Bible As History
by Werner Keller
1 of 10
Translated from the German by William Neil
Revised and with a postscript by Joachim Rehork
New material translated from the German by B. H. Rasmussen
WILLIAM MORROW AND COMPANY, INC. New York 1981
15 -- List
of Illustrations -- (Following page 96)
am Lamgi-Mari ... King of Mari." With these words engraved
on his right shoulder,
the ruler of the kingdom of Mari, on the central reaches of the
Euphrates, introduced himself to archaeologists from Paris on January
first of the massive walls of the palace, still 16 feet high, have
just been discovered on Tell Hariri near Abu Kemal in Syria. "The
gangs", wrote Prof. Parrot at the time, "are now forcing
their way down into the rooms."
a corner of Room 78 stood some large damaged clay jars. In 1750
B.C. the ceiling fell on top of them when king Hammurabi's commandos
set fire to the palace of Mari.
an aerial photograph can do justice to the impressive architectural
layout of the mighty palace of Mari, which in the second millennium
B.C. covered an area of nearly 10 acres and was the largest royal
seat in the Ancient East. It was out of its 260 salons and rooms
that among other things the cuneiform documents about the cities
of Haran (Gen. 11:31) and Nahor (Gen. 24:10) were recovered.
Parrot studies the statue of Ishtup-Ilum, who was Governor of Mari
in the days of the Patriarchs. The statue was found in the throne-room
of the palace.
... and possessed their land ... unto Mount Hermon" (Josh.
12:1). The eternal snows of Hermon tower above the Promised Land.
high percentage of salt in the Dead Sea makes it possible for the
human body to recline on it like a floating cork.
Israeli industrial settlement at Sodom on the south side of the
the bare hills of Palestine and Transjordan the River Jordan winds
and twists like a serpent from the Lake of Galilee to the Dead Sea
which lies 1,300 feet below the level of the Mediterranean.
mummy of Ramesses II lies in the Cairo Museum in a perfect state
of preservation. He, or his son and successor Merenptah, is considered
to be the Pharaoh of the years of bondage and it is in his reign,
so we are told, that Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt.
happy scene showing Queen Anches-en-Amun with her husband Tutankhamun.
Najacocci with manna excretion.
photograph of manna. The light-coloured glassy formations on the
branch of a Tamarisk which is occupied by Najacocci (plant-lice)
are drops of manna. Manna is still available commercially as Mannite.
The monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
route of the so-called "King's Highway" can still be clearly
distinguished from the air among the deep wadis of the Jordan country.
16 -- This group of prisoners, the work
of Egyptian artists in the Temple of Medinet-Habu, is an accurate
portrayal of racial characteristics. A Libyan is followed by a Semite
from Palestine/Syria, a Hittite, a Philistine, and another Semite.
nomads water their cattle at the spring of Ain Qedeis, as Moses
did when he pitched his camp with the Children of Israel at Kadesh
Biblical Walls of Jericho at Tell-es-Sultan. Beyond the fortifications,
dating back 3,500 years, can be seen modern Jericho at the foot
of the Mountains of Judah.
the ornamental facade of King Herod's Pleasure Garden near Jericho.
page 224) -- The
rock bastions in Wadi el Arabah which lies to the south near the
gulf of Aqabah are popularly known as "King Solomon's pillars"
and "Solomon's copper mines" are pointed out to visitors
to nearby Timna. Yet it has now been established that no mining
of copper took place in this region in Solomon's day.
copper after 3,000 years from king Solomon's mines on the Red Sea.
of the model excavation at Tell el-Mutesellim. A chain of labourers
is passing up baskets filled with rubble. They are standing on ruins
of Persian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Israelite times. It was in
stratum IV that the royal stables, chariot sheds and the palace
built for the local Governor, Baana, at Megiddo (I Kings 4:12) were
are shown "King Solomon's stables" in Megiddo, but these
were actually completed during the reign of King Ahab of Israel
and were possibly not stables but a storehouse.
Reconstruction of the stable.
warriors from a kingdom near Carchemish (late Hittite).
"In the fourth year of Solomon's reign ... he began to build
the house of the Lord" (I Kings 6:1). From the outer forecourt
an entrance gateway led to the middle forecourt on a higher level.
Steps led through a second gate to the great inner forecourt, where
the people gathered in front of the Temple and the place of sacrifice.
At the entrance to the Temple, on either side, stood the twin brass
pillarsJACHIN and BOAZ. (I Kings 7:21). Another flight of steps
led into the central court which gave access to the Holy Place,
behind which the Holy of Holies lay in darkness. (Reconstruction-
19th century after de Vogue).
W. F. Albright and W. Phillips in the Sinai Peninsula.
the land of the queen of Sheba an American expedition in 1951 dug
out of sand dunes as high as houses the imposing Temple of the Moon
near ancient Marib in Yemen.
Gezer schoolboy, practising writing in 925 B.C., scratched out on
limestone these regulations for peasants. Item 4 of this oldest
piece of writing in Palestine obliged Israel to take up the cultivation
of flax at Gezer.
receptacles for cosmetics and ointment, which took the form of ducks
floating on water, show the artistic skill of Ugarit jewellers in
copying Egyptian models which were in great demand.
the 8th century B.C. the prophet Isaiah uttered this warning: "In
that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments
about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the
moon." 2,680 years later the director of the French excavations
at "White Haven", referring to the gold ornaments depicted
above, declared: "We are not only finding references to these
17 -- in the Ras-Shamra
texts, but the ornaments themselves, which, according to the passage
in Isaiah, Yahweh would one day take away from the haughty daughters
page 320) -- The
"lord on whose hand the king learned" (2 Kings 7:2) was
a "straphanger", as can be seen from this picture of him
on a relief from Nineveh, as he stands behind Ashurbanipal, king
of Assyria - the "Asnapper" of the Old Testament - and
basal tablet, erected by Mesha, king of Moab, who is mentioned in
the Bible, was found by Rev. F. A. Klein, a missionary from Alsace,
at Dibon in Transjordan. It dates from about 850 B.C. and describes
the campaign against Israel and Judah which is the subject of 2
Kings ch. 3. Nomads with an eye to business split the valuable iscription
into fragments, as can be seen from the cracks. The flat surfaces
indicate where the inscription has been completed by reference to
the entrance to the gateway in the walls of Samaria, excavators
came upon two stone benches. "And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat
the king of Judah sat each on his throne ... in a void place in
the entrance of the gate of Samaria" (I Kings 22:10).
put out the eyes of Zedekiah ..." (2 Kings 25"7). Sargon
II carries out the cruel punishment for treason in accordance with
Assyrian and Babylonian martial law. Prisoners had rings put in
their upper lips to break their resistance. "... which took
Manasseh with hooks" (2 Chron. 33:11- R. V. margin).
from a Judahite observation post to the Commandant of Lachish in
of Sargon II of Assyria at Khorsabad. (Reconstruction).
excivations on the Mediterranean coast at ancient Ugarit revealed
shops and stores lining dead-straight streets and dating from the
15th century B.C.
one of the stores lay 80 carefully stacked jars with wine and oil,"
announced Prof. Schaeffer.
golden amulet from Ugarit with the symbols of the goddess of fertility.
releaf of the bare-breasted fertility goddess of Canaan, from a
vault in the harbour area at Ugarit.
Figures of wild bulls and griffins adorn the Ishtar Gate in Babylon,
excavated by Prof. Koldewey. Top
and Judah ... (was) carried away to Babylon for their transgressions"
(I Chron. 9:1). In this magnificent international metropolis on
the Euphrates with its broad streets Judah lived in exile. It was
here, by the rivers of Babylon, that they sat down and wept (Ps.
137:1). (Reconstruction). Behind the massive city walls on the Euphrates,
near the Temple of Marduk (rec.) rose Etemenanki, the Tower of Babel.
It was exactly the same height as the Statue of Liberty in New York
Harbour (292 feet). (Reconstruction: Prof. E. Unger. Drawn by H.
of tall columns, the remains of a Forum, have been preserved on
the site of Gerasa, on the upper reaches of the river Jabbok in
Transjordan. In the lifetime of Christ many cities on both sides
of the Jordan had their temples, theatres and circuses on the norrmal
from Samaria over the Plain of Jezreel to the hills of Galilee,
where Nazareth lies, and to Mt. Tabor. Above the dark defile rises
the hill of old Migeddo with the great stables of king Solomon.
18 -- (Following
page 304) -- On the "Via
Dolorosa", the "Way of Sorrows", the Ecce-Homo Arch
bridges the narrow alley at the point where Pilate is supposed to
have pointed to Jesus and said: "Behold the man!" (John
19:5). Beneath this arch Father L. H. Vincent actually found the
Roman "Pavement" mentioned by St. John (19:13).
Wailing Wall still preserves the massive foundations of the Temple
built by Herod which Jesus frequented. The nine bottom rows of the
old outer wall consist of enormous stone blocks many of which measure
18 X 15 feet. "Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings
are here!" (Mark 13:1).
photograph of the Turin shroud (right) clearly shows on the negative
(left) a man's face on which swellings resulting from blows and
traces of blood from thorn pricks can be discerned.
page 336) -- The
Dome of the Rock in the south-east section of the city, which was
built by the Arabs in the 7th century after the capture of Jerusalem.
It stands on the ancient site where Solomon and later Herod the
Great built their Temples.
of text from one of the Dead Sea scrolls.
Easter service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The place of Jesus' passion and burial has been venerated here since
early Christian times. The British archaeologist Kathleen M. Kenyon
proved that the land
where the church now stands still lay outside the city wall in the
time of Jesus and consequently is quite possibly the actual place
of execution and burial.
Reconstruction of the actual method of crucifixion among the Romans
according to the indications provided by the skeleton of Johanan
Ben Ha'galgol found near Givat Hamivtar on the eastern edge of Jerusalem.
Willard F. Libby, of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in the University
of Chicago, investigates the age of the linen wrapping of a scroll
of the prophet Isaiah, which a shepherd discovered in a cave by
the Dead Sea in 1947. Using the
C-14 Method it was possible to reckon by the "Atomic Clock"
that the flax from which the linen was made was growing during the
lifetime of Christ.
G. Lankester Harding seen in Jerusalem sorting out fragments of
the Old Testament, dating from the time of Christ, which were discovered
in a cave by the Dead Sea in 1949.
TO THE NEW REVISED EDITION -- KELLER:
My book The Bible as History was first published in 1955.
It was translated into 24 languages and used for religious instruction
in schools, for Bible Seminars in Universities as well as by Bible
Study Groups both Christian and Jewish. More than ten million copies
have been printed throughout the world.
that time Biblical archaeology has brought to light hitherto undiscovered
facts by the use of new techniques and the most up-to-date methods
of investigation. It has been possible to confirm and reinforce
a number of theories, while other accepted opinions, previously
considered to be scientifically established, have had to be called
into question and the conclusions even of well-known scholars revised.
In order to preserve the scholarly reliability of my book, it has
become necessary to include the most recent research results. One
cannot and should not shut oneself off from new discoveries even
if they are inconvenient.
would have liked to bring my book into line witobligedh the most
recent research myself, but a serious illness of some years' duration
has unfortunately prevented me from undertaking this costly and
responsible task. I have consequently been , much against my will,
to entrust this project to another. I am happy, however, to have
obtained the collaboration of Dr. Joachim Rehork. In his appendix
he has explained the principles according to which we agreed that
the revision should be carried out.
him I tender my sincere thanks.
Keller - - Ascona, 1978
20 -- Blank
21 -- GOTHE:
greatest happiness of the thinking man is to have fathomed what
can be fathomed, and quietly to reverence what is unfathomable."
a non-theologian writes a book about the Bible it is a rare enough
occurrence to entitle the reader to ask for some explanation of
how the to make himself master of his subject.
a jopurnalist I have been for many years exclusively concerned of
modern science and research. In 1950 in the course of my ordinary
routine work I came across the reports of the French archaeologists
Professors Parrot and Schaeffer on their excavations at Mari and
Ugarit. Cuneiform tablets discovered at Mari on the Euphrates were
found to contain Biblical names. As a result, narratives of the
patriarchs, which had been for a long time regarded as merely pious
tales were unexpectedly transferred into the realm of history. At
Ugarit on the Mediterranean, evidence of the Canaanite worship of
Baal had for the first time come to light. By a coincidence, a scroll
of Isaiah discovered in a cave by the Dead Sea was in the same year
dated as pre-Christian. These sensational reports - and indeed in
view of the significance of these finds it is not too much to use
the word "sensational" - awakened in me the desire to
come to closer grips with the most recent and, generally speaking,
least known province in the field of investigation into the ancient
world. I therefore ransacked German and foreign literature for a
comprehensive and intelligible summary of the results of previous
research. I found none for there was none to find. So I went to
the sources myself in the libraries of many lands - aided in this
bit of real detective work by my wife's enthusiasm - and collected
all the hitherto scientifically established results of investigations
which were to be found in the learned works of Biblical archaeologists.
