Original consistency part II

The Nippur Tablet


Dr John Peet compares the Genesis record with other early accounts of origins. What about the content of other ancient documents?

Original consistency

Lascaux cave paintings in France, estimated to be up to 20,000 years old | photo: Vimeo

Lascaux cave paintings in France, estimated to be up to 20,000 years old | photo: Vimeo

Dr John Peet with some facts which indicate the truth of Genesis 1–11

Ark – eology?


Dr Finkel holding ‘The Ark Tablet’

(view original article here)

Professor Alan Millard reviews a recent book that has hit the headlines

In 1985 a man came to the British Museum with a Babylonian clay tablet, which his father had acquired in Iraq in the 1940s. The museum’s specialist was astonished as he read the cuneiform signs: it was part of a Babylonian story of the flood!

Alas, the owner would not leave the tablet for study. The expert, Irving Finkel, was bereft! Not until 2009 was he allowed to examine it at leisure. In this book he enthusiastically describes his patient decipherment and growing understanding of a text written almost 4,000 years ago.

Flood stories

After relating the first discovery of a Babylonian flood story in 1872, then jumping to the appearance of the new tablet, Finkel explains how cuneiform writing works and the range of texts now available. He then summarises previously-known Babylonian flood stories, each one damaged and incomplete. The Sumerian flood story (1900 – 1600 BC); Atrahasis (1900 – 1600 BC, 1300 BC & 800 – 600 BC); The Epic of Gilgamesh Tablet 11 (800 – 600 BC); Berossos (200 BC); Genesis (100 BC) and Koran (AD 650). The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 11, contains the often-quoted Babylonian flood story.

Comparisons between each of these and the Genesis account run through the following chapters. In six pages Finkel presents his translation of the new text, which he calls The Ark Tablet, copied between 1900 and 1700BC. Although the back is damaged, the sense is clear. A god clandestinely instructs Atrahasis (Ut-napishtim in Gilgamesh 11) to demolish his house and to build a boat, with precise measurements. Atrahasis tells how he accomplished his task, listing many elements, ending with instructions to seal the door after he has boarded.

The tablet, small enough to hold in the hand, is not part of an historical inscription, but is an extract from a longer story or an exercise in imagining the conversations and computations; perhaps the work of a student or even a playwright. Here is the novelty: the vessel was to be round! It was a coracle, built of reed bundles bound together, waterproofed with bitumen, about 70 metres in diameter, strengthened with ribs, probably having a deck and cabins. Going back to previously known tablets, Finkel has demonstrated that they, too, described a circular craft, but the Gilgamesh version had misrepresented it as an unseaworthy cube. The Ark Tablet prescribes a ground plan of 14,400 square cubits, close to the 15,000 square cubits of the ark in Genesis!

Coracles have been used on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers since time immemorial. The descriptions of several travellers illustrate their use in the 19th and 20th centuries and some explain their construction. They allow Finkel to take the reader through the construction process described in The Ark Tablet. He supplies a lengthy technical appendix in which, with the aid of mathematician Mark Wilson, he proves the specifications are realistic, although actual fabrication seems impossible.

It is noteworthy that Genesis never calls the ark a ship or boat, whereas the Babylonian texts use such terms. The vessel was a container, not a ship for a voyage! In the Bible, the Hebrew word for ‘ark’ is only applied to Noah’s vessel and to baby Moses’s basket. Linguists treat it as a loanword from Egyptian, where it means ‘box’. Finkel proposes a Babylonian origin in a partly similar word connected with boats, but there are difficulties: one basic letter differs and the Babylonian word occurs on only one tablet, where its meaning is not clear – so he tries to explain the obscure Hebrew word by a more obscure Babylonian one!

Two by two

The Ark Tablet astounded Finkel by adding a new element to the Babylonian account: animals were to enter the boat in pairs! After recognizing the word in this tablet, he saw it could also be reconstructed in the broken Old Babylonian Atrahasis tablet, which the reviewer published in 1965.

Similarities between the Babylonian texts and Genesis have been discussed ever since 1872. The Ark Tablet’s revelations reinvigorate them, bringing Finkel the opportunity to draw on his extensive knowledge of Babylonian texts, and his unrivalled ability to read and interpret them, in a comparative study.

What depends on what?

Following some biblical scholars, he discerns two sources amalgamated in Genesis 6 and 7, seeing, for example, inconsistencies in numbers of animals (pairs in 6:19, 20; sevens in 7:2, 3) and takes for granted that the biblical text is dependent upon the Babylonian. He finds those sources ‘reflect distinct cuneiform versions of the flood story’. Therefore he asks when and how the biblical writers would have met them and concludes that Judaeans in Babylon, taught ‘the literature and language of the Chaldeans’ (Daniel 1.4), could read cuneiform tablets. Exiles concerned to save their national identity composed the Old Testament and adapted Babylonian traditions to fit their purposes, including a list of long-lived antediluvian leaders and the flood story. Another Babylonian tablet discloses apparent monotheistic tendencies by identifying various gods as aspects of the chief god Marduk, so Finkel proposes that such theological currents may have precipitated statements of the distinct Judaean belief in one God alone.

