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Discoveries provide abudant evidence of Bible’s reliability

By Eric Johnson

Note: The following was originally printed in the March/April 2024 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.

In the Utah Christian Research Center, we have a variety of objects (including this 350-year-old megillah scroll of Esther) to highlight the correct transmission of the text. (

Over the years, critics have taken their share of potshots at the Bible by minimizing its historicity and reliability. However, many discoveries over the past two centuries have helped determine that what the Bible records should not be considered fictional. In fact, the slogan “real people, real places, and real events”—the theme at our Utah Christian Research Center that opened last November—should be taken to heart.

Before going any further, it is important to note that not everything in the Bible can be documented through history and archaeology. For instance, the bodily resurrection of Jesus cannot be shown by empirical evidence. Nor can God’s creation of the world be absolutely proven. Yet there are good reasons why it makes sense to believe that the Bible, is true.

Let’s focus on the Old Testament to show how this is true. For starters, let’s consider Sennacherib, the Assyrian king in the late 8th century BC era. His predecessor was Shalmaneser V who destroyed Samaria in the northern kingdom in 722 BC.

Two decades later, Sennacherib systematically decimated Judean cities one by one, 46 in all. The second-to-last city taken was Lachish, which is 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. At that time, this was the second strongest stronghold in the land of Judah.

The siege of Lachish took place in 701 BC; an earthen ramp on the hill built by the Assyrian troops can be seen today. The history was documented in Assyrian writings and the Lachish reliefs discovered in the mid-1840s on the palace walls at Nineveh by Austen Henry Layard.

King Hezekiah was a righteous king of Judah who wanted to preserve the southern kingdom. Among other things, he fortified Jerusalem’s walls and even had a new wall (called Hezekiah’s Broad Wall) constructed to connect the lower part of the City of David with the west side of the Temple Mount. The size of this new wall was immense: 22 feet wide by 25 feet high extending more than 2 miles. A portion of this wall was excavated in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, the city of Jerusalem—built on a hill—had no water source inside the city’s walls. The main source originated at the Gihon Spring where the City of David is located today. Hezekiah’s Tunnel, as it is called, was built 2700 years ago by engineers commissioned by Hezekiah.

In fact, the workers dug underground through stone for a total of 1749 feet to redirect the water, a marvel when it is understood how the workers started at opposite ends and were able to meet in the middle. This tunnel was not rediscovered until 1837 by archaeologist Edward Robinson. Before then, some skeptics claimed such a tunnel never existed. Today, tourists can pay a fee to slosh through the ancient water tunnel from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam while feeling the chisel marks made in the walls many centuries ago.

Second 2 Kings 19 records how the Assyrians were turned back in Jerusalem, not by Hezekiah’s ingenuity but rather by God’s divine providence. It was the angel of the Lord who killed thousands of Assyrian soldiers in their camps, causing Sennacherib to return home. The evidence is clear that Assyria never destroyed Jerusalem, even though on paper Israel was no match for this mighty army. What is most important for Christians today is, if Israel had been destroyed, it would have ended the lineage of David that was prophesied to bring forth the Messiah!

Meanwhile, there have been many archaeological discoveries of stone inscription to show how the Old Testament people really existed. We have several replicas displayed in our center’s Bible museum.

Let’s start with the Merneptah Stele, which has also been called the Israel stele. (A stele is a stone or wooden slab erected in the ancient world.) This is the earliest extrabiblical reference to Israel.  This black granite stone is more than 10 feet in height and contains a description by Merneptah, the Egyptian pharaoh who reigned from 1213 to 1230 BC.

Although the majority of the 28-line inscription contains information mainly glorifying the accomplishments of the pharaoh and has nothing to do with any biblical account, lines 26-28 mentions Israel by name (“Israel is laid waste—its seed is no more”). This Iron Age piece was discovered in 1896 by Flinders Petrie in the ancient city of Thebes; it can be seen today in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Another example is the Moabite Stone, also known as the Mesha Stele. This stone is three feet tall and two feet wide and is composed of 34 lines written in 840 BC. It was authored by King Mesha of Moab (located today in the country of Jordan). The king explained in the Phoenician language how Chemosh, the god of Moab, was angry at his people and thus allowed the Moabites to be conquered by Israel.