The deeper I went into the matter the more exciting it became.
door into the historical world of the Old Testament had been already
thrown open by a Frenchman, Paul-Emile Botta, in 1843. In the course
of excavations at Khorsabad in Mesopotamia he suddenly found himself
confronted by reliefs of King Sargon II of Assyria, who ravaged
Israel and led its people off into captivity. Accounts of this
22 -- conqueror's campaigns deal with the conquest of Samaria,
which is also described in the Bible.
a century now, American, English, French and German scholars have
been digging in the Middle East, in Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt.
All the great nations have founded institutes and schools specifically
for this type of research. The Palestine Exploration Fund began
in 1869, the German Palestine Association in 1877, the Dominican
Ecole Biblique de St. Etienne in 1892. The German Oriental Society
followed in 1898: then in 1900 the American Schools of Oriental
Research and in 1900 the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology.
Palestine, places and towns which are frequently mentioned in the
Bible are being brought back once more into the light of day. They
look exactly as the Bible describes them and lie exactly where the
Bible locates them. On ancient inscriptions and monuments scholars
encounter more and more characters from the Old and New Testaments.
Contemporary reliefs depict people whom we have hitherto only known
by name. Their features, their clothes, their armour take shape
before our eyes. Colossal figures and sculptures show us the Hittites
their big noses; the slim tall Philistines; the elegant Canaanite
chiefs with their "chariots of iron" which struck terror
into the hearts of the Israelites; the kings of Mari, contemporary
with Abraham, with their gentle smiles. During the thousands of
years that divide us from them the Assyrian kings have lost nothing
of their fierce and forbidding appearance: Tiglath-Pileser III,
well known as the Old Testament "Pul"; Sennacherib who
destroyed Lachish and laid siege to Jerusalem; Esarhaddon who put
King Manasseh in chains, and Ashurbanipal the "great and noble
Asnapper" of the book of Ezra.
they have done to Nineveh and Nimrud - old-time Calah - or to Ashur
and Thebes, which the prophets called No-Amon, the scholars have
also awakened from its ancient slumber the notorious Babel of Biblical
story with its legendary tower. In the Nile Delta archaeologists
have found the cities of Pithom and Raamses, where the resentful
Hebrews toiled as slaves. They have laid bare strata which tell
of the flames and destruction which accompanied the children of
Israel on their conquering march into Canaan. In Gibeah they found
Saul's mountain stronghold, whose walls once echoed to the strains
of David's harp. At Megiddo they came upon the vast stables of King
Solomon, who had " 12,000 horsemen".
the world of the New Testament reappeared the palatial edifices
of King Herod. In the heart of Old Jerusalem The Pavement was discovered,
where Jesus stood before Pilate, as is mentioned in St. John's gospel.
Assyriologists deciphered on the astronomical tables of the Babylonians
the exact dates on which the Star of Bethlehem was observed.
23 -- These breathtaking discoveries, whose significance it
is impossible to grasp all at once, make it necessary for us to
revise our views about the Bible. Many events which previously passed
for "pious tales" must nov be judged to be historical.
Often the results of investigation correspond in detail with the
Biblical narratives. They do not only confirm them, but also illumine
the historical situations out of which the Old Testament and the
Gospels grew. At the same time the chances and changes of the people
of Israel are woven into a lively colourful tapestry of daily life
in the age in which they lived, as well as being caught up into
the political, cultural and economic disputes of the nations and
empires which struggled for power in Mesopotamia and on the Nile,
from which !nhabitants of the tiny buffer state of Palestine were
never able completely to detach
themselves for over 2,000 years.
opinion has been, and still is widely held that the Bible is nothing
but the story of man's salvation, a guarantee of the validity of
their faith for Christians everywhere. It is however at the same
time a book about things that actually happened. Admittedly in this
sense it has limitations, in that the Jewish people wrote their
history in the light'of their relationship to Yahweh, which meant
writing it from the point of view of their own guilt and expiation.
Nevertheless the events themselves are historical
facts and have been recorded with an accuracy that is nothing less
to the findings of the archaeologists many of the Biblical narratives
can be better understood now than ever before. There are, of course,
theological insights which can only be dealt with in terms of the
of God. But as Professor Andre Parrot, the world-famous French archaeologist,
has said: "How can we understand the Word, unless we see it
in its proper chronological, historical and geographical setting?"
now, knowledge of these extraordinary discoveries was confined to
a small circle of experts. Only fifty years ago Professor Friedrich
Delitzsch of Berlin was asking "Why all this effort in these
distant barren and dangerous lands? Why all this costly rummaging
the rubble of past ages when we know there is neither gold nor silver
to be found there? Why this mad competition among different countries
to get control of these dreary looking mounds for the sole purpose
of digging them up?" The German scholar Gustav Dalman gave
him the right answer from Jerusalem itself when he expressed the
hope that one day all that the archaeologists had "experienced
and seen in their
scientific labours would be turned to good account and would help
to solve the practical problems of school and church". This
has so far however remained unfulfilled.
book in the whole history of mankind has had such a revolutionary
influence, has so decisively affected the development of the western
or had such a world-wide effect as the "Book of Books",
Today it is translated into
1,120 languages and dialects
24 -- (1,660 in 1979), and after 2,000 years gives no sign of
having exhausted its triumphal progress.
gathering together and working over the material for this book.
which I in no way claim to be complete, it seemed to me that the
time had come to share with those who read their Bibles and those
who do not, with churchmen and agnostics alike, the exciting discoveries
which have resulted from a careful examination of the combined results
of scientific investigation along many different lines. In view
of the overwhelming mass of authentic and well-attested evidence
now available. as I thought of the sceptical criticism which from
the eighteenth century onwards would fain have demolished the Bible
altogether, there kept hammering on my brain this one sentence:
"The Bible is right after all!"
KELLER Hamburg, September 1955 Tio
27 -- DIGGING
UP THE OLD TESTAMENT --
I -- The coming of the Patriarchs from Abraham to Jacob
IN THE "FERTILE CRESCENT" -- 4,000
years ago - Continents asleep - The great cradle of our civilisation
- Culture in the Ancient East - Staged Towers and Pyramids had been
built long before - Giant plantations on the banks of canals - Arab
tribes attack from the desert.
If we draw
a line from Egypt through the Mediterranean lands of Palestine and
Syria, then following the Tigris and Euphrates, through Mesopotamia
to the Persian Gulf, the result is an unmistakable crescent.
years ago this mighty semi-circle around the Arabian Desert, which
is called the "Fertile Crescent", embraced a multiplicity
of civilisations lying side by side like a lustrous string of pearls.
Rays of light streamed out from them into the surrounding darkness
of mankind. Here lay the centre of civilisation from the Stone Age
right up to the Golden Age of Graeco-Roman culture.
B.C., the further we look beyond the "Fertile Crescent",
the deeper grows the darkness and signs of civilisation and culture
decrease. It is as if the people of the other continents were like
children awaiting their awakening. Over the Eastern Mediterranean
already a light is shining - it is the heyday of the Minoan kings
of Crete, founders of the first sea-power known to history. For
1,000 years the fortress of Mycenae had protected its citizens,
and a second Troy had long been standing upon the ruins of the first.
In the nearby Balkans, however, the Early Bronze Age had just begun.
In Sardinia and Western France the dead were being buried in vast
stone tombs. These megalithic graves are the last great manifestation
of the Stone Age.
they were building the most famous sanctuary of the Megalithic Age
- the Temple of the Sun at Stonehenge - that giant circle of stones
near Salisbury which is still one of the sights of England about
which many tales are told. In Germany they were tilling the soil
with wooden ploughs.
At the foot
of the Himalayas the flickering lamp of an isolated outpost of civilisation
in the Indus valley was fast going out. Over China, over the vast
steppes of Russia, over Africa, darkness reigned supreme. And beyond
the waters of the Atlantic lay the Americas in twilight gloom.
p 28 --
But in the "Fertile Crescent" and in Egypt, on the other
hand, cultured and highly developed civilisations jostled each other
in colourful and bewildering array. For 1,000 years the Pharaohs
had sat upon the throne. About 2000 B.C. it was occupied by the
founder of the XII Dynasty, Amenemhet I. His sphere of influence
ranged from Nubia, south of the second cataract of the Nile, beyond
the Sinai peninsula to Canaan and Syria, a stretch of territory
as big as Norway. Along the Mediterranean coast lay the wealthy
seaports of the Phoenicians. In Asia Minor, in the heart of present
day Turkey, the powerful kingdom of the ancient Hittites stood on
the threshold of its history. In Mesopotamia, between Tigris and
Euphrates, reigned the kings of Sumer
and Akkad, who held in tribute all the smaller kingdoms from the
Persian Gulf to the sources of the Euphrates.
Egypt's mighty pyramids and Mesopotamia's massive
temples had for centuries watched the busy life around them. For
2,000 years farms and plantations, as big as any large modern concern,
had been exporting corn, vegetables and choice fruits from the artificially
irrigated valleys of the Nile, the Euphrates and the Tigris. Everywhere
throughout the "Fertile Crescent" and in the empire of
the Pharaohs the art of cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing was commonly
known. Poets, court officials and civil servants practised it. For
commerce it had long been a necessity.
The endless traffic in commodities of all sorts
which the great import and export firms of Mesopotamia and Egypt
despatched by caravan routes or by sea from the Persian Gulf to
Syria and Asia Minor, from the Nile to Cyprus and Crete and as far
as the Black Sea, is reflected in their business correspondence,
which they conducted on clay tablets or papyrus. Out of all the
rich variety of costly wares the most keenly sought after were copper
from the Egyptian mines in the mountains of Sinai, silver from the
Taurus mines in Asia Minor, gold and ivory from Somaliland in East
Africa and from Nubia on the Nile, purple dyes from the Phoenician
cities on the coast of Canaan, incense and rare spices from South
Arabia, the magnificent linens which came from the Egyptian looms
and the wonderful vases from the island of Crete.
Literature and learning were flourishing. In Egypt
the first novels and secular poetry were making their appearance.
Mesopotamia was experiencing a Renaissance. Philologists in Akkad,
the great kingdom on the lower Euphrates, were compiling the first
grammar and the first bilingual dictionary. The story of Gilgamesh,
and the old Sumerian legends of Creation and Flood were being woven
into epics of dramatic power in the Akkadian tongue which was the
language of the world. Egyptian doctors were producing their medicines
in accordance with text-book methods from herbal compounds which
had proved their worth. Their surgeons were no strangers to anatomical
science. The mathematicians of the Nile by empirical means reached
p 29 --
the sides of a triangle which 1,500 years later Pythagoras in Greece
embodied in the theorem which bears his name. Mesopotamian engineers
were solving the problem of square measurement by trial and error.
Astronomers, admittedly with an eye solely on astrological prediction,
were making their calculations based on accurate observations of
the course of the planets.
Peace and prosperity must have reigned in this world
of Nile, Euphrates and Tigris, for we have never yet discovered
an inscription dating from this period which records any large-scale
Then suddenly from the heart of this great "Fertile
Crescent", from the sandy sterile wastes of the Arabian desert
whose shores are lashed by the waters of the Indian Ocean, there
burst in violent assaults on the north, on the north-west, on Mesopotamia,
Syria and Palestine a horde of nomadic tribes of Semitic stock.
In endless waves these Amorites, "Westerners" as their
name implies, surged against the kingdoms of the "Fertile Crescent".
"Fertile Crescent" and Egypt-the great centres of civilisation
about 2000 B.C.
The empire of the kings of Sumer and Akkad collapsed
in 1960 B.C. under their irresistible attack. The Amorites founded
a number of
p 30 -- states and
dynasties. One of them was eventually to become supreme: the first
dynasty of Babylon, which was the great centre of power from 1830
to 1530 B.C. Its sixth king was the famous Hammurabi.
Meantime one of these tribes of Semitic nomads was
destined to be of fateful significance for millions upon millions
throughout the world up to the present day. It was a little group,
perhaps only a family, as unknown and unimportant as a tiny grain
of sand in a desert storm: the family of Abraham, forefather of
p 31 -- Chapter
OF THE CHALDEES -- Station
on the Bagdad railway - A Staged Tower of bricks - Ruins with Biblical
names - Archaeologists in search of scriptural sites - A consul
with a pick - The archaeologist on the throne of Babylon - Expedition
to Tell al Muqayyar - History books from rubble - Tax receipts on
clay - Was Abraham a city dweller?
Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son,
and Sarai, his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went
forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees" (Gen. 11
and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees -
Christians have been hearing these words for almost 2,000 years.
Ur, a name as mysterious and legendary as the bewildering variety
of names of kings and conquerors, powerful empires, temples and
golden palaces, with which. the Bible regales us. Nobody knew where,
Ur lay. Chaldea certainly pointed to Mesopotamia. Sixty years ago
no one could have guessed that the quest for the Ur which is mentioned
in the Bible would lead to the discovery of a civilisation which
would take us farther into the twilight of prehistoric times than
even the oldest traces of man which had been found in Egypt.
Today Ur is
a railway station about 120 miles north of Basra, near the Persian
Gulf, and one of the many stops on the famous Bagdad railway. Punctually
the train makes a halt there in the grey light of early morning.
