Question from a Site Viewer
I am struggling with my belief. My father passed away very suddenly last February and I have some doubts about the Bible and whether it is really true. How are dates applied to archaeological finds? I have read they use pottery, different layers of the strata, and compare it to other finds. But how did the other finds get their dates? How do you date something when there is nothing to compare it to? How can we know about things and cultures and people of thousands of years ago when we were not there? Looking at records? Where do those records come from?
So how do I know the Bible is true? People tell me they know by faith it is true. They say it is written over 2,000 years with 40 different authors. How do they know when it was really written and who really wrote it? How do I convince myself that the Bible was not just a regular book and that the author sat down and wrote the entire thing? Maybe the author started with the New Testament and then wrote the Old Testament afterward to make the facts support what is in the New Testament.
Another support for the Bible is fulfilled prophesy. Well, again, how can I convince myself that it’s true and someone did not write the Old Testament after writing the New Testament to make it match? How can we trust history? How do you know your God is the true God? And that your religion is the true religion?
First, the dating of archeological finds can be complicated, but a basic understanding is helpful. Both hard data and secondary data are used to date sites. If a site has organic matter, that organic matter can be dated using carbon-14 dating techniques. Scientists and archeologists have great confidence in such dating because it is based on known and tested phenomena. While carbon-14 dating will not yield a precise date, it will provide compelling evidence of a narrow range of years that the organic material was taken from a plant. Thus, if there are clothes, old food, waste material, paper, or other organic materials, carbon-14 dating can give us strong evidence of the date. Further, given the unlikelihood of a garment hundreds of years old being dug up and re-used (it would not be worth much), carbon-14 dating not only gives us the range of when the organic material stopped growing, but also the date it likely was last used.
Sometimes we are fortunate at sites to uncover writing that helps date the site. For instance, given the extensive evidence left by the Egyptians, we can date various Egyptians rulers back thousands of years. We know who fathered who and we know events of their reign. So when we find a writing referencing a certain Pharaoh or when we find a coin with a certain Pharaoh’s inscription, we know that the writing or coin had to be dated at the time of the Pharaoh or sometime later. It could not be dated earlier, unless God revealed a prophetic message. Such findings present hard evidence of the earliest the site can be. And we need not worry about whether someone in modern or ancient times dug up a site and buried something that really was much newer into a much older layer. No one who digs up a site can hide the fact that they were there. Sites, soils, and layers have tell-tale signs. When a site is dug into, these tell-tale signs are missing. I remember taking a soils class at the university I attended, and I was fascinated at how much one can tell simply be digging into soil. Archeology sites are even more nuanced and any disturbance would be detected. Coins and other writings can provide hard data as to the date of a site.
Apart from the hard data, there is a great deal of secondary data. The land of the Middle East is rich in archeological sites and has been explored extensively. Through the extensive excavation, archeologists have found changes in pottery, in metal working, in gods, in structures, and in many other facets of life. Some pottery came from certain regions (we know this because clay used for pottery has its own unique properties). When a certain type of pottery is found only in one time period at multiple sites in the Middle East, when an archeologists finds that type of pottery at a new site, it provides secondary evidence as to the dating of the site. The same is true of many other items at a site.
Archeologists also have found many written records in the Middle East. There were extensive libraries and major rulers chiseled their accomplishments into stones. Thus, we have inscriptions in Egypt speaking of Israel and inscriptions from Assyria and Babylon speaking of Israel. These inscriptions generally tell of the respective nations triumphs over Israel (kings generally did not write about their defeats).
The bottom line is that when all of the evidence at a site points to a particular time in history, it is hard to argue logically against such dating. This is why both secular and Biblical scholars seldom, if ever, disagree as to the date of archeological finds, and when they do it is generally within a fairly narrow range of dates. Occasionally, there is some disagreement when there is no hard evidence and the secondary data is mixed. But good scholars will note the issue and let the reader understand the uncertainty.
