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Archaeology and the Bible

By Eric Johnson

Archaeology, or the scientific study of historic peoples and their cultures, is certainly a fascinating topic. Biblical archaeologists, as they were once called before the 1970s, have been able to locate many sites and artifacts in the Holy Land to help show how the cities and people listed in the Bible were authentic. For instance, New Testament discoveries include Herod’s temple (Jerusalem, Luke 1:9), the Pool of Siloam (Jerusalem, John 9:7), Pilate’s inscription (Caesarea, Luke 3:1), Erastus’ inscription (Corinth, Romans 16:23), the tomb of Augustus (Rome, Luke 2:1), Mamertime Prison (Rome, 2 Timothy 1:16-17), and the Arch of Titus (Rome, Luke 19:43-44).

The science of biblical archaeology did not really begin until early in the 19th century. Even then, the “field surveys (were) carried out from the backs of horses, camels and donkeys, hoping to locate royal cities and other sites mentioned in the Hebrew Bible” (Biblical Archaeological Review, July/August 1995, p. 45). The Golden Age of discovery did not come until the 1920s when a peaceful British rule in Palestine and generous support (including a $1 million gift in 1929 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) allowed a man such as William F. Albright to help discover numerous cities and treasures.

Although the support has waned in recent years, there is still much in the Holy Land to be discovered; one estimate is that 70 percent of the relics and ruins in Palestine are still waiting to be found. Despite what some may think, biblical archaeology is a recent science that will continue to get better with improved tools and technology. Political turmoil in the Middle East has not benefited the work still needing to be done in that region.

Thanks to the many discoveries in the Holy Land, even someone who disagrees with all of the Bible’s theology would be hard-pressed to show how the events portrayed in the Bible lack historicity. Artifacts such as pottery, lamps, coins, and other ancient pieces cry out for the veracity of biblical history. Many of these objects are in such abundance that tourists and collectors are able to make souvenirs of such items.

While many Mormons may feel that the Book of Mormon would have similar support from archaeological support in the Americas, they should understand that even the most common of items in their scripture’s pages have never be found. This includes swords (3 Nephi 1:18), scimitars (Alma 2:12), chariots (Alma 18:12), large buildings (Ether 10:5), many highways (Helaman 14:24), forts (Alma 48:8), javelins (Alma 51:34), breastplates (Mosiah 8:10), hand plates (Alma 46:13), compasses (Alma 37:38,44), trumpets (3 Nephi 13:2), chains (2 Nephi 1:13), hoes (Ether 10:25), and harps (2 Nephi 15:12).

While not everything in the Bible has been discovered—there’s still a lot of work to do—only speculation takes place in Mormon circles. This is why Mormon scholars cannot agree on where the Book of Mormon lands really are. Some hold to a North American geography while others move to Central and South America, pointing to such discoveries as the Aztec and Mayan ruins.  Despite what some Mormon apologists may say, there is no proof that ancient Israelites ever emigrated here and lived as the Book of Mormon story reports.

  • For more articles on the topic of the Bible, go here.
  • For 10 reasons why it makes sense to trust the Bible, click here.
  • For 10 of my favorite archaeological discoveries from the 20th Century, click here.
  • For more articles on the Standard Works in Mormonism, click here.
  • Podcast: Is the Book of Mormon from God?

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