MESOPOTAMIA AND THE BIBLE
The last seven verses of Genesis 11 introduce us to Abraham. Initially, they place him in southern Mesopotamia (Ur of the Chaldees) and later in the northwest corner (Haran) of that same region. He is married but childless.
Abraham was born approximately 2000 B.C. While most scholars put his birth year in the first half of the twentieth century B.C., some prefer a date in the twenty-second century B.C., their choice hinging on how they understand Exodus 12:40 (see pages 18-19). Either way, archaeology clearly demonstrates that, contrary to common perceptions, Abraham lived in a world that had advanced far beyond basic subsistence levels.
MESOPOTAMIA PRIOR TO ABRAHAM
The archaeological record begins thousands of years prior to the appearance of Abraham. A reader consulting books covering those centuries of ancient Mesopotamia (largely modern Iraq) will find that the timespan has been divided into several phases of development. The more formative phases have been labeled: Ubaid, Protoliterate, Early Dynastic, Akkad, Ur III. Prior to the earliest of those phases, the stamp seal, the prototype of our present day stamp seals, had come into use. In the field of art, the finest pottery ever produced in B.C. Mesopotamia had already been thrown.
During the Ubaid period (c. 5300-3750 B.C.), artistic skills expanded further as Mesopotamia became dotted with towns containing thousands of people. Temples were a necessary feature in the towns and, in the south, irrigation canals criss-crossed the surrounding landscape.
The Protoliterate period (c. 3750-2900 B.C., alternately divided into the Uruk and Jemdat Nasr periods) is so-named because the first writing was invented then. The writing, initially used for an early form of book-keeping, progressed from pictographs to the wedge-shaped form (cuneiform) that was still in use as late as the first century A.D. By about 3000 B.C. temple architecture had evolved into the "temple tower," the zig-gurat, which became characteristic of Mesopotamian worship for centuries to come. Also within the Protoliterate period the cylinder seal was introduced, and the gravings on some of these seals have been called "Tittle masterpieces."
The Early Dynastic period (c. 2900-2334 B.C.) saw the rise of city-states and the blossoming of the Sumerian culture, which first appeared in the Protokiterate period. A centralized economy was largely in the hands of
[Above: A Protoliterate-period cylinder seal. The photograph above shows the impression the seal would make when rolled over soft clay: a line of cattle and a row of reed huts containing pots and calves. Right: White magnesite with silver ram figure, 2 inches (5.3 centimeters) tall]
the king. He, and an increasingly visible priestly class, controlled much of life. The best evidence of continuing sophistication in the material realm comes from the Royal Tombs that were excavated at Ur (see below). The use of writing expanded during this time as scribal schools, dictionaries, love songs, and proverbs appeared. History began to be recorded as well. A king named Urukagina left "reform texts" in which he stated that earlier rulers had taken too much control and that he was going back to the good old days and ways. So even before Abraham's time people were talking of the "good old days!"
The Akkad period (c. 2334-2193 B.C.) marks a Semitic takeover of Mesopotamia. A Semite named Sargon (not the biblical Sargon) established himself in central Mesopotamia and, in time, ruled an empire stretching from "the upper to the lower sea," that is, from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Future kings would feel they were entitled to the same boundaries, a conviction that eventually impacted biblical history. Akkadian replaced Sumerian as the official language, city-states gave way to a larger centralized government, and the economy began to shift from state monopoly to private enterprise.
(MANKIND HAS BEEN ON THIS EARTH MUCH LONGER THAN 6,000 YEARS. GOD IS NOT WORKING ON A 7,000 YEAR TIME PLAN. THAT IS A FALSE TEACHING; IT CANNOT BE FOUND IN THE BIBLE.
THE READER SHOULD READ THE BOOK "SECRETS OF LOST RACES" BELOW UNDER THIS SECTION; THEY WILL BE BLOWN AWAY BY THE FACTS AND EVIDENCE THAT MOST NON-CHRISTIAN EVOLUTION PEOPLE DO NOT WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT AN AGE IN THE DISTANT PAST - Keith Hunt)
IN THE TIME OF ABRAHAM
When the Akkad period collapsed into turmoil as a result of invasion from the east, the Ur III period (c. 2112-2004 B.C.) restored stability. For a third time the city of Ur was politically dominant. The earliest known collection of laws dates to this period and, for one last time, Sumerian was the official language. Most scholars would place Terah, Abraham's father, into this period of peace and prosperity, but some prefer to place Abraham here. In either case, the archaeological record makes it clear that Abraham entered a world that rested on a long and rich heritage.