Finally, archeologists can be a stubborn bunch. Middle East archeology tends to be dominated by strong, opinionated individuals. Some (the Biblical minimalists) believe that archeology has no connection to the Bible, and that the Bible has no place in archeology. Some minimalist will go so far as to assert dogmatically that archeology has disproved the Bible. For instance, they will state that the exodus never occurred, that Israel was never a strong power, but rather derived from within Canaan as a tribal group, and that Yahweh, the God of the Bible, had a female consort. These conclusions, however, are not driven by archeology, but rather are interpretations of archeological finds, or more accurately in some cases the lack of archeological finds. The mere absence of archeological evidence does not mean that something did not happen. It only means that something was not preserved, or perhaps more likely not yet found. Given the nomadic nature of the wilderness wanderings, it is no surprise to me that evidence of those wanderings were not preserved. They did not build cities, or stay in one place long enough to leave enduring evidence. Further, one would not expect the Egyptians to record what was a disaster to them. Ancient cultures generally do not record their setbacks. Finally, the fact that Yahweh had a consort should be no surprise to those who have ever read the Old Testament. The prophets spoke often about the fact that the Israelites were worshiping many gods, including female gods. But such a find says nothing about what God told His people or what the prophets said about such evil practices. It only confirms what the prophets said the people were doing, worshiping many gods and making idols of even Yahweh Himself. Archeology also confirms that the judgments pronounced by the prophets came to pass. Jerusalem was sacked and the temple destroyed, as the prophets said. Archeology confirms this, as it does the destruction of Assyria, Babylon, Tyre, Edom, Moab, the Philistine cities, Egypt, and many other places. The prophets speak of Babylon not being rebuilt and it has not been rebuilt. They speak of Jerusalem being rebuilt and it was. The speak of Edom not being rebuilt and it has not been rebuilt. They speak of Egypt being rebuilt and it was. None of this proves the Bible. These archeological findings are merely consistent with the Biblical record.
Other archeologists believe that the Bible is an important source of information for the archeologists. There are a few archeologists who attempt to prove the Bible. I do not believe that archeology can prove the Bible. All archeology can show is whether certain historic facts recorded in Scripture are reflected in the archeological record as it has been uncovered. Thus, through archeology we have an extensive history of Egypt and its rulers going back several thousand years. We have the same for Mesopotamia. We can date when various cities in Palestine flourished and when they were destroyed. Sometimes, we find a burn layer in the city mound, demonstrating that the city was destroyed by fire. Sometimes, such as in the cities of the plain north of the Dead Sea, there is a layer of destruction caused by heat that had to be more than 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, because of the glassy glaze found on pottery throughout the ruins. Archeologists have found a layer of ash up to 3 feet deep. Such does not show that God rained down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, but it truly is consistent with such activity.
I have been a subscriber to the Biblical Archaeology Review for several decades. This Review is not a Christian publication. It publishes a wide variety of articles on archeology in the Middle East in Biblical times. Many of the writers in this magazine have little use for the Bible, and it comes out in their writings. But the Review provides the give and take of scientific dialogue on the dating and meaning of sites and artifacts. These are always fascinating to me. There are archeologists who have axes to grind. But what strikes me is not how differently various authors may interpret a site, but rather how much unity there is on the dating of the artifacts. No one generally disputes the age. The dispute is about what the artifact means.
Archeology looks at an artifact and a site. It can tell some things about that artifact and the site. It cannot tell much about who used the artifact, or what people said (unless such was recorded). Further, archeology cannot tell us how God interacted with men and women. The most archeology can do is prove that some city or site mentioned in the Bible actually existed and place that city or site in a time frame that is either consistent with the Biblical text or inconsistent therewith. Archeology can also uncover writings that in turn can provide insight into human culture. Thus, two separate writings, one found at Dan and dated from 850-835 B.C. and the Mesha Stele from around the same period from Moab both mention David, although the Mesha Stele’s reference is more uncertain given the condition of the writing. But the writings cannot “prove” that David existed, only that other ancients within about 120 years of David’s life believed that he did.
If archeology is consistent with the Biblical text, it has not proved the Bible, but only provided additional evidence of a fact Scripture mentions. If archeology finds evidence that seems to contradict some fact asserted in the Bible, it has not disproved the Bible. All it has done is let us know that there is a point of tension between our imperfect knowledge based on archeology and what the Bible records. We do not know yet how that tension will resolve itself. The history of archeological publications is replete with claims that the Bible was wrong with respect to a city, country, or a geographical feature, only to have later archeological excavations or analysis discover that such was an improper deduction from the scant archeological record. But I will say in my many years of following Middle Eastern archeology, what has been found has strengthened rather than weakened my faith. Evidence of David, Solomon, Ahab, Jehu, Hezekiah, Baruch, Caiaphas, and others mentioned in the Biblical text have been found in the archeological record, as have the existence of villages, cities, nations, and kings. For instance, approximately 20 years ago, archeologists uncovered the tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest who withstood Jesus before Jesus was tried before Pilate. It was a nice confirmation of something we already knew not only from Scripture but from Roman and Jewish writings from that period. No other ancient religious book is more historically grounded than the Bible.
