The Book of Nehemiah recounts the story of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem in 445-444 BC from their exile in Babylon. Nehemiah recounts in detail how Ataxerxes, the Babylonian Emperor, issued orders that allowed them to reoccupy and rebuild the city and its walls. Skeptics have long dismissed the story as later day propaganda made up by the Jewish exiles in Babylon.
In November of 2007 a team of Israeli archaeologists led by Eilat Mazar announced that they had discovered Nehemiah’s Wall. Predictably the initial reaction of critics was that, “the evidence did not support the claim.” However, as this research continues the critics have been silenced because the level of correspondence between the descriptions in the Bible and the materials uncovered by the archaeologists has been astounding.
There is a continuing flood of evidence coming out of this research that will produce numerous books on the subject in the near future. The highlights of this research include the discovery of the destroyed pre-exilic wall that surrounded Jerusalem, which was ruined by the Babylonians. One of the key questions that had to be answered about the wall was its reconstruction date. The evidence from several different lines of research clearly puts the date when the reconstruction was preformed exactly were the Bible reports it, at about 445 BC (Nehemiah 2:11-15).
Nehemiah 3:1-32 goes on to describe how the wall was rapidly rebuilt in just 52 days by having different sections assigned to different families, guilds or settlement groups. Several lines of evidence support this Biblical description. These include pottery studies, architectural studies and other archaeological findings. Scripture also indicates that the work was done in extreme hast to the ridicule of the Jews enemies (Nehemiah 4:1-2). The archaeology also supports this claim of a rushed, high-pressure reconstruction and as would be expected, it is reflected in “shoddy workmanship.”
Christians and Jews alike believe that the Bible reports God working in human history. Many critics claim that this is not true and that the Bible is not an historically accurate document. Their primary evidence for this claim is their opinions. These opinions drive their insistence on scientific evidence that provides corroboration of Biblical events independent of reports in Scripture. This was not an unreasonable position 100 years ago or even 30 years ago. However as archaeological research progresses, it is becoming increasingly difficult, to the point of “willful blindness”, to maintain that the Bible is not a historically reliable document.
Source: “The Wall That Nehemiah Built”, by Eilat Mazar, Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2009, pp 24-33.