MONUMENTS IN THEIR BEARING ON BIBLICAL EXEGESIS:
For centuries the evidence of the authenticity of the Old Testament Scriptures had to be sought from within; of contemporaneous external testimony there was practically nothing. All this is now changed. The civilized nations by whom Israel was surrounded have risen, as it were, from the dead, and there is at hand as much information about the culture of Egypt and western Asia in the Mosaic age as about the culture of Athens in the age of Pericles. The books of the Old Testament are taking their place as part of a vast and ever-increasing literature which explains and illustrates them and at the same time affords the only sure and certain test of their veracity.
The belief that the use of writing for literary purposes was of comparatively late date has been swept away forever. There were schools and libraries in Egypt and Babylonia long before Abraham was born. Under the dynasty of Hammurabi or Amraphel, the contemporary of Abraham (Gen. xiv. 1), Babylon was the center of a great literary movement. Old literary works were reedited, and new poets and writers arose who cast the ancient legends and traditions of the country into literary form. In Egypt there was already an extensive literature, and "The Proverbs of Ptah-ḥotep," of which there is now a copy in the Louvre, Paris, was written in the time of the Old Empire or at least as early as 3,000
The Mosaic age, accordingly, belongs to a late epoch in the history of Oriental literature; and there is no need for surprise at finding that it was emphatically an age of readers and writers, of schools and students, of books and correspondence. The cuneiform tablets discovered in 1887 at Tell el-Amarna in Egypt have shown that from one end of the civilized world to the other letters were being constantly sent, sometimes on the most trivial of matters; that Canaan was the center of the correspondence; and that it was carried on in the language and script of Babylonia. As the language of Babylonia was not that of most of the writers it is evident that schools must have existed throughout the civilized world of the East in which the foreign language and writing were taught and learned, as well as libraries in which Babylonian books and the native archives could be preserved. Indeed, among the El-Amarna tablets fragments of Babylonian literary works have been found, some of which were used for purposes of study. Fragments of dictionaries have also been discovered. When it is remembered that among the correspondents of the Egyptian court are Bedouin sheiks and a Canaanitish lady, an idea may be formed of the extent to which education had spread. At all events Moses could have written the Law, and some at least of the Israelites could have read what was written. Moreover, there was plenty of material in the libraries of Canaan, not to speak of those of Egypt and Babylonia, with the help of which the historian could have compiled a truthful history of the past. Urusalim, or Jerusalem, and Gezer, more especially, are prominent in the El-Amarna letters.
From the Babylonian inscriptions it has been learned that in the Abrahamic age Canaan was a province of the Babylonian empire, and that colonies of "Amorites," as its inhabitants were called, were settled in Babylonia itself. One of the witnesses to a contract dated in the reign of Hammurabi's grandfather is an "Amorite," the son of Abiramu or Abram. For some years Babylonia had been under the domination of Elam, and Eri-aku or Arioch, the son of an Elamite prince, had been established at Larsa in the south of the country, but Hammurabi in the thirty-second year of his reign at last succeeded in shaking off the Elamite supremacy and in ruling over a united Babylonian empire. The Babylonian monuments have proved that the migration of Abraham was no isolated or unusual event; and they have further proved that the political position described in Gen. xiv. is in strict accordance with fact. They have also shown that Babylon was at the time under the rule of kings who belonged to the western branch of the Semitic race, who revered the god Samu (Sumu) or Shem, and who spoke a language resembling those of Canaan and southern Arabia rather than that of Babylonia. Canaanites were settled in Babylonia; and among them are found the names of Abram (Abi-ramu), Jacob (Ya'ḳub-ilu), and Joseph (Yasupu-ilu).Canaan Under the Egyptians.
