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All history is fragmentary. Each particular fact is the center of an infinite complex of circumstances. No man has intelligence enough to insert a supposititious fact into circumstances not belonging to it and make it exactly fit. This only infinite intelligence could do. A successful forgery, therefore, is impossible if only we have a sufficient number of the original circumstances with which to compare it. It is this principle which gives such importance to the cross-examination of witnesses. If the witness is truthful, the more he is questioned the more perfectly will his testimony be seen to accord with the framework of circumstances into which it is fitted. If false, the more will his falsehood become apparent.
Remarkable opportunities for cross-examining the Old Testament Scriptures have been afforded by the recent uncovering of long-buried monuments in Bible lands and by deciphering the inscriptions upon them. It is the object of this essay to give the results of a sufficient portion of this cross-examination to afford a reasonable test of the competence and honesty of the historians of the Old Testament, and of the faithfulness with which their record has been transmitted to us. But the prescribed limits will not permit the half to be told; while room is left for an entire essay on the discoveries of the last five years to be treated by another hand, specially competent for the task.
Passing by the monumental evidence which has removed objections to the historical statements of the New Testament, as less needing support, attention will be given first to one of the Old Testament narratives, which is nearest to us in time, and against which the harshest judgments of modern critics have been hurled. We refer to the statements in the Book of Daniel concerning the personality and fate of Belshazzar.
THE IDENTIFICATION OF BELSHAZZAR
In the fifth chapter of Daniel Belshazzar is called the “son of Nebuchadnezzar,” and is said to have been “king” of Babylon and to have been slain on the night in which the city was taken. But according to the other historians, he was the son of Nabonidus, who was then king, and who is known to have been out of the city when it was captured and to have lived some time afterward.
Here, certainly, there is about as glaring an apparent discrepancy as could be imagined. Indeed, there would seem to be a flat contradiction between profane and sacred historians. But in 1854 Sir Henry Rawlinson found while excavating in the ruins of Mugheir (identified as the site of the city of Ur, from which Abraham emigrated), inscriptions which stated that when Nabonidus was near the end of his reign he associated with him on the throne his eldest son, Bil-shar-uzzur, and allowed him the royal title, thus making it perfectly credible that Belshazzar should have been in Babylon, as he is said to have been in the Bible, and that he should have been called king, and that he should have perished in the city while Nabonidus survived outside. That he should have been called king while his father was still living is no more strange than that Jehoram should have been appointed by his father, Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, seven years before his father’s death (see 2 Kings 1:17 and 8:16), or that Jotham should have been made king before his father, Uzziah, died of leprosy, though Uzziah is still called king in some of the references to him.
That Belshazzar should have been called son of Nebuchadnezzar is readily accounted for on the supposition that he was his grandson, and there are many things to indicate that Nabonidus married Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter, while there is nothing known to the contrary. But if this theory is rejected, there is the natural supposition that in the loose use of terms of relationship common among Oriental people “son” might be applied to one who was simply a successor. In the inscriptions on the monuments of Shalmaneser II., referred to below, Jehu, the extirpator of the house of Omri, is called the “son of Omri.”
The status of Belshazzar implied in this explanation is confirmed incidentally by the fact that Daniel is promised in verse 6 the “third” place in the kingdom, and in verse 29 is given that place, all of which implies that Belshazzar was second only.
Thus, what was formerly thought to be an insuperable objection to the historical accuracy of the Book of Daniel proves to be, in all reasonable probability, a mark of accuracy. The coincidences are all the more remarkable for being so evidently undesigned.
THE BLACK OBELISK OF SHALMANESER
From various inscriptions in widely separated places we are now able to trace the movements of Shalmaneser II. through nearly all of his career. In B. C. 842 he crossed the Euphrates for the sixteenth time and carried his conquests to the shores of the Mediterranean. Being opposed by Hazael of Damascus, he overthrew the Syrian army, and pursued it to the royal city and shut it up there, while he devastated the territory surrounding. But while there is no mention of his fighting with the Tyrians, Sidonians, and Israelites, he is said to have received tribute from them and “from Jehu, the son of Omri.” This inscription occurs on the celebrated Black Obelisk discovered many years ago by Sir Henry Rawlinson in the ruins of Nimroud. On it are represented strings of captives with evident Jewish features, in the act of bringing their tribute to the Assyrian king. Now, though there is no mention in the sacred records of any defeat of Jehu by the Assyrians, nor of the paying of tribute by him, it is most natural that tribute should have been paid under the circumstances; for in the period subsequent to the battle of Karkar, Damascus had turned against Israel, so that Israel’s most likely method of getting even with Hazael would have been to make terms with his enemy, and pay tribute, as she is said to have done, to Shalmaneser.
