4.1 – The Reliability and Chronology of the Old Testament (22 min video)
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Well, welcome to a new week. We get to take a look at the story of Babel this week and the early cultures of Mesopotamia for a lecture title. I I, I’ve called this lecture Look on my works, ye mighty. This is actually from a poem by the romantic poet, Percy Biy Shelley. So it’s not really an antiquary antiquarian poem that is, which is fine. It’s also not technically about Mesopotamia, but that’s okay. It actually works, uh, for our purposes today. The poem, of course is called Ozzy Manus, which actually the Greek name of Ramsey’s, the great probably Egypt’s, most famous and most powerful Pharaoh. Lemme just read the poem to you, ’cause it, it gives us an idea of how ancient man actually thought, and I, this, this fits well with what we actually find, especially with this compulsion to gather power and to feel powerful on one’s own. Here’s how the poem goes. The little story I met a traveler from an antique land who said, two vast and trunk less legs of stone, stand in the desert near them in the sand, half sunk a shattered visit.
Visage of the face lies who’s frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command tell that it’s sculptor. Well, those passions read, which yet survive stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed and on the pedestal these words appear, my name is Ozzy Manus, king of kings.
Look on my work. She mighty and despair. Nothing beside remains round the decay of that colossal wreck bound this in bear. The lone and level sands stretch far away. And this is are wonderful work, uh, because it shows us the nature of these ancient cultures that they often were, uh, these gatherings of people and they often were the centralizing of power and they created magnificent works, the things that we can still see today.
But they also couldn’t keep them because no one lives forever. Man knows not his time even of when he dies. And so we actually see here in this poem kind of a summary that would work for all of antiquity. It works for Ramsey’s the great, it also works for Mesopotamia. Now, before we actually take a look at, uh, Mesopotamia, I, I wanna try to figure out when some of the things we’re talking about might have actually happened in history. So we’re gonna talk about chronology, but in order to do that we need to back up and talk about the Old Testament. Where did the Old Testament? When was it written, for example? Uh, who wrote it? Uh, when was it written? Well, I already mentioned that. Uh, but things like that we need to kind of figure out how do we actually know the Old Testament? How’s it come down to us? And things like that. So I think it’s helpful to take a look and first of all, recognize, you might wanna jot this down that the Old Testament, as we know it, uh, was written from the 15th century bc.
So think to 14 hundreds BC written by Moses who writes the first five books of the Bible or the Penit to all the way up to the minor prophets who start writing in the fifth century BC or about the four hundreds.
So we have a thousand year period that all of this is actually occurring during, and, and these people vary widely in their backgrounds and in their education and so forth.
Now, it is possible that Moses was using some kind of ancient record that’s suggested by the todos, suggested by the, the Hebrew words there. We already talked about that earlier. We really don’t know. We haven’t uncovered anything like that. But what we do know is that the, the scriptures, the Old Testament was revered. Uh, it was revered by the New Testament writers who all accepted his scripture. It was revered by Jesus who accepted his scripture. He refers to the law of Moses. He doesn’t doubt that Moses actually wrote it. It was also revered by characters of the same time period as Jesus in the early church such as Josephus, who writes, we have given practical proof of our reverence for our scriptures.
He’s writing as a Jew and how the Jews view the Old Testament for all those such long ages have now passed that is since they were written.
Josephus says, no one is ventured to add or to remove or to alter a syllable. And it is instinct with every Jew from the day of his birth to regard them as decrees of God to abide by them. And if need be to cheerfully die for them. It’s a pretty strong attitude, but it would reflect what you see in Deuteronomy four, uh, where we’re told you shall not add to the word that I command you nor take from it that you may keep the commandments of a Lord your God that I command you.
In other words, we have this attitude and this tradition of preserving the originals. We see this, for example, with the Jews and the fact that they take things like the 10 Commandments. They put them in the Ark of the Covenant or they take the Pentateuch. We’re told in Deuteronomy 31, those first five books of the Bible, and they also put that in the Ark of the Covenant. We’re told later on in the book of First Samuel in chapter 10, that Samuel’s writings, which were a history, were placed before the Lord implying they replaced their beside the Ark, uh, to be preserved, to be kept.
