Archaeology and the Bible
Genesis - 1
|Flood pit||30 57 39.83N|
46 06 17.14E
|Although it is many years since I was last in Ur, I believe the pointer is over the remains of Woolley's Flood Pit, now much filled-in by wind-blown sand.|
|Mt Ararat||39 40 55.14N|
44 20 30.01E
|Unfortunately what you see on Google Earth is not the snows on top of Mt Ararat but clouds trapped over the summit. This is a shame, otherwise you could do your own searching for Noah's elusive ark!|
|Tower of Babel||32 32 10.58N|
44 25 14.96E
|The pointer should be directly over the remains of the ziggurat of Babylon, now a square trench filled with water. Ignore the picture, which appears to be of the Ishtar Gateway.|
Written on Tablets
By the very nature of things archaeology, which deals with the remains of human activity, will have nothing to say about the Creation of the world. For that you must go to the sciences of cosmology and geology. However archaeology does have a bearing on the record of Creation.
Air Commodore P. J. Wiseman, a Christian who became interested in ancient cuneiform tablets, noticed that many of them carried a short sumary of their contents and a note of the author's name. We naturally expect that this would appear at the start of the document; the Sumerian scribes equally naturally expected that it would appear at the end. The technical term for such a postscript is "colophon". Frequently these colophons had a formulaic nature, as if there was a standard wording and the scribe simply filled in the blanks with name and subject.
Wiseman noticed that in several places in the book of Genesis we have just such a formulaic summary: "these are the generations of ..." (Genesis 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2) As English readers I expect that most of us have understood this formula as referring to what comes after it; Wiseman's insight was to realise that in many cases it refers to the passage that has immediately preceded the formula! In such cases the expression "these are the generations (Hebrew toledoth) of ..." means that the named person is the owner or author rather than the subject of the tablet.
Unfortunately this does not always work. For example, in Genesis 25:12 it seems clear that the formula introduces the passage 25:12-18 and likewise 36:1 and 36:9 introduce the genealogies in the rest of the chapter. It has been correctly pointed out that 37:2 is best seen as concluding a tablet which began at 25:19 and into which the genealogies of Esau have been interpolated, for what follows is all about Joseph, not Jacob. In other words, Moses did not slavishly copy his sources; he copied (we presume accurately) the contents of the tablets he possessed and then added to them material from other sources or even from other tablets in order to fill out the story and put everything in a reasonable order.
Nevertheless I believe Wiseman's basic proposal - that the toledoth passages indicate that Moses was quoting clay tablets - is correct. If this is accepted, it means in the first place that the records and genealogies of Genesis are not the fictional constructions of Moses' imagination but are genuine historical records and should be evaluated as such.
Secondly, it means that the Documentary Hypothesis, which proposes a long series of editors and redactors, is only fractionally right. Yes, Moses did combine these different documents into one, but no, he did not redact them - a couple of words from here mixed with another couple of words from there. Rather, he transcribed each document in its entirety, complete with its colophon.
Of course it may be that the documents Moses copied are merely the genealogies, to which he added the narrative sections based on folk memories and stories handed down in the family. For example, if we look at Genesis 36 we may conclude that verses 1-5 are the transcribed tablet and verses 6-8 are Moses' commentary on it. The next section, which lists the kings of Edom, may have been added long after Moses' lifetime (just as the final chapter of Deuteronomy was added after Moses had died) and verse 31 was probably not added until the time Israel finally had its own king.
This is what appears to have happened in several other places: for example, Genesis 22:14 appears to be a later insertion recording the fact that a particular name has given rise to a popular saying. Perhaps the clearest example of where the book has been "modernised" is in the use of the word "Pharaoh" as a title and name for the ruler of Egypt. In Egyptian the word simply means "Great House" and refers to the royal palace. It is first used as a synonym for the king in the Twelfth Dynasty in prayers such as "May the Great House live, prosper and be in health", but it is not until the time of Akhenaton - around 1300 BC by conventional chronology - that it is used in direct speech to the monarch.
It would appear that someone went through Genesis removing the name of the king and replacing it with "Pharaoh", possibly because Egyptian royal names incorporated the names of Egyptian gods. If so, this unknown scribe's religious zeal did us all a great disservice, for he completely erased any clues as to the names of the kings of Egypt who interacted with the patriarchs.