THE MOABITE STONE
One of the most important discoveries, giving reality to Old Testament history, is that of the Moabite Stone, discovered at Dibon, east of the Jordan, in 1868, which was set up by King Mesha (about 850 B. C.) to signalize his deliverance from the yoke of Omri, king of Israel. The inscription is valuable, among other things, for its witness to the civilized condition of the Moabites at that time and to the close similarity of their language to that of the Hebrews. From this inscription we learn that Omri, king of Israel, was compelled by the rebellion of Mesha to resubjugate Moab; and that after doing so, he and his son occupied the cities of Moab for a period of forty years, but that, after a series of battles, it was restored to Moab in the days of Mesha. Whereupon the cities and fortresses retaken were strengthened, and the country repopulated, while the methods of warfare were similar to those practiced by Israel. On comparing this with 2 Kings 3:4–27, we find a parallel account which dovetails in with this in a most remarkable manner, though naturally the biblical narrative treats lightly of the reconquest by Mesha, simply stating that, on account of the horror created by the idolatrous sacrifice of his eldest son upon the walls before them, the Israelites departed from the land and returned to their own country.
THE EXPEDITION OF SHISHAK
In the fourteenth chapter of 1 Kings, we have a brief account of an expedition of Shishak, king of Egypt, against Jerusalem in the fifth year of Rehoboam. To the humiliation of Judah, it is told that Shishak succeeded in taking away the treasures of the house of Jehovah and of the king’s house, among them the shields of gold which Solomon had made; so that Rehoboam made shields of brass in their stead. To this simple, unadorned account there is given a wonderful air of reality as one gazes on the southern wall of the court of the temple of Amen at Karnak and beholds the great expanse of sculptures and hieroglyphics which are there inscribed to represent this campaign of Shishak. One hundred and fifty-six places are enumerated among those which were captured, the northernmost being Megiddo. Among the places are Gaza, Adullam, Beth-Horon, Aijalon, Gibeon, and Juda-Malech, in which Dr. Birch is probably correct in recognizing the sacred city of Jerusalem,—Malech being the word for royalty.
ISRAEL IN EGYPT
The city of Tahpanhes, in Egypt, mentioned by Jeremiah as the place to which the refugees fled to escape from Nebuchadnezzar, was discovered in 1886 in the mound known as Tel Defenneh, in the northeastern portion of the delta, where Mr. Flinders Petrie found not only evidences of the destruction of the palace caused by Nebuchadnezzar, but apparently the very “brick work or pavement” spoken of in Jer. 43:8: “Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah in Tahpanhes, saying, Take great stones in thine hand, and hide them in mortar in the brickwork, which is at the entry of Pharaoh’s house in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah,” adding that Nebuchadnezzar would “set his throne upon these stones,” and “spread his royal pavilion over them.”
A brick platform in partial ruins, corresponding to this description, was found by Mr. Petrie adjoining the fort “upon the northwest.” In every respect the arrangement corresponded to that indicated in the Book of Jeremiah.
Farther to the north, not a great way from Tahpanhes, on the Tanitic branch of the Nile, at the modern village of San, excavations revealed the ancient Egyptian capital Tanis, which went under the earlier name of Zoan, where the Pharaoh of the oppression frequently made his headquarters. According to the Psalmist, it was in the field of “Zoan” that Moses and Aaron wrought their wonders before Pharaoh; and, according to the Book of Numbers, “Hebron” was built only seven years before Zoan. As Hebron was a place of importance before Abraham’s time, it is a matter of much significance that Zoan appears to have been an ancient city which was a favorite dwelling-place of the Hyksos, or Shepherd Kings, who preceded the period of the Exodus, and were likely to be friendly to the Hebrews, thus giving greater credibility to the precise statements made in Numbers, and to the whole narrative of the reception of the patriarchs in Egypt.