(OH INDEED THE WORLD HAD GONE THROUGH A LONG AND RICH HERITAGE, SOME OF IT CARRIED OVER INTO ABRAHAM'S DAY - Keith Hunt)
When Ur III collapsed, southern Mesopotamia became politically fragmented. The cities of Isin and Larsa fought for control, and Ur was ruled first by one and then the other city. Scholars are not sure how far the economy had already progressed toward private enterprise, but the thousands of business documents that have been recovered from this Isin-Larsa period (c. 2004—1800 B.C.) make it clear that possession of private property was the norm. Archaeologists also found two additional collections of law that date to this period.
The City of Ur
The biblical account of Abraham begins while he was living in Ur. Ancient Ur grew from a small village in the Ubaid period to become one of the more important cities in southern Mesopotamia. Over time the Euphrates has shifted several miles from the city, but in ancient times Ur was both a port city and an important link in caravan routes. Under Ur-Nammu and his son, Shulgi, during the Ur III period, the city dominated Mesopotamia. Thousands of deities were worshiped in Mesopotamia, but each city had a specific main god. At Ur, the moon god held that primary position. Ur's sacred precinct was situated in the northern part of the walled city. In that precinct Ur-Nammu built the ziggurat, which still stands to half of its original 120-foot (36.5-meter) height. This ziggurat is approximately 200 feet by 150 feet (60.9 meters by 45.7 meters) at its base, and its mud brick inner core is protected by a thick outer facing of baked bricks set in bitumen. Originally the ziggurat probably rose in three levels, and as many staircases gave access to a shrine resting on its top. Additional religious structures clustered around the ziggurat's base.
Southeast of the sacred precinct the archaeologists found the "Royal Tombs." These sixteen tombs date to about 2500 B.C., centuries before Abraham, and the riches of their contents astonished the world. The objects crafted in gold and silver alone reveal high artistic skill. The long list of recovered tomb objects, including musical instruments and game boards, provides extensive insights into the pre-Abrahamic world. There is much that is impressive. Unfortunately, our appreciation is dampened by the evidences of human as well as animal sacrifice within these same tombs.
(INDEED MUCH SKILL HAD ALREADY BEEN INVENTED IN A PAST AGE, BEFORE NOAH, THAT WILL SHOCK MOST PEOPLE; READ THE BOOK "SECRETS OF LOST RACES" BELOW ON THIS SECTION OF MY WEBSITE - Keith Hunt)
An area of private housing was also excavated. We are, therefore, able to say that houses in Ur were generally two-storied, and built around a central court. The whitewashed walls, and rooms filled with such items of furniture as tables, chairs, beds, and chests, likely provided a rather comfortable life. Further, the unbaked mudbrick construction of these houses acted both to cool the interior rooms in summer and to hold in the heat during colder weather.
It is most likely that Terah lived to see the political upheaval that followed the collapse of Ur III, and that the ensuing turbulent times of the Isin-Larsa period provided an incentive for him to move his extended family elsewhere.
Because of the rather static culture of that day, any reconstruction of Abraham's life in Mesopotamia would remain essentially the same whichever side of 2000 B.C. one chooses to place him.
Reconstruction of the era can go far beyond city plans and housing. Dress and hairstyles, for example, are known to us. From texts we learn a great deal concerning the daily fabric of life, including details such as the diet, the relative cost of certain commodities, and interest rates.
The collections of laws that have been found provide insight into how people interacted with one another. As an example, the marriage laws reveal that it was normal for a man to divorce a barren wife. That Abraham did not do what was normal indicates how great his love was for Sarah. Texts relating to religion allow us to recognize that, since Terah was a polytheist (Joshua 24:2), he would have believed in a world swarming with capricious gods and full of demons ready to do one harm.
Two daggers. The right-hand dagger has a sheath in gold and lapis lazuli.
