Critics of the Bible usually object to its proclamation of a creator God to whom man is accountable. In fact, moral accountability is the over-riding message of the Bible, combined with a divine solution to man’s problem of moral failure.
Yet the Bible does exist as a surviving ancient document. It is the most remarkable document in all of human history, ancient and modern. To assess that fact let us compare the ancient text of the Bible with other ancient writings which are help up against it at times.
Before we look at specific ancient documents, consider this quote about the Bible from Professor William Foxwell Albright.
“It [the Bible] stands absolutely alone in ancient literature without a remote parallel even among the Greeks … The Table of Nations remains an astonishingly accurate document … (It) shows such remarkably ‘modern’ understanding of the ethnic and linguistic situation in the modern world, in spite of all its complexity, that scholars never fail to be impressed with the author’s knowledge of the subject.” (Recent Discoveries In Bible Lands, pp.70ff.)
Discovery of ancient texts in the ruins of Nineveh and at Ebla, among other sources as well, provide us with a range of ancient texts which echo back to the early Sumerian civilisation. Those texts give ancient accounts of events and provide a notion of their ancient view of the world.
The ancient accounts of creation and the flood, which are claimed to be the original sources from which the Bible accounts of those events were constructed, prove to be vastly inferior to the Bible. While some scholars blindly proclaim such texts as the ancient epic stories of Gilgamesh and Atrahasis as the mythological base from which the Bible’s mythological stories were developed, we have already seen in previous articles in my archaeology series, that they leave much to be desired. They are decidedly non-scientific and mythical. They describe a universe which is inconsistent with what people now revere in both science and religion. They have no prevailing presence in modern thought.
Note that the combined corpus of Assyrian mythology, celebrated as the seedbed for Moses’ writings in Genesis, has been lost to antiquity and irrelevance. It has not persisted as something of substance in today’s word, even though there are those who wish to hanker back to ancient religious thought.
Codes and Histories
We saw in an earlier post on the Code of Hammurabi, that the legal prescriptions of King Hammurabi are limited and devoid of moral principal. They are a far cry from the pronouncements of our moral creator God, given to Moses on Mount Sinai, 500 years after Hammurabi’s work.
Hammurabi’s code is not enshrined in civil codes today. It is not an undergirding aspect of today’s legal systems. While its cruel prescriptions, such as maiming a thief, are picked up in such places as the Koran, there is no abiding regard for this text and its contribution to modern civilisation.
We also have ancient historical records, such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This text is essentially a religious funeral liturgy devoted to making the appropriate petitions to the polytheistic deities, so that the deceased will be allowed certain privileges and protections in the afterlife.
Copies of the text were carved on the sarcophagi, or placed inside it, so the dead would have access to the various petitions to make in the afterlife, to enable them to go forth each day. They were designated the Book of the Dead in an 1842 translation, and the name has persisted since.
The deities, prayers, concepts of afterlife and concerns expressed in the Egyptian book have faded from consciousness in today’s world. They do not describe things which today’s science or religious thought holds dear.
Similarly, the ancient Sumerian Kings List, with its reference to the flood very early in human history, is not a living document. It is regarded as a mixture of fact and fiction, worth being aware of, but of limited value today. It is just another list of names, bringing with it no moral value and little scientific merit. On this point, however, I believe that the Sumerian King List proves to be a valuable corroboration of the Bible history, and I will investigate that claim in a future post.
Greek Mythology and Philosophy
Greek writings from the centuries before Christ are, arguably, the most enduring ancient writings outside the Bible. Western thought has been greatly influenced by the rediscovery and re-promotion of these Greek texts in recent centuries.
Most western universities have courses in the Greek Classics. They are held by some to be essential reading in order to come to wisdom. Yet for all that, the Greek philosophers have not been able to develop a track-record of enduring impact and value. Most who study them gain little from the process and rarely become evangelists for their promotion.
The Hindu Vedas and the writings of Confucius are other examples of ancient documents which have survived into today’s generation. Hindus revere their Vedic writings. Chinese culture owes much to the standards encouraged by Confucius. Buddhists refer to teachings attributed to their founder, Gautama Buddha. These writings were an oral tradition for a very long time and various schools of Buddhism give different weight to various aspects of the ancient texts.
While these various influences hold sway within their cultural or religious context, they are generally locked within that context. They have not gained currency in other fields of application.
It is to be noted that these various documents from antiquity have two significant qualities which differentiate them from the Bible. The first is that they are disposable. Many indeed have disappeared from the culture completely.
The ancient Assyrian clay tablets, referring back to even more ancient Sumerian myths, were buried for several millennia. Their message was not missed. Their contribution was not sought. They did not leave a void. They were easily disposed of. Even today, subsequent to their rediscovery and publication, they have little impact. Their greatest contribution seems to be in encouraging criticism of the Bible by those who wish to see them as a mythical source for what they call Biblical mythology.
Harmurabi’s Code and the Egyptian Book of the Dead are novel relics, but of no present impact. The religious texts of Buddhism and Hinduism have been abandoned by converts from those religions, without loss to those converts. Those individuals have been able to dispose of their ancient religious texts without thought. Similarly, students of Greek philosophy have disposed of their textbooks and essays, without any further regard for the supposed value of those studies.
Compare those examples with the Bible, which has been the most attacked book in history, yet has had by far the most outstanding impact of any book in all of human history. Rather than passing into oblivion, as several people have prophesied it would, it remains as loved and valued today as ever. The Bible is not a disposable book, despite its antiquity. It has an enduring relevance, which gives it as much value in each new generation as it held in olden-days times.
The second significant quality of these ancient texts is that they display limited impact. They have not endured, because they have not delivered value. In many cases they do not offer truth, but a cultural delusion which passed away with the culture of the era, such as the Greek mythology and Egyptian funerary rites of ancient Egyptian polytheism.
The religious writings also prove to be impotent. When devotees of Hinduism and Buddhism convert to Christianity, for example, they discover potency in their new faith which they did not find in their past beliefs.
Greek mythology and philosophy has now been studied by millions of western minds, yet it has not brought the impact to them that is so readily testified to by those who have believed in the Bible.
The Supreme Text
The Bible is the vastly superior ancient text, on all counts. It has endured while others have faded away and not been missed. It has impact, not only to the religious devotees, but in such fields as law, sciences, government, society, family life, health, education and personal transformation.
Jesus Christ prescribed the perfect test for people and related things, by telling us to check out the fruit which is produced.
“Wherefore by their fruits you will know them.” Mathew 7:20
The fruit of all these ancient documents amounts to so little, if anything, especially when compared with the fruit which the Holy Bible continues to prompt and generate in the lives of young and old, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, on every continent and in every country and culture, not only now, but continually through human history.
When ancient writings are compared, the Bible stands supreme. And this is not simply a religious claim by a Christian. This is the clear evidence for all who will dare to look.