OLD TESTAMENT CHARACTERS
(Investigator 61, 1998 July. Graphics omitted)
About 2,889 people are named in the Old Testament. (Investigator No. 50) How many of them have independent archaeological verification?
Getting the correct number of people named in the Bible is not easy:
Some names apply to many different individuals. The Old Testament, for example, mentions 30 different Zechariahs, 27 Azariahs, 26 Shemaiahs, 21 Meshullams, 20 Maasaiahs, etc.
Some Old Testament characters have two different names.
Sometimes a name applies to both a person and a town. A few names are symbolic and may not be intended to apply to a real person. A few names in some Bibles are mistranslations or vary in different ancient manuscripts. Some names are spelled differently in different Bible translations.
In a few instances it’s unclear whether a name is used of two persons or one person.
Due to these complications the total of 2,889 people named in the Old Testament may not be exact.
Accompanying this article is a list of 62 persons named and/or addressed by title in the Old Testament whose existence has been confirmed or tentatively confirmed by archaeology.
This list is not exhaustive. It was put together by consulting Bible encyclopedias and archaeology journals.
The previous version of this article gave a list of 43 confirmed persons (including several doubtfuls) and predicted the list will get bigger.
Other articles in Investigator Magazine have shown that Bible statements in many different areas of science and study such as archaeology, biology, futurology, geology, history, medicine, psychology, zoology, etc., are turning out correct.
Demonstration of such trends makes the prediction that the original scriptures of the Bible were without error a valid scientific hypothesis. It’s scientific because it’s based on evidence and undergoes further tests as years go by.
In this article we focus on the people named in the Old Testament and show that here too the number of verifications is increasing.
The names/titles of the 62 people listed were found on walls, burial mounds, archways, temples, stone tablets, seals and seal impressions.
- The name of Pharoah Shishak (10th century BC) occurs on a temple wall at Karnak in Egypt.
- The Moabite Stone, found in 1868, has 34 lines by King Mesha (reigned around 850 BC) of Moab. It includes the name of King Mesha and the name of his god Chemosh (also mentioned in the Bible).
- The "Black Obelisk" (in the British Museum) is a two-metre high Assyrian stone monument. It shows "Jehu, son of Omri" (both were kings of Israel in the 9th century BC) bringing tribute to Shalmaneser III, King of Assyria.
- Sennacherib’s Prism is a hexagonal cylinder. On it are 487 lines of cuneiform script which describe the military expeditions of King Sennacherib (died 681 BC) of Assyria. The script mentions King Hezekiah of Judah and some of the events of 2 Kings 18-19.
- Evil-Merodach (2 Kings 25:27; Jeremiah 52:31), a king of Babylon, is mentioned on a vase from Susa (Elam).
- The Nabunaid Chronicle of King Cyrus (died 529 BC) of Persia mentions Cyrus and the return of the Israelites to Israel after their captivity in Babylon.
- Johanan (=Jonathan), a contemporary of Nehemiah (12:22-23) is mentioned on a Papyrus dated to 410 BC.
In 1993 archaeologists found a black basalt stone (the Tel Dan fragment) outside of ancient Dan. Its thirteen rows of 9th century BC paleo-Hebrew script included the words "House of David" and "King of Israel". It’s the first archaeological confirmation of King David.
"Seals" were metal or stone instruments used by prominent persons to witness or sign documents. Incised on seals were the name of the seal’s owner, his father’s name and sometimes the seal owner’s title. Seals were pressed onto soft clay called a bulla (plural bullae) and left an impression. Papyrus documents were rolled, tied with a string, a lump of soft clay put over the knot and the clay stamped with the seal.
In 1978 the world’s leading authority on Hebrew seals said,"Among the hundreds of Hebrew seals and seal-impressions dating from biblical times known up to now, not one of their owners can be identified with absolute certainty with a person mentioned in the Bible." (Nachman Avigad, Israel Exploration Journal 28, 1978 page 52)This situation has since changed dramatically.
The 62 archaeological confirmations (including doubtfuls) of Old Testament characters date to the approximate time the persons lived.
Some names of Old Testament persons have been found on items dated centuries after the persons lived. For example Balaam (Numbers 22-24) would have lived in the 15th century BC. His name appears on Aramaic fragments of wall plaster from about 700 BC found near the Jordan River. Balaam is not in my list since a mention of his name 700 years after he supposedly lived is not convincing proof of his existence.
About 18,000 texts from the period 2400 to 2200 BC have been found in Ebla (Syria) since 1964. The texts include about 10,000 personal names. Among them are the Bible names (assuming the translations are correct) of Adam, Eve, Jabal, Noah, Hagar, Bilhah, Michael, and Israel.
A further 22,000 clay tablets were uncovered at another site in Syria – Mari. Here "Nahor" the name of Abraham’s grandfather is mentioned.