Some have claimed to see parallels between the "Creation Myth" of the Bible and that found in the cuneiform tablets, going so far as to suggest that the Hebrews copied the Mesopotamian originals. Apart from the fact that they both purport to give an account of creation, there is absolutely no similarity between them. Such claims have more to do with a dogmatic determination to say that the Jews copied everything than they do with any recognisable reality.
|Enuma Elish, the Babylonian Creation Myth.|
The Babylonian Creation Myth (Enuma Elish in Babylonian) describes how the two original gods, Abzu and Tiamat, create other gods which live inside Tiamat's body. The noise they make annoys the two gods and Abzu (from which we get our English word 'abyss') wants to kill them. Tiamat warns Ea, the chief of these subordinate gods, who uses magic to put Abzu to sleep and then kills him. Tiamat tries to take revenge on Ea for the death of her husband by creating eleven monsters and the subordinate gods elect Marduk to be their champion and their head. Marduk kills Tiamat, tears her corpse into two halves, one of which forms the earth and the other the sky. Marduk also kills Tiamat's second husband, Kingu, and from his blood creates mankind as slaves for the gods. The parallels with Genesis chapter 1 are obvious - provided you are an atheist determined to disparage the Bible.
Opinions differ about the Flood of Noah. If it was a world-wide affair, as described in Whitcomb and Morris' book The Genesis Flood, then the evidences for it should be looked for in geology rather than archaeology. If it was of limited extent, then we might look for it in the remains uncovered by archaeology.
In 1929 Sir Leonard Woolley wanted to discover just how deep he would have to dig to find virgin soil beneath the ruins of Ur, so he instructed his workmen to dig a pit 75'x 60'. After several weeks of work the men had dug down through nearly 50' of ruins and then came to a layer of pure clay in which there was nothing - no potsherds, no bricks, just clean clay. Woolley compared this with the height of the tel and concluded that the workmen could not possibly have reached the original ground level. He instructed them to keep digging.
|Headline in the Baltimore Sun for March 16, 1929|
Naturally archaeologists at other sites dug their own pits in order to determine the extent of this famous flood and were duly rewarded with bands of clay of various thicknesses. However when they came to compare notes, it became apparent that these floods had occured at very different times and represented not one cataclysmic innundation but a number of huge floods spread out over many centuries, each one leaving a deposit of clay according to the vagaries of the currents in each location.
At Kish the archaeologists discovered three separate flood deposits ten to fifteen inches thick, indicating that large floods were a frequent, if not common, experience. The most interesting of these flood deposits comes from Shuruppak, home of Ziusudra, the Sumerian Noah, and is dated to 2950-2850 BC, between the Proto-literate and Early Dynastic levels.
The Gilgamesh Epic
Although the Flood has not been found, one of the early triumphs of modern archaeology was the amazing discovery of the Gilgamesh Epic by the young Assyriologist George Smith. The similarities between the story of Utnapishtim and that of Noah are too many and too exact to be mere chance; the only question is, who copied whom?
|Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay the Bull of Heaven: a 7th century BC seal impression.|
Although the Gilgamesh Epic had its origins in Sumerian times, it has gone through a definite process of development and elaboration. The earliest version of the slaying of Humbaba, the forest monster, is terse and lacking in any real characterisation. The final Assyrian version is much longer and gives considerably greater detail about the motivation of the characters - and the same can be said about the story of Utnapishtim, the man who survived the Flood.
It is only in this final version of the story that we have the remarkable parallels with the Bible story of Noah, for the earliest versions are, again, terse and lacking in much of the detail that compares with the Bible story. As this final version was composed at a time when there were contacts between Israel and Assyria, it is as reasonable to conclude that the Assyrians copied the Bible as the other way round. Indeed, it is easier to think of an ancient Assyrian ethnologist padding out the story with details gleaned from his country's newly acquired captives than it is to think of Jews adopting wholesale a tale of heathen gods and goddesses.
My own opinion, however, is that both are independent stories based upon a common memory of an event in the historical past. The fact that Flood legends are found in most cultures around the world would seem to support this idea. The development in the Gilgamesh Epic is most easily explained by the evolution of writing style, as scribes and authors became more comfortable with writing as a literary form instead of just an aide memoire.
