Archeology's Contribution to Faith

Archeology's Contribution to Faith—No. 2

The advisability of using tree rings as found in the charred portions of beams in archeological ruins is at present begin­ning to be discussed; and even beads, which are now being studied at the Field Museum in Chicago, are found to have enough different types, forms, and sizes to play their part in checking other chronological information.

By LYNN H. WOOD, Professor, S. D. A. Theological Seminary

The advisability of using tree rings as found in the charred portions of beams in archeological ruins is at present begin­ning to be discussed; and even beads, which are now being studied at the Field Museum in Chicago, are found to have enough different types, forms, and sizes to play their part in checking other chronological information. In 1890, the work of Sir Flinders Petrie in Pales­tine suggested the value of using pottery, but very little was done along this line until after the World War, when much was published to assist in its proper classification. The type, size, shape, material, construction, and decora­tion of the humble clay vessel, and the fact that every broken potsherd has been left undis­turbed through the ages wherever it fell, all show that such an artifact * can become one of the most active agents in checking chronolog­ical data.

Although the study of pottery started in Palestine, it has during the last decade been adopted all over the Near East, and soon it will be a standard means of checking inscrip­tional data. Before the war a fair amount of work was done in Palestine, but the fanatical opposition of the Arabs was a constant hin­drance. Immediately after the war, however, legal steps were taken, establishing a Depart­ment of Antiquities. American, British, and French schools of archeology, various uni­versities, and private foundations cooperated with the Palestine government in a very defi­nite scientific study of places of historical im­portance. Rockefeller gave Jerusalem a mil­lion-dollar antiquities museum in which to house the findings. Excavations have been carried on with precision in such major places as Jerusalem, Jericho, Lachish, Debir, She­chem, Samaria, Bethel, Mizpah, Ai, Beth-shen, and Megiddo, which have resulted in much of definite value to the Biblical scholar and his­torian.

Value of Ras esh-Shamra Tablets

In Syria, the excavation carried on from 1929 at Ras esh-Shamra has been of tremen­dous importance. The tablets found here re­veal a culture, dating from about the middle of the second millenium, into which Israel was projected and against which the prophets fought. The understanding of the cultus of Baal and the relation of the king to this cultus furnishes the background for a much clearer definition of God's message to His chosen peo­ple to come out of this idolatry and make Christ their Messiah. Many scholars have thought of Messianism as a late innovation at the time of and after the exile, but the Ras esh-Shamra tablets show a culture indicating that the very roots of Messianism went back to a period long before that.

It was only a few years ago that critics declared Biblical references to the kings of the Hittites to be false, but since 1928 much has been done in Asia Minor in the search for informa­tion relative to these sons of Heth. The northern capital of the Hittite na­tion, called Boghaz-Keui, was situated near the Halys River, not far from the Black Sea. Just be­fore the World War, some twenty thousand cuneiform tablets in a strange tongue were found. This language was deciphered by Hrozny in 1915, and a great deal of reconstruction has been carried on since. Their historical records, laws, and mythological material throw many side lights on the Bible.

In Persia, Herzfeld has, since 1931, discovered the palaces of Darius and Xerxes in Persepolis, and made a remarkable find in the processional staircase which was lined with sculptures depicting tribute bearers from the then-known world. In a small room opening off this stairway, there were dis­covered some thirty thousand tablets written in the latest-known phase of Elamite. When deciphered and published, these should throw a tremendous amount of light on the problem of postexilic Judaism.

Reconstruction of the Alphabet

In Egypt, the reconstruction of the hiero­glyphic language has made possible a close comparison between the words in common use there during the time of Israel's bondage and the terms used in the Hebrew of the penta­teuch. Idioms used indicate that the author of the pentateuch was not only familiar with Egyptian customs, but was writing to a people who were acquainted with these customs. All this would indicate a far earlier date of au­thorship than that proposed by the critics, who have for years tried to put it not earlier than the eighth century B.C. The study given to the Ras esh-Shamra material has just recently demonstrated that the first conception of an alphabet came about during the early part of the second millenium through a Semitic work­man at the Egyptian mines in Sinai who made use of Egyptian signs to represent sounds in his native language, and that this early alpha­bet was soon used in inscriptions found in Canaan. Thus the trends of archeological in­quiry are all toward a confirmation of a Mosiac authorship of the early portions of Scripture.

What attitudes do these ancient inscriptions assume toward the Biblical stories of the creation, flood, patriarchal age, Egyptian bondage, exodus, conquest of Canaan, etc.? It would not be possible in a short paper like this to take up each point separately, but prominent archeologists are recording the con­victions of their souls that the Bible is well able to stand its ground and that the trends are all toward the verification of its story. No less a personage than Magoffin, onetime president of the Archeological Institute of America, said as far back as 1929:

"Archeology has converted both laity and clergy. No longer do they fear that archeological investiga­tion will overturn Biblical statements. Thus far the finds have confirmed them or opened confirmatory possibilities."—"Magic Spades," p. 82.

