YPS Magazine

ISSUE: 2010, Volume 7, Issue 1

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Walk with me through the British Museum

by Jeremy Gibson, Derby, England

Why bother?

In the things of God believing is seeing. ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’, Heb. 11. 1. It is only by faith that we can hold unshakably to the truth of creation and the very existence of a creator God, solitary in dignity, Heb. 11. 3. The same principle applies to every detail of the biblical record of history. Higher critics tirelessly attempt to discredit the Holy Bible, refusing to bow to its unique authority as an infallible record of God’s dealings with humanity. Only by faith can we accept that in the Bible is a flawless, albeit divinely selective, recording of human history. Having said this, our faith can be encouraged by visible, independent secular verifications of Bible stories. If you don’t have the time, or the money, to visit the Holy Land, and if you are interested in seeing multiple historical artefacts that substantiate Bible accounts of history, I would recommend visiting the British Museum, London. It is accessible – only about 20 minutes walk from St. Pancras Station – and it is free, although you are invited at strategic points throughout the Museum to donate generously. However, be prepared; it is big and there are thousands of exhibits. To get the most out of your visit, stay focused. Peter Masters (a prominent evangelical) has written a helpful tour guide for the British Museum.1 If you keep up a good pace you can complete the tour in about two hours. To whet your appetite read on; as I give an account of my discoveries.

Lets walk while we talk!

