The Truth is in the Potshards (and the Inscriptions)

A Report from Titus Kennedy’s Talks at Dallas Science & Faith, 2023

The most famous quote from the most famous fictional archaeologist in the world is likely this one: "Archaeology is the search for fact, not truth."

The line comes from the opening scenes of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Steven Spielberg, being a canny and talented director, planted this statement of the film´s true theme early in the action, and one can view the whole two hour-long film as an exploration of the relationship between fact and truth in Jones´s field. The quest to find the Holy Grail that drives the plot is an exploration of the relationship between fact and truth regarding a matter of faith, with a test of faith being the key conflict in the film´s denouement.

In the real world, biblical archaeology itself is a field that lives in this relationship between fact and faith, fact and truth. It has done so since its inception. It was also the focus of the presentations given by archaeologist Titus Kennedy at the 2023 Dallas Science and Faith Conference in February. He spoke on two key areas in biblical history: The Exodus and the events of Daniel´s life as recorded in the Old Testament book of Daniel. Kennedy discussed the archeology of the Exodus and the fall of Jericho in a live discussion with Discovery Institute’s Stephen Meyer and that of Daniel the following day in a presentation. Following are some key points.

The Prima Facie Case for the Exodus

The detailed descriptions of the ancient Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt is deemed by many to be a point in favor of its veracity. Many accounts of ancient peoples, such as the Romans or the various Scandinavian dynasties, claim that their founders descended from demigods who had survived the fall of Troy: Romulus and Remus for the Romans, the Aesir for the medieval Norsemen.

Not so for the ancient Jews. This textual testimony does lay a foundation of credibility for the biblical narrative, but skeptics of the Exodus have long argued that there is no evidence the ancient Hebrews had been in Egypt, much less that they had been enslaved there.

The key pieces of evidence against this skeptical view through the 1970s have been the Merneptah Stele (also called the Israel Stele) and the matching inscription at the Temple in Karnak.  It looks like this:

Merneptah Stele known as the Israel stela (JE 31408)
from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

For our purposes, the important phrase in the inscription, translated into English is: "The Israel people is laid waste and its seed is no more."

The extended verb phrase there is a typical boast made by kings in the ancient Middle East when recounting their victories in battle.

This piece of evidence demonstrates that, yes, there was an ancient people known as “Isrir” (transliteration of the transcription), or “Israel,” at least by the 1200s B.C., a time frame that predates the skeptics’ dating for the existence of the Israelite people by at least 200 years. The evidence Kennedy presented, however, indicated a date more closely matching calculations that can be made based only on the biblical account, which indicates that the Jews were in Egypt already by at least 1446 B.C. and then in Canaan by 1400 B.C., at the latest.

The more recently excavated evidence Kennedy presented begins by taking the biblical dates of the Exodus as the starting point, namely the reference to the building of the Temple during the reign of Solomon (970 B.C., as recorded in 1 Kings, chapter 6) and the time of Jephthah (circa 1100 B.C., as recorded in Judges 11 and 12), yielding a date of around 1446 B.C. for the Exodus era.

But what of the archaeological evidence? Kennedy referred to abundant evidence found at various sites in Egypt that have yielded pottery, weapons, tools, and architecture characteristic of Canaanite, not Egyptian, practices and styles. Then there is the intersection of textual and archaeological evidence in forms such as the Beni Hasan tomb painting in the tomb of Khnumhotep II, which shows that, at bare minimum, persons belonging to the class of “Asiatics” or “Semitic Nomads” were coming into Egypt already in the 15th century B.C.

One of the best-known evidences of the presence of Asiatics in Egypt is the Avaris Statue, also known as the "Joseph Statue", a colossal statue of a seated figure, believed to be a non-Egyptian ruler, in (no kidding) a coat of many colors and bearing features characteristic of Egyptian depictions of Asiatics. That Avaris, later renamed Rameses, was, prior to the mid-15th century B.C., a Semitic settlement and that the statue can be dated to the 18th century B.C. lends credence to both the biblical Joseph narrative and Kennedy´s proposed Bible-based dating of the Exodus. This evidence also speaks against a biblically minimalist or historical-critical view of the Torah and historical books of the First Testament.

When asked about evidence for the presence of distinctly Hebrew people in ancient Egypt, Kennedy pointed to multiple items. One is the Speos Artemidos Inscription of Queen Hatshepsut, dated from the 15th century B.C. It names the “Asiatics in the Delta, in Avaris, with vagrants [shepherds] in their midst.” Another is the depiction of Nubian and Semitic slaves making mud bricks in a wall painting that dates to the reign of Thutmose III in the 15th century B.C., which fits quite well into the Bible-based date for the Exodus era. Yet another piece of evidence is Brooklyn Papyrus 35.1446. That document is dated to the 17th century B.C. and contains recognizable forms of common Hebrew names such as Asher, Menachem, David, Shiphrah (a name given to one of the midwives mentioned in Exodus) and possibly even an Egyptian version of the name “Hebrew” (transliterated into English as “Hyb´rw”). Perhaps the most interesting characteristic of the Brooklyn Papyrus, though, is that the persons identified are mostly female and are servants or slaves. As far as archaeological evidence goes, this text is as good as one can expect from a powerful, dominant nation dealing with minor, surrounding peoples.

