Lord willing, come May I will make a trip to serve as a volunteer on the archaeological dig at Shiloh in Israel. This is something I have wanted to do since my early twenties and I feel blessed to finally have the opportunity. Just last week, the outfit I will be working with (ABR) made an extremely important discovery. They were ‘wet sifting’ the spoil piles of another organizations previous dig at Mt. Ebal. Wet sifting has not been used much in Israel to this point and much remains undiscovered among piles of dry sifted dirt and debris. Among the seeds, pottery fragments, and other small items, they found a curse tablet – a 2 centimeter square piece of folded lead with a curse scribed on the inside. (There is writing on the outside as well but a translation of that has yet to be released.) The lead could not be unfolded without destroying the piece so the reading of the letters inside the fold was done radiologically. Curse tablets are a known quantity. Many such have been found. They were a ceremonial item – the appointed leader making him/herself subject to the terms of the curse specified should they fail to fulfill their accepted obligations. (Think of the phrase from Ruth – ‘The Lord do all this and much more to me if ought buy death part me from thee.’ – only formalized for a ceremony.
This particular curse tablet is important for several reasons.
Why does this matter? Critics of the Bible have long contended that almost none of the Old Testament could have been written within hailing distance of the events it purports to record because they thought the Hebrews were an illiterate people until the period of forced education in the Babylonian Captivity in the 5th Century BC. The curse tablet – dateable because it’s lead, remember – backs the timeline for the literacy necessary to have written the Old Testament up 500 years – and shows that said literary ability existed prior to that (The advanced proto-Hebrew alphabet in the curse tablet was not invented out of whole cloth just for the occasion.) The people who formed this tablet were intellectually capable of writing any and all chapters of the Old Testament.
This serves to increase our confidence in the direct knowledge of events possessed by the O.T writers. At least it should. I predict that the skeptical crowd will not be moved. And, I realize that backing up the development of writing half a millennia doesn’t prove the divine agency of the destruction of the walls of Jericho but – if the assumption of the late development of literacy counted against the reliability of the Bible, surely the destruction of that assumption must count for the reliability of the Bible. But I repeat my prediction – to the minds of the skeptical scholars, it won’t.
The skeptics used to say the absence of any evidence of an actual Assyrian Empire rendered a large portion of the Old Testament non-credible. The discovery of the evidence for the Assyrian Empire and the relationship of that empire to such figures as Omri and Jehu did not convince them to regard the Bible any more favorably. They used to argue that absence of any evidence outside the Old Testament for an event like the destruction of Sodom showed the unreliability of the Old Testament – if something THAT BIG happened there would be evidence and we’d have found it. Well, recently, we have found it (Tell Hammam). And again, I get it – discovering this city on the north shore of the dead sea where the buildings were melted into puddles and the ground rendered uninhabitable for the next 700 years by the close passage of a meteorite – does not prove divine agency. But if the lack of evidence for such an instance of destruction by fire falling from heaven (interesting description, eh?) tells against the Bible then the discovery of such a place – in the region indicated by the Old Testament – ought, in equal measure – to increase confidence in the Bible. But it hasn’t.
I realize I’m getting old and crotchety but – I have reached the conclusion that most of those who cry out for proof – ‘Come on, just a little proof of what the Bible says!’ don’t mean it – or want it. There is no proof that would move them. Any proof that arises only increases their discomfort and hostility against God’s word because they have already made up their mind that IT JUST CAN’T BE!
I can only say that the more I learn the more I am convinced of the trustworthiness of the Bible.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church