Rampant he-goat in small tree
One of the inlaid game boards discovered at Ur
Solid gold and lapis lazuli bearded bull from the sounding box of a lyre.
Restoration of one of the houses excavated at Ur. The central courtyard acted as a light well during the day, and a drain in its floor allowed rainwater to collect in a cistern for later use. First-floor windows were placed near the ceiling to allow the escape of hot air in the summer.
THE CITY OF HARAN
Genesis 11:31 records Terah's relocation, with his extended family, to Haran in the northwest corner of Mesopotamia. Excavation at the site has been very limited, but Haran's location on one of the more important routes of that day implies that it was a major trade center. The city figures briefly in later biblical, as well as extrabiblical, history but of interest here is the fact that, as in Ur, the moon god was the chief deity of Haran. This religious similarity could have been a factor in Terah's decision to stop there.
THE EARLY CHAPTERS OF GENESIS
The volume of writings that have been recovered from Ur and elsewhere in Mesopotamia allow us to identify more intimately than hitherto with the ancient Mesopotamians. These writings, together with other archaeological finds, also allow us to make observations concerning the first ten chapters of Genesis.
Archaeology cannot address the question of the date of creation. It can, however, show the uniqueness of the Genesis account by comparing it with the polytheistic conjectures of other ancient Near-Eastern cultures. The creation account called Enumah Elish was apparently first written close to the time Abraham lived in Mesopotamia. In this story the world was formed as the result of a cosmic war, and people were created so the gods would no longer have to cook their own meals, or sweep out their own temples. This story also argued for the primacy of a particular god and city (in the version of the story pictured below, Marduk and Babylon) to rule over Mesopotamia; thus the story was used for political ends.
Critical scholarship, which assumes that the early chapters of Genesis contain a collection of myths, has been unable to find a
[Above: A tablet containing the Enumah Elish, No extant texts date earlier than the first millennium B.C., but, from internal evidence, most scholars would date the story's composition to early in the second millennium B.C.
Opposite: Clay prism containing the Sumerian king List, c. 2000 B.C. The pre-flood kings averaged reigns of 30,125 years. The post-flood kings are divided into three groups. The average reign in the first group is 1,065 years, then 192 years, and lastly, 44 years. This prism is eight inches (20.3 centimeters) high]
Mesopotamian source behind the biblical creation story. In fact, a comparison with the Enumah Elish shows that, while the Bible might not relate as much detail concerning creation as we would now like, the biblical account is unique. Not only that, but in comparison with other texts of the day, the Genesis account is full of detail.
(AGAIN MANKIND HAS BEEN ON THIS EARTH MUCH LONGER THAN 6,000 YEARS; WHICH SOME LIKE TO USE, TRYING TO CHRONOLOGY THE BIBLE. BUT FOR VARIOUS REASONS IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO USE THE BIBLE TO TRY AND DATE THE TIME OF GENESIS 1 AND 2. HENCE THE FACTS OF A PAST AGE OF MIND-BENDING PROGRESS AS RELATED IN THE BOOK "SECRETS OF LOST RACES" WAS INDEED AN AGE BEFORE NOAH THAT DID EXIST - Keith Hunt)
Archaeology can say little concerning the Garden of Eden. Ancient texts seem to locate the four waterways of Genesis 2:10-14 in southern Mesopotamia, but other theories have also been put forward. Here, too, critical scholarship has attempted to prove the story a myth. A NASA spotting of an ancient river bed in Saudi Arabia, for example, led one scholar to suggest that the Pishon of Genesis 2:11 had been found. This scholar was not trying to give precision to the Eden story. Rather, he used the sighting to suggest how, in his view, such a story originated.
According to the list of generations in Genesis chapter 5, some early people lived hundreds of years. Likewise, in the Sumerian king list prism eight "great men" ruled thousands of years each before the flood. The time spans for the post-flood people, as in the Bible, are drastically reduced. It has been suggested that this king list reflects a memory of longer lifespans in early prehistoric times.
