Penn and Teller’s “expert” claims that, “The more we learn about archaeology and history of biblical times, we realize that most of the stuff in the Bible is fiction. It is an article of faith. It is part of a religious system that really doesn’t fit the way we think when we think scientifically and live in the age of science where we're supposed to have evidence and challenge beliefs." This claim is simply false. There are 25,000 archaeological digs that confirm events, places, and people of the Bible and not one that refutes it. Let’s look at just some of these from both the Old and New Testaments.
Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer documents a number of archaeological findings that give credence to the historicity of Israel. For example, the discovery of the Ebla tablets (2350-1600 B.C.) in Syria provides very early documentation of names, places, and ideas presented in the Torah (such as naming the father of Abraham). Further, an Egyptian reference to the Hebrew nation as “Israel” was discovered on the Stela of King Merneptah in 1896, and dates back to 1229 B.C. The City of Ur in Southern Sumeria was excavated in 1922 and found to be a large and flourishing city at around 2000 B.C. – precisely the time in which Abraham lived. Finally, Egyptian texts dating back to about 1820 B.C. speak of Palestine communities being bound under Egyptian rule.
In addition, an Egyptian stele was found in the temple at Thebes, which gives the earliest known mention of Israel. It is a 7.5 foot high funerary monument of Pharaoh Merneptah, who ruled from 1213 to 1203 B.C. These monuments outlined a Pharaoh's lifetime accomplishments were written for his tombstone prior to his death. He refers to conquering Israel (among others) and says, "Israel is laid waste, his seed (people) is not." Israel is referred to as "a people," that is, they were already known and acknowledged as a distinct ethnic group.
Diodorus Siculus, a Greek Historian from Sicily living from 80 BC to approximately 15 BC (20 years before Christ's birth) wrote, "In ancient times there happened a great plague in Egypt, and many ascribed the cause of it to God, who was offended with them because there were many strangers in the land, by whom foreign rites and ceremonies were employed in their worship of the deity. The Egyptians concluded; therefore, that unless all strangers were driven out of the country, they should never be freed from their miseries."
Josephus (a Jewish Historian; born A.D. 37) in Josephus Against Apion. I, 26, 27, 32 mentions two Egyptian priest-scholars: Manetho and Cheremon who in their histories of Egypt specifically named Joseph and Moses as leaders of the Jewish race. Josephus states that Manetho and Cheremon stated that the Jews rejected Egypt’s customs and gods.
Further, Penn and Teller’s “expert” relies on the worst argument one can have – an argument from silence. But as demonstrated above, such is not the case. Also, keep in mind that the Israelites were nomadic during their wilderness wanderings so it’s not expected that much would be recovered or found regarding their journey.
Turning to the New Testament, here are some of the finds that scholars are in possession of:
- Jesus’ half-brother James (martyred in A.D. 62) coffin was found in 1955; the inscription reads “James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”
- The city of Nazareth was uncovered in 1955
- An inscription to Caiaphas was found in 1990 and dated to be A.D. 10-36
- The name of Pilate (as prefect of Judea) was found in 1961 and dated to be A.D. 26-37
- Regarding Luke’s mention of rulers in his Gospel and Acts: various ruler names discovered in Delphi, Corinth and other sites that validate dating and individuals mentioned
With respect to the book of Acts: Historian C. J. Hemer has recorded hundreds of details in Acts that map to excavation findings
- A crucifixion victim found in 1968 that matches perfectly with account given in Gospels (legs broken, etc.)
- The name of Erastus (Corinth city treasurer, Rom 16:23) found in 1929 in Corinth pavement with label “Erastus, curator of public buildings”
- The tomb of Lazarus – the man Jesus raised from the dead – was found in the 900’s in the city of Larnaca on Cyprus. The inscription on the sarcophagus reads, “Lazarus, bishop of Larnaca. Four days dead. Friend of Jesus”.
In his book Why I Believe, Dr. James Kennedy relays the story of Sir William Ramsey who devoted his whole life to disproving the Bible. He was a respected, wealthy atheist with a Ph.D. from Oxford. In attempting to disprove the Bible, he unearthed hundreds of findings that confirmed its accuracy. After 25 years of digging, he shocked the whole critical world by declaring himself to be a Christian.
So we revisit the statement of Penn and Teller’s “expert” who said, “The more we learn about archaeology and history of biblical times, we realize that most of the stuff in the Bible is fiction…” and find his statement to be fiction instead.
Regarding the video’s “expert” claim of Apollonius mirroring Jesus to the letter, this is just one of many false comparisons and exaggerations of individuals who the New Testament writers supposedly copied in their portrayal of Jesus. Besides Apollonius, there are claims about Jesus being nothing more than a reinvention of Horus, Mithras, Krishna, Dionysus, and others.
The only written account of the life of Apollonius of Tyana (d. A.D. 98) is chronicled by a writer named Philostratus in his work, Life of Apollonius. The biography, however, ends with Apollonius’ death (so no resurrection like Jesus) and there is nothing supernatural whatsoever – no miracles or other parallels to the work that Christ performed. The only supposed “appearing” of Apollonius was to a man while he slept – a vision 200 years after Apollonius is to have lived. It was only later after his death that legends began to creep in about Apollonius, and all post-date the writing of the New Testament so if there is copycat work afoot, it is not Christianity doing the copying.
Further, unlike the New Testament events and claims that are historically verifiable, Philostratus’ work contains numerous geographical and historical inaccuracies (e.g. Nineveh and Babylon were destroyed 300 years earlier, etc.)
Lastly, all of the exact parallels claimed by the “expert” in the video clip are not be found in the written account of Apollonius. This unfortunate act of either intentional or unintentional spreading of misinformation is repeated again and again when it comes to comparing Jesus to other supposed “messiahs”. Not surprisingly, there is not a scholar with an opposing viewpoint on Penn and Teller’s video so no one can hear an informed rebuttal.
In the beginning of their video, Penn says, “"If you believe that the Bible is real because of faith, we can't touch you … they pride themselves on believing things that are hard to believe in. They think God will bless them for that. But if you want history or fact in your Bible, you are so *******"
Nothing could be further from the truth. Believing in God or the historicity of the Bible is not hard at all; in fact it takes far more faith to be an atheist when the philosophical and historical evidence is examined.
Unfortunately, Penn and Teller, along with those like them, have no interest in actually examining the facts. So if they believe the Bible isn’t real because of faith, we can’t touch them. They pride themselves on believing things that are hard to believe in. But if they want reason or facts or historical evidence to back up their claims that the Bible isn’t accurate, they are so … ah … “in trouble”.