The Fall of Jericho

Kennedy presents remarkably strong archaeological support for the destruction of Jericho as recorded in the book of Joshua. The findings supporting the biblical account include evidence that the city walls fell outward (not inward, as one would expect in a military siege typical of that era). Or, in Kennedy`s words, “the walls were annihilated all around the city.” Another point of consonance with the book of Joshua was that there were jars of grain that were burned in place and not looted. The very presence of the grain is evidence that the fall of the city took place in springtime after harvest, as Joshua states, and the burning is consistent with the statement in Joshua that the city was “devoted to destruction” and not looted (see Joshua 6).

Evidence in the form of scarabs (amulets considered sacred in the polytheistic Egyptian religion) commemorating Queen Hatshepsut and Pharoah Thutmose III, both of whom lived in the 15th century B.C. and whose reigns predate both the biblical account and other attempted dating schemes, fits the biblical narrative but does not fit the alternative interpretations offered by skeptical critics or biblical minimalists.


The book of the prophet Daniel has also been a target for critics, some of whom go as far as to disparage the book as a forgery and defenders of its historicity as gullible rubes or charlatans. The essential problem for skeptics is that the book makes claims to fulfilled prophecy, that is, to supernatural foreknowledge of future events. For that reason, critics of that school have been keen to ascribe a later date to Daniel, arguing that it had been written in the Maccabean period (167-140 B.C.) so that that its “prophecies” referred to knowable, past events.

The problem for skeptical critics, as Kennedy pointed out, is that Daniel shows every indication of being an authentic product of the era it depicts. The Al Jahuda Tablets, written in cuneiform, describe the names, traditions, business dealings, and customs of exiles from Judah in the period of the Babylonian exile, lending support to the biblical account of the exile found in Daniel, Jeremiah, and other historical books (Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah) of the Old Testament. Likewise, the accounts of the siege of Jerusalem in the Bible and in the extrabiblical Chronicles of Babylon all agree on the essential details, which include the disputed existence of Belshazzar, whom Kennedy identifies as Daniel himself.

One point of argument relates to the account of Daniel´s compatriots being thrown into the blazing furnace (Daniel 3). Recent scholarship on the letters of Samsu-Iluna from the 6th century B.C. has shown that the account of the men being thrown into the furnace is an accurate depiction of the penalty prescribed under Babylonian law for the crime of blaspheming the gods. This consonance between the biblical narrative and extra-biblical ancient sources has not gone unnoticed in scholarly literature, and Kennedy takes pains to point out that this reference scuttles attempts to assign a later date to Daniel. A writer composing the account in the 2nd century or later would not have known of this practice. A writer living during the time of Daniel, however, would have.

An Ongoing and Cumulative Science

Perhaps the most important theme in all this is the sheer amount of solid, physical evidence supporting the accounts of ancient events recorded in the Bible. Archaeologists have uncovered stele depicting King Nebuchadnezzar of Daniel as the restorer of the Tower of Babylon (yes, that one) and giving insight into his apparent self-conceit that is entirely consonant with the record given in Daniel. Then there´s the inscription found in the temple of Amon-Ra in Soleb (modern-day North Sudan) which clearly shows the name "YHWH" and is dated to approximately 1400 B.C. That would mean that, by that date at the latest, the Egyptians had been entangled with the “nomads of YHWH” against whom their Pharoah (Amenhotep III) had fought. And this agrees with dates for the Exodus era calculated based on biblical dates.

Now, we don´t have extra-biblical references to some kings in the Old Testament, nor a clear identification of Darius the Mede, nor the original tablets of the Law given to Moses at Mount Sinai. As Ivor Fletcher has pointed out, archaeology is an ongoing and cumulative science. Every year, literally, more archaeological evidence is uncovered, and each new discovery brings further discredit to the critical-skeptical school of biblical analysis and more credit to an approach consistent with the biblical text.

The Discovery Institute for Science and Culture may be better known for advancing Intelligent Design as a fruitful philosophy of science, but their inclusion of the science of archaeology in their conference this year was a boon to all who attended, a solid presentation of tangible evidence for the reliability of key figures and events in the Bible.

is a professional translator, missionary, and writer living in Germany, where he works with several different ministries, and lives in a Christian intentional community. He has written academic articles on medieval literature and culture and has published essays in Salvo, First Things, and Boundless. He is a native of Indiana.

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