The Ancient World

The Bible record is the most reliable and comprehensive account of the ancient world and so it is interesting to see how other details from the earth’s earliest civilisations concur with the Bible descriptions.

This topic is of interest both to people who support the Bible text and those who wish to denigrate it. To supporters, evidence for the accuracy of the account is expected and welcomed. To detractors, an absence of evidence and any parallels in ancient mythical writings can be interpreted against the Bible account.

The Genesis Record

The first book of the Bible gives us a sweeping summary of thousands of years of earth’s history. The account is selective, majoring on key elements which God chose as valuable for our understanding of Him and His work on the earth. The Bible, therefore, is not an exhaustive historical record. But it is a true account of events, so we should expect various supportive evidence to corroborate its details.

Highlights of the Genesis record include: sudden and complete creation process; uniqueness of life on earth; the earth as the centre of creative purpose; man made from the dust; woman made from the man; a garden paradise; the curse resulting from man’s actions; nomadic and settled communities; technical expertise; global judgement through a flood; universal language of all people; convergence on a city with astrological worship modes; dispersion of people groups; and the earth divided.

Corroboration

Evidence in support of the Genesis account will include geological factors, space exploration, anthropology, archaeological evidence, ancient accounts (which may have become distorted over time) and ancient ideas which have passed down to today.

Geological evidence will corroborate the global flood. Space exploration will continue to confirm that life only exists on earth. Anthropology will track cultures back to the beginnings described in Genesis. Archaeology will confirm that life spread from the geographical region given in the Bible. Ancient stories will contain reflections of events recorded in Genesis. And modern life will be decorated with relics of past ideas which concur with the Bible account.

Geology

The global evidence of sediment deposits is staggering, fully supporting a flood of global proportions. Ocean fossils at high altitudes occur in many mountain ranges and far from coasts. Huge fossil graveyards exist in different continents.

Traces of marine sediments have been found at a height of over 12,000 feet in the Andes Mountains in South America. The ruins at Tiwanaku at an altitude of 13,000 feet were buried under six feet of mud from flooding. The high altitude Lake Titicaca holds water that is slightly saline and its fish and crustacean are predominantly oceanic, rather than fresh water creatures.

Deserts, sedimentary rocks, coal seams, oil fields, multi-strata fossils, huge fossil beds, and more lend sound credibility to the Bible account of a world-wide flood.

Anthropology

The Table of Nations, given in Genesis 10, is acclaimed as the most outstanding record of early national and cultural history. As anthropologists track the various cultural and language groups and their dispersion and development around the world they do not find reason to discredit the Biblical record.

Cradle of Civilisation

Archaeology confirms that the Tigris-Euphrates region is the cradle of civilisation, consistent with what Genesis 2 says about the location of Eden. The ancient Sumerian civilisation is seen as the seed-bed from which our global population arose.

Dr Clifford Wilson declares that archaeology has confirmed a great deal of the early Biblical record. “Creation, the Garden of Eden, the Flood, Long-Living Men, Early Cities, the Tower of Babel, the ‘Table of Nations’, and the relationship between Ur and Haran – archaeology has given convincing evidence that all of these should be accepted as historical.”

Ancient Documents

Documents linked back to Sumer tell distorted stores of a divine creation and global flood of judgement. The Epic of Gilgamesh, Epic of Atahasis and the Enamu Elish are three well-known ancient stories which speak of ancient times. They are distorted with polytheism and local customisation, but they attest to an enduring consciousness of original events as described in the Bible.

John Gray in Near Eastern Mythology refers to the tradition of civilisation emerging fully developed, without the long painful evolutionary process, which is a consistent theme of ancient literature. The ancients were agreed that man was created, rather than the product of any extended process.

The early Sumerian poem known as the Epic of Enmerkar speaks of a land that is much like Eden. From a damaged tablet we learn that this land, Dilmun, was only for the gods, and was characterised as a “pure, clean, bright place where sickness, violence, and old age do not exist”. The tablet reads, “The deadly lion destroyed not, The wolf a lamb seized not”. Dilmun is also described as a garden of fruit trees, edible plants, and flowers.

By the time of Sargon II, Dilmun was identified with a place inhabited by people with whom he did commerce. The Bible similarly reveals that the name of Eden was reused for a trading city after the great flood (Ezekiel 27:23).

Distorted Details

Many details of the Genesis account are picked up in the Sumerian stories, even though buried in polytheism and distortion. While the links are not conclusive, they are tantalising.

The different creation accounts involve mankind being made from the earth, although mixed with blood from one of the gods.

The myth of the creation of Ninti carries links to the creation of Eve, since Ninti means both “lady of life” and “lady of the rib“. In the myth she was created to cure the ailing Enki deity, reflective of how the woman was created “for the man“, as the Bible explains.

Sumerian deity stories include the account of one God, Enki, eating eight plants, resulting in a curse being placed. This carries echoes of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit and God cursing the earth and mankind as a result.

