The Bible as History
The question of whether the Holy Bible is an actual historical account of what
happened since the beginning of humanity, or merely stories that man has come up with
over time has long been considered. Many choose to believe the Bible literally and take
everything word for word. Others believe the stories in the Bible are a way of showing
God’s love for us, but think of them as stories and lessons on how to follow the “way of
God.” Others think the stories in the Bible are false, and have no basis in truth at all.
Some people want to have a clear picture of what early Palestine was like without ever
having reference to the Bible, and “this may be an equally one-sided approach as using the
Bible [as] complete factual history” (Porter 16). More and more archaeological digs are
uncovering tangible evidence that some of the stories in the Bible actually do have a
factual basis. Most people are still undecided, as there hasn’t been much evidence found
supporting that either side of the argument has a strong lead over the other. “Previous
generations of scholars often linked archaeology very directly with the Bible: they spoke
of Biblical Archaeology’ and saw it as a means of establishing the credibility of the
Scripture” (Porter 16). The Bible is a historical account, in some areas, because there is
proof. In other aspects, however, the Bible may turn out to be just stories.
Archaeologists undergo many excavations in the Palestinian area, because this is
where most of the stories in the Bible took place. Many books and inscriptions have been
uncovered providing information on events and people both Israelite and Non-Israelite
alike (Porter 16). Several buildings, pottery, tools, and weapons have revealed what the
daily life of the Palestinians may have been like. Archaeology has also confirmed many of
the sites referred to in the Bible (Porter 17). Even though there have been various
excavations of possessions of the Israelites, most of these are not from the setting of early
Israel. Most civilizations have records of how they developed, and in this case, the
Hebrew Bible is the only account of the Israelite civilization (Porter 17).
In addition to the remains of ancient civilizations, the digs have earthed agricultural
information and the layout of towns (Porter 17). “Sometimes findings will directly
illuminate the Biblical text” (Porter 18). One example of a “historical correlation with the
Bible,” was the discovery of a weight labeled “pim” which has helped scholars
understand 1 Samuel 13:21 which is the only verse in the Bible containing the term. They
concluded that “pim” was a size of weight probably used as a method of payment.
Another artifact from this region are carved ivories dating back to 800 B.C. found
at the royal palace of Sumaria, the capital of the north king of Israel. In a passage from 1
Kings 22:39 there is a reference to the “ivory house” of King Ahab (Porter 18).
Discoveries have also been made at a “popular site of Israeli religion” and there have been
excavations of the only known temple and “cult objects” from the era of David and
Solomon (Porter 19).
Another find by archaeologists is a painting of a half nude female figure with the
inscription “Yahweh or Samaria and his Asherah.” This was excavated from the eighth
century site of Kuntillet Arjud. The significance of the painting is still undecided. It may
reflect the continuing worship in Israel of Asherah, the great Canaanite mother goddess.
This would have been in spite of the official state religion which recognized Yahweh as the
one and only God (Porter 20).
Through all of these uncovered artifacts from the Israelite nation, many of the
names, places, and events that are named in the Bible are proved. The Bible may not just
be a person’s stories, but an actual historical account of the history of the world. There
are many huge gaps in the stories that still have nothing backing them up, but, there is
plenty more searching that still can be done.
Another way of approaching the Bible as history is concerned less with the specific
stories, and more with the material as a whole (Porter 20). Many scholars consider the
Hebrew Bible’s interpretation of Israel’s history a “reflection of a concern to understand
the nation’s destiny, and to preserve Israel’s unity and identity in light of the crisis brought
about by the exile” (Porter 20). Other scholars believe that it is impossible to know
exactly what happened through the course of Israel’s history, and believe that the Bible
has just as many inaccuracies as other ancient writings. Determining which parts of the
Bible may be factual and separating those from the ones that are “myth, legend, and
folklore” (Porter 21) is something scholars with modern understanding of the era of the
Bible, and the places associated with it are able to do and “evaluate accordingly” (Porter
21). “Archaeological evidence will rarely correlate neatly with the Biblical record, but
with careful interpretation, it can often become a valuable supplement” (Porter 21). What
really took place during the Exodus from Egypt may never be known, but it is still
recognized that some event “triggered off the enormous significance that the Exodus story
assumed for Israel’s faith” (Porter 21). From King David’s time and onward, Israel’s
story starts to relate to events which took place in the Near East. Because of the many
items found that directly correlate with events in the Bible, the Biblical narrative, aside
from its “exaggerations, errors and unique interpretation of events, gains a solid basis in
historical fact.” The stories in the Bible aren’t meant to be taken extremely literally; they
are meant to show the love and care of God for the people and the significance of his acts
Many inspirited stones were recovered in ruins of the ancient Israelite city, Dan, in
upper Galilee. The stones are flattened basalt with Aramaic letters inscripted on the
surface (Sheler 50). The basalt stone was identified as part of a broken monument from
the ninth century B.C. The monument was commemorating a military victory of the King
Damascus over his two enemies, the King of Israel and the House of David (Sheler 51).
The reference to David was a “historical bombshell” and also a first. David was the name
of Judah’s ancient ancestor, warrior king, a central figure in the Hebrew Bible, and
according to Scripture, a ascendant of Jesus (Sheler 51). It had previously been thought
by many that David was just a legend invented by Hebrew scribes right after Israel’s
Babylonian exile in 500 B.C. There was now “material evidence,” an inscription written
not by Hebrew scribes, but by an enemy of the Israelites “a little more than a century after
David’s presumptive lifetime (Sheler 52). Today there is absolute and clear proof of King
David’s dynasty and David himself. The inscriptions in the monument are mentioned in
the Bible, and, therefore, it is now believed that King David’s dynasty was a large
controlling part of the Israelites. “In extraordinary ways, modern archaeology has
affirmed that historical core or the Old and New Testaments– corroborating key portions
of the stories of Israel’s patriarchs, the Exodus, the David monarchy, and the life and
times of Jesus” (Sheler 52).
