A day at the museum
For our UK readers or those passing through the capital, London offers a priceless resource for studying the background to the Bible.
The British Museum first opened in 1759 and since that time has been acquiring a wide range of artefacts from the ancient world. Many originate from the lands connected with the Bible — Egypt, Canaan, Greece, Assyria and Babylon — often as a result of Britain’s formidable influence during the Victorian era. This collection includes many exhibits that are of great value in the study of apologetics.
There are now a number of useful books to guide anyone making a passing visit. Brian Edwards’s and Clive Anderson’s Through the British Museum with the Bible (Day One) is particularly useful, and the British Museum publish their own guide to the Bible by T.C. Mitchell.
Planning a trip
It is worth planning a trip to the museum by identifying a few exhibits that you really want to see and then allowing extra time to make a few unexpected discoveries of your own. For anyone interested in apologetics I can suggest a few essentials.
Firstly, the black obelisk of Shalmaneser III is displayed on the ground floor in the Ancient Near East section. It is a victory monument from ancient Assyria recording the tributes brought by surrounding nations. Among them is King Jehu and the Israelites bringing various treasures as tribute. Dating to 841 BC, the detailed images provide the earliest clear pictures of what the Israelites looked like and what they wore.
Secondly, in a nearby gallery is the stunning display of the siege of Lachish. The Assyrian King Sennacherib captured this town in Judah in 701 BC (2 Kings 18-19) before marching on Jerusalem. This event is recorded in astonishing detail. The weapons of the Assyrians, the siege ramp, the fruit on the trees, captured Israelites and plight of women and children are all recorded. From here, Sennacherib moved on to besiege Jerusalem, though he failed to take the city. The nearby Taylor Prism includes a cuneiform reference to King Hezekiah trapped in the city and recounts the Assyrian withdrawal from Jerusalem. No reason is given for the failure of the Assyrians to repeat the successful conquest so proudly recorded from Lachish. For that missing piece of information one must turn to the Bible (2 Kings 19).
Upstairs in the museum are a number of displays from the region we call Canaan. Among them an apologist should take note of the Jericho tomb burial, the Amarna letters and some of the small but significant jar handles and pottery shards bearing Israelite inscriptions. These objects bring to life the stories, people and places of the Bible and endorse its historical value. Beyond this gallery one comes to the priceless, ancient artefacts recovered from the region of Ur, Abraham’s hometown. These help to confirm the sophisticated civilisation from which Abram came as God called him to settle in the more primitive landscape of Canaan.
To see such important finds from modern day Iraq, Israel, Turkey and also from Egypt, Greece and Iran might have required a wealth of air miles and a lifetime of travel. Instead, a few hours spent in our nation’s capital can provide a solid boost to our understanding of the historicity of the Bible. And, did I mention entry is free? Of course, I don’t recommend being locked in overnight. But the British Museum is a resource every Christian should have some interest in!
Chris Sinkinson is pastor of Alderholt Chapel and lectures at Moorlands College.