The fact of a universal language, which the Bible advises prevailed until the Tower of Babel, is stated in the Epic of Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta. It states that one of the gods, “Enki ….. shall change the speech in their mouths, as many as he had placed there, and so the speech of mankind is truly one.”

Surviving Memories

Some ancient traditions which have survived to our day provide corroboration with what the Bible teaches. The legends of huge dragons living at the same time as mankind attest to the fact that such creatures were not buried in inaccessible fossil beds, but were living creatures in man’s living memory. Cave drawings of dinosaur further support this reality, along with the dinosaur and human footprint fossils found at the Paluxy River in Glen Rose, Texas.

The ancient design for the Chinese character for ‘boat’ involving eight mouths directly links to the eight members of Noah’s family saved on Noah’s ark.

Atlantis

The mythical story of a city buried in the sea is consistent with the global flood event. Many cities would have been buried by the deluge, and could have given rise to the mythical concept of Atlantis.

Bolivian archaeologist Hugo Boero Rojo found extensive ruins in 1980, similar to the earliest Andean Tiwanakan culture, 60 feet beneath the waters of Lake Titicaca, close to the coast of Puerto Acosta. This drowned city may well be a relic of the pre-flood world.

Echoes from the Past

The points noted here are just some of the echoes from the past which resonate with the Bible account given in Genesis. Sceptics argue that ancient myths evolved into the Bible record, but that does not account for the geological and archaeological evidence, nor the surviving memories which substantiate the Bible, contrary to the popular scientific thought.

The Bible is the supreme record. The true and living God did create as described in Genesis. That accounts for the moral authority which that book carries. The ancient Sumerian stories, hand-me-down myths, and modern scientific speculations cannot impact lives and cultures in the positive and productive way that the Bible has proven to do for centuries.

The Bible’s similarities with ancient stories validates the stories as distorted reflections of reality, rather than discrediting the Bible as overgrown myth. “By their fruits you will know them”, is the Biblical instruction. So simply weigh up the overwhelming impact of the Bible, compared with the cumulative impact of all the Sumerian myths. The two are not the same, nor even linked by evolution of thought. One is myth-making that has faded away, while the other is revelation that is as powerful today as when it was first given.

I am thankful to Dr Clifford Wilson and his wife Dr Barbara Wilson for their inspiration and guidance in my own exploration of Biblical archaeology. As friend, academic supervisor and mentor, Dr Clifford has keenly encouraged my interest in archaeology, as he has for many others in decades past.
In honour of his on-going work and his world-wide impact I am compiling various posts on archaeology, based on the excellent work of Drs Clifford and Barbara, while adding my own personal style and insights. Drs Clifford and Barbara Wilson are building a website to present their work. You can visit the website at http://www.drcliffordwilson.com

Myths and Gods

Suggestion that the Bible book of Genesis is simply a reworking of pre-existing Assyrian myths is latched onto by those who wish to reject the claims of the true and living God. Babylonian mythology creates an effective smoke-screen for those who wish to hide from reality.

So it is valuable to review the ideas presented in the ancient Assyrian stories which supposedly led to the Bible history.

Rejecting God and Embracing Myths

It should be noted at the outset that once a person has rejected the revelation of our creator God they have no alternative but to discredit all historical evidence for His existence. The physical creation has to be explained in naturalistic terms, as science asserts it has done through evolution. And the historical accounts of God’s actions in the earth, such as creation and judgement (including the global flood), must be explained away as mere man-made stories.

When people reject God they must retreat into the woodlands of mythology. They have to create a mythology about how the world came to be. And they must turn historical evidence into mythological writings. When people reject God they become enmeshed in mythology.

A popular academic and philosophical myth is that religion has evolved, in the same way people believe biology and society have evolved. Thus we can find such statements as the following assertion. “Man’s earliest prereligious fear of the forces of nature gradually became religious as nature became personalized, spiritized, and eventually deified in human consciousness. Religion of a primitive type was therefore a natural biologic consequence of the psychologic inertia of evolving animal minds after such minds had once entertained concepts of the supernatural.”

Where such ideas fall apart is that the religious evolutionary path is nowhere to be found. Polytheistic ideas have existed alongside monotheism from earliest records. Rather than religion evolving it is divided. The true revelation of the Living God on one hand, and deception on the other, lead to different streams of religious thought.

Polytheism

Polytheism is evident in the ancient Assyrian culture. The myths which are supposed to have informed the Bible writers are riddled with inglorious deities fighting, taking revenge, competing and killing each other.

The Gilgamesh Epic, Epic of Atrahasis and Enuma Elish are stories about capricious and evil gods who kill their own family members, indulge in gratuitous violence, display intolerance, know nothing of forgiveness, gain prominence by domination and despise humanity.

Yet, for all the Assyrians apparent reverence for the gods, they treated those gods with contempt. Different cities repackaged their versions of these stories, identifying their own favourite deity as the hero. For example, Babylon changed the hero to Marduk, since he was the deity who supposedly established their city. By so doing, the Babylonians reveal that the previously honoured deity had no real worth, since he or she could be so easily displaced.

