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Review of ‘Background to the Bible’

Why the need for another book to be written regarding biblical archaeology? Simply because new digs and discoveries are occurring frequently and vast amounts of materials are being sifted through as I am writing this. Hence this is an excellent companion volume to “Evidence for the Bible.” For those who are sceptical about the reliability of the Bible this book is well worth a read and if read in entirety, it is likely to challenge previously held misconceptions. For those who want to gain greater insight concerning the historicity of people, places and events with regard to archaeological discoveries this volume is worth its weight in gold!

The opening article commences with an ancient historical conundrum which any ancient historically informed and thinking person needs to consider. Why is it that every great empire of the ancient world has come and gone yet the Jewish people have survived to the present day despite the odds stacked against them? Furthermore their customs, language and even currency have been preserved. Is that by accident or providence? To add an additional question to the above question, was it for their sake only, or for the blessing of the whole world?

Israel has been described as the navel of the world and it is a strategic land bridge lying within the border area of the fertile crescent and is formed between the River Tigris and Euphrates and the Mediterranean Sea. The climate and landscape are desirable for agricultural purposes if harnessed and nurtured carefully. It has been fought over and conquered many times and this is also reflected in the stratigraphic layers of cities, where buildings have been built over previous remains and especially in Jerusalem. Hence Sinkinson, Anderson and Edwards describe it as “a birthplace for archaeology.”

The authors do not shrink away from responding to specific objections such as the long lifespans of the patriarchs, the domestication of camels in the ancient world and the difference between the biblical account of a worldwide flood and other ancient accounts of a worldwide flood and the biblical basis for the conquest of Canaan.

Many points are compellingly illustrated by comparing biblical precedents with their neighbouring peoples. For example if we look at the importance of food hygiene, how to treat skin disease, washing hands in running water and then examine the practices of other nations there is a staggering difference. Not only that, but practices such as washing hands in running water is a relatively recent medical procedure in our society.

Whilst people, places and events have been considered by some to be fictious or the tale of legends, inscriptions of kings, stelas, prisms, seals, scrolls, coins and documents have confirmed otherwise. It is usually kings and rulers who possessed expensive items or dwelt in palaces such as Darius or Sennacherib of whom there is a range of sources confirming their existence and exploits.

Coins are of great value and are relatively easier than some items to date accurately. Often their names are inscribed such as when Caesar had a coin minted in 48BC celebrating his victories in Gaul or a signet ring inscribed with the name of Pilate. Similarly the Judea Capta coin commemorated the Emperor Vespasian defeating the Jewish revolt in AD68-70 and the Bar Kochba Revolt coin depicted the Temple in Jerusalem.

Flavius Josephus was a first century eyewitness, the lone survivor in Masada in AD70 following the Roman siege and he is an important source concerning Jewish manners and customs and for his two references to Jesus in “The Antiquities of the Jews”. Though there is ongoing debate regarding some of his references he is generally recognised as a reliable eyewitness in his era.

Feature articles are provided on six pioneers of archaeology, Charles Leonard Wooley, William Matthew Flanders Petrie, Austen Henry Laylard, Henry Rawlinson, Charles Warren and William Mitchel Ramsay. Their names feature in many books on archaeology and in museums today. Ramsay himself was educated within a biblical minimalist framework though he was so astounded with Luke’s impeccable recording of details and events which he examined for himself in Asia Minor that he became a believer.

The various appendix sections at the back should not be rushed over. Insight is given concerning Annas, Caiaphas and Gamaliel and the seven Herods of the New Testament. A useful section explains why the Apocrypha is of value historically, but should not be put on the same level as Scripture. Valuable letters are compared with heretical letters. There is also an intriguing appendix on fakes, fabrications and relics. As a teenager, I found the unusual earth formation on Mount Ararat and the underwater images of chariot wheels convincing before I realised, they were merely speculative.

Why Archaeology of the Bible Matters

Later, when I discovered the immensity and certainty of the genuine finds preserved in the great museums that would strengthen my faith in Messiah as did visiting Israel. For those who are Agnostics or are spiritually seeking, archaeology is an important matter since it demonstrates that the Bible is reliable. The Bible points us to the God of the Bible because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).

Today, people ask the question, where is God? The God of the Bible speaks of history written in advance. No doubt the Jewish people in Babylon asked the same question before Cyrus announced they could return to Judah and before Isaiah pronounced more than one hundred years previous that Cyrus would do that (Isaiah 44:28; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23)! The response is still the same now.

“For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place.For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive” (Jeremiah 29:10-14).