Can I trust the Bible? Israel’s early History -Exodus and Kings (Case Study 3)

One of the definitive events in Biblical history and theology is the Exodus from Egypt, Israel’s entry into the Promised Land and the eventual foundation of the Kingdom. 

Linking this period of history to external archaeological evidence isn’t without its challenges.  For example, archaeology assumes that lasting material evidence has been left behind for the archaeologist to find. However, the Israelite settlements in Goshen (The Nile Delta) consisted of mud brick dwellings not stone and then their existence was a Nomadic one crossing a vast desert area. This environmental context does not lend itself to easy data gathering. As Kitchen explains:

“The Delta is an alluvial fan of mud deposited through many millennia by the annual flooding of the Nile: it has no source of stone within it.  Mud, mud and wattle, and mud-brick structures were of limited duration and use, and were repeatedly levelled and replaced, and very largely merged once more with the mud of the fields.”[1]

However, what we do know is that the Biblical record of those events fits with what we know about the time period. The ark, tabernacle and writings such as Deuteronomy fit the style of that period.[2]  Additionally, we have external collaborative evidence including

–          The mention of Israel, Moab and Edom as distinct entities in Egyptian documents dating from the 12th Century BC[3]

–          Evidence of an external tradition concerning Balaam, Son of Beor -a key protagonist in the Exodus story.[4]

–          Knowledge of the existence of Canaanite cities that experienced conflict and destruction at a time period which fits the Exodus narrative.[5]

We also have evidence for the Kings of Israel and Judah including The Tel Dan Stele[6]which includes an inscription which mentions “The House of David” and The Mesha Stele, a Moabite inscription describing the war with the House of Omri also described in 2 Kings 3 (Circa 850 BC).

When we are considering the external data/evidence it is important to remember that.

  1. Evidence data is not the same as a firm conclusion. People will interpret evidence differently. This does not mean that evidence is subjective or inconclusive. It does mean however that there are and will continue to be debates between those who draw different conclusions.
  2. That historical and archaeological studies are ongoing. Some time periods have more data available than others. New evidence is always turning up. That’s why sensible historians like sensible scientists are cautious about drawing final conclusions.
  3. We always need to be clear about what the purpose is for presenting the evidence. In other words, what proposition are we seeking to support. Specifically, does the evidence presented here prove that the miracle working God of the Bible is real? No it doesn’t. Nor is that what we are claiming. The proposition under consideration is the reliability of the Bible. One of the reasons we want to say that the bible is trustworthy is because it meets the criteria set for a historical witness.  There are other criteria to consider such as is it a reliable guide to the human heart.  Because the bible proves reliable as a guide to those things then we can be confident about trusting it as a reliable guide to who God is and what he is like.

 

 

[1] KA Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids MI.: Eerdmans, 2003), 246.

[2]For detailed discussion see  Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament,241-342.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merneptah_Stele

[4] Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 413.

[5] There are complexities around determining the exact chronology.  For example, the date of the destruction of Jericho is still disputed but what we do know is that the Walls were destroyed and the city burnt with fire. For discussion see http://www.biblearchaeology.org/search.aspx?q=jericho&comment=true

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tel_Dan_Stele

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