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Is The Bible Really The Word Of God?



Chapter 4

The Bible and Ancient History  — Do They Agree?

THE book that is to measure up as the Word of God must contain the truth no matter what subject it discusses. When it mentions a certain town or place, it must have existed. When it speaks of a particular person, he must actually have lived. When it says a certain event took place, it must have happened. In its treatment of history, does the Bible show itself to be such a book?

In the last two centuries ancient history has been illuminated in marked degree by archaeological excavations. The tombs of the Pharaohs in Egypt, the magnificent palaces of the kings of Assyria, Babylon and Persia, as well as the ruins of hundreds of cities and towns, have yielded literally tons of material. What has this revealed as regards Biblical history?

NUMEROUS POINTS OF HARMONY

The geographical locations mentioned in the Bible have been found to be accurate time after time. Likely for this reason, Dr. Ze'ev Shremer, leader of a geological expedition in the Sinai Peninsula, stated:


"We have our own maps and geodetic survey plans, of course, but where the Bible and the maps are at odds, we opt for The Book."19


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Names of persons previously found only in the Bible have also turned up in ancient inscriptions that have been unearthed. Near the Ishtar Gate in Babylon were found a number of cuneiform tablets containing lists of food rations for workers and captives. Some of these revealed the name of "Yaukin, king of the land of Yahud," the Babylonian form of "Jehoiachin, king of Judah." The Bible account at 2 Kings 25:27-30 describes the Babylonian captivity of Jehoiachin and his being given a daily food allowance. Other kings of Judah and Israel, such as Ahaz, Manasseh, Omri, Jehu, Menahem and Hoshea, all appear on cuneiform records of ancient Assyrian emperors.

Besides these Hebrew kings, many other historical names mentioned in the Bible but previously missing from non-Biblical histories have come to light. For centuries the Bible alone made mention of the Assyrian emperor Sargon. (Isaiah 20:1) Then in 1843 the immense ruins of his palace were uncovered near Khorsabad. Today Sargon II is one of the more completely documented Assyrian kings.

Events mentioned in the Bible, also customs, titles, and other details, have often been illustrated or paralleled by inscriptions and other objects unearthed. This is true of chapters 39 to 50 of Genesis, which describe the life of Joseph in Egypt in the early part of the second millennium B.C.E. Egyptian monuments, inscriptions and paintings illustrate a remarkable number of the account's features. The Egyptian names, the prison house, the titles "chief of the cupbearers" and "chief of the bakers," the requirement of shaving when about to appear before Pharaoh,

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the position of prime minister and food administrator (assigned to Joseph by Pharaoh), the strong influence of magicians in the Egyptian court, the Egyptian burial practices — all are clearly paralleled by the things found. The book New Light on Hebrew Origins says about the writer of the account concerning Joseph:


"He employs the correct title in use and exactly as it was used at the period referred to, and, where there is no Hebrew equivalent, he simply adopts the Egyptian word and transliterates it into Hebrew." — 1936, p. 174.


The Bible account bears all the earmarks of genuine history based on eyewitness testimony.

IS THE HARMONY ABSOLUTE?

Does this mean that there is now absolute harmony between the Bible and every other ancient history? Definitely not. Nor should we think that all the archaeologists' interpretations of their findings agree in every respect with the Bible. Well, then, should this change our view of the Bible and its being genuinely historical? Not at all.

For one thing, there are many passages in the Bible that reach back to times beyond those covered by any other accepted ancient histories. Furthermore, most modern historians acknowledge that the ancient records of Egypt and Mesopotamia cease to be of value when they reach a certain point in the past. As an example, what is known as "The Sumerian King List" from Babylonia begins like this:


"When kingship was lowered from heaven, kingship was (first) in Eridu. (In) Eridu, A-lulim (became) king and ruled 28,800 years. Alalgar ruled 36,000 years. Two kings (thus) ruled it for 64,800 years." — Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 265.


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Finally, after listing eight kings as ruling for a grand total of 241,000 years, it speaks of the 'flood as sweeping over the earth.' Would there be any purpose in trying to harmonize the Bible's account of pre-Flood times with this Babylonian account? To what extent, then, can we expect harmony between the Bible and ancient history?

