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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Recent Finds Lend Evidence to Biblical Accounts

HAZOR, Israel -- Amnon Ben-Tor is an archeologist who doubts anything he can't dig up. He takes nothing in the Bible on faith.

Yet, standing in a trench on a hot, barren mountainside, he stares into the fire-blackened stone and sees an army destroying the Canaanite city of Hazor 3,200 years ago.

Just as it says in the Book of Joshua.

"Hazor was destroyed by fire'' when the invading Israelites claimed their Promised Land, Ben-Tor says. "Nobody can prove to me the story in Joshua is entirely fiction.''

From the Northern Hills of Israel to the desert of Yemen, a string of recent archaeological discoveries have provided the first hard evidence for a number of Biblical figures and events, many of which had been widely dismissed as myths and moral tales.

Individually, the discoveries are important. Together, they are shaking the field of biblical archaeology and buttressing words believers have taken on faith.

They also have political implications in a region where Jewish and Palestinian claims to the land rest in part on events dating back to the time of Abraham.

In this volatile mix of archaeology, religion and politics, the most important of the new discoveries is evidence for the existence of King David.

The Bible says the child David slayed the Philistine giant Goliath and went on to found Jerusalem, which this year is celebrating its 3,000th anniversary as the City of David.

David's is an exciting tale of murder, adultery, political deceit and extraordinary faith and courage. The story is so fantastic, many biblical scholars have long thought that even David himself must have been made up.

Then came what Seymour Gitin of The W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in East Jerusalem calls "one of the greatest finds of the 20th century.''

In 1993, Israeli archaeologists digging in Tel Dan in the Golan Heights unearthed a piece of stone from an ancient monument, or stele. Inscribed upon it, in ancient Aramaic, were the words "King of Israel'' and "House of David.''

The story so shook some scholars that they insisted the find was phony or the inscription incorrectly translated. A year later, however, archaeologists found more fragments of the stele with additional inscriptions referring to the ancient king.

Today, the new scholarly consensus is that David was real. Not because the Bible says so, says Ronny Reich of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, but because "archaeology has found it.''

The rock upon which David's name was found is only one of the recent finds consistent with biblical accounts -- discoveries that may be ushering in a new golden age of Biblical archaeology.

?Recent expeditions at Shechem in the West Bank, where the Bible says Abraham built an altar to God, prove an organized community existed there during Abraham's time nearly 4,000 years ago.

?This summer, archaeologists digging in a kibbutz in central Israel found a stone tablet with a Phoenician inscription bearing the name of the city of Ekron, the fabled city where, according to the book of I Samuel, the Philistines took the Ark of the Covenant after capturing it from the Israelites.

?Recent excavations have uncovered a string of ancient Egyptian forts along the Sinai's Mediterranean coast. The discovery offers a plausible explanation for an Exodus story that has long puzzled scholars -- for why Moses would lead his people out of Egypt through the Sinai wilderness instead of along the shorter coastal route.

?This summer, archaeologists sifting through a 2,000-year-old garbage dump at Masada in southern Israel unearthed a wine jug inscribed with the name of King Herod. It was the first object ever found bearing the name of the great Judean king mentioned in the Gospels.

?An ivory pomegranate purchased in the international antiquities market by Israeli authorities for $550,000 in 1988 is now believed by many scholars to be the first relic ever found from Solomon's Temple. According to the Bible, the magnificent temple -- generally dated to around 950 B.C. -- housed the Ark of the Covenant. An inscription on the pomegranate has been translated as "Holy to the priests, belonging to the temple of Yahweh.''

No archaeologists are saying everything in the Bible is literally true.

"How reliable is the Bible?'' Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, asks rhetorically. "The answer is it has a sound historical core. What is heating up now is an academic battle between those who deny this and those who affirm it.''

Some researchers accept the recent discoveries as proof that biblical accounts of Exodus and the conquest of the Promised Land are generally true. Others continue to insist that the events never occurred and the major figures of the Old Testament, from Jacob to Solomon, never existed. The debate centers on figures and events that are important to three of the world's major religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam.