Monday, January 28, 2013

Search for Bible Facts Excludes Faith

Pitcher found at Shiloh
The recent discovery of a burnt, broken clay pitcher (left) has helped clarify an account in the Bible.  The shard, found at the Tel Shiloh dig site in northern Israel, which was formerly called Samaria, proved that the ancient sacred city was burned down.

The city, once the capital and religious center of ancient Judah, was captured by the Philistines, according to the account in the biblical Book of Samuel.  However, the text never explains what happened to Shiloh. 

The pitcher has been dated to around 1050 B.C.E., matching the approximate date of the city’s demise.

To many religious people, archaeological support for a biblical account comes as welcome news.  After all, believers seem to think that historians deliberately ignore the Bible or continually try to prove everything in it is not true.  They are sure the Bible is accurate and that scholars just can’t stand that idea.

They are wrong.

"Science is special because we are allowed to change our minds," explained Joseph Michalski, of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., and London's Natural History Museum.  He was speaking in another context – an exploration of Mars – but the concept is the same.

Religion has no room for doubts or revisions.  Science must.

Scholars simply want to find out the truth the same as everyone else.  That’s why there are multiple archaeological digs.  This one, for example, also showed that after the city burned down, people came back and stayed until the Assyrians conquered the land in 722 B.C.E.  However, Shiloh was never again a cultural center or home to the Ark of the Covenant.  Samuel forgot to mention that tidbit in his report.  In fact, Shiloh is never mentioned again in the Bible after it was burned down.

While believers in the validity of the Bible may rejoice at this finding, it’s really a two-edged sword.  Accepting the historical support in this instance requires the acceptance of historical evidence that contradicts other biblical claims.

Picking and choosing between archaeological findings makes no sense.  The same techniques are used in all situations to determine what happened.  If it belies faith, that’s the way it is.

And that’s the way it’s been since archaeologists first began to look for historical evidence of biblical stories.  William Albright, an American archaeologist, led the effort, starting in the 1920s.  

He called the effort biblical archaeology, because he recognized that donors were more likely to fund a vain search for Noah’s Ark than a valid effort to uncover evidence of the ancient Sumerian civilization. 

Unfortunately for Albright and those who have followed in his footsteps, very little has turned up that validates biblical writings.

That doesn’t mean the evidence doesn’t exist.  An archaeological maxim states that absence of evidence does not mean absence of evidence.  If someone can’t find proof, that could mean the proof is still hidden.
However, the more than 150-years of digging in what was once ancient Israel has turned up a lot of evidence that clearly contradicts the religious texts.

Wall-less ruins of Jericho
For example:

1.      Joshua couldn’t have brought down the walls at Jericho.  There never were any massive walls there.

2.      Ai, a city Joshua supposedly destroyed, was in ruins had been for hundreds of years before the Israeli leader and his army could have gotten there.

3.      No evidence of an Exodus from Egypt has ever been found, including evidence that anyone lived in the Sinai or anyone invaded Canaan in the required time period.

4.      No evidence of a Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark or anything cited in the Bible prior to David has ever been uncovered.

The list could go on, but it doesn’t matter.  Archaeologists will continue to dig up the ancient past.  Some of it will definitely contradict the Bible.  Some of it may support a biblical story.  None of it will be conclusive, not for believers or for scientists.

That’s what makes the searching so interesting.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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