EARLY POST-FLOOD HISTORY

Consider the Bible's post-Flood history. It shows mankind spreading out over the earth from one central point during the latter part of the third millennium B.C.E. That central point was the Plains of Shinar. There, the Bible states, men acted contrary to God's will in proceeding to build a city called Babel and attempting to construct a great tower with its "top in the heavens." God confused their common language, and "scattered them from there over all the surface of the earth." (Genesis 11:1-9) Should we expect history or archaeology to confirm this account? If so, to what extent?

The place is known. Archaeologists have located the ancient site of the city of Babel or Babylon in Mesopotamia. But historians and archaeologists today acknowledge that they can neither prove nor disprove the rest of the account. Take the matter of the origin of different languages within the human race. Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics G. L. Trager shows that, while the evidence points to a common age of all ancient tongues, scholars do not know how they began. He says:


"Historical knowledge about existing languages goes back only a few thousand years . . . There are no 'primitive' languages, but all languages seem to be equally old and equally developed.

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"We do not know whether all languages proceed from a single original source, or how long they have been developing."20


However, something important is revealed in the study of the spread of ancient languages to different parts of the earth. What is that? One particular part of the earth is seen as the focal point from which the spreading began. Identifying that point, Sir Henry Rawlinson, Oriental language scholar, says:


"If we were to be guided by the mere intersection of linguistic paths, and independently of all reference to the Scriptural record, we should still be led to fix on the plains of Shinar [in Mesopotamia], as the focus from which the various lines had radiated."21


Contrary to what the Bible says, historians previously pointed to Egypt in Africa as the site of the earliest civilization. However, note what archaeologist Jaquetta Hawkes, editor of The World of the Past, states:


"Egypt was long believed to be ... the centre from which all civilization was carried to the rest of the world. Archaeological studies have proved otherwise. Both in the beginning of farming ... and in the first development of true civilization, Egypt played a role secondary to that of Western Asia."  — Vol. I, p. 443.


This lines up with the Biblical account.

Besides this, the Bible's statement that the builders of the "tower of Babel" used kiln-fired bricks, and bitumen for mortar, corresponds with the evidence of numerous ziggurats (or towers in the form of staged pyramids) that have been found. Bricks were the common building material, and a tower at Ur had bitumen (asphalt) as mortar. No claim is made, of course, that any of these is the original tower. However, it

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is interesting that inscriptions in Babylon relating to these towers even echo the same expression found in the Bible account: "Its top shall reach the heavens." — Compare Genesis 11:4.

It can be seen, then, that the ancient records, when available, harmonize with the Bible on matters of geography, customs and other details. But they are usually lacking in the more vital points, for they do not explain why certain conditions arose, why certain events took place. And it is obviously useless to expect that the non-Biblical accounts would acknowledge any intervention in human affairs by Jehovah, the God of the Bible.

EVALUATING THE ANCIENT HISTORIANS

This leads to another sound reason why we should not expect full harmony between the other ancient histories and the Bible. It involves the men who wrote those histories. As pointed out in the 1966 World Book Encyclopedia:


"The historian is a human being. He loves and hates, just as other men do. He has his own beliefs, values, attitudes, opinions, hopes, and fears, . . . He selects the things he considers important."  — Vol. 9, p. 233.


This raises questions: What kind of men recorded the ancient secular histories? What claim do they have to our trust and confidence? Does their background show them to be more reliable than the Bible writers?

In many ancient nations it was the custom to entrust the recording of events to the religious priesthood. Even royal scribes were apparently trained in schools run by the priesthood. The vast majority of ancient inscriptions from Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia were devoted either

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to glorifying the king or the national gods, whom the king represented. Historians and archaeologists may choose to present these national records as "secular" in contrast to the Bible's "religious" account. But the fact is that those ancient non-Biblical records are far more religious than they are "secular." Like it or not, then, religion inescapably enters into the picture. So, one is faced with the question: Did the other ancient religions produce more honest recorders of history than did the religion of the Bible?

Consider, for example, the Assyrian scribes. On the basis of much research, Assyriologist D. D. Luckenbill says concerning their records:


"One soon discovers that the accurate portrayal of events as they took place, year by year during the king's reign, was not the guiding motive of the royal scribes. . . . Often it is clear that royal vanity demanded playing fast and loose with historical accuracy." — Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, Vol. I, p. 7.