However, despite the similarity of names there is probably no link with the Bible characters. Therefore these names from Ebla and Mari are not in my list.
There is another group of Bible persons whose existence is supported by implication. The person’s name has not been found by archaeologists but remains related to his activities have been found.
For example the Bible says that Solomon built the towns of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. (1 Kings 9:15) The remains of these places are well known. In 1993 a 9th century BC inscription mentioning Solomon’s father – King David – was discovered. Not a stone from Solomon’s Temple is known to remain but an Ivory Pomegranate has been found – "the only surviving object from Solomon’s Temple." (Holyland January 1996 Vol. 4 Issue 1 page 1) The case for Solomon is strong but he is omitted from my list of 62.
A few Old Testament persons have their existence possibly corroborated but not possibly enough to be in my list. For example Baalis, according to the Bible, was King of Ammon when the Babylonians took Jerusalem in 586 BC. (Jeremiah 40:14) In 1984 a seal impression dated to about 600 BC with the name "Baalyisha" was found in Jordan.
Amoz the name of the father of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1) has been found on a sherd from a jar. (Biblical Archaeology Review March/April 1994 p. 30) It reads, "Belonging to Amotz." However, the name was popular in the 8th century BC and therefore is not in my list of 62.
Some historical persons may be implied in a Biblical narrative but not named. For example Nabonidus King of Babylon may be implied because Daniel is made the third, not the second, ruler in the kingdom. (Daniel 5:7, 16, 29)
Cases have been made for identifying pharoahs of Egypt who are unnamed in the Bible (such as the Pharoah of the Exodus and the Pharoah when Joseph saved Egypt from famine). The results are uncertain and the persons are not in my list.
The list includes three titles used in the Bible. Does archaeological proof of the use of a title prove the persons so titled in the Bible existed? Perhaps not and so the titles have a question mark.
An Edomite seal has the name Shubnaquos meaning, "Pray, turn O Quos."
"Quos" was the main god of the Edomites and his name was often prefixed to the personal names of people. Prefixing a god’s name to a person’s name is called a "theophoric element". The Hebrews too had a "theophoric element" but theirs was "yahu" (for Yahweh or Jehovah). In Hebrew, for example, Jeremiah was Yermiyahu.
The village of Silwan near Jerusalem has a "Tomb of the Royal Steward". On the entrance is the name Shebnayahu. This is the Hebrew equivalent of Shubnaquos and is probably the royal steward – named Shebna – of King Hezekiah. (Biblical Archaeology Review November/December 1996 Volume 22 No. 6 p. 33)
The prophet Isaiah castigated Shebna for hewing a tomb for himself and foretold his death! (Isaiah 22:15-18)
An article by Tsvi Schneider in Biblical Archaeology Review in 1991 was titled Six Biblical Signatures Seals and Seal Impressions of Six Biblical Personages Recovered.
The six persons identified, not with "absolute certainty" but with "very near certainty", lived around 600 BC. They are:
- Baruch a scribe and secretary of the prophet Jeremiah. The seal impression reads in three lines, "Belonging to Baruch/ son of Neriah/ the scribe."
- Yerahmeel (=Jerahmeel) – a member of the security services sent by King Jehoiakim to arrest the prophet Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 36:26)
- Gemariah – a noble of Judah and a Temple scribe. (Jeremiah 36) The seal impression reads "Gemariah/ son of Shaphan."
- Seriah – the king’s quartermaster and brother of Baruch. The seal reads "Belonging to Seriah/ [son of] Neriah." (Jeremiah 51:59-64)
- Azaliah – secretary to King Josiah of Judah. The seal reads, "Azaliah son of Meshullam". Both are mentioned in 2 Kings 22:3.<>Hilkiah – high priest in Jerusalem. The seal reads, "Belonging to Hanan/ son of Hilkiah/ the priest." No Hanan son of Hilkiah is mentioned in the Bible. However, Hilkiah is prominent in 2 Kings 22:3-4. (July/August 1991 pp. 26-33)>
The first three were identified by seal impressions on bullae, the last three on the seals themselves
The author then makes the sixth identification more secure. He refers to a further bulla reading, "Belonging to Azariah/ son of Hilkiah." Then he refers to 1 Chronicles 6:13 which says "Hilkiah [father of] Azariah". These two men respectively were the great grandfather and grandfather of Ezra – who led the second expedition of exiles from Babylon to Israel. (Ezra 7:1)
The Bible mentions eight Hilkiahs and 27 Azariahs. Nevertheless the mention of the father/son relationship plus a close match with Bible chronology (the seal and bulla dated to about 600 BC) makes it almost certain that the existence of Hilkiah the high priest is confirmed.
Ezra is not in my list even though his grandfather and great grandfather appear archaeologically confirmed.