The Pharaoh of the Oppression, “who knew not Joseph,” is generally supposed to be Rameses II., the third king of the nineteenth dynasty, known among the Greeks as Sesostris, one of the greatest of the Egyptian monarchs. Among his most important expeditions was one directed against the tribes of Palestine and Syria, where, at the battle of Kadesh, east of the Lebanon Mountains, he encountered the Hittites. The encounter ended practically in a drawn battle, after which a treaty of peace was made. But the whole state of things revealed by this campaign and subsequent events shows that Palestine was in substantially the same condition of affairs which was found by the children of Israel when they occupied it shortly after, thus confirming the Scripture account.
This Rameses during his reign of sixty-seven years was among the greatest builders of the Egyptian monarchs. It is estimated that nearly half of the extant temples were built in his reign, among which are those at Karnak, Luxor, Abydos, Memphis, and Bubastis. The great Ramesseum at Thebes is also his work, and his name is found carved on almost every monument in Egypt. His oppression of the children of Israel was but an incident in his remarkable career. While engaged in his Asiatic campaigns he naturally made his headquarters at Bubastis, in the land of Goshen, near where the old canal and the present railroad turn off from the delta toward the Bitter Lakes and the Gulf of Suez. Here the ruins of the temple referred to are of immense extent and include the fragments of innumerable statues and monuments which bear the impress of the great oppressor. At length, also, his mummy has been identified; so that now we have a photograph of it which illustrates in all its lineaments the strong features of his character.
THE STORE CITIES OF PITHOM AND RAMESES
But most interesting of all, in 1883, there were uncovered, a short distance east of Bubastis, the remains of vast vaults, which had evidently served as receptacles for storing grain preparatory to supplying military and other expeditions setting out for Palestine and the far East. Unwittingly, the engineers of the railroad had named the station Rameses. But from the inscriptions that were found it is seen that its original name was Pithom, and its founder was none other than Rameses II., and it proves to be the very place where it is said in the Bible that the children of Israel “built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Raamses” (Ex. 1:11), when the Egyptians “made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar and in brick.” It was in connection with the building of these cities that the oppression of the children of Israel reached its climax, when they were compelled (after the straw with which the brick were held together failed) to gather for themselves stubble which should serve the purpose of straw, and finally, when even the stubble failed, to make brick without straw (Ex. 5).
Now, as these store pits at Pithom were uncovered by Mr. Petrie, they were found (unlike anything else in Egypt) to be built with mortar. Moreover, the lower layers were built of brick which contained straw, while the middle layers were made of brick in which stubble, instead of straw, had been used in their formation, and the upper layers were of brick made without straw. A more perfect circumstantial confirmation of the Bible account could not be imagined. Every point in the confirmation consists of unexpected discoveries. The use of mortar is elsewhere unknown in Ancient Egypt, as is the peculiar succession in the quality of the brick used in the construction of the walls.
Thus have all Egyptian explorations shown that the writer of the Pentateuch had such familiarity with the country, the civilization, and the history of Egypt as could have been obtained only by intimate, personal experience. The leaf which is here given is in its right place. It could not have been inserted except by a participant in the events, or by direct Divine revelation.
In Joshua 1:4, the country between Lebanon and the Euphrates is called the land of the Hittites. In 2 Sam. 24:6, according to the reading of the Septuagint, the limit of Joab’s conquests was that of “the Hittites of Kadesh,” which is in Coele Syria, some distance north of the present Baalbeck. Solomon is also said to have imported horses from “the kings of the Hittites”; and when the Syrians were besieging Samaria, according to 2 Kings 7:6, they were alarmed from fear that the king of Israel had hired against them “the kings of the Hittites.” These references imply the existence of a strong nation widely spread over the northern part of Syria and the regions beyond. At the same time, frequent mention is made of Hittite families in Palestine itself. It was of a Hittite (Gen. 23:10) that Abraham bought his burying-place at Hebron. Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, had been the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and Esau had two Hittite wives. Hittites are also mentioned as dwellings with the Jebusites and Amorites in the mountain region of Canaan.
Until the decipherment of the inscriptions on the monuments of Egypt and Assyria, the numerous references in the Bible to this mysterious people were unconfirmed by any other historical authorities, so that many regarded the biblical statements as mythical, and an indication of the general untrustworthiness of biblical history. A prominent English biblical critic declared not many years ago that an alliance between Egypt and the Hittites was as improbable as would be one at the present time between England and the Choctaws. But, alas for the over-confident critic, recent investigations have shown, not only that such an alliance was natural, but that it actually occurred.