Head to Room 6. Here is the Stela of Shalmanesar III (Fig. 1 who ruled Assyria from 859-824 BC. It is a large stone monument describing six of Shalmanesar’s military campaigns. Text is embedded into a picture of the king raising one hand to four symbols of deities, his other hand grasping a sword. This text mentions by name Benhadad, king of Syria, 1 Kgs. 20. 1, and Ahab, king of Israel, 1 Kgs. 20. 2. In 745 BC, an Assyrian general called Tiglath-pileser III laid claim to the throne of Assyria. Tiglath-pileser III invaded Israel. Here in Room 6, just left of the Stela of Shalmanesar III is a relief from the palace at Nimrud that visibly portrays the capture of Astartu in Galilee (Fig. 2). Although the Bible does not mention Astartu, per se, it does mention Galilee, among other sections of Israel, being carried captive during this military campaign, 2 Kgs. 15. 29. This picture shows Tiglath-pileser III standing in his chariot with two servants holding a parasol. Turn behind you, still in Room 6, and you will see the Black Obelisk (Fig. 3) which takes us back to the time of Shalmanesar III. It names and pictures Jehu, the son of Nimshi, 2 Kgs. 9. 20, bowing down before the Assyrian monarch. Walking towards the seven-metre-tall replica gates of Balawat (a second palace built by Shalmanesar III) you will see a pair of human-headed winged lions which once guarded the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II who preceded Shalmanesar III. Turn right at these massive gates into Room 7. Walk to the end of this long room and just on the right as you enter Room 8 there is a portrait of Tiglath-pileser III (Fig. 4). He is wearing an earring and a bracelet resembling a modern wrist watch. Go into Room 23. Turn immediately right into Room 22. Here is a base of a column taken from the temple of the Ephesian goddess Diana, Acts 19. Return to Room 23. Go straight through it into Room 10. This room presents amazing proofs of Bible history. Just to the left is a large inscribed stone discovered in Nineveh. It seems to have been burnt, perhaps evidence of the fires that consumed the Assyrian capital as predicted by the prophet Nahum, Nahum 3. 13, 15. This stone text records Hezekiah being shut up in Jerusalem ‘like a caged bird’ and his paying tribute to Sennacherib king of Assyria, 2 Kgs. 18. 13-16. Hezekiah offered this tribute while Sennacherib besieged Lachish, another Judean city. The Lachish room, just past the human-headed bulls, is an exciting verification of Bible history. Many of the images highlight the cruelty of the Assyrians. Soldiers carry heads that are piled up. There is a child captive; another captive appears hand-cuffed. One picture at the end of the room shows Sennacherib, his face now defaced, sitting on a throne as captives from Lachish cower before him (Fig. 5) We get an insight into the weapons the Assyrians used to besiege cities. Bows, arrows, shields, spears, ladders and siege engines pushed up artificial ramps are all seen. God promised Hezekiah that these devices would not be brought to bear on Jerusalem, Isa. 37. 33. In this room is a small prism a few inches tall which also reports that Hezekiah was shut up. Go back to Room 8 and turn left into the long Room 9. Two-thirds along this room on the right is a picture of a ship of Tarshish (Fig. 6). We have some idea of the materials used to construct these ships and the kind of crews that manned them from Ezekiel’s prophecy, Ezek. 27. 5-9, 25. Turn right at the end, walk round the corner to the left, ascend the stairs and go into Room 59 and onwards into Room 57. On the left are five small stone letters that look like the breakfast cereal ‘Shredded Wheat’. These letters were written by officials and ‘kinglets’ of Canaanite cities threatened by a nomadic people they referred to as the ‘Apiru’. It is impossible to say for certain if this is a reference to the Israelite invasion of Canaan under Joshua; however, it gives an insight into the thoughts of the people the children of Israel were soon to overcome. Just next to them are some tiny carved ivory fragments that were discovered in Ahab’s royal palace in Samaria. We do not know for sure if they belonged to Ahab, but, according to the Bible, Ahab built what is termed an ivory house, 1 Kgs. 22. 39. Just next to this are tiny stone fragments referred to as the Lachish letters. These date back to the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah. Walk to Room 56 where there are many artefacts unearthed at Ur of the Chaldees, from where Abram originated, Gen. 11. 31. In Room 55 the Taylor Prism – named after Colonel Taylor who discovered it in 1830 – is another Assyrian recording of the tribute Hezekiah paid to Sennacherib (Fig. 7). Just along on the left- hand side in Room 55 is a brick stamped with the name of Nebuchadnezzar. Just next to this is the tiny clay Nabonidus Cylinder and Nabonidus Chronicle. Secular historians and higher critics have constantly cast doubt on the book of Daniel. Up until the mid 1800s they poured scorn on the mention of Belshazzar being the last Babylonian king, Dan. 5. 1. It was always contended that Nabonidus was the last king to reign over the Babylonian empire. That was until these two artifacts were discovered. The cylinder speaks of Belsarusur, the first-born son of Nabonidus; the chronicle mentions that Nabonidus was at Tema for a substantial part of his reign. This explains why Belshazzar offered Daniel only third place in the kingdom, Dan. 5. 7. The chronicle records Babylon’s fall, Dan. 5. 30, 31. Walk forward to Room 53, turn right into Room 52 and you will see a beautiful fullsized picture of an archer, set on a blue tile background (Fig. 8); this was discovered in the palace at Susa (viz. ‘Shushan the palace’, Neh. 1. 1; Esther 1. 2; Dan. 8. 2). Just a little further along in Room 52 is Cyrus Cylinder, which records Cyrus’ policy of returning vanquished peoples to their homeland, allowing them to rebuild their sacred sanctuaries. This man permitted Judah to return from exile and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, Ezra 1. 1-4. In this same room is a seal of Darius the Great who repeated the decree to rebuild the Jerusalem temple, Ezra 6. 8. There is also a silver bowl, the size of a fruit bowl, which mentions Darius the Great and his son Xerxes (called Ahaseurus in the Bible) who married Esther, Esther 1. 1. Turn back into Room 53, cross over into Room 65, turn left and go through the rooms into Room 61. For the ladies, here is a small ornately crafted Egyptian jewelry box. Turn left and out of Room 61, cross the landing into the Greek and Roman galleries and keep walking through till you get to Room 70. Here are sculptured heads of Caesar Augustus, who commanded the census just before the Lord’s birth, Luke 2. 1, Tiberius Caesar, who, Pilate fearing to offend, delivered Christ over to the will of the Jews, John 19. 12, and Titus who in 70 AD led the brutal attack on Jerusalem that totally destroyed the temple, as predicted by the Lord Jesus, Matt. 24. 2. Walk through Room 69, turn left into Room 68. This will be of interest to many: the money room. Just before you leave this room on the left there are Roman denarii bearing the image of Tiberius Caesar (Figs. 9 and 10). This sort of coin was used by the Lord Jesus when answering the Jews’ difficult question about tribute money, Matt. 22. 19-21. Two other Roman coins on display here commemorated the 70 AD victory over Jerusalem. This ends our tour.

Closing time

I hope that you have enjoyed our speedy tour through the British Museum. If you get time to make a visit it might be useful to remember to take this paper with you. As we said in our opening comments, these visual supporting evidences cannot prove to an unbeliever that the Bible is true, but we trust they may increase the appreciation of believers about the utter reliability of Holy Scripture.

Image reference numbers

Figure 1 – Stela of Shalmanesar III (AN00150815_003)

Figure 2 – An Assyrian relief portraying the capture of Astartu in Galilee (AN0032472_005)

Figure 3 - the Black Obelisk (AN00072218_003)

Figure 4 - Portrait of Tiglath-pileser III (AN00613518_003)

Figure 5 - Lachish captives cower before Sennacherib (AN00609004_001)

Figure 6 – A Tarshish ship (AN0032471_005)

Figure 7 – The Taylor Prism (AN00032573_005)

Figure 8 – Full-sized archer (AN00020605_001)

Figures 9 and 10 – Roman denarii, bearing the image of Tiberius Caesar (AN00031208_005 AND AN0031209_005)

1 Peter Masters. Heritage of Evidence in the British Museum (London: The Wakeman Trust, 2004)

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