So, what has archaeology revealed about ancient Mesopotamia?
Since I was always trying to reconcile ancient maps with today's maps, I decided to start by looking at the archaeological evidence for the most ancient cities and civilizations mentioned in the Bible. How about the early cities of Abraham and the Patriarchs? Did they really exist? Abraham's ancestral home of "Ur" is presented as a powerful city-state in southern Mesopotamia - it's mentioned four times in the Old Testament. Well, it turns out "Ur" is located in modern Iraq. Depending on strife in the region, it has been excavated on and off during the last century, exposing a wealth of information about the pagan culture of Abraham's time. In the Book of Genesis, Abraham's father, Terah, moved his family north to "Haran".1 This ancient city has been discovered and excavated in modern-day Turkey. Also found in that same area of Turkey are villages that still have the names of Abraham's grandfather and great grandfather, Nahor and Serug. 2
To date, numerous sites and artifacts have been uncovered that reveal a great deal about the culture of ancient Mesopotamia. One of the most dramatic finds is the "Sumerian King List," which dates to approximately 2100 BC. This collection of clay tablets and prisms is most exciting because it divides the Sumerian kings into two categories; those who reigned before the "great flood" and those who reigned after it. 3 Actually, records of a global flood are found throughout most ancient cultures. For instance, the "Epic of Gilgamesh" from the ancient Babylonians contains an extensive flood story. Discovered on clay tablets in locations such as Ninevah and Megiddo, the Epic even includes a man who built a great ship, filled it with animals, and used birds to see if the water had receded. 4
Archaeology in the last century has also shed light on the great military civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and their ultimate impact on law and culture throughout the region. One significant find is the "Law Code of Hammurabi," which is a seven foot tall, black diorite carving containing about 300 laws of Babylon's King Hammurabi. Dated to about 1750 BC, the Law Code contains many civil laws that are similar to those found in the first five books of the Bible. Another dig at the ancient city of "Nuzi" near the Tigris River uncovered approximately 20,000 clay tablets. Dated between 1500 and 1400 BC, these cuneiform texts explain the culture, customs and laws of the time, many of which are similar to those found in the early books of the Bible. 5
As far as major ancient empires, the Hittite civilization is mentioned throughout the Old Testament as ruling the area of present-day Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, yet nothing was known of these people outside of the Bible. About 100 years ago, ancient "Boghazkoy" was discovered east of Ankara, Turkey, which revealed itself as the expansive capital city of the "Hittite Empire". Since then, archaeologists have uncovered a wealth of information about the history, language and culture of a people considered "imaginary" by many scholars until the 1900's. 6
The Bible tells us a great deal about Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire, which destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and exiled the Jews to Babylon for 70 years. Well, ancient Babylon has now been uncovered, comprising nearly 3,000 acres about 55 miles south of current-day Baghdad in Iraq. The ruins include the famous ziggurat structures, the Palace of King Nebuchadnezzar, and the enormous walls that measured 80 feet thick (wide enough to allow a four-horse chariot to make a full turn on the top of the wall).7
The Philistines were known as one of the "Sea Peoples" that constantly warred against the Israelites for control of early Canaan. Mentioned over 200 times in the Old Testament, the Philistines had a major fortified seaport at Ashkelon on the Mediterranean Sea, which was discovered just north of present-day Gaza. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Ashkelon in 604 BC, as predicted by Jeremiah and other Old Testament prophets. 8
I was really impressed with my study of ancient Mesopotamia! Call me totally naļve, but I had no idea that all these places mentioned in the Bible truly existed! I dug in more...
Dig in now!
1 Genesis 11:31. See Alfred Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, Baker Books, 1998, 59-72.
2 Genesis 11:22.
3 Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 188.
4 Ibid., 192-96. See also, Genesis, chapters 7 & 8.
5 Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible, Harvest House Publishers, 1997, 92-94. See also, Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 119, 102.
6 Pat Zukeran, Archaeology and the Old Testament, Probe Ministries, www.probe.org/docs/arch-ot.html, 2003, 2-3. See also, Price, The Stones Cry Out, 82-83.
7 Hoerth, Archaeology and the Old Testament, 372-378.
8 Ibid., 233-234.
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