I’ve always been in love with ancient history. In fact, it was through researching history that I came to realize that the Gospels were in fact, eyewitness accounts. So it was my pleasure to catch up with Epic Archaeology‘s Professor Ted Wright to discuss why he decided to specialize in biblical archaeology, what Christian apologists should know, and what historical finds are waiting on the horizon.
What initially sparked your interest in the field of anthropology and archaeology? What was it that drew you to the discipline of biblical archaeology?
Great question! My interest in archaeology and anthropology probably originated when I was younger. I was very involved in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts growing up, and our scout leaders often took us to historical sites and Civil War battlefields. I had a very active imagination as a kid, and I would often wonder what it must have been like to have been in these places at that time. My childlike wonder and fascination with the past are still with me today. I became interested in pursuing a career in Biblical archaeology several years ago when I was in the Air Force. I decided that when I was discharged from the military, I would pursue a degree in ancient history. I was speaking to my pastor about this one evening, and he gave me a stack of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) magazines. He recommended that I consider studying archaeology as it relates specifically to the Bible. I knew within a few minutes of browsing through the magazines and skimming the articles that, that was exactly what I wanted to do. What made you decide to create Epic Archaeology?
What made you decide to create Epic Archaeology?
I decided to create Epic Archaeology for two reasons: (1) As a Student I had questions about the Bible’s historicity: Although I grew up as a Christian believer, honest questions about the Bible arose when I became an undergraduate archaeology student. Several of my professors taught a highly skeptical view of the Bible, and as a Christian, I didn’t know how to answer their skeptical charges. This led me to do my own research, and I came across books by Christian apologist, Josh McDowell. I scoured the bibliographies in his books and found other works by archaeologists such as William F. Albright, Nelson Glueck, Sir William Ramsay, and others. Several years ago I had the idea to have a very accessible online resource for students and others who may have some of the same questions about the Bible’s historicity and trustworthiness.
(2) To teach Biblical (or Near Eastern) archaeology in an accurate, attractive, relevant and engaging way. I have always loved the ancient Greek myths, especially the stories found in the Iliad & Odyssey by Homer — known by Classical scholars as “epic poetry.” In my view, the Bible is a book that is truly Epic in every sense of the word! It is an Epic Story that is also true! Within its pages lies the story of God’s love and epic plan to redeem fallen humanity through a family and the nation of Israel, in the person of Jesus Christ. Physical evidence (artifacts) of God’s epic story can be found throughout the Near East, and Epic Archaeology is dedicated to bringing those things to light and making them widely known.
How does the study of archaeology help, modern-day apologists?
In my view, archaeology is a very powerful ally for the modern day Christian apologist. By itself, however, archaeology cannot prove Christianity or the Bible – but, it can give us a very high degree of certainty that the Biblical record is an accurate account of what actually happened. The cornerstone truth of Christian faith is the resurrection of Christ, so in Christianity faith and history are intimately connected (see 1 Cor. 15). Archaeology is the study of the physical and material remains of past human cultures. As a record of the past, the Bible can and, has stood up to intense scrutiny and skepticism by those who question its reliability. No other book in the ancient world or religious text can even come close to the Bible in matters of historical integrity, manuscript, and archaeological evidence. Moreover, many artifacts which support the Bible have been discovered by accident by those not necessarily wishing to “prove the Bible.” One of the most recent examples was the discovery of Pontius Pilate’s signet ring in Herodium in Israel (note: it was excavated in 1969 and deciphered in 2018). What are some of the more common objections to the Bible being a historically reliable document?
What are some of the more common objections to the Bible being a historically reliable document?
