Archeology Proves the Bible—Part 2

The Testimony of Babylonian Cities

THE lands of Shinar and Asshur referred to in the Bible comprised the general area known as Mesopotamia, meaning, ‘the land between the rivers.’ This ancient country is now called Iraq, although a small section of its northern point is in Turkey. In earlier times the southern section of the country was known as Babylonia, and the northern area as Assyria. Still earlier, the southern plain was called Sumer, and the northerly, Accad. The area is approximately 600 miles long and 250 miles broad. It is, generally speaking, a flat land through which flow two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates.

This area has long been considered by scholars as the cradle of the human race, and it is here that certain important cities mentioned in the Bible were located. Ur is one of these. To believers in the Bible the city of Ur is important because the patriarch Abraham sojourned there. Genesis 11:31 reads, “And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.”

The reason Abram, or Abraham, left Ur to go to Canaan is stated in Genesis 12:1-3: “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy father’s house, unto a land [Canaan] that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” In the New Testament the Apostle Paul explains that this promise which God made to Abram was in reality a statement of the Gospel of Christ: God “preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.”—Gal. 3:8

For a long time higher critics of the Bible insisted that no such person as Abraham ever lived; that the stories told in the Bible about him were merely allegories, or fairy tales, including the account of his leaving the city of Ur. No such city as Ur ever existed, these critics claimed. The claims of these unbelieving critics destroyed the faith of many in the validity of the Holy Scriptures. Since God’s promise to Abraham was in reality an early statement of the Gospel, the Gospel would have no real foundation in fact if God’s reported dealings with and promises to Abraham are merely allegories.

The Discovery of Ur

In this period of the Christian age when frontal assaults are being made on the Bible by higher critics and others, it is most reassuring to learn that archeologists are discovering one after another of the ancient landmarks mentioned in the sacred Word, and among them, the city of Ur. Today Ur is a railway station 120 miles north of Basra, near the Persian Gulf, and one of the many stops on the Baghdad railway. When the passengers alight from the train at this stop they do not, of course, see the ancient city of Ur. What they do see is a red mound, and it is this mound that led the archeologists to the discovery of the city of Ur nearby.

This mound was known to the Arabs as ‘Tell al Muqayyar.’ In ancient times when cities were destroyed by enemies or by storms they would be rebuilt upon their ruins. As this process continued the cities would become elevated. Ultimately they would be abandoned, and the whole elevation would in time be covered with sand or earth. The word ‘tell’ was used to denote the difference between these more or less artificially made elevations and the natural hills.

Arriving at Tell al Muqayyar in 1923 was a group of archeologists from the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania. In charge of the expedition was Sir Charles Leonard Woolley. Back about the middle of the nineteenth century an archeologist named Taylor, arriving at Tell al Muqayyar, was impressed by the height of the great mound and started his men working from its sides and top. It turned out that he had discovered a great religious tower and sanctuary which, as was later learned, contained a shrine for the moon god of Ur.

However, great strides had been made in the science of archeology from the time Taylor’s men picked away at Tell al Muqayyar until Woolley and his expedition arrived at the same location in 1923. Woolley’s trained eye noted the smaller mounds that arose all around him and it was these that he decided to investigate, rather than the large mound. Werner Keller wrote, “Similar mounds exist in great numbers, large and small in the Middle East, on the banks of the great rivers, in the midst of fertile plains, by the wayside on the routes followed by caravans from time immemorial. No one has yet been able to count them. We find them from the delta of the Euphrates and Tigris on the Persian Gulf to the highlands of Asia Minor where the river Halys tumbles into the Black Sea, on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, in the valleys of Lebanon, on the Orontes in Syria, and in Palestine by the Jordan.