When the noise of the wheels on their northward journey has died
away, the traveller who has alighted here is surrounded by the silence
of the desert.
roams over the monotonous yellowish-brown of the endless stretch
of sand. He seems to be standing in the middle of an enormous flat
dish which is only intersected by the railway line. Only at one
point is the shimmering expanse of desolation broken. As the rays
of the rising sun grow stronger they pick out a massive dull red
stump. It looks as if some Titan had hewn great notches in it.
To the Bedouins
this solitary mound is an old friend. High up in its crevices the
owls make their nests. From time immemorial the Arabs have known
it and have given it the name Tell al Muqayyar, "Mound of Pitch".
Their forefathers pitched their tents at its base. Still as from
time immemorial it offers welcome protection from the danger of
p 32 --
sandstorms. Still today they feed their flocks at its base
when the rains suddenly charm blades of grass out of the ground.
a time - 4,000 years ago - broad fields of corn and barley swayed
here. Market gardens, groves of date-palms and fig trees stretched
as far as the eye could see. These spacious estates could cheerfully
bear comparison with Canadian wheat farms or the market gardens
and fruit farms of California. The lush green fields and beds were
interlaced by a system of dead straight canals and ditches, a masterpiece
of irrigation. Away back in the Stone Age experts among the natives
had utilised the water of the great rivers. Skilfully and methodically
they diverted the precious moisture at the river banks and thereby
converted desert wastes into rich and fruitful farmland.
by forests of shady palms the Euphrates flowed in those days past
this spot. This great life-giving river carried a heavy traffic
between Ur and the sea. At that time the Persian Gulf cut much deeper
into the estuary of the Euphrates and the Tigris. Even before the
first pyramid was built on the Nile Tell al Muqayyar was towering
into the blue skies. Four mighty cubes, built one upon the other
in diminishing size, rose up into a 75 feet tower of gaily coloured
brick. Above the black of the square foundation block, its sides
I 20 feet long, shone the red and blue of the upper stages, each
studded with trees. The uppermost stage provided a small plateau,
on which was enthroned a Holy Place shaded by a golden roof.
over this sanctuary, where priests performed their offices at the
shrine of Nannar, the moon-god. The stir and noise of wealthy metropolitan
Ur, one of the oldest cities of the world, hardly penetrated into
In the year
1854 a caravan of camels and donkeys, laden with an unusual cargo
of spades, picks and surveyor's instruments, approached the lonely
red mound, under the leadership of the British consul in Basra.
Mr. J. E. Taylor was inspired neither by a lust for adventure nor
indeed by any motive of his own. He had undertaken the journey at
the instigation of the Foreign Office, which in its turn was complying
with the request from the British Museum that a search should be
made for ancient monuments in Southern Mesopotamia, where the Euphrates
and the Tigris came closest together just before entering the Persian
Gulf. Taylor had often heard in Basra about the strange great heap
of stones that his expedition was now approaching. It seemed to
him a suitable site to investigate.
middle of the 19th century all over Egypt, Mesopotamia and Palestine
investigations and excavations had started in response to a suddenly
awakened desire to get a scientifically reliable picture of man's
history in this part of the world. The goal of a long succession
of expeditions was the Middle East.
p 33 --
Up till then the Bible had been the only historical source for our
knowledge of that part of Asia before about 550 B.C. Only the Bible
had anything to say about a period of history which stretched back
into the dim twilight of the past. Peoples and names cropped up
in the Bible about which even the Greeks and the Romans no longer
impetuously into these lands of the Ancient East about the middle
of last century. Nobody then knew names that were soon to be in
everyone's mouth. With astonishment the age of progress and enlightenment
of their finds and discoveries. What these men with
infinite pains extracted from the desert sand by the great rivers
of Mesopotamia and Egypt deserved indeed the attention of mankind.
Here for the first time science had forced open the door into the
mysterious world of the Bible.
vice-consul in Mosul, Paul-Emile Botta, was an enthusiastic archaeologist.
In 1843 he began to dig at Khorsabad on the Tigris and from the
ruins of a 4,000 year old capital proudly brought to light the first
witness to the Bible: Sargon, the fabulous ruler of Assyria. "In
the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria
sent him..." says Isaiah 20:1.
Two years later
a young English diplomat and excavator, A. H. Layard, uncovered
Nimrud (Kalchu), the city which the Bible calls Calah (Gen. 10:11)
and which now bears the name of the Nimrod of the Bible, "a
mighty hunter before the Lord. And the beginning of his kingdom
was Babel and Erech, and Accad and Calneh in the land of Shinar.
Out of that land he went forth into Assyria and builded Nineveh
and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah...." (Gen. 10:10-11).
that, excavations. under the direction of an English major, Henry
Creswicke Rawlinson, one of the foremost Assyriologists, unearthed
Nineveh, the Assyrian capital with the famous library of king Ashurbanipal.
This is the Nineveh whose wickedness the Biblical prophets constantly
denounced (Jonah 1:2).
the American scholar Edward Robinson devoted himself in 1838 and
1852 to the reconstruction of the topography of the ancient world.
Richard Lepsius, later director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin,
recorded the monuments of the Nile area during an expedition which
lasted from 1842-46.
p 34 --
Just as the Frenchman Champollion had the good fortune to decipher
Egyptian hieroglyphics, so Rawlinson, the discoverer of Nineveh,
was, among others, successful in solving the riddle of cuneiform
writing. The ancient documents were beginning to talk!
Let us return
to the caravan which is approaching Tell al Muqayyar.
his tents at the foot of the red mound. He had neither scientific
ambitions nor previous knowledge. Where is he to begin? Where is
the best spot to deploy his native diggers? The great brick mound,
architectural masterpiece of a shadowy past though it might be,
conveys nothing to him. Perhaps in the heart of it lies something
which might eventually be exhibited in the museum and might interest
the London experts. He thinks vaguely of old statues, armour, ornaments
or even perhaps buried treasure. He takes a closer look at the curious
mound. Step by step he taps its surface. No indication of a hollow
cavity within. The great edifice appears to be completely solid.
Thirty feet above him the wall of the lowest block rises straight
and sheer out of the sand. Two broad stone ramps lead to the next
and smaller cone above, then above them rise the third and fourth
up and down, crawls along the ledges on hands and knees in the broiling
sun, finding only broken tiles. One day, bathed in sweat, he reaches
the topmost platform and a few owls fly startled from the dilapidated
walls. Nothing more. However he is not discouraged. In his efforts
to get to the heart of the secrets of the mound he makes a decision
which today we can only deeply regret. He takes his labour gangs
away from the base of the mound and sets them to work at the top.
What had survived
for centuries, what had withstood sandstorm and blazing sun alike,
became now the victim of tireless pickaxes. Taylor gives orders
to pull down the top story. The work of destruction begins at the
four corners simultaneously. Day after day masses of bricks crash
dully down the sides to the ground. After many weeks the chattering
voices on the top of the mound are suddenly hushed, the clanging
and banging of the pickaxes stop abruptly. Falling over each other
in their haste a few men rush down the side of the mound and up
to Taylor's tent. In their hands they hold little bars, cylinders
made of baked clay. Taylor is disappointed. He had expected more.
As he carefully cleans his finds he recognises that the clay rolls
are covered over and over with inscriptions - cuneiform writing!
He understands none of it but he is highly delighted. The cylinders,
carefully packed, are despatched to London. The scholars on Thames-side
are however not impressed - and small wonder. These were the years
when the experts were looking to North Mesopotamia, where, under
their fascinated gaze, the emergence from the hills of Nineveh and
Khorsabad on the upper Tigris of the palaces and colossal reliefs
of the Assyrians, as well as thousands of clay tablets and statues,
was enough to put
p 35 --
else in the shade. What significance compared with them had the
little clay cylinders from Tell al Muqayyar? For two years more
Taylor hopefully continued his search. But there were no further
results from Tell al Muqayyar and the expedition was abandoned.
It was seventy-five
years later before the world learned what priceless treasures were
still lying under that ancient mound.
As far as
the experts were concerned Tell al Muqayyar was once more forgotten.
But it was by no means neglected. No sooner had Taylor left than
hordes of other visitors arrived. The broken walls and above all
the top tier of the mound, which Taylor's gangs had shattered, provided
a welcome and inexhaustible supply of inexpensive building material
for the Arabs who over the years came from far and near and departed
with as many bricks as their pack-mules could carry. These bricks,
fashioned by men's hands thousands of years before, still bore plainly
the names of Ur-Nammu, the first great builder, and of Nabonidus,
the Babylonian conqueror who restored the staged tower which they
called the Ziggurat. Sandstorms, rain, wind and the heat of the
sun have all added their quota to the process of destruction.
First World War when British troops on the march to Bagdad in 1915
camped near this ancient structure they found that its former appearance
had been completely altered. It had become so flat due to dilapidation
and theft in the intervening years since 1854 that one of the soldiers
was able to indulge in a piece of daredevilry. The step-formation
of the tower which had previously been so clearly marked had disappeared
so completely that he was able to ride his mule right to the summit
of the mound.
By a lucky
chance there was an expert among the officers of the party, R. Campbell
Thompson, of the Intelligence Staff of the army in Mesopotamia.
In peace time he had been an assistant in the British Museum. Thompson
rummaged with an expert eye through the huge heap of bricks and
was shocked at the deterioration of the material. Examination of
the terrain led him to suppose that there were further areas worth
investigating in the neighbourhood of the Tell, ruins of settlements
which lay buried under the sand. Thompson recorded all this with
great care and sent an urgent message to London. This prompted them
to blow the dust off the insignificant looking little clay cylinders
which had almost been forgotten and to look at them again with greater
attention. The inscriptions on them were then found to contain some
extremely important information as well as a curious story.
years before Taylor someone else had been searching and rummaging
on the same spot with the same concern - Nabonidus, king of Babylon
in the 6th century B.C., venerator of the past, man of renown, ruler
of a mighty kingdom and archaeologist rolled into one. In his day
he established that "the Ziggurat was now old". But his
p 36 --
were different from Taylor's. "I restored this Ziggurat to
its former state with mortar and baked bricks." When the weakened
structure of the staged tower had been restored he had caused the
name of the first builder, which he had discovered, to be cut out
on these little clay cylinders. His name, as the Babylonian had
been able to decipher from a damaged inscription, had been King
Ur-Nammu. Ur-Nammu? Was the builder of the great staged tower king
of the Ur that the Bible mentions? Was he the ruler of Ur of the
highly probable. The same Biblical name had cropped up several times
since then. Ancient records which had been recovered from other
sites in Mesopotamia also mentioned Ur. It appeared from these cuneiform
writings that it was the capital city of the great Sumerian people.
At once the battered remnants of Tell al Muqayyar aroused eager
interest. Scholars from the Museum of Pennsylvania University joined
the archaeologists from the British Museum in fresh investigations.
The staged tower on the lower Euphrates might hold the secret of
this unknown Sumerian people - and of the Ur of the Bible. But it
was not until 1923 that a joint American and British team of archaeologists
could set out. They were spared the tiresome journey on the backs
of swaying camels. They went by the Bagdad railway. Their equipment
likewise went by train: trucks, rails, picks, spades, baskets.
had enough funds at their disposal to turn up the whole countryside.
They begin their carefully planned excavation on a large scale.
Since considerable finds might be expected, they reckon on taking
several years. In charge of the expedition is Sir Charles Leonard
Woolley. The forty-three year old Englishman had already won his
spurs on expeditions and digs in Egypt, Nubia and Carchemish on
the upper Euphrates. Now this talented and successful man makes
Tell al Muqayyar his life's work. Unlike the zealous but unsuspecting
Taylor several decades before, his chief aim is not directed to
the staged tower at all. He is possessed with a desire above all
to investigate these flat mounds which rise all around him out of
the vast sandy plain.
trained eye had not failed to note their striking configuration.
They look like little Table Mountains. Flat on top, they slope downwards
in an almost uniform pattern. Similar mounds exist in great numbers,
large and small, in the Middle East, on the banks of the great rivers,
in the midst of fertile plains, by the wayside on the routes followed
by caravans from time immemorial. No one has yet been able to count
them. We find them from the delta of the Euphrates and Tigris on
the Persian Gulf to the highlands of Asia Minor where the river
Halys tumbles into the Black Sea, on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean,
in the valleys of the Lebanon, on the Orontes in Syria and in Palestine
by the Jordan. Top
eminences are the great quarries for archaeological finds, eagerly
sought and often inexhaustible. They are not formed by the
p 37 --
hand of Nature, but are artificially created, piled high with
the legacy ot countless generations before us; vast masses of rubble
and rubbish from a bygone age which have accumulated from the remains
of huts and houses, town walls, temples or palaces. Each one of
these hills took shape gradually in the same way through a period
of centuries or even
millennia. At some point after men had first settled there the place
was destroyed by war or was burned down or was deserted by its inhabitants.
Then came the conquerors or new settlers and built upon the selfsame
spot. Generation after generation built their settlements and cities,
one on top of the other, on the identical site. In the course of
time the ruins and rubble of countless dwellings grew, layer by
layer, foot by foot, into a sizeable hill. The Arabs of today call
such an artificial mound
a Tell. The same word was used even in ancient Babylon. Tell means
"mound". We come across the word in the Bible in Josh.
