

Immadiyaw was here
It is the preponderance of evidence that suggests Yahwistic worship in Dan, the archaeologists explain.

Heraldic symbol of Dan or the ruler of Dan in the 8th century BCE. Nelson Glueck / School of Biblical Archaeology
Suggestive finds include seal impressions with Yahwistic names, temple architecture, and artifacts typical of Yahwistic temple rituals. They also found massive evidence of animal sacrifice at the Tel Dan temple, of species associated with Yahwistic worship at the First Temple in Jerusalem.

“The significance of what we have in the Tel Dan temple is probably greater than most people realize,” says Jonathan Greer, associate professor of Old Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and Tel Dan staff member who has recently reevaluated some of the evidence.

The first clue to the northern kingdom's bent lies in the inhabitant’s very names.
Yahwistic names were spelled differently by geography, due to differences in the dialects of north and south. In the south, the Yahwistic element was spelled “yahu” (yod-heh-vav), whereas in the north, it was spelled “yaw” (yod-vav) due to the contraction of the diphthong—both are shortened forms of YHWH.

Seal impression with names that include the element yaw [yod-vav – a shortened form of YHWH] invoking the name of their protective deity abound at Dan. For example, stamped seals dating to the 9th and 8th century BCE, carrying the names Immidayaw and Zechariyaw have been found.

If the primary tutelary deity they were worshipping was El, the personal name would have included the element El, and been Immanue-el and not Immida-yaw (meaning "YHWH is with me").
Of the two seal impressions with the name Immadiyaw, one was on the handle of a jar in a structure about 15 meters north of the altar room. Immadiyaw may have been an officiating functionary at the sanctuary, the archaeologists suggest.

The spelling Immadiyaw is typical of the north; this same name spelled the southern way (Immadiyahu) was found on an ostracon from Horvat Uza in the Negev, Greer says, adding that it was almost certainly a completely different man.

Immadiyaw parallels a similar name with an El theophoric, Immanu-el (Emmanuel), “God is with us,” Greer also adds.
Another jar found in the royal storerooms was stamped with the name Zechariyaw (meaning "Yahweh remembers"). Some wonder if this might be King Zechariah of 2 Kings 14:29.

The third potential Yahwistic name was on a sherd, in an 8th century B.C.E. context, with an inscription that read “[belonging to] Amoz...” but the sherd breaks right after the z. The name could have been “Amaziah,” another Yahwistic name (Amoz is short for Amaziah, just as Ben is short for Benjamin).

Rival temple in Dan
The city of Dan goes back at least 6,000 years. In the biblical period, Dan apparently posed competition to Jerusalem as a center for worship.
The main discoveries at Tel Dan, also known as Tel Qadi, date back to 1966, when Biran found the sanctuary ruins. His excavations unearthed a large platform, small altars that were flat-topped and four-horned, seven-spouted oil lamps, perforated incense cups, and cult stands.

Until the recent discoveries, the thinking had been that the sanctuary in Dan was used by idol-worshippers, because the Danites under Jeroboam were supposed to be pagan. But for one thing, the architecture of the sacred precinct is in keeping with biblical descriptions of Solomon’s Temple, including the proportions of the precinct and construction techniques.
The archaeologists found a massive altar base, a huge 4.75 meters square, with one of the altar's four horns. They estimate that the altar itself stood 3 meters high (the altar in Solomon's Temple is said to have been 4.5 meters high).


Aerial of temple precinct at Tel Dan showing side chambers, temple platform, and central altar locations

In view of the altar's height, some means of approach was essential. In fact Biran found two intact staircases, one facing the right-hand side of the precinct and the other the entrance (though the dating is still under investigation).
The position of the staircases or ramps corresponds with the Bible's directives to priests when making burnt offerings at the altar. After slaughtering the animal, they would approach the altar from the right to arrange and burn the carcass (Leviticus 1:5,11; 4:4; 15:24). Then they would descend toward the entrance to deposit the ashes (Leviticus 1:16; 6:3).
If anything, it seems that the position of approaches in the Jerusalem temple deviated from the biblical dictate. The approach to the Jerusalem altar was from the left, as some scholars reconstruct from later examples.


Replica of the shovels used to remove ashes from the altar 

Possibly the tradition of approaching the altar from the right was actually a northern Yahwistic tradition that ended up in the Bible, though most people assume the Temple traditions were created by southern Yahwists, centered in Jerusalem.

The altar kit
Another discovery that shrieks of Yahwistic worship in Dan, as described in the Bible, was the discovery of an "altar kit" in one of the rooms.
Excavators under Biran uncovered a bronze bowl, a pair of identical shovels, a long-handled shovel like those that held incense, a sunken pot filled with burned animal remains, and a long iron handle that may have come from a fork.

