Freedom from the presence of sin
Do you look forward to good times on weekends and vacations? It’s relaxing to get away from the pressures of life. John Bunyan likened the Christian life to a journey which he called “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Appendix A and B). The journey begins with justification (deliverance from the penalty of sin), continues with sanctification (deliverance from the power of sin) and ends with glorification (deliverance from the presence of sin).
In this blogpost we look at the topic of the believer’s glorification. We will see that the best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the best time of their life.
The meaning of “glory”
Isaiah had a vision of “the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isa. 6:1NIV). And the angels were calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3). This verse suggests that the glory of God is when His holiness is visible. It’s the display of God’s holiness – the fact that He is unique, perfect, great, and incomparable.
The Hebrew noun kabowd (Strongs #3519) translated “glory” in this verse means the splendor, wealth and honor of a person or God (Brown-Driver-Briggs). When used in respect of God it means the greatness of His entire character.
The apostle John had a vision of God seated on a throne being worshipped with glory, honor and power (Rev. 4:10-11). And a vision of every creature in the universe worshipping God the Father and God the Son with praise, honor, glory and power (Rev. 5:13). Here the word “glory” is linked with praise, honor and power. It means to be exalted, extolled, and honored.
The Greek verb doxazo (Strongs #1392) translated “glory” means to exalt to a glorious rank or position (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). It’s used to describe both God (Jn. 7:39; 12:16; Acts 3:13) and believers (Rom. 8:30). The equivalent noun doxa (Strongs #1391) used in the verses in Revelation means glorious and exalted.
We have already seen that glory is one of the attributes of the eternal God. Jesus shared that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity past, which was visible to the angels.
But Jesus gave up that visible glory when He was born and lived on earth (Phil. 2:5-8). Instead, He was seen as the son of a carpenter. Before His death Jesus prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence [in heaven] with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn. 17:5). “Now” indicates that Jesus had finished His work on earth and He was ready for the next phase—His crucifixion and return to heaven. His glory was shown in His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand in heaven. The principle of this verse is that after His ascension, Jesus returned to His glory as God. Jesus now shares that glory with the rest of the trinity in eternity future, which is visible to the angels. And it will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. The giving up and regaining of Christ’s glory is shown in the schematic diagram.
At the transfiguration Jesus briefly showed His glory to Peter, James and John when “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Mt. 17:2).
How often do we praise God for His glory like Paul and Jude? “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17). And “to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 25).
In God’s plan of salvation, God shares His glory with believers. Let’s investigate the nature of this salvation.
Is salvation an event or a process?
The answer is yes and no! Justification, which is freedom from the penalty of sin (Rom. 8:24), is an event (Eph. 1:13-14). It’s receiving a gift from God. To be physically alive, we need to be born first. It’s an event. To be spiritually alive, we need to be born again (Jn. 3:3-21). It’s also an event.
Those who came forward at the recent Franklin Graham Tour in Australia were given a booklet titled “Living in Christ”. In the front of this book there was a form to fill out with the date they accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
And in “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian was saved at the cross when his burden of sin fell from his shoulders and he was given the scroll to enter the Celestial City (heaven). That’s when he was justified and his name was written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21:27).
But deliverance from temptation and sin during the life of a believer is a process. After Christian was saved he was tempted by Formality and Hypocrisy near the Hill of Difficulty. He was attacked by Apollyon, one of Satan’s demons who tried to force Christian to return to his domain and service. He was tempted by worldliness at Vanity Fair. When he was tempted to take an easier path through By-path Meadow, he was captured by Giant Despair and imprisoned in Doubting Castle.
Sanctification (holiness) is freedom from the power of sin. God calls believers to “a holy life” (2 Tim. 1:9). This means being set apart for Him, and serving Him by living fruitful lives. Believers are already sanctified positionally before God. That’s their status before God. But they are expected to show this practically in their daily lives. Sanctification (holiness) is a progressive change in character. It’s a process, not an event.
Glorification, which is freedom from the presence of sin, is God’s final work for the believer. It’s a heavenly experience. Justification is the beginning, sanctification (holiness) is the middle and glorification is the end of the process of salvation.
It the past, Christ’s love was shown in the believer’s justification. In the present, it’s seen in their sanctification. In the future, it will be shown in their glorification.
The process of salvation is described in the book of Romans, as follows:
– We are all sinners who need salvation (1:18-3:20).
– The gospel is God’s solution to our sins (3:21-5:21). This includes justification through Jesus Christ (5:12-21).
– Justification is followed by sanctification (holiness); living in the power of the Holy Spirit (6:1-8:17).
– Sanctification is followed by glorification (8:18-39). We will now look at the main points in this biblical passage.
Glorification in Romans 8
“Since we [believers] are His [God’s] children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are” (8:17-19NLT). This is a promise that each believer will share Christ’s glory. Like Jesus, in a future day, this glory will be revealed when Christ returns in great power and glory to rule upon the earth. But a little suffering precedes the massive glorification.
In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Christian and Faithful were arrested and persecuted at Vanity Fair. Faithful was put on trial and executed and Christian was imprisoned.
