Shishak (Shoshenq I) Relief
Artifacts depicting images of biblical events have been discovered all over the Middle East. One insightful depiction can be found in the south wall of the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak, in Egypt (5). A huge sunken-relief of Pharaoh Shishak (or Shoshenq I), with a number of small depictions of ancient Hebrews surrounding it, catches one’s attention while walking through the temple. Commissioned by Shoshenq I, the relief of the pharaoh also contains writing describing a campaign in Israel where he sacked a number of cities and took the plunder back to Egypt with him (5). The Bible records Shishak’s campaign in 2 Chronicles 12:1-9* and in 1 Kings 14:25. Rehoboam the king of Judah “forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him” (2 Chron. 12:1). Then, “in the fifth year of king Rehoboam Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem, because they had transgressed against the LORD…and the people were without number that came with him out of Egypt…. And he took the fenced cities which pertained to Judah, and came to Jerusalem” (2 Chron. 12:2-4).
According to the Bible, the people in Jerusalem turned back to God and humbled themselves after hearing from a prophet called Shemaiah that because they had forsaken God, God would leave them in the hand of Shishak (2 Chron. 12:5). From reading 2 Chronicles 12, we learn that when the Israelites turned back to God, God did not allow Shishak to destroy them. But, God allowed Shishak to plunder King Rehoboam and the Temple of Solomon, in Jerusalem. The Jews would be Shishak’s servants for a time.
The Victory Relief of Shoshenq I records that he attacked various cities in the northern kingdom of Israel in addition to cities in the southern kingdom of Judah (11). Further confirmation that this event recorded in the Bible and in the Temple of Amon actually occurred is found in Israel, at the site of Megiddo. At Megiddo, a section of a stela (an upright stone slab) was discovered in 1926 during some excavations (11). On this stela, commemorating Shishak’s victory, his name can clearly be seen carved into the stone (11).
Sennacherib Palace Relief
Depictions of events described in the Bible are not limited to Egypt. Located in northern Iraq in the ruins of ancient Nineveh is the Palace of Sennacherib. All that is left of the magnificent home of the Assyrian king, King Sennacherib, is the palace foundation and some of its walls. One particular wall is still mostly intact. On it are numerous bas-reliefs depicting Sennacherib’s successful siege of Lachish, an ancient Israeli city. The main scene is of the Assyrian attack on the wall of Lachish (12). Battering rams built into four-wheeled vehicles are slamming into the wall, under battlements. The Israeli soldiers defending the city are fighting fiercely, as are the besiegers (12). An epigraph states: “Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria, sat upon a nimedu- throne and passed in review the booty (taken) from Lachish (La-ki-su)” (Pritchard 201, parentheses in orig.).
This same event--the siege of Lachish--recorded in King Sennacherib’s palace is mentioned in the Bible, in 2 Chronicles 32:9-10:
After this did Sennacherib king of Assyria send his servants to Jerusalem, (but he himself laid siege against Lachish, and all his power with him,) unto Hezekiah king of Judah, and unto all Judah that were at Jerusalem, saying,
Thus saith Sennacherib king of Assyria, Whereon do ye trust, that ye abide in the siege in Jerusalem?
The Bible records that after Hezekiah prayed to God for deliverance from Sennacherib, when Jerusalem was under siege, God told Hezekiah, through a prophet, that God would defend the city of Jerusalem and that Sennacherib would return to his country (2 Kings 19:32-34). We read in 2 Kings 19:35: “And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.” Sennacherib returns to his country and is killed by two of his sons while “worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god” (2 Kings 19:37).
Further proof that Lachish was attacked by Sennacherib can be found in evidence uncovered at Lachish itself. A number of extensive archaeological digs at Lachish by the British and the Israelis have uncovered an abundance of artifacts which agree with the depictions of the siege found on the wall at Sennacherib’s palace (2). The presence of an “enormous sloping siege ramp”, “iron-shod Assyrian battering rams”, “the destroyed gate covered by up to 6 ft. of destruction debris” (Dever 168-169), and many other artifacts found at the ruins of Lachish agree with Sennacherib’s palace wall bas-reliefs, supporting the veracity of the Biblical account of the siege of Lachish.
After thousands of years of sitting by, while the temples and palaces of kings decayed into dust and rubble, a number of stelae have been uncovered in various locations in the Middle East. These upright slabs record indelibly in stone the military achievements and activities of various kings. A number of them mention the ancient nation of Israel.
In 1868, one notable stela was shown to a German missionary who was traveling to Kerak, Jordon. Word of the find reached French diplomats in Jerusalem and they went to the owners, offering them a large sum of money (3). Realizing they could earn more money if they broke it into pieces and sold it to strangers, they did just that, but eventually the pieces were collected and reassembled. The completed Mesha Stela was placed in the Louvre, in Paris (3). The black granite slab contains a message from King Mesha of Moab, a nation appearing repeatedly throughout the Bible. King Mesha is mentioned by name in 2 Kings 3:4-5:
And Mesha king of Moab was a sheepmaster, and rendered unto the king of Israel an hundred thousand lambs, and an hundred thousand rams, with the wool.
