On this page we will list as many inscriptions as are possibly feasible. We may miss some but that is okay, this is just a place to whet your appetite in researching ancient inscriptions. There is no particular order to this list and our sources are many.
#1. Behistun Inscription of Darius the Great
A trilingual inscription carved by Darius the Great in the face of a 500-foot cliff near Hamadan. The relief and inscription recount the genealogy of Darius and depict his victory over Gaumata the Usurper. It is written in Old Persian, Elamite, and the Babylonian variety of Akkadian. When the inscription was discovered above the modern Bisitun (Behistun of Persia), it provided the key to deciphering cuneiform and the Akkadian language. (Major Contributors and Editors. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Behistun Inscription. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
#2. Sumerian King’s List
The best-documented event in the Bible is the Flood of Noah’s day. Cultures around the world have oral traditions of a great flood coming upon the earth in antiquity. In Mesopotamia, where writing first developed, the Flood story found its way into Sumerian mythology and was recorded on clay tablets early in the second millennium BC.
One such account is the Sumerian King List. The best-preserved copy is a clay prism purchased in Iraq shortly after World War I and now in the Ashmolean Museum in England. It begins, “When kingship was lowered from heaven, kingship was first in Eridu.” Following this is a list of eight kings (some versions have 10) who reigned for long periods of time ranging from 18,600 to 43, 200 years. Then, “the Flood swept over the earth.”
This is similar to Genesis 5, where the generations from Creation to the Flood are recorded. Interestingly, between Adam and Noah there are eight generations, just as there are eight kings between the beginning of kingship and the Flood in the Sumerian King List.
After the Flood, the King List records kings who ruled for much shorter periods of time. Thus, the Sumerian King List not only documents a great Flood early in man’s history, but it also reflects the same pattern of decreasing longevity as found in the Bible Men had extremely long life spans before the Flood and much shorter life spans following the Flood (2003). Bible and Spade (2003), 16(4), 120.
#3. Sumerian Deluge Tablet
The best-preserved copy of Eridu Genesis was discovered in 1895 at Nippur, which was the chief sacred city of ancient Sumer. This copy of Eridu Genesis is written in Sumerian cuneiform on a single tablet in six columns, of which only the lower third remains. Arno Poebel, who first translated the tablet in 1914, dated the text to the second half of the Early Old Babylonian Period (ca. 2000–1800 BC; for text and commentary, see PBS 4:9–70; Kramer, “The Deluge”; “Sumerian Deluge Myth” 115–21; Civil, “Sumerian Flood Story,” 138–45; Jacobsen, “Eridu Genesis ,” 513–29). Jacobsen proposed the more specific date of around 1600 BC and first referred to the text as Eridu Genesis, which is now the commonly used title for this ancient work (Jacobsen, “Eridu Genesis ,” 513).
The missing upper part of the tablet likely included another 36 lines or so per column. Some of the missing content can be inferred from context or restored from later texts preserving similar traditions. The numbering of the lines in many translations derives from the assumption that each column of text contained about 50 lines (Kramer, “The Deluge,” 43n10). Jacobsen suggests the tablet’s opening lines recorded the creation of humans and animals, likely by the goddess Nintur. Based on a fragment of a text found in Ur, Jacobsen further suggests these lines also described “the miserable way of life of man, before he had attained to the benefit of civilization” (“Eridu Genesis ,” 516). This passage also apparently described the dispersion of humanity, which Kramer argues was linked to the god Enki’s introduction of multiple languages (Kramer, “Sumerian Deluge Myth,” 116n2; see also Arnold and Beyer, Readings, 71).
