The Bible and Archaeology

November 2, 2018

Admittedly, archeology does not necessarily interest everyone, and some aspects of archaeology can be tedious, but many of the results of archaeology are exciting for the student of the Bible.

Backgrounds. Archaeology has helped us understand ancient customs and the background to certain passages. The Nuzi tablets, for example, contain marriage contacts which obligate a childless wife to give her husband a handmaid who would bear children for the couple. This helps us better understand the actions of Sarah in giving Hagar to Abraham (Genesis 16:1 ff.) and of Rachel in giving Bilhah to Jacob (Genesis 30:1-3). This doesn’t make the actions moral in the eyes of God, but they would have been viewed as socially acceptable for the time.

Translation. The meaning of the Hebrew word, pim, was unknown in 1611. The KJV translators conjectured from the context of 1 Samuel 13:21 that it mean “file.” The KJV reads, “Yet they had a file for the mattocks …” Archaeologists have found small weight stones in Palestine with the word pim on them. The name of the weight was evidently the expression of the price for sharpening the plowshares, making a pim about 2/3 of a shekel. The ESV taking advantage of what has been learned from archaeology has “… and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares…” (1 Samuel 13:21, ESV).

Defense. The criticism of alleged inaccuracies in scripture have been refuted by certain discoveries. For example, the Hittites were unknown outside the Old Testament, and many thought this was a case of an historical error in scripture until archaeologists discovered the Hittite city of Hattusas. Before the ivory finds in Samaria, some skepticism was expressed over the phrase “houses of ivory” in Amos 3:15. We now know that ivories were used either to adorn the walls as paneling or were inlaid in furniture. “Houses of ivory” were houses decorated with ivory not built out of ivory as archaeology has now shown. Amos knew what he was talking about.

Many more examples could be given to illustrate the importance of archaeology to Bible study. But archaeology reminds us that we are dealing with real people, places, and events.