"What is remarkable is that these five elements—a bowl, pair of shovels, incense pan, ash pot, and fork—are listed, often as a group, in descriptions of sacrificial paraphernalia in the Bible such as in Exodus 27:3. We just don't get this sort of thing in archaeology too often (if ever!), where we read a list of items in the Bible that should be in an 'altar kit,' then dig them up right next to each other beside an altar like this," says Greer.

"Build an altar of acacia wood...Make a horn at each of the four corners, so that the horns and the altar are of one piece, and overlay the altar with bronze. Make all its utensils of bronze—its pots to remove the ashes, and its shovels, sprinkling bowls, meat forks and firepans" - Exodus 27:1-3


The temple utensils. The copper equipment was made in the form of cans and shovels for the ashes, forks for handling the flesh, and fire holders.

“Archaeological finds in the northern biblical city of Dan look like they came straight out the Bible's ritual checklist”, says Ilan.


Metal bowl for catching the blood of the sacrificial animal. 


If the archaeologists are right about what it is, the bowl is extraordinary - the only example ever found of a “blood bowl” (mizraq) in excavation.
By extension the bowl is potentially the earliest evidence for specialized rituals involving blood in Yahwistic worship. The sanctity of the blood was heavily emphasized in ancient Israel, and animal sacrifices, particularly those offered on the Day of Atonement, were typically in atonement for sin. The priests would pour the blood of sacrificed animals at the base of the altar and dab it on the altar horns (Leviticus 9:9). The high priest in Israel would also take a token portion of the blood into the Most Holy of the earthly sanctuary (Leviticus 16:14).


In the priests' quarters, right-sided portions: Meat-bearing elements from right hindlimbs and forelimbs of sheep and goats outnumbered those from the left side of animals. 

Tell-tale toe bones and turtledoves
Another discovery was thousands upon thousands of animal bones, found in the temple precinct. Many were in concentrated deposits, allowing the archaeologists to compare the area of deposits as well as the type of animal remains.

They found a striking difference between the bone deposits in the western chamber, where the altar kit was found, and the room where the priests officiated.
“My analysis of a series of concentrated animal bone deposits revealed several patterns of non-random distribution," explains Greer. . "The strongest was that, looking at the bones from meat-bearing portions of hindlimbs and forelimbs from sheep and goats, I noticed that there were far more right-sided portions in the western chambers, an area associated with priests.
"This called to mind the biblical prescriptions for priests to receive right-sided portions as their priestly due from certain sacrifices such as in Leviticus 7:32-33."

Israelites' offerings to Yahweh included bulls, rams, male goats, turtledoves, and young pigeons (Leviticus 1:3,5,10,14), The offerer laid his hand on the animal's head (Leviticus 1:4). The animal was then slaughtered and the blood, representing life, was sprinkled upon the burnt offering altar (Leviticus 1:5.11). The carcass would then be skinned and cut up into its parts, its intestines and shanks would be washed, and the head and other body parts were all placed on the altar (the officiating priests received portions).

Furthermore, 88% of the toe bones (three small bones that extend into the hoof sheep or goats) that the archaeologists found were in the western chamber, which could be because of the payment of skins from the burnt offering to the officiating priests. Hooves would have been left attached to the hides.


Animal bones found at Tel Dan in the context of the temple, including the toe bones

Pagan at heart
Evidence of "non-orthodox" religious perspectives can be found all over ancient Israel and Judah, especially pertaining to the incorporation of the veneration of Asherah (or “the asherah”), a Canaanite goddess of fertility.
The bible is scathing. 2 Kings 23:5, 8 mentions "high places in the cities of Judah and the surroundings of Jerusalem ... from Geba [northern border] as far as Beer-sheba [southern border]."
At these high places, the Israelites made "sacrificial smoke to Baal, to the sun and to the moon and to the constellations of the zodiac and to all the army of the heavens." They had houses for "male temple prostitutes . . . in the house of Yahweh" and offered their children "through the fire to Molech."—2 Kings 23:4-10

But at Dan, these high places were likely dedicated to Yahweh.

Archaeologists have found hundreds of figurines in Jerusalem and Judah, mainly in the ruins of private homes. Most were depictions of a nude female with exaggerated breasts. Scholars identify these figurines with the fertility goddesses Ashtoreth and Asherah, talismans to help conception and childbirth. In Tel Dan, a so-called "Judahite Pillar Figurine" was found next to the main platform.
One can sympathize with the angry desperation of the embattled prophets, who clearly felt their "orthodox" position was a minority opinion.
But cumulative evidence indicates that whether or not Jeroboam discouraged Yahweh worship while deifying golden bovines and demon goats, in Dan, at least some people also worshipped Yahweh.
The seal impressions with Yahwistic names, the architecture, the artifacts, and the bones argue the case. Add the biblical descriptions of Tel Dan as an important pilgrimage site rivaling Jerusalem, and the prophets, regarding whom Yahwistic worship is assumed.