Objections to the historical reliability of the Bible really depends on who you are talking to. Internet atheists and skeptics usually don’t have a clue when it comes to academic historiography. Bible scholars (Greek & Hebrew scholars) have their objections, and archaeologists have theirs. Sometimes their objections are not the same. Also, historical objections in the New Testament are not the same as those in the Old Testament. Objections to New Testament reliability usually center around issues of textual criticism. But there are some common themes, which incidentally don’t come from archaeology at all – they come from the philosophical assumptions and commitments of the scholar or skeptic – in the interpretation of the data. For example, a more radical view of biblical history comes from the Copenhagen School (also known as Biblical minimalism) [A related, but not identical group are Jesus mythcists]. Their ideas about the knowability of history are based primarily on the philosophical works of Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan (two postmodern philosophers). Essentially, they think that objective history is impossible because of their radically skeptical view of human language. Biblical minimalists hold that actually knowing what happened in the Bible is impossible. But again, this viewpoint doesn’t come from the data of archaeology — it comes from their own theories, which incidentally undermines and undercuts their own books (which were written a couple of decades ago). If all of the human languages can’t be trusted – then neither can we nor should we trust any of their words or books.
A second area of challenge when it comes to the reliability of the Bible has to do with something called Biblical chronology (in the words of one scholar, “What did the Biblical writers know, and when did they know it?”). Chronology has to do with aligning events recorded in the Bible with the actual historical and archaeological record. I have written about this very important issue on our website Epic Archaeology in an article titled “The Backbone of History.” Currently, in Old Testament scholarship, a big area of debate (even among believing scholars and archaeologists) is the timing and the date of the Exodus and Conquest. This event figures largely in Old Testament history as well as Israel’s own national history and identity. There are two proposed dates for the Biblical Exodus – the early date (1446 B.C.) and the late date (approx. 1536 B.C.). The debate is primarily over the interpretation of the archaeological and historical data as it relates to the Exodus.
Are there any discoveries that support the veracity of the Bible that people don’t really know about?
Yes! Just a few years ago I learned about the recent decipherment of some inscriptions found in the Sinai Peninsula which mention the phrase, “Hebrews of Bethel, the beloved.” In a recent publication titled, The World’s First Alphabet: Hebrew as the Language of the ProtoConsonantal Script, Egyptologist and Biblical scholar, Douglas Petrovich announced that he had translated inscriptions from the Egyptian Sinai from the ancient turquoise mine of Serâbît el Khadîm, and another site called Wadi el-Hôl. Other inscriptions include three people mentioned in the OT, including Asenath, the wife of Joseph (Gn 41:45), and Ahisamach, the father of one of the craftsmen who would build the Tabernacle (Ex 35:34). And perhaps one of the most surprising names he discovered in the inscriptions is the name of Moses himself! The implications of these inscriptions for Old Testament history, as well as the Exodus, are tremendous indeed!
Historically speaking, is there a fact about the Bible that you wish more Christians knew?
Well, there are many things I wish Christians knew about the Bible, but having once been a pastor and then a professor at a Bible College for several years I have found that many Christians today are not very knowledgable about the Bible at all – especially when it comes to the Old Testament. Many do not know the OT very well, yet the pages of the New Testament are filled with references to the Old Testament. I came across a very interesting article several years ago in the Guardian (UK) by two scholars who created this amazing graphic showing how many references from the Old Testament are found in the New Testament. The total number of OT cross references is 62,779! I wish Christians would study and read the Old Testament more! It is in the Old Testament that we find Christ in some amazing and surprising ways!
If you could choose three finds, that you feel are the most compelling evidence for the historicity of the Bible, what would they be?
