Until about a century ago virtually all knowledge of the ancient Near East stemmed ultimately from the Bible. Nearly all history of Egyptian, Babylonian, Hittite and Persian empires and monarchs was derived either directly from biblical accounts or indirectly from ancient literature, which itself went back to early biblical records. It is difficult for us today to appreciate this significant fact, since we now enjoy possession of hundreds of thousands of original documents from these lands, some going back almost 3,000 years before Christ. In addition, the major museums of the world contain fabulous collections of utilitarian and artistic objects, fashioned by people living in this region, which cover an even longer period of time.

Lands and people once known to us only from biblical references and, strangely enough, sometimes considered mythical or fictional for that reason only, are now known in greater detail upon the basis of the very artifacts those people made and the documents they inscribed. All this has resulted from the archaeological researches in ancient Bible lands, first carried out in a scientific manner as distinguished from earlier treasure hunts or reports of curious but unskilled travelers—in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Accordingly, it is now possible to reconstruct in remarkable detail the ritual worship of Egyptian priests, the curriculum of Sumerian schoolboys, and the court life of Assyrian kings who lived and died ages ago. In truth, much of the world of Abraham, Moses, David and Daniel has come alive again through the diligent skills of the excavator’s spade and the scholar’s pen.

Perhaps the most important question to which these discoveries have given rise is their bearing upon the ...

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