|HIGHLIGHTS OF DAWN||October 2000|
Ancient Records and the Bible
The Search for a Reliable History of Mankind
FROM WHATEVER STANDPOINT the history of man upon earth is approached, it is an amazing revelation to discover that, for the greater part of this period, there are almost no reliable secular records available to provide us with much information. Certainly there is no connected data from which an accurate chronology of man could be constructed.
Apart from the Bible, there are only fragmentary records of real consequence, and very few that relate to time. Of these, mainly found on tablets and inscriptions buried in the earth, the greater part are so vague and uncertain that they are regarded as little more than legend or myth. As such, they are wholly untrustworthy for supplying the sound data needed for establishing a connected early history of human events.
On the other hand, the Bible sets forth a record of man’s earliest existence which is replete with specific events and genealogies listed in the greatest detail. It gives close attention to the matter of time, as well as furnishing specific names and places. And it does this in a way that appeals to the reader as being a reasonable and genuine account of events that actually occurred.
But can the testimony of the Scriptures in pre-Flood times, as well as in the events that follow, be accepted as trustworthy? How can we be sure that these records are truly genuine and thus commend themselves as God’s revelation to mankind which preserve the details of his early existence? Before dealing directly with this issue, it will be helpful to survey some of the oldest non-Biblical data that has survived to give us a sense of its character and validity. These come from the main centers of civilization—Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.
SUMERIAN KING LIST
A list of Sumerian kings has been made available from Chaldean records quoted in a book called, “Light from the Ancient Past,” by I. Finegan. This list assigns ten kings before the Flood, whose combined rule lasted 432,000 years. Researchers suspect exaggeration of the times involved, and say that the only value of the list is that it enumerates ten kings before the Flood, as does the Bible.
An abundance of material has been unearthed from the land of Egypt, but it is still not possible to find data sufficiently reliable to construct an accurate chronology of early man. A researcher, Margaret Murray, in a book entitled, “The Splendar that Was Egypt,” offers some insight into the problems raised by ancient Egyptian records:
“One of the chief difficulties in the dating is the fact that the Egyptians dated from the reigning year of each king, and not from a fixed point. [Each king’s reign was considered a fresh starting point.] The dating by reigning years is too inexact to be of real use unless the record is complete, which is not the case in Egypt. Therefore, any early dating can be only approximate.” Ten kings of Thinis (Abydos) follow the demigods, and of these, some scanty remains were found in the royal tombs in that place.
EARLY CHINESE HISTORY
Early records of Far Eastern civilizations present a similar pattern of gross unreliability. The historian, Henry Lucas, says in his book, “A Short History of Civilization:”
“The study of early Chinese history is attended with almost insuperable difficulties. The numerous literary accounts of ancient Chinese writers cannot be trusted, and their statements that Chinese culture dates from hundreds of thousands of years B.C. should be received with skepticism. The oldest historical classic is the ‘Shu Ching,’ or, ‘Book of History,’ by Confucius. This purports to date from 22505 B.C., but is actually of late composition. “That the ‘Shu Ching’ contains elements of truth is not to be denied, but it is difficult to separate the grains of historical fact from the chaff of literary embellishment.”
In contrast with the untrustworthy nature of much of man’s earliest records—and the exaggerated chronological data in particular—it is astounding to find that the Bible, from the very start in the Book of Genesis, gives the most marked attention to the matter of dates, intervals of time, and epochs. An early chapter of this book—Genesis 5—lists the genealogy of the patriarchs, from Adam to Noah, in great detail. It is a nearly perfect specimen of chronology from beginning to end, and includes a built-in arithmetical checking procedure to assure the accuracy of the whole. It has been estimated that if Genesis 5 had been exhumed as a tablet from Egypt or Mesopotamia, it would have been hailed as the most authentic and valuable relic of all antiquity.
It seems significant that one piece of archeological evidence from Egypt, known as the “Abydos Tablet,” actually corroborates the Genesis genealogy of earliest man, though little has been heard of this find in recent years. Uncovered in the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I, and now preserved in the British Museum, it appears to be an accurate record of human rulers back to the first man, Adam. The list of Pharaohs is shorter than on other tablets, evidently because it omits the names of gods and demigods about the period of the Deluge. This is the feature which singles it out as of special value, in that it records only the purely human line back to Adam. A description of this table can be found in the Dawn publication, “The Photodrama of Creation,” where it says: “The Abydos Tablet fully agrees with Genesis. … It shows Adam [Mena] as the first Pharaoh, and Noah the twentieth, while the intermediate eighteen correspond with Genesis with remarkable accuracy. Mena’s wife was Shesh—Hebrew, Isha—‘woman.’ Her first son was Pharaoh II—Greek, ‘eta-Khent’—‘guilty one,’ Hebrew, Kanighi; Latin, Athos; English, Cain. The table for Abel represents him as ‘the non-resistant one.’