Uh, we’re also told for example, that Josiah, that latter King rediscovered the book of the law in the covenant. It was in the temple. There are actually records and accounts of the temple having a library. Uh, the Book of Maccabees, which is an apocryphal book. We’ll talk about those later. But it records Nehemiah as keeping, uh, a library of all of the books of the Old Testament or we’re told about Ezra, who’s right around the time of Nehemiah. Uh, they were told from Ezra chapter seven that he was skilled in the law of Moses. He was learned in the words of the commandments of the Lord, which would suggest he had access to the Old Testament so he could actually be skilled in it.
In other words, we have this tradition based upon, uh, references from the Old Testament based upon the New Testament. Writers saw the Old Testament based upon guys like Josephus that it was actually handed down and it was not changed. Now the next question to really ask ourselves is how do we actually get it to the modern age like the Bible we have now?
We’re reading the Old Testament, where does that come from? And primarily, almost all modern translations use what is known as the Retic text. This is actually written and carried on by a group of scribes known as the Maites who were kind of active from uh, 500 ad all the way to 1100 ad.
And they had this very strict practice of recording things faithfully and faithfully passing them on. One example of this for, uh, to give you an idea of this is that when they would come to a passage that seems strange or when they came to a passage didn’t quite make sense, they would make a little note saying, this is what is written and here is what is to be read. It’s always the challenge of a translator to take, uh, these ancient languages that are a little bit different and to figure out what is the best way to actually communicate these.
But besides the Masoretic text, we also have something else called the Tugen. It’s a Latin word that means the 70 and the story of the Sept is that it was translated in Egypt is the third century BC at the command of the Pharaoh, Toomi ii, and one of the guys who actually supported the Great Library of Alexandria, one of the finest libraries in all the history of the world, especially the ancient world.
But this was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was made by Jews who were most likely working from some older version of the Hebrew Old Testament that we no longer have.
What’s curious about the Tugen? It’s still used by translators as they translate modern day Bibles, but because it’s Greek and not Hebrew, they usually rely upon the Hebrew Masoretic text more the SubT. But what’s curious is that when you see, uh, writers of the New Testament quoting the Old Testament, they’re quoting the Sept. It’s also curious when you see writers like Josephus highly value it, or writers such as philo also help highly, uh, reverence the Sept as well.
But it’s not just the, these ancient works constituent, by the way, goes back to the we, our earliest copies of it go all the way back to the first century ad.
So it’s even older than the Masoretic text, but we also have one of the greatest discoveries of archeology of all time, which was of course was made in 1948 in some caves in Israel.
And that was the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, curiously discovered by a shepherd boy who was throwing rocks into a cave. And he noticed that some of the rocks only made a different noise as they hit something that appeared to sound like it was breaking.
That’s because it was, he was shattering these ancient clay jars that contained all of these scrolls of every single book in the Old Testament except for Esther.
And when I say every single book, you have to keep in mind sometimes they were complete books. Sometime they were fragments of books. Some books like Genesis and Deuteronomy and Psalms had more copies, uh, copies that were in the dozens, uh, more so than others. But when these scrolls were dated, uh, they were found to go all the way back to 2 25 bc And when they took things like Isaiah, which was one of the oldest scrolls that they had, and they compared it to the current Masoretic texts, the oldest one that they had that was from more than a thousand years later, when they compared those, they found that they agreed 95% of the time with the other 5% where it was disagreement.
Almost all of that was spelling variations. In other words, we can be confident that our Bible has been passed on down to us faithfully, and that when there are variations, there are over very minor issues like spelling, for example.
