The British Museum and the Old Testament

Yesterday I shared about my highlight of my recent London trip, getting a DayOne Tour round the British Museum.  Here’s one brief glimpse:

This photo was of one of the Assyrian rooms at the museum.  Surrounding us on all sides was a ceramic tapestry of the Assyrian victory over Israelite Lachish – an unusual thing for the Assyrians to note, given Lachish wasn’t the main city at the time.  The tour guide persuaded us that if Sennacherib’s army (Assyrian) had taken Jerusalem, the commissioned artwork round the room would have certainly been of that.  But instead we find letters between Sennacherib (Assyrian King) and Hezekiah (Israelite King) threatening the Israelites from outside the Jerusalem walls, yet no news of victory.  In fact Assyrian records even suggest that the battle put Sennacherib “like a bird in a cage” – an Assyrian metaphor elsewhere found as an embarrassing term of defeat, despite their 300,000 strong army.  So what happened?

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Well the Bible spoke many thousand years ago of why we don’t hear of a Jerusalem victory (2 Kings 19; 2 Chron 32; Isa 36) as well as many things that corroborate with relatively recent archaeological discoveries.  For centuries there were no extra-Biblical records of people like the Assyrian King Sargon, and people ridiculed Biblical accounts that mentioned this unknown King.  Until they found evidence later for exactly this person.

And so I’m not too alarmed if we don’t know much yet of a Queen Vashti (book of Esther) or others in the Bible, from archaeology.  Partly because my faith doesn’t rest on such evidence (yes, it’s nice to have, but it doesn’t undermine the testimony of scripture to not have it), despite it being a “reasonable faith” (I would argue).  But partly because I have confidence that like the tens (if not hundreds) of other things corroborated by such later findings, that Scripture will remain as trustworthy and accurate as it always has been.

One final note about this picture: do you see the scratching on King Sennacherib’s face (sitting on his throne)?

Well, as history is so often written by the winners, when the Medes and Persians took over the Babylonian kingdom, it would appear they liked art enough to keep this work, but not to have Sennacherib remembered as the King!

Perhaps such principles of history are also why we remember a lot about Pharaoh Ramses (and bizarrely have him in our movies about Moses) and surprisingly little about Pharaoh Thutmose III or Hatshepsut, who were perhaps more likely to have been reigning during Moses’ time.  But for that, and the significance of why it matters to the Biblical Exodus, you better signup to a free tour!  And I better go away and do some more homework on it.

DayOne in the British Museum

There’s not many places in the world that I’d return to day after day to explore more, but the British Museum is one of those.  A feast for people of all ages, backgrounds and tastes, the museum moves far beyond what virtually every other London sight does.  For me, as active as I am, I’ve always struggled to endure museums on holidays, but the British Museum has me captivated, albeit if quite a bit of it was compiled through British colonialism gone wild.

Today I returned with some friends for an official guide by DayOne tours.  They’re a conservative evangelical publishing company with added extras (they do holidays too) who, if I’m being honest, I don’t read a lot of for various reasons (quality of book, focus on particular secondary issues and target audience, being just three of those).  However the tour I got today was an exception and worth every second of the five hours we were there.  In fact, from a nine-year-old, to myself who’s read a fair bit of Old Testament studies material, and to a granny who wasn’t tertiary educated,  this tour scintillated us all.  (Although I must confess to vaguely knowing the tour guide, I was not swayed at all in writing this review, and as he/they benefit nothing from a good review.)  There’s so much with tour guides that I hadn’t seen on my own, and the example in my post tomorrow shares one of those things.

As many tours from many perspectives go round the museum, I often ask myself a few questions:

  • Everyone is biased (no-one is neutral), so what story is this tour guide trying to persuade me of?
  • Is the guide willing to admit what they don’t know?
  • Is the guide willing to admit the weaknesses in the theories they suggest and allow alternative opinion to be expressed?
  • Is the guide focussing on the main things, or trying to build their case on random small things?
  • Does the guide empower me to find things out myself from other sources?

And much as the guide I was with was trying to persuade us about the potential veracity of the Hebrew scriptures, I must admit I was delighted to admit he scored highly on everything and now I can go away and do some more homework!  In fact, now that I think about it, those are questions that are worth asking about far more than museum tours, and may save you from falling into the hands of a cult (of which several do tour the museum under names such as “Bible tours”).

And in case you want a sneak peak, Google do a self-guided tour themselves online here.  Or book yourself a DayOne tour using the link above.  You won’t regret it!