Illustrating this, another authority on the ancient Middle East, Professor Olmstead, makes reference to the "cool taking by [Assyrian Emperor Ashurbanipal] of bit after bit of the last two Egyptian campaigns of his father until in the final edition there is nothing that he has not claimed for himself." (Assyrian Historiography, p. 7) So, accuracy and honesty were not outstanding traits of the ancient non-Hebrew scribes.

In view of these factors, what would we reasonably expect from such histories? Suppose the Bible account relates a victory by one of these nations over the kingdom of Israel or of Judah. Would the non-Biblical records be likely to record this? Most certainly! Of course, they might also exaggerate the size of their victory, for

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cuneiform inscriptions prove that this was their custom. On the other hand, if such a nation suffered a defeat, would their national records be likely to tell of this? Consider the following example.

EXODUS FROM EGYPT

Many persons have asked why Egyptian records are completely silent about the exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt, and the destruction of Egypt's elite forces in the Red Sea. Here we present the answer given to that question by Egyptologist J. A. Wilson:


"Egyptian records were always positive, emphasizing the successes of the pharaoh or the god, whereas failures and defeats were never mentioned, except in some context of the distant past."22


New Egyptian dynasties might even erase from the earlier records anything considered undesirable. For instance, it appears that after the death of Queen Hatshepsut, Thutmose III had her name and figure chiseled out of a stone monument discovered at Deir el-Bahri, Egypt.

But really, is that so different from our own time? Do political governments today willingly tell their people all about their major defeats and failures? Or, to the extent possible, do they try to cover them over? And is it unheard of for them to erase from their history books anything favorable to a hated minority? Did not this happen in Germany under the Nazi regime? Have not other governments had their nation's history books rewritten for political or other reasons?

No wonder, then, that the names of Moses, Aaron and other Israelites, as well as the events connected with them, are missing from ancient Egyptian records. It would be most unusual if

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they were there! For Egyptian history to record those events would, in effect, have been admitting what Exodus 12:12 says, that 'Jehovah executed judgment on all the gods of Egypt.'



By contrast, consider the Bible account of Pharaoh Shishak's successful invasion of the land of unfaithful Judah during the reign of Solomon's son Rehoboam. (1 Kings 14:25, 26) Now we find Egyptian confirmation! Shishak proudly recorded his victory in Palestine on the temple walls of Karnak in Egypt. Among the towns he claimed to have captured are Gibeon and Socoh of the kingdom of Judah.

COMPARING OTHER ANCIENT RECORDS

Were other ancient histories like those of Egypt? Consider a case from Assyrian history.

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The Bible tells of Assyrian King Sennacherib's invasion of Judah during the reign of Hezekiah. Many Judean fortified cities were captured. King Hezekiah paid thirty gold talents and three hundred silver talents (a sum equaling some $1,500, 000) to stave off attack on the capital. Sennacherib still demanded full capitulation, and Jerusalem was threatened. But it was never taken nor even assaulted. Why not? The Bible states that Jehovah caused the death of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. (2 Kings 18:13-19:36) Now, how much of all this account would we expect the Assyrians to record?

Excavations turned up Sennacherib's prism (a many-sided clay cylinder) containing the Assyrian account of this invasion of Judah. What did it say? In part we read:


"As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my [Sennacherib's] yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) ... I drove out (of them) 200,150 people . . . [as] booty. [Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage . . . Hezekiah himself ... did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, ... all kinds of valuable treasures, ... In order to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger."23


So, Sennacherib's version coincides with the Bible where Assyrian victories are concerned. He inflates the number of silver talents exacted by 500 — something to be expected — and speaks of a huge number of captives. Giving his estimation of Assyrian honesty in such matters, Professor Olmstead says:

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"... when Sennacherib tells us that he took from . . . Judah no less than 200,150 prisoners, and that in spite of the fact that Jerusalem itself was not captured, we may deduct the 200,000 as a product of the exuberant fancy of the Assyrian scribe and accept the 150 as somewhere near the actual number captured and carried off." — Assyrian Historiography, pp. 7, 8.