Uh, occasionally a name here or there, um, sometimes a bigger word. A lot of times it has to do with numbers, which brings us to chronology, which we’re trying to figure out. I know I’m taking us on a long pathway here, but this is where we have to go to kind of unpack chronology. Now, before we even talk about chronology, it’s helpful to keep in mind that we are approaching this as if Genesis one through 11 is accurate history. And by looking at that as accurate history and by saying that the various years, such as how old patriarchs were when they died and how old they were when they had children, by saying all that’s accurate, we can use that along with other things to determine how long ago things might have actually happened. That’s one view, that’s kind of the typical young earth creations view, and there are different versions of that view by all means. But, but we’re gonna talk about it from that one angle, at least for now. The other view, of course, would be to say that the earth is much older and that’s based upon things like modern radio isotope dating, uh, that kind of, uh, that topic right there is something I will let uh, others tell you about.
Uh, you can go and read, for example, radio isotopes and the Age of the Earth. It’s a rather dense two volume set, but it’s brilliant in talking about all of the issues with radioisotope dating from a creationist or a young earth creationist perspective. But, uh, it’s just curious to mind if, if, if that is not how we’re gonna date things, if that dating may have issues and there are other other dating methods we can look at, then we can actually take a look at Genesis and say that it really is accurate and so forth.
And we’re gonna approach it from that standpoint. Now to help us understand when things happened, it’s important to come with some benchmarks, uh, for dating things. And the first of those benchmarks is actually one that Old Testament scholars often agree on, which is rather phenomenal and uncommon. And that is the year of Solomon’s death, which is placed nicely at 9 31 bc. There you go, you can write down a date. Solomon’s death, 9 31 bc. Now, I know we haven’t gotten nearly that far in history, but I’m gonna help you kind of figure out where this comes from. So this comes from a few things. They get this because we have Assyrian records. Uh, we have records of when the Assyrians got money from King Jay, who we have who came after Solomon. We have records of when the Assyrians fought King Ahab, who also came after Solomon. And because we know from the Bible how many years passed between those kings and Solomon’s death, we can calculate Solomon’s reign. It also fits in nicely his reign that is, uh, with the Egyptians Egyptian chronology is a whole study of itself, which has all kinds of issues.
But we know for example, uh, that after Solomon died and his son Raya Boem took over who was not a very wise king, uh, we know that he suffered an invasion and a defeat by a king Shehe of Egypt, who we think was probably Pharaoh Shink.
And his reign, as it’s often seen, fits in nicely with when Raya Bowen would’ve been reigning if Solomon indeed died in the year 9 31 bc Uh, this same date is also confirmed by looking at the records of the kings of Tyre, which was a Venetian city, which helps us figure out when those northern kingdoms began helping Solomon, especially the aan or the Syrians, began helping Solomon with the building of the temple.
So this date is a date that we can kind of solidly agree on in most cases. Well, if that is the date that Solomon died, and we know from the Bible that he reigned 40 years and we know that he started building the temple in the fourth year Of His reign.
Well, We also know from the book of one Kings chapter six verse one that the temple was begun 480 Years after the Exodus. So here’s a second Benchmark date. This gets us back to the year 244 BC as a date for the Exodus. Now is This exact, I mean, if everything else is right, then this Should be exact. I think we can make the assessment that’s probably gonna be right around this time, but This is Actually a much more controversial one, partly Because it’s So hard lining up the Exodus with Egyptian history. That’s Something we’ll talk About later. I know I’ve been saying that a lot, but There’s a lot to talk about here as you Are finding out. But what’s really curious about that Exodus data, I just wanna Kind of mention this, Is it’s Actually being confirmed by The year of Jubilee that this was a cycle that Jews would actually have In the 50th year of their, of, of their history, supposedly every 50 years they would have a jubilee.
They were commanded to do this in Leviticus 25, Where they were Also commanded to do this Or To begin the year of Jubilee, not on the typical, Uh, Beginning of the year, but on the day of Atonement.
And they were told to begin this when they entered into the land for the first time. In other words, that first Year of Jubilee should Have been 40 years After the Exodus When they first entered into the Promised Land or into Canaan itself.
