Because Christianity makes historical claims, archaeology ought to be a tool we can use to see if these claims are, in fact, true. The archaeological efforts of the past two centuries have confirmed several details that skeptics used to highlight as areas of weakness in the case for Christianity. There are a large number of biblical passages that are now corroborated by both ancient non-Christian witnesses and archaeological evidence. Here are just a few:


Luke wrote that Joseph and Mary returned to Bethlehem because a Syrian governor named Quirinius was conducting a census (Luke 2:1-3). Josephus confirmed the existence of this governor, but Josephus recorded Quirinius s governorship from AD 5 to AD 6.61 This period of time is too late, however, as Matthew wrote that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great (who died nine years prior to Quirinius s governorship as recorded by Josephus). For many years, skeptics pointed to this discrepancy as evidence that Luke's gospel was written late in history by someone who was unfamiliar with the chronology of leaders. Archaeological discoveries in the nineteenth century have provided additional information to remedy this apparent contradiction, however, revealing that Quirinius (or someone with the same name) was also a proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 BC to the death of Herod.

Quirinius's name has been discovered on acoin from this period of time,62 and on the base of a statue erected in Pisidian Antioch.63 Archaeology now corroborates the early existence of Quirinius as a governor at the time of the census recorded by Luke.


Other Significant Archaeological Corroborations


In Romans 16:23, Paul wrote, "Erastus, the city treasurer greets you." A piece of pavement was discovered in Corinth in 1929 confirming his existence.


In Acts 13:51, Luke described this city in Phrygia. Some ancient writers (like Cicero) wrote that Iconium was located in Lycaonia, rather than Phrygia, but a monument was discovered in 1910 that confirmed Iconium as a city in Phrygia.



Luke also described a tetrarch named Lysanias and wrote that this man reigned over Abilene when John the Baptist began his ministry (Luke 3:1). Josephus also recorded the existence of a man named Lysanias,64 but this man was a king who ruled over the region from 40 to 36 BC (long before the birth of John the Baptist). Skeptics once again used this apparent discrepancy to cast doubt on Luke's account. As before, archaeology appears to have resolved the issue and corroborated Luke's claim. Two inscriptions have been discovered that mention Lysanias by name. One of these, dated from AD 14 to 37, identifies Lysanias as the tetrarch in Abila near Damascus.65 This inscription confirms the reasonable existence of two men named Lysanias, one who ruled prior to the birth of Jesus and a tetrarch who 'reigned in the precise period of time described by Luke.66


The Corroboration of Government

Luke accurately described the government that existed in first-century Palestine under Roman rule. His account demonstrates that he was writing at the time and place he claimed:

He correctly described two paths to Roman citizenship in Acts 22:28.

He correctly described the process by which accused criminals were brought to trial in Acts 24:1-9.

He correctly described the manner in which a man could invoke his Roman citizenship and appeal his case to Caesar in Acts 25:6-12.

He correctly described the manner in which a prisoner could be held by a Roman soldier and the conditions when imprisoned at one's own expense in Acts 28:16 and Acts 28:30-31. (Refer to Norman Geisier's Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.)



John wrote about the existence of a pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-9) and said that it was located in the region of Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, surrounded by five porticos. For many years, there was no evidence for such a place outside of John's gospel; skeptics again pointed to this passage of Scripture and argued that John's gospel was written late in history by someone who was unfamiliar with the features of the city. In 1888, however, archaeologists began excavating the area near St. Anne's Church in Jerusalem and discovered the remains of the pool, complete with steps leading down from one side and five shallow porticos on another side.67/68 In addition, the twentieth-century discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls also provided us with ancient confirmation of the pool's existence. The Copper Scroll (written between AD 25 and AD 68) described a list of locations in Jerusalem that included a pool called "Beth Eshdathayin" located near a porch.69 Once again, the claims of a gospel writer were corroborated by archaeology.


John also wrote about the "pool of Siloam" (John 9:1-12) and described it as a place of ceremonial cleansing. Although the pool is also mentioned in the Old Testament (in Isa. 8:6 and 22:9), John was the only other ancient author to describe its existence. Scholars were unable to locate the pool with any certainty until its discovery in the City of David region of Jerusalem in 2004. Archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun excavated the pool and dated it from 100 BC to AD 100 (based on the features of the pool and coins found in the plaster).70 This discovery corroborated the reliability of Christian Scripture and the testimony of John.


Other Significant Archaeological Corroborations


For many centuries, Luke was the only ancient writer to use the word politarch to describe "rulers of the city." Skeptics doubted that it was a legitimate Greek term until nineteen inscriptions were discovered. Five of these were in reference to Thessalonica (the very city in which Luke was claiming to have heard the term).

Sergius Paulas

In Acts 13, Luke identified Sergius Pauius, a proconsul in Paphos. Skeptics doubted the existence of this man and claimed that any leader of this area would be a "propraetor" rather than a proconsul. But an inscription was discovered at Soli in Cyprus that acknowledged Pauius and identified him as a proconsul.



For many years, the only corroboration we had for the existence of Pontius Pilate (the governor of Judea who authorized the crucifixion of Jesus) was a very brief citation by Tacitus (described in the previous section). In 1961, however, a piece of limestone was discovered bearing an inscription with Pilate's name.71 The inscription was discovered in Caesarea, a provincial capital during Pilate's term (AD 26—36), and it describes a building dedication from Pilate to Tiberius Caesar. This single discovery corroborates what the gospel writers said about Pilate's existence in history, his position within the government, and his relationship to Tiberius Caesar.


The gospel writers weren't the only ones who described the Roman custom of crucifixion.

Josephus, in his description of the destruction of Jerusalem, also described the practice.72 But while thousands of condemned criminals and war prisoners were reportedly executed in this manner, not a single one of them had ever been discovered in any archaeological site. Some skeptical scholars speculated that this was because executed criminals of this sort were not afforded decent burials; they were typically thrown into common graves along with other similarly executed prisoners. The gospel writers, however, wrote that Jesus received a proper burial. Skeptics doubted this was possible because they lacked evidence that a victim of crucifixion had ever been buried in this way. In 1968, however, Vassilios Tzaferis found the first remains of a crucifixion victim, Yohanan Ben Ha'galgol, buried in a proper Jewish "kokhim-type" tomb.73 Yohanans remains revealed that he had a spike driven into both feet and nails driven between the lower bones of the arms. The discovery of Yohanans tomb corroborates the fact that some criminals were, in fact, given burials similar to the one described by the gospel writers.

Many other gospel details have been corroborated by archaeology; such discoveries continue to validate the claims of the gospel writers from the "outside in." Even when the written accounts of ancient nonbiblical writers seem to contradict the testimony of the gospel authors, archaeological findings continue to resolve the apparent contradictions by confirming the claims of the New Testament.



Keith Hunt