Discovered intact in 1868 by Frederick Augustus Klein, an Anglican missionary, the stele was smashed by members of the local Bedouin tribe because they wanted to each get a piece to be shared amongst them. Fortunately, a “squeeze” (papier-mâché impression) of the stone had been made and was later restored. Today the Moabite Stone is displayed at the Louvre in Paris.

A third artifact supporting the historicity of the Old Testament is the Tel Dan stele from the 9th century BC. Discovered by Gila Gook in 1993 at Dan in Upper Galilee, the stele residing at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem contains several Aramaic lines describing how someone killed Jehoram of Israel, the son of Ahab and king of the “house of David,” which supports the account of 2 Kings. The person most likely responsible for the murder is Hazael, the king of Aram-Damascus, who lived just 70 miles north.

Before 1993, many scholars believed no evidence existed for the existence of David. However, this discovery has meant that most scholars today accept the historicity of the Israelite king.

In addition, our center’s exhibits explain some of the oldest texts from the Bible. For one, two small silver scrolls written in Paleo-Hebrew were discovered in 1979 just southwest of the city of Jerusalem at a location called Ketef Hinnom.

The discovery by archaeologist Gabriel Barkay depicts Numbers 6:24-26, which is called the Priestly Benediction and is often cited by ministers at the end of church services. It reads, “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” As the oldest portion of the Old Testament ever recorded, this discovery—also housed at the Israel Museum—has been described by some as “one of the most significant discoveries ever made” in biblical studies.

Meanwhile, the Dead Sea Scrolls shed light on how accurately the Bible was transcribed over time. This idea disagrees with the assessment of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith who bluntly explained why he felt the transmission of the biblical text could not be trusted: “Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 327).

In 1947 a Bedouin shepherd boy looking for a lost goat discovered “Cave 1” on a hill near Qumran at the northwestern part of the Dead Sea. Inside the cave were seven complete ancient scrolls, including the Great Scroll of Isaiah. A copy of columns 32-35 of the Great Isaiah Scroll is displayed on one of our museum’s walls.

This is the only complete biblical book represented in the eleven different caves. Why is the Book of Isaiah important? For one, it contains prophecies about Jesus, including Isaiah chapter 53. When it is understood that this scroll was composed about 125 BC, well before the birth of Christ, its importance is clear. In addition, chapters 43 through 45 describe how the God of Israel does not know about other gods, which would be strange if Mormonism’s God the Father was created by his Father God.

When compared to the Masoretic text, the earliest Hebrew texts in existence at the time, there are few differences despite the 1,000-year gap. When compared, scholars estimate that the Isaiah texts from the different ears are 95% the same, with no major differences.

Multiple partial pieces of the scrolls—more than 200 scrolls are represented—give reason to believe that no major changes had taken place. The Old Testament appears to have been accurately transcribed after all, regardless of Joseph Smith’s opinion.


This bimonthly newsletter is called “Mormonism Researched.” What do these discoveries have to do with “Mormonism”? Just about everything.

Think about it. If I were to write about Book of Mormon archaeology, I’d have to explain that not all Latter-day Saints agree whether the events took place in North America (the Heartland Model) or in Central America (the Limited Mesoamerican Theory accepted by many LDS scholars).

What is interesting is that BYU professors will vehemently disagree with faithful members like Glenn Beck and Rodney Meldrum as to where the Book of Mormon events took place, though church leaders offer no official support for either position.

Unlike the evidence for the Bible, there is nothing in history or archaeology to show how the Book of Mormon talks about real people, real places, and especially real events. It is nothing less than a book requiring total faith because the evidence just doesn’t correspond.

As mentioned in the introduction, there are some things described in the Bible that cannot be proven through history or archaeology. Given a chance to choose between the Bible and the Book of Mormon, however, there is no question which one is more plausible. As Christian archaeologist Randall Price put it in his book’s title, “The Stones Cry Out.” While Christians can point to solid evidence, Mormons have little to definitively point to for help in determining the Book of Mormon’s authenticity.

Inference to the best explanation is the phrase used to explain how the theory with the best evidence using the available data ought to be preferred. With that said, placing one’s faith in the Bible is much more reliable than believing in anything described in the Book of Mormon.

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