Many scholars have found traces of human origins obscured in theological myth.
Ever since Copernicus went against the church and Darwin started speaking of mutation
and natural selection, theologians do not have much proof to back up their “doctrine of
faith: that the Universe is the handiwork of a divine creator who has given humanity a
special place in his creation” (Sheler 53). These two “conflicting ideas have caused
clashes and debates in classrooms and courtrooms alike.” These are the two main sides to
the questions of the Bible. Fundamentalists believe evolution is a satanic deception, and
atheistic naturalists believe science is the only reality (Sheler 53). The assumption that
God created the Universe in six twenty-four hour days as a literal reading of Genesis 1
suggests represents the historic position of the Bible. “As early as the fifth century, the
great Christian theologian Augustine warned against taking the six days of Genesis
literally; these were not successive, ordinary days– the sun, after all according to Genesis,
was not created until the fourth “day” and had nothing to do with time.”
Augustine also argued that “God made all things together, disposing them in an
order bases not on intervals of time but on casual connections” (Sheler 54). Augustine
was a type of evolutionist and said that God made some things in fully developed form and
some in “potential form” which have developed over time to become what they are today.
Many conservative scholars like “theistic evolution.” The idea considers evolution, just
like all other sciences, to be divinely created (Sheler 55). “Creation and evolution are not
contradictory. They provide different answers for a different set of questions” (Sheler 55).
The flood story has little basis in fact. Even some of those who do believe the
Bible literally believe it is a myth, because based on Biblical genealogy it would have
happened about 10,000 years ago. These people believe that the world would not have
fully recovered by today, and, therefore, the flood never took place, or it was much longer
ago, than stated in the Bible. There are other questions that arise from the flood story.
Where would so much water come from? Where did it go afterwards? How did
mammalian life re-emerge on isolated islands and land-masses that emerged from the
receding flood waters? (Sheler 55). This particular story is not believed by many, even
those having strong faith.
The book of Genesis traces Israel’s ancestry back to Abraham. God promises to
give him “an ancestry of a multitude of nations and whose children will inherit the land of
Canaan as a perpetual holding” (Sheler 56). Genealogy goes from Abraham to Isaac to
Jacob to his sons, the origin of Israel’s twelve tribes. They are forced to leave Israel and
migrate to Egypt. The Israelites then prosper there for over 400 years (Sheler 56). There
is no archaeological evidence found to support the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1500 B.C.)
(Sheler 56). Period scholars believe this to be the patriarchal era, and to go along with
Biblical accounts. There are no inscriptions or artifacts relating to Israel’s first Biblical
ancestors. There are also no references to early battles as stated in Genesis (Sheler 56).
Scholars think the Bible contains “many anachronisms,” and suggest the stories
were written many years after the events actually took place (Sheler 57). Abraham is
described in Genesis as coming from “Ur of the Chaldeans.” But the Chaldeans settled in
that area no earlier than ninth or eighth century B.C. This is more than 1,000 years after
Abraham’s time and at least 400 years after Moses, who, tradition says, wrote the book of
Genesis (Sheler 57). Some scholars are not surprised by the lack of evidence supporting
Abraham’s existence. They argue, “Why should we expect to find the names of an
obscure nomad and his descendants in the official archives of the rulers of Mesopotamia?”
(Sheler 58). There may be no direct evidence, but Kenneth A. Kitchen, a retired
Egyptologist, argues that “archaeology and the Bible match remarkably well in depicting
the historical context of the patriarch narratives” (Sheler 58). In Genesis 37:28, Joseph is
sold by his brothers into slavery for 20 silver shekels. This was precisely the “going price”
for slaves during the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries B.C., the time of Joseph, and
directly supports the evidence in the Bible. The story of the Exodus, when God delivered
Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, is one of the
central stories of the Old Testament. “This story of Exodus is the central proclamation of
the Hebrew Bible” (Sheler 58). There is, however, no archaeological evidence to go
along with the story. With this being such a main point of the Old Testament, it would
seem that there would be some proof of these people’s exodus out of Egypt. However,
there is not one physical trace of the Israelites journey, “not even any indication, outside of
the Bible, that Moses even existed” (Sheler 58). Nahum Sarna, a professor of Biblical
studies, argues that the Exodus “cannot possible be fictional. No nation would be likely to
invent for itself… and inglorious and inconvenient tradition of this nature” (Sheler 59).
Richard Elliot Friedman, another professor of Biblical studies, also says “If you’re making
up history, it’s that you were descended from Gods or Kings, not slaves” (Sheler 59). The
story of the Exodus and Moses will be a controversy until tangible evidence is found either
supporting or conflicting with it. It is hard to believe that an idea this large and developed
is just an idea, but that will continue to be many’s belief until proof is found leading them
to believe otherwise.
Throughout history many people have thought that either the Bible is the absolute
Truth, or that science contains all the answers. In combining the two sources, there will
be more answers to questions, and there will not be so many arguments over history.
According to science, many parts of the Bible have been proven as true. There are many
other parts, however, that have no indication of either being true or false. This is not to
say that these events never took place, because we are not sure yet if they did or not. We
will never know everything about the Bible; there will always be an unanswered question,
because we will never know if future generations find evidence to contradict previous
Porter, J.R. The Illustrated Guide to the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press,
Sheler, Jeffrey L. “Is the Bible True?” US News and World Report. 25 Oct. 99: 50-9