June 6, 2017

Purdue researcher verifies the existence of 53 people mentioned in Hebrew Bible

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Lawrence Mykytiuk cannot document that everything in the Bible took place. What the Purdue University Libraries professor can do is show you that many of the people written about did, in fact, exist.

 “While some would put their hand on the Bible and really mean it when they take an oath, a few revisionist academics would throw it out and say, ‘That’s creative writing.’ I was looking for concrete, objective evidence outside of the Bible that would help build the case,” said Mykytiuk, an associate professor of library science.

Mykytiuk (pronounced MICK-ee-took) has added three names to the previously published 50 Old Testament individuals in the Bible, beginning with King David, all of whom he says he has verified through his research. The three new people are Tattenai (also translated as Tatnai), a Persian governor during the time of Ezra (after the Babylonian exile); and two high officials of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II: Nergal-sharezer, called the “samgar” official, and Nebuzaradan, “the chief of the guards.” A YouTube video is available here.

Tattenai is mentioned in the fifth chapter of the book of Ezra. He also is mentioned outside of the Bible in a letter on a clay tablet from Persian King Darius I the Great, in the year 502 B.C. 

According to the Bible, Nergal-sharezer and Nebuzaradan were high officials of King Nebuchadnezzar II, who in 586 B.C. destroyed the First Temple, as well as Jerusalem, and exiled most of the remaining population of Judah. They are mentioned at the scene of the destruction in Jeremiah 39:3 and 39:9, respectively, and Nebuzaradan also is mentioned in 2 Kings, Chapter 25. Their king included them in a contemporaneous list of his courtiers that was written on clay tablets. 

Mykytiuk has written about his latest findings in Biblical Archeology Review.

“When you verify that a person existed, you’re not usually verifying that they did what the Bible says they did, because you don’t usually get that much information in the inscription or in the Bible,” Mykytiuk said. “If you get the person’s name, his or her father’s name, and the person’s office or title, that doesn’t verify that they did certain things. But it can sometimes show they were in a position to do the things Scripture says they did. That’s often as far as you can go. Still, there are some longer inscriptions from ancient Israel’s neighbors that mention people and events in the Old Testament, just describing them from a different point of view.” 

When verifying an individual, Mykytiuk goes through a painstaking three-step process:

Data is checked to make sure it is from an authentic inscription and not forged. Settings from historical documents are matched up to confirm that the person’s time and socio-political “place” (such as the kingdom of Judah) are the same. Mykytiuk considers a period of about 50 years between the person in the inscription and the person in the Bible as permissible, because an adult could be active for that amount of time.

At least three ways of identifying the individual in the Bible (such as the person’s name, the father’s name, and the person’s title) must match the same three identifying marks of the individual in the inscription. Three identifying matches are considered a lock, two are considered a reasonable hypothesis, or even a likely hypothesis for a match, but one is not enough.

“Sometimes the three-step process is not necessary, as when we know that the person in an inscription and the person in the Bible are both connected to a one-time circumstance or event that fits one and only one person,” Mykytiuk said. “For example, Ahab, king of Israel, ruled during the period in which the famous battle of Qarqar was fought in 853 B.C. His Assyrian enemy wrote about “Ahab the Israelite,” one of the kings he fought in that particular battle. Therefore, Ahab, king of Israel in the Bible, and Ahab, the Israelite king at the battle of Qarqar in the Assyrian inscription, must have been the same person.

After interpreting the inscription according to data from other inscriptions outside the Bible, only then does he compare it to the Bible. “To use biblical data as a determining factor in interpreting an inscription, and then to claim that the inscription confirms the Bible, opens the door to circular logic,” he said.

It’s easy to go online and find long lists proclaiming that they are filled with many more verified biblical figures, but Mykytiuk says many of those lists include forged inscriptions and do not guard against inaccuracies. He has published numerous articles on the subject, presented at academic conferences and taken questions from expert reviewers in biblical studies, ancient history, and archaeology, adjusting his criteria accordingly. Mykytiuk can also read languages used in ancient texts, such as those on monuments, signet rings, and seal impressions in lumps of clay, called bullae (singular: bulla), which were used to seal documents.

The languages he uses to read ancient inscriptions and the Bible include ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. He also reads inscriptions in various Canaanite dialects and in other ancient languages, such as Phoenician. And in order to keep up with recent scholarship on inscriptions, he reads articles in a few modern European languages. 

Although the Hebrew Bible names almost 3,000 people, Mykytiuk states that for an overwhelming number of these, it only gives the person’s name and does not supply enough specific information about them to identify them in any other writing. The number of individuals for whom the Bible gives enough information to identify them specifically is far smaller, surely no more than a few hundred, he estimates. With 53 of the people mentioned in the Hebrew Bible now verified through years of research, Mykytiuk will move on to the New Testament, first with a BAR article on 23 verified political figures, then to another one covering about six religious figures. In 2015, he published an article in BAR titled, Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible.

He calls such verifications his passion and says it’s important because, “This evidence shows that it is not essential to have religious faith in order to understand and accept much of what the Bible presents. It demonstrates that even on the basis of writings outside of the Bible alone, Scripture does have a considerable degree of historical credibility.” 

Media contact: Tim Doty, 765-496-2571, doty2@purdue.edu

Source: Lawrence Mykytiuk, 765-494-3605, larrym@purdue.edu

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