11:13. During the conquest of Canaan, where cities "that stood
on their mounds" are spoken of, it is these Tulul, which is
the plural of Tell, which are meant. The Arabs make a clear distinction
between a Tell and a natural eminence, which they call a Jebel.
is at the same time a silent history book. Its strata are for the
archaeologist like the leaves of a calendar. Page by page he can
make the past come to life again. Every layer, if we read it aright,
tells of its own times, its life and customs, the craftsmanship
and manners of its people. This skill on the part of excavators
in deciphering the message of the strata has reached astonishing
heights of achievement.
or rough, bricks or traces of clay betray the nature of the building.
Even decayed and weathered stones or the remains of brick dust can
indicate exactly the ground plan of a building. Dark shadows show
where once a fireplace radiated its warming glow.
armour, household utensils and tools which are to be found everywhere
among the ruins, afford further help in this detective work on the
past. How grateful are the scholars of today that the ancient world
knew nothing of municipal cleansing departments! Anything that had
become unusable or superfluous was simply thrown out and left to
the tender mercies of time and the weather.
different shapes, colours and patterns of pots and vases can be
so clearly distinguished that pottery has become archaeology's Number
One measurement of time. Single potsherds, sometimes only fragments,
make it possible to give a precise dating. As far back as the second
millennium B.C. the greatest margin of error in establishing a date
in this way is at the outside about fifty years.
information was lost in the course of the first great excavations
of last century because no one paid any attention to these apparently
worthless bits of broken pottery. They were thrown aside. The only
important things seemed to be great monuments, reliefs, statues
or jewels. Much that was of value was thus lost for ever. The activities
p 38 --
Heinrich Schliemann, the antiquary, are an example of this sort
of thing. Fired with ambition he had only one end in view: to find
Homer's Troy. He set his gangs of labourers on to digging straight
down. Strata, which might have been of great value in establishing
dates, were thrown aside as useless rubbish. At length Schliemann
unearthed a valuable treasure amid general acclamation. But it was
not, as he thought, the treasure of Priam. His find belonged to
a period several .centuries earlier. Schliemann had missed the reward
of his labours, that would have meant so much to him, by digging
past it and going far too deep. Being a business man Schliemann
was an amateur, a layman. But the professionals were, to begin with,
no better. It is only during this century that the archaeologists
have been working in accordance with approved methods. Beginning
at the top and working down through the Tell they examine every
square inch of the ground. Every tiny object, every piece of pottery
is scrutinised. First they dig a trench deep into the mound. The
different coloured strata lie open like a cut cake and the trained
eye of the expert is able at a rough glance to place in their historical
perspective whatever ancient human habitations lie embedded there.
It was in accordance with this tried method that the Anglo-American
expedition started work at Tell al Muqayyar in 1923. Top
In early December
there arose a cloud of dust over the rubble heap which lay east
of the Ziggurat and only a few steps from the broad ramp up which
ancient priests in solemn procession had approached the shrine of
Nannar the moon-god. Fanned by a light wind it spread across the
site until it seemed as if the whole area around the old staged
tower was shrouded in fine mist. Powdery sand whirling up from hundreds
of spades indicated that the great dig had started.
From the moment
when the first spade struck the ground an atmosphere of excitement
hovered over every shovelful. Each spadeful was like a journey into
an unknown land where no-one knew beforehand what surprises lay
ahead. Excitement gripped even Woolley and his companions. Would
some important find richly reward them for their toil and sweat
upon the hill? Would Ur give up its secrets to them? None of these
men could guess that for six long winter seasons, till the spring
of 1929, they would be kept in suspense. This large-scale excavation
deep in Southern Mesopotamia was to reveal bit by bit those far
off days when a new land arose out of the delta of the two great
rivers and the first human settlers made their home there. Out of
their painstaking research, carrying them back to a time 7,000 years
before, events and names recorded in the Bible were more than once
to take solid shape.
The first thing
they brought to light was a sacred precinct with the remains of
five temples, which had once surrounded king Ur-Nammu's Ziggurat
in a semi-circle., They were like fortresses, so thick were their
walls. The biggest one, which was 100 x 60 yards square, was dedicated
to the moon-god. Another temple was in honour of Nin-Gal,
p 39 --
of the moon and wife of Nannar. Every temple had an inner court
surrounded by a series of rooms. The old fountains were still standing,
with long water troughs coated with bitumen. Deep grooves made with
knives on the great brick tables showed where the sacrificial animals
had been dissected. They were cooked as a common sacrificial meal
on the hearths of the temple kitchens. Even the ovens for baking
bread were there. "After 3,800 years," noted Woolley in
his diary, "we were able to light the fire again and put into
commission once more the oldest kitchen in the world."
law courts, tax offices and factories are quite separate establishments.
It was otherwise in Ur. The sacred area, the Temple precinct, was
not reserved exclusively for the worship of the gods. The priests
had many other things to do besides their holy office. As well as
receiving the sacrifices they collected the tithes and the taxes.
That did not take place however without written confirmation. Every
payment was noted on a little clay tablet - probably the first tax
receipts ever issued. The amounts received were entered by scribes
in weekly, monthly and yearly totals.
was as yet unknown. Taxes were paid in kind: every inhabitant of
Ur paid in his own coin. oil, cereals, fruit, wool and cattle made
their way into vast warehouses, perishable articles went to the
temple shops. Many goods were manufactured in factories owned by
the temple, for example in the spinning-mills which the priests
managed. One workshop produced twelve different kinds of fashionable
clothing. Tablets found in this place gave the names of the mill-girls
and their quota of rations. Even the weight of the wool given to
each worker and the number of garments made from it were meticulously
recorded. In one of the legal buildings they found copies of the
sentences carefully stacked exactly as they are in the administrative
offices of modern law courts.
For three winter
seasons the Anglo-American expedition worked on at the site of ancient
Ur, and still this extraordinary museum of man's early history had
not yielded up all its secrets. Outside the temple area the excavators
had a further unprecedented surprise.
South of the
staged tower, as they were clearing away a series of mounds, there
suddenly emerged from the rubble solid structures: row upon row
of walls and facades one after the other. As the sand was cleared
away it revealed a complete checkerboard of dwellinghouses whose
ruins were in places still 10 feet high. Between them ran little
alleyways. Here and there open squares broke the line of the streets.
of hard work were necessary and endless loads of rubble had to be
removed before the diggers were faced with an unforgettable sight.
Under the red
slopes of Tell al-Muqayyar lay a whole city, bathed in
p 40 --
bright sunshine, awakened from its long sleep after many thousand
years by the patient burrowing of the archaeologists. Woolley and
his companions were beside themselves with joy. For before them
lay Ur, the "Ur of the Chaldees" to which the Bible refers.
And how well its citizens lived, and in what spacious homes! No
other Mesopotamian city has revealed such handsome and comfortable
them the dwelling-houses which have been preserved in Babylon are
modest, in fact miserable. Professor Koldewey, during German excavations
there at the beginning of this century, found nothing but simple
mud brick erections, one story high with three or four rooms surrounding
an open courtyard. That was how people lived about 600 B.C. in the
much admired and extolled metropolis of Nebuchadnezzar the Great
of Babylon. But 1,500 years before that the citizens of Ur were
living in large two-storied villas with thirteen or fourteen rooms.
The lower floor was solidly built of burnt brick, the upper floor
of mud brick. The walls were neatly coated with plaster and whitewashed.
A visitor would
pass through the door into a small entrance hall where there was
a basin to wash the dust off hands and feet. He then continued into
the inner court, which was laid out in attractive paving. Round
it were grouped the reception room, the kitchen, living rooms and
private rooms and the domestic chapel. Up a stone staircase, which
concealed a lavatory, he would reach a gallery from which branched
off the rooms belonging to members of the family and the guest rooms.
From beneath the debris of brick and plaster there emerged into
the light of day all the things that these patrician houses had
contained in the way of domestic appliances for ordinary use. Countless
sherds of pots, jugs, vases and small clay tablets covered with
writing combined to form a mosaic from which piece by piece a picture
of everyday life in Ur could be reconstructed. Ur of the Chaldees
was a powerful, prosperous, colourful and busy capital city at the
beginning of the second millennium B.C.
One idea was
very much in Woolley's mind. Abraham is said to have come from Ur
of the Chaldees - he must therefore have been born in one of these
two-storied patrician houses and must have grown up there. Woolley
wandered through these alleyways, past the walls of the great temple,
and as he looked up he glimpsed this huge staged tower with its
black, red and blue blocks and its fringe of trees. "We must
radically alter", he writes enthusiastically, "our view
of the Hebrew patriarch when we see that his earlier years were
passed in such sophisticated surroundings. He was the citizen of
a great city and inherited the traditions of an old and highly organised
civilisation. The houses themselves reveal comfort and even luxury.
We found copies of the hymns which were used in the services of
the temples and together
p 41 --
them mathematical tables. On these tables were anything from plain
addition sums to formulae for the extraction of square and cube
roots. In other texts the writers had copied out the old building
inscriptions to be found in the city and had compiled in this way
a short history of the temples."
Abraham - no
simple nomad, this Abraham, but son of a great city of the second
That was a
sensational discovery and one difficult to grasp. Newspapers and
magazines carried photographs of the crumbling old staged tower
and the ruins of the metropolis. They caused a tremendous sensation.
People looked with astonishment at a drawing which bore the title:
"A House of the time of Abraham". Woolley had had this
done by an artist. It is a genuine reconstruction in accordance
with the finds. It shows the inner court of a villa-type house;
two tall jars stand on a tiled pavement; a wooden balustrade running
round the upper story shuts off the rooms from the courtyard. Was
the old familiar picture of the patriarch Abraham, as it had been
held for generations, which saw him surrounded by his family and
his cattle, suddenly to be called in question?
idea did not remain unchallenged. Very soon theologians and even
archaeologists registered their dissent.
In favour of
Woolley's idea were the words of Gen. 11:31: "And Terah took
Abram his son and Lot... and they went forth... from Ur of the Chaldees."
But there are other references in the Bible which point to somewhere
else. When Abraham sends his old servant from Canaan to the city
of Nahor, to fetch a wife for his son Isaac, he calls this place
Nahor his "country" (Gen. 24:4), his "father's house"
and "the land of my kindred" (Gen. 24:7). Nahor lay in
the north of Mesopotamia. After the conquest of the Promised Land
Joshua addressed the people in these words: "Your fathers dwelt
on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah the father
of Abraham and the father of Nahor" (Josh. 24:2) In this case
the "flood" means as in other places in the Bible, the
Euphrates. The city of Ur was excavated on the right bank of the
Euphrates: looked at from Canaan it lay on this side, not on the
other side of the "flood". Had Woolley been too hasty
in his conclusions? What reliable evidence had the expedition produced?
What proof was there that Terah and his son Abraham lived actually
in the city of Ur?
earlier journey from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran has, apart from
the discovery of the city itself, no archaeological foundation,"
declares Professor W. F. Albright of Johns Hopkins University. This
scholar, who has himself conducted successful excavations and is
the foremost authority on the archaeology of Palestine and the Middle
East, goes further. "The remarkable fact that the Greek translations
[of the Bible] nowhere mention Ur but read instead the more. natural
p 42 --
[of the Chaldees]' might mean that the removal of Abraham's native
place to Ur is possibly secondary and was not generally known in
the third century B.C."
from the shadowy past as the capital city of the Sumerians, one
of the oldest civilisations in Mesopotamia. As we know, the Sumerians
were not Semites like the Hebrews. When the great invasion of Semitic
nomads streamed out of the Arabian desert about 2000 B.C. its first
encounter in the south was with the extensive plantations of Ur,
its houses and its canals. It is possible that some recollection
of that great journey through the lands of the "Fertile Crescent",
in which Ur was involved, has resulted in its being mentioned in
the Bible. Painstaking research, particularly excavations in the
last two decades, make it almost certain that Abraham cannot ever
have been a citizen of the Sumerian metropolis. It would conflict
with all the descriptions which the Old Testament gives of the kind
of life lived by the patriarch: Abraham is a tent dweller, he moves
with his flocks from pasture to pasture and from well to well. He
does not live like a citizen of a great city - he lives the life
of a typical nomad.
As we shall
see, it was much farther to the north of the "Fertile Crescent"
that the stories of the Biblical patriarchs emerged out of their
mystical obscurity on to the plane of history. Top
Chapter 3 --
UP THE FLOOD --
graves of the Sumerian kings - A puzzling layer of clay - Traces
of the Flood under desert sands - A catastrophic flood about 4000
the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark.
For yet seven days and I will cause it to rain upon the earth, forty
days and forty nights: and every living substance that I have made
will I destroy from off the face of the earth.
it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were
upon the earth" Gen- 7:1, 4, 10.