“The Abydos Tablet shows the same order as Moses (Gen. 4-6), giving first the line of Cain down to Jabal, who was [named] Kakan. At that time, evidently, the gods and demigods began to fill the Earth with violence. Seti’s list omits the names of these. All demigods were destroyed in the Deluge. Noah is next in order with a regal title. But since he was not of Cain’s family, the Abydos Tablet there goes back, mentions Abel and Seth, and Seth’s line just as given in Genesis (untitled), down to Noah. These all, as Pharaohs, have their royal ovals, but no supertitle. After Noah (Nofru), Pharaoh XX, the line runs through his son Ham (Chamu Chufu). Appropriately, Noah’s other sons are ignored; for Shem and Japheth went to Asia and Europe, while only Ham went to Egypt.”
Beginning especially in the 19th century, the authenticity of the Scriptures with their historical reliability began to be questioned by Bible scholars themselves. At the same time that Bibles were being made available everywhere in the civilized world, the challenge of the critics was raised.
Stemming first from European theological seminaries, schools of ‘higher criticism’ developed, which began to cast disrepute upon the origins of the Bible and the belief that it represented the authoritative and indisputable Word of God. Liberal views of theology arose in tandem to the developing evolutionary world view which not only minimized matters of doctrine but also bluntly regarded Genesis as mere mythology. And thus, that which had come to be thought of as man’s most authentic and valuable source of information of his own mysterious past, was now disclaimed even by contemporary Bible scholarship, an attitude which gradually worked its way through the ranks of society.
This is generally where matters stood until well into the twentieth century, when Biblical archeology assumed the status of a legitimate science. Under the leadership of such capable investigators as William Albright and G. Ernest Wright, one breathtaking discovery after another was made, much to the chagrin of critics. An overwhelming mass of evidence, brought to light from the lands of the Bible, methodically began to document the historical foundations and general chronology underlying most of the Scriptures.
Only the Creation and Flood accounts, the exact antiquity of man’s past, and the later wanderings of Abraham, and the story of Moses and the Exodus remain difficult to verify. Yet, even here, the traditions of widely scattered cultures throughout the world combine to attest to the occurrence of the former events, while showing some distinctive variations from the Genesis record. And with the everincreasing tempo of archeological discovery, there is strong reason to believe that the specific exploits of Abraham and Moses will also eventually be uncovered.
A commentary on such investigations in the book, “Essentials of Bible History,” by the historian, Elmer Mould, said: “For a really adequate appreciation of this vast archeological work which is under way in every corner of the ancient Biblical world, one has only to … visit our great museums which treasure the specimens of Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Palestinian archaeology. … New discoveries follow every year, and from the light thus thrown upon the past there emerges a steadily deepening understanding of the Bible and the peoples who move across its pages. Much that used to be mere speculation and conjecture has now given way to certainty, [and] bafflement to understanding and appreciation.”
We now have concrete examples of the verification of people and places mentioned even in the early chapters of Genesis. Chapter Ten, which has been described as the ‘Table of Nations,’ gives the genealogy of Noah’s descendants and lists the specific geographical locations to which Shem, Ham, and Japheth—the three sons of Noah and their families—migrated. Professor Albright, in his book, “Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands,” says:
“The tenth chapter of Genesis has long attracted students of ancient Oriental geography and ethnography. It stands absolutely alone in ancient literature, without a remote parallel, even among the Greeks, where we find the closest approach to a distribution of peoples in genealogical framework. But among the Greeks the framework is mythological and the peoples are all Greek or Aegean tribes. . . .
“Many of the names of peoples and countries mentioned in this chapter have been discovered on the monuments for the first time: e.g., Tubal—Tabal; Meshech (properly Moshech with the Greek Bible)—Mushke; Ashkenaz—Ashkuz … Togarmah—Tegarama; Elishah—Alashi (Alashiya); Tarshish—Tarsisi … Cush—Egyptian (E)kosh, Assyrian Kusi … Phut—Putu; Seba and Sheba—Saba; Dedan—Ddn; Accad—Akkadu; Shinar—Shanghar … Asshur—Assur (Babylonian Ashshur); Rehoboth—Rebit Ninua … ; Calah—Kalkhu; Pathrusim—the inhabitants of Patorese (Upper Egypt); Caphtorim—the inhabitants of Caphtor—Kaptara; Heth—the land of the Hittites, Khattu; the Amorites are the inhabitants of Amurru, etc. In this list we have not included the numerous names of places and peoples which were already known from Graeco-Roman sources, upon all of which the monuments have shed much additional light.”