There is one other interesting link between the Flood and archaeology, and that is between the Sumerian King List and the Antediluvian Patriarchs. Both record extremely long lives for those before the Flood with a gradual decrease in longevity after the Flood. However whereas the Biblical ages are believable in that they are scattered in a realistic manner between a minimum of 365 years and a maximum of 969, the King List figures are all in the tens of thousands and all very round numbers such as 28,800 or 36,000. Apart, therefore, from preserving the tradition that the Antediluvians were long-lived, the King List has very little value for Biblical studies.
After the Flood the kings reigned for shorter and shorter periods, from 1,200 years immediately after the Flood to 126 years and finally down to a minimum 8 years. Some have attempted to rationalise the King List by suggesting that days or months are meant but no persuasive scheme has emerged.
What is interesting is that some of these pre-Flood kings appear to be actual people whose existence has been confirmed by other finds. Even Gilgamesh, hero of the eponymous Epic, appears to be an actual person, the fifth king of Uruk, reigning for 126 years according to the King List. It is not clear why he was singled out as the main actor in the adventures of the Epic.
I would like, however, to make a plea that people cease their fascination with Mt Ararat. The Biblical account states that at the end of the Flood the ark "rested upon the mountains of Ararat". The mountainous region of Urartu was well-known in ancient times. The kingdom in that area caused constant problems for the Assyrians, who mounted expedition after expedition into it in an attempt to conquer it.
Urartu was in eastern and north-eastern Turkey, an area which includes the traditional Mt Ararat in its northern part, but Mt Ararat is only one of many peaks. As the Bible does not specify any particular peak we have no grounds for prefering one to another and the words "the mountains of Ararat" clearly refers to the whole region, rather than the isolated, volcanic mountain that forms the traditional Mt Ararat up near the Russian border in north-eastern Turkey.
Nimrod and Semiramis
In the Bible story the period between the Flood and Abraham encompasses such events as the founding of Nineveh and Babylon, the Tower of Babel and mankind's spread across the face of the earth. The Bible gives us very few details and therefore there is little that archaeology can confirm or deny. However it would not be out of place to mention here another book which some treat almost as a second Bible - The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop.
|Information from Wikipedia, art. "Semiramis".|
Hislop was a Protestant controversialist writing in the 1850s who combined his interpretation of Greek legends with a powerful imagination and came up with a far-reaching theory that linked current Roman Catholic practice with what he supposed had been the religion of ancient Babylon. Now that we are able to read the Babylonian and Assyrian documents - including a vast library of religious texts - for ourselves, we can see that his theories are nothing more than a farrago of nonsense.
Queen Semiramis never existed (though there was a much later Assyrian queen with a somewhat similar name) and certainly never founded Babylon. Nimrod, who is known only from the Bible, was certainly not married to her and the pair were never linked with Tammuz to form a heathen trinity. So far as we know the ancient Babylonians never attached any significance to eggs or Christmas or Easter (though they probably had a spring festival, just like everyone else including the Jews). And so on.
In short, Hislop's book, although a valiant effort to make use of the knowledge of his day, is about as relevant to us today as Galen's authorative work on the four humours and their influence on disease. It is an historical curiosity, nothing more, and should be allowed to gather dust in some repository of out-dated wisdom.
The Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel might be expected to have left traces for the archaeologist to find, but unfortunately there are many towers, or ziggurats, in Mesopotamia and it is hard to be sure which was the one that provoked God's wrath. Based on the name, "Babel", we might expect it to be in Babylon and indeed there was a ziggurat in Babylon. However not only were ziggurats repaired and rebuilt periodically, but the ziggurat of Babylon was destroyed by Alexander, leaving nothing but a hole in the ground.
When Professor Robert Koldewey excavated at Babylon there were five large mounds which attracted his attention, known to the locals as Tel Babil, Kasr, Amran ibn 'Ali, Homera and Merkes. Similar mounds in Assyria had concealed the remains of royal palaces and he hoped that these mounds would do the same. Four of them did but the fifth, Homera, seemed to consist of nothing but broken brick and mud-brick rubble. Koldewey was professional enough to notice that the stratification of this fifth mound was very distinctive: instead of the horizontal layers typical of buried buildings and ruined streets, here were lots of little mounds joined together to make one large one.