“These little eminences are great quarries for archeological finds, eagerly sought and often inexhaustible. They are not formed by the hand of nature but are artificially created, piled high with the legacy of countless generations that came before; vast masses of rubble and rubbish from a bygone age that have accumulated from the remains of huts and houses, town walls, temples, and palaces.”—The Bible as History, pp. 14,15

Beginning in 1923, the Anglo-American Archeological Expedition under Woolley worked for three winters excavating the mounds surrounding Tell al Muqayyar. And then, as we read beginning on page eighteen of The Bible as History, “Under the red slopes of Tell al Muqayyar lay a whole city, bathed in the bright sunshine, awakened from its long sleep after many thousand years by the patient burrowing of the archeologists. Woolley and his companions were beside themselves with joy. For before them lay Ur, the ‘Ur of the Chaldees’ to which the Bible refers.”

Not Abraham’s Birthplace

From the limited references given to us in the Bible it would appear that Ur of the Chaldees was not Abraham’s home city. Ur was in southern Mesopotamia and on the west of the Euphrates. This river is sometimes referred to in the Bible as ‘the flood.’ Joshua said to the Israelites, “Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nachor.” (Josh. 24:2) When Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to seek a bride for Isaac the servant was specifically instructed to go to Abraham’s own people, and he “went to Mesopotamia, unto the city of Nahor.”—Gen. 24:4,10

It would appear that for some reason Abraham and his father and other relatives had traveled from northern Mesopotamia to Ur, and that when they left Ur to go to Canaan, the land which God had promised to Abraham and his posterity, they traveled north to Haran first. Haran might well have been Abraham’s home city, and he remained there until the death of his father. Perhaps he wanted to bury his father among his own people.

While the route from Ur to the Promised Land through Haran was a long one, had Abraham and his family attempted to travel the shortest route they would have been forced to cross what is now the Arabian Desert, which, no doubt would have been practically impossible, especially since he took his flocks and herds with him. The city of Ur was surrounded by rich grazing land, and it was here that Abraham pursued his occupation as a farmer, while possibly living in the prosperous, well-appointed city of Ur.

Abraham’s birthplace was probably in the ancient kingdom of Mari. Haran and Nahor were cities within this kingdom. The city of Mari was one of the largest and richest of that period. It contained superb housing, and a richly appointed palace containing hundreds of rooms and courtyards. This was the palace of the kings of Mari. This mammoth building covered nearly ten acres. It was the most enormous building the archeologists had yet brought to light.

Clay tablets by the thousands were dug up in this ancient metropolis. These tablets confirm the existence of the progenitors of Abraham. The Bible says: “Peleg lived thirty years, and begat Reu; … and Reu lived two and thirty years, and begat Serug: … and Serug lived thirty years, and begat Nahor: … and Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begat Terah: … and Terah lived seventy years and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.”—Gen. 11:18-26

“Names of Abraham’s forefathers emerge from these dark ages as names of cities in northwest Mesopotamia. They lie in Padan-Aram, the plain of Aram. In the center of this plain lies Haran, which, according to its description, must have been a flourishing city. … Haran, the home of Abraham, father of the patriarchs, the birthplace of the Hebrew people, is here for the first time historically attested, for contemporary texts refer to it. Further up the same Balikh valley lay the city with an equally well-known biblical name, Nahor, the home of Rebecca, wife of Isaac.”—The Bible as History, pp. 51,52

Thus the information found on the clay tablets unearthed in the kingdom of Mari are found to produce further evidence that the accounts of the patriarchs which are presented in the Bible are not merely legends. They are true historical records of God’s dealings with his chosen people. It is these records which furnish us with a reliable foundation for the great theme of God’s love in his promised blessing of all the families of the earth, as he gave it to father Abraham.

Man is Fallen

The excavation of the ruins of ancient cities—cities that existed in the days of Abraham, and even before—reveals that a high state of civilization existed at that time. The late Prof. Palmer Hall Langdon of the Institute of Metals, London, upon his return from extensive work in Mesopotamia in 1929, described his findings of a great ‘flood deposit’ at a considerable depth, and of the layers below it, which contain relics of the civilization which thrived there before that event. We quote from his article which then appeared in the London Times:

“Below this flood layer was another, thirteen feet in thickness. In the lower part of this stratum were found the remains of brick buildings, which had been abandoned and silted up for many feet … in which were brick tombs. … This layer thus represented two periods—the earlier, when buildings were erected near its base; the later, when, after these buildings had been silted up, these shafts were sunk into it for the great tombs. In this layer [below the flood layer] were found a number of objects of copper, silver and gold, stone bowls, and a quantity of unpainted pottery.”

