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Index To Archaeology And The Bible

 

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Ur of the Chaldees

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. Genesis 11:31

Christians have read these words for more than 2000 years but nobody knew where Ur was, or even if it had really existed. Tell al-Muqayyar* (Mound Of Pitch) a massive red stump about 120 miles north of Basra, near the Persian Gulf was first excavated in 1854. Sadly the ‘little clay cylinders’ found did not impress the experts in London. It wasn’t until 1915 that a British officer realized that there was much worth investigating in the area, which prompted London to blow the dust off the cylinders and re-examine them. The inscription were found to contain extremely important information and a curious story.

Nabonidus, King of Babylon in the sixth century B.C. “I  restored this Ziggurat to it’s former state with mortar and baked bricks.” After the restoration he caused the name of the first builder, which he had discovered, to be cut out on these little clay cylinders. His name had been King Ur-Nammu. So was the builder of the great tower King of the Ur as the Bible mentions? Was he the ruler of Ur of the Chaldees?

The same biblical name has cropped up several times since then. Ancient records from other sites in Mesopotamia also mention Ur.

In 1929, the remains of five temples were found, which had once surrounded King Ur-Nammu’s Ziggurat in a semi-circle. They had fortress like walls and the biggest one was 100 x 60 yards square. The old fountains were still standing and the ovens were still usable. As more sand was cleared away, vast number of homes were discovered, some of whose ruins were ten feet high. Alleyways and open squares formed part of the city. Citizens of Ur lived in large two-story villas with thirteen to fourteen rooms, reception rooms, kitchen, living rooms, domestic chapel, and lavatories tell us that other homes in Babylon were miserable by comparison. The entrance to the house had a basin to wash in and other luxuries.  Mathematical tables, Hymn books and tax receipts spoke of a highly organized civilization. In fact Ur, the capital city of the Sumerians was one of the oldest civilizations of Mesopotamia.

* A Tell is an artificially created hill which takes shape through the centuries by generation after generation of settlers building on the same spot as their predecessors, who may have either abandoned the spot or been destroyed. Each layer tells of it’s own times, it’s life and customs, craftsmanship and manners of its people and causes countless centuries of history to come alive.


AGE OF THE PATRIARCHS.
Though few scholars think archaeology of the Holy Land can ever be fully extricated from Middle East politics, many insist that it will continue to illuminate the major epochs of Israel's past, beginning at the beginning: The Bible traces Israel's origins to Abraham, a Mesopotamian nomad who God promises would be the "ancestor of a multitude of nations" and would inherit the land of Canaan as "a perpetual holding." Through his progeny would come the 12 tribes of Israel that would emerge from Egyptian bondage to occupy the Promised Land. (Arabs also trace their ancestry to Abraham through his first-born son, Ishmael.)

But modern archaeology has found nothing from the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1500 B.C.) directly associated with Abraham or his offspring, leading even such Bible defenders as Dever to conclude that "all respectable archaeologists have given up hope" of proving the patriarchs' existence. The purpose of the story, Dever says, is not to relate history but to tell "a universal story about faith as risk–daring to set out for a Promised Land." Is the story true? "Of course it is," says Dever, "whether literally or not."

Even so, some scholars say that archaeology provides "circumstantial evidence" of the historical backdrop of the patriarchal stories. Treaties and contracts, the price of slaves, and other details of law and commerce written into the narratives, for example, "match remarkably well" what scholars have found in documents from ancient Mesopotamia, says Kenneth Kitchen, a retired Egyptologist from the University of Liverpool. Similarities between Middle Bronze culture and the Biblical text, adds Amihai Mazar of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, are "too close to be ignored" and suggest that the patriarchal narratives are "very old traditions . . . passed on from generation to generation" rather than later inventions.

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