That’s a difficult question to answer, primarily because archaeology is an inductive science and is based on cumulative evidence from multiple areas of study. But if I had to give three archaeological discoveries that are the most compelling and incontrovertible (as much as archaeology can be!), it would be the evidence for the siege of Jerusalem in the late 8th/early 7th century B.C. during the reign of Hezekiah by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. We have multiple attestations of the event archaeological and historical record (both from the Bible and Assyrian inscriptions). Hezekiah made preparations for the invasion by broadening the walls of Jerusalem – sections of his broad wall have been excavated in Jerusalem and it dates to the late 8th, early 7th century B.C.. Because the Assyrians were masters at siege warfare, Hezekiah also made preparations for a long siege by digging a tunnel to the Spring of Gihon
[see 2 Kings 20:20 & 2 Chron 32]
. Hezekiah’s tunnel was first discovered and explored in 1625 by Franciscus Quaresmius, and later in 1838 by the American geographer and explorer, Edward Robinson. Robinson also discovered a paleo-Hebrew inscription in the tunnel (the Siloam tunnel inscription) presumably created by the stone cutters. The siege of Jerusalem, as well as Lachish, is also attested in the Assyrian records on the Taylor Prism (located in the British Museum), and on the Oriental Institute Prism (University of Chicago). Just recently, Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered both the names of Hezekiah and Isaiah on two small clay seals (bullae) located just 3 ft apart in Jerusalem in the Ophel excavations, conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Have there been any archaeological finds that contradict the Bible or, appear to contradict the Bible at first glace?
Yes. Perhaps one of the best examples is the interpretation City IV at the ancient Biblical site of Jericho (famous in the book of Joshua). From 1930-1936 Jericho was excavated by British archaeologist, John Garstang and the Oriental Institute (U. of Chicago). In his excavations, Garstang discovered a stratum at Jericho he labeled City IV. In this level, he identified a fortified city (with double walls – an inner and outer wall) that had been destroyed and burned, just as it is described in the Bible. He dated the destruction of Jericho (City IV) to around 1400 B.C.. This date actually comports with the internal biblical chronology of the Conquest by Joshua. Garstang’s analysis and interpretation of Jericho, of course, included his correct identification and dating of pottery found there.
Around twenty years later, archaeologist, Dame Kathleen Kenyon returned to Jericho to utilize updated methods of stratigraphic analysis based on methods developed by British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Kenyon’s analysis of the same stratum (City IV) was much different than Garstang’s. In fact, Kenyon re-dated the destruction of City IV to circa 1550 B.C. and attributed the destruction to either the Hyksos or the Egyptians. In essence, this re-dating of City IV in Jericho erased the Israelite conquest from the archaeological record and also from reality.
However, not everyone was in agreement with Kenyon’s analysis of Jericho and re-dating of City IV. Most recently, archaeologist, Dr. Bryant G. Wood has challenged Kenyon’s redating of City IV. At the center of the debate is pottery and the interpretation (or the correct interpretation) of the ceramics (ceramic typology) discovered at the site.
Upon first glance, it appeared that Kenyon’s discoveries undermined the historicity of the Bible, but there is now strong evidence (from the pottery itself!) that she was incorrect. I happen to agree with Dr. Bryant Wood and John Garstang – Jericho was destroyed and burned exactly as the Bible says it was.
Looking forward, are there any areas of research or, archaeological digs happening now, that Christians should keep an eye out for?
Yes. My friends and colleagues at ABR (Associates for Biblical Research) have just started excavating at the ancient site of Shiloh also called Khirbet Seilun. It is the location of the first semi-permanent tabernacle in Israel from their wandering in the wilderness before the Temple was built in Jerusalem. According to the Joshua 18:1 (Israel Bible), “And the whole congregation of Bnei Yisrael assembled themselves together at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there, and the land was subdued before them.” It was also the first capital of Israel and the location of the tribal allotment under Joshua. Excavations have only just begun, but already some pretty cool stuff has come out of the ground. The current dig director at Shiloh, Dr. Scott Stripling is a friend of mine, and he is in the process of publishing a new article on a ceramic pomegranate the team has excavated at the site. The pomegranate is an artistic motif found at other sites in Israel which are associated with the presence of priestly activities and duties of ancient Israel. The team has also discovered a huge layer of animal bones which are consistent with the Biblical sacrificial system as it is recorded in the Old Testament. One of the most exciting things about archaeology is that we never know what we are going to find! Stay tuned.