From the monuments of Egypt, we learn that Thothmes III. of the eighteenth dynasty, in 1470 B. C., marched to the banks of the Euphrates and received tribute from “the Greater Hittites” to the amount of 3,200 pounds of silver and a “great piece of crystal.” Seven years later tribute was again sent from “the king of the Greater Hittite land.” Later, Amenophis III. and IV. are said, in the Tel el-Amarna tablets, to have been constantly called upon to aid in repelling the attacks of the Hittite king, who came down from the north and intrigued with the disaffected Canaanitish tribes in Palestine; while in B. C. 1343, Rameses the Great attempted to capture the Hittite capital at Kadesh, but was unsuccessful, and came near losing his life in the attempt, extricating himself from an ambuscade only by most heroic deeds of valor. Four years later a treaty of peace was signed between the Hittites and the Egyptians, and a daughter of the Hittite king was given in marriage to Rameses.
The Assyrian monuments also bear abundant testimony to the prominence of the Hittites north and west of the Euphrates, of which the most prominent state was that with its capital at Carchemish, in the time of Tiglath-pileser I., about 1100 B. C. In 854 B. C. Shalmaneser II. included the kings of Israel, of Ammon, and of the Arabs, among the “Hittite” princes whom he had subdued, thus bearing most emphatic testimony to the prominence which they assumed in his estimation.
The cuneiform inscriptions of Armenia also speak of numerous wars with the Hittites and describe “the land of the Hittites” as extending far westward from the banks of the Euphrates.
Hittite sculptures and inscriptions are now traced in abundance from Kadesh, in Coele Syria, westward to Lydia, in Asia Minor, and northward to the Black Sea beyond Marsovan. Indeed, the extensive ruins of Boghaz-Keui, seventy-five miles southwest of Marsovan, seem to mark the principal capital of the Hittites. Here partial excavations have already revealed sculptures of high artistic order, representing deities, warriors, and amazons, together with many hieroglyphs which have not yet been translated. The inscriptions are written in both directions, from left to right, and then below back from right to left. Similar inscriptions are found in numerous other places. No clue to their meaning has yet been found, and even the class of languages to which they belong has not been discovered. But enough is known to show that the Hittites exerted considerable influence upon the later civilization which sprung up in Greece and on the western coasts of Asia Minor. It was through them that the emblem of the winged horse made its way into Europe. The mural crown carved upon the head of some of the goddesses at Boghaz-Keui also passed into Grecian sculpture; while the remarkable lions sculptured over the gate at Mycenae are thought to represent Hittite, rather than Babylonian art.
It is impossible to overestimate the value of this testimony in confirmation of the correctness of biblical history. It shows conclusively that the silence of profane historians regarding facts stated by the biblical writers is of small account, in face of direct statements made by the biblical historians. All the doubts entertained in former times concerning the accuracy of the numerous biblical statements concerning the Hittites is now seen to be due to our ignorance. It was pure ignorance, not superior knowledge, which led so many to discredit these representations. When shall we learn the inconclusiveness of negative testimony?
THE TEL EL-AMARNA TABLETS
In 1887 some Arabs discovered a wonderful collection of tablets at Tel el-Amarna, an obscure settlement on the east bank of the Nile, about two hundred miles above Cairo and about as far below Thebes. These tablets were of clay, which had been written over with cuneiform inscriptions, such as are found in Babylonia, and then burnt, so as to be indestructible. When at length the inscriptions were deciphered, it appeared that they were a collection of official letters, which had been sent shortly before 1300 B. C. to the last kings of the eighteenth dynasty.
There were in all about three hundred letters, most of which were from officers of the Egyptian army scattered over Palestine to maintain the Egyptian rule which had been established by the preceding kings, most prominent of whom was Tahutimes III., who flourished about one hundred years earlier. But many of the letters were from the kings and princes of Babylonia. What surprised the world most, however, was that this correspondence was carried on, not in the hieroglyphic script of Egypt, but in the cuneiform script of Babylonia.