Note that Sennacherib gives no explanation as to why he did not capture Jerusalem. He even goes so far as to claim that he trustingly left for Assyria with only a 'promise to pay' on Hezekiah's part. Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages, Ira M. Price, plainly states:


"This order of events looks like a screen to cover up something which he does not wish to mention."24


Of the wholesale loss of troops — nothing. Should we expect it? Professor Jack Finegan comments in his book Light from the Ancient Past:


"In view of the general note of boasting which pervades the inscriptions of the Assyrian kings, ... it is hardly to be expected that Sennacherib would record such a defeat." — 1946, p. 178.


And again we may ask, Is this so different from today?

When it came to honest reporting, the Babylonians and Persians differed little from the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians. Consider just one example: the "Persian Verse Account of Nabonidus." Described by Assyriologist A. Leo Oppenheim as forming, along with the "Cyrus Cylinder," a "distorted report of the entire reign of Nabonidus," and called by Professor Olmstead "deliberate propaganda," it nevertheless reveals what was done to Babylonian historical records after Cyrus conquered Babylon. The restored text reads:

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"... [Nabonidus'] picture/symbol he [Cyrus] effaced, . . . the inscriptions of his name are erased, [ . . . whatever he (Nabonidus) had cre]ated, he (Cyrus) let fire burn up."25


Should we expect, then, that Babylonian records would be complete?

And since this practice existed, should we be surprised if the names of persons mentioned in the Bible, such as Daniel, his three Hebrew companions, or that of the Jewess Esther, who became queen of Persia, are missing from ancient national histories? Remember, these histories were usually compiled and kept by priestly scribes, many of whom vigorously opposed the religion of the Jews. So, it would be strange indeed if the names and deeds of the Jews were commemorated or allowed to remain. Or, for that matter, even the names of certain kings who showed them favor,, such as Darius the Mede. — Daniel 6:1-28.

DIFFERENCES NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Should we, then, become disturbed because certain features of the Bible record are not found in other histories, or because details appear to differ? Not at all. The two examples that follow  — involving Sennacherib and Belshazzar — show why we should never underestimate the Bible's truthfulness.

At 2 Kings 19:36, 37 the Bible tells of the assassination of Assyrian King Sennacherib by two of his sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer. Yet both the account attributed to Babylonian King Nabonidus and that presented by Babylonian priest Berossus (of the third century B.C.E.) mention only one son as involved in the slaying. Should this disturb us? No. They may have men-

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tioned only one son because of his taking the lead in the plot, or for some similar reason. Be that as it may, the accuracy of the Bible account has been borne out by the discovery of a fragmentary prism of Esar-haddon, a third son mentioned in the Bible as succeeding to Sennacherib's throne. It says:


"A firm determination fell upon my brothers. They . . . turned to their deeds of violence, ... To gain the kingship they slew Sennacherib their father."26


Thus, the Bible simply gave a more complete picture than the other previously known sources.

A similar case in point is that of Belshazzar. The book of Daniel presents Belshazzar as king of Babylon at the time of its fall. Other ancient sources, such as the Babylonian Berossus and the Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon, mention only Nabonidus as Babylon's king at that time. Recently, however, cuneiform tablets have turned up to show that Belshazzar was Nabonidus' son, that he served as coregent for several years, and that, in his father's absence, he was ruling over Babylon at the time of its fall. It is evidently for this reason that Belshazzar offered to make Daniel the "third ruler in the kingdom," rather than the second, since second was Belshazzar's own position. (Daniel 5:16, 29) While the histories of Berossus, Herodotus and Xenophon may simply have omitted these points, Yale Professor R. P. Dougherty, comparing the book of Daniel with those histories, voices the opinion:


"The Scriptural account may be interpreted as excelling because it employs the name Belshazzar, because it attributes royal power to Belshazzar,

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and because it recognizes that a dual rulership existed in the kingdom." — Nabonidus and Belshazzar, p. 200.


Many cases could be cited, but these two are sufficient to show that an apparent lack of harmony is often merely an improper interpretation of matters. They illustrate that it is unwise to make an issue out of a superficial difference, attempting to pit the non-Biblical accounts against the Bible record.

DATING EVENTS IN HISTORY

In view of the evidence, when a difference appears between the Bible date for an event and a date advanced by historians on the basis of pagan histories and the interpretation of archaeologists, which should have greater claim to our confidence?

