"Knowledge Shall Be Increased"

On Biblical Archeology

Paul F. Bork, Ph.D.,  is an associate professor of religion at Pacific Union College


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


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Paul F. Bork, Ph.D.,  is an associate professor of religion at Pacific Union College

April 1976

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