The stories, then, become nothing more than PR material, with nothing more than human value, to validate one people over another. This is a very shallow form of pantheism, where gods are multiplied and their reality is demeaned by the whim of man.

Note that Greek mythology displays this same callow polytheism, where temples are multiplied to multiple deities, but no-one expects the gods to have any real part in the affairs of men. Those gods are blighted with human foibles and demeaned as having no moral superiority to man.

Hindu polytheism similarly allows devotees to accommodate a multiplicity of values, since there is a deity for just about all the good and evil of the human heart.

There is no moral substance to the gods in such cases. There is no divine imperative. There is no fear of God.

Morality

The Assyrian gods of their creation and flood myths have no moral standard. Hatred, murder, violence, revenge, despisement, dominance and the like are their displayed characteristics.

A striking contrast between the ancient Assyrian concept of deity and the Bible’s revelation of the one true God is the issue of morality. Almighty God is an exquisitely moral being. He is described as being “holy”, which carries with it the idea of being so perfect that He will never veer off course by the slightest degree. Thus, in four thousand years of Biblical history and two thousand subsequent years of the Church Age our Creator God has not changed, nor violated His character. He is supremely and uniquely consistent.

God not only displays personal morality, but He holds all of humanity accountable against His own moral being.

The Assyrians were led to see themselves as a despised and menial creation, subject to the vagaries of unstable heavens, where deities may make war on one another and have modelled the most shameless evils. There is no moral accountability in such a world. There is no reason for any human to act above the basest instincts which were demonstrated by the gods.

The Place of Man

Another striking contrast between the Assyrian polytheistic myths and the revelation of creation given to us in the Bible is the place of mankind. According to the ancient creation myths mankind was made to serve the gods. The gods wanted worship and food. Mankind was to have the menial task of placating the appetite of the gods.

Various notions of how man was created are seen, involving the blood of a murdered god, or, alternatively, the spittle of many gods, mixed with clay.

We also find that the gods objected to the noise made by the human population, and so it was decided to wipe them all out. This capricious act was foiled when one of the gods warned someone to make a boat and escape destruction.

The Bible account not only gives noble place to God, but grants high and holy place to mankind as well. Man is made in God’s image, to receive blessings from God. God makes multiple gifts to mankind, to give him every advantage.

The decline of humankind is not in any way brought upon them by God, but by their own failure to be moral beings. The global flood of judgement is precipitated by the fact that mankind had become excessively evil in deed and in their imaginations.

Here again the distinctions between the Book of Genesis and the Assyrian myths is startling.

Expert Opinions

Dr Clifford Wilson quotes from experts who have reviewed the ideas of links between Genesis and the Assyrian myths. I take the following from Dr Wilson’s notes.

English Professor Alan Millard was one of two scholars who re-discovered the Babylonian Epic of Atrahasis.  He stated in his survey in The Tyndale Biblical Archaeology Lecture for 1966: “All who suspect or suggest borrowing by the Hebrews are compelled to admit large-scale revision, alteration, and re-interpretation in a fashion which cannot be substantiated for any other composition from the ancient Near East or in any other Hebrew writing … Careful comparison of ancient texts and literary methods is the only way to the understanding of the early chapters of Genesis ….. so the Epic of Atrahasis adds to knowledge of parallel Babylonian traditions, and of their literary form.  All speculation apart, it underlines the uniqueness of the Hebrew primeval history in the form in which it now exists.”

Professor Kenneth Kitchen is also quoted by Dr Wilson: “The common assumption that the Hebrew account is simply a purged and simplified version of the Babylonian legend (applied also to the Flood stories) is fallacious on methodological grounds.  In the Ancient Near East, the rule is that simple accounts or traditions may give rise (by accretion and embellishment) to elaborate legends, but not vice versa.”

No Need For Myths

Those who reject the Almighty Creator God of the Bible must engage in mythology, by making up their own ideas and by turning truth into myth in their own opinion. Those who believe in the one true God do not need myths or multiple gods.

In these modern times we have some of the world’s finest minds making up stories about punctuated equilibrium, life from outer space, naturalistic miracles and many other mythological notions. So mythology is not an ancient process which we have evolved past, but a necessary mindset when one has rejected the one true God.

I am thankful to Dr Clifford Wilson and his wife Dr Barbara Wilson for their inspiration and guidance in my own exploration of Biblical archaeology. As friend, academic supervisor and mentor, Dr Clifford has keenly encouraged my interest in archaeology, as he has for many others in decades past.
In honour of his on-going work and his world-wide impact I am compiling various posts on archaeology, based on the excellent work of Drs Clifford and Barbara, while adding my own personal style and insights. Drs Clifford and Barbara Wilson are building a website to present their work. You can visit the website at http://www.drcliffordwilson.com