You ask the question of how you can know that the Bible is true. If you are looking for mathematical proof, you will not find it. One cannot prove the Bible to be true in the same way that one can prove that if 2+2=4 and 3+3=6, then 5+5=10 (although I note even something as simple as this equation is dependent on an axiom, an underlying assumption that cannot be proven mathematically). The Bible cannot be proved in an absolute sense, but then neither can anything else. For this reason, there will always be people who doubt the Bible, just as there continue to be people in this world that doubt the Holocaust, or that men were ever on the moon. One cannot persuade another against their own deep-seated prejudices, no matter how much evidence one presents. Jesus pointed this out in John 5:31-47. Some will not believe no matter how much evidence there is. However, those who are truly seeking truth will find convincing evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible.
Let me provide for you some of the most compelling lines of evidence in my mind. First, there is the evidence of changed lives. If the Bible is true, its greatest claim is that those walk with God will experience changed lives by the indwelling Holy Spirit. As Jesus said, by this all people will know that we are His disciples when we love one another. A Christian is one who loves their enemies, blesses those who curse them, repays kindness for evil, serves rather than asserts, and is known for their good works. Certainly, on a micro scale, as we look at many who claim to be Christians, we do not see this happening. There are many people who claim some allegiance to Christ but do not reflect Him. However, if we look on a macro scale, there is one group of people in the world that has spearheaded mercy. They have pushed for the abolition of slavery, advocated against the exploitation of women, been the first to assist in disasters around the world, provided shelter for the homeless, created orphanages, assisted the poor, cared for the strangers and aliens, placed their own lives on the line in danger zones and in treating highly contagious diseases, founded hospitals, medical clinics, and educational institutions around the world, and supported the oppressed. They are Christians. While this is not to denigrate the good work done by Jews or Muslims or other groups, all of these other groups together have not come close to doing what Christians have done. You do not find rescue missions in other religious systems of the world. The great Christian organizations such as Salvation Army, Mercy Corps, Samaritan’s Purse, and many others have no counterparts of similar scale arising out of other religious systems. There is a strong case to be made that Christianity changed the view of the world towards the poor and disadvantaged in the world. Even many non-Christians today have values that reflect Christian values, although they are ignorant about how those values arose out of Christianity’s impact on the world. Certainly, before the advent of Christianity, loving one’s enemies and seeking reconciliation with them was not a widely accepted view. Nor was care for slaves, or the poor, or widows or orphans.
Even on the micro-level, there are millions of examples of people who have experienced a changed life in Christ. I have spoken with people who murdered other people, committed all sorts of crimes, and were people you never wanted to be around. Then they came to Christ, and their lives are completely changed. They tell me their stories. Their stories are compelling. You would never know their background if they did not tell you. We have on our website many testimonies. Each one is another nail in the edifice of truth that Christ is building. If the Bible is true, this is what I would expect. If the Bible is not true, then how can I explain such plethora of testimonies? Now, I know that testimonials themselves can be weak proof, as the person may be misunderstanding their own experience. There are testimonials in all religious systems. But the breadth and extent of experiences of people with God found in Christianity is unmatched in the world. That God is in the business of changing lives, even as the Bible teaches, seems evident in the lives of people.
Second, there is Israel. There is no group of people who have been driven out of their homeland and scattered on the earth for 2,000 years, or even 200 years, who have come back to be a nation in their ancestral homeland. Why is Israel the only group of people to do this? Is it mere coincidence that the Bible tells us God made a covenant with them, above all peoples of the earth? In my view, the existence of Israel as a distinct people and nation in the world is strong evidence to the truth of Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of punishing His people, scattering them, and then returning them to their own land. There are still prophecies to be fulfilled concerning Israel. But Israel’s existence as a nation calls reasonable people to consider whether God has had a hand in preserving His people of the covenant and re-establishing them as a nation in the land He gave to them.