And it looks like Israel Folau is being banned from playing Rugby Union in Australia, because he quoted the Bible on his own social media page. Outspoken Christians are not tolerated today. But our suffering as a Christian is insignificant compared to our future glory.
“… we ourselves [believers], who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23). The Holy Spirit is the first instalment of the believer’s glorification. As an engagement ring involves a promise of a future wedding, so the indwelling Holy Spirit is God’s promise of the believer’s future glorification. And the coming glory is associated with the resurrection of believer’s bodies which occurs at the rapture. Click on this link for more information about the sequence of future events according to the Bible.
“We [believers] were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently)” (8:24-25NLT). Believers don’t receive all the benefits of salvation at the moment of conversion. So they can look forward to being delivered from sin, suffering, disease and death. That’s the hope of heaven. Something better lies ahead.
What are you looking forward to? What are you anticipating with joy? An achievement, an event, a holiday, a purchase, or a stage in life? But these are all momentary compared to eternal life in heaven.
“And we [believers] know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him [believers], who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son [made holy], that He [Jesus Christ] might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He [God] predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30). Believers can look back and see that God foreknew, predestined and called them to trust in Jesus. Then they were justified. God has called them with a purpose: “to be conformed to the image of His Son [Jesus]”. They are being sanctified (made holy). That’s the context of Romans 8:28. Whatever God permits to come into their lives is designed to make them more like Jesus, to make them more holy. Their lives are not controlled by impersonal forces like chance, luck or fate, but by their personal Lord. And in future they will be glorified. In heaven they will be holy like Jesus and be free from the presence of sin and have glorified bodies like His.
We will now look at the sequence of events associated with the glorification of a believer.
Glorification of the soul
In “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, the river that Christian crossed to get to the Celestial City was called the River of Death. When a person dies their spirit and soul separate from their body. In the case of a believer, their body stays on earth until the resurrection, while their spirit and soul goes to be with the Lord. In view of future glory, Paul longed to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). It will be better in heaven without a body than living on earth in our sinful bodies.
Colossians says, “… now He [God] has reconciled you [believers] by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Col. 1:22). At this time believers are presented to God the Father as holy and “without blemish and free from accusation”.
Ephesians says, “For He [God] chose us [believers] in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight” (Eph. 1:4). And the Lord Jesus will present believers “to Himself as a radiant [glorious] church [of believers], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). When believers get to heaven they will be “holy and blameless”. Being “radiant” or glorious is a figuratively equivalent to being free from sin. And “without stain” means to be pure.
And Jude says, “To Him [God] who is able to keep you [believers] from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). Believers will be faultless in the throne room of the universe.
The Daily Meditation Podcast is doing a series on mental cleansing to purify your thoughts, but it won’t make you holy and blameless.
In the Lord’s presence in heaven, believers are perfectly holy. Their sanctification (holiness) is complete in a place where Satan can no longer tempt people into sin and evil. Their soul is separated from sin and the capacity to sin. So at death the spiritual aspect of human nature (the soul and spirit) is glorified.
Do we view death as the access to heaven? It enables the believer to be “at home with the Lord”.
Glorification of the body
Paul describes the rapture when Christ comes to take His people to heaven as follows. At the trumpet of God, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we [believers] who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:16–17). And, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We [believers] shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we [who are alive] shall be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
The bodies of those who have died will be resurrected and reunited with their spirit and soul in heaven. The bodies of those who are alive will be transformed and they will be transported to heaven. This is not science fiction! But in the Bible God tells us about future events. These new spiritual bodies will not decay or be affected by disease or death (2 Cor. 5:38-50). And they will be glorious and powerful like the resurrection body of Christ (Phil. 3:20-21).
Paul said that the Corinthian believers “will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8). And he prayed that the Philippian believers would live pure and blameless lives now so that they are ready “for the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:9-11). The day of Christ is the rapture when Christ comes to take believers to heaven and they become all that God intends them to be. And they will be finally and forever delivered from the presence of sin.
South Korean scientists are working to resurrect the prehistoric woolly mammoth using cloning technology and the flesh of perfectly preserved specimens once buried in Northern Siberia. They hope to find an active cell from the meaty leg of a frozen mammoth, which could hold the keys to bringing back the extinct species. But despite dedicated effort, scientists have not yet managed to clone a woolly mammoth, although they keep trying. Of course, God has a better resurrection record. And at the rapture, there will be transformations to perfect bodies, not just resurrections of old imperfect ones.
Having perfect bodies in heaven will be better than living in their sinful bodies on earth and better than when believers have no bodies (between their death and the resurrection) (2 Cor. 5:1-8). It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.
Are we looking ahead to the rapture and new heavenly bodies?
We have already mentioned that Christ’s glory as God will be visible to all creation at His future appearing on earth in great power and glory. And that believers will “share in His glory” (Rom. 8:17).
