Transcript: 20 Archaeological Finds for the Old Testament (with Titus Kennedy)

Full text of a discussion titled ‘20 Archaeological Finds for the Old Testament’ with Titus Kennedy.

What are the top archaeological discoveries that support the Old Testament? Do finds both illuminate and support the reliability of the Bible? In this video, Sean McDowell talks with field archaeologist Dr. Titus Kennedy about 20 discoveries that span the breadth of the Old Testament Scriptures.

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SEAN MCDOWELL: Does archaeology support the Bible? If so, how? Today our guest is Dr. Titus Kennedy, a professional field archaeologist and author of Unearthing the Bible, and a colleague of mine, an adjunct professor at Biola University Talbot School of Theology. What we’re going to do is look at 20 archaeological discoveries that offer insight into ancient biblical culture, and each in different ways which provide support for the reliability of the Scriptures.

We will look at each of these briefly with the goal of providing an overview of the entirety of the Old Testament so you can have a macro perspective of the kinds of findings that corroborate key people, events, and stories in biblical history.

Dr. Titus Kennedy, thanks so much for joining me today.

DR. TITUS KENNEDY: Thanks for having me on the show, Sean.

SEAN MCDOWELL: Yeah, I’ve really been looking forward to this one. I’ve been reading your book. It’s fantastic. But before we jump into it, because what we’re going to do is we have 20 finds, and basically I’m going to ask you for each one of these. What is the find? You’ll give me a brief explanation. I’m going to follow up and say, why is this find significant for biblical history or biblical reliability?

But before jumping in, we’re focusing on the Old Testament. We’re going to come back later and focus on the New Testament, on the Gospels, and the person of Jesus. But give me a sense, because you helped me pick these 20 archaeological findings. Why these 20? What big story do they kind of tell when taken together?

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DR. TITUS KENNEDY: Well, I chose these 20 artifacts in particular because I was looking for the most important and also the most interesting that were in a range chronologically throughout the whole Old Testament. So some of these are incredibly important finds in terms of establishing the historicity of certain biblical narratives, while others are helpful in us understanding the context or even translating passages in the Old Testament better. So I wanted to give a little bit of both of those sides of biblical archaeology.


SEAN MCDOWELL: Well, let’s dive in and do that very thing. Let’s start with number one, Atra-Hasis. What is that find?

DR. TITUS KENNEDY: Atra-Hasis is an ancient story, an epic or a myth, it might be called, from Mesopotamia. And in particular, this was recorded on clay tablets. Now, the Atra-Hasis story mostly contains a flood story with a little bit of a creation time prelude. But fairly recently, the oldest tablet of Atra-Hasis was rediscovered, so to speak, by the British Museum. It was brought in by a private collection.

And when the curator was reading it, he noticed some lines from it that had not appeared on some of the other Atra-Hasis tablets. In particular, there was one talking about bringing the animals on to the boat two by two. And so he saw the immense importance of this. And he asked the owner if he could hold on to the tablet and translate it.

So he went through, he made the translation of this new tablet and found out it was actually from about 1900 BC. It was older than all the other Atra-Hasis tablets. And it was also the closest of any of the other flood stories to the Noah account in Genesis. And so what this shows us, at the very least, is that people way back in the time of Abraham knew about the flood story and had essentially the same details in their story as what was recorded about Noah in the book of Genesis. Just showing us the antiquity of the account of the flood and that people from various parts of the ancient world agreed that there was some kind of flood event with a man in a boat who was saved.

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SEAN MCDOWELL: So why is this find significant?

DR. TITUS KENNEDY: Well, this one bolsters the credibility of the Noah narrative in Genesis. And really, we could say to the overall story of Genesis. Because Genesis is so far back in time, obviously, we don’t have as much archaeological material for many of the accounts in there. The different people and the events, you just lose that over time. And we can see a progression as we go forward in time through the Old Testament that the closer we get to the present day, usually the more material remains we still have left over.

But the writings of Moses and Genesis are very, very criticized, especially the patriarchal period, as being a late, late invention and really anachronistic, not based on historical reality. But this is something that tells us, at the very least, people knew about this flood story, this one man who built a boat and was saved from it. It wasn’t just a creation or even a copy of the Israelites from much later.


SEAN MCDOWELL: Archaeological discovery number two, the Code of Hammurabi. What is this find?

DR. TITUS KENNEDY: The Code of Hammurabi is one of the most famous ancient law codes, and it was commemorated on a stele, a large stele. This has a lot of things we could talk about. But for the purposes of my book, what I discussed in there had to do with the social customs of the patriarchs, and in particular, a slave price in the Joseph story. So the Code of Hammurabi has some things that match up to the social customs of the time of the patriarch, like the choice of the firstborn, even when he’s not chronologically born first. Think of Ishmael and Isaac, for example, or Jacob and Esau, things like that are discussed in these laws. Also, Reuben losing his firstborn rights, that kind of situation.

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But there’s a really important section that actually three of the laws talk about the price of a slave in the 18th century BC when this was written. And if we look at the Joseph story in Genesis chapter 37, we see that he was sold for 20 shekels of silver. Now, that may seem like a useless detail that’s in the biblical text there. It doesn’t tell us anything theologically or spiritually, but it’s included in there.

Well, if we go and then we look at the time of Joseph, we see that’s right around this time of the Code of Hammurabi, and we match those up, we see they have exactly the same price for a slave. And that’s important because the price has changed over time. If we go earlier, we’re going to see five shekels of silver, and then 10 shekels of silver. You finally get to 20. So the time of Moses, it’s 30. And then you go on to the divided kingdom period, and it’s 50. So they were changing over time.

This tells us that the element of the Joseph story here about the price of slaves is absolutely accurate for the time period in which the Bible places Joseph. As I said before, it was changing over time. So it wasn’t just a good guess or the same price that was always continuous. It tells us about a component of historical accuracy there in the Joseph narrative.


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