Critics who brush off the Bible as a compilation of mythology and legends, do so overlooking the fact that archaeologists have made thousands of discoveries over the past century that have verified hundreds of details in the Bible. The articles, audio, books, and videos in the link below explain some of these exciting discoveries and why you can be confident in the Bible.
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The traditions of ancient peoples throughout the world share in common the inclusion of flood stories. The Mesopotamian accounts have garnered the most discussion since they are culturally closer to the Biblical material than any of the other non-Scriptural narratives. The most famous Mesopotamian flood account is the Babylonian version, found in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (seventh century B.C.) as part of the larger Epic of Gilgamesh.
In this epic, Gilgamesh searches for a man named Utnapishtum (the equivalent of the Biblical Noah), whose story is then recounted. When one of the highest gods, Enlil, becomes annoyed by the cacophony of noise coming from human beings, he decides to inundate and destroy them all in a catastrophic deluge. Enki, the god of waters, reveals Enlil’s intent to the mortal Utnapishtum, directing him to construct an enormous boat and load it with pairs of animals. Instructed not to reveal the reason for this mystifying building project, Utnapishtum is further commanded at a critical point to take his wife on board with him. For seven harried days and nights Utnapishtum and his wife are tossed about in this vessel as floodwaters engulf the earth. When the waters finally subside, the boat lodges atop a tall mountain. Utnapishtum sends out a dove, a swallow and a raven, the last of which fails to return, apparently having located nourishment.
In contrast to the Biblical creation narratives, ancient creation stories from Mesopotamia, Egypt and Syria-Palestine do far more than try to explain how the physical world came into being. Creation myths often elevated the particular god of a particular shrine to supremacy over all other gods in order to validate the prestige of that deity, that shrine or the city in which the shrine was located.
For example, Egyptian creation myths tend to assert that a primordial mound or “Island of Creation” arose from a primeval ocean and that a specific god created all things from that location. Several Egyptian shrines, however, claimed to be the site of that primordial mound and asserted that the god of their respective shrine was the great creator god.
There are only two Biblical references to the Nephilim (Ge 6:4; Nu 13:33), people of “great size” (v. 32) from whom the Anakites were said to have descended. Upon glimpsing these imposing inhabitants of Canaan, ten of the twelve spies became demoralized and terrified. The Nephilim may have been similar in appearance to the Rephaites, a race of strong, tall men with whom the Anakites are compared in Deuteronomy 2:21.
The Nephilim are described in Genesis 6:4 as having been mighty men who lived before the great flood. The author of Genesis linked them to “the sons of God” (other translations render this “sons of the gods”), either in terms of being identical to this group or of being their offspring. Three theories have been proposed regarding the parentage of these Nephilim (these hypotheses do not address the problem of how they might have survived the flood to appear in Canaan at the time of the spy expedition):
Any book copied by hand is likely to contain errors. Not surprisingly, there are copyists’ errors (called textual or scribal errors) in ancient Biblical manuscripts. The original copies of the books were lost long ago. Thus our sources for the Biblical materials are limited to handwritten copies (of copies) of the originals. We do also have access to copies of ancient translations of the Bible into other languages, as well as citations of the Bible by early rabbis and church fathers. Thus Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible, together with early translations and citations of Scripture, witness to the correct reading of a particular text.
Pseudepigrapha, meaning “false title,” refers to Jewish books that falsely claimed to have been written by Moses, Enoch, Abraham or some other ancient hero of the faith. Most pseudepigrapha were written between 250 B.C. and A.D. 200. A few examples are as follows:
- Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A series of documents claiming to be the “testaments” of the patriarchs of the tribes of Israel, in which they by turn give exhortations to their descendants. This work was probably written in the second century B.C., but its present form seems to reflect revision by a Christian. Depending upon interpretation, it may present a doctrine of two messiahs: a priestly messiah (from Levi) and a royal messiah (from Judah). In a manner typical of intertestamental Judaism, this work describes the Mosaic Law as the wisdom of God but reflects also the influence of Stoicism, a Hellenistic school of philosophy.
- Testament of Solomon: An outlandish tale, in which Solomon receives a magical ring from the archangel Michael and uses it to control demons, the book may have been written during the first or second century A.D.
- Testament of Moses: A text in which Moses purportedly predicts the history of Israel from the conquest under Joshua to the postexilic period, the book’s principal concern is the apostasy of Hellenistic Jews. The date of its composition is disputed; some suggest that it was composed during the first century A.D.