Further light on Genesis and the Old Testament came in 1975 with the sensational discovery in Syria of the remains of the kingdom of Ebla that flourished more than 4,000 years ago. Digs at Tell-Mardikh uncovered over 15,000 clay tablets that revealed many details of this early Canaanite empire, including evidence of contact with the nomadic Hebrew peoples who wandered into their lands. The tablets are perhaps closer to the Old Testament, according to Biblical archeologist, David Freedman, than any other yet found. He reported: “Many, if not most, of the important names in the Bible have already been identified (on the tablets) and very often in almost identical form.”
The name of one of Ebla’s kings, Ebrum, is reminiscent of Eber in Genesis 10:21, the father of the Semites. Other names found on the tablets closely resemble Biblical names from various periods. Examples are Abraham (abramu); Esau (esaum); David (daudum); Saul (saulum); Michael (mikailu); and Israel (israilu). Some of the numerous gods of Ebla, which also appear and have direct counterparts in the Old Testament, are Dagon, Baal, Ishtar and Chemosh.
The listing of the five “cities of the plain,” Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela, mentioned in Genesis 14:2, is duplicated in an Ebla text and the names are arranged in the very same order. The tablets also refer to the cities of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gaza, but the most startling reference of all is to “urusalima”—unmistakably Jerusalem. This mention predates any other known reference to the famous city by about 1,000 years.
More recent discoveries continue the overwhelming trend of substantiating early Biblical accounts. In a December 18, 1995 article in the “Time” magazine, entitled, “Are the Bible’s Stories True?” it says, “In 1986, archaeologists found the earliest known text of the Bible [from the Book of Numbers in a Jerusalem tomb] dated to about 600 B.C. … The discovery made it clear that parts of the Old Testament were being copied long before some skeptics had believed they were even written.
“In 1990 … hieroglyphic clues from a monolith known as the Merneptah Stele [were used] to identify figures in a Luxor wall relief as ancient Israelites. The stele (a pillar) itself, dated to 1207 B.C., celebrates a military victory by the Pharaoh Merneptah. ‘Israel is laid waste,’ it reads, suggesting that the Israelites were a distinct population more than 3,000 years ago, and not just because the Bible tells us so.
“In 1993 a team of archaeologists uncovered a 9th century B.C. inscription at an ancient mound called Tel Dan, in the north of Israel. Words carved into a chunk of basalt refer to the ‘House of David’ and the ‘King of Israel.’ It is the first time the Jewish monarch’s name has been found outside the Bible, and appears to prove he was more than a mere legend.”
THE BIBLE AS GOD’S REVELATION
Modern scientific exploration and the spade of the archeologist clearly have reestablished the Bible as a valid and amazingly accurate source of the history of man. G. Ernest Wright, in his book, “Biblical Archeology,” says, “For the most part, archeology has substantiated and illumined the Biblical story at so many crucial points that no one can seriously say that it is little but a congeries [collection] of myth and legend.”
Likewise, Werner Keller, the renowned German researcher, in “The Bible as History,” says “[It became] necessary for us to revise our views about the Bible. Many events that previously passed for pious tales must now be judged to be historical. Often the results of investigation correspond in detail with the Biblical narratives. … The Bible is a book about things that actually happened. … The events themselves are historical facts and have been recorded with an accuracy that is nothing less than startling.”
In the preservation of the Scriptures for our benefit, surely we see the operation of Divine providence and an expression of the love of our Creator. God’s foreknowledge would have revealed that man’s carelessness, the ravages of time, and the rise and fall of civilizations, would combine to rob man of even an accurate knowledge of his own existence, unless there were direct intervention. Hence, we believe that the Bible was provided by God as the only true and connected source of history for more than three thousand years.
Concerning the question, “Is the Bible record credible?”—the excavations by dedicated archeologists, bringing to life the ruins and relics of the past, have given us a resounding affirmative answer. While not yet providing confirmation in every detail, the results thus far have been very rewarding. This is indeed gratifying to students of the Bible who, while not requiring that the Scriptures be verified in every particular, are, nevertheless, elated by the dramatic support such finds have provided. Valid faith rests on God’s Word alone, but it is also strengthened and encouraged by such additional evidences.
A commentary (Volume 2, pp. 37,38 of “The Studies in the Scriptures,” a Dawn publication), summarizes the matter well when it says: “The Bible … is the only work in the world which—beginning with Adam, the first man mentioned in history, monument or inscription—whose name, the time of his creation, and death are recorded—and from whom his descendants can be traced by name and age in successive links for nearly four thousand years—furnishes us a clear and connected history down to a period where secular history is well authenticated.
“Taken together, the history and prophecy of the Bible afford a panoramic view of the whole course of events from the creation and fall of man, to his reconciliation and restitution. The Bible is indeed the chart of all history. Without it history would be ‘like rivers flowing from unknown sources to unknown seas.’ But under its guidance we may trace these rivers to their springs and see their glorious ending in the ocean of eternity.”