Ancient Inscriptions Agree with Bible
Names written on pieces of pottery, clay and stone agree not only that Bible characters existed, but confirms the dates they lived.
Moabite Stone News
The Mesha Stele, sometimes called the Moabite Stone, has been in the news this week, because there is a dispute about the translation of a name. The stone had been rescued in the 19th century from local Bedouins who cracked it to pieces intentionally over a political dispute, but the pieces were purchased and reassembled in mostly complete condition. It is housed now in the Louvre Museum. Before it was cracked, a paper impression, called a “squeeze,” had been made, but that is torn. For years, some archaeologists believed that a portion of barely-legible text referred to the “house of David.” A new rendering translates it as “house of Balak.” Either way, it refers to a king known from the Bible. Here are some of the articles discussing the controversy:
New reading of Mesha Stele could have far-reaching consequences for biblical history (Phys.org). This article says that Balak lived two centuries before Mesha, so if the inscription refers to him, the author of the stele would have had to refer to Balak as a historical character for some reason. Incidentally, the name Balaam, the false prophet who also appears in the Numbers 22 account, is known from a separate inscription.
Smashed Ancient Tablet Suggests Biblical King Was Real. But Not Everyone Agrees (Live Science). One of the proponents of the new rendering “Balak” is Israel Finkelstein, who for years has doubted that David and Solomon were as powerful and wealthy as the Bible describes. King Mesha, however, dates from David’s time, so having “Balak” inscribed on the stone represents an anachronism. Ronald Hendel, a professor of archaeology at UC Berkeley, calls the ‘Balak’ rendering tentative.
Ancient 3,000-year-old tablet suggests Biblical king may have existed (Fox News). This article says that Finkelstein’s team only “cautiously suggests” that the line refers to Balak instead of David.
High-tech study of ancient stone suggests new proof of King David’s dynasty (The Times of Israel). Discussing the “dueling papers” that argue for one name or the other, this article gives evidence that the ‘David’ reading cannot be ruled out.
Other Archeological News
Rare ancient treasures bearing Biblical names discovered in Jerusalem’s City of David (Fox News). A rare clay seal, or bulla, has been found in Jerusalem bearing the Biblical name “Nathan-Melech” (II Kings 23:11). The seal dates from 586 BC, when Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem. This is the first archaeological evidence bearing that name. Nathan-Melech is described as chamberlain in King Josiah’s time. Whether or not the seal belonged to the actual character in II Kings, it corroborates use of the name in that period. James Rogers mentions other inscriptions found in Jerusalem. John Stonestreet of BreakPoint discusses the apologetic value of this inscription at CNS News.
In biblical archaeology, it’s often the big players we look for—Moses and David and Paul. Last year’s announcement of a ring bearing Pontius Pilate’s name was big news, and rightly so. It’s a name we say every time we recite the Apostles’ Creed, proclaiming that Jesus’ redeeming work happened in real history.
Still, names like Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King, may offer an even stronger confirmation that the events recorded in the Bible actually happened. The seemingly insignificant name from 2 Kings reminds us that King Josiah, who rediscovered the Law in the Temple and cleansed the nation of idols, isn’t just a character from a mythical story. He was a man in history; he had court officials and administrative headquarters; and he was part of the lineage that led to another King—the Lion Who sits on the throne of Judah and is ushering in a Kingdom—one that, unlike ancient Jerusalem—will never be conquered.
The Oldest Writing in Jerusalem (Watch Jerusalem). This article features Eilat Mazar, archaeologist in the City of David portion of Jerusalem. It says, “Two of the oldest pieces of writing found in Jerusalem leave their mark on the archaeological and biblical worlds.” Mazar holds an Akkadian fragment bearing an inscription that has not been fully deciphered. “Dating to the 14th century b.c.e., it is the oldest text ever discovered in Jerusalem.” The date of the fragment corresponds with Israel’s entrance into Canaan. Another fragment, the “Pithos inscription,” corresponds to the time just before King David. It represents “the oldest alphabetical writing ever to be discovered in Jerusalem, and possibly in all Israel.”
Inscriptions: The Biblical Figures That Nearly Were (Watch Jerusalem). This article by Christopher Eames catalogs some of the amazing artifacts that mention Biblical names, like Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah. He mentions the Moabite Stone. Eames is concerned about the “nearlies,” the inscriptions that are nearly but not quite complete. He says there have been attempts throughout history to destroy artifacts, like in recent years when ISIS blew up the ancient city of Nimrud, so it is not surprising that some artifacts show damage to the most tantalizing spots. Although some of the fragmentary remains could be questioned, Eames gives reasons why, from context and date, the names pass muster:
Alongside these general scientific rediscoveries, archaeologists have also been rediscovering proof of dozens of biblical individuals over the past couple of hundred years. Individuals that were thought to have been mythical. This wasn’t necessarily a case of information being lost, but rather of historical information not being believed.
And so today, we now have multiple dozens of biblical individuals re-proved. Added to that, we have a whole host of “nearlies.” Individuals, again, still not yet believed—although the weight of evidence makes them virtually certain. And—at least in a court of law—that weight of evidence dictates the verdict.
Todd Bolen, a Bible history professor at The Master’s University and author of an extensive collection of photographs of Bible lands, keeps record of archaeology news. His Bible Places Blog is a good place to look for facts and analysis of archaeology claims. Bolen doubts the ‘Balak’ translation from the Moabite Stone, noting that it would be anachronistic. According to his Weekend Roundup for May 4, Michael Langlois is preparing a paper to defend the ‘House of David’ rendering.