How vividly this reminds us of the statement concerning Tubal-cain that he was “an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron.” (Gen. 4:22) Of Jubal the Bible states, “He was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.” (Gen. 4:21) These brief bits of information indicate that the people of that day, only a few short years after man’s fall into sin and death, were indeed intelligent and civilized. And now the spade and pick of the archeologist confirm this.

Evidences of a high degree of civilization in ancient times are further confirmed by the findings of Woolley in excavating the ruins of the ancient city of Ur. Sumerian temples, workshops, law courts, and beautiful dwellings were discovered. He also discovered the graves of the kings of Ur. These stone vaults were nothing short of priceless treasure chests, for they were filled with the glamorous and costly things which were to be found in Ur at that time.

There were golden drinking cups, exquisitely shaped jugs and vases. There was bronze tableware, and musical instruments. It is said that even the tomb of Tutankhamen was no richer in its contents. These treasures were not the products of a half-man, half-ape sort of creature. They reveal again that man had been created perfect, possessing a high intelligence; that he sinned and was condemned to die, and that through the millennia since, his retrogression has continued. Thus Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 15:21, “As in Adam all die,” is confirmed.

The Flood Attested

Woolley had his men continue to dig, even below the graves of the kings. In his diary he wrote concerning this further effort: “Almost at once discoveries were made which confirmed our suspicions [that the tombs were not located on virgin soil]. Directly under the floor of one of the tombs of the kings we found in a layer of charred wood ash numerous clay tablets, which were covered with characters of a much older type than the inscriptions on the graves. Judging by the nature of the writing the tablets could be assigned to about 3,000 B.C. They were therefore two or three centuries earlier than the tombs.”

So Woolley instructed his men to continue their digging. As they went deeper and deeper, new strata, with fragments of jars, pots, and bowls, kept appearing. However, the pottery remained the same. It was exactly like that which was found in the graves of the kings. The experts gathered from this that Sumerian civilization had remained essentially the same for a long time. Their high level of civilization was reached at a very early date indeed.

Finally, as the men continued to dig, some of them reported to Woolley that they had found ground level—the virgin soil. Woolley made a personal inspection and found, as he thought, that the report of his men was correct. But as he prodded the ground himself just to make sure, he received a great surprise. He discovered that it was not the nature of the ground common to the area, but sand—pure sand, of a kind that could only have been deposited by water.

How could there be mud in a place like this, he thought. At first he concluded that it must be the accumulated silt of the river Euphrates at a time when it flowed near the ancient city of Ur, for it is believed that this river did at one time flow very close to this ancient and famous city. But upon further reflection he ruled out this possibility, one reason being that the level of the sand deposit was much too high to permit of this explanation of its being there. Woolley said, “I saw that we were much too high up. It was most unlikely that the island on which the first settlement was built stood so far out of the marsh.”

No, the mud could not be river deposit. Woolley could not find an explanation, nor could his associates, so he decided to have his men dig down into this mud deposit. Deeper and deeper they sank their spades, with nothing but pure mud showing up. When they reached a depth of nearly ten feet the layer of mud ended as suddenly as it had begun.

Naturally the diggers supposed that now at last they had reached the real virgin soil, but instead, what they found was rubble, ancient rubbish, and potsherds. What did this mean? Simply that below the mud deposit of nearly ten feet they had discovered evidence of human habitation. There was pottery there, not like the pottery found above the mud deposit which gave evidence of having been turned on a potter’ wheel, but handmade pottery.

Woolley, without doubt then reached the proper conclusion, a conclusion that was confirmed by Prof. Langdon, that the mud deposit had been laid by the biblical Flood. This was a find that warranted publicity, and the day that Woolley reached this conclusion he flashed the information back to his home base, “We have found the Flood.” Here again, and in this remarkable manner, the truth of the Bible had been attested, as the archeologists dug deeper and deeper into one of the cities of ancient Mesopotamia.

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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