The remaining content describes the establishing of cities and kingship and tells the story of a flood brought on by the gods. First, a god—perhaps Enki or the goddess Nintur—expresses a wish for humans to build cities and sacred places. The text then briefly describes the creation of humans (lines 37–50). In the next missing section, the god likely instructs humans on how to behave and how society is to function. Then instructions are provided on the role of the king, and the divinely sanctioned institution of kingship is bestowed on humans; five cities are named, and the construction and repair of canals are described (lines 88–100). (Bridge, E. J. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Eridu Genesis. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
#4. Historical text from Ebla
This tablet contains a letter from Enna-Dagan, a king of Mari, Ebla’s rival city… A war communique in which Enna-Dagan summarizes his battles as general for Ebla against Mari. (Ancient Inscriptions BAS CD)
But it was not until the end of the 1974 season that the excavators began to unearth more spectacular finds. At that time, while removing debris from the floor of an ancient building (a palace), the first of a series of clay tablets were discovered. There were approximately forty such texts discovered at that time, dating from about 2300. However, the unusual character of the texts did not emerge until the writing as such was examined in more detail… During that season alone, they made the most dramatic part of a series of significant discoveries; they uncovered the palace archives of the ancient city of Ebla. In total, more than fifteen thousand clay tablets were discovered during the 1975 season, many broken and fragmentary, but some very large and in nearly perfect condition (which is extraordinary, considering that the tablets are nearly forty-five hundred years old). The following year, a further sixteen hundred tablets were discovered; since then the findings have been more slender, but the current total of recovered texts is approaching twenty thousand. It is thus almost the largest find of its kind (exceeded only by Mari) and certainly the largest discovery of texts from as far back in time as the third millennium B.C. (Craigie, P. C. (1983). Ugarit and the Old Testament (p. 94). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)
#5. Prophet’s Dream (or Mari Letters)
The site of ancient Mari (modern Tell Ḥarı̄rı̄) is located on the Middle Euphrates in northeastern Syria. The city was prominent from the Early Dynastic period to the Old Babylonian period, when it was conquered by the Babylonian King Hammurapi (1760 BC, according to the Middle Chronology). Excavations began with a French expedition after a Bedouin found a statue fragment while digging a grave in 1933. The excavation was first led by André Parrot (1933–1938, 1951–1974; see Mission Archéologique de Mari, vols. 1–4) and later by Jean-Claude Margueron (since 1979). At least 25,000 clay tablets have been recovered—most of them from the archives of King Zimri-Lim (the last ruler of Mari).
The tablets are currently at the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Damascus Museum in Syria. They include administrative records, diplomatic treaties, and numerous letters that provide detailed information about the daily life and politics of the Near Eastern world over a period of 20 years. The texts have been published in the series Archives Royales de Mari (1946–), some volumes of which contain autographs (ARM); others contain transliterations and French translations (ARMT). Another publication devoted almost entirely to the study of Mari is known by the acronym MARI (= Mari: Annales de recherches interdisciplinaires; 1982–).
The texts and artifacts of ancient Mari are important for both Assyriology and biblical studies. These two disciplines intersect on numerous matters, including prophecy and pastoral nomadism. Additionally, many details from the Mari discoveries shed light on the study of the Hebrew Bible. For example, the topic of nomadism can provide insight into the cultural context of Genesis’ patriarchal narratives and the emergence of ancient Israel (see Fleming, “From Joseph to David,” 78–96; Matthews, “Syria to the Early Second Millennium,” 168–190; Rowton, “Dimorphic Structure,” 13–20).
Perhaps the most important point of contact between Mari and the Bible concerns the phenomenon of prophecy. Fifty-five of the recovered letters from the archive of King Zimri-Lim concern prophets or prophecy (most of these are published in ARMT 26/1). John H. Walton’s chart summarizing the contents of these letters shows that the letters typically include the name of the deity, the recipient of the letter, and the name of the king (Zimri-Lim; see Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 204–5). Only about half of the examples include the name of the prophet and/or the prophet’s title.
The letters record at least five titles for male and female prophets who advised Zimri-Lim (see Malamat, Mari and the Bible, 65–68, 86–90, 110; Matthews and Benjamin, Old Testament Parallels, 341; Moran, “Akkadian Letters,” 624 n. 13, 625 n. 29, 632x; Nissinen, Prophets and Prophecy, 6–7, 14; Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature, 211–12): (Way, K. C. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Mari Archive. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
#6. Amarna letters
In 1887 a store of hundreds of ancient letters was discovered at a location in Egypt called el-Amarna. These letters, clay tablets from Palestine, had been written to two Pharaohs (Amenhotep III and IV) between the years 1400 and 1367 BC. The senders were officials and “kinglets” of the Canaanite cities of Palestine about the time that Joshua led the children of Israel into the land. Palestine was then part of the Egyptian empire.
Soon after 1380 BC Amenhotep IV (Greek spelling—Amenophis) moved the Egyptian capital from Thebes to Amarna. The “Foreign Office” files relating to his father’s reign were moved to Amarna.
The letters are written in Babylonian and many of them refer to impending invasions and hostilities by the Hapiru (and by another group which many scholars believe is a code logogram for the same people). Though the identity of the Hapiru is disputed among scholars, conservative Biblical scholars have equated them here with the Hebrews who had by this time arrived in the land, and completed their initial conquests. (The Hapiru were roving, warlike people, and the term was used for others, beside the Hebrews.)
