The Bible is one of the most widely read books ever. But who in those stories are real or fable? One man has embarked on a lifelong quest to trace names found in archaeological digs to those written about in the bible.
He is a man who emphasizes faith is an individual and personal choice.
Some believe, some don’t.
About two hours south of Chicago, at Purdue University, WGN’s Mark Suppelsa met Associate Professor Larry Mykytiuk. He is a believer who says he's not trying to change individual beliefs but rather, just show where in the world the people who are in the Bible existed.
Mykytiuk says he's devoted his work life to researching one of the best selling books of all time. He says it’s like walking through history every day.
He says, “So if it’s not history, I don’t know what it is.”
Is the Old Testament essentially a history book?
“Yes, yes," says Mykytiuk, "Except the wisdom literature like Ecclesiastics. But otherwise, you’ve got history and even the prophets they write poetry but it has historical application.”
One image uncovered in an archaeological dig sent him on his life’s work. It’s a tiny piece of clay no bigger than a fingernail from a king’s servant.
Mykytiuk says, "There was a ‘wow factor.’ I couldn’t take my eyes off that … Hezekiah."
He found Hezekiah, one of the 53 people in the Bible he's now confirmed lived on this earth.
Yet not all agree and question the evidence, even though later digs turned up more proof.
For example, that first find, Hezekiah shows up in Isaiah up in the Book of Kings. He’s one of a few of 17 kings to the southern kingdom of Judah, the professor points out.
"He’s one of four good ones. So he’s famous," says Mykytiuk.
And that told him something.
“This is something real. That someone who knew him created (it)." That person, Mykytiuk says, created that thumbnail piece of clay, which was common 2,000 years ago but rarely linked to individuals in the Bible.
Yet, he says, history depends in part on its author. What’s included and what’s not, can shade the truth. For a researcher that means being ruthless when it comes to the facts.
Professor Mykytiuk explains, “When I was doing this, I had to get rid of the ‘wow factor.’ I had to be absolutely cold blooded about the evidence and whether it met the criteria.
I want to be right too. But I try to hang my case on the evidence. If I find myself rejecting evidence because it’s not what I want, then I should get out of the business.”
Some names are just too common to rule in or out. Familiar names like Joseph or John.
“It says Jeramiah. Is that the prophet Jeramiah? Or was it his cousin? Or was it the guy who lived in the other town Jeramiah?” Mykytiuk says. “Some of these will say that’s the prophet Jerimiah. Baloney. It might be it might not be.”
But ancient tablets about Nebuchadnezzar II, the king of Babylon, are solid.
"So Nebuchadnezzar says I have a great court here. All these wonderful people love me so I’m going to list their names and give their titles and say what a great bunch of generals and administrators I’ve got.” Mykytiuk says. “And so he lists them … The same boss, the same name and same title. And at the same time. How are you going to get away from that?"
So he made a connection there. And after years of hard work and lots of research, 50 names made it on to his final list.
Then after publishing, he added three more names.
“They were not in the 50 because I sent them in thinking the article had not yet gone to press,” Mykytiuk says. “It had gone to press. So these two mighty
Babylonian warriors fell victim to a publication deadline. It’s so good I wish I had done it on purpose.”
Believe or not, the professor finds something in the Old Testament for all.
"This is not just the private information to be kept secret. This belongs to everybody,” he says. “There are Muslims who are interested in the people in the Bible.
There are Jews obviously. There are Christians. There are people of no particular religion or faith but are interested in history. Historians must look at all the possible sources. Otherwise they are not very good historian.
So you have these inscriptions and you also have the Bible and sometimes they match. Sometimes they contradict each other. Sometimes they talk about the same person in a very different way.”
But of the 53 he's confirmed, one person really stands out.
“David, from the time he shows up in the book of first Samuel. He is the key to so many things," says Mykytiuk.
At one point while describing his findings and how they matched the findings of archaeological digs around the world, the professor got choked up and had to stop talking for a moment.
He said, "It’s the drama of confirmation. Of realizing we have a new piece of evidence and it echoes. It reverberates all the way back. Yeah its evidence but it’s that connection. The overtones. It verifies everything."