All this was partly explained when more became known about the character of the Egyptian king to whom the letters were addressed. His original title was Amenhotep IV., indicating that he was a priest of the sun god who is worshiped at Thebes. But in his anxiety to introduce a religious reform he changed his name to Aken-Aten,—Aten being the name of the deity worshiped at Heliopolis, near Cairo, where Joseph got his wife. The efforts of Aken-Aten to transform the religious worship of Egypt were prodigious. The more perfectly to accomplish it, he removed his capital from Thebes to Tel el-Amarna, and there collected literary men and artists and architects in great numbers and erected temples and palaces, which, after being buried in the sand with all their treasures for more than three thousand years, were discovered by some wandering Arabs twenty-two years ago.
A number of the longest and most interesting of the letters are those which passed between the courts of Egypt and those of Babylonia. It appears that not only did Aken-Aten marry a daughter of the Babylonian king, but his mother and grandmother were members of the royal family in Babylonia, and also that one of the daughters of the king of Egypt had been sent to Babylonia to become the wife of the king. All this comes out in the letters that passed back and forth relating to the dowry to be bestowed upon these daughters and relating to their health and welfare.
From these letters we learn that, although the king of Babylon had sent his sister to be the wife of the king of Egypt, that was not sufficient. The king of Egypt requested also the daughter of the king of Babylon. This led the king of Babylon to say that he did not know how his sister was treated; in fact, he did not know whether she was alive, for he could not tell whether or not to believe the evidence which came to him. In response, the king of Egypt wrote: “Why don’t you send some one who knows your sister, and whom you can trust?” Whereupon the royal correspondents break off into discussions concerning the gifts which are to pass between the two in consideration of their friendship and intimate relations.
Syria and Palestine were at this time also, as at the present day, infested by robbers, and the messengers passing between these royal houses were occasionally waylaid. Whereupon the one who suffered loss would claim damages from the other if it was in his territory, because he had not properly protected the road. An interesting thing in connection with one of these robberies is that it took place at “Hannathon,” one of the border towns mentioned in Josh. 19:14, but of which nothing else was ever known until it appeared in this unexpected manner.
Most of the Tel el-Amarna letters, however, consist of those which were addressed to the king of Egypt (Amenhotep IV.) by his officers who were attempting to hold the Egyptian fortresses in Syria and Palestine against various enemies who were pressing hard upon them. Among these were the Hittites, of whom we hear so much in later times, and who, coming down from the far north, were gradually extending their colonies into Palestine and usurping control over the northern part of the country.
About sixty of the letters are from an officer named Rib-addi, who is most profuse in his expressions of humility and loyalty, addressing the king as “his lord” and “sun,” and calling himself the “footstool of the king’s feet,” and saying that he “prostrates himself seven times seven times at his feet.” He complains, however, that he is not properly supported in his efforts to defend the provinces of the king, and is constantly wanting more soldiers, more cavalry, more money, more provisions, more everything. So frequent are his importunities that the king finally tells him that if he will write less and fight more he would be better pleased, and that there would be more hopes of his maintaining his power. But Rib-addi says that he is being betrayed by the “curs” that are surrounding him, who represent the other countries that pretend to be friendly to Egypt, but are not.
From this correspondence, and from letters from the south of Palestine, it is made plain that the Egyptian power was fast losing its hold of the country, thus preparing the way for the condition of things which prevailed a century or two later, when Joshua took possession of the promised land, and found no resistance except from a number of disorganized tribes then in possession.
In this varied correspondence, a large number of places are mentioned with which we are familiar in Bible history, among them Damascus, Sidon, Lachish, Ashkelon, Gaza, Joppa, and Jerusalem. Indeed, several of the letters are written from Jerusalem by one Abd-hiba, who complains that some one is slandering him to the king, charging that he was in revolt against his lord. This, he says, the king ought to know is absurd, from the fact that “neither my father nor my mother appointed me to this place. The strong arm of the king inaugurated me in my father’s territory. Why should I commit an offense against my lord, the king?” The argument being that, as his office is not hereditary, but one which is held by the king’s favor and appointment, his loyalty should be above question.