"It may suggest a more robust and comprehensive Yahwism in the northern kingdom, 'from Dan to Bethel,' if not in the whole of ancient Israel, 'from Dan to Beersheva'. We are used to thinking of the kingdoms as completely separate and writing the north off as a kingdom of idol worshipers due to a cursory read of the biblical accounts," Greer says.
"It is a shame that most tourist groups head to the sacred precinct at Dan to illustrate the idolatry of Jeroboam’s golden calf rather than as our best parallel to the First Temple, with evidence from animal bones, architecture, epigraphy, and artifacts to boot," he adds.

In fact, the finds at Dan correlate so strongly to biblical texts, even more so – possibly – than the finds in Jerusalem, that a thought is begged, Greer says. Perhaps it was the Israelites of Dan in the north, not the Judahites in Jerusalem, who were the source of some Judaic traditions.

https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium.MAGAZINE-israelites-in-biblical-dan-worshipped-idols-and-yahweh-too-1.6612851?=&ts=_1543096864426

More:
https://patternsofevidence.com/blog/2018/11/24/evidence-worship-israels-god/?fbclid=IwAR1VctT6YzjQ5yaEvEC7t91xdAzV6AICeMCTGq6AE9C7lZBASPM0biW2lJI



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Isaiah the Prophet, Man or Biblical Myth: The Archaeological Evidence

Finding seal marks ostensibly from Isaiah the Prophet and Hezekiah within mere feet of each other in Jerusalem is intriguing; so are other seals of other non-visionary Isaiahs found in Israel from that time

A 2,700-year-old seal impression on clay unearthed in Jerusalem this February piqued enormous interest, after its finder, the leading Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, said it may have been the personal seal of Isaiah the Prophet himself. Biblical scholars have been quarreling ever since.


The seal of Prophet Isaiah? It definitely says the name Isaiah, and has the first three of the four letters in the Hebrew word for Prophet 

The ancient Hebrew script, engraved with a sharp point, says Yeshayahu NBY, Mazar deciphered.

Yeshayahu is the Hebrew form of Isaiah: that much is clear. The question is about the three letters following the name: nun-bet-yod, "NBY".


King Hezekiah of Judah's seal. Note the pagan element of the winged sun and the ankh: The symbols may show that the seal was created late in the king's life and shows Assyrian influenceOuria Tadmor 

That could spell the start of the four-letter Hebrew word navi, meaning "prophet," if we assume that there was a fourth letter, aleph, which broke off. Mazar thinks that could well be the case, and that they may have found proof that Isaiah the Prophet, contemporary King Hezekiah, really existed. But as with so many artifacts from antiquity, the truth is far from categorical.

Finding Isaiah

In antiquity, seals were used as signatures to mark ownership, authenticity, or agreement. The name of the person would often be followed by the name of the person’s father, ancestral location, or profession. Finding a personal name alone was the exception.

Unfortunately, the clay bulla (seal impression) that Mazar found was damaged. The second word is broken off after three letters, NBY (or NVY: the letters B and V are the same in Hebrew).
To be the word "prophet," the missing fourth letter would have to be an aleph. But who knows if it was? That is just one reason many take issue with interpreting NBY as "prophet," Nadav Na'aman, professor of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, tells Haaretz.

Alan Millard, professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages at Liverpool University, is also skeptical, for another reason. The word “prophet” would not have followed the personal name without the definite article "the" (ha in Hebrew), Millard argues. So, if it belonged to the prophet, the bulla should have read "Yeshayahu HaNavi" - i.e. HNBY.

“There are other Hebrew seals or impressions which have a profession after the owners’ names and they all have the definite article (HSPR, meaning “the scribe”, for instance)," Millard points out.
Mazar herself agrees that rather than designating occupation, the "NBY" could have been part or all of a personal name. Unless we find more impressions of this seal, we will never know.

Isaiah the son
For his part, Na'aman suggests that the second word, NBY, could be a Middle East patronymic. In other words, he postulates that the impression originally read "Isaiah (son of) NBY" – for instance, possibly "Isaiah son of Nebai" – another name from biblical sources.

