Archaeology and Genesis: What Does the Record Show?
b y M a r i o S e i g l i e
A century ago Charles Darwin advanced an alternative to the biblical account of creation. About the same time, Karl Marx made use of the theory of materialism, which stated that matter has always existed and doesn’t need a Creator. This provided his followers with an alternative to belief in God. Then literary criticism focused its sights on the Bible and slowly began to attempt to tear it to pieces. Literary critics claimed that the Bible is filled with myths and is of much more recent origin than the Bible itself claims to be. As one scholar explains, man began to think of himself, rather than God, as the center of the universe. “The idea of evolution had captured the thinking of that day, and was thought to furnish the best key to the understanding of history as well as of nature. Religion was discussed from the standpoint of its subjective benefits to man. All possibility of special revelation
from a personal God was discounted, and the religious side of man was to be explained by a natural process . . . they concluded that Israel’s religion must have developed along similar lines”
(A. Noordtzy, Bibliotheca Sacra,Vol. 98-99, pp. 388-390, 1940-41).
Archaeologists excavating the site of ancient Sumer have unearthed fascinating artifacts that depict some of the events described in the book of Genesis
When the 20th century dawned, the tide of criticism eroded belief in the literal truth of the biblical
accounts. Then came a series of remarkable archaeological discoveries. Archaeology began in the 19th century but came to full force in the 20th. Critics of the historical accuracy of the Bible were confronted with physical evidence attesting to the truthfulness of certain accounts. As author John Elder comments, the study of archaeology had much to do with tipping the scales, in many people’s minds, back in the favor of biblical credibility. “Little by little, one city after another, one civilization after another, one culture after another,whose memories were enshrined only in the Bible,were restored to their proper places in ancient history by the studies of the archaeologists . . . Nowhere has archaeological discovery refuted the Bible as history” (Prophets, Idols and Diggers, 1960, p. 16).
In this article we take a look at some of the astounding discoveries of the last two centuries and show how physical evidence confirms aspects of the biblical record. When Luke wrote the Gospel that bears his name, he carefully laid out the evidence in favor of the historicity of Jesus Christ and His miracles,
including His resurrection. He wanted his account to meet the scrutiny of doubters. Luke said he
intended to write “an orderly account” (Luke 1:1- 4) so his readers could “know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (emphasis added throughout). Luke then proceeded to augment his account with historical references mentioning, for example, the contemporaneous rulers of
Judah and the emperor of the Roman Empire (Luke 1:5; 2:1). Because of the number of discoveries,
we cannot examine all of the evidence here. We will discuss, however, some of the principal finds that corroborate parts of the biblical record of Genesis.
This seal, with its impression at right, is known as the Temptation Seal. DIscovered
at the site of ancient Sumer, it depicts a serpent, woman, tree and man-all
important elements in the account from Genesis of the temptation
The Temptation Seal
Seals made use of some of the most ancient forms of writing. They were used to certify documents, to show authority and, on occasion, as amulets. The earliest seals were made of clay impressed with markings or writing, and some of them became hardened with time or were baked when fires swept through a city. Since they are made of clay, they have survived much longer than records written on papyrus or parchment. Archaeologists’ dating of some seals has found them to be more than 5,000 years old. They are among the few surviving materials that provide firm evidence of people’s beliefs at the dawn of civilization. Seals have been uncovered that confirm several biblical accounts,
including some in Genesis. The first chapters of the book of Genesis cover the creation of humans and the temptation that induced Adam to sin. God had given Adam certain laws to keep and explained the consequences of disobedience. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree
of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ ” (Genesis 2:16-17). Genesis depicts the tempter, Satan, influencing Eve and in turn her husband, Adam, to disobey their Creator. God had told Adam and Eve they would die if they ate of the tree. But the serpent said to Eve, “You will not surely die.” So Eve partook, found the fruit pleasant, then offered it to her husband, “and he ate” (Genesis 3:1-6).
Is this account only a myth? Many critics thought so. Yet archaeology has unearthed, not in biblical Israel, but in the site of the most ancient civilization known, Sumer, a seal depicting this very sequence of events described in the book of Genesis. This find, known as the Temptation Seal, is in the British Museum. It dates to the third millennium before Christ, some 5,000 years ago. This artifact
shows a man and a woman viewing a tree, and behind the woman is a serpent. The man and woman are both reaching for fruit of the tree. The Genesis account of the temptation was believed to be a fabrication by Jewish writers, yet this graphic portrayal of events described in Genesis existed thousands of years before critics believe the book of Genesis was written. This artifact, one of
the earliest surviving records, demonstrates that humans knew the essentials of the temptation incident, and not only from the biblical account written in Genesis.
The Adam and Eve seal
Another Sumerian seal, dated ca. 3500 B.C. and now housed in the museum of the University of Pennsylvania, shows events that took place after the man and woman ate the forbidden fruit. This seal depicts the naked figures of a male and a female, bowed in humiliation, being driven out, followed by a serpent. This seal also describes the story of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden: “. . .
Therefore the LORD God sent him [Adam] out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken” (Genesis 3:23). It is difficult to explain what the three figures, engraved on a seal dating from the beginnings of human antiquity, are doing if the artifact is not another depiction of the Genesis account.