The Ark Tablet adds, he thinks, to the case for dependence with its pairs of animals and its vessel’s dimensions. If Genesis drew on Babylonian legends, when did that happen? Taking the oblong shape of Noah’s wooden ark as a development of the cube in the seventh-century Gilgamesh version is part of Finkel’s case. Yet he has to assume unknown variations to the existing Babylonian versions to explain other differences, so any changes could have occurred much earlier. Despite his strong case for the era of the Exile, the Babylonian texts are inconclusive.

Some commentators take the Genesis flood narrative as a polemic against the Babylonian polytheistic legend. As Finkel notes, there is a strong contrast between the many Babylonian deities, whimsical and often at loggerheads, and the one self-consistent God of Genesis. Those who believe the Hebrew account is the original will have to assume the oblong wooden ark, which was perhaps better suited to a different region of the Near East, was re-imagined as an enormous reed coracle in Babylonia with approximately the same floor area as Noah’s ark. Although no copy of Genesis made before about 200BC survives, that does not exclude a much earlier origin for its contents. Accordingly, the extant Hebrew and Babylonian reports might be seen as deriving from a common ancestor.

Where the ark came to rest

Engaging incidents in Finkel’s work keep the reader’s interest alive. When he gave a volunteer a box of odd fragments to sort, she found a strange one which he saw fitted into the famous Babylonian Map of the World and suggests that the ark rested in the region of Mount Ararat! However, other Babylonian tales placed it nearer to Iraq, in the mountains to the east or north, while Genesis simply says ‘in the mountains of Ararat’ which could suit any of the locations. Noteworthy is another Assyriologist’s discovery of a tablet in the British Museum naming a high official of Nebuchadnezzar who is named with others in Jeremiah 39, which Finkel characterised as ‘amazing… in quietly proving that one named individual mentioned in the Bible who was not a king really did exist’. In fact, other Jeremiah names are known from Babylonian tablets, too.

Experts will discuss details of the cuneiform tablet while biblical scholars assess its significance for years to come. Intelligibly explaining technical aspects, The Ark before Noah relates a new discovery brilliantly, sharing the excitement of a leading expert as he disentangles part of one version of an ancient story.

Alan Millard is Emeritus Rankin Professor of Hebrew & Ancient Semitic Languages, The University of Liverpool, and a member of Myton Church, Leamington Spa
THE ARK BEFORE NOAH Decoding the story of the Flood By Irving Finkel Hodder and Stoughton. 421 pages. £25.00 ISBN 978 1 444 757 057


This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

“It is essential” – what did Lloyd-Jones and Schaeffer say about the scientific interpretation of Genesis 1-3

It is essential

(view original article here)

Ranald Macaulay reminds us of what Lloyd-Jones and Schaeffer said about the scientific interpretation of Genesis 1-3

Three names dominated the UK’s evangelical landscape during the second half of the 20th century.

These were Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott and Francis Schaeffer. All of them were concerned about what is sometimes called ‘New’ or ‘Open’ Evangelicalism and in particular by the loss of an emphasis on real history in relation to the Fall. The statements reproduced here (heavily edited for want of space) highlight this concern; the former by Martyn Lloyd-Jones delivered at an IFES conference in 1971, the latter by Francis Schaeffer in 1980. The second is no longer available: interestingly, it was endorsed by six others, including John Stott who said: ‘I am decidedly with Dr Schaeffer in principle… what the Bible affirms about history and nature is as much truth from God as what it affirms about spiritual and moral matter’.

Maryn Lloyd-Jones

‘We accept the biblical teaching with regard to creation and do not base our position upon theories of evolution. We must assert that we believe in the being of one first man called Adam, and in one first woman called Eve. We reject any notion of a pre-Adamic man because it is contrary to the teaching of the Scripture. Now someone may ask: why do you care about this? Is this essential to your doctrine of salvation? Yes. I would contend that the early chapters of Genesis are given to us as history. We know that there are pictures and symbols in the Bible, but when it presents something to us in the form of history it requires us to accept it as history. The Bible does not merely make statements about salvation. It is a complete whole: it tells you about the origin of the world and of man, how he fell and the need of salvation.

