Ancient Writings Compared

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.)

Sumerian Mythology

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.

World Thought

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.

Disposable Antiquity

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.

Impotent Impact

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.

Sadhu Sundar Singh Takes Christ on Foot

This is the day that … Sadhu Sundar Singh, “The Apostle of the Bleeding Feet”, was born to a well-to-do family in Rampur, Northern India, in 1889.

Sundar was born into a devout Sikh family, a strict religious brotherhood within Hinduism, and as a youngster he memorised the Bagawadgita, mastered the Vedas and read the Koran. His parents sent him to a Christian school because it was closer than the government school three miles away, and the education received was excellent.

He was also influenced by Sadhus who taught Yoga. His mother told him not to be selfish and materialistic like his brothers but to be a Sadhu, one who devotes his life to religion and lives on charity.

Thus Sundar grew to teenage years with a strange aversion to Christianity … he “hated the Christian teachers, their school, their Scriptures and their Jesus” (The Yellow Robe, by Cyril Davey, page 25). He threw stones at the Christian preachers and encouraged his friends to do the same, and he also tore a New Testament to pieces before his school friends and burned it in the school courtyard, when he was but 14 years of age. Then came his vision of the Risen Christ a few days later, and the “Damascus Road” experience. It was 17-18 December, 1904.

Sundar woke at 3am and was in despair. His Hindu religious devotion had left him empty and he contemplated suicide. He asked God to show him the right way. Then a bright light appeared and he saw Jesus, who said to him, “Why have you not followed me?” He did so immediately and felt great joy.
He cut off his long hair, a mark of Sikhdom. When he told his father he had become a Christian “his father’s wrath was dreadful to see”. He was cast out of the family and poisoned! Found by an Indian Christian, Rev. P. Uppal, Sundar was nursed back to health. He was baptised on 3 September, 1905 – his 16th birthday.

He then dedicated himself as a Christian Sadhu, wearing a yellow robe and wandering without any means of support. This way he knew he could reach his people who accepted such holy men.

In 1910 he studied for ministry in the Anglican Church until he found out that upon ordination he would be expected to stay in one diocese. He left and began an itinerant preaching ministry that took him around India and even into Tibet.

The years that followed were filled with incredible suffering and hardship. He travelled all over North India, despite heat and cold, plague, malaria, cholera, facing death more than a dozen times.

Curious tales abound: patting a leopard as if it were a dog; being miraculously delivered from a well, the top of which had been locked; the meeting with the 300 year-old hermit who “told Sundar Christ’s coming was imminent” (Sadhu Sundar Singh, by J. Lynch Watson, page 66).

Sundar’s books don’t always reveal the evangelical image given in the Moody Press biography by Cyril Davey. He was a student of Swedenborg’s writings … and he speaks of “those in hell who will ultimately be brought to Heaven …” due to the intercession of the departed saints. On the other hand he speaks of the sacrifice of Christ “by which we are saved from sin and its consequences”.

He tells the pilgrim bathing in the ‘sacred’ Ganges that “I have already bathed by faith in the blood of Christ and by His grace have been saved …” (With and Without Christ, by S.S. Singh, page 32).

Sundar preached in Madras and Ceylon, travelling all over India and Ceylon, then internationally from 1918 – 1922. He visited Malaya, Japan, China, Western Europe, Australia and Israel.

In 1920 the Sadhu visited Australia – unheralded. And three weeks “of hurriedly arranged meetings gave to thousands the memory of a Presence” (Story of Sadhu Sundar Singh, by Harold Short, page 7).

In 1922 he was happy to be back in his beloved India. The tour of Western lands had distressed him.

Each year he made a trip into Tibet, and it was in 1929 that he set out once again to preach in the forbidden land.

And there the story finishes … he was last seen leaving the little town of Kalka … and never seen again.

One biographer pays the following tribute to this remarkable servant of Christ – “Coming from the presence of Sundar Singh, men forget themselves, they forget him – but they think of Christ!” (The Sadhu, by Streeter and Appasamy, page xv).
What better tribute could be offered?

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Islam’s Lost Foundations

I believe Islam is close to its end as a world religion. I once heard from a man who had been told such a thing in a prophecy and I am personally inclined to believe it. So let me share some thoughts about some things which will contribute to Islam’s demise.

Islam has lost its foundations. Modern Islam attempts to be a complete religion, while ignoring its foundational components. As such this religion will crack and crumble. It is incomplete and unstable unless it rediscovers its foundations.

What are the lost foundations? I’m glad you asked.