In its chapter "The Science of Historical Dating" the book The Secret of the Hittites makes this observation:


"Anyone approaching the study of ancient history for the first time must be impressed by the positive way modern historians date events which took place thousands of years ago. In the course of further study this wonder will, if anything, increase. For as we examine the sources of ancient history we see how scanty, inaccurate, or downright false, the records were even at the time they were first written. And poor as they originally were, they are poorer still as they have come down to us: half destroyed by the tooth of time or by the carelessness and rough usage of men." — P. 134.


The book then goes on to describe the historian's framework of chronology as a "purely hypothetical structure, and one which threatens to come apart at every joint." Well illustrating this is the variety of dates offered by different histo-

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rians for the start of Egypt's first dynasty. They range all the way from 5867 B.C.E. to 2224 B.C.E.!

The chronological history of the ancient non-Hebrew nations as it stands today is a patchwork. It has been laboriously pieced together from bits of information obtained from widely scattered sources. The Bible, by contrast, consolidates within its pages an unusually coherent and detailed history stretching through some four thousand years, including a graphic and true-to-life record of events in the nation of Israel from its birth onward for a period of nearly sixteen centuries. This gives a stability to Bible chronology that other ancient histories do not have.

THE BIBLE'S CLAIM TO OUR CONFIDENCE

What reasons do we have, then, for placing superior confidence in the Bible record as historically accurate? Why should we believe that the men used to write the Bible were more honest than the scribes of other ancient nations?

The evidence is found within the Bible itself. And the contrast between the content of the Biblical accounts and the other ancient records is, beyond denial, enormous. The non-Biblical records are in nothing more notable than for their boasting, their glorification of individuals, their materialistic outlook — all of which reflect their religious views. Notably lacking are candor, modesty and humility — the very factors that distinguish the Bible from all other ancient histories. Read these words from an inscription of Assyrian King Esar-haddon:


"I am powerful, I am all powerful. I am a hero, I am gigantic, I am colossal."27


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Compare them with these words of Judean King Jehoshaphat at 2 Chronicles 20:6, 12:


"O Jehovah the God of our forefathers, are you not God in the heavens, and are you not dominating over all the kingdoms of the nations, and are there not in your hand power and mightiness, with no one to hold his ground against you? . . . For in us there is no power before this large crowd that is coming against us; and we ourselves do not know what we ought to do, but our eyes are toward you."


Do you not agree that there is a vast difference between them? Only in the Bible record do we find such frank admission of human frailties, the record of disgraceful calamity caused by unfaithful Israelite kings and of the humiliation of captivity and oppression. — Psalm 51:1-5; Nehemiah 1:5-7.

The whole message of the Bible is that the worship of the true God brings blessings in the form of peace, righteousness, justice and contentment, both now and in the eternal future, whereas the violation of God's laws and counsel brings grief, delinquency, strife and death. The true-to-life candor of the historical accounts illustrating this message argues strongly for the validity of the message itself.

When weighing the Bible record against the other ancient histories, remember this: Those non-Biblical accounts may be engraved in stone or inscribed in clay — solid materials that have endured for millenniums. But the ambitious men and empires of whom they wrote and the many gods whose worship they expounded have no effect on people's lives today. They are dead museum pieces, and the message about them is a dead message. The Bible records were evidently written on papyrus or vellum, which soon per-

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ished due to continued use and the effects of time and weather. But their message is alive! They have been copied and recopied, read and reread, continuously from generation to generation for thousands of years. And though the religions of the ancient Egyptians, Assyrians and others have died, the worship of Jehovah, the God of the Bible, is the moving force, to this day, in the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons in all the earth. — Compare Isaiah 40:6-8.

The discovery of ancient non-Biblical histories has often demonstrated the rightness of the Bible record in the face of criticism. Those histories revealed numerous names of persons, peoples and places, and described customs and events, previously known only in the Bible record. But we cannot reasonably expect the inscriptions left by imperfect, power-hungry men to harmonize completely with the Bible. Nor can we hope to find confirmation of Jehovah's past dealings with his servants by searching the writings prepared by worshipers of the numerous mythical gods and goddesses of the past. Such ancient records have no real claim to our confidence. On the other hand, is it not encouraging and refreshing to find in the Bible record the satisfying ring of truth that you would expect from the Word of God?



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