The governor of Jerusalem wrote several letters to Pharaoh, pleading for help to resist the invaders (2000). Bible and Spade (2000), 13, 44.
#7. Babylonian Job tablet
This clay tablet is one of the most important manuscripts of a long Babylonian poem describing the plight of a righteous sufferer and the eventual restoration of his fortune.it was found in the ruins of the palace of the neo-Assyrian King Assurbanipal (668-627 BC) in Nineveh which was destroyed in 612 BC. (Ancient Inscriptions BAS CD)
#8. Gilgamesh Epic
There are 184 fragments of 73 different manuscripts of the epic (George, Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 379) and no original, complete versions. Of the numerous extant versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh, most are severely fragmented. Modern editions are compilations of the story from a variety of fragments. The most complete form of the work dates to the first millennium BC). Sumerian tablet fragments featuring a character named “Gilgamesh” have been recovered throughout the ancient Near East, but they do not amount to a full story (George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 71–90). Middle Babylonian—era fragments have been found at the sites of ancient Anatolia, Megiddo, Ugarit, and throughout the contemporary Middle East.
In 1848, Layard, Rassam, and Smith discovered clay tablets containing portions of the Epic of Gilgamesh in the ruins of a royal library in Nineveh (in present-day Iraq; Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic, 1). Smith, a well-known scholar on Assyria, sorted and translated the tablets in the 1860s (George, Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 380). The story unfolds over 12 tablets written in Akkadian cuneiform, with about 300 lines on each tablet.
Ancient Mesopotamians recorded literature in Akkadian and Sumerian starting around 2600 BC (George, Epic of Gilgamesh, xvi). Five Sumerian poems reference Gilgamesh (“Bilgames” in Sumerian) and contain stories such as his adventure in the Cedar Forest and the slaying of the Bull of Heaven. Various older Sumerian texts also may be linked to the Epic of Gilgamesh, such as the story of his parents—King Lugalbanda and the goddess Ninsun (George, Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 5). Two groups of Babylonian versions have some dependence on the Sumerian poems—the “Old Babylonian” versions (from the early centuries of the second millennium) and the “Middle Babylonian” versions (ranging from the 15th to seventh centuries BC; George, Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 17–27). Moreover, there are a number of additional Assyrian fragments of the text (George, Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 348–53). By the seventh century BC, canonical versions of the epic—the “Standard Babylonian” version—appeared in Nineveh and the libraries of Babylonia (George, Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 348). These versions contained the title “He who saw the Deep” (George, Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, 28). The Babylonians attributed the epic to Sin-leqi-unninni—a legendary poet or a professional scholar.
The most-consulted version of the Epic of Gilgamesh is a combination of the Old Babylonian version (OB), written in Akkadian during the second millennium BC, and the Neo-Assyrian version (NA), composed in the first millennium BC. The OB and NA share themes and a core narrative arc, making them the centerpiece for constructing the epic. It is unknown when, by whom, and for what purpose the two major sources were united (Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, 45–47).
A significant difference between the OB and NA is the lack of a flood narrative in the OB version (Tigay, Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic, 214–70). The OB may have concluded after Gilgamesh’s initial trial and subsequent failure at immortality. The NA, however, includes Utnapishtim’s flood experiences alongside Gilgamesh’s lack of success. Thus, the story of Utnapishtim and the flood (Tablet XI) may be a later addition to the Epic of Gilgamesh. (Kuo, J. C., & Redding, J. D. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Gilgamesh, Epic of. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
#9. Babylonian Creation Story
“The most important single witness to Babylonian speculation on the origins and nature of man is,” as Moran says, “the description of his creation in the first tablet of the ‘Atra-H̬asis Epic,’ especially lines 192–248” (1970: 48).3 In 1967, Millard first noted that the “Atrahasis Epic is more specific on [the making of man] than any other Babylonian Creation account.” In the “Atra-H̬asis Epic” I 221ff., Man was created from the flesh and blood of a slaughtered god mixed with clay. . . . Man’s earthy constituency is emphasized by both Babylonian and Hebrew (i.e., Gn 2:7) narratives, and his divine part equally. . . . No hint of the use of dead deity or any material part of a living one is found in Genesis (1994:120).
In 1969, Lambert and Millard discussed the account of man’s creation in the “Atra-H̬asis Epic” in detail.