When we hear
the word Flood, almost immediately we think of the Bible and the
story of Noah's Ark. This wonderful Old Testament story has travelled
round the world with Christianity. But although this is the best
known tradition of the Flood it is by no means the only one. Among
people of all races there is a variety of traditions of a gigantic
and catastrophic Flood. The Greeks told the Flood story and connected
it with Deucalion: long before Columbus many stories told among
the natives of the continent of America kept the memory of a great
Flood alive: in Australia, India, Polynesia, Tibet, Kashmir and
Lithuania tales of a Flood have been handed down from generation
to generation up to the present day. Are they all fairy tales and
legends, are they all inventions?
It is highly
probable that they all reflect the same world wide catastrophe.
This frightful occurrence must, however, have taken place at a time
when there were human beings on earth who could experience it, survive
it, and then pass on an account of it. Geologists thought that they
could solve this ancient mystery by pointing to the warm periods
in the earth's history, between the Ice Ages. They suggested that
when the huge ice-caps covering the continents, some of them many
thousand feet high, gradually began to melt, the level of the sea
rose to four times its normal height all over the world. This great
additional volume of water altered land contours, flooded low lying
coastal areas and plains, and annihilated their population, their
animals, and their vegetation. But all these attempts at explanation
ended in speculation and theory. Possible hypotheses satisfy the
historian least of all. He constantly demands unambiguous factual
evidence. But there was none: no scientist, whatever his line, could
produce any. Actually it was by a coincidence - during research
into something quite different that
p 44 --
unmistakable evidence of the Flood appeared, as it were, of its
own accord. And that happened at a place we have already got to
know: at the excavations at Ur.
For six years
American and British archaeologists had been examining the ground
at Tel al-Muqayyar, which by that time looked like one vast building
site. When the Bagdad train stopped there for a moment, travellers
looked with amazement at the soaring sandhills which had resulted
from the diggings. Waggon loads of soil were removed, carefully
searched, and put through the riddle. Rubbish thousands of years
old was treated like precious cargo. Perseverance, conscientiousness,
and painstaking effort had in six years yielded a handsome dividend.
The Sumerian temples with their warehouses, workshops and law courts
and the villa-type dwelling houses were followed, between 1926 and
1928, by discoveries of such magnificence and splendour that everything
else so far paled into insignificance.
of the kings of Ur"- so Woolley, in the exuberance of his delight
at discovering them, had dubbed the tombs of Sumerian nobles whose
truly regal splendour had been exposed when the spades of the archaeologists
attacked a 50 foot mound south of the temple and found a long row
of superimposed graves. The stone vaults were veritable treasure
chests, for they were filled with all the costly things that Ur
in its heyday possessed. Golden drinking cups and goblets, wonderfully
shaped jugs and vases, bronze tableware, mother of pearl mosaics,
lapis lazuli and silver surrounded these bodies which had mouldered
into dust. Harps and lyres rested against the walls. A young man,
"Hero of the land of God" as an inscription described
him, wore a golden helmet. A golden comb decorated with blossom
in lapis lazuli adorned the hair of the beautiful Sumerian "Lady
Puabi". Even the famous tombs of Nofretete and Tutankhamun
contained no more beautiful objects. "The graves of the kings
of Ur" are moreover 1,000 years older at least.
of the kings had as well as these precious contents another more
grisly and depressing experience in store for us, enough to send
a slight shiver down the spine. In the vaults were found teams of
oxen with the skeletons still in harness and each of the great waggons
was laden with artistic household furniture. The whole retinue had
clearly accompanied the noblemen in death, as could be gathered
from the richly clad and ornamented skeletons with which they were
surrounded. The tomb of the beautiful Puabi had twenty such skeletons,
other vaults had as many as seventy.
What can have
happened here so long ago? There was not the slightest indication
that they were victims of a violent death. In solemn procession,
it would seem, the attendants with the ox-drawn treasure waggons
accompanied the body to the tomb. And while the grave was being
sealed outside they composed their dead master for his last rest
p 45 --
within. Then they took some drug, gathered round him for the
last time and died of their own free will-in order to be able to
serve him in his future existence.
For two centuries
the citizens of Ur had buried their eminent men in these tombs.
When they came to open the lowest and last tomb the archaeologists
of the 20th century A.D. found themselves transported into the world
of 2800 B.C.
As the summer
of 1929 approached the sixth season of digging at Tell al-Muqayyar
was drawing to a close. Woolley had put his native diggers once
more on to the hill of "the graves of the kings". It left
him no peace. He wanted to be certain whether the ground under the
deepest royal grave had fresh discoveries in store for the next
After the foundations
of the tomb had been removed, a few hundred thrusts of the spade
made it quite plain that further layers of rubble lay below. How
far into the past could these silent chronometers take them?
When had the
very first human settlement arisen on virgin soil under this mound?
Woolley had to know. To make certain he very slowly and carefully
sank shafts and stood over them to examine the soil which came up
from the underlying strata. "Almost at once," he wrote
later in his diary, "discoveries were made which confirmed.our
suspicions. Directly under the floor of one of the tombs of the
kings we found in a layer of charred wood ash numerous clay tablets,
which were covered with characters of a much older type than the
inscriptions on the graves. Judging by the nature of the writing
the tablets could be assigned to about 3000 B.C. They were therefore
two or three centuries earlier than the tombs."
of flood-clay about 4000 B.C.(a) River bed (Euphrates). (b)
Layer of flood-clay. (c) Hills which projected above the
went deeper and deeper. New strata with fragments of jars, pots
and bowls kept coming up. The experts noticed that the pottery remained
surprisingly enough unchanged. It looked exactly like what had been
found in the graves of the kings. Therefore it seemed as if for
centuries Sumerian civilisation had undergone no radical
p 46 --
change. They must, according to this conclusion, have reached a
high level of development astonishingly early.
several days some of Woolley's workmen called out to him "We
are on ground level" he let himself down on to the floor of
the shaft to satisfy himself. Traces of any kind of settlement did
in fact abruptly break off in the shaft. The last fragments of household
utensils lay on the smooth flat surface of the base of the pit.
Here and there were charred remains. Woolley's first thought was:
"This is it at last." He carefully prodded the ground
on the floor of the shaft and stopped short: it was clay, pure clay
of a kind that could only have been deposited by water! Clay in
a place like that? Woolley tried to find an explanation: it must
be the accumulated silt of the Euphrates in bygone days. This stratum
must have come into existence when the great river thrust its delta
far out into the Persian Gulf, just as it still does, creating new
land out of the sea at the river mouth at the rate of 75 feet a
year. When Ur was in its heyday, the Euphrates flowed so close to
it that the great staged tower was reflected in its waters and the
Gulf was visible from the temple on its summit. The first buildings
must therefore have sprung up on the mud flats of the delta.
of the adjacent area and more careful calculations brought Woolley
eventually however to quite a different conclusion.
that we were much too high up. It was most unlikely that the island
on which the first settlement was built stood up so far out of the
showing flood-stratum at Ur. 1.
Graves of the kings. 2. Sherds and vessels. 3. Band of clay (10
feet). 4. Antediluvian vessels.
The foot of
the shaft, where the layer of clay began, was several yards above
the river level. It could not therefore be river deposit. What was
the meaning then of this remarkable stratum? Where did it come from?
None of his associates could give him a satisfactory answer. They
p 47 --
decided to dig on and make the shaft deeper. Woolley gazed intently
as once more basket after basket came out of the trench and their
contents were examined. Deeper and deeper went the spades into the
ground, 3 feet, 6 feet - still pure clay. Suddenly at nearly 10
feet the layer of clay stopped as abruptly as it had started. What
would come now? Top
The next baskets
that came to the surface gave an answer that none of the expedition
would have dreamt of. They could hardly believe their eyes. They
had expected pure virgin soil. But what now emerged into the glaring
sunshine was rubble and more rubble, ancient rubbish and countless
potsherds. Under this clay deposit almost 10 feet thick they had
struck fresh evidence of human habitation. The appearance and quality
of the pottery had noticeably altered. Above the clay-stratum were
jars and bowls which had obviously been turned on the potter's wheel,
here on the contrary they were hand-made. No matter how carefully
they sifted the contents of the baskets, amid increasing excitement,
metal remains were nowhere to be found, the primitive implement
that did emerge was made of hewn flint. It must belong to the Stone
That day a
telegram from Mesopotamia flashed what was perhaps the most extraordinary
message that had ever stirred men's imaginations "We have found
the Flood". The incredible discovery at Ur made headline news
in the United States and in Britain.
- that was the only possible explanation of this great clay deposit
beneath the hill at Ur, which quite clearly separated two epochs
of settlement. The sea had left its unmistakable traces in the shape
of remains of little marine organisms embedded in the clay. Woolley
had to confirm his conclusions without delay: a chance coincidence
- although the odds were against it - might conceivably have been
making fools of them. Three hundred yards from the first shaft he
sank a second one.
produced the same results: sherd - clay - fragmen os of hand-made
remove all doubt, Woolley made them dig a shaft through the rubble
where the old settlement lay on a natural hill, that is to say,
on a considerably higher level than the stratum of clay.
Just at about
the same level as in the two other shafts the sherds of wheel-turned
vessels stopped suddenly. Immediately beneath them came hand-made
clay pots. It was exactly as Woolley had supposed and expected.
Naturally the intermediate layer of clay was missing. "About
sixteen feet below a brick pavement," noted Woolley, "which
we could with reasonable certainty date about 2700 B.C. we were
among the ruins of that Ur which had existed before the Flood."
How far did
the layer of clay extend? What area was affected by the disaster?
A proper hunt now started for traces of the Flood in other
p 48 --
parts of Mesopotamia. Other archaeologists discovered a further
important check-point near Kish, south-east of Babylon, where the
Euphrates and the Tigris flow in a great bend towards each other.
There they found a similar band of clay, but only 18 inches thick.
Gradually by a variety of tests the limits of the Flood waters could
be established. According to Woolley the disaster engulfed an area
north-west of the Persian Gulf amounting to 400 miles long and 100
miles wide, looking at the map we should call it today "a local
occurrence" - for the inhabitants of the river plains it was
however in those days their whole world.
Map - FORMER
EXTENT OF PERSIAN GULF EXCAVATIONS PRESENT DAY CITIES The extent
of the Flood in Mesopotamia.
enquiry and attempts at some explanation, without achieving any
concrete results, any hope of solving the great riddle of the Flood
had long since been given up. It seemed to lie in a dark and distant
region of time which we could never hope to penetrate. Now Woolley
and his associates had through their tireless and patient efforts
made a discovery which shattered even the experts: a vast catastrophic
inundation, resembling the Biblical Flood which had regularly been
described by sceptics as either a fairy tale or a legend, had not
only taken place but was moreover an event within the compass of
At the foot
of the old staged tower of the Sumerians, at Ur on the lower Euphrates,
anyone could climb down a ladder into a narrow shaft and see and
touch the remains of a gigantic and catastrophic Flood which had
deposited a layer of clay almost 10 feet thick. Reckoning by the
age of the strata containing traces of human habitation, and in
this respect they are as reliable as a calendar, it could also be
ascertained when the great Flood took place. It happened about 4000
in Woolley's day tended to give dramatic interpretations to the
results of excavations more readily than they do nowadays, for shortly
after Woolley, another excavator, Stephen Langdon, claimed, "with
strong support from the press", that he in turn had found in
Kish, that is to say, in Babylon, "material traces of the Flood".
It was Langdon's, but also Woolley's bad luck that the datings of
these two flood catastrophes did not agree. Which flood was the
right one, the genuine, Biblical Flood? Woolley protested vigorously
against Langdon's claim to have discovered it and a vehement argument
followed which, however, did not in the least disturb a number of
writers, among them, for example, Sir Charles Marston, who asserted
p 49 --
both Woolley and Langdon had discovered "simultaneously the
deposits left by the Flood".
the excitement has somewhat subsided and given place to more sober
consideration. The following four main points emerge from the pronouncements
of the experts: -
five shafts only two revealed any deposits at all from an inundation.
in Ur did not lead to the abandonment oi the settlement. In fact,
it did not even lead to an interruption in the occupation.
Traces of inundation
were indeed discovered in other places in Mesopotamia, in Kish,
as well as in Fara (Shuruppak), Nineveh and Uruk (Erech) but on
the other hand, they are not found where they ought to be present
if the whole of Mesopotamia was flooded.
left by the inundations at the various excavation sites also vary,
in some cases quite appreciably, in their chronological sequence.
They belong to quite different periods; centuries separate them.
In other words,
Woolley's "Flood" was obviously not of sufficient magnitude
for the Biblical "Flood", unless we assume that one of
the flood catastrophes shown by archaeology to have occurred in
Mesopotamia had nevertheless had such a lasting effect on the inhabitants
of those days that - with a considerable amount of exaggeration
- the tradition of a catastrophe to humanity could arise from it.
Naturally, however, this is mere supposition and the Biblical Flood,
at any rate a flood of the unimaginable extent described in the
Bible, still remains "archaeologically not demonstrated".
