Part 9 What archeological finds show the Bible to be unreliable?

Do any archeological finds show the Bible to be historically unreliable?

The key to remember is archeology and the Bible needs to be interpreted.    When we interpret anything we need to be as unbiased as possible.  It is important in both fields to understand the culture and the historical context during that the time period.  Let’s look at a couple of passages in the Bible that have caused some historians to believe sections of the Bible are not historically accurate.

The following verses talk about the taking of a census spoken about only in Luke 1:1-5. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

Author Luke is providing us with important names that can be dated and a decree that can be traced to historical records.  So what do we find?  Historians inform us the practice of taking a census was common during this time period.  An inscription called the “Titulus Venetus” indicates a census took place around AD 5-6 and was typical of those held in the Roman Empire from the time of Augustus (23 BC-AD 14) until at least the 3rd century AD.  There is also evidence of individuals returning to their home city for taxation-census practice[1].

We know historically Quirinius was involved in the taking of a census during the time he was governor around AD 6.  The problem we discover is Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem during the time of Herod the Great and he died in 4 BC. How do we reconcile this problem of Quirinius governor 10 years after the death of Herod?

Archeologists have found a coin with the name Quirinius written in small letters that can be traced to 11 BC.  It was during this time a man named Quirinius was proconsul (or governor) of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC until after the death of Herod.  As a result of discovering this evidence some historians believe we are talking about two different rulers named Quirinius. It was common in this culture to find multiple individuals with the same Roman name.  Another possible solution is Quirinius reigned as governor over Syria during two different time periods.  Both of these explanations work for resolving the problem.  We have no logical grounds to doubt either solution.

Another reason to believe Luke is to ask why would Luke get this wrong?  He writes with such precision throughout the Book of Luke and Acts, why would he miss this simple, easily researched historical detail?  Why didn’t others correct him?  This would have been common knowledge and if there was a problem, somebody would have suggested to him to change it.  Obviously, there wasn’t a problem and Luke was recording information his contemporaries knew was accurate.

A second example of a challenge comes from the contention Nazareth doesn’t exist.  The Gospels mention city of Nazareth multiple times.  I met with a skeptic a few years ago who asked me for proof that Nazareth existed.  I had never heard of this challenge and it forced me to do some investigating.  He had learned this from one of his college professors who made similar claims to diminish the historical reliability of the New Testament.

Why did the professor call the city of Nazareth into question?  Part of the reason is no ancient historian or geographer mentions Nazareth before the beginning of the 4th century.  The name first appears in Jewish literature about the 7th century AD.  How do we account for it being mentioned in the New Testament Gospels?

An expert in this area, a Dr. James Strange of the University of South Florida describes Nazareth as a very small place, about 60 acres with a population of about 400 at the beginning of the 1st century.  He bases some of his information on a list, written after the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD, of families of priests that were relocated.  One of these individuals was registered as having moved to Nazareth.  In addition tombs have been uncovered in the vicinity of Nazareth that helps establish the boundaries of this tiny city.  Archeologist Jack Finegan writes, “From the tombs…it can be concluded that Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period[2].”

Nazareth does have evidence for its existence.  Again, why would the Biblical writers make up a city that doesn’t exist?  Especially, in the presence of hostile witnesses who would have loved nothing better than to attack the accuracy of the Bible.

The Bible is supported by many archeological finds.  Scholarly journal articles and books have been written dedicated to the archeological evidence for the Bible.  So much so archaeologist Nelson Glueck adds this…

“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted [shown to be false] a Biblical reference.”

One professional journal called Biblical Archeological Review (BAR) is dedicated to archeological finds that support the information found in the Bible.  Christian and non-Christian archeologists from all over the world submit articles to BAR demonstrating over and over again the historical nature of the Bible.

Based on the evidence I have presented and much more, I believe archeology supports the historical reliability of the Bible which in turn supplies evidence for the Biblical Jesus.

Go to part 10 here


[1] Habermas, Gary, “The Historical Jesus,” College Press Publishing, 1996 pgs. 171-173

[2] Strobel, Lee, “The Case for Christ,” Zondervan Publishing, 1998 p. 102-104

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