The author used what was the generally accepted view . . . that man was formed from clay mixed with the blood of a slain god. . . . ‘Clay’ in this context is the material substance of the human body. This can be learnt from a number of passages that speak of death as a “returning to clay.” Exactly the same conception is shown in the Hebrew account of man’s creation . . . (Gn 3:19) (1969:21; see also Lambert 1980:73).
As for the “blood,” Lambert and Millard speculate that “in all probability the Babylonians conceived of man as matter (‘clay’) activated by the addition of divine blood,” while on the other hand “the Hebrew account of creation in Genesis 2 explains that God imparted ‘the breath of life’ into man, and so animation began” (1969: 22).(1996). Bible and Spade (1996), 9, 35.
#10 Black Obelisk
This act is recorded on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. The obelisk is a 6+ -foot-tall, four-sided, black limestone pillar covered with pictures and writing on all sides. On one side, in the second row from the top, there occurs the only known picture of a Hebrew king. Jehu is shown prostrating himself before Shalmaneser.
The text tells us that he is submitting tribute of very great value. Jehu is named and described as the son [i.e.: successor] of Omri. Says Shalmaneser —”I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, golden goblets, pitchers of gold, tin, a staff for the hand of the king…” etc. Thus the existence of another Bible king receives solid corroboration from contemporary secular records.(2000). Bible and Spade (2000), 13, 38.
Other exploits of Shalmaneser are recounted on the Black Obelisk. On one set of reliefs, King Jehu of Israel bows before the Assyrian king as he brings tribute. This stele describes Jehu as a “son of Omri.” According to the biblical text, Jehu actually descends from a different family, but the obelisk may testify to a particular Assyrian perception. Miller and Hayes argue,” ‘Bit-Omri’ [House of Omri] was what the Assyrians frequently called Israel, apparently recognizing Omri as its founder” (Miller and Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, 331).(Schreiner, D. B. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Omride Dynasty. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
Detail of the Black Obelisk. In this relief, a king of Israel (or perhaps his emissary) kneels before Shalmaneser, who appears to be admiring a vessel he has received. The annals of Shalmaneser III date the event to 841 B.C.E. The cuneiform inscription on the obelisk identifies the kneeling figure as “Yaw, son of Omri,” leading scholars to identify the king as Omri’s successor Jehu (c. 883–872).(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BAS Ancient Israel. Biblical Archaeology Society).
#11 The Taylor Prism
This 15-inch-high stand (compare with photo of Sennacherib carving), known as the “Taylor prism” (after Colonel James Taylor, a British diplomat who acquired it in 1830), describes all eight of Sennacherib’s campaigns. The prism was likely embedded in the foundation of the king’s “palace without rival,” to remind future kings of the glories of their predecessor’s reign: “When this palace grows old and falls into ruins, may some future prince repair its ruined parts! May he take notice of this inscription in which my name is recorded! May he anoint it with oil, pour out a libation over it and return it to its place!”(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). Archaeology Odyssey 05:02.)
The Taylor Prism from Nineveh which records the details of Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah, including his besieging of “Hezekiah the Judahite” in Jerusalem.(1991). Bible and Spade (1991), 4(2), 50.
“Like a bird in a cage.” In 1830, British Colonel R. Taylor discovered a six-sided clay prism inscribed in cuneiform at Nineveh. Known today as Taylor’s Prism and sitting in the British Museum, it recorded Sennacherib’s first eight military campaigns. During his third campaign, in 701 BC, he besieged Jerusalem and mentioned the king of Judah, saying, “Hezekiah…I made a prisoner in Jerusalem in his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.” Interestingly, the same event is also recounted three times in the Bible (2 Kgs 19; 2 Chr 32; Is 36–37). While Sennacherib was capturing cities all over Philistia, Phoenicia and Palestine, by his own admission he did not take Jerusalem. In fact, at his palace at Nineveh, Sennacherib highlighted this campaign by depicting his capture of Lachish, one of Hezekiah’s cities. Why didn’t he depict his capture of Jerusalem? Because he didn’t take it! Why didn’t he take it? He doesn’t say—but the Bible does. With Sennacherib’s troops surrounding the city, God said, “I will defend this city, and save it, for my sake” (2 Kgs 19:34). And He did! Even Sennacherib’s own annals attest to it!(2004). Bible and Spade (2004), 17(3), 92.
#12 The Oriental Institute Prism
The monument known as Sennacherib’s Prism is a fascinating artifact from Assyria’s past. It gives a different account from the Bible about an important event in Israel’s history—a siege against Jerusalem conducted by King Sennacherib of Assyria (ruled 705–681 B.C.) about 690 B.C. (Is. 36; 37).