The question consequently remains: do all the various "flood"
reports, which occur in practically all parts of the world, describe
merely mankind's earliest experience of the phenomenon "flood
catastrophe" and were all the traditional, relevant accounts
of floods simply compressed or exaggerated to form a number of stories
of the "great flood of all floods" or are they the vestiges
of much older traditions going back hundreds of years before Woolley's
flood at Ur, to the time of the melting of the gigantic glaciers
of the Ice Age when the ocean rose some two hundred metres and the
limits of today's land and sea were formed? That event had world-wide
consequences which could explain why the traditions of a flood have
persisted among so many peoples. The following pages will discuss
one of the flood traditions, parallel to that in the Bible, although
it derives to a large extent also from "Biblical lands".
p 50 --
4 -- A
FLOOD-STORY FROM OLD BABYLONIA
Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible - Twelve clay tablets from Nineveh
- An ancient epic from the library of Ashurbanipal - Utnapishtim,
a Sumerian Noah? - The secret of Mt. Ararat - A gigantic ship in
a museum of ice - Expeditions in quest of the Ark.
God said unto Noah... Make thee an ark of gopherwood: rooms shalt
thou make in the ark and shalt pitch it within and without with
pitch" Gen. 6:13-14.
About the turn
of the century, long before Woolley discovered Ur, another find
had aroused great interest and given rise to lively discussions
about the nature of Holy Scripture.
From the dim
recesses of the Ancient East an old mysterious story came to light:
a heroic epic, of 300 quatrains, inscribed on twelve large clay
tablets, which told of the wonderful experiences of the legendary
The text was
astonishing: Gilgamesh told a tale exactly like the Bible -of a
man who was said to have lived before and after a mighty and disastrous
Where did this
splendid and remarkable epic come from?
in the fifties of last century British archaeologists had found
these twelve clay tablets, together with about 20,000 others, all
in a good state of preservation, among the ruins of the library
at Nineveh, which was reckoned to be the most famous in the ancient
world. King Ashurbanipal had it built in the 7th century B.C. high
above the banks of the Tigris in old Nineveh. Today on the other
side of the river the oil-derricks of Mosul tower into the sky.
treasure in packing cases started out on its long journey from Nineveh
to the British Museum.
But it was
not for several decades that the true value of these texts was revealed
when they could finally be deciphered. At the time there was no
one in the world who could read them. Despite every effort the tablets
held their peace. Shortly before 1900 in the modest laboratories
of the British Museum the old texts began, after an interval of
twenty-five centuries, to unfold anew one of the finest narratives
of the Ancient East. Assyriologists heard for the first time the
Epic of Gilgamesh. It is written in Akkadian, the language of the
court and of diplomacy in the time of king Ashurbanipal. Its form,
however, dates not from the time
p 51 --
when it was placed in the library at Nineveh but from 1,000 years
earlier. It goes back as far as Hammurabi, the great king of Babylon,
for soon a second copy was discovered in his capital on the Euphrates.
Further finds confirmed the view that the Gilgamesh Epic belonged
to the rich heritage of all the great nations of the Ancient East.
Hittites and Egyptians translated it into their own tongues, and
cuneiform tablets discovered by the Nile still show clearly the
marks in red ink opposite those parts which the Egyptian scribes
found difficulty in translating.
At last a
little clay fragment gave the clue to the origin of the Epic of
Gilgamesh. The world owes its original composition to the Sumerians,
the people whose capital stood on the site of Ur.
as the cuneiform writing on the eleventh tablet from the library
at Nineveh tells us, decided to ensure his immortality and set out
on a long adventurous journey to find his ancestor Utnapishtim,
from whom he hoped to learn the secret of everlasting life which
the gods had bestowed upon him. When he reached the island on which
Utnapishtim lived, Gilgamesh asked of him the "Secret,of Life".
Utnapishtim related that he had once lived in Shuruppak and had
been a true worshipper of the god Ea. When the gods decided to destroy
mankind by a Flood Ea warned his devotee Utnapishtim and issued
this command: "0 man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu, tear down
thy house, build a ship; abandon wealth, seek after life; scorn
possessions, save thy life. Bring up the seed of all kinds of living
things into the ship: the ship which thou shalt build. Let its dimensions
be well measured."
We all know
the wonderful story which follows. For what the Sumerian Utnapishtim
is said to have experienced, the Bible tells us about Noah. "And
God said unto Noah Make thee an ark of gopher wood. And of every
living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into
the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female"
To make the
comparison easier let us set side by side what Utnapishtim says
of his great experience and what the Bible tells us of Noah and
the Flood. Top
with the command of the god Ea, Utnapishtim builds the ship and
fifth day I decided upon its
was 200 ft. square.
length of the ark shall be 300cubits the breadth Of it 50
cubits and the height of it thirty cubits - Gen.6:15.
52 -- The walls were 200 ft. high
.I gave it six stories and divided thebreadth seven times.
lower, second, and third
stories shalt thou make it - Gen. 6:16.
interior I divided into nine.
shalt thou make in the ark - Gen. 6:14.
sar of bitumen I poured into thekiln.
and shalt pitch it within and
without with pitch - Gen. 6:14.
had finished building his ship he arranged a sumptuous banquet.
He provided venison and mutton for those who had helped with the
work of building and dispensed "cider, beer, oil and wine to
the people as if it were running water". Then he continues:
into the ship my whole
family and kinsfolk.
I had I loaded, of the seed of all living things.
of the field, the beasts of
the field, all craftsmen-I made
them go up into it.
Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives,
into the ark because of the waters of the flood.
clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls,
and of everything that creepeth upon the earth.
went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the
female, as God had commanded Noah (Gen. 7 7-1).
went into the ship and closed my
the Lord shut him in (Gen. 7 16).
soon as a gleam of dawn shone in the sky, came a black cloud
from the foundation of heaven. Inside it Adad thundered.
it came to pass, after seven days, that the waters of the
flood were upon the earth.
the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken
up, and the windows of heaven were opened - Gen. 7:10-11.
53 -- Adad's rage reached to the heavens: turning all light
The gods of
Mesopotamia are terrified by the Flood and flee to the upper reaches
of heaven where the god Anu has his abode. Before they enter "they
crouch and cower like dogs". They are grieved and shattered
by what is happening and tearfully and in utter dejection lodge
worthy of Homer!
But the Flood
rages on unceasing, as Gilgamesh learns:
the wind, the flood, the cyclone devastated the land.
the flood was forty days upon the earth and the waters increased.
And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth, and all
the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered
- Gen- 7:17-19.
the seventh day came, the cyclone, the flood, the battle was
God remembered Noah... and God made a wind to pass over the
earth and the waters assuaged - Gen. 8:1.
had battled like an army. The sea became calm, the cyclone died
away, the flood ceased.
fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped;
and the rain from heaven was restrained. And the waters returned
from off the earth continually, and after the end of the hundred
and fifty days the waters were abated - Gen. 8:2, 3.
all mankind had turned to clay. The ground was flat like a roof.
all flesh died that moved upon the earth... and every man -
mankind had turned to clay." Utnapishtim, the Sumerian Noah,
is recording what he himself claimed to have lived through. Babylonians,
Assyrians, Hittites and Egyptians who translated or read aloud or
narrated these words had no more notion that they were describing
something that actually happened, than did the modern
p 54 --
Assyriologists who painfully deciphered them from the cuneiform
tablets. Today we know that line 134 on the eleventh tablet of the
Epic of Gilgamesh must depend on an eye-witness account. Only someone
who had himself seen the desolation caused by the catastrophe, could
have described it with such striking force. Top
layer of mud, which covered every living thing like a shroud and
levelled the ground until it was as "flat as a roof ",
must have been seen with his own eyes by someone who had had a marvellous
escape. The exact description of the great storm argues for this
assumption. Utnapishtim expressly mentions a southern gale, which
corresponds closely with the geographical situation. The Persian
Gulf, whose waters were flung over the flat country by the gale,
lies south of the estuary of the Tigris and Euphrates. To the last
detail the weather conditions which he describes are characteristic
of an unusual atmospheric disturbance. The appearance of black clouds
and a roaring noise - sudden darkness in broad daylight - the howling
of the southern gale as it drives the water in front of it. Any
meteorologist recognises at once that this is a description of a
cyclone. Modern weather experts recognise that, in tropical regions,
coastal areas, islands, but above all alluvial river flats are subject
to a spiral type of tidal wave which leaves devastation and destruction
in its wake, and which is often caused by cyclones, accompanied
by earthquakes and torrential rain.
All along the
coast of Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico, and on the Pacific there
is today an up-to-date alarm system with all the latest equipment.
But for southern Mesopotamia in 4000 B.C. even a modern alarm system
would not have been of much use. Sometimes cyclones
produce an effect which takes the shape of the Flood. There is an
example in recent times.
In 1876 a cyclone
of this nature, accompanied by tremendous thunderstorms, swept across
the Bay of Ben al and headed for the coast at the mouth of the Ganges.
Up to 200 miles from its centre ships at sea had their masts splintered.
It was ebb-tide along the coast. The receding water was seized by
the broad high sweep of the cyclone and a gigantic tidal wave reared
itself up. It burst into the Ganges area and sea water 50 feet high
swept inland - 141 square miles were buried and 215,100 people died.
tells a horrified Gilgamesh what happened when the disaster was
opened the window and the light fell on my face.
it came to pass at the end of
forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he
made - Gen. 8:6.
55 -- The ship lay upon Mt. Nisir.
Nisir held the ship and
allowed it not to move.
the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day
of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat - Gen. 8:4.
cuneiform texts describe with care where Mt. Nisir is to be found.
It lies between the Tigris and the lower reaches of the river Zab,
where the wild and rugged mountain ranges of Kurdistan rise sharply
from the flat country bordering the Tigris. The alleged resting
place corresponds perfectly with the last lap of the great catastrophe
which burst inland from the south. We are told that Utnapishtim's
home was in Shuruppak. It lay near the present day Fara in the middle
of the flat fenland where Tigris and Euphrates part company. A tidal
wave from the Persian Gulf must have carried a ship from here right
to the Kurdistan mountains.
in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Mt. Nisir has never tempted the curious
to search for the remains of this giant ship. Instead, Mt. Ararat,
which belongs to the Biblical tradition, has been the goal chosen
by a series of expeditions.
Mt. Ararat - where three countries meet:
Turkey, Iran and U.S.S.R.
lies in Eastern Turkey, near the borders of Russia and Iran. Its
snow capped summit is over 16,000 feet high.Top
many years before any archaeologist turned a spadeful of Mesopotamian
soil, the first expeditions were making their way to Mt. Ararat.
A shepherd's story had started them off.
At the foot
of Ararat lies the little Armenian village of Bayzit, whose inhabitants
have for generations recounted the remarkable experience of a mountain
shepherd who was said to have seen one day on Ararat a great wooden
ship. A report from a Turkish expedition in 1833 seemed to confirm
the shepherd's story since it mentioned a wooden prow of a ship
which in the summer season stuck out of the south glacier.
The next person
to claim to have seen it was Dr. Nouri, Archdeacon of Jerusalem
and Babylon. This agile ecclesiastical dignitary undertook a journey
in 1892 to discover the sources of the Euphrates. On his return
he told of the wreckage of a ship in the eternal ice: "The
interior was full of snow: the outer wall was of a dark red colour."
In the First World War a Russian flying officer, by name Roskowitzki,
p 56 --
he had spotted from his plane "the remains of wreckage of a
fair-sized ship" on the south flank of Ararat. Although it
was the middle of the war, Czar Nicholas II despatched a search
party without delay. It is supposed not only to have seen the ship
but even to have photographed it. All proof of this however perished,
presumably in the Revolution.
From the Second
World War there are likewise several cases of aerial observation.
They come from a Russian pilot and four American fliers.
reports brought into the field the American historian and missionary
Dr. Aaron Smith of Greensborough, an expert on the Flood. As a result
of years of labour he has collected a complete history of the literature
on Noah's Ark. There are 80,000 works in seventy-two languages about
the Flood, of which 70,000 mention the legendary wreckage of the
In 1951 Dr.
Smith spent twelve days with forty companions to no purpose on the
ice-cap of Ararat. "Although we found no trace of Noah's Ark,"
he declared later, "my confidence in the Biblical description
of the Flood is no whit the less. We shall go back."
by Dr. Smith the young French Greenland explorer Jean de Riquer
climbed the volcanic peak in 1952. He too came back without accomplishing
anything. Despite this, fresh expeditions are always getting ready
for a further attempt on Mt. Ararat.
In 1955, in
the early morning of July 6th, Fernand Navarra from France, searching
for the most famous ship in history, succeeded to his great surprise
in salvaging three fragments of a wooden beam embedded in solid
ice on top of the mountain. The timber was at least 5,000 years
old, although whether this was actually a relic of Noah's Ark it
is of course impossible to say.
of the early days of Mesopotamia is in such close agreement with
the Bible as the Flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In some places
we find almost verbal correspondence. Yet there is a significant
and essential difference. The familiar story in Genesis knows of
one God only. The oddly amusing and primitive conception has disappeared
of a heaven overcrowded with gods, many of whom bear all too human
In all the
flood traditions which have been mentioned, problems arise from
mankind's unfortunate tendency to believe what it wants to believe.
