John on February 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm
Time had a long but interesting piece on the state of Biblical archaeology, i.e. how well supported are the stories in the Bible:
Some of the Bible’s most familiar names, places and events, in fact â€” the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; King David, the slayer of Goliath; Moses and the Israelites’ flight from bondage in Egypt; Joshua’s conquest of the Promised Land and the gloomy prophecies of Jeremiah â€” are being seen in a new light thanks to a flood of recent discoveries. And archaeologists are always seeking new evidence that might help resolve some still-unanswered questions: Did Moses really exist? Did the Exodus happen? Did Joshua fight the Battle of Jericho? Did Jesus drive out the money changers? When â€” and why â€” were the earliest books of the Bible written?
[A] series of crucial discoveries suggests that some of the Bible’s more ancient tales are also based firmly on real people and events. In 1990, Harvard researchers working in the ancient city of Ashkelon, north of the Gaza Strip, unearthed a small silver-plated bronze calf figurine reminiscent of the huge golden calf mentioned in the Book of Exodus. In 1986, archaeologists found the earliest known text of the Bible, dated to about 600 B.C. It suggests that at least part of the Old Testament was written soon after some of the events it describes. Also in 1986, scholars identified an ancient seal that had belonged to Baruch, son of Neriah, a scribe who recorded the prophecies of Jeremiah in 587 B.C…Says Hershel Shanks, founding editor of the influential magazine Biblical Archaeology Review: “Seldom does archaeology come face to face with people actually mentioned in the Bible.”In what may be the most important of these discoveries, a team of archaeologists uncovered a 9th century B.C. inscription at an ancient mound called Tel Dan, in the north of Israel, in 1993. Words carved into a chunk of basalt refer to the “House of David” and the “King of Israel.” It is the first time the Jewish monarch’s name has been found outside the Bible, and appears to prove he was more than mere legend.
The piece goes on to discuss the spotty support for the Exodus and the conquest of Palestine. However the story is careful to note that all it takes is one discovery to move a mountain of skepticism. It has happened before.