The fifteen-inch-high clay prism contains well-preserved Assyrian script that verifies the attack on Jerusalem and King Hezekiah of Judah by Assyrian forces. “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke,” the prism reads. “I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to countless small cities in their vicinity, and conquered them…. [Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.”
While Sennacherib’s siege against Jerusalem is a verified historical fact, it is interesting that Sennacherib’s account does not mention how the siege ended. This leads to suspicion among historians that the siege failed, since the Assyrians never mentioned their defeats in their official records—only their victories.
The biblical account indicates that Sennacherib suffered a crushing defeat in his siege of Jerusalem because of divine intervention. During the night, thousands of soldiers in the Assyrian army died through the action of the angel of the Lord (2 Kin. 19:35). Some scholars believe God used a deadly plague as an instrument of judgment against the enemies of His people.
Rulers of the ancient world used monuments such as this prism on which to record their exploits. These documents of stone and clay have survived for centuries in the rubble and ruin of ancient cities. They provide valuable insight into life in Bible times, confirming and, in many cases, adding valuable information about biblical events.(Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1996). Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps & charts: Old and New Testaments (Rev. and updated ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson).
After having conquered the ten northern tribes of Israel, the Assyrians moved southward to do the same for Judah (2 Kgs 18–19). The prophet Isaiah, however, told Hezekiah that God would protect Judah and Jerusalem against Sennacherib (2 Chr 32; Is 36–37). Assyrian records virtually confirm this. The cuneiform on a hexagonal, 38 cm (15 in) baked clay prism found at the Assyrian capital of Nineveh describes Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 BC, in which it claims that the Assyrian king shut Hezekiah inside Jerusalem “like a caged bird.” However, like the Biblical record, it does not state that he conquered Jerusalem, which the prism certainly would have done had this been the case. In fact, the Assyrians bypassed Jerusalem on their way to Egypt, and the city would not fall until the time of Nebuchadnezzar and the Neo-Babylonians. Sennacherib himself returned to Nineveh and was murdered by his own sons.(2004). Bible and Spade (2004), 17(3), 93.
#13 Babylonian World Map
It’s just a badly damaged, 4-inch-high clay map inscribed on both sides with cuneiform text. But it gives us a clean bird’s-eye view of the ancient Babylonians themselves.
The Babylonian Map of the World shows a vast circular continent completely surrounded by a great ocean (labeled marratu, meaning “salt sea”). Beyond the ocean are eight uncharted regions, depicted as triangles.
Prominently at the center of the world is Babylon,which is represented as a large rectangle. The map also shows Assyria, as a much smaller circle, and several cities, such as Susa. The Euphrates River, depicted as a pair of parallel lines, flows from the northern mountains to Babylon, where it bisects the city, turns due south and empties into a marshland (labeled apparu, or “swamp”). This marshland is the region where the Euphrates River merges with the Tigris River (not shown on the map) before draining into the Persian Gulf.
No one knows where the map was found, though many scholars believe it came from Sippar or Borsippa, both about 50 miles north of Babylon. The map’s date is also unknown. It cannot be older than the ninth century B.C. because it uses certain words—such as the word for salt sea, marratu—that did not appear in cuneiform texts until the reign of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (858–824 B.C.).
In these early texts, however, marratu refers specifically to the Persian Gulf; only in the late eighth century B.C. did marratu come to designate any ocean. So our ancient Babylonian cartographer probably made this map in the late eighth or seventh century B.C.
Clearly, he was not making a map to travel by. Assyria, which was really north of Babylon, is placed to the east. The ancient Persian city of Susa, though in fact directly east of Babylon, comes far to the south on the map. The Euphrates is almost as large as the great ocean, and the Tigris has vanished entirely.
The map does, however, get some things right. It correctly depicts the Euphrates’s course, the northern mountains and the southern marshland. We also know that in the first millennium B.C., the Euphrates did indeed bisect Babylon. According to the fifth-century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus, for example, “There are two sections of the city [Babylon], for a river flows through the middle. The name is the Euphrates” (Histories 1.180).
Why was the map made? Probably to set distant, peripheral regions in relation to the navel of the world: Babylon.
The text on the reverse side, though fragmentary, tells of the eight triangular regions beyond the ocean, while the text on the obverse side (above the map) appears to describe the creation of the universe by the Babylonian god Marduk after his battle with the sea. Therefore, the map’s main purpose is ideological, not geographical: It presents an image of Babylonian cosmology and cultural hegemony.(Shanks, H. (2004). Archaeology Odyssey 03:04.)