Well, this I bring up because Ezekiel In chapter 40 of his prophetic book talks about how it had Been 14 years after The fall of Jerusalem And how he was beginning the year on the 10th day of the month.
That’d be the day of atonement. So Therefore that would be a jubilee year. And there we know how long, how often jubilee years happen so we can Calculate Backwards. And when we do that, we once again get the year 1446 As a date for the Exodus. It’s actually A position that’s been held, uh, by The Jews For centuries. So something that Christians often haven’t dealt Or, uh, worked with, Although you can look at the work of Andrew Steinman, if you wanna know more about that and that argument in detail.
Well, how Do we get from the Exodus then all The way back to the patriarchs? Well, that is based Upon another verse, Exodus 12 verses 40 and 41, that Tell us that Jacob with His family Entered into Egypt Four 30 years Before the Exodus.
So if we have our exodus date, That means that Jacob and his family entered Egypt in 1876 BC And based upon Genesis 47, we know that Jacob was 130 years old when he entered there, which means he was born in the year 2006 bc.
We also know how old Isaac was when Jacob was born, and we know how old Abraham was when Isaac was born, and we can take those together and we can work back to figure out that Abraham, according to this model, would’ve been born in the year 2166 bc which then brings us to the chronologies of Genesis five and 11. These are the chronologies that have these patriarchs tell you how old they were when they died, and they tell you how old they were when they had children, these, these begats as they’re sometimes called. Now, I just wanna camp out here a little bit because this whole process of telling how old they were when they had children, that is unique amongst genealogies in all of the Bible and in all the writings of the ancient near East or the ancient world, at least up until this time.
In other words, these are very strange genealogies and they stand out as if to say, here is a when these things actually happened. Which brings us to an interesting debate, interesting diversion. So that masoretic text that our Bibles are based upon, it actually has different baggat dates than the Sept. In fact, the baggat dates of the Masoretic text, like how old these guys were when they had children versus the dates, the same dates, and the sub agent, if they differ so many times that if you add up the differences, you get over 1300 years of differences.
In other words, we actually have two different ways based upon these genealogies to then date when things like say the flood happened or when things such as the, uh, the creation itself happened.
Now I’m gonna suggest that this tugen might actually be the best way to go because it is older than the mare text. It was praised by Josephus. In fact, Josephus has a very interesting quote about it when he’s talking about how old, uh, the world was. He says the antiquities, he says they contain the history of 5,000 years and he’s measuring this from the creation all the way up until the ending of the Old Testament. And he says they are taken out of the sacred books, but they’ve been transit by me into the Greek tongue. In other words, he was using the tugen dates as far as we can tell to figure out the dating of the past. Jewish historians like Demetrius, who’s also from the same century, this Tuin was written, used the same dates, pilus of the second century BC about a hundred, a hundred and some years after the Tuin also used the same dates.
And the Sanhedrin authorized the usage of SubT, uh, throughout Judea. And we also know that the early church, especially those New Testament apostles, they freely quoted from the Sept. So what does this tell us? Well, it it tells us that if we follow the Masoretic text, we get a creation of somewhere around 4,000 BC specifically for following, like say, James Usher’s date. You get 4,004 BC and for the flood you get a specific date of 2348 BC or sometime around there. If we follow sub two agent, we get a creation date of 5,500 BC and we get a flood date of 3,200 bc which frankly tends to line up a little bit more with the archeology we have found. Now, can we be sure about this? No, I mean, neither one of these texts is the original text, but it does raise an interesting debate and it does allow us to figure out, okay, which, which one might make the most sense here and which one do we trust the most?
Again, we’d have to build a whole theology off of this, but I want you to keep in mind the very fact that these genealogies exist.
The very fact that these numbers exist throughout the scriptures is to remind us that these things really happened, but not as they really happened, is to remind us that God actually super intends history.
It’s actually Providence that history is meaningful and that, that God interacts with specific people whom he calls by name. And so therefore, history is personable.