Third, there is the fact of Christianity in the world. No other religion in the world has spanned cultures like Christianity has. This is what we would expect as we read the Bible and find that God has called all of the nations to Himself. Christianity has flourished despite the best efforts of man to stamp it out. Why? In many Muslim cultures, to turn to Christ is punishable by death. Why are they so afraid of Christianity? Can it have anything to do with the great effort by the enemy to prevent people from coming to Christ, as Scripture states? Yet, whether one is in Saudi Arabia, North Africa, Iran, North Korea, China, Cuba . . . there are believers in Christ. What is the great draw of a message that One died for our sins and offers life to those who will seek to follow Him? What is the great draw of a message of self-sacrifice and service to others? The Bible has been translated into nearly 2,500 languages, with over 1.5 billion Bible portions published each year. No other religion even comes close. Over 2.5 billion copies of the complete Bible have been distributed. This is the same book that the Romans tried to completely destroy in the early days of the church. Can we truly explain the attraction to the cross of Jesus Christ in sociological terms? No other religion celebrates the death of their one God and seeks to emulate that death in their own lives. Again, this does not prove the Bible, but it provides evidence that something is true about what the Bible says. The spread of Christianity into all cultures is certainly fully consistent with the Bible which speaks of all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages coming together to worship God.
Fourth, there is the Bible itself. You raise the question about how do we know that someone did not sit down and write the whole thing. There are many reasons. Archeology provides a reason. The oldest copies of portions of the Bible date to the time of Jeremiah (around 600 B.C.), long before Jesus was on the earth or the Apostle Paul. So we know that at least a portion of the book of Numbers existed at that time. In 1947, a Bedouin discovered some ancient writings in a cave near the Dead Sea. From that discovery, archeologists have found thousands of fragments of writings and entire scrolls that date back to before the time of Jesus. We know that these portions of the Old Testament were written before the time of Christ because we have copies that predate Christ. These copies include some remarkable Messianic passages speaking of the coming Christ, including Isaiah 7:14, 9:6; 53; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 12:10. In all of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is not a single passage of New Testament text. The earliest New Testament text dates to the 2nd century A.D., although there are quotations and references to New Testament texts found in early church writings from the 1st century A.D. Unless someone before the time of Christ sat down and wrote the entire Bible and had prophetic eyes to see who the Roman rulers would be, what decrees Rome would issue, what cities Rome would found, what ports would be important, etc., we must conclude that the Old Testament and the New Testament were written by different authors.
Another reason is because of the variations in writing found with the Bible. Linguistic scholars have studied the Bible in depth. Paul does not write like Peter, or like Hosea, or even like John. Luke writes a much more refined Greek than does Mark, reflecting the comfort each author had with the Greek language. The various authors have different tell-tale signs. For instance, Matthew repeatedly uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” where in describing the same events Mark and Luke use the phrase “kingdom of God.” Linguistically, it is not possible that the same person could have written it all. While each of us can write in different styles, we all betray ourselves by certain traits that mark us.
Yet another reason we know that someone did not sit down and write the entire Bible is the incredible detail, relevant to the time periods, that each of the books of Scripture provide. For instance, it would be impossible for someone after the time of Christ to know the detail set forth in the book of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. The culture is different in the 1st and 2nd century A.D. from the 11th to the 6th centuries B.C. Even before that, we have the stories in the book of Judges. How do we explain the fact that someone after the time of Christ knew details about places and cultures that existed centuries before them? Yet, the details are fully consistent with what we know from other ancient sources. The possibility that anyone could have forged this is less than the possibility that the moon is made of cheese.
The only explanation accepted by scholars who have looked into this matter is that the Bible was written by many different authors. Some scholars will state that these authors arose during the Babylonian exile and they recreated a cultic explanation for Israel’s history. But no one who has read the texts and is an expert on said texts would subscribe to a single human author theory.