Koldewey's conclusion was that the little mounds were the basketfuls of earth and broken brick carried up and dumped by the soldiers who had been ordered to clear the site of the former tower of Babylon and that the mound represented all that was left of the glory of Babylon. The nearby square foundation trench marked the site of the tower (and can been seen, filed with water, on Google Earth). It is interesting to speculate that the wrath of God may have finally been fulfilled through the pride of a Greek king two thousand years after the tower was first founded.
In the archaeological record this period is represented by the extensive pre-historical remains discovered at Naqada in Egypt or Catal Huyuk in Turkey, the cave paintings of Lascaux and the rock art in the Sahara, the thousands of sites where wild animals were hunted and butchered by people using stone axes and knives, and the founding of great cities and even kingdoms in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, the Nile Valley and across into China. According to the Biblical chronology, all this took place in the six hundred years between the Flood and the birth of Abraham, but the problems associated with such a view are worth a separate chapter.
The so-called "Table of Nations" in Genesis chapter 10 contains a list of unpronouncable names that most people probably skip over, but it is in fact extremely interesting. Scholars have devoted considerable effort to identifying the names with known nations and have, for the most part, succeeded. For example, Javan, mentioned in 10:2, 4 is the ancestor of the Ionian Greeks - "Javan" in Hebrew is "Yawan" which is easily corrupted into "Yi-on", which turns into our "Ion-ian". Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who for many years ran the Indian Archaeological Survey, remarks that this name for Greeks has passed into Hindi, for the word for "young man" or "soldier" is "jawan", which comes directly from what Alexander's soldiers called themselves - Javans!
If we plot all these names on a map, we find that they form a sensible arrangement rather than a random scatter. The sons of Ham stretch down from Assyria, through Palestine into Egypt and Africa; the sons of Shem occupy Mesopotamia, northern Arabia and Syria; the sons of Japheth stretch from Europe up into southern Russia and across to Persia. Interestingly, the point of intersection where the three areas meet is in the mountains of Urartu, indicating that the three sons took their separate ways from the door of the ark.
the time of Akhenaton At first sight this may appear to be an argument for putting the Exodus in the 19th Dynasty, but the word "Pharaoh" is used of the Egyptian ruler who took Abraham's wife and the word was certainly not used as a synonym for the king in the time of Abraham. Return
A number of pharaohs had names that included the word "mose" or "moses" - Ahmose, Kamose, Ramose, Tutmose. I am told that "moses" means "drawn out from", so "Rameses" is "drawn out from Ra", while "Tutmoses" is "drawn out from Thoth". It is highly likely that Moses, found in the River Nile, was named after the god of the Nile, Hapi, so he was probably known around the Egyptian court as "Hapimoses". Naturally, as Israel's leader, he dropped the name of the heathen god. Return
When kingship came down from on high, then kingship was first in Eridu.
City King Years Eridu Alulim 28,800 Alalgar 36,000 Bad-tibira En-men-lu-Anna 43,200 En-men-gal-Anna 28,800 Dumu-zi 36,000 Larak En-sipa-zi-Anna 28,800 Sippar En-men-dur-Anna 21,000 Shuruppak Ubar-Tutu 18,600
These are five cities, eight kings ruled them for 241,000 years. Then the Flood swept over the earth. After the Flood, when kingship came down again from on high, kingship was first in Kish.
ziggurats repaired The ziggurat of Ur, the most complete on which has come down to us, was formed of mud bricks surrounded by a coating of burned bricks. Despite being coated thickly with ashphalt, the broad terraces of the ziggurat collected rain while the mud core soaked up moisture from the ground. The ziggurat was built with drainage holes in the sides, but the situation can only have been exacerbated by the fact - so Woolley theorised - that the terraces were planted with shrubs and trees in imitation of genuine mountains.
The continual wetting and drying of the ziggurat under the burning sun and pouring rain caused it to expand and contract and, eventually, to collapse, which is why looking after the city's ziggurat was one of the important duties of a king.
There is no reason to suppose that the ziggurat of Babylon was any different, so even if it still existed today, it would not be the same tower as was built by the rebels against God described in Genesis 11 but a rebuilding of that tower. Return