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.

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

The Scholastic Myth Makers

Academic scholars researching the New Testament documents have created an intriguing mythology of their own, to assist them in the popular quest of turning Christianity into a mere human movement. This is not to say that all academics are atheists or that none of them has a living faith in Jesus Christ, but that the body of scholarly work is undergirded by a supposition that the New Testament events were not the supernatural happenings which Christianity celebrates.

Need For Invention

People who are antagonistic to Christianity and to the clear claims of Jesus Christ and His followers as provided to us in the canon of New Testament books, need to build a case for their doubts. The books of the New Testament have been put under intense scrutiny for centuries and keep rebounding as dynamic and living expressions of powerful truth that is able to impact the hearers far beyond any other works in human history.

The sheer potency and significance of the New Testament, including its historical track record and glowing endorsements, supported by the millions who live by its truths in each generation, boldly challenge all who would oppose those twenty-seven books.

Such a challenge does not deter the most determined, and one option open to them is “invention”. If something supportive of an antagonistic position could be created from what has passed to us from that time, then much might be made from it.

Spurious Documents

There is no shortage of doubtful material in New Testament times. Various, spurious claims were made in the first few centuries, and have passed to us in various documents. However, those documents were recognised as spurious from their own time. They are not reliable historically and lack sufficient authority to challenge the overwhelming body of evidence in support of the approved New Testament books.

That has not stopped people who are antagonistic to Christianity from pushing those documents and their spurious ideas into the headlines from time to time. But no on-going credibility has been attained, despite the most vigorous efforts of some.

The Invention Summarised

The breakthrough which antagonists sought ultimately required invention. In simplified form, what was lit upon was the idea that evidence could be ‘created’ to accuse early (nascent) Christianity of having ‘evolved’ into a religious belief system.

The key was to create the impression that at least two different streams of Christ-consciousness existed. The initial stream would be based on Jesus as a rabbi, who presented ‘wisdom teaching’ and gained a following. Later streams would deify Jesus, after his death, by interposing into his biography such things as miracles, a virgin birth and Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

If such a construct could be invented, even just hinted at with sufficient force, then Christianity would be reduced from the reverberations of a divine visitation, to a delusional man-made religion, based on fraudulent deification of a humble Galilean teacher.

Imagining and Inventing

Since the Gospels provide a compelling and cogent account of the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it was necessary for detractors to devalue those writings. Initially it was suggested that the Gospels were created quite late in the picture and did not include eye-witness accounts, but fanciful inventions of supernatural events.

However, continued research has proven the opposite. The texts are remarkably reliable, strong in eye-witness elements and dated very close to the events they describe.

To overcome this obstacle, scholars came up with the notion that these Gospels were created late in the picture, but based on earlier eye-witness material. By careful review of what was included and excluded from the various historical records of Christ’s life (gospels), guesses were made about what a common source document would contain. The hope was that such an imagined source document would be devoid of supernatural elements.

Two source documents have been proposed, the Passion Narrative and The Lost Sayings Gospel Q.

The Q Document

The imagined Q Document suggests a text which brought together much of the wisdom teaching of Jesus. The value of that notion is that it suggests Jesus was really only a teacher, not a miracle worker, nor Son of God who rose from the dead.

Once the hypothesis of a Q Document was developed, it could then be hypothesised that the document was used by an early branch of Christianity, those who followed Jesus because of the wisdom teachings.

CM Tuckett, author of ‘The Anchor Bible Dictionary’ communicates something of these implications when he said that, “Q may also alert us to the great variety within primitive Christianity. It shows us a version of the Christian faith which is perhaps less cross centered than, say, Paul or Mark”. (emphasis added)

The Imagined Evolution

The invention of a Q document prompts the hypothesis of a community based on “wisdom” sentiment, living to celebrate divine insights, brought to them by their teacher, Jesus. This is then contrasted with the Pauline emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus, and “Bingo”, they have constructed an evolutionary continuum in which the man, Jesus, is deified after his death, and a mythology about his resurrection is added. Other enhancements to the life story of Jesus, such as the miracles, are thought to have been invented by the promoters of the new religion, to give their leader special significance and sell their package ahead of the competition.

Mythology versus Myth

It is amusing to note that those who insist that Christianity is based on a Christ myth are forced to create a mythology of their own.

Those who receive the New Testament writings as accurate and divinely overseen records of supernatural events full of moral potency and divine significance, have no problem with the New Testament. We do not need to invent anything. Our very own, personal encounter with the living Jesus Christ of the New Testament, and the living truths unpacked by Paul and the others, confirms to us that there is no myth involved or needed.

Reality triumphs over the myth-makers.