Dr. Eilat Mazar, displaying the seal of King HezekiahEmil salman

If Naaman is right, the Hebrew word for "son of," ben (BN), is missing. Millard disagrees, feeling that the seal would have plenty of space to add the letters "BN" for "son of".
What can be said is that the name "Nebai" existed in biblical times and meant "from the city of Nob", which was a priestly town not far from Jerusalem, though we aren't sure today where exactly it was.
The Book of Nehemiah describes how the children of Israel confessed their sins to the Lord, praised him, enumerated his achievements (for instance, "You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws" – Nehemiah 9:13). The Israelites then entered into a covenant with the Lord that was written out and sealed by the princes, Levites and priests. Among the many, many names mentioned as having signatory rights on that occasion was one "Nebai," listed among the leaders of the people (Nehemiah 10:19).
By the way, if this Isaiah really was the son of this Nebai, then he wasn’t the prophet, if only on the grounds that the prophet said his father was named Amoz.
Incredibly, archaeologists have found four sets of seal impressions featuring the name Nebai, but three are non-provenanced – meaning, the researchers can't be sure where they originated.

The fourth was unearthed in Lachish, and the impression gained is that Nebai is indeed a personal name. (The four seal impressions are described in "Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals," originally written by Nahman Avigad and revised by Benjamin Sass: Nos. 227, 379, 530 and 693, and see p. 513.)

Lastly, this wasn't the first time that archaeologists found the name "Isaiah" outside the context of the Bible in a contemporary inscription. The Avigad-Sass "Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals" lists three seals (Nos. 212, 213, and 214) belonging to men named Isaiah, complete with patronymics: the three had different fathers, none of whom was Amoz.
What can be said that the Hebrew script on Mazar's seal impression is typical of the 8th century B.C.E., the period Isaiah was supposed to have lived.
With the last word not said, who then was Isaiah the Prophet, anyway?

Who was Isaiah?
Millard for one sees no reason to doubt that Isaiah was a real person who lived in the reigns of Sargon II, then Sennacherib – that being the Assyrian king who marched through Judah, conquering 46 of King Hezekiah's fortified cities, but who mysteriously withdrew after reaching Jerusalem just as victory over the cowed Judahite king seemed assured.


Assyrian soldiers in battle: They swept over the land of Israel, vanquishing 46 of Hezekiah's cities - but suddenly, dolded the siege of Jerusalem and left Getty Images IL

Millard's indicator lies in how Sargon's name is spelled in the Book of Isaiah.

Isaiah was a contemporary of Sargon II, who ruled from 722 to 705 B.C.E. (Isaiah 20:1-2), the prophet himself says in the biblical narrative.
In Isaiah 20:1, the Assyrian king's name is spelled SRGN, which is the Aramaic version. The Assyrians spoke Aramaic (a language very like Hebrew, originally spoken by the Aramaeans that would eventually become the international language for trade in Assyria and Babylon too).


The oldest-known testimony to the Jewish Exile in Babylon in 587 B.C.E., naming names. Ardon Bar Hama, Cindy and David Sofer Collection

We know the Assyrians spelled Sargon the same way, SRGN, from an Aramaic seal imprint found at Khorsabad, the site of the king's new palace near Nineveh, Millard explains.
If the Book of Isaiah was a later artifact, written or revised during the Jews' Babylonian exile, Sargon would presumably have been written the Babylonian way – "SHRKN."

Scourge of kings

In the first verse of his book, Isaiah introduces himself as “Isaiah son of Amoz” and tells us that he served as a prophet “during the reigns of Uzziah Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (Isaiah 1:1).


Seal found in Omrit, which seems to date to the time of Sargon II. Tel-Hai College

If so, this means that Isaiah was active no less than 46 years, probably beginning his career at the end of Uzziah's reign around 743 B.C.E.
According to the Bible, this was a period of international tension and inner turmoil. Political unrest was rife, bribery tainted the courts, and hypocrisy was tearing the religious fabric of society. Even some Judahite kings persisted with pagan worship, not caviling at human sacrifice:

"Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and also made idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his children in the fire" (2 Chronicles 28:1-3; and the list of Ahaz's sins goes on. Judah is punished for Ahaz's sins.)
There are other elaborations of pagan worship by the Judahic kings in 2 Kings 16:5-8 and Isaiah 7:1-12, for example.

Isaiah, who seemed to have been quite outspoken even to kings, did not spare them his rhetoric, calling the rulers of Judah “dictators of Sodom” (Isaiah 1:10).


Ancient figurines believed to represent devotion to gods other than YHWH in ancient Israel.Yaron Kaminsky

Secular records and archaeological finds in Judah and Jerusalem support Isaiah’s account of the religious and political affairs in Judah at the time, by and large.
Archaeologists have found hundreds of terracotta pagan figurines in Jerusalem and Judah, mainly in the ruins of private homes. Most were nude females with exaggerated breasts, which some scholars identify with fertility goddesses such as Asherah - talismans aiding in conception and childbirth. (Others argue that they bear no signs of divinity.)
At some "high places," so-called bamah, a sort of open-air altar dedicated to sacrifices to Yahweh, archaeologist have found inscriptions saying, “I bless you by Yahweh of Samaria and by his Asherah,” and another says, “I bless you by Yahweh of Teman and by his Asherah!” Namely, YHWH, God of the Jews.

