AT THE ENTRANCE of the Egyptian Gallery in the British Museum stands an object that is a significant illustration of fulfilled prophecy the Rosetta stone. This black basalt stone measures about 3 feet by 9 inches long by 2 feet 4-1/2 inches wide. Inscribed on it is a vote of gratitude passed by the General Council of Egyptian priests to Ptolemy V, Epiphanes, king of all Egypt, for his gracious acts. The inscription was re corded in hieroglyphic Egyptian, demotic Egyptian, and Greek.
The importance of the stone to students of the Bible is not in the content, but in the timing of the find and the three forms of writing used on it.
Daniel prophesied that in the time of the end knowledge would be increased (Daniel 12:4). The context of the passage suggests that Daniel was referring to knowledge concerning the Word of God. The "time of the end" is pointed out as the time after the 1260 day-year prophetic period ending in A.D. 1798. No other prophetic period is repeated oftener. Twelve times Daniel, and John in Revelation refer to this period.
When God's time clock struck "1798" events were already in motion that would eventually bring to light an immense amount of information regarding the Word of God, information that had remained hidden for centuries and millenniums. Of all people to be used by God in the accomplishment of His purpose Napoleon Bonaparte was perhaps the least likely.
On May 19, 1798, Napoleon sailed from Toulon, France, with a fleet of 328 vessels, boarding 38,000 men. Accompanying his army were scores of artists and scientists to whom he assigned the task of recording the magnificent works of art of ancient Egypt that were rap idly disappearing under the ever-moving sands and peoples of the Sahara.
On July 2, Napoleon stepped onto Egyptian soil. There, as he, his soldiers, and his "learned men" began to view the splendors of ancient Egypt, Napoleon is quoted as having said: "Soldiers, forty centuries are looking down upon you."
In July, 1799, one of Napoleon's officers named Bouchard found the Rosetta stone near the town of Rashid on the western side of the Nile Delta. Soon it was recognized as an object whose script might be used to unlock Egypt's ancient forms of writing, as eventually it did. Had this stone been found a century earlier, no one would probably have paid much attention to it, and it might have been destroyed. But now the time was ripe, and it became a key to unlock a whole nation's past.
Egypt's ancient script was hieroglyphic. As the name indicates, this artistic form of writing was used by the priestly class and was one of the most beautiful forms of pictography. At first the Egyptians represented each word by a picture. Later on, each symbol stood for a sound. But, as is the case so often today, the more beautiful has to give way to the more practical. The common people, either unable or unwilling to draw artistically, "slurred" pictures together as they wrote, and this came to be known as demotic. This was the second form of writing on the Rosetta stone.
Both of these forms of writing, in which the Egyptians had expressed themselves for hundreds of years, were long forgotten by the time the Rosetta stone was found in 1799. Thus these forms of writing could not be read. How ever, they could read the Greek. Even then it took many scholars' cooperative work for twenty years to enable them to decipher the inscriptions.
An English translation of the Greek text was made by Stephan Weston and was completed in 1802. The first studies of the Demotic text were those of Sylvester de Sacy and Akerblad, a Swedish diplomat, in 1802. To Thomas Young be longs the credit of first recognizing that the Egyptian writing consisted mainly of phonetic signs. He also was the first to demonstrate that the ovals, or car touches, in the hieroglyphic version contained royal names. Jean Francois Champollion (1790-1832) corrected and greatly enlarged on Young's work, and by the year of his death he had drawn up a classified list of Egyptian hieroglyphs, and formulated a system of grammar and general decipherment that is the foundation whereon all later Egyptologists have worked.*
Young and Champollion proceeded on the assumption that the three forms of writing engraved on the stone were saying the same thing. From previous experience they were aware that royal names were usually encircled by a "cartouche. From the Greek translation they knew that the name Ptolemy occurred several times. Judging that the name would sound the same way in Egyptian as in Greek, they attributed the sound of each letter in Greek to each sign in hieroglyphic. The assumption proved to be correct, and so they applied the same principle to other names on the stone. This led them to the decoding of the proper names and became the key to the decipherment of the rest of the inscription.
Thanks to the arduous work of these scholars, we are able to read what people were writing in Egypt through Old Testament times. As a consequence, our background knowledge of Biblical stories is tremendously enriched.
Denial of Biblical Account
It was during this very time that Christian scholars, especially those on the European Continent, were being hard pressed by higher critics to produce evidence for their belief in the veracity of the Biblical account. The critical views of Jean Astruc concerning the Pentateuch were gaining rapid acceptance in Europe in the latter half of the eighteenth century. His views led to the denial of its authorship by Moses. In the nineteenth century a brilliant German scholar, Julius Wellhausen, gave new emphasis to Astruc's views and he came to be known as the father of the modern critical school. At that point the current thinking was that anything that could not be proved should be discarded. These views along with Darwin's theory of evolution became masterpieces of delusion that hit directly at the heart of the Scriptures and their divine inspiration. They spread rapidly in the scholarly world and are still deeply em bedded in the thinking of many scholars today.
It was as though Satan was making one gigantic effort in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to destroy the reliability of the Bible. To crown these efforts of antireligious bias, France passed a decree in 1793 to abolish religion, a fulfillment, as many view it, of Revelation 11:7-11.
This was the general condition in which Christians found themselves in Europe at the period of time prior to which God promised not only that knowledge would be increased (Dan. 12:4) but that the Scriptures would be lifted to a high place, and in full view of its enemies (Rev. 11:12).
It is marvelous to look back and see the fulfillment of these prophecies as the years indicated in the prophecy of the "time of the end" came. It is generally conceded today that Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798, and the finding of the Rosetta stone in 1799, led to the development of what eventually came to be known as the discipline of archeology. Archeology has in turn played a major role in bringing about an increase in knowledge concerning the Word of God. The confidence of many in the authenticity of the Scriptures has been strengthened and confirmed by much of what archeologists have uncovered. More has been learned about the Bible in the past century than in all previous centuries of its existence.
And it began in 1798, with Napoleon.
* The Trustees of the British Museum, The Rosetta Stone, 1971, p. 3