It was rare for a woman to own and use a seal. However, E Stern discussed the "Seal of Jezebel" and says:"This recently discovered seal may well have belonged to Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab of Israel (874-853 B.C.E.) and the daughter of Ethba'al, King of Sidon." (Biblical Archaeology Review March/April 1993 pp. 18-31)The last king of Israel – Hoshea – is also confirmed by a seal reading, "Belonging to Abdi servant of Hoshea." (Biblical Archaeology Review November/December 1995 pp. 48-52)
The Advertiser (January 3 1998) of South Australia reported discovery of a seal reading, "Ahaz [son of] Yotam."
Yotam (or Jotham) and Ahaz were kings of Judah.
Seal owners are included in my list of corroborated Bible names and so are the names of fathers mentioned on seals.
So, what do we make of this? What about Adam? Eve? Noah? Abraham? Jacob? Joseph? Moses? Joshua? Samson? Samuel? Goliath? Elijah? Daniel? Ezra? Nehemiah? And hundreds of others?
Were they real?
Many skeptics will insist on individual proof for each and every named person. Such individual proof cannot yet be given and therefore such skeptics will side with the "higher critics" who will be seen as having the scientific method.
In contrast I call attention to the trend of one person after another, whose existence was disputed, being confirmed as historical.
By reasoning inductively and generalizing this trend I repeat my prediction (Investigator No. 47) that the number of Old Testament persons proven historical will pass 200 during the 21st century! Although many will be confirmed one at a time we should not discount the possibility of groups of them being corroborated in one go via major discoveries of manuscripts or tombs. The science of genetics may also assist eventually!
If the hypothesis (Investigator 21 & 31 & 52) that the original Scriptures were without mistake is valid, we can even predict that all 2,889 people named in the Old Testament will eventually come up trumps!
62 OLD TESTAMENT PERSONS
|Ahab||King of Israel|
|Ahasuerus (=Xerxes)||King of Persia|
|Ahaz||King of Judah|
|Artaxerxes||King of Persia|
|Asenappar (=Ashurbanipal)||King of Persia|
|Azaliah||King’s secretary in the Temple in Jerusalem|
|Azariah||Grandfather of Ezra the priest who led the second expedition of Jewish exiles out of Babylon|
|Baruch||Secretary and scribe for the prophet Jeremiah|
|Belshazzar||Co-regent of Babylon|
|Benhadad||King of Syria|
|Cyrus||King of Persia|
|Darius||King of Persia|
|David||King of Israel|
|Elnathan?||Maternal grandmother of King Jehoiachin|
|Esar-Haddon||King of Assyria|
|Evil-Merodach||King of Babylon|
|Gedaliah||Governor of Judah|
|Gemariah||Noble of Judah and a Temple scribe|
|Geshem:||An Arabian opponent of Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem.|
|Hezekiah||King of Judah|
|Hilkiah||High Priest in Jerusalem|
|Hiram?||King of Tyre|
|Hophra (=Apries)||Pharoah of Egypt (Jeremiah 44:30)|
|Hoshea||Last king of Israel whose kingdom was destroyed by Assyria|
|Jehoiachin||King of Judah|
|Jehu||King of Israel|
|Jezebel||Wife of King Ahab of Israel|
|Johanan||Grandson of High Priest Eliashib|
|Josiah||King of Judah|
|Jotham||King of Judah|
|Manasseh||King of Judah|
|Menahem||King of Israel|
|Merodach-Baladan||King of Babylon|
|Mesha||King of Moab|
|Meshullam||Father of Azaliah the king’s secretary|
|Nahash?||King of Ammon|
|Nebuchadnezzar||King of Babylon|
|Necho||Pharoah of Egypt|
|Nergal-sharezer?||A prince of Babylon|
|Neriah||Father of Baruch who was Jeremiah’s secretary|
|Omri||King of Israel|
|Pekah||King of Israel|
|Rabsaris?||Title for a government official in Assyria & Babylon|
|Rabshakeh?||Title for a high ranking Assyrian official|
|Rezin||King of Syria|
|Sanballat||Governor of Samaria|
|Sargon II||King of Assyria|
|Sennacherib||King of Assyria|
|Seriah (=Seraiah)||Quartermaster of King Zedekiah|
|Shalmaneser III||King of Assyria|
|Shalmaneser V||King of Assyria|
|Shaphan||Father of Gemariah the Temple scribe|
|Sharezer?||Son of King Sennacherib of Assyria|
|Shebna||Royal steward of King Hezekiah of Judah|
|Shishak||Pharoah of Egypt|
|So?||Pharoah of Egypt|
|Tartan?||Title for a high-ranking Assyrian official|
|Tiglath-Pileser III||King of Assyria|
|Tirhakah||Pharoah of Egypt|
|Uzziah||King of Judah|
|Yerameel (=Jerameel)||Member of the security force which arrested Jeremiah|
|Zedekiah||King of Ju|
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