‘Therefore these early chapters of Genesis with their history play a vital part in the whole doctrine of salvation. Take for instance the argument of the apostle Paul (Romans 5:12-21). Paul’s whole case is based upon that one man Adam and his one sin, and the contrast with the other one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his one great act. Similarly in 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle’s whole argument rests upon historicity. Indeed, it seems to me that one of the things we have to assert, particularly today, is that our gospel is not a teaching, nor a philosophy, but primarily a history. The works of salvation are God’s acts! Salvation is not an idea; it is something that results from actions which have taken place on the concrete plane of history. Historicity is a very vital matter. In addition to that, of course, the whole question of the person of our Lord arises. He clearly accepted this history, he referred to Adam, and in speaking about marriage he clearly accepted the his-toricity of that portion of Scripture (Matthew 19:4-5). But, quite apart from this, if you do not accept this history and prefer to believe that man’s body developed as the result of an evolutionary process and that God then took one of these humanoid persons and did something to him and turned him into a man, you are still left with the question of how to explain Eve, for the Bible is very particular as to the origin of Eve. All who accept the theory of evolution in any form completely fail to account for the being, origin, and existence of Eve.

‘But certain evangelicals are tying themselves to modern, scientific teaching, and nothing is more dangerous than that. We must base ourselves exclusively on the Scriptures and if this has always been true it seems to me it is especially true today. Modern science itself teaches us that we are not anti-scientific or obscurantist simply because we reject statements made by certain prominent and great scientists. We know that great scientists have made very dogmatic statements in the past, which by now have proved to be wrong. All I am saying is that it is very dangerous to base our position upon the pronouncements of science. And while we admit that we cannot explain everything and that there are certain things put before us for which we cannot account, what we must say is this: we believe that whatever is asserted in the Scripture about creation, about the whole cosmos, is true because God has said it, and though Scripture may appear to conflict with certain discoveries of science at the present time, we exhort people to be patient, assuring them that ultimately the scientists will discover that they have been in error at some point or other, and will eventually come to see that the statements of Scripture are true. Thus we base our position upon Scripture alone and this has always been the Protestant view.

‘There are some who say: “Yes, I accept it. I haven’t changed my view at all on your basis of faith and what it says about the Scriptures”. But, when you talk to them in detail you find that they have departed in this very serious, and I suggest, radical manner from the true position of the evangelical.’

Francis Schaeffer

‘Sadly, a reduced view of the Bible is being pressed on us today by a wide, vocal, articulate and growing section of teachers and writers in the evangelical world. One of them says: “Dr Schaeffer insists that the revelation of God must be expressed only in space-time historical events. So he argues for a literal Garden of Eden, a literal temptation and Fall, a literal tower of Babel, and so on”. He goes on: “I once asked him whether he believed that poetry (in the opening chapters of Genesis) could ‘tell the truth’ as truthfully as history. Not in this case, he said”. He shows he has misunderstood me. I was not speaking about the use of one literary form as over against another. Certainly truth can be communicated via poetry as well as in straight didactic narrative. But that doesn’t change the central question: did the Fall really happen? Was there a time before the Fall and a time after the Fall?

‘Consider what is lost if the Fall is not a space-time event. First, God is then the author of the sorrows of the present world. Second, if there is no literal Fall there is a loss of true moral guilt because Adam and Eve would not have passed from obeying God to disobeying him. In such a case, Christ’s death as a substitutionary atonement is gone. It becomes an enigma. Third, if all is normal now to what God made it to be, there can be no way to say “such and such is really wrong, absolutely wrong”. Along with the secular humanists, we are caught in the relative.

‘Later he says: “Dr Schaeffer… has gone on record as saying that it is essential for the truth of Christianity that the Bible should relate ‘true truth’ about ‘history and the cosmos’ as well as about spiritual matters. That is precisely the kind of claim that worries me, because it means that should any part of the Bible be shown to be inaccurate about ‘history and the cosmos’ then an essential part of faith has gone…”. A few sentences later he relates his worry to the story of the creation of woman in Genesis.

‘But if the Bible is reliable only in so-called spiritual matters we face an insurmountable problem. Many, if not most, “spiritual” matters in the Bible occur in the cosmos and in space-time history, for example Christ’s incarnation, miracles, resurrection and return in glory. In saying this I am not suggesting that some of these New Evangelicals don’t maintain these Christian truths, but on the basis of their own classifications what can they be sure about finally? All that is left is a leap of faith without certainty – a subjective inner witness!

‘We must reject this weakened, reduced Bible which is being urged upon us’.

An extract from ‘Knowing the Times’. Given as part of a series of three addresses to The International Fellowship of Evangelical Students Conference at Schloss, Mittersill, Austria in 1971. The general title of the addresses is What is an Evangelical? published by Banner of Truth Trust, ISBN 978 0 851 516 264.
An extract from his final address at the ‘Whatever Happened to the Human Race’ seminar in London, in 1980.


This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.