#14 Cyrus Cylinder
2 Chronicles 36:23 and Ezra 1 report that Cyrus the Great of Persia, after conquering Babylon, permitted Jews in the Babylonian Captivity to return to their homeland. Isaiah had even prophesied this (Is 44:28). This tolerant policy of the founder of the Persian Empire is borne out by the discovery of a 23 cm (9 in) clay cylinder found at Babylon from the time of its conquest, 539 BC, which reports Cyrus’ victory and his subsequent policy of permitting Babylonian captives to return to their homes and even rebuild their temples. (2004). Bible and Spade (2004), 17(3), 93.
CYRUS CYLINDER. King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return home and rebuild their temple. Inscribed on this clay cylinder are the king’s words: “As to the region from … as far as Ashur and Susa, Akkad …, as well as the towns of the Gutians, … I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned to them their habitations.(Packer, J. I., Tenney, M. C., & White, W., Jr. (1997). Nelson’s illustrated manners and customs of the Bible (p. 629). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson).
The Cyrus Cylinder relates the Persian conquest of Babylon. The inscription begins with several broken lines portraying King Nabû-na’id (Nabonidus) of Babylon (556–539 BC) as a sinful and unjust king. Marduk, the city god of Babylon, abandons his city and inspects and checks “all the countries, seeking for the upright king of his choice” (11–12; Finkel, Cylinder). The chosen king, Cyrus, takes control of Babylon and captures Nabû-na’id. Line 20 assigns Cyrus all the traditional titles of the kings of Assyria and Babylonia: “king of the universe, the great king, the powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world” (e.g., see the royal inscriptions of Sîn-aḫḫī-erība, Aššur-aḫu-iddina, and Nabû-kudurri-uṣur). The Cylinder then lists Cyrus’ achievements, including building projects and conquests, and notes that former captives were allowed to return to their homelands.(Krijgsman, M. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Cyrus Cylinder. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press).
#15 Rosetta Stone
A black basalt tablet unearthed in August, 1799, near the village of Rosetta, Egypt, then taken to the British Museum in 1802. The stone was inscribed in three languages: hieroglyphic, demotic Egyptian, and Koine Greek. This stone was the key that the brilliant young French scholar and Egyptologist, Jean Francois Champollion, used to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. Champollion broke the hieroglyphic code by comparing it with the other two languages, which were translations of the same text. The discovery of this stone made it possible for scholars to translate Egyptian texts and to understand various aspects of the background of Israel’s history. (Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
A large, black stone with parallel inscriptions written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian demotic writing, and Greek. A critical tool for breaking the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The Rosetta Stone dates from the ninth year of Ptolemy V’s reign (196 BC), and contains a decree issued by priests at Memphis. The top section of the stone is hieroglyphics, which were known among scholars at the time of its discovery, though scholars lacked a sufficient linguistic key to interpret their meaning. On the second section is demotic, a cursive form of Egyptian writing. Greek script is on the lowest section of the stone.
In 1799 French soldiers discovered the Rosetta Stone outside el-Rashid (Rosetta), where foundations were being laid for an addition to a French fort. Excavation crews stumbled upon this large stone, and the French took possession. In 1801 the British government claimed the Rosetta Stone as one of the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria. The artifact has been housed in the British Museum since 1802, with the exception of a brief period when it was moved for safekeeping during the bombing raids on England during World War II. In recent years, the Egyptian government has demanded its return, though as of 2015 the requests have not been honored.(Wilson, D. K. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Rosetta Stone. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
#16 Coffin Text
The magical texts are not easily labeled as literary writings. Examples of magical texts include the utterances of the Pyramid texts of the Old Kingdom, which serve to endorse the afterlife of the kings (AEL:I, 29). The spells of the Coffin Texts found in the tombs of the upper class elite in the Middle Kingdom represent the expansion of access to the divine, wherein the elite may also join the sun-god in daily resurrection. The Coffin Texts are better classified as literature than their Old Kingdom models because they speak of anxiety about death and suffering, sometimes explicitly but often implicitly through hyperbolic claims to immortality and divinity (AEL:I, 131). The New Kingdom Book of the Dead allows a reader to secure a spot in the afterlife by reciting the proper spells to achieve resurrection (AEL:II, 119). The much later Demotic magical papyri are also related to these traditions (Tait, “Demotic Literature”).(Bledsoe, S. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Egyptian Literature. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
#17 Story of Sinuhe
The Tale of Sinuhe,1 composed during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, may help resolve scholarly debates about social conditions in Canaan-Syria (also known as the Levant) in the early second millennium B.C.
