Through the British Museum with the Bible

December 19, 2009

On our return from Sweden, we spent a couple of days in the UK. We devoted one inspiring but exhausting day to the British Museum. Our hosts in the UK provided us with a guide titled “Through the British Museum with the Bible”. With this guide in hand, we entered the museum and were taken back thousands of years.

There was so much to see! We saw relics from Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen 11:28-31, approximately 2600 BC, four or five hundred years before Abraham). We saw a clay tablet in cuneiform telling a pagan corruption of the flood account, with remarkable similarities to the biblical account (including a man instructed by a god to build a boat, to load his family and all types of animals on it; and sending out birds to see if land has emerged.)

We even saw the Rosetta Stone — one of the most important archaeological finds of all time, enabling scholars to break the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

We saw a statue of Tuthmosis III, possibly the Pharaoh during part of Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and another even more impressive one of Rameses II, who possibly was the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. (From the look of his statute, he certainly was overly impressed with himself!)

There were documents referring to Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. There were artifacts from Greece, Rome, and Ephesus — more than can be recounted in a blog post.

But what affected me the most was the vast array of carvings from the Assyrian empire, recounting the conquests and the barbaric treatment of those they conquered.

These carvings, which once adorned the walls of the Sennacherib, king of Assyria, tell their history as the king wanted it to be told. Shown above is an Assyrian soldier beheading a conquered enemy soldier (far left), while other soldiers march on waving the heads of other victims. Other carvings shown in the book (which we did not find) show the Assyrians cutting off the hands and feet of the conquered soldiers and impailing their victims on a wall. Another wall-sized series of carvings showed in great detail the Assyrian siege and conquest of Lachish (2 Chron 32; Isa 36) and the brutal treatment of the conquered (including, apparently, skinning some of them alive. Since I have no picture I will refer you to this link).

No wonder Hezekiah tore his robes, put on sackcloth, and poured out his pleas to the Lord in the temple! No wonder the people were terrified! And no wonder Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah! What a dreadful fate, to be conquered by the Assyrians! And that is what happened to Israel.

Also in the museum is the Taylor Prism, containing Sennacherib’s own account of his seige of Jerusalem. Although he had always conquered and destroyed all the other cities he attacked, in the case of Jerusalem he curiously states only that he shut up Hezekiah in the city “like a caged bird,” with no explanation for why he did not conquer that city also. (2 Kings 19:35-36)

I wish I had found the book a few weeks before our visit. There is so much in the museum that I would love to have seen, and perhaps I could have seen more if I had been better prepared. But what I did see was faith-building and inspiring. There is just something about seeing these actual physical pieces of evidence corroborating the biblical account, that gives a sense of strength and confidence. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend that you visit the British Museum and see the evidence God has preserved for us. It was an experience I will not forget.

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