A single one of these Jerusalem letters may suffice for an illustration:
“To My Lord the King:—Abd-hiba, your servant. At the feet of my lord the king, seven and seven times I fall. Behold the deed which Milki-il and Suardata have done against the land of my lord the king—they have hired the soldiers of Gazri, of Gimti and of Kilti, and have taken the territory of Rubuti. The territory of the king is lost to Habiri. And now, indeed, a city of the territory of Jerusalem, called Bit-Ninib, one of the cities of the king, has been lost to the people of Kilti. Let the king listen to Abd-hiba, his servant, and send troops that I may bring back the king’s land to the king. For if there are no troops, the land of the king will be lost to the Habiri. This is the deed of Suardata and Milki-il * * * [defective], and let the king take care of his land.”
The discovery of these Tel el-Amarna letters came like a flash of lightning upon the scholarly world. In this case the overturning of a few spadefuls of earth let in a flood of light upon the darkest portion of ancient history, and in every way confirmed the Bible story.
As an official letter-writer, Rib-addi has had few equals, and he wrote on material which the more it was burned the longer it lasted. Those who think that a history of Israel could not have been written in Moses’ time, and that, if written, it could not have been preserved, are reasoning without due knowledge of the facts. Considering the habits of the time, it would have been well nigh a miracle if Moses and his band of associates coming out of Egypt had not left upon imperishable clay tablets a record of the striking events through which they passed.
ACCURACY OF GEOGRAPHICAL DETAILS
Many persons doubtless wonder why it is that the Bible so abounds in “uninteresting” lists of names both of persons and places which seem to have no relation to modern times or current events. Such, however, will cease to wonder when they come to see the relation which these lists sustain to our confidence in the trustworthiness of the records containing them. They are like the water-marks in paper, which bear indelible evidence of the time and place of manufacture. If, furthermore, one should contemplate personal explorations in Egypt, Canaan, or Babylonia, he would find that for his purposes the most interesting and important portions of the Bible would be these very lists of the names of persons and places which seemed to encumber the historical books of the Old Testament.
One of the most striking peculiarities of the Bible is the “long look” toward the permanent wants of mankind which is everywhere manifested in its preparation; so that it circulates best in its entirety. No man knows enough to abridge the Bible without impairing its usefulness. The parts which the reviser would cut out as superfluous are sure, very soon, to be found to be “the more necessary.” If we find that we have not any use for any portion of the Bible, the reason doubtless is that we have not lived long enough, or have not had sufficiently wide experience to test its merits in all particulars.
Gezer was an important place in Joshua’s time, but it afterward became a heap of ruins, and its location was unknown until 1870, when M. Clermont-Ganneau discovered the site in Tel Jezer, and, on excavating it, found three inscriptions, which on interpretation read “Boundary of Gezer.”
Among the places conquered by Joshua one of the most important and difficult to capture was Lachish (Josh. 10:31). This has but recently been identified in Tel el-Hesy, about eighteen miles northeast of Gaza. Extensive excavations, first in 1890 by Dr. Flinders Petrie, and finally by Dr. Bliss, found a succession of ruins, one below the other, the lower foundations of which extended back to about 1700 B. C., some time before the period of conquest, showing at that time a walled city of great strength. In the debris somewhat higher than this there was found a tablet with cuneiform inscriptions corresponding to the Tel el-Amarna tablets, which are known to have been sent to Egypt from this region about 1400 B. C. At a later period, in the time of Sennacherib, Lachish was assaulted and taken by the Assyrian army, and the account of the siege forms one of the most conspicuous scenes on the walls of Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh. These sculptures are now in the British Museum.
Among the places mentioned in the Tel el-Amarna correspondence from which letters were sent to Egypt about 1400 B. C., are Gebal, Beirut, Tyre, Accho (Acre), Hazor, Joppha, Ashkelon, Makkadah, Lachish, Gezer, Jerusalem; while mention is also made of Rabbah, Sarepta, Ashtaroth, Gaza, Gath, Bethshemesh, all of which are familiar names, showing that the Palestine of Joshua is the Palestine known to Egypt in the preceding century. Two hundred years before this (about 1600 B. C.) also, Thothmes III. conquered Palestine, and gives in an inscription the names of more than fifty towns which can be confidently identified with those in the Book of Joshua.
Finally, the forty-two stations named in Num. 33 as camping places for the children of Israel on their way to Palestine, while they cannot all of them be identified, can be determined in sufficient numbers to show that it is not a fictitious list, nor a mere pilgrim’s diary, since the scenes of greatest interest, like the region immediately about Mount Sinai, are specially adapted to the great transactions which are recorded as taking place. Besides, it is incredible that a writer of fiction should have encumbered his pages with such a barren catalogue of places. But as part of the great historical movement they are perfectly appropriate.