Some years ago I developed a character training program for use in schools. The pilot program was quite effective and several schools asked me to implement it for them. One school had a large Moslem contingent in the student body, so I decided to incorporate some Koranic material into the otherwise Christian sources.

I contacted a local Islamic society and explained that what I sought were Koranic quotes which involved the teaching of godly character, so I could use those quotes to support my promotion of good character qualities. After a week or so I was advised that the Koran (Qu’ran) did not teach character.

There was a simple explanation for the absence of character training in the Koran. Since Islam is built on the work of Musa (Moses) and Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah), and they both give clear instruction in character and lifestyle, there is no need for Mohammed to repeat the work of those earlier prophets.

I was further told that the Koran is a book of prophecies, not a book of character training, since those things were done already by Musa and Isa.

The three great prophets of Islam are: Musa; Isa; and Mohammed. The three great prophetic writings, therefore, are the Old Testament (Musa’s prophetic work), the Gospels and New Testament (focussed on Isa al Masih) and the Qu’ran (the prophetic works of Mohammed).

Today, however, the most prominent activists for Islam seem to have abandoned the foundations laid by Musa and Isa. They do not promote the holy law and Ten Commandments of Moses. They do not teach the golden rule or love for others which are central to the lifestyle Jesus taught.

Consequently we have a modern Islam that has lost its foundations and is trying to apply the prophecies of Mohammed without the foundations laid by Moses and Jesus. Many Moslems, it seems, only give lip-service to the place of Musa and Isa. If this is so, then they are denying their own religion. When the followers of a religion deny in practice what they preach in theory, then the religion is dead. It is a vain show of a religion, not a living and dynamic force that can bring good into the world, or even to its followers.

When a religion cannot enrich its own followers it ceases to be a religion, and becomes a political system or some other social entity. I believe that such has already happened in many reaches of the Islamic world. Islam is crumbling from its own failure to embrace Musa and Isa. Islam has lost its foundations.

It is now simply a matter of time, and I predict a short time only. The Islamic nations will become embroiled in increased fanaticism, as people try to live out prophetic teaching without the character, faith and love taught by Moses and Christ. Islam’s greatest enemies are its own fanatical followers who will promote nothing more than obsession and political force. Islam will again try to force conversion at the end of the sword, only it will be holding the sword to the throat of its own people.

Yet Isa al Masih is the Messiah for all people, including the Moslems. He is ready to pour out wonderful grace on the followers of Islam. Moslems will make the most devoted and effective followers of Jesus Christ and they will be mightily used to prepare the world for the return of our saviour.

Millions of Moslems will come to know and love Almighty God with such depth of relationship that they will shame western believers. Millions of fellow Moslems will become the world’s most effective evangelists, even winning the Jews to faith in Christ in amazing numbers. And Millions of fellow Moslems will be so powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit that they will bring to life again things not seen since the life of Christ and the book of Acts.

Islam is about to crumble, yet Moslems are about to enjoy the most wonderful days they could ever imagine. Join me in prayer to hasten this great grace upon the followers of Mohammed.

Book of Books

I am staggered at my ongoing discovery of the Bible as a profound and amazing gift from eternity. So let me extol to you just some of the wonders of this amazing Book of Books.

My Background

As a lad I heard people say that the Bible is the “Book of Books”. I knew that they held it dear, but I could not understand why. It seemed to me that maybe they were the ‘sentimental’ type, or had less personal resource to draw from and so needed something else to assist them.

I was given my first Bible for my tenth birthday, by my Sunday School teacher. She told me she had a wonderful gift to give me for my birthday. When it turned out to be just a Bible I was visibly disappointed. She tried to enthuse me with the wonder of this profound book, but I just couldn’t get excited. I am not sure I was even thankful.

Book of Books

When I heard the term ‘Book of Books’ I realised it was ambiguous. The Bible was both a collection of 66 books written by diverse authors over several millennia, and also a book that stood supreme over all other books. It was “the book” among all books.

I gradually learned to appreciate the Bible. My journey in that direction was painfully slow, despite my regular church attendance and attempts to establish daily Bible reading using the Scripture Union notes. I most often ended up cramming several days’ worth in a dash to catch up on forgotten reading. My main motivation was fear and guilt, not a love for the Bible. I thought that reading the Bible would make a good impression on God and save me from any nasty things I might rather avoid.

New Discovery

Just recently, however, I was excited to discover the true meaning of the term ‘Book of Books’! I am surprised I never saw this before and the discovery quite intrigues and motivates me.