A fifth reason for me is the accuracy with which the Bible portrays the human condition. The insights into the evil that lies within what seems to be good people is compelling to me. Usually, religious texts have heroes and villains. This is the way we like it. We struggle with the faults of heroes and the good done by villains. But in the Bible, heroes are like us, sinners. Thus, Abraham, the great founder of the nation Israel and one of the true heroes of Scripture, lied twice in the Biblical text, and had a child by a woman who was not his wife. The Bible records all of this. Moses, another hero, disobeyed God in striking the rock when he was told to speak to it. This also is recorded. David, another great hero, committed adultery and murdered a man, all of which is recorded in the Bible. The Bible portrays good people doing bad things. The Bible also portrays the villains doing good things. Wicked king Ahab is soundly condemned by the Biblical writers, yet when he humbled himself God had compassion (1 Kings 21:27-29). Wicked king Manasseh repents and is forgiven (2 Chronicles 33:1-17). The fact that sin lies in the heart of each of us is something that we observe to be true in our world and something that Scripture strongly teaches. The insight of Scripture and the wisdom that Scripture brings to the human condition affirms to me that either the Scriptural authors were incredibly insightful or that they were divinely led. I, of course, for many reasons, accept the second explanation.
A sixth reason is the confirmation of those who were not Jews or Christians about the facts of Scripture. For instance Meander of Ephesus, a second century B.C. Greek historian, details the history of Tyre going back to Hiram, king of Tyre. In discussing Hiram, Meander mentions Solomon and dates the building of the temple in Jerusalem to around 968/967 B.C. Ephesus is located in western Turkey. The Kurkh Stela, an Assyrian record found in present day Iraq, was established by Shalmanezer, king of Assyria, and records the battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C., listing King Ahab of Israel as having sent 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers to the battle. The Assyrian Black Obelisk records and actually shows a relief of Jehu, king of Israel in 841 B.C. providing tribute to King Shalmanezer. Based on these Assyrian dates for these Israelite kings, we can go back through the Biblical dating and we arrive at the same 968/967 B.C. for the building of Solomon’s temple. Such dating is completely consistent with the Biblical dating of the temple. There is an inscription from Egypt in the 13th century B.C. that speaks of capturing an Israelite village, indicating that Israel was in the land of Palestine in the 13th century B.C. Of course, according to the Biblical chronology, Israel entered into the land of Palestine in 1406 B.C. and would have been in the land 100 years later in the 13th century B.C. The consistency between the dates recorded by surrounding cultures in ancient writings and the Bible tells me that at least there is truth in the Bible.
A seventh reason is fulfilled prophecy. I realize that if you are questioning the dates of when Scripture was written, you may question whether some prophecies were written after the fact and simply made to sound like prophecies. You are not the first person to question this, as scholars have wrestled with this issue as well. I have read many accounts where scholars believe that Daniel had to be written after the rise of Rome because of Daniel’s prophecies. However, there are certain matters that no scholar can dispute. The prophecies of Jesus that are found in the Old Testament were all written before the time of Christ. Thus Daniel’s prophesy in Daniel 9:26 about the Messiah being cut off and the city of Jerusalem being thereafter destroyed are shown to have been written before these events occurred. That Jesus existed and was killed and believed to be raised again is attested to by Josephus, a Jew, in the first century. That Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. is attested to not only by archeology and historical writings, but by a great arch erected in Rome by Titus that still stands to this day. That the gospel has gone out into all the world as Jesus said is testified to by what we see today.
A final reason why I believe the Bible to be true is because I have read and studied it. It reads of truth. The complexities found within the writings are incredibly rich. There are chiastic editorial structures, complex parallelisms, and many other linguistic devices that continue to challenge scholars who study the text. But what is found is that these linguistic structures are more than nice devices; they point to a coming Savior. The book is far more complex than the most complex modern writing. Yet, the Bible has a simplicity of message that even a child can understand. There is no more powerful discourse on calamity than Job, no ancient collection of songs more expressive than the Psalms, and no wisdom better expressed than the wisdom literature or the teachings of Jesus. I have been studying Scripture for 45 years and feel that I have only scratched the surface. The more I read, the more I find. I could not say the same of any other book. The book instructs me how to live and how to serve God. The God this book describes is the God I have experienced personally in my life again and again. I read the Bible and He speaks to me. This living aspect of the Bible is precisely what the Bible describes of itself and is precisely what I experience. When I pray to this God, He answers me. My life has been deeply enriched by the God I find in the pages of Scripture. And along with a long line of saints who have gone before me, I can only wonder at the greatness of the God revealed in the Bible who personally relates with me. I could tell you story after story of what God has done in my life. These “God-signs” anchor me back to the God of the Bible.