(INDEED THE TIME BEFORE NOAH WAS MUCH LONGER THAN MOST EVER THINK; THERE WAS ENOUGH TIME TO BRING THE HUMAN RACE TO MIGHTY PROGRESS AS SHOWN IN THE BOOK "SECRETS OF LOST RACES" - Keith Hunt)
Decades ago, when Sir Leonard Woolley was excavating Ur, he reported finding conclusive evidence of the flood recorded in Genesis chapters 6-8—an eight-foot-thick (2.4 meter) deposit of what he took to be waterborne silt. Subsequently, Woolley admitted that this single "flood layer" was actually two layers close together in time, but sufficiently separate for people to have briefly reoccupied the site. Still, Woolley was not dissuaded from his conclusion because he was not seeking evidence that would harmonize with the biblical text. What Woolley sought was a flood layer sufficiently thick to account for the Mesopotamians to have invented a story from which, he believed, the biblical account derived. That Woolley's discovery has no relation to the biblical story is clear on several counts, one being that excavated sites no more than fifteen miles (24 kilometers) from Ur show no sign of a "flood" deposit. Therefore, whatever the cause of the layers found by Woolley, they were confined to the environs of Ur itself. Unfortunately, echoes of "Woolley's flood" still circulate.
In Genesis 6 Noah built a boat. Genesis 8:4 tells us that the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat or, more specifically, on the mountains of Urartu. Ancient Urartu stretched for hundreds of miles and over the centuries several suggestions have been made for the landing-place of the ark. Although Buyuk Aghri Dagh (the Turkish identification of the extinct volcano that is currently favored as Mount Ararat) did not become a candidate until the eleventh or twelfth centuries, many people have climbed this "Mount Ararat" in search of the ark. Some have claimed to have seen it, to have touched it, or to have brought back pieces of its remains. Invariably their claims have not withstood rigorous scrutiny. Even those who hope remains of the ark will be found have rejected the alleged sightings. As yet, "archeology" has not abated.
(FOR IN-DEPTH DETAILS AND THE TRUTH ABOUT NOAH'S FLOOD, SEE THE STUDY "NOAH'S FLOOD WAS NOT WORLD-WIDE" ON THIS WEBSITE - Keith Hunt)
The best extrabiblical evidence of the flood can be found in Mesopotamian literature. In a Sumerian "deluge" story, composed before Abraham was born, a man named Ziusudra escaped a flood by means of a boat:
... a flood ... to destroy the seed of mankind ... is the decision, the word of the assembly [of the gods]. ... All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, attacked as one. At the same time, the
flood sweeps over the cult-centers The flood had swept over the land, (and) the huge boat had been tossed about by the windstorms on the great waters ... Ziusudra opened a window of the huge boat....
Another story, known as the Gilgamesh Epic, was written somewhat later. This epic is essentially secular in theme and recounts how the priest-king Gilgamesh sought eternal life. The flood story was incorporated into his quest. A man, now named Utnapishtim, tells Gilgamesh how he survived the flood. Utnapishtim relates that, when the storm had subsided:
I opened a hatch, and light fell upon my face .... On Mount Nisir the ship came to a halt ... I sent forth and set free a dove. The dove went forth, but came back. . . . Then I sent forth and set free a swallow. The swallow went forth, but came back. Then I sent forth and set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the water had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not round. Then I let out all to the four winds and offered a sacrifice.
The Gilgamesh Epic became so popular that copies of it have been found throughout the Near East. Some writers have concentrated on the numerous differences between the biblical story and the epic. For example, in the epic gods scurry about acting like cowards, and no clear reason is given for the flood. The boats are differently shaped and Utnapishtim had to launch his ark personally. But concentrating on the differences does not erase the fact that there are striking similarities. Most people are struck by the similar use of birds.
[Tablet XI of the Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh Epic. This is dated c. 650 B.C., and is six inches (15.2 centimeters) high, it is a long story. Tablet XI, which contains the flood account, is more than 300 lines long]
When the epic was first translated, some scholars immediately reasoned that the similarities could only mean that the Genesis account was a myth borrowed from Mesopotamia, and was therefore plagiarized, not inspired. That conclusion continues among critical scholars.