Sinuhe’s story takes place during the reigns of the first two pharaohs of Egypt’s 12th Dynasty: Amenemhet I (1991–1962 B.C.) and Senuseret I (1971–1928 B.C.). It is told in the first person by Sinuhe himself, a high official in Amenemhet’s court who leaves Egypt, travels to Canaan, raises a family and finally returns to Egypt in order to live out his days among his own people and receive a proper burial.
Although the earliest manuscripts of the tale date to later in the 12th Dynasty (see the sidebar to this article), the text was probably written in the 20th century B.C. A number of scholars—including Alan Gardiner,2 the editor of the critical text of the Tale of Sinuhe—believe that the story was originally composed for the tomb of a real person named Sinuhe, though no such tomb has yet been discovered. Whether or not Sinuhe actually lived, the story does show a detailed acquaintance with the land of his sojourn, which in the text is called Tnw, an abbreviated form of Rtnw (Retjenu, later Retenu), the standard Egyptian name for Canaan (and perhaps north Syria). The question is, What can Sinuhe’s adventure tell us about the prevailing social and cultural conditions in Retenu/Canaan at the time, and how does this picture fit with the archaeological record?(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). Archaeology Odyssey 01:04.)
SINUHE, TALE OF Sinuhe. An ancient Egyptian work in which Sinuhe, a courtier in the 12th Dynasty, narrates his journey and self-imposed exile in Syria and Palestine. It is often compared with the Joseph narrative in Gen 37–50
The Tale of Sinuhe begins with the flight of Sinuhe, a courtier of Amenemhet I, after he hears of the king’s assassination. Scholars have proposed a variety of possibilities for his flight: confusion, fear of being charged with treason, and, most likely, the anticipation of chaos triggered by Amenemhet’s death (Morschauer, “What Made Sinuhe Run,” 195).
Sinuhe initially plans to go south, but when he reaches the Nile, he finds a boat with no navigational implements. From the eastern side of the Nile, he travels to the land of Retenu in southern Syria, near Byblos. He marries a local chieftain’s daughter and settles down there. He accumulates wealth and becomes a prominent member of the community, defending his father-in-law’s holdings and serving as a host for the Egyptian delegates. In his old age, Sinuhe reflects on his Egyptian roots and develops a longing to return home. The new king, Sesostris I (Senusret I), grants Sinuhe immunity from any crime of which he may have been suspected. Sinuhe returns to Egypt, leaving all of his holdings in Syria-Palestine, and is restored to his former privileged status in the Egyptian court. He dies in peace, and Pharaoh gives him a grand Egyptian burial.
The Tale of Sinuhe provides a valuable depiction of life in Canaan as well as of the Egyptians’ perceived superiority toward foreigners (Rainey, “Sinuhe’s World,” 277, 293). Sesostris I’s magnanimous reply to Sinuhe may also suggest an element of royal propaganda; Sinuhe’s response represents Pharaoh as a life-giving presence (Simpson, Literature of Ancient Egypt, 64–66). This life of a fugitive, unique among ancient Egyptian literature, functions as a “broken icon” of the ideal life of Egypt (Moers, “Broken Icons”) (Han, J. H. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Sinuhe, Tale of. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
#18 Execration Text
Clay figurine from Saqqara of a captive Asiatic prince with an execration text written across it in Egyptian script. Such figurines were smashed after the curse (execration) was written, and thus a hex was placed upon the enemy named in the text. These texts form an important primary source for our knowledge of Levantine political developments from the Middle Bronze period because they list the names of rulers and city-states in Canaan, southern Syria, and along the Mediterranean coast.(1987). Biblical Archaeologist, 50.
The Egyptian execration texts are a collection of shards from inscribed clay figurines, jars, or bowls dating from either the 12th or 13th Dynasty in the 19th or 18th centuries BC (Grabbe, Ancient Israel, 42). Written in hieratic, these texts contain the names of geographical locations and peoples, including various Asiatics as well as Libyans, Nubians, and even Egyptians (Weinstein, “Egyptian Relations,” 12). Although the inscriptions themselves contain no explicit curses, the objects on which they were written would be ritually smashed to effect a curse against the people at whom the text was aimed (Grabbe, Ancient Israel, 42). The fate of the enemies mentioned in the texts was thus identified with the smashed vessel or image. It is likely that the texts were compiled by the state chancellery, as the texts reflect changes in rulers and territories (Hallo and Younger, Context of Scripture, 50).