- Psalms of Solomon: This is a first-century B.C. collection of psalms written in reaction to the Roman occupation of Palestine. These psalms anticipated the coming of a “Lord Messiah” who would lead pious Jews to overthrow the Roman forces occupying the land. They are important for illustrating the Messianic fervor and religious turmoil that prevailed among the Jews in the days prior to Jesus’ birth.
- Jubilees: Claiming Mosaic authorship, this work, essentially a retelling of Genesis and Exodus written between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D., has some curious emphases. For example, it devotes a great deal of attention to Rebekah and considers the slaughter of Shechem (Ge 34) to have been a praiseworthy event. The book is also intensely concerned with priestly matters.
- First Enoch: Early mystics of both Jewish and Christian background were fascinated by Enoch, the man who, after having walked with God, “was no more” (Ge 5:24). First Enoch is the first of many “accounts” detailing Enoch’s ascent into heaven, but even this work is a composite of texts written from approximately the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. The narrative is highly fantastic in nature. For example, 1 Enoch 6-11 describes the rebellion of the “watchers,” the angels who, according to Genesis 6:1-4 (cf. Jude 6) took the daughters of men to be their wives. In 1 Enoch 72-82, a section referred to as the Astronomical Book of Enoch, Enoch is given a tour of the heavens by the angel Uriel and sees the gates out of which the sun and moon rise and set. This section is also highly concerned with calendar issues.
As a rule the New Testament authors avoided this material, but Jude appears to have made use of it in two places. In verse 9 he alluded to a story concerning Michael and the devil that is found in a version of The Assumption of Moses (as noted by Clement and Origen; the actual text is lost). Also, in verse 14 Jude quoted from 1 Enoch 1:9: “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones.” lt is possible that through God’s providence some pseudepigrapha have preserved some genuine traditions and that Jude was able to discern the true from the false. Given the nature of these books, however, it would be perilous to treat them as reliable sources. It is also helpful to keep in mind that citation of a given work by a Biblical author does not in and of itself imply endorsement. Paul cited pagan poets (Ac 17:28; 1Co15:33; Tit1:12), and Jude’s references to 1 Enoch do not imply that he thought the book had canonical authority.
There are several different endings to the Gospel of Mark found in the various Greek manuscripts. Most Greek texts and several ancient translations conclude with the ending familiar to us as Mark 16:9-20. The earliest Greek manuscript with that ending is from the fifth century, but evidence from the church fathers suggests that it was already in existence during the second century. Many scholars feel, however, that the vocabulary and themes of the traditional ending are inconsistent with the rest of the Gospel.
The John Rylands papyrus (pS2) is the oldest copy yet discovered of any portion of the New Testament, dating back to the first half of the second century A.D. A tiny fragment of a codex (a leaf-form text, like a modern book, in contrast to a scroll) of the Gospel of John, it contains parts of John 18:31-33 on one side and verses 37-38 on the other. It was acquired in Egypt in 1920 and now resides in the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England.
Despite its tiny size (less than 3.5 in. [9 cm] from top to bottom), this papyrus fragment is highly significant. It testifies that by the first half of the second century the Gospel of John was already being read in Egypt, far from Ephesus in Asia Minor, the most likely place of its composition. It seems unlikely that John’s Gospel could have been composed much later than the end of the first century, since it would have taken time for it to have been accepted and disseminated so far from its place of origin. The manuscript of which pS2 is a fragment may have been copied within 25 to 30 years of the composition of the Gospel itself. If we take into account that in some pieces of Greek or Latin literature the oldest manuscript available is dated to over a thousand years after the composition of the original text, that is in reality an extremely short period of time. An enormous number of Greek New Testament texts exist, and they give us good reason to be confident that the New Testament we read today accurately reflects what was in the original manuscripts.
The historical accuracy of the Luke-Acts two-volume work is frequently challenged. Scholars dispute such issues as the dating of the reign of Quirinius (Lk 1:5; 2:2) and references to Palestinian geography (4:44; 17:11) and raise additional historical questions regarding the numerous speeches in Acts (e.g., Ac 2:14-36) and the harmonious portrayal of the early church (Ac 4:32-35). The most critical historical objection to Acts concerns the details of Paul’s ministry. Although certain passages suggest that Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Ac 16:10-17; 27:1—28:16), some scholars deem this tradition untenable on the basis of perceived difficulties in harmonizing the life and perspective of Paul as presented in Acts with details about his life found in his letters.