But it came to pass, when Ahab was dead, that the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel.
The Mesha Stela appears to be a boastful message of defiance. Mesha was tired of being under the control of Israel and he decided to rebel. The Mesha Stela states in part:
"I am Mesha, son of Chemosh, king of Moab...I built this sanctuary to Chemosh in Qerihoh, a sanctuary of refuge…. Omri was king of Israel and oppressed Moab many days…. And his son succeeded him and he also said I will oppress Moab. In my days he said this, but I got the upper hand of him and his house: and Israel perished for ever.... I have had the ditches of Qerihoh dug by Israelite prisoners..." (14).
One fact to note is that Ahab was the son of Omri (1 Kings 16:29) and was referred to in the Mesha Stela. Because it is part of the history of Jordan, many museums in that country have replicas of the Mesha Stela (3). Pictures of it can also be found in many history textbooks (3). So, why is this stone so exceptional? The existence of a stela made by a Moabite king that mentions a king in the Bible; the fact that the Bible mentions this same Moabite king; and the fact that the account from the Mesha Stela does not conflict with the Bible together make a strong case for the veracity of the biblical accounts and of the Bible itself.
Other stelae we could mention include the Merneptah Stela and the Tel Dan Stela. Mernepta was a pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty, the son of Ramesses II (8). A thirteenth-century-BC artifact, the Mernepta Stela is noteworthy because it includes the earliest known extra-biblical mention of the nation of Israel. Currently located in the Cairo Museum in Egypt, this stela contains a list of Pharaoh Merneptah’s military victories, which includes the nation of Israel (8). Israel is only mentioned in this brief line: “Israel is laid waste, its seed is not” (8). Scholars agree that Merneptah is exaggerating about the end of Israel, but he would only make such a statement if Israel were a significant country and a real threat to him at that time.
Another brief but noteworthy inscription states in part: “...king of Israel, and ... killed ... son of...of the House of David” (15). This inscription is found on some stone shards that come from a stela discovered in northern Israel, in 1993 (15). The stone fragments collectively are called the Tel Dan Stela and they contain an early, extra-biblical mention of a king of Israel (or Judah) being of the house of David. Throughout the Bible, the house of David is referred to as being God’s choice for ruling Israel. Psalm 89:20 reads: “I [God] have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:” (brackets added). Psalm 89:27 reads: “Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.” And, Psalm 89:29 reads: “His seed [descendents] also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven” (brackets added).
The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
A stone monument, similar to a stela, was discovered at the site of Kalhu, the ancient capital of Assyria, during an 1846 excavation by archaeologist Henry Layard (13). An obelisk covered in inscriptions and bas-reliefs, the artifact proved to be very insightful about the achievements of Shalmaneser III, an Assyrian king. The monument provides information about Shalmaneser III’s military campaigns and the tribute he received from those he subjugated (13). Five panels appear on each side: twenty panels in all. Five panels on one side portray five kings kneeling, giving tribute. Each panel contains a descriptive sentence identifying who is giving the tribute. The five kings are, from top to bottom: Sua of Gilzanu (northwestern Iran); Jehu of Bit Omri (ancient northern Israel); an anonymous ruler of Musri (possibly Egypt); Marduk-apil-usur of Suhi (Iraq, Syria, and the Euphrates River area); Qalparunda of Patin (the Antakya region of Turkey) (13).
The second king from the top is King Jehu of Israel, a man found in the Bible. This bas-relief of Jehu is the oldest surviving depiction of an Israelite (13). Based on the date given in the obelisk, Jehu brought his tribute to Shalmaneser III in around 841 BC (1). The inscription near the panel with Jehu can be translated: "The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears” (13).
The House of Yahweh Ostracon
Stone depictions of ancient Israelites and stelas are not the only artifacts that support the accuracy of the Bible and the fact that Israel was a noteworthy nation in ancient times (and still is today). Parchments, pottery shards with writing (ostracons), and seals have been uncovered which confirm the Bible. One interesting ostracon was discovered in the ruins of Arad, an ancient Jewish city. The ink writing reads in part: “To my lord Elyashib, may the Lord seek your welfare…and as to the matter which you command me-it is well; he is in the House of Yahweh” (7). This is one of the earliest known references to the first temple, Solomon’s temple, outside of the Bible (7).
The Baruch Bulla
A reference to a specific name, also mentioned in the Bible, has been discovered, in recent times, on a clay seal from ancient Israel. Literally hundreds of scroll seals, called bullae, and seal impressions have been discovered at various archaeological sites in Israel. Some of them found their way into the hands of antiques dealers.