The texts were found in several groupings. The first of these, the so-called Berlin Texts, were found at Thebes and consist of 289 inscribed shards (Ahlström, History, 170). The Berlin texts mention some 19 territories or cities as well as the Transjordanian Shutu peoples, along with their rulers. A newer group of texts, the Brussels Texts, was found at Sakkara and consists of small figurines, mentioning 64 Palestinian places or peoples. A third group of texts found at Mirgissa in Nubia bears similar phraseology, and were contemporary with the Berlin Texts. These texts were directed against peoples in Libya, Nubia, and Syria-Palestine, as well as the forces of evil with which these enemies were reckoned (Ahlström, The History of Ancient Palestine, 171).(Briggs, W. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Execration Texts. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
The execration texts are valuable sources of topographical information about pre-biblical Palestine during Middle Bronze II. They mention the Phoenician sites of Byblos and Tyre, which were prominent city-states whose importance for trade along the Mediterranean coast continued into biblical times (1 Kgs 5; Ezek 27:9). Damascus of Syria is also mentioned, which likewise continued to be an important city in the Kings account. Within Palestine, Aphek, Ashtaroth, Akko, Laish, Hazor, Rehov, Megiddo, Ekron, Beth-shemesh, Beth-shean, Lod, and Ashkelon are mentioned along the coastal plain, as well as Jerusalem and Shechem in the highlands. Notably absent from the settlement picture are the Ephraimite hill country and large portions of Syria (Grabbe, Ancient Israel, 42). The execration texts also provide valuable information about Egypt’s enemies during this time period (Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt, 93). It is possible that the increase in Palestinian place names from the Berlin to the Brussels Texts indicates a certain apprehensiveness on the part of Egypt toward the rising political and military power of the Palestinian city-states during Middle Bronze II (Weinstein, “Egyptian Relations,” 12). The decrease in Egyptian influence over the area would allow for the creation of new polities, such as Israel.
A large number of the execration texts are against the Shutu (Shasu), a nomadic group of Semites from east of the Jordan River. The Shutu have been connected with the “Sethites” of Num 24:17. Considering the Israelites’ nomadic origins (Deut 26:5), their entry into Palestine from the east (Josh 3), and the entry of some Shutu into Egypt in the 13th century, some scholars have suggested that the Shutu form part of the prehistory of the people of Israel (Callaway and Shanks, “The Settlement in Canaan,” 79). Given the apparent lack of settlement in the Israelite hill country, it is plausible that such nomads could have settled there and become the group of people later known as Israel as they became more sedentary—a process reflected in the increase in sites mentioned in the execration texts (Grabbe, Ancient Israel 42). This view is not universal among scholars, however, as some argue execration texts are not the most reliable sources for historiography (Ahlström, The History of Ancient Palestine, 171). Furthermore, the idea that the execration texts reflect a process of sedentarization has been challenged (Redford, “Execration and Execration Texts,” 681).(Briggs, W. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Execration Texts. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)
#19 Hatshepsut’s Hyksos Inscription
If Professor Goedicke’s dating of the Exodus is correct, the Pharaoh of the Exodus was a woman—Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt from 1487 B.C. to 1468 B.C. Professor Goedicke has even identified a hieroglyphic inscription of Hatshepsut, which, he says, is an independent Egyptian account of the Exodus!(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1981). BAR 07:05 (Sep/Oct 1981).
At an almost inaccessible point, high above the entry point of the Speos, Hatshepsut’s scribe engraved an inscription of 42 columns consisting primarily of a list of temples in Middle Egypt the queen had restored. According to the last five columns of the text, this shrines had been damaged during the period of the Hyksos rule which she reproachfully refers to as the time when the Asiatics were in Avaris of the Northern land. (Biblical Inscriptions BAS CD)
#20 Beth-Shan Stele of Seti I
Three of their stelae were found at Beth-shan, although they were actually excavated in Levels II, V and VI. One of the Seti stelae reports an attack or pending attack on Beth-shan, which Seti squelches in one day. The second refers to a disturbance by some ‘Apiru which irritated Seti, so he sent his troops into the hills to restore order. This took two days. The second stele has frequently been related to the Hebrews and sometimes to the conquest under Joshua and their failure to capture Beth-shan. The stele, however, has no reference to an attack on Beth-shan itself (2001). Biblical Archaeologist 1-4, 30(electronic ed.).