It is common knowledge that the Bible is the most popular and influential book ever written. What is less well known however, is that the Bible is a unique set of writings, inextricably linked with history and the sheer volume and detailed accuracy of historical evidence readily available, is incomparable and in a league of its own. Other faiths, philosophies and worldviews have their various philosophical suppositions, though none of their advocates can convincingly demonstrate that they are in fact grounded in history.
One may recognise from the calendar on the wall or the coin in their pocket, the approximate date since the birth of Yeshua. Nonetheless that is merely the tip of the iceberg, since the evidence is easily accessible; it is simply, yet profoundly a case of knowing where to look and what to look for! Despite the fact that roughly only ten percent of the Bible Lands have been excavated, if someone were to spend a day at the British Museum, they would be able to access evidence of real events concerning real people, that have shaped world history and affects everyone today.
It can seem disconcerting when the so- called theological experts appear on television documentaries and attempt to undermine either the dates of biblical events or the authorship of books of the Bible and proceed to question the reliability of it. This is no new thing. There has been a constant barrage of attacks from the liberals, theological radicals and higher critics which have intensified since the enlightenment. Frequently assumptions are made on the premise that if evidence for an event has not been discovered then it didn’t occur at all. This of course is a fallacy. It wasn’t so long ago that the existence of the Hittite people was dismissed until subsequent discoveries were made at the end of the 19th Century. The British Museum contains Hittite artefacts in addition to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, Turkey which has figures, bowls, gods, scripts and more also.
The aim of this article is to present introductory clear evidence that can be examined in the British Museum, alongside the Bible from Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian and Roman civilizations. Some of the information is conclusive as it confirms biblical events such as the edict contained inside the Cyrus Cylinder or the Murder of Sennacherib. Other evidence is supportive in that it does not prove that an event took place, though is still of great importance since it proves that certain styles of writing occurred in a specific era or demonstrates consistency with biblical accounts. Lastly artefacts such as the Rosetta Stone are invaluable in demonstrating how some of the subsequent items can be interpreted accurately and with confidence.
Egypt The Rosetta Stone played an instrumental role in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics .It contains the Egyptian text in hieroglyphic and demotic scripts plus a Greek text. The comparison of proper names, Ptolemy, Berenike and Cleopatra facilitated a comprehension of the hieroglyphics. It could reasonably be assumed that Moses would have been able to read and write it.[i]
The Statue of Ramesses II and Brick of Ramesses II provide conjectured evidence to suggest that they relate to the Pharaoh in Exodus who was refusing to allow the Children of Israel to go. Exodus 1:11 tells us ‘And they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses.’ It is possible though not definitive that the city ‘Raamses’ was named after Ramesses in the same way that Alexander the Great named many cities ‘Alexandria’ after himself. Also the Brick of Ramesses II is comprised of Nile mud with straw as a binder[ii] consistent with Pharaoh’s requirements for the building projects. However 1 Kings 6:1 more accurately confirms that Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in the fourth year of hi reign, four hundred and eighty years after the exodus. Since Solomon reigned from 970 BC this indicates a much earlier date. Hence it could well be the case that prior to the Exodus, the Israelites were building cities that were later rebuilt in the era of Ramesses.[iii]
Assyria The Black Obelisk of Shalmanesar III is significant to Biblical Archaeology since it mentions King Jehu of Israel bringing tribute to him. Though this particular event is not recorded in Scripture it is noticeable that although Jehu effectively removed Baal from Israel (2 Kings 10:28), he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam who made Israel sin with the golden calves at Bethel and Dan (2 Kings 10.29).[iv] Subsequently, the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel so that they lost portions of their territory from the Jordan eastward (2 Kings 10:32-33).
There are several artefacts that relate to the Assyrian kings found in 2 Kings. The Astartu relief of Tiglath-Pileser III or Pul King of Assyria shows him on his chariot accompanied by soldiers, driving out prisoners and herds.[v]The relief of Sargon depicts him holding a wand whilst facing the palace officials.