This conformity of newly discovered facts to the narrative of Sacred Scripture confirms our confidence in the main testimony; just as the consistency of a witness in a cross-examination upon minor and incidental points establishes confidence in his general testimony. The late Sir Walter Besant, in addition to his other literary and philanthropic labors, was for many years secretary of the Palestine Exploration Fund. In reply to the inquiry whether the work of the survey under his direction sustained the historical character of the Old Testament, he says: “To my mind, absolute truth in local details, a thing which cannot possibly be invented, when it is spread over a history covering many centuries, is proof almost absolute as to the truth of the things related.” Such proof we have for every part of the Bible.
THE FOURTEENTH OF GENESIS
The fourteenth chapter of Genesis relates that “In the days of Amraphel, king of Shinar, Arioch, king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and Tidal, king of Goiim (nations), they made war with Bera, king of Sodom, and with Bersha, king of Gomorrah, and Shinab, king of Admah, and Shemeber, king of Zeboim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar).” The Babylonian kings were successful and the region about the Dead Sea was subject to them for twelve years, when a rebellion was instigated and in the following year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him appeared on the scene and, after capturing numerous surrounding cities, joined battle with the rebellious allies in the vale of Siddim, which was full of slime pits. The victory of Chedorlaomer was complete, and after capturing Lot and his goods in Sodom he started homeward by way of Damascus, near which place Abraham overtook him, and by a successful stratagem scattered his forces by night and recovered Lot and his goods. This story, told with so many details that its refutation would be easy if it were not true to the facts and if there were contemporary records with which to compare it, has been a special butt for the ridicule of the Higher Critics of the Wellhausen school, Professor Nöldeke confidently declaring as late as 1869 that criticism had forever disproved its claim to be historical. But here again the inscriptions on the monuments of Babylonia have come to the rescue of the sacred historian, if, indeed, he were in need of rescue. (For where general ignorance was so profound as it was respecting that period forty years ago, true modesty should have suggested caution in the expression of positive opinions in contradiction to such a detailed historical statement as this is.)
From the inscriptions already discovered and deciphered in the Valley of the Euphrates, it is now shown beyond reasonable doubt that the four kings mentioned in the Bible as joining in this expedition are not, as was freely said, “etymological inventions,” but real historical persons. Amraphel is identified as the Hammurabi whose marvelous code of laws was so recently discovered by De Morgan at Susa. The “H” in the latter word simply expresses the rough breathing so well known in Hebrew. The “p” in the biblical name has taken the place of “b” by a well-recognized law of phonetic change. “Amrap” is equivalent to “Hamrab.” The addition of “il” in the biblical name is probably the suffix of the divine name, like “el” in Israel.
Hammurabi is now known to have had his capital at Babylon at the time of Abraham. Until recently this chronology was disputed, so that the editors and contributors of the New Schaff-Herzog Cyclopedia dogmatically asserted that as Abraham lived nearly 300 years later than Hammurabi, the biblical story must be unhistorical. Hardly had these statements been printed, however, when Dr. King of the British Museum discovered indisputable evidence that two of the dynasties which formerly had been reckoned as consecutive were, in fact, contemporaneous, thus making it easy to bring Hammurabi’s time down exactly to that of Abraham.
Chedorlaomer is pretty certainly identified as Kudur-Lagamar (servant of Lagamar, one of the principal Elamite gods). Kudur-Lagamar was king of Elam, and was either the father or the brother of Kudur-Mabug, whose son, Eri-Aku (Arioch), reigned over Larsa and Ur, and other cities of southern Babylonia. He speaks of Kudur-Mabug “as the father of the land of the Amorites,” i.e., of Palestine and Syria.
Tidal, “king of nations,” was supposed by Dr. Pinches to be referred to on a late tablet in connection with Chedorlaomer and Arioch under the name Tudghula, who are said, together, to have “attacked and spoiled Babylon.”
