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Scientists admit - Bible older than we thought

By Terry - Posted on 19 January 2010

Christians do not need convincing the Bible is an ancient manuscript, but scientists do. You see, they have this habit of only believing something if there is empirical evidence. You can't blame them for that I suppose. That's what science is all about. In fact, the necessity of empirical evidence provides the limitations of science.

That is why it is all the more encouraging when such evidence is found to support the veracity of the Bible.

Recently, Live Science, reported that scientists have discovered a fragment of Hebrew text which can definitively be dated from the time of King David, around 1000BC.

None of this, mind you, is particularly astounding amongst Christians. If I did a quick survey of your average church and asked the congregation if they thought the Hebrew language existed in 1000BC, I assume all would say yes. In fact, we think it’s even older, so why the big deal over a fragment of text proving it?

Well, for one thing, until now scientists could only offer proof the Hebrew language existed back as far as 600BC and that's at a stretch. That’s really only towards the end of the Old Testament, perhaps about the time of the Babylonian captivity.

The famed Nash Papyrus only offers tangible proof to perhaps the 2nd century BC at the outside limit. Hardly a slam dunk case for the antiquity of the Bible, but Christians have never been particularly worried about such anomalies.

We know what the Scriptures are, whatever language they were originally written in, and we accept them as God breathed. It is scientists who ask about manuscripts, semantics and dates. Scientists and, I suppose, sceptics who like to find gaps in empirical evidence hoping our faith will collapse.

But our faith does not collapse because we cannot find the original parchment Moses wrote on. (To be honest, I am kind of glad they are not around because history shows we would have made an idol out of them by now!) Christians simply wait for the science of men to catch up. It does eventually and it has here again in spectacular fashion.

Archaeologists working with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem made the discovery whilst working in what has become known as the “Elah Fortress”, near current day Bet Shemesh. It is thought to have been a checkpoint between Philistia and Jerusalem. According to local archaeologists, the Elah Fortress is the earliest known fortified city of Biblical Israel and is in the region where the Biblical battle of David & Goliath took place.

The text is actually an ostracon (an inscribed pottery shard) which measures approximately 15cm by 15 cm. It was found on the ground inside the ruins of a building near the city gate of the site. It took a massive team over a year to work up the confidence to declare the text was ancient Hebrew and could be dated to the tenth century BC.

To put that into perspective, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain hundreds of manuscripts, but the oldest is still from within the time between the Old & New Testaments. That means the Elah Fortress ostracon is 600-700 years older than those in the most famous manuscript collection of all time. And to date, less than 5% of the site has been excavated.

While the inscription has yet to be deciphered, initial interpretation indicates the text was part of a letter and contains the roots of the words "judge", "slave" and "king". This may indicate that this is a legal text that could provide insights into Hebrew law, society and beliefs. Archaeologists say that it was clearly written as a deliberate message by a trained scribe.1

The Hebrew Bible has a mysterious background. No doubts there were original manuscripts upon which our English Bibles are translated, but exactly what those original autographs were has kept researchers guessing for years.

The Hebrew language suffered degradation at the time of the Babylonian captivity to the point that Aramaic (the language of Israel’s captors) became the dominant dialect and eventually competed with Greek for prominence. Aramaic and Greek are the language of the New Testament. Amongst the common people, Hebrew was almost lost and today historians struggle to know just how old it is.

It is an encouraging thing to find the Bible proven as reliable history. According to Scripture, the Hebrew was a language spoken in ancient Israel (see 2 Kings 18:26-28, 2 Chronicles 32:18, Isaiah 36:11-13) so we accept it as true. Scientists may or may not be able to “prove” it, but it is certainly encouraging whenever the evidence lines up with the truth.

But our faith does not rest on manuscript evidence alone, whatever the original language. It rests on God’s Word revealed in the person of Jesus.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35)



Earliest Known Hebrew Text in Proto-Canaanite Script Discovered, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Nov 2nd 2008


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