Archaeology and the Bible’s big picture

Eric Metaxas summarizes some recent findings in Middle Eastern archaeology, ones that confirm not just isolated facts in the Bible but the “big picture” of the Biblical narrative:

Israeli archaeologists recently discovered a coin, dating from the 11th century before Christ. It depicted “a man with long hair fighting a large animal with a feline tail.” Ring any Old Testament bells?

The coin was found near the Sorek River, which was the border between the ancient Israelite and Philistine territories 3,100 years ago. Sound vaguely familiar?

The archaeologists thought so, too. While Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University don’t claim that the figure depicted on the coin is proof that Samson actually existed, they do see the coin as proof that stories about a Samson-like man existed independently of the Bible.

Stated differently, the story of Samson was not the literary invention of a sixth-century B.C. scribe living in Babylon, as has commonly been assumed by mainstream biblical scholarship.

Bunimovitz and Lederman made another interesting discovery: the Philistine side of the river was littered with pig bones, while there were none on the Israelite side. . . .

The findings at Sorek are only the latest in a series of archaeological discoveries that are changing the way modern historians look at biblical narratives. It’s becoming more difficult for them to maintain that the narratives are pious fictions invented long after the era being depicted.

The most famous of these discoveries is the 1994 discovery of a stele in Tel Dan bearing an inscription that contained the words “House of David.” It was the first extra-biblical evidence of the Davidic dynasty. Prior to the discovery, many scholars doubted that David ever existed, much less founded a dynasty. The discovery was so out-of-line with expectations that more than a few insisted it must be a forgery.

Today, it is clear to even the most skeptical scholar that-surprise!-there really was a David who founded a ruling dynasty. That dynasty included his son, Solomon, and evidence of Solomon’s building projects described in Second Samuel have been found by archaeologists as well.

Some of the discoveries go beyond history and tell us about Israel’s sense of what it meant to be God’s chosen people. Sites dating to before the Exile are littered with Canaanite idols, evidence of the apostasy the prophets denounced and warned would lead to disaster.

Yet there has never been a single idol found in sites dating after the Exile. Clearly, the Jews who returned from the Exile had finally, truly learned that “the Lord our God is one.”

via Archaeology and the Bible.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Well whaddya know? Archaeology telling us what we already knew from Scripture :D

    I’ve read more than once of God using archaeology in the process of converting people, in some cases people who intentionally started off by trying to use archaeology to disprove the Bible. Just goes to show you that science needs to quit living in the dark ages.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Well whaddya know? Archaeology telling us what we already knew from Scripture :D

    I’ve read more than once of God using archaeology in the process of converting people, in some cases people who intentionally started off by trying to use archaeology to disprove the Bible. Just goes to show you that science needs to quit living in the dark ages.

  • Michael B.

    “Israeli archaeologists recently discovered a coin, dating from the 11th century before Christ. It depicted “a man with long hair fighting a large animal with a feline tail.” Ring any Old Testament bells?The archaeologists thought so, too. While Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University don’t claim that the figure depicted on the coin is proof that Samson actually existed, they do see the coin as proof that stories about a Samson-like man existed independently of the Bible.Stated differently, the story of Samson was not the literary invention of a sixth-century B.C. scribe living in Babylon, as has commonly been assumed by mainstream biblical scholarship.”

    I think the question is does this show that there was a person who had superhuman strength that would leave him if he cut his hair? Or was this just another story like that of Hercules?

  • Michael B.

    “Israeli archaeologists recently discovered a coin, dating from the 11th century before Christ. It depicted “a man with long hair fighting a large animal with a feline tail.” Ring any Old Testament bells?The archaeologists thought so, too. While Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University don’t claim that the figure depicted on the coin is proof that Samson actually existed, they do see the coin as proof that stories about a Samson-like man existed independently of the Bible.Stated differently, the story of Samson was not the literary invention of a sixth-century B.C. scribe living in Babylon, as has commonly been assumed by mainstream biblical scholarship.”

    I think the question is does this show that there was a person who had superhuman strength that would leave him if he cut his hair? Or was this just another story like that of Hercules?

  • mikeb

    Michael B. @ 2

    You miss the point. The proof isn’t that the story is true, but that it was probably being told about 600 years before when most academics want us to believe it was invented. Doubt was cast–not on the Word–but on the theories that want to explain it away as a not-special literary invention, replete with stories made up from whole cloth and without any evidence to support them.

  • mikeb

    Michael B. @ 2

    You miss the point. The proof isn’t that the story is true, but that it was probably being told about 600 years before when most academics want us to believe it was invented. Doubt was cast–not on the Word–but on the theories that want to explain it away as a not-special literary invention, replete with stories made up from whole cloth and without any evidence to support them.

  • #4 Kitty

    Here’s a mosaic of Hercules fighting a lion. This of course proves that Hercules was no “pious fiction”.

  • #4 Kitty

    Here’s a mosaic of Hercules fighting a lion. This of course proves that Hercules was no “pious fiction”.

  • SKPeterson

    Kitty – All fine and good vis-a-vis Samson, but the coin still argues against the theory that the Samson story was made up 600 years after the coin was minted.

    To my mind, the absence of pig bones and idols is more relevant.

  • SKPeterson

    Kitty – All fine and good vis-a-vis Samson, but the coin still argues against the theory that the Samson story was made up 600 years after the coin was minted.