I do not suppose that such evidence will convince a person who is a determined skeptic. If someone doubts that Abraham Lincoln lived, despite the writings we have from him, the evidence in other literature, and a single, unified country that exists today, I do not know how I could convince them. If someone doubts that the Magna Carta is true, all I could provide as evidence is the document itself and the external historical account supporting the showdown with King John of England. If someone doubts the Bible, what I can provide is the Bible itself, the evidence that certain Biblical facts are supported in the archeological record and in other ancient writings, the fact that the Scripture reads as being true with what we know today, and the long list of witnesses to its power in changing their lives. Ultimately, one must believe or not believe based on the evidence. As Jesus notes, even with strong evidence many will not believe.
You ask about how we can know history. Again, it is a matter of evidence. We find ruins. We find records. We construct history that best accounts for all of the evidence we uncover. It is the same way we know about our ancestors. We find records here or there. Someone destroyed Nineveh. Its ruins exist to this day. The history of Rome is written to account for the ruins of Rome, and accounts of ancient Roman historians, the accounts of others who may describe Rome, and any other evidence. A history that does not account for all of the evidence should be questioned. Thus, good history writers will document nearly every factual statement they make with the basis for that statement. They put together the pieces of a puzzle to uncover the picture of history. The footnotes on a good history text can be quite extensive. For instance, I have a book written by a Princeton professor on the history of Christianity in the East. It is remarkable to me how much evidence there is in the first few centuries after Christ of the spread of the gospel into Asia, including India, China, Mongolia, and other places. Something powerful happened to spread suddenly the gospel out from Palestine in some many directions with such effectiveness. To this day, there are groups of people in Syria, Armenia, Spain, north Africa, and southern Indian that trace their knowledge of Christ back to those who came to them in the first century A.D. Something must account for this sudden burst of evangelism. Historians ask such questions and try to determine the answers from historical evidence.
Your question about how you can know your religion is the true religion and your God is the true God. For me, the answer is relatively simple. Once I come to the conclusion that there is a God, and there are many books that address this fundamental question, then I am only left with determining which god, among all of the gods out there, is most likely to be the true God. In this contest, I will gladly put my bets on the God of the Bible. What other god can compare to the God of Scripture? Is there a god who has preserved His people as God has preserved Israel and the church? Is there a god who has done miracles and healed like the God of Scripture? Is there a god who has come down to be with us as the God of Scripture has done? Is there a god who transforms lives like the God of the Bible? Is there a god who satisfies His people like the God of gods? If I were to stack any of the Hindu gods up against the God of the Bible, the evidence would overwhelmingly point to the God of the Bible. There is a reason why Christianity displaced the old Greek and Roman gods in the western world. The same is true of the gods worshiped around the world. Who would anyone want to pit against the God found in the Bible? The God of the Bible has revealed Himself to us through the creation and through Jesus Christ, as well as through the pages of the Bible. He continues to reveal Himself to us through the lives of His saints. There is no other god that can compare to this God.
Ultimately, however, it comes down to faith. But this is no blind faith. Rather, this a choice, based on the evidence, to believe in the God of Scripture. The more one does what God has revealed in Scripture, the more one knows about God (Psalm 111:10; John 7:17). Those who draw near to the God of the Bible will find God drawing near to them (James 4:8). The response of God to a heart truly seeking Him is the best internal evidence to the truth of the Bible. The power of a transformed life is the best external evidence to the truth of Christianity and the God of the Bible. When Jesus was ascending to heaven, He said that we would be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Good witnesses tell what they personally know. Thus, Peter can say in 2 Peter 1:16 that he was an eyewitness to Christ’s majesty. John says the same thing in 1 John 1:1-2. We are witnesses when we tell people what Jesus has done for us. And people will see and they will ask (1 Peter 3:15). We need to be ready to tell.
Books have been written in relation to many of your questions. One book you may find helpful is the book by Ravi Zacharias entitled Jesus Among Other Gods. In fact, in the event you have not found it, you might explore this website, obtain some of his materials, and listen to some of his messages. Dr. Zacharias is one of my favorite Christian apologists. He has addressed the question repeatedly as to how does the God of the Bible fits within a multi-religious culture. I commend the site and his resources to you, if you have further interest in these questions.
I apologize for the lengthy answer. I hope it will be helpful in some way. I trust that the presence of Jesus will be a reality in your life and that He will reveal Himself to you with His presence and delight as you seek to walk with Him.