This is shown especially in the search for the ark on the 5,165
metre-high Agri Dagi which lies on the frontier between Turkey and
the Soviet Union. According to the account in the Bible (Gen. 8:4),
that is where Noah's ark is supposed to have landed. When considered
closely, however, the matter is by no means so unambiguous, for
the Bible refers only to the "mountains of Ararat". Ararat
is simply the name given to the old land of Urartu, which corresponds,
roughly speaking, to present day Armenia. The Gilgamesh epic adds
the "mountain Nisir"
p 57 --
the place where the ark came to rest, while Berossus, a Babylonian
priest who lived in Hellenic times and who in his work Babylonian
Antiquities also relates the Babylonian flood story, introduces
a "Kordye mountain range" into the debate. Another claim
for the honour of being regarded as the landing place of the ark
is made for a mountain in Phrygia in Asia Minor, not far from the
town of Kelainai, the centre of many legends in olden days, while
the Mahometans prefer to situate the ark's landing place a good
distance south of Agri Dagi on the mountain of Judi, which offers
a view far across the Mesopotamian plain. One way and another there
are in any case too many mountains figuring as landing places for
What has been
done and is still being done on the mountain where according to
Christian tradition the ark came to rest is, however, not yet sufficiently
documented. Andre Parrot is of the opinion that silence is the only
appropriate attitude to be adopted by scientific journals towards
the periodically recurring attempts, usually accompanied by lively
activity in the daily press, to discover remains of the Biblical
ark high up amid the snow and ice. In fact, not a single specialist
in archaeology has so far taken part in any of the attempts to recover
the ark. The consequence is that we have no reliable account of
methods used in the searches or of the circumstances in which finds
have been made, not to mention photographic evidence providing proof
of claims that have been put forward. This is not because professional
archaeologists consider themselves too grand to undertake the strenuous
exertions involved in climbing up Mount Ararat (or rather Agri Dagi),
but because systematic archaeological investigations, particularly
in such difficult terrain, involve enormous expenditure.
finance is granted, however, only when discoveries of great scientific
and general interest are to be expected. Such finds are improbable
on Mount Ararat, and so we are provisionally obliged to say that
ever since the 5165 metre peak has been in existence and men have
inhabited the earth, no scientifically recorded inundation in the
world has risen high enough to carry up to such an altitude any
kind of floating construction of the nature of the ark. The terrain
around Mount Ararat during this period has not undergone such spectacular
changes that the ark could have been deposited there at a time when
perhaps the summit was lower than it is today. From the outset,
the search for the ark on Agri Dagi must be considered a failure
and as Andre Parrot has so well expressed it, expeditions with Mount
Ararat as their goal have more to do with mountain-climbing than
But does there
not exist wood from Ararat "at least five thousand years old"?
Certainly wood has been produced for examination which, it is claimed,
has come from Ararat, but again there is a difficulty about the
dating, which we are told is based on "estimates by a forestry
p 58 --
institute in Madrid", while "a laboratory" in
Paris is reported to have arrived at 4,484 years as the age of the
wood. On the other hand, a "Research Institute in Pre-History"
in Bordeaux is said to have been content with vague general statements
about the "great age" of the material. Even if these institutes
were shown on closer examination to be reputable, however, and their
reports proved to be unassailable, we must take into account that
the samples extracted by non-specialists and brought long distances
to the above mentioned places must have been exposed to a considerable
degree to the effects of dirt. This obscures the measurements obtained,
so that there can scarcely be any question of the determination
of that wood's age which is not open to objection. A subsequent
Ararat expedition did not even locate the original spot where the
wood had been found. On the other hand, it claimed to have discovered
wood elsewhere on Agri Daki, but its age has been assessed at only
something between 1300 and 1700 years. This result coincides very
nicely with the conjecture by a number of scholars that as a possible
consequence of being traditionally linked with the account of the
Flood, Agri Daki was regarded as "holy" and so already
in the early Christian era a few huts for pilgrims or hermits' dwellings
may have been built there. Top
p 59 --
5 -- ABRAHAM LIVED IN THE
KINGDOM OF MARI --
A stone corpse - Lieut. Cabane reports a find - A
Syrian Tell has important visitors - King Lamgi-Mari introduces
himself - Professor Parrot discovers an unknown empire - A Royal
Palace with 260 apartments and courtyards - 23,600 clay tablets
have survived for 4,000 years - Desert police report the "Benjamites"
- Rebecca's home - A flourishing city - And Nuzi... ?
the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from
thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will
show thee" Gen. 12:1.
of which the Bible is speaking in this case is Haran. Terah, his
son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai, and his grandson Lot lived
there (Gen. 11:31).
What was actually
meant by Haran was until recently quite unknown. We knew nothing
of its early history. All the old Babylonian documents are silent
about the middle reaches of the Euphrates - Mesopotamia, the land
between the rivers - where Haran once stood.
A chance find
led to excavations in 1933, which here also gave rise to a great
and exciting discovery and added considerably to our knowledge.
They brought the Haran of the Bible and the kind of life lived by
the patriarchs quite unexpectedly into a historical context.
On the line
between Damascus and Mosul, where it cuts the Euphrates, lies the
small obscure town of Abu Kemal. Since, as a result of the First
World War, Syria was placed under a French mandate, there was a
French garrison in the place.
Over the broad
Euphrates plain in midsummer 1933 lay a brooding, paralysing heat.
Lieut. Cabane, the station-commander, expected, when he was called
into the orderly room, that it was merely another of these quarrels
among the Arabs that he was supposed to settle. He had had more
than enough of that already. But this time the excitement in the
office seemed to be about something different. Eventually he managed
to extract through the interpreter the following story: These
people had been burying one of their relatives. They were digging
the grave on a remote hillside, by name Tell Hariri, when out popped
a stone corpse!
Lieut. Cabane, this might be something that would interest the museum
at Aleppo. At any rate it was a pleasant change from the endless
monotony of this God-forsaken post.
p 60 --
In the cool of the evening he drove out to Tell Hariri, which
lay about 7 miles to the north of Abu Kemal near the Euphrates.
The Arabs led him up the slope to the broken statue in a flat earthen
trough which had so upset them the day before. Cabane was no expert,
but he knew at once that the stone figure must be very old. Next
day it was taken by French soldiers to Abu Kemal. The lights were
on till long after midnight in the little command-post. Cabane was
writing a detailed report on the find to the competent authorities,
to Henry Seyrig, Director of Antiquities in Beirut, and to the Museum
past and nothing happened,. The whole thing seemed to be either
unimportant or forgotten. Then at the end of November came a telegram
from Paris, from the Louvre. Cabane could hardly believe his eyes
and read the message again and again. In a few days important visitors
from Paris would be arriving: Professor Parrot, the well known archaeologist,
accompanied by scientists, architects, assistants and draughtsmen.
On the 14th
of December Tell Hariri was buzzing like a bee-hive. The archaeologists
had begun their detective-work. First of all the whole mound was
carefully measured and photographed in detail. Soundings were taken
for echoes, specimens of soil were removed and submitted to expert
opinion. December went by and the first weeks of the New Year. The
23rd of January 1934 was the decisive day.
As they were
digging carefully through the outer crust of the Tell there appeared
out of the rubble a neat little figure which had some writing pricked
out on the right shoulder. Everyone bent over it, fascinated. "I
am Lamgi-Mari... king... of Mari... the great... Issakkv... who
worships his statue... of Ishtar."
by word, this sentence rings in the ears of the silent circle as
Professor Parrot translates it from the cuneiform. This is an unforgettable
moment for him and his companions. An almost uncanny scene and probably
unique in the history of archaeology with its surprises and adventures!
had solemnly welcomed the strangers from distant Paris and introduced
himself to them. It was as if he wanted politely to show them the
road into his kingdom of long ago which lay in a deep sleep beneath
him, and of whose pomp and power the Parisian scholars
had as yet no conception.
stone, a marvellous piece of sculpture, King Lamgi-Mari stood before
Parrot: a commanding broad-shouldered figure upon its base. But
the face lacks that incredible arrogance which is so typical of
the portraits of other conquerors from the ancient East, the Assyrians,
who without exception look fierce and bad-tempered. The king of
Mari is smiling. He carries no weapons, his hands are folded in
an attitude of, worship. His robe, which leaves one shoulder bare,
like a toga, is richly decorated with fringes.
p 61 --
ever has an excavation been so crowned with success from the word
"go", and the first groping efforts. Mari, the royal city,
must be lying slumbering under this mound.
for a long time been familiar with the royal city of Mari which
features in many old inscriptions from Babylonia and Assyria. One
text maintained that Mari was the tenth city to be founded after
the Flood. The great spade-offensive against Tell Hariri began.
intervals the digging went on from 1933 to 1939. For the greater
part of the year the tropical heat made any activity impossible.
Only in the cooler months of the rainy season, from the middle of
December to the end of March, could anything be done.
at Tell Hariri brought a wealth of new discoveries to a chapter
of the history of the Ancient East which is still unwritten.
No one knew
as yet how close a connection the finds at Mari would prove to have
with quite familiar passages in the Bible.
Year by year
reports of the expedition provided fresh surprises.
In the winter
of 1933-34 a temple of Ishtar the goddess of fertility was exposed.
Three of Ishtar's royal devotees have immortalised themselves as
statues in the shrine which is inlaid with a mosaic of gleaming
shells: Lamgi-Mari, Ebin-il, and Idi-Narum.
In the second
season of digging the spades came upon the houses of a city. Mari
had been found! However great was the satisfaction with their success,
far more interest, indeed astonishment was aroused by the walls
of a palace which must have been unusually large. Parrot reported:
"We have unearthed 69 rooms and courts, and there are still
more to come." One thousand six hundred cuneiform tablets,
carefully stacked in one of the rooms, contained details of household
of the third campaign in 1935-36 noted that so far 138 rooms and
courtyards had been found but that they had not yet reached the
outer walls of the palace. Thirteen thousand clay tablets awaited
deciphering. In the fourth winter a temple of the god Dagon was
dug up and also a Ziggurat, the typical Mesopotamian staged tower.
Two hundred and twenty rooms and courtyards were now visible in
the palace and another 8,000 clay tablets had been added to the
At last in
the fifth season, when a further forty rooms had been cleared of
rubble, the palace of the kings of Mari lay in all its vast extent
before Parrot and his assistants. This mammoth uilding of the third
millennium B.C. covered almost ten acres. Never before during any
excavations had such an enormous building with such vast ramifications
come to light.
lorries had to be commissioned to remove the cuneiform tablets from
the palace archives alone. There were almost 24,000 documents. The
great find of the tablets at Nineveh was put in the
p 62 --
shade, since the famous library of the Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal,
amounted to a "mere" 22,000 clay texts.
To get a proper
picture of Mari palace aerial photographs were taken. These pictures
taken from a low altitude over Tell Hariri gave rise to almost incredulous
amazement when they were published in France. This palace at Mari
was, around 2000 B.C., one of the greatest sights of the world,
the architectural gem of the Ancient East. Travellers came from
far and near to see it. "I have seen Mari," wrote an enthusiastic
merchant from the Phoenician seaport of Ugarit.
The last king
to live there was Zimri-Lim. The armies of the famous Hammurabi
of Babylon subjugated the kingdom of Mari on the central reaches
of the Euphrates and destroyed its mighty capital about 1700 B.C.
wreckage of roofs and walls were found the fire-pans of the Babylonian
warriors, the incendiary squad who set fire to the palace.
But they were
not able to destroy it completely. The walls were left standing
to a height of 15 feet. "The installations in the palace kitchens
and bathrooms," wrote Professor Parrot, "could still be
put into commission without the need of any repair, four thousand
years after its destruction." In the bathrooms they found the
tubs, cake-moulds in the kitchens, even charcoal in the ovens.
The sight of
these majestic ruins is an overwhelming experience. A single gate
on the north side ensured easier control and better defence. Passing
through a medley of courts and passages one reaches the great inner
courtyard and broad daylight. This was the centre both of official
life and the administration of the kingdom. The monarch received
his officials as well as couriers and ambassadors in the neighbouring
audience-chamber, large enough to hold hundreds of people. Broad
corridors led to the king's private apartments.
One wing of
the palace was used exclusively for religious ceremonies. It contained
also a throne-room, approached by a marvellous staircase. A long
processional way passed through several rooms to the palace chapel
in which stood the image of the mother-goddess of fertility. From
a vessel in her hands flowed perpetually "the water of everlasting
court lived under the king's roof. Ministers, administrators, secretaries
and scribes had their own roomy quarters.
a Foreign Office and a Board of Trade in the great administrative
palace of the kingdom of Mari. More than 100 officials were involved
in dealing with the incoming and outgoing mail, which amounted to
thousands of tablets alone. Top
great frescoes added a decorative effect to the palace. Even to
this day the colours have hardly lost any of their brilliance. They
seem to have been laid on only yesterday but in fact they are the
oldest paintings in Mesopotamia - 1,000 years older than the
p 63 --
coloured frescoes in the splendid edifices of the Assyrian rulers
at Khorsabad, Nineveh and Nimrud.