(SO INDEED CRITICS OF THE BIBLE CLING TO ANYTHING, TO SAY THE WRITERS OF THE BIBLE JUST BORROWED STORIES FROM OTHER CULTURES AND ADAPTED THEM TO FIT IN THE BIBLE. THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS THAT THE STORIES FROM OTHER NATIONS CAME FROM TRUE EVENTS RELATED IN THE BIBLE, AND WERE ADAPTED FOR THE PAGAN NATION, TO FIT THEIR FANCY FALSE HISTORY AND FALSE GODS - Keith Hunt)
A more conservative response is to argue for common inheritance, that is, that both accounts go back to a common source—that there was a flood, which both record. When the flood story was incorporated into the Gilgamesh Epic, much more than the boatman's name changed (in an intermediary version the man was named Atrahasis). The Gilgamesh Epic represents only one of many redactions as people tried to make the memory of the flood fit their changing religious beliefs. There are similarities because some points are necessary to write any flood story. Other points—for example the birds—are similar because they were not altered during the various Mesopotamian retellings.
Genesis chapter 10 summarizes the spread of Noah's descendants. Then Genesis 11:1-2 relates how, at one point, that spread came to a halt in the "plain of Shinar," which is a term for southern Mesopotamia. Since southern Mesopotamia lacks stone, it is not surprising that the Bible tells us that the people began making mud bricks to construct a tower. This "Tower of Babel" is often pictured as a ziggurat, but Mesopotamian religious architecture evolved over the centuries and, as noted above, no ziggurats were built before about 3000 B.C. This date is much too late if one takes Genesis 11:1 at face value. Genesis 11:1 states that the tower was constructed at a time when people spoke only one language and without doubt there were several language families by 3000 B.C.
(AGAIN THE AGE BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS LONG, AND THE PEOPLE OF EARTH HAD BECOME ONE….THEIR ADVANCEMENTS WERE MIGHTY AND GREAT - READ THE BOOK "SECRETS OF LOST RACES" - Keith Hunt)
What form, then, did the tower take? Everywhere else in the Bible the Hebrew word (migdal), which in Genesis 11 is translated "tower," refers to a fortified tower buirc inside a city as a last line of defense. On that analogy, it is most probable that the people in Genesis 11 were building a tall, but probably simple, defensive structure.
(MAYBE, BUT MAYBE ALSO A TOWER SO HIGH TO SHOW THEIR MIGHTY ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY; MUCH LIKE SOME OF THE HUGELY TALL SKY-SCRAPERS NOW BUILT AND BEING BUILT IN SOME ARAB NATIONS; THE TALLEST BUILDINGS IN THE WORLD - Keith Hunt)
POST-ABRAHAM IN MESOPOTAMIA
For several centuries after Abraham left Haran and moved into Palestine, Mesopotamian history is largely peripheral to the biblical story. Amorites had already appeared and now additional players entered and exited the stage: Hurrians/Horites, Kassites, Sealanders, Mitannians, Elamites, Aramaeans. Even the Hittites played a bit part. Assyria briefly threatened to be a major power, but then sank back into a dark age.
Hammurapi (c. 1792-1750 B.C., alternatively, Hammurabi) ruled within those turbulent centuries. Although little can be said about his life or career, his "law code" has made him famous. As already noted, earlier collections of laws have been found, but none, including Hammurapi's, can accurately be called "codes." None try to cover all contingencies of life, and the bases for their compilations are not clear. Similarities can be found between Hammurapi's "code" and these earlier collections, but they are not extensive enough to require the hypothesis of direct borrowing. Rather, the similarities are explained as evidence that a "common law" existed in the ancient Near East.
During the excavation of a site called Nuzi in east central Mesopotamia, many clay tablets were found. The approximately 5,000 "Nuzi texts" date to the fifteenth century B.C., and provide evidence that "common law" remained largely static for several centuries. Of particular interest are the several insights into patriarchal life provided by the tablets (see pages 106-107).
Right: Popularly known as the Code of Hammurapi, this diorite stele stands over seven feet (2.1 meters) tall. Hammurapi is shown facing the seated god Marduk. Beneath the two figures were approximately 300 laws (some near the base were effaced). The reason for this specific collection of laws is unknown, but in its prologue Hammurapi states that the gods had chosen him to, "promote the welfare of the people ... to cause justice to prevail in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil, that the strong might not oppress the weak...."
Left: Transcription of a Nuzi tablet. In this a man gave his wife full authority over her sons and divided the family inheritance so that the eldest son received a double share.
TO BE CONTINUED