No toady Isaiah

Although Isaiah may not have been popular with all of the kings of Judah, he seemed to have got along with some, not that he was necessarily a bearer of cheer. When King Hezekiah fell gravely ill, Isaiah came to him and told him he was going to die (Isaiah 38:1).
King Hezekiah, who ruled from around 727 to 686/7 B.C.E., was one of the more important kings of Judah, and he seems to have tolerated the influence of the opinionated prophet. Nothing less than the king's own seal imprint seems to have been found in 2009, during Mazar's excavations in Jerusalem. In fact the recent “Isaiah seal" was found just a few feet from the Hezekiah seal mark.


City of David: The seals ostensibly of King Hezekiah and Prophet Isaiah were found within 10 feet of one another. Olivier Fitoussi

(Several examples of bullae imprinted by seals bearing Hezekiah’s name appeared on the antiquities market before Mazar found the one in situ in Jerusalem. There was more than one seal inscribed ‘Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, king of Judah’: the seals were probably delegated to high officials. We know Assyrian kings’ seals were so used.)

The discovery of the "Isaiah seal" so nearby the king's does not prove the theory that the "Isaiah seal" was the seal impression of Isaiah the Prophet himself, who was an adviser to the king, as Mazar herself observes. But it is intriguing.


Portrait de Lord George Byron (1778-1824)

During Hezekiah's reign, the kingdom was invaded by King Sennacherib of Assyria, an event described in detail (Isaiah 36-37) and corroborated by the extra-biblical account inscribed in the Annals of Sennacherib Prism, the Rassam Cylinder and also Histories, written by the 5th century B.C.E. Greek Herodotus. Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem was so dramatic that it was still inspiring writers eons later, including Dante and Lord Byron:
The Assyrians came down like the wolf on the fold, and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, when the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee" – Lord Byron

Isaiah the scribe?

Not only did Isaiah seem to have been close to the kings of Judah, having access to Ahaz and Hezekiah: he also seemed to have had training in scribal skills.
Isaiah was evidently familiar with the way scribes worked in 8th -century B.C.E. Judah, such as using wax-covered wooden tablets as instant notebooks, and only later copying the text onto papyrus or leather (which may have been more common, as papyrus had to be imported from Egypt): "Now come, write it upon a tablet with them, and inscribe it even in a book..." (Isaiah 30:Cool.


Assyrian god 

“Isaiah was a member of the upper class in Judah and could well have been able to write and read,” says Millard. In fact he is convinced that writing was widespread in Israel and Judah in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E. The sheer number of sites with texts, the quantity of short texts and the multitude of seals and impressions bearing their owners' names should dispel any notion that writing was rare, Millard argues.


Writing on pottery, known as ostraca, unearthed in a fort in Arad, Israel, and dated to about 600 B.C.E., shortly before Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem 

It bears adding that a lot of historians and archaeologists do not agree that reading and writing were commonplace 3,000 years ago, but many do. If the Judahite scribes were doing menial legal and administrative duties such as making lists, setting out legal deals and writing letters – Millard for one thinks it reasonable to expect some to have spent time writing other texts, as was done in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Hebrew compositions found on ancient ostraca (pottery fragments) and walls (they had graffiti then too) prove that somebody at least was writing things other than laundry lists and praise to the king. One ostracon found in the Israeli desert outpost of Arad bears part of a literary text. Another from the fort at Horvat Uzza is of literary nature, possibly a sapient work by a local author.
Elsewhere, at Kuntillet Ajrud in the Sinai, lines of a prophetic verse written on wall plaster have been dated to the early 8th century B.C.E.

Isaiah may not have been a professional scribe per se, but some scholars assume that he was well versed, not only delivering his prophecies orally but writing them down. Na'aman however begs to note that there are no other examples of prophets who delivered their prophecy in a written form.

Drawing from Kuntillet Ajrud, an Israelite outpost in Southern Negev, 8th century B.C.E. Alamy

“Jeremiah is the only prophet in the days of the Kings who is recorded as having his prophecies written down,” Millard adds.