    To my mind, the absence of pig bones and idols is more relevant.

  • http://oldeship.blogspot.com Rick Davis
  • http://oldeship.blogspot.com Rick Davis
  • kerner

    kitty:

    Actually, the two things are not equivalent at all. The coin is important because it dates from the same time (and is found in the same place) that Sampson is supposed to have lived. The coin proves that people were talking about Sampson at a time and place when and where he was supposedly there to be talked about.

    Your Mosaic was created during the 3rd Century in what is now Spain, and it depicts an event which (according to the myth) was supposed to have taken place thousands of years earlier in what is now Greece. The mosaic merely shows that people were telling that story thousands of years after, and about a thousand miles away from, the time and place recounted in the story.

    Thus, the coin is evidence that the story of Sampson MIGHT be true (although it is not conclusive by any means by itself), whereas the Mosaic is only evidence of a story that easily could have been made up long after the event supposedly took place.

  • kerner

    kitty:

    Actually, the two things are not equivalent at all. The coin is important because it dates from the same time (and is found in the same place) that Sampson is supposed to have lived. The coin proves that people were talking about Sampson at a time and place when and where he was supposedly there to be talked about.

    Your Mosaic was created during the 3rd Century in what is now Spain, and it depicts an event which (according to the myth) was supposed to have taken place thousands of years earlier in what is now Greece. The mosaic merely shows that people were telling that story thousands of years after, and about a thousand miles away from, the time and place recounted in the story.

    Thus, the coin is evidence that the story of Sampson MIGHT be true (although it is not conclusive by any means by itself), whereas the Mosaic is only evidence of a story that easily could have been made up long after the event supposedly took place.

  • SKPeterson

    Thanks Rick @ 6 – Looking at that photo, I’d be hard pressed to say the coin is indicative of anything. Much more to be done to validate this either way.

  • SKPeterson

    Thanks Rick @ 6 – Looking at that photo, I’d be hard pressed to say the coin is indicative of anything. Much more to be done to validate this either way.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I really don’t get the point of this article.
    I think it absolutely stupid on the face of it for someone to argue that there was no Samson, and that he never fought with a lion.
    I find it absolutely ludicrous that this coin dated prior to the event has any bearing on the question at all.
    Samson fighting a lion was hardly a supernatural feat. It is something that has happened more than once in the history of man. David talks about doing it as part of his job when he was a shepherd. One might want to know how big he lion in question was and so forth. But the idea that a man could take on a lion and win in a fight, isn’t that far fetched. Not when there are African tribes who used to make it a right of passage that a warrior go take one on with a spear. King Carl Gustav the XIV I believe used to go after bears with not much more than a stick. And Alexander the Great recounts early success in battle to killing a bear sow by hand before hand. I don’t discount those stories as spectacular. So why would anyone do that with Samson?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I really don’t get the point of this article.
    I think it absolutely stupid on the face of it for someone to argue that there was no Samson, and that he never fought with a lion.
    I find it absolutely ludicrous that this coin dated prior to the event has any bearing on the question at all.
    Samson fighting a lion was hardly a supernatural feat. It is something that has happened more than once in the history of man. David talks about doing it as part of his job when he was a shepherd. One might want to know how big he lion in question was and so forth. But the idea that a man could take on a lion and win in a fight, isn’t that far fetched. Not when there are African tribes who used to make it a right of passage that a warrior go take one on with a spear. King Carl Gustav the XIV I believe used to go after bears with not much more than a stick. And Alexander the Great recounts early success in battle to killing a bear sow by hand before hand. I don’t discount those stories as spectacular. So why would anyone do that with Samson?

  • Jon

    Bror, it’s just the fact that the coin shows that they were actually talking about Samson that long ago which validates the story that we have been passed in the scriptures–it dates from near the time. Not that it validates Samson’s existence or his feat; just that it is an ancient contempraneous (more or less) story.

    As opposed to something else like Smith’s Book of Abraham papyrii, shows that he was a total scheister.

  • Jon

    Bror, it’s just the fact that the coin shows that they were actually talking about Samson that long ago which validates the story that we have been passed in the scriptures–it dates from near the time. Not that it validates Samson’s existence or his feat; just that it is an ancient contempraneous (more or less) story.

    As opposed to something else like Smith’s Book of Abraham papyrii, shows that he was a total scheister.

  • Pingback: Archaeology and the Bible’s big picture | Time For Discernment

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  • Scott

    The problem with many people’s understanding of the Bible is they do not bother to read it as an historical document, if read at all. Too many times, so called “historians” end up on TV on the Nat Geo channel or Discovery, and claim to upend our thinking. However, most of their work has not been peer reviewed. So as a result, we are left with these seemingly truthful shows are telling us that the Bible was stories written by “The Church” (whatever that means), but the historical context of the Bible is completely ignored. Discoveries like the coin show that the Bible is plausible, in addition to being the inspired Word of God.

  • Scott

    The problem with many people’s understanding of the Bible is they do not bother to read it as an historical document, if read at all. Too many times, so called “historians” end up on TV on the Nat Geo channel or Discovery, and claim to upend our thinking. However, most of their work has not been peer reviewed. So as a result, we are left with these seemingly truthful shows are telling us that the Bible was stories written by “The Church” (whatever that means), but the historical context of the Bible is completely ignored. Discoveries like the coin show that the Bible is plausible, in addition to being the inspired Word of God.


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