The beginning of the Bible is foundational.
Those evangelicals with an interest in the early chapters of Genesis or in the origin of man have a wide range of interpretations of the issues. Some, like this writer, who believe in ‘special creation’, read these chapters as historical and reliable literary accounts. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are growing numbers who dismiss the idea that these chapters relate actual events and, therefore, Adam and Eve (and others in these chapters) were not actual people.
Between these extremes are a number of evangelicals who see that these characters must be understood as historical, but as a part of an evolutionary process under God’s control1. In this article I would like to introduce one reason why we can hold to the first position.
An archaeological approach
Understandably, questions concerning this opening section of the Scriptures centre around literary forms, theological implications and scientific interactions. There is another approach which, I believe, demonstrates the trustworthiness of these chapters and that is the science of archaeology. We are blessed with the work of such evangelical scholars as Professors Kenneth Kitchen and Alan Millard. I want to develop such studies in a specific way.
As we turn to these pages, we are aware of certain facts. The early chapters of Genesis are unique in their form, both theologically and linguistically. We can contrast them with the ancient myths to which we will refer further.
The Scriptures begin with the week of Creation, then there is man’s rebellion and God’s judgment. Ultimately as a result of mankind’s global sinfulness we have the global Flood. This is followed by a further judgment and the Babel dispersion.
Every nation from one man
The implications of this truth are summarised in Acts 17.24-26 (ESV): ‘The God who made the world and everything in it … made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.’
The primary implication is the common origin of all mankind: from Adam and then from Noah. This provides an interesting test for the Bible’s historicity. Can we show that mankind all over the world has a common memory of these events? The material evidence of the first events was lost in the Flood, but the memory was carried forward through Noah, as were the pre-Flood skills vital for recovery. To demonstrate how the archaeological findings are in line with the Bible truth, we will show: that the Bible record is the earliest one; that the earlier these records were made, the closer they are to the biblical account; how these memories are to be found globally, in many people groups and cultures; and how, even in the perversion of some of these mythological accounts, there are fascinating correlations with the Bible record.
Bible’s chronological priority
It is often thought that the long periods of time between Adam and Noah and between Noah and Moses would make the verbal transmission unreliable. Obviously we would respond by pointing out that the Holy Spirit oversaw the transmission and so it was protected from error.
But there are some fascinating aspects that many have not recognised. Firstly, when the life-lines of the pre-Flood and post-Flood patriarchs are plotted graphically, we see that Adam and Noah’s father, Lamech, overlapped. Similarly, Noah overlapped with Abraham, so the accounts were not necessarily transmitted through many generations.
Another important aspect concerns a false premise of the sceptics: that there would have been no written records. This has been profoundly undermined by the discovery of written records that go back to shortly after the Flood. But there is evidence pointing to even earlier records. As P.J.Wiseman demonstrated some 80 years ago, the structure of Genesis implies that it was a composite of documents written by the patriarchs.2
One of the persistent claims by non-evangelical commentators has been that these accounts were not written by Moses, but were composed during the Babylonian exile of the sixth century BC by Hebrew scholars from the Babylonian myths. In Nehemiah 8.1-8 we read how Ezra read the Law of Moses (our Pentateuch) to the people. If it had just been written, they would hardly have attributed it to Moses.
The NT writers, the Lord himself and his apostles, attribute these writings to Moses. As Kitchen has shown, the Hebrew account reflects the Egyptian and contemporary background under which Moses was brought up.3
Ages of the Patriarchs
One of the oldest non-biblical documents is a Sumerian tablet which gives the ages of the antediluvian kings (Table 1).
Table 1. Ages of Sumerian pre-Flood kings
Sumerian King - Lifetime in Sumerian Years
Alulim - 28,800
Alalngar - 36,000
En-men-luana - 43,200
En-men-gal-ana - 28,800
Dumuzid - 36,000
En-sipad-zid-ana - 28,800
En-men-dur-ana - 21,000
Ubara-Tutu - 18,600
These are significant in their apparent difference from the biblical ages of the corresponding pre-Flood patriarchs (Table 2).
Table 2. Ages of the pre-Flood patriarchs
Lineage of Seth to Noah - Lifetime in the Hebrew record
Seth - 912
Enosh - 905
Cainan - 910
Mahalaleel - 895
Jared - 962
Enoch - 365
Methuselah - 969
Lamech - 777
So, we are left with an interesting question. Is there any correlation between these two sets of figures? Dr John Walton4 has suggested that there is a correlation. The Hebrew system of numerology, like ours, is based on the number ten. So, (to round up the biblical figure), 6,700 can be written as 6,000 + 700 (that is, 6x103 + 7x102). The Sumerians had a numerical system based on 60 instead of ten. Their series, corresponding to the base 10 data are (10x602), (602) and (10x60). The Sumerian totals would be read as 6x(10x602)+6x(602)+6x(10x60) which is the 241,200 figure, but it is made up from the digits 6,660 of the biblical figure. That is, the Hebrew number is read into the sexagesimal system.
There is another interesting comparison with an Egyptian record. Eusebius was a Roman historian and a Christian bishop. He wrote about the early Egyptian history in which they described Creation and a cosmic flood in terms of a line of gods, demi-gods and spirits of the dead. They reckoned the span of the reigns of these gods from Creation to Babel to be 24,900 years. The corresponding time in the Bible is 2,242 years! It would seem, according to Eusebius, that the Egyptian figure is based on ‘lunar years’ (= our months) whereas our years are solar years. Taking that into account, the figures are again comparable (divide the Egyptian figure by 12!).
Clay tablets and papyrus
A reason for believing that the Babylonian and Sumerian documents had a chronological precedence over the Bible ones was that the only extant, original documents were in those cultures. The reason for that seemed to have been overlooked (perhaps deliberately?). At one time it seemed that the only extant, original documents relating to this period of history were the clay tablets from Mesopotamia. It seemed to be assumed, illogically, that these, therefore, must have been the earliest records and so superior to later Hebrew documents.
But Moses was brought up in the courts of the Egyptian Pharaohs and papyrus was a normal base for documentation. Papyrus does not have a long life span compared with baked clay tablets. However, it seemed to be overlooked that there are several references to these sources both before and after the Exile. For example, at the time of Josiah’s reform, they were produced (2 Chronicles 34.14-21). When the people wanted to hear from the ‘Law of Moses’, Ezra again produced the scrolls (Nehemiah 8.1-6).
In addition to the papyrus sources, of course, there were the hieroglyphic records in the Egyptian temples and other buildings. These have been preserved and often pre-date the Babylonian and Sumerian documents. Of particular interest in this matter are the Pyramid texts, which include records related to the global Flood.
So, there is no reason to doubt the chronological superiority of the Mosaic records.
John Peet is a member of Chertsey Street Baptist Church in Guildford