Revelation: Predicting the Messiah

Whether Isaiah is fact or figment is a matter of interest to both Jews and Christians, since among other things Isaiah foretold a number of details about the coming of the Messiah.
It is a paragraph by Isaiah that has become one of the most controversial passages in the Old Testament. As the King James Version translates Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son."
More modern translations take issue with the translation of the Hebrew word alma as "virgin," arguing that it merely means "young woman".
Isaiah also foretold that the Messiah would be a descendent of David (Isaiah 11:1-5). He predicted that the Messiah would not be accepted by the majority of Israel and instead be a “stone of stumbling” to them (Isaiah 8:14,15).
In the book of Isaiah, the Messiah prophetically says: “My back I gave to the strikersmy face did not conceal from humiliating things and spit” (Isaiah 50:6). He even gave details of the Messiah's death, foretelling: “He will make his burial place even with the wicked ones, and with the rich class in death” (Isaiah 53:9).
Finally Isaiah spoke of the meaning of the Messiah's death:
The righteous one, my servant, will bring a righteous standing to many people; and their errors he himself will bear” (Isaiah 53:8,11).
Many Christians today identify the Messiah with Jesus Christ, and view Isaiah's prophecies regarding the Messiah as fulfilled by the works and life of Jesus Christ.

Victory by rodent

For Jews, Isaiahic prophecies of Exile and Restoration attest to his divine inspiration. He foretold that Assyria would not dethrone the kings of Judah and destroy Jerusalem – but Babylon would.
When Assyria "flooded" Judah "up to the neck", Isaiah gave King Hezekiah the comforting message that the Assyrian forces wouldn't take Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:7,Cool.
Ultimately, the prophet was right. Assyrian accounts describe how Sennacherib surrounded, besieged and conquered 46 of Hezekiah's fortified walled cities, and seized 200,150 people and all kinds of domestic animals as spoils of war. Sennacherib mockingly describes how he trapped Hezekiah:

“Himself [Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage”.
The Assyrian leader imposed a heavy tribute of 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver and all kind of luxury items – as well as the king's daughters, palace women and singers. The annals tell how Hezekiah dispatched messengers to deliver the tribute.

But just as victory seemed to be at hand, Sennacherib suddenly lifted the siege and did not depose Hezekiah from the Judahite throne.
Even the ancients puzzled over why the Assyrians did not capture Jerusalem despite his reputation for mercilessness.
Could Assyrian ambitions have been tamed by the mouse? The Greek historian Herodotus tells us, based on tales told him by Egyptian priests:
During the night a horde of field mice gnawed quivers and their bows and the handles of shields, with the result that many [Assyrian soldiers] were killed, fleeing unarmed the next day” – Herodotus 2.141.
Mice were a symbol of pestilence in the ancient world, and may have been employed here allegorically. But Herodotus' story is that mouse attack devastated the Assyrians outside Jerusalem and the rest is, well, perhaps history.
Or, perhaps the Assyrian forces were decimated by a pestilence carried by rodent. Or something else.
Ultimately, however, Jerusalem was captured by the Persian king Cyrus in 587 B.C.E. – an event also predicted by the prophet (Isaiah 45:1,2).

How many Isaiahs were there?

The issue of prophecy is one thing that has caused many scholars to question the authorship of the Book of Isaiah.


A fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls at an Israel Antiquities Authority conservation laboratory in Jerusalem, October 19, 2010. 

In the 12th century, the Jewish commentator Abraham ibn Ezra suggested that the second half of the book, from Chapter 40, was written by somebody else who lived during the post-Isaiah period of the Babylonian exile.
Today many scholars believe that as many as three Deutero-Isaiahs may have contributed later than the 6th century B.C.E., during or after the exile. That would explain the "prophecies" of Judah's desolation.
It bears adding that in the Isaiah manuscript among the roughly 2,200-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls, Chapter 40 begins on the last line of a column and ends in the next column. There is no sign of change in writer or division in the book at that point.

Then there is the testimony of first-century Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus, who not only indicates that the prophecies in Isaiah pertaining to Cyrus were written in the 8th century B.C.E. – but also says that Cyrus was aware of these prophecies.

“These things Cyrus knew,” Josephus writes, “from reading the book of prophecy which Isaiah had left behind two hundred and ten years earlier.”
According to Josephus, knowledge of these prophecies may even have contributed to Cyrus’ willingness to send the Jews back to their homeland. As Josephus writes: Cyrus was “seized by a strong desire and ambition to do what had been written.” (Jewish Antiquities, Book XI, chapter 1, paragraph 2).

“I have no difficulty in positing a single author for the Book of Isaiah on grounds of faith. If we allow that books might be revised, then that could account for the otherwise awkward appearance of the name Cyrus,” Millard explains.
Was Isaiah a historic figure with prophetic powers? The authors of the Gospels thought so, crediting Isaiah with writing the book, and so did Josephus, and Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira, the Jerusalemite sage who wrote in the 2nd century B.C.E.