In the sixteenth century
Rameses I., the grandfather of Rameses II., was the founder of the nineteenth dynasty and the representative of a national reaction against the Semitic tendencies of the kings who had immediately preceded him. The Canaanitish officials who had held high places at court were driven away, and the Semitic form of religion which had been introduced by the Pharaoh himself was suppressed. In accordance with this policy, every effort was made to weaken the Semitic settlers who still remained in Egypt. An explanation is thus afforded of the treatment of the Israelites; they were turned into royal bondsmen, and the male children were destroyed. The massacre is referred to in a hymn of victory in honor of Me(r)neptaḥ, the son and successor of Rameses II., which was discovered by Flinders Petrie at Thebes. Here it is said that "the seed" of the "I-s-r-a-i-l-u," or Israelites, had been destroyed, so that the women of Khar or Edom were left, "like the widows of Egypt," without husbands. The hymn was written just after the defeat of the Libyan hordes who had invaded the Delta in the fifth year of Me(r)neptaḥ; and, while all the other peoples mentioned in it have a country assigned to them, the Israelites alone are without local habitation. They must therefore already have left Egypt and not as yet been settled in Palestine. The Exodus was probably effected under cover of the Libyan invasion; Me(r)neptaḥ states that the invaders had encamped at the western extremity of the land of Goshen, where they were in contact with "the foreign" herdsmen, while three years later an Egyptian official writes to the Pharaoh that the district had been deserted and that he had accordingly allowed a fresh body of herdsmen from Edom to occupy it. It may be added that the geographical background of the Exodus as described in the Pentateuch is the eastern Delta as it was in the time of the nineteenth dynasty, and at no subsequent date, and that even the name of Moses appears as "Messu" or "Messui" in the Egyptian inscriptions of that period. There was a Messui, for example, who was governor of Ethiopia in the reign of Me(r)neptaḥ.
The conquest of southern Palestine by a king of Aram-naharaim in the early days of the Judges has been explained by the El-Amarna tablets, from which it has been learned that Aram-naharaim, or Mitanni as it was called by its inhabitants, interfered from time to time in the internal politics of Canaan. The King of Jerusalem refers to its intrigues in his letters to the Egyptian court, and Rameses III., the contemporary of Othniel, includes Mitanni among his enemies.Biblical Chronology.
A flood of light has been thrown upon the later history of Jerusalem by the Assyrian monuments. The Biblical chronology, so long the despair of historians, has been corrected by means of the synchronisms established between Assyrian and Israelitish history. Shalmaneser II. (858-823
The death of Shalmaneser had allowed the Babylonians to recover their independence under a "Chaldean" from the Persian Gulf, Merodach-baladan by name. For some years Sargon was too much occupied in fighting against his northern neighbors toturn to the south. But by 711
Sargon was murdered in 705
Sennacherib was murdered by two of his sons in Dec., 681
The inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar and his successors which have been thus far found contain but few references to political events, and therefore do not touch directly upon the Old Testament. The invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, however, is mentioned as taking place in the thirty-seventh year of his reign (see Jer. xliii. 10-13), and there exists a very full account of the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus, and of the peaceful occupation of Babylon by his general Gobryas. Belshazzar, the eldest son of Nabonid, the last Babylonian king, is also named in the inscriptions; he seems to have been in command of the Babylonian army, and he is found acting as a wool-merchant and paying tithes to the temple of the sun-god at Sippara. The restoration of the various exiles in Babylonia with the images of their gods (or, in the case of the Jews, their sacred vessels) is alluded to by Cyrus in a proclamation issued by him shortly after his occupation of Babylon.
Outside the cuneiform inscriptions the most important illustration of Old Testament history comes from the inscription of the Moabite king Mesha which was discovered at Diban or Dibon in 1868. In this reference is made to the "oppression" of Moab by Omri and Ahab, and to its successful revolt under Mesha and still more successful war against Israel. Mesha describes also his restoration of the ruined Moabite towns, as well as of his capital, with the help of Israelitish captives. See Moabite Stone; also Assyriology; Babylonia; Siloam Inscription.