I have heard that the Old Testament was written by Jewish priests just a
couple of hundred years before Christ, and that it is totally unreliable
historically, with lots of religious fables and myths. How can I be sure
about this?

Two hundred years ago it would have been hard to produce hard evidence to
prove the skeptics who make such claims wrong. Before the discoveries of
modern archaeology, belief in the truly ancient character of the writings
in the Old Testament was based primarily on faith. This is certainly not
the case today. Since the mid nineteenth century there has been an
ever-increasing amount of material discovered in the Near East which
provides abundant and dramatic proof of the historical accuracy of the Old
Testament. At the same time, the historical reliability of the Old
Testament text has strongly supported belief that most of it was written
in a time frame close to the actual events described. In other words, the
historical reliability of books such as Exodus strongly support belief
that the book was written by an author who lived at a time close to the
events of the Exodus.

Hundreds of examples could be cited to support this claim. An article
which may be useful is Historical and Archaeological Evidence Which
Supports the Bible. We will list just a very small number here.

1. The Hittites.

As recently as the late nineteenth century, many scholars doubted the very
existence of these people known as the Hittites, despite the fact that
they figure so prominently in the Bible. Many considered the Hittites,
Horites, Jebusites, Amorites and so forth as simply historical fiction.
That was until 1906 when the German archaeologist Hugo Winkler began
excavating the site of the ancient city of Hattusha in present-day Turkey.
He excavated five large temples, as well as a citadel. Ten thousand clay
tablets containing what is now known to be the Hittite language were also
discovered. A great number of other cities which were once part of the
great Hittite Empire have since been excavated. The Hittites were the
dominant power in the Near East, along with Egypt and Assyria for well
over a thousand years. So much for the Bible being an historical fantasy.

2. The Tel el-Amarna letters.

The Tel el-Amarna tablets were discovered in the ruins of the Egyptian
city el-Amarna. This was the capital city of Pharaoh Akhnaton, ruler of
Egypt from 1387 to 1366 BC. The tablets are letters from local officials
in Palestine and Syria, describing the situation in their provinces,
requesting supplies and so forth. The letters in general describe a state
of near anarchy in the outlying reaches of the Egyptian realms.

Most interestingly, the Amarna letters appear to mention events recorded
in the book of Joshua. A number of the letters mention cities falling to
an invading group. Specifically, they mention the fall of Gezer, Ashkelon
and Lachish. All three of these cities are mentioned in the list of
conquered cities in Joshua. This is quite significant, because the book of
Joshua clearly implies that not all the cities of Canaan were conquered.
Megiddo and Jerusalem were notable hold-outs. These cities are not
mentioned in the el-Amarna letters as being conquered. One of the letters
found at el-Amarna is from a certain Abdi-Hiba, governor of Jebus (later
known as Jerusalem). The letter is addressed to Akhnaton, which implies it
was written somewhere between 1387 and 1366 BC. This fits well with an
approximate date of the exodus of 1420 BC. In the letter, Abdi-Hiba
pleaded for military aid from Pharaoh Akhnaton;

?The Habiru plunder all lands of the king. If archers are here this year,
then the lands of the king, the lord, will remain; but if the archers are
not here, then the lands of the king, my lord, are lost.?

Could the Habiru (or Apiru) of this letter be the armies of the Hebrews,
conquering large parts of Canaan from the native dynasties, as described
in Joshua? Some archaeologists have denied this contention. Many do so
because they like to date the conquest to some time around 1270 BC. The
obvious similarity of the spelling, combined with the perfect
correspondence with the list of conquered cities makes the identification
of the Habiru of the Tel el-Amarna letters with the Hebrews in the Bible
seem almost certain. At some point, archaeologists will have to consider
the possibility that the Old Testament is the most accurate and useful
primary source of historical evidence for the Near East we have.

3. The Sennacherib Cylinder.

This “cylinder” is actually in the shape of a prism. It is also known as
the Taylor prism. It was found in Nineveh. Events recorded on the prism
imply that it was carved in 686 BC. It reports the attack and siege of
Jerusalem by Sennacherib. These events are related in detail in 2 Kings
18:17-19:37. The writer of 2 Kings states that Jerusalem was put under
siege by Sennacherib?s army. After preparing the defenses of the city,
King Hezekiah prayed to God for deliverance. As described in 2 Kings, that
night the army of Sennacherib was slain by an angel of God, and
Sennacherib retreated back to Assyria. The account of the siege as
recorded on the Sennacherib cylinder is as follows:

As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46
of his strong cities, walled forts, and to the countless small villages in
their vicinity. I drove out of them 200,150 people, young and old, male
and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond
counting and considered [them] booty. Himself I made a prisoner in
Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.

Surely if Sennacherib had actually defeated and captured Hezekiah, it
would have been mentioned on the cylinder. Apparently, both 2 Kings and
those who recorded Sennacherib?s accomplishments agree that he put siege
to Jerusalem, but that he left Canaan without overcoming Jerusalem.

The great volume of archaeological evidence has made it clear that the
Bible is the most accurate ancient historical document in existence today.
Those who claim it is was written hundreds of years after the supposed
events and those who claim it is full of fables and unreliable history are
either misinformed or are not willing to consider the obvious evidence
revealed by archaeology. The fact is that the more we learn, the more we
become confident that the Bible is an extremely reliable historical
account of the events which affected God’s people throughout their history.

John Oakes

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