A bulla is a piece of hardened clay used to seal a scroll. Papyrus scrolls containing important information were rolled up and a string was tied tightly around the scroll. A clay lump was pushed down over the knot and impressed by a signet ring, which belonged to the owner or writer of the scroll (10). If anyone removed the string, they would have to remove the clay seal. Doing so would show that the document had been read or tampered with by someone not authorized to do so.
One particular bulla was found and purchased by Dr. R. Hecht from an antiques dealer, during the 1970s (10). Hecht allowed Nahman Avigad, an Israeli archaeologist, to examine the bulla. An inscription appears in Hebrew linear script, which was used prior to the Jew’s captivity in Babylon. It says, “Belonging to Berechiah son of Neriah the scribe” (10). Berechiah (Baruch) is mentioned in the Bible and appears in Jeremiah 36:4, which says: “Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the LORD, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book.” This bulla, the Baruch Bulla, proves that the Baruch mentioned in the Bible was a real man living during the days of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Scroll seals are interesting objects, but they are not nearly as significant as a particular set of ancient scrolls which was found in a cave overlooking the Dead Sea. In 1947, Bedouin shepherds came across a cave overlooking the northwest side of the Dead Sea that contained stone and pottery jars, fragments of scrolls, and intact scrolls (10). Nearby caves contained more scrolls and scroll fragments. In total, there are more than 825 scrolls and thousands of scroll fragments that have been discovered in the caves (6). Fragments of every book of the Old Testament (books of the Bible written prior to the Gospels and Epistles), except for the Book of Esther, have been found.
A short distance away from the caves is the ruins of Qumran. The ancient town of Qumran was excavated as a result of the shepherds’ find reaching the archaeological community. This ancient town provides more details about the people who settled there. Scholars and archaeologists believe that the Essenes, which were mentioned by Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Elder, and Philo Judaeus in their writings, were the keepers of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the residents of Qumran (10). This ancient Jewish sect lived in the wilderness to escape persecution and strictly obeyed the laws found in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). Like all Jewish scribes, the Essenes carefully copied text from old Bible parchments, word-for-word. Their parchments match up with more recent Bible manuscripts, predating all other Bible manuscripts in existence by many hundreds of years; some predate other manuscripts by more than a thousand years (10). The Isaiah Scroll, found in one of the caves, is at least a thousand years older than any other known manuscript of Isaiah (6). The existence of the Dead Sea Scrolls affirms that the Bible was written long ago and that scribes have carefully transcribed it over the millennia, proving that it is indeed an ancient and accurate book.
No book written in ancient times has as much archaeological evidence supporting its validity as does the Bible. In this article, we have looked at some of the archaeological evidence supporting the veracity of the Bible. We saw how reliefs depict ancient Israelites; how stelae mention Jewish Kings and the nation of Israel; how ostracons and bullae contain names from the Bible; and how the Dead Sea Scrolls provide abundant evidence that the Bible was accurately preserved by the transcription old manuscripts. I leave you with the following question: Is there any doubt that the Bible is completely true, is historically accurate, and is supported by archaeological evidence?
(1) "Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser." formerthings.com. FormerThings.com, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
(2) Butt, Kyle. "Archaeology and the Old Testament." apologeticspress.org. Apologetics Press, Inc, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.
(3) Caswell, Ruth. "The ‘Mesha’ Stele." jordanjubilee.com. jordanjubilee.com, Feb. 2009. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
(4) Dever, William. What did the Bible Writers Know and When did They Know It? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001. Print.
(5) "Did Shishak invade Israel as a punishment from God over their civil war?" bible-history.com. Bible History Online, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.
(6) "25 Fascinating Facts About the Discovery at Qumran." centuryone.com. CenturyOne Bookstore, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2012.
(7) "House of Yahweh Ostracon." allaboutarchaeology.org. AllAboutArchaeology.org, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.
(8) "Merneptah Stele." allaboutarchaeology.org. AllAboutArchaeology.org, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
(9) Pritchard, James B. The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958. Print.
(10) Schoville, Keith N. "Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of the Twentieth Century Relating to the Biblical World." biblicalstudies.info. biblicalstudies.info, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
(11) "Shishak Relief: the invasion of the Holy Land by Egypt 925 B.C." biblediscovered.com. biblediscovered.com, 17 Feb. 2009. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.
(12) Stern, Ephraim. Archaeology and the Land of the Bible: The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods (732-332 B.C.E.). New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.
(13) "The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III." britishmuseum.org. Trustees of the British Museum, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2012.
(14) "The Moabite Stone." bible-history.com. Bible History Online, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.
(15) Wood, Bryant G. "The Tel Dan Stela and the Kings of Aram and Israel." biblearchaeology.org. Associates for Biblical Research, 4 May 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.