What I came to see is that the Bible is so rich in and of itself that it is able to speak into people’s lives and circumstances as if it was a set of diverse texts, not just what it appears to be. That’s a long way to say it, but I’ll try to explain. I want you to catch the same sense of discovery, assuming you haven’t already caught this insight. Maybe you’re wondering why I’m so excited about something you knew all along. If that’s the case please bear with me.

The Obvious Book

The Bible is obviously a religious text. It is full of things religious people quote and study all the time. So it is most readily relegated to the religious section of any library. It is a book for the religious boffins and devotees who care for such literature. It contains prophecies, regulations, prescriptions for rituals, esoteric spiritual stuff that doesn’t have immediate practical application, a religious vocabulary and much more that attests to its place as a Religious Text.

Now it has been used for much more than religion, but the casual observer could be forgiven for thinking the Bible should be put alongside the Koran, Hindu texts and texts about Confucius, Buddha, etc.

But the Bible is much, much more than a religious book. It is a religious text. That is its persona as one of the books it can serve as. But it is able to be pulled off the shelf as other books as well.

A Library in Itself

Imagine having one book on your shelf. When you want a cooking book you grab that one book and open it up. There you find recipes. Then, when you want a handyman book you grab the same text and open it, to find that it is full of drawings and instructions about home maintenance. Suppose then you need a book on managing your home finances. You reach for the same book, open it up and find that it has instructions on budgeting, managing bank accounts, and so on.

That book would be a library in itself. And, in a similar but different way the Bible is just that kind of library in one book. What has impressed me is a sense for just how profound the Bible can be to a diverse range of applications.

The Familiar Diversity

Stories: We are all familiar with the stories recorded in the Bible. Many children, including me, were enthralled by the amazing and wonderful historical accounts given in the Bible. David and Goliath is a perennial favourite, along with Daniel in the lion’s den, the crossing of the Red Sea and the miracles of Jesus. This is a story book par excellence.

History: We are also familiar with the historicity of the Bible. The events described in the Bible are mostly of historical account. They inform us of events and practices which we have next to no other record of. Historians rely on the Bible as a source book for cultural and historical insights.

Poetry: We are all familiar with the Bible as a source of poetry. There are various books in the Bible which are categorised as Hebrew poetry. Other portions are so beautiful and sweet in their content that they are often used as readings in such ceremonies as weddings, funerals and religious observances. So the Bible can be pulled off the shelf when someone wants some deeply beautiful and meaningful poetry.

Wisdom: We are also familiar with the Bible as a source of wisdom. Some books in the Bible are referred to as Wisdom literature. These books, incidentally, are also in the poetic category. Wisdom about relationships, problem solving, avoiding trouble, maintaining the peace, and so on, can be found in the pages of the Bible. So many people who need wisdom for their lives turn to the Bible as a valued resource.

Guidance: We are also familiar with the idea of the Bible being used for guidance. A girl I knew in primary school told me that her mother would open the Bible and point at the page, expecting whatever she chanced upon to be a word from God for her. This is not a recommended practice, as it tends to turn the Bible into a fortune-telling tool, contrary to God’s curse upon such activity. Many Christians, however, do prayerfully put their questions before God and then read their daily Bible reading with expectation that something will speak into their situation.

Moral Mentoring: We have all heard people refer to the moral standards given us in the Bible. Many people have acknowledged Jesus Christ the most exemplary person to have ever lived. He is spoken of as the “greatest man that ever lived” and His life has been studied by many, even when they did not believe Him to be the Son of God. The Bible could be used by every youth, not as a religious text, but as a text to guide them toward exemplary moral character.

From these examples you can see that the one book functions as multiple books, on hand for different applications.

What about ….

The Bible speaks into many other subjects as well, so have you ever considered the Bible as a text book on those things?

What about health and medicine? The Bible promotes sanitation and various health regulations. Certain foods are promoted over others. Is the Bible not a worthy resource text for such things?

And what about government? The Bible has much to say about leadership, forms of government, responsibilities within social order, and so on. So maybe the Bible could be taken off the shelf and studied just as a text for governmental order.

Then, what about business administration? There are many instructions to do with payment of employees, delegation of authority, enterprise and the like. These are business matters which are so valuable in themselves as to recommend the Bible as a business text book too. The Character First organisation applies the character qualities given in the Bible as a means of improving business efficiency and productivity. There may be many applications

The Bible has much to say about legal matters, so the Bible is a worthy Law textbook.

If you were to embrace the Bible for any one of these and other applications you may find that it comes alive in your hands as a much more valuable and richer text than you have ever counted it to be.

If that were the case it would become to you a Book of Books!