Originally published in 1999 in Ha’aretz magazine and then reprinted in the Biblical Archaeological Review, an article written by a Jewish professor at Tel Aviv University seeks to undermine biblical faith by denying the historicity of the patriarchs. The attack is cleverly disguised as pure science, but in truth it is only academic arrogance. Professor Herzog expresses in the article his frustration that his people (the Jews) refuse to accept his “scientific” conclusions. The rejection is not surprising, considering that the professor attempted to demolish 4,000 years of Jewish (and Christian) history. Note the introductory summary of the article:
Following 70 years of intensive excavations in the Land of Israel, archaeologists have found out: The patriarchs’ acts are legendary stories, we did not sojourn in Egypt or make an exodus, we did not conquer the land. Neither is there any mention of the empire of David and Solomon (Herzog, 1999).
While direct evidence for the patriarch’s existence is lacking, the circumstantial details in the biblical narrative have been adequately corroborated with the archeological facts. According to biblical chronology, Abraham lived around 2000 B.C. He was born of Terah in the city of Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31) and migrated to the land of Canaan at God’s behest (Genesis 12:1). Indeed, the city of Ur flourished around the time 2000 B.C., and was a well-known center of wealth and learning (Free, 1992, p. 46). Abraham’s neighbors would have been idol worshipers, bowing before Nanna the Moon god, just as the text indicates (Genesis 31:19). After settling in Canaan, Abraham’s nephew Lot was captured by Mesopotamian kings (Genesis 14). Though history tells us nothing specifically about the kings, their names were common during that time period (Free, p. 52), and their invasion of Palestine can be reasonably attributed to a search for copper in the large deposits of Palestine (Hoerth, 1998, p.96).
The most interesting discovery thus far that lends credence to the patriarchal story is the tablets of Nuzu, uncovered between 1925 and 1941. When Abraham and Sarah realized that they were barren and unable to produce an heir, Abraham adopted his slave, Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:2). This was common practice for a childless couple in ancient Middle East. For the same reason, Sarah encouraged her husband to take a female servant, Hagar, as a wife, in order that he might produce a son. Though God did not approve of this arrangement, it was a standard practice according to the Nuzu documents (Unger, 1973, p. 122). William F. Albright, the famed archaeologist of the Bible lands, remarked:
It is now becoming increasingly clear that the traditions of the Patriarchal Age, preserved in the book of Genesis, reflect with remarkable accuracy the actual conditions of the Middle Bronze Age, and especially of the period between 1800 and 1500 B.C. (as quoted in Unger, p. 121).
Thus, despite the absence of Abraham’s name, archaeology does confirm the reliability of the biblical text.
Not only is there ample evidence for the biblical narrative in the archaeological record, but history also tells us that time and time again, the Bible has been vindicated. It was not until 1876 that a reference to the Hittite people was discovered outside the Bible; likewise, King David’s name had only sacred mention until 1923. In a response to Herzog’s attack, Hershel Shanks suggested that the archaeological evidence we now possess “is minute compared to what we don’t know, and is subject to change tomorrow” (Shanks, 1999). Again and again, the Bible is abused, yet it is a testament to its divine origin that it continues to return victorious over its enemies. It would seem that the Bible’s enemies eventually would realize this and give up, but history also tells us that such will never be the case. Let us continue, therefore, to look beyond shallow accusations, and put our faith in God and in the facts, not the opinions, of archaeology.
Free, Joseph (1992), Archaeology and Bible History (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
Herzog, Ze’ev (1999) “Deconstructing the Walls of Jericho” [On-line], URL: http://www.bib-arch.org/bswbBreakingIllSpecial1.html.
Hoerth, Alfred (1998), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker).
Shanks, Hershel (1999), “Herzog’s Attacks on the Bible Unjustified” [On-line], URL: http://www.bib-arch.org/bswbBreakingIllSpecial2.html.
Unger, Merrill (1973), Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
We are happy to grant permission for items in the "Scripturally Speaking" section to be reproduced in their entirety, as long as the following stipulations are observed: (1) Apologetics Press must be designated as the original publisher; (2) the specific Apologetics Press Web site URL must be noted; (3) the authors name must remain attached to the materials; (4) any references, footnotes, or endnotes that accompany the article must be included with any written reproduction of the article; (5) alterations of any kind are strictly forbidden (e.g., photographs, charts, graphics, quotations, etc. must be reproduced exactly as they appear in the original); (6) serialization of written material (e.g., running an article in several parts) is permitted, as long as the whole of the material is made available, without editing, in a reasonable length of time; (7) articles, in whole or in part, may not be offered for sale or included in items offered for sale; and (8) articles may be reproduced in electronic form for posting on Web sites pending they are not edited or altered from their original content and that credit is given to Apologetics Press, including the web location from which the articles were taken.
For catalog, samples, or further information, contact:
230 Landmark Drive
Montgomery, Alabama 36117
Phone (334) 272-8558