The Annals of Sennacherib (Taylor Prism) concur with the Biblical Account by confirming the specific tribute that was taken from Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:13-16) and in accordance with scripture, do not state that Jerusalem was taken.[vi] The text on the Taylor Prism recalls that Sennacherib shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem ‘like a caged bird.’[vii] There is also a wall-picture portraying Sennacherib before Lachish with the inscription “After this did Sennacherib send his servants to Jerusalem (but he himself laid siege against Lachish, and all his power with him.” (c.f. 2 Chron. 32:9).[viii] Even more remarkable, one of the Babylonian Chronicles again agrees with the biblical record ‘on the 20th day of the month Tebetu, Sennacherib king of Assyria, his son killed him in a rebellion’ (c.f. 2 Kings 19:36-37).
Babylon Nebuchadnezzar undertook building work in Babylon and the ‘Brick of Nebuchadnezzar’ bears his name.[ix]However a renowned German Scholar stated in his commentary that Belshazzar was a figment of the author’s imagination.[x]In 1854 a British consul on behalf of the British Museum discovered the Nabonidas Cylinder which contained a lengthy prayer for the good health and long life of Nabonidus and his eldest son Belshazzar.[xi]
Medo-Persia In Isaiah 44:28-45:2 it was prophesied that Cyrus would shepherd Israel and allow the Jewish people to return to their homeland. This was declared more than a century prior to the event occurred and before Cyrus existed and was fulfilled in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-4.As the Babylonian empire weakened, Cyrus and his army took Babylon easily as recorded on the Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum.[xii] He recalls how he defeated Nabonidas, captured Babylon and permitted them to return to their homelands.[xiii] Ezra Chapter 2 and Ezra 6:3-5 are the outworking of that policy.[xiv]
Rome The Roman Gallery contains portraits of the heads of Augustus Caesar (Luke 2:1, Acts 25:21, 25), Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28) and the bust of Tiberius Caesar mentioned in Luke 3:1 but as Caesar also in the other gospels (Matt 22:17, 21; Mark 12:14, 16; John 19:12, 15).
One more thing- Evidence demanding a verdict
The information contained above is a snapshot of some of the evidence contained in the British Museum. If you do get the opportunity, it is well worth a planned visit. You can obtain a copy of ‘Through the British Museum with the Bible’ by Brian Edwards and Clive Anderson either via Amazon, Day One or at the Museum itself. Make extensive use of the map and list of biblical artefacts at the back since the museum is enormous and this will save you an immense amount of time and frustration in trying to locate the key findings.
One could also visit the Bible Lands Museum in
Jerusalem or other historic sites. No credible historian would deny the
existence of Jesus and though they may even rely on the Bible for their
research, some still have reservations, based largely on personal
presuppositions, concerning its accuracy. Some have been determined to falsify
the biblical record yet have been overwhelmed by the piles upon piles of evidence
in favour of it. God’s word ‘is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’
(Psalm 119:105). Yet even more important than the Bible inspired by God is the
God of the Bible Himself ‘And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for
Me with all of your heart’ (Jer. 29:13).
[i] T. C. Mitchell The Bible in the British Museum Interpreting the Evidence (The British Museum Press: London, 1988), 102.
[ii] Ibid, 42.
[iii] B. Edwards & C. Anderson Through the British Museum with the Bible (Day One: Leominster, 2004), 70.
[v] Mitchell, 59.
[vi] Mitchell, 66.
[vii] Edwards & Anderson, 48.
[viii] A.R. Habershon The Bible and the British Museum (Morgan & Scott: London), 25.
[ix] A. Millard Treasures From Bible Times (Lion: Tring, 1985), 133.
[x] Ibid, 139.
[xi] Ibid, 139.
[xii] M. Magnusson BC The Archaeology of the Bible Lands (The Bodley Head & BBC: London, 1977), 208.
[xiii] Ibid, 208.
[xiv] Mitchell, 92.