The size and
grandeur of this unique palace corresponded to the land that was
governed from it. Through these many thousands of years the palace
archives have preserved the record.
papers, decrees, accounts, scratched out on clay by the busy styli
of well-paid scribes 4,000 years ago, had to be brought to life
again with tireless industry. In Paris, Professor George Dossin,
of the University of Liege, and a host of Assyriologists wrestled
with the problem of deciphering and translating them. It would be
years before all the 23,600 documents were translated and published.
Each of them
contains a little piece of the mosaic which makes up the true facts
about the kingdom of Mari.
for the construction of canals, locks, dams, and embankments make
it plain that the prosperity of the country largely depended on
the widespread system of irrigation, which was constantly under
the supervision of government engineers, who saw to its care and
contain a list of 2,000 craftsmen, giving their full names and the
names of their guilds.
The news service
in Mari functioned so quickly and successfully that it would bear
comparison with modern telegraphy. Important
picture from Room 106 in the palace of Mari shows the investiture
of Zimri-Lim by the goddess Ishtar.
p 64 --
messages were sent by means of fire signals from the frontier of
Babylon right up to present day Turkey in a matter of a few hours,
a distance of more than 300 miles.
Mari lay at
the intersection of the great caravan route from West to East and
North to South. It is not surprising therefore that the traffic
in goods, which extended from Cyprus and Crete to Asia Minor and
Mesopotamia, necessitated a lively correspondence on clay concerning
imports and exports. But the tablets do not merely record everyday
matters. They also give an impressive account of religious life,
of New Year Festivals in honour of Ishtar, auguries with the entrails
of animals, and interpretation of dreams. Twenty-five gods made
up the Mari pantheon. A list of sacrificial lambs, which Zimri-Lim
presented, refers to these occupants of heaven by name.
individual bits of evidence on these tablets we can form a picture
of this masterpiece of organisation and administration which the
kingdom of Mari constituted in the 18th century B.C. What is astonishing
is that neither in their sculptures nor in their paintings is there
any indication of warlike activity.
of Mari were Amorites who had been settled there for a long time,
and who preferred peace. Their interests lay in religion and ceremonial,
in trade and commerce. Conquest, heroism, and the clash of battle
meant little to them. As we can still see from statues and pictures,
their faces radiate a cheerful serenity.
That did not
mean, however, that they were absolved from the necessity of defendin
and safeguarding their territory by force of arms. On their frontiers
lived tribes of Semitic nomads, who found the lush pastures, market
gardens and cornfields of Mari a constant temptation. They were
always crossing the border, grazing their cattle over wide stretches
of the countryside, and disturbing the population. They had to be
watched. Frontier posts were therefore established as a check on
this danger, and any incident was immediately reported to Mari.
In Paris the
Assyriologists were deciphering a clay tablet from the archives
of Mari. They read with astonishment a report from Bannum, an officer
of the desert police:
to my lord: This from Bannum, thy servant. Yesterday I left Mari
and spent the night at Zuruban. All the Benjamites were sending
fire-signals. From Samanum to Ilum-Muluk, from Ilum-Muluk to Mishlan,
all the Benjamite villages in the Terqa district replied with fire-signals.
I am not yet certain what these signals meant. I am trying to find
out. I shall write to my lord whether or not I succeed. The city
guards should be strengthened and my lord should not leave the gate."
In this police
report from the central reaches of the Euphrates in the 19th century
B.C. there appears the name of one of the tribes known to us from
the Bible. It literally calls them Benjamites.
p 65 --
is frequent mention of these Benjamites. They seem to have given
the ruler of Mari so many headaches and caused so much trouble that
periods of a king's reign were even called after them.
In the Mari
dynasties the years of each reign were not numbered but were identified
with some notable event, for example the building and consecration
of new temples, the erection of great dams to improve irrigation,
the strengthening of the banks of the Euphrates or a national census.
Three times the chronological tables mention the Benjamites:
year in which lahdulim went to Hen and laid hands upon the territory
of the Benjamites", is referred to in the reign of King lahdulim
of Mari and
that Zimri-Lim killed the davidum of the Benjamites"
year after Zimri-Lim killed the dividum of the Benjamites ..."
in the reign of the last monarch of Mari, Zimri-Lim.
correspondence between governors, district commissioners, and administrators
takes place over the single question: Dare we take a census of the
In the kingdom
of Mari a census of the people was not uncommon. It provided a basis
for taxation and for enlistment for military service. The population
was summoned by districts and a nominal roll was made of every man
liable for call-up.
lasted several days, during which free beer and bread were distributed
by government officials. The administration in the palace of Mari
would fain have included the Benjamites in this but the district
officers had their doubts. They advised against it since they understood
only too well the temper of these roaming and rebellious tribes.
the proposal to take a census of the Benjamites, about which you
have written me," begins a letter from Samsi-Addu to Iasmah-Addu
in Mari. "The Benjamites are not well-disposed to the idea
of a census. If you carry it out, their kinsmen the Ra-ab-ay-yi,
who live on the other bank of the river, will hear of it. They will
be annoyed with them and will not return to their country. On no
account should this census be taken!"
Thus the Benjamites
lost their free beer and bread and also escaped paying taxes and
children of Israel were to experience a census of this sort many
times, conducted exactly on the Mari-pattern. The first time was
on the command of Yahweh after Moses had led them out of Egypt.
All men over twenty who were fit to fight were registered according
to their families
(Num. 1-4). A generation later, after their sojourn in the desert,
Moses took a second census with a view to dividing up the land of
Canaan (Num. 26). During the monarchy David ordered a national census.
What he had in mind on that occasion was the building up of an army
and his commander in chief, Joab, was entrusted with the
p 66 --
arrangements (2 Sam. 24). As the Bible depicts the incident,
Yahweh had put the idea into the king's mind in order to punish
the people. The Israelites loved their freedom above all else. Registration
and the prospect of being called up were equally hateful to them.
Even in the year A.D. 6 the census carried out by Governor Cyrenius
almost led to open revolt. Top
It is worth
noting that it is to peace-loving Mari that the world owes the original
pattern of all recruiting campaigns. It was later followed by Babylonians
and Assyrians, by Greeks and Romans, in exactly the same way, as
indeed in later days by the nations of modern times. Thus Mari has
given the lead to the whole world in this matter of taking a census
for purposes of taxation and conscription for military service.
In Paris the
mention of Benjamites gave rise to conjecture and anticipation along
a particular line. Not without reason.
On other clay
tablets the Assyriologists dealing with these reports of governors
and district commissioners of the Mari empire came across one after
another a whole series of familiar sounding names from Biblical
history-names like Peleg, and Serug, Nahor and Terah and - Haran.
are the generations of Shem," says Gen. 11. "... Peleg
lived 30 years and begat Reu: And Reu lived two and thirty years
and begat Serug: And Serug lived thirty years and begat Nahor: And
Nahor lived nine and twenty years and begat Terah: And Terah lived
seventy years and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran."
Names of Abraham's
forefathers emerge from these dark ages as names of cities in north-west
Mesopotamia. They lie in Padan-Aram, the plain of Aram. In the centre
of it lies Haran, which, according to its description, must have
been a flourishing city in the 19th and 18th centuries B.C. Haran,
the home of Abraham, father of the patriarchs, the birthplace of
the Hebrew people, is here for the first time historically attested,
for contemporary texts refer to it. Further up the same Balikh valley
lay the city with an equally well-known Biblical name, Nahor, the
home of Rebecca, wife of Isaac.
Abraham was old and well stricken in age, and the Lord had blessed
Abraham in all things. And Abraham said unto his eldest servant
of his house, that ruled over all that he had: Put, I pray thee,
thy hand under my thigh; And I will make thee swear by the Lord,
the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not
take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among
whom I dwell; But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred
and take a wife unto my son Isaac.... And the servant took... of
all the goods of his master ... and he arose and went to Mesopotamia,
unto the city of Nahor" Gen. 24 1-4,10.
p 67 --
Biblical city of Nahor is unexpectedly drawn into a recognisable
historical setting. Abraham's servant set out for the land of the
kings of Mari. The instructions of his master, according to the
Biblical tradition, clearly indicate that Abraham must have known
Northern Mesopotamia, including Nahor, extremely well. How else
could he have spoken of the city of Nahor?
If we follow
the dates given in the Bible we find that Abraham left his native
place, Haran, 645 years before the exodus of the people of Israel
from Egypt. They wandered through the desert towards the Promised
Land under the leadership of Moses in the 13th century B.C. This
date is, as we shall see, assured by archaeology. Abraham must therefore
have lived about 1900 B.C. The finds at Mari confirm the accuracy
of the Biblical account. About 1900 B.C., according to the evidence
of the palace archives, Haran and Nahor were both flourishing cities.
from the kingdom of Mari produce startling proof that
the stories of the patriarchs in the Bible are not "pious legends"
- as is often too readily assumed - but things that are described
as happening in a historical period which can be precisely dated.
The fact that
the Bible contains genuine early Western Semitic names found surprising
confirmation in written sources from the Ancient East. Not only
did personal names from the Biblical story of the patriarchs occur
as placenames, but they also proved to be the names of individual
persons and it is not at all rare or unusual for clay tablets to
be found bearing the name of the patriarch Abraham. Yet has Abraham
actually been brought nearer to us? The excavation of written sources
at "Fennel Cape", Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit), has revealed
that there were even an Egyptian and a Cypriot among those bearing
this name. The distinguished Bible archaeologist Father Roland de
Vaux considered this "unusual and disturbing". Quite understandably
so, for this being the case, Abraham, instead of drawing closer
to us, is in danger of disappearing in the crowd of his numerous
namesakes who appear during the various epochs of the history of
the Near and Middle East.
the "'Benjamites" of Mari have also disappeared. The conviction
has established itself that the name in the texts from Mari which
was interpreted as "Benjamites" really means simply sons
of the right (sc. hand)", that is to say, "sons of the
south". It appears to have been a purely geographical designation
rather than the name of a tribe, for in the Mari documents banu
rabbaja and banu
sam'al are contrasted with the "sons of the
south". Moreover, the name of the territory Yemen in Southern
Arabia has preserved the old Mari word across the millennia, for
Yemen merely means south! Top
Bible scholars have also learnt other things. A phrase such as "the
year in which Zimri-Lim killed the davidum
of the Benjamites" is
p 68 --
now translated as "the year in which Zimri-Lim inflicted an
annihilating defeat on the 'sons of the south"', for davidum
does not mean "commander", as was previously thought,
the beginnings of Mari around 1800 B.C. agree extremely well with
the traditional dating of the Biblical patriarchs, somewhere around
or shortly after 2000 B.C. Paradoxically it was the astonishing
confirmation of statements in the Bible connecting the time of the
patriarchs with a period of the history of the Ancient East some
500 years later which thus raised doubts concerning the customary
dating. This confirmation comes from the archives of Nuzi in Yorgan
Tepe, fifteen kilometres south west of Kirkuk. The written documents
from this Horite city of the kingdom of Mitanni (c. 1500 B.C.) cast
a light not only on the ancient laws of the Horites, but also on
the legal practices of the Biblical patriarchs which agree to an
amazing degree with the Biblical texts. Three examples will suffice
Abraham laments the fact that he will die without a son and that
a certain Eliezer will inherit from him (Gen. 15:2) . From the
Nuzi tablets we know that it was customary for a childless couple
to adopt a "son" who looked after his foster-parents
and in return inherited from them. This arrangement could be reversed
to a certain degree if an heir was subsequently born.
a marriage remained childless, the wife had to provide a "substitute
wife". This is what Sarah did when she presented Hagar to
Abraham (Gen. 16:2 ) and in the same way Rachel at a later time
gave her husband Jacob her maid Bilhah (Gen. 30'). The custom
was precisely the same in Nuzi.
Jacob's wife Rachel stole the "images" of her father
Laban (Gen. 31:3 ff) and Laban moved heaven and earth to get these
"images" back. The Nuzi tablets tell us why. The person
who was in possession of these domestic images (teraphim)
also had the rights to the inheritance.
there is a striking conformity between the Bible and the Nuzi texts.
Yet there is a bitter conclusion to be drawn, for if the patriarchs
followed the legal customs of the Horites of the fifteen century
before the birth of Christ, how could they have lived in the 18th,
19th or even the 20th century before Christ? In other words, did
Abraham really live in the "kingdom of Mari"? Or ought
we to look for him centuries later in the kingdom of Mitanni? In
fact, we shall see that certain concepts of the "patriarchal
period", in the religious sphere this time, are matched by
ideas contained in texts from the coastal town of Ugarit (Ras Shamra)
whose "classical" period came still later, in the 15th
to 14th centuries before Christ. Do we have, in consequence, to
put Israel's Biblical ancestors even later? The questions still
facing us today
p 69 --
If it seems that science is abandoning us to ourselves with
a large number of new problems and if it seems that it is consequently
so much more difficult for us to connect the above mentioned names
and facts with definite and familiar individuals, this very same
science has amazingly confirmed other Biblical statements as will
become apparent later. And as our knowledge is continually advancing,
it is by no means impossible that Biblical archaeology will one
day provide us with further sensational discoveries. Top
note: Further study see:Lourve Museum, France, SEARCH: Near Eastern