These writers may not have been contemporary, but they weren't 850 years in delay, basing their assumptions on medieval manuscripts from the 12th century C.E., as some modern biblical scholars today tend to do.
Did the clay bulla found in Jerusalem belong to Isaiah the prophet of the 8th century B.C.E.? As he himself exclaimed in his book, “Here I am, Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8 ). Who knows, maybe that did happen, and we will find solid evidence of his existence one day.

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11 Re: Is the Bible Historically Accurate? on Sat Nov 24, 2018 4:16 pm

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Is This Where the Israelites Camped on Their Way to Canaan 3,200 Years Ago?

Stone structures found in the Jordan Valley wasteland may have been erected by the Israelites crossing, very slowly, into Canaan, archaeologists postulate


How did ancient Israel come to be? Did the early Israelites reach Canaan from the eastern wilderness by crossing the Jordan River opposite Jericho, as the Book of Joshua says? Or did the Israelites originate in Canaan in the first place, as part of the indigenous population?

No archaeological evidence has ever been found of the migration of the Israelites from the wilderness of Sinai via the Jordan Valley to the fertile land of Canaan, as described in the Bible. Nor has evidence of the pitched battles the Israelites were said to have had, as described by the Prophet Joshua, with the locals, whether in Jericho or elsewhere.

It is not odd that a migrating people would not leave evidence behind. By definition, nomads travel light and don’t build permanent structures. Except that some of the Middle Eastern ones did exactly that – live in tents themselves, but make stone fencing for their beasts. Today’s Bedouin tend to do the same thing.





And now archaeologists are excavating strange ruins previously found in inhospitable parts of the Jordan Valley, hoping to prove or disprove the theory suggested by the late archaeologist Prof. Adam Zertal of Haifa University: That the stone structures found there were erected by the ancient Israelites as they slowly crossed into Canaan 3,200 years ago.

Interestingly, if the Israelites did build these structures, they may have done so not to shelter themselves but their livestock, says Prof. David Ben-Shlomo of Ariel University.

A horrible place to live

The Jordan Valley is a stretch along the Dead Sea Transform, the yawning crack in the earth formerly known as the Great Rift Valley. Stretching over 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee, the valley is long, narrow, deep – and hot and dry. One side of the valley is in Israel and the West Bank, the other in Jordan.

This is not an inviting place to live on a permanent basis. Temperatures in the Jordan Valley can easily reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer and annual rainfall is wretched, at 100 to 200 millimeters (4 to 8 inches) a year.

Archaeologists therefore assumed that, given other options, people would not choose to settle in the Jordan Valley, except in spots fed by oases like Jericho – which is one of the oldest-known cities in the world. But north of it is precious little settled life, because the conditions are so nasty.

Yet a meticulous survey of 1,000 square miles of the western part of the valley, headed by Zertal and his team from 1978 onward, found the remains of hundreds of ancient settlements in the Jordan Valley. (One seems to be shaped like a foot, with toes and all.)

Of the hundreds, Zertal estimated that about 70 had been erected in the early Iron Age. That is, about 3,200 years ago, which is when the ancient Israelites were said to have been led by the Prophet Joshua from the wilderness to fertile Canaan, where summer temperatures were more likely to be in the 30s.



Khirbet el-Mastarah: Could have provided convenient place to rest for a whole people on the move The Jordan Valley Excavation Project

No signs of the builders’ identity have been found as yet. The only reasons to associate the structures in the bitterly inhospitable valley with the ancient Israelites are their location and the estimated timing of their erection.

But Ben-Shlomo and Ralph K. Hawkins of Averett University, Virginia, are continuing where Zertal left off: they are excavating the sites, hoping to find more clues to their provenance and use.

They began with a large and very strange settlement called Khirbet el Mastarah (which could be loosely translated as “hidden ruins”).

While today the only sign of life there is the occasional Bedouin shepherd passing by with their herd, Mastarah seems to have once housed a large Iron Age village, says Ben-Shlomo.

It is the oddity of the settlement’s location that begs thoughts about its founders.

A small structure excavated at Khirbet el-Mastarah with walls made of standing stones: Maybe it corralled the ancient Israelites' domestic animals 

And how exactly does a significant village with stone houses square with the idea that the builders were a people on the move?

Strangely empty structures


The ancient mound of Jericho (Tell e-Sultan): It was built on a water source and there's precious little settlement in the arid wastes to the north of it in the Jordan Valley 

Khirbet el Mastarah is 8 kilometers north of Jericho and 2 kilometers from the outlet of a spring named 'Uja (or 'Auja). The whole Jordan Valley area north of Jericho is pretty miserable, says Ben-Shlomo: No reason for people to have decided to spend their lives eking out a living there. So there were few “fixed” towns. Yet one was Mastarah.