However much doubt there may be about the identification of some of these names, the main points are established, revealing a condition of things just such as is implied by the biblical narrative. Arioch styles himself king of Shumer and Accad, which embraced Babylon, where Amraphel (Hammurabi) was in his early years subject to him. This furnishes a reason for the association of Chedorlaomer and Amraphel in a campaign against the rebellious subjects in Palestine. Again, Kudur-Mabug, the father of Arioch, styles himself “Prince of the land of Amurru,” i.e., of Palestine and Syria. Moreover, for a long period before, kings from Babylonia had claimed possession of the whole eastern shore of the Mediterranean, including the Sinaitic Peninsula.
In light of these well-attested facts, one reads with astonishment the following words of Wellhausen, written no longer ago than 1889: “That four kings from the Persian Gulf should, ‘in the time of Abraham,’ have made an incursion into the Sinaitic Peninsula, that they should on this occasion have attacked five kinglets on the Dead Sea Littoral and have carried them off prisoners, and finally that Abraham should have set out in pursuit of the retreating victors, accompanied by 318 men servants, and have forced them to disgorge their prey,—all these incidents are sheer impossibilities which gain nothing in credibility from the fact that they are placed in a world which had passed away.”
And we can have little respect for the logic of a later scholar (George Adam Smith), who can write the following: “We must admit that while archæology has richly illustrated the possibility of the main outlines of the Book of Genesis from Abraham to Joseph, it has not one whit of proof to offer for the personal existence or the characters of the patriarchs themselves. This is the whole change archæology has wrought; it has given us a background and an atmosphere for the stories of Genesis; it is unable to recall or certify their heroes.”
But the name Abraham does appear in tablets of the age of Hammurabi. (See Professor George Barton in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 28, 1909, page 153.) It is true that this evidently is not the Abraham of the Bible, but that of a small farmer who had rented land of a well-to-do land owner. The preservation of his name is due to the fact that the most of the tablets preserved contain contracts relating to the business of the times. There is little reason to expect that we should find a definite reference to the Abraham who in early life migrated from his native land. But it is of a good deal of significance that his name appears to have been a common one in the time and place of his nativity.
In considering the arguments in the case, it is important to keep in mind that where so few facts are known, and general ignorance is so great, negative evidence is of small account, while every scrap of positive evidence has great weight. The burden of proof in such cases falls upon those who dispute the positive evidence. For example, in the article above referred to, Professor Barton argues that it is not “quite certain” that Arioch (Eri-Agu) was a real Babylonian king. But he admits that our ignorance is such that we must admit its “possibility.” Dr. Barton further argues that “we have as yet no evidence from the inscriptions that Arad-Sin, even if he were called Iri-Agu, ever had anything to do with Hammurabi.” But, he adds, “Of course, it is possible that he may have had, as their reigns must have overlapped, but that remains to be proved.”
All such reasoning (and there is any amount of it in the critics of the prevalent school) reveals a lamentable lack in their logical training. When we have a reputable document containing positive historical statements which are shown by circumstantial evidence to be possible, that is all we need to accept them as true. When, further, we find a great amount of circumstantial evidence positively showing that the statements conform to the conditions of time and place, so far as we know them, this adds immensely to the weight of the testimony. We never can fill in all the background of any historical fact. But if the statement of it fits into the background so far as we can fill it in, we should accept the fact until positive contrary evidence is produced. No supposition can be more extravagant than that which Professor Barton seems to accept (which is that of the German critic, Meyer) that a Jew, more than 1,000 years after the event, obtained in Babylon the amount of exact information concerning the conditions in Babylonia in Abraham’s time, found in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis, and interpolated the story of Chedorlaomer’s expedition into the background thus furnished. To entertain such a supposition discredits the prevalent critical scholarship, rather than the Sacred Scriptures.
But present space forbids further enumeration of particulars. It is sufficient to say that while many more positive confirmations of the seemingly improbable statements of the sacred historians can be adduced, there have been no discoveries which necessarily contravene their statements. The cases already here enumerated relate to such widely separated times and places, and furnish explanations so unexpected, yet natural, to difficulties that have been thought insuperable, that their testimony cannot be ignored or rejected. That this history should be confirmed in so many cases and in such a remarkable manner by monuments uncovered 3,000 years after their erection, can be nothing else than providential. Surely, God has seen to it that the failing faith of these later days should not be left to grope in darkness. When the faith of many was waning and many heralds of truth were tempted to speak with uncertain sound, the very stones have cried out with a voice that only the deaf could fail to hear. Both in the writing and in the preservation of the Bible we behold the handiwork of God.
Professor George Frederick Wright
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