And the brilliant English archeologist, Sayce, has enlarged upon this idea by stating:

"Where philology has failed, archeology has come to our help. The needful comparison of the Old Testament record with something else than itself has been afforded by the discoveries which have been made of recent years in Egypt and Babylonia and other parts of the ancient East, . . . and the result of the test has on the whole been in favor of tradition and against the doctrines of the newer critical school. The historian may safely disregard the philogical theory of Hexateuchal criticism and treat the books of the Pentateuch from a wholly different point of view."—"Early History of the Hebrews," pp. fro, III.

And even as late as 1936, Albright, who has spent years in Palestine as the director of the American School of Oriental Research, ex­pressed his conviction when speaking of the cosmogonies of the various nations as com­pared with that of Genesis, by stating:

"It is not, therefore, surprising that it stands comparison with ephemeral modern cosmogonies so well that it will endure, we confidently believe, long after they have perished."—"Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands," p. 23.

Not alone in the Near East, but throughout the great divisions of the world, in almost every country, stories of a great destruction by water have been found. The Babylonian epic is by far the closest parallel to the Genesis story—referring to the transgression of man, a favored family charged with the building of a boat, universal destruction by water, preserva­tion of both animal and plant seed, landing on a mountain, sending out birds, worship of the survivors, and divine favor shown those who were saved. But in forty other accounts from widely separated portions of the earth came stories emphasizing the building of a means of protection,—usually a boat,—the destruction of the world by means of water, and the saving of human seed.

After studying the confusion of racial and national strains in the ancient Near East, Albright feels that "the table of nations (Genesis io) remains an astonishingly ac­curate document."—Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands," p. 25. The Biblical date of Abraham and the historicity of Genesis 14 have been scoffed at for decades, but most recent finds have compelled the synchroniza­tion of these events. This will demand a restudy of the date of the exodus as advocated by many scholars who place it in the thirteenth century, making Merneptah the Pharaoh of the exodus and telescoping the period of the judges into a few years.

Inscriptional Evidence of Biblical Stories

Excavations in Palestine, together with busi­ness documents from the fifth century B.c. and the contemporaneous Aramaic papyri found in Elephantine and reedited by Cowley in 1923, are throwing a great deal of light on the events of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. These deal with preexilic and postexilic events in such a way as to be of material worth to sincere students of prophecy.

The so-called Zeno papyri, the documents of a high official under Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246), were discovered by natives in the Fayum district in Egypt during the war. Many of these, published by Edgar of the Cairo Museum, together with excavations in Palestine, principally at Beth-zur and Tell Sandahannah, and contemporary numismatic discoveries, are most interesting sources of archeological enlightenment, reflecting condi­tions during the inter-Testament period.


In 1931, Sukenik found an inscription in the Russian Museum in Jerusalem written in the Aramaic script of Christ's day, saying: "Hither were brought the bones of Uzziah King of Judah—do not open !" It is not known from what mausoleum it was brought or on whose authority the transfer was made. He is continuing his researches of Aramaic and Greek inscriptions and will someday have some very interesting material on this period. In 1935 there was found a fragment of a temple sign, similar to the one now in the Museum at Constantinople, which warns against Gentiles' entering the enclosing screen around the temple on pain of death. In 1937, the American School of Oriental Resedrch ex­cavated a Nabataean temple site in the midst of the Wady Hesa, the Biblical brook Zered. Here, from the time of Christ, were uncovered statues and altars, which, when the full report is published, will greatly clarify the pagan cultus of Christ's day and enable us to discern the background of culture against which He placed His ministry of purity, healing, and teaching.

As we look at the work archeology has done during the past eight decades, it is perhaps safe to say that during the past twelve years more has been accomplished than during all the rest of the time put together. Archeology has indeed become a science with its founda­tions well rooted in the reconstructed lan­guages of the ancient Near East. Never be­fore has it been so well qualified to assist in restoring confidence in the Word of God, and we may confidently look forward to the im­portant part that it will have in the gospel message now going to the world. There ap­pears to be something very providential about it all. Just the right material, inscriptional and otherwise, seems to have been excavated at just the proper time. Wrong hypotheses have been checkmated just when additional light would do the most good, and step by step the proper languages have been reconstructed to illuminate the cultures of bygone civiliza­tions, which were the setting in which God's message to the world developed. It is to be earnestly hoped that the detailed facts supplied by this fast-growing science can be made available to our workers and schools in all parts of the world, for surely they will be a means of inspiration and increased faith to any sincere Bible student.

* Artifact—a product of human workmanship, es­pecially of simple primitive art,

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By LYNN H. WOOD, Professor, S. D. A. Theological Seminary

February 1938

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