Prior to the “Golden Age of Archaeology” in Palestine, convergences between the Bible and Mesopotamia had already been underway considering the excavations taking place in Iran. Prior to these discoveries, the Pentateuch (also known as the Torah, the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy) and Mosaic authorship was under severe skepticism after the Documentary Hypothesis and the Source Critical school had ripped the Torah apart in attempts to create a historical backdrop in favor of different authors (sources) rather than explore the context of the narratives themselves. This post will be a short summary of archaeological work in the Middle East that relate to the kingdoms of Mesopotamia and their interaction with events in recorded in the Bible.
An officer of the British army by the name of Claudius James Rich was of the first to explore the many ruins and mounds of Iran while working for the East India Company. It was his writings and descriptions of Nineveh, Persepolis and Babylon which inspired the British Museum, archaeologists and explorers to seek out the mysteries of Mesopotamia (Moorey 1992, 7). The Behistune Inscription, a trilingual inscription carved on the side of Mt. Behistune, was well documented by the Germans in the 18th century, however the cuneiform script had not been unlocked until Sir Henry Rawlinson deciphered the Old Persian inscription and eventually translating the Elamite and Babylonian portions as well. Thus Assyriology, the study of the language and civilizations of Mesopotamia, was born.
The French were also involved as they employed Paul-Emile Botta as a Consul in Mosul and he discovered the ruins of ancient Dur-Sharrukin, the Assyrian capital of Sargon the Great. Scholars quickly made the connection to Sargon mentioned in Isaiah 20:1 and became the first real polemic for archaeology against secular scholarship and their Documentary Hypothesis (Moorey 1992, 8). The remainder of these posts will focus on specific archaeological discoveries in the Ancient Near East which illustrate convergences between the context of the biblical narratives and the history of the Mesopotamian civilizations.
The Patriarchal Period
When biblical archaeology had become a major discipline in the early to mid 1900s, it had been a response to source criticism’s attack against the history of the Levant based off of textual evidence in the Bible. William F. Albright had suggested that the archaeology of ancient Palestine had reflected the collapse of the Early Bronze age brought on by the migration of pastoral nomads from Mesopotamia into the hill country Canaan. Albright had hypothesized that Abraham was among the Amorites whom invaded the land and, in this case,, archaeology confirmed the conditions of the 2 millennium BC (Albright 1939). This at the very least would provide a framework for a historical patriarchal age.
Perhaps one of the fiercest attacks against this archaeological assumption are the anachronisms in the biblical account referring to the Philistines in Genesis 26:1 by Isaac. Other anachronisms are the appearance of camels in the ANE as a domesticated animal. Excavations at Timna in 2014 had been the only evidence of camel bones in Israel yet they only dated to 10th century. Kitchen and others have long shown that camels have been in use in the Fayum "Pottery A" period. Other documented cases of camels in use date to 2400 BCE or earlier (Martin 2011, 368).
The Nuzi texts are another source of circumstantial evidence for practices and context of the Patriarchal period. Nuzi was an ancient Mesopotamian city along the Tigris river in modern day Iraq. The texts are mainly legal and economic in nature but they provide a strong context to social structures practice in the Genesis narratives. Of the 5000 tablets discovered, some of the social and legal portions contain parallels with Bible and Hurrian culture such as hand-servant surrogates to produce an heir on account of barrenness of the wife (Al-Khalisi 1970, 109-206). These assumptions have been challenged more recently by some scholars saying that the social practices instituted continue into the 1st millennium BCE and therefore do not necessarily point to the patriarch specifically. The texts therefore can only be used in illustrative function (Pitard, 1998, 52).
This is yet a sampling of archaeological data which provide a histrocial backdrop for the Patriarchal period. My next posts will focus on later periods of Mesopotamian civilization and their interaction with the Israel and the Biblical narratives. Let me know what you think in the comments!
 Although still a mystery, the emergence of the Philistines (sea peoples?) is said to have happened in the 12th century BCE.
 Timna Valley Excavations. 2014.
 The Hurrian texts also contain similar legal language concerning barren wives and surrogate hand servants to produce heirs.
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