The mysteries at Mastarah are multiple. One is that it wasn’t built by a spring, as far as we can tell, yet seems to have developed into a respectable hamlet, some 2.5 acres square.


An aerial view of an early Iron Age site in the Jordan Valley found by Prof. Adam Zertal, nicknamed ‘Sandal’ site due to the shape of its confining wall: A sign of the Israelite crossing into Canaan?

A second oddity is that no sign of human habitation was found inside the stone structures, with the exception of grain grinding stones that could have been placed there later, or kept there.

What few pottery sherds were found lay outside the structures – which is spectacularly unhelpful to archaeologists trying to date a site. “Maybe somebody came by 1,000 years later and left them there,” Ben-Shlomo points out.

The archaeologists are, therefore, tapping other advanced techniques to date the site: they sampled soil beneath the walls to test with optically stimulated luminescence analysis – a technology used to date ancient materials based on the buildup of electrons that get trapped over the years and are released by exposure to light – and expect to get the findings in some months.

In normal towns, broken pottery sherds are found inside the houses, not outside. Yet that anomaly could be explained in a number of ways.


A domestic structure at the site of Uja el-Foqa, near Khirbet el-Mastarah The Jordan Valley Excavation Project

The less likely possibility is theft over the generations since the town’s abandonment: robbing sites of antiquity goes back to, well, antiquity. However, Ben-Shlomo points out that thieves might steal whole pots but wouldn’t help themselves to fragments. Those would have remained behind.

A second possibility is that the pottery remains were washed away: a hot dry valley area is a recipe for flash flooding and the ruins had been on the surface, not buried under sand, the archaeologist notes.

A third possibility is that the structures were occupied by people for a short time, which fits with the theory of a migratory people taking a break for a decade or two.

A fourth possibility is that stone structures were for the animals, while the people themselves, as befits nomads, lived in tents.

The archaeologists hope to see whether the “homes” actually housed goats and the like by chemical analysis of the ground inside. Theoretically, if dung had accrued in them, the ground will, even thousands of years later, be richer in phosphorus.

There is precedence. Ancient and modern Near Eastern Bedouin, who tended to nomadic lifestyles, also seem to have lived in tents but to have housed their animals in stone compounds – to protect their precious livestock from rustlers.

But Mastarah’s key anomaly is where it was built. It nestles between a small hill to the south and the foothills in the northwest. It was built on a low spur 40 meters below sea level between two small tributaries of Wadi Nabiris, which is now dry.

In short, the settlement was topographically isolated. Its very name, Mastarah, means “hidden” in both Arabic and Hebrew.

Locating a new settlement not adjacent to a water source or a main land route and concealed from its surroundings is highly unusual. It could imply its inhabitants were a new population in the region, possibly hiding from a local hostile population.


The Jordan River, in the Jordan Valley, near the modern Abdallah Bridge: Away from water, the land is inhospitable 

So it is possible that the ancient Israelites did come from the wilderness, did cross the Jordan Valley – and then stayed awhile, Ben-Shlomo explains. While the environs were not paradisal, at least there were not many people. The weary Israelites could rest, even for a generation or two, build up strength and then continue on.

Fortified city on a hilltop

Next year, the researchers plan to excavate the nearby site of ‘Uja el-Foqa, which lies on a prominent hill overlooking the Jericho Valley, from which the 'Uja spring can be controlled, Ben-Shlomo says.

The survey showed the site to be fortified, meaning it had strong syrrounding walls designed to drive any besieging enemy to despair.  It has been dated it to the Iron Age as well – around 1,000 to 586 or 587 B.C.E. It seems to have had at least two phases of occupation.

'Uja el-Foqa has dozens of structures, some up to two meters in height, as well as a casemate wall. The ancient town could reasonably have been a regional administrative center for the Kingdom of Judah, since it controls an important water source and is one of the only large fortified sites from this period in the region.

Based on its location, Zertal suspected that 'Uja el-Foqa was the biblical town of Ataroth, which is mentioned in the description of the Manasseh-Ephraim boundary in Joshua 16:5 (note, tellingly, that it is on a hilltop and the Hebrew word ateret means “crown”).

“We plan a large-scale excavation of the site and will try to examine the nature of the site, it inhabitants, and the date of its founding, and to determine whether it could also be linked to the early Israelite settlement of the region in biblical times,” Ben-Shlomo says.

Thus, the answer to the puzzle of early Israelite origins may yet remain hidden in the sands.

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12 Re: Is the Bible Historically Accurate? on Sun Nov 25, 2018 4:11 am

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Huge if True: The Archaeological Case for Goliath
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