When Jesus comes as a warrior to reign on the earth for 1000 years, “The armies of heaven were following Him” (Rev. 19:14). They are “dressed in fine linen, white and clean”. At the wedding of the Lamb, believers are given “fine linen, white and clean” to wear (Rev. 19:7). These armies are angels (Mt. 25:31; Mk. 8:38; 13:27; 2 Th. 2:7-8) and believers (Col. 3:4; 1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 1:7, 10; Rev. 17:14). At this time, Jesus conquers and judges His enemies and sets up His kingdom on earth.
Colossians says, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you [believers] also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). When Jesus appears in great glory, believers will appear with Him. It will be to His glory to have His followers with Him. And believers will be glorified to come with Him and be with Him for ever. The word “then” shows that God links believers to Christ’s coming.
2 Thessalonians says, “on the day He [Jesus Christ] comes to be glorified in His holy people [believers] and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Th. 1:10). At His second coming Jesus will be glorified “in”, not “by”, believers. He will be honored because He transformed the lives of so many people. Their justification, sanctification, and glorification will be tribute to Christ’s amazing grace and power.
After the second coming, Christ will reign on earth. And Paul says “we [believers] will also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). This includes judging in the Millennial reign of Christ (1 Cor. 6:2; Rev. 20:4) and judging angels (1 Cor 6:3). Meanwhile, positionally, in Christ Jesus believers are already seated “with Him [Christ] in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6).
On April 11 2019, Scientists revealed the first-ever photograph of a black hole. They say it’s a picture of the super-dense object that’s billions of times more massive than the sun and about 55 million light-years from Earth. But this is a minor revelation compared to the revelation of believers coming in glory with Christ at the second coming.
So believers will share in Christ’s glory when He returns to the earth in great power and glory. And when they rule with Him during the Millennial kingdom.
The process of a believer’s salvation from justification to sanctification, and then to glorification is shown in the schematic diagram.
Assurance of glorification
In Romans 8, after Paul presented God’s way of salvation through justification, sanctification (holiness) and glorification, he assured the readers of its certainty (Rom 8:31-39).
“He [God] who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He [God] not also, along with Him [Jesus Christ], graciously give us [believers] all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Since God gave believers His greatest gift, He will give them any other gift they need. If God did the greater, He will surely do the lesser. “All things” here refers to glorification in eternity. So the believer’s glorification is guaranteed by God! They are eternally secure. Nothing can separate them from eternal life with God. Paul was convinced of this (Rom. 8:38-39); are we convinced? He was certain about the promise of eternal life. Our confidence in future glorification is based on God’s revelation to us in the Bible. It says that, God is bringing many believers to glory (Heb. 2:10). God’s purpose is to bring all believers to His eternal glory.
The author of Hebrews gives four illustrations of our confidence in future glorification and eternal salvation. He says, “we [believers] who have fled to Him [God] for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary [heaven]. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:18-20).
The illustrations are:
– Heaven is a safe place like a fortress or a city of refuge.
– The believer’s hope in heaven is like an anchor for their souls that’s anchored in Jesus.
– Jesus is like a forerunner who believers will follow to heaven. John the Baptist was the forerunner for Jesus (Mt. 17:10-13). And a forerunner goes ahead of the pack.
– Jesus is like a High Priest who intercedes for believers with God the Father. His eternal priesthood guarantees their eternal security in heaven.
On 17 April 2019, Scott Morrison (leader of the government in Australia) pledged $100 million for farm irrigation in Tasmania, and Bill Shorten (leader of the opposition) promising $20 million for blood cancer trials. But sometimes politicians make excuses for not fulfilling election promises. Fortunately, God’s promises are reliable.
Scriptural hope is confidence in what God has promised. It’s an anchor for believers. One of these promises is “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); the confidence that all believers will share in the glory of Christ (Col. 3:4; 1 Pt. 5:10).
Did you notice in our readings the pattern of suffering and glory for both Jesus and believers?
Pattern of suffering and glory
The pattern for Jesus
Through the Old Testament prophets, the Holy Spirit “predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (1 Pt. 1:11). But they didn’t know that that these two events would be separated by at least 2,000 years.
Jesus told the two on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament prophets taught that the Messiah had “to suffer these things and then enter His glory” (Lk. 24:26). For Jesus, suffering precedes glory.
Although humanity lost dominion over God’s creation because of their sin, “we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while [for 33 years], now crowned with glory and honor [forever] because He suffered death … for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Because He suffered death, Jesus is now “crowned with glory and honor”. The cross led to the crown.
Paul said that after Christ suffered “death on a cross”, “God exalted Him to the highest place” (Phil. 2:8-9).
The pattern for believers
Paul said, “I consider that our [believers] present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). The difference between the believer’s sufferings and glory is so great, they are not worth comparing. And the suffering is present, while the glory is future.
Paul also said, “For our [believers] light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). What a contrast, insignificant and quick troubles, compared to significant and endless glory.
Some say that if you’re suffering or not successful, then it’s due to a lack of faith. Others say that when bad things happen it’s outside God’s control. But the Bible says that suffering is part of God’s plan for believers.
How patient and resilient are we in suffering? Can we see the big picture that present suffering leads to future glory?
So for Jesus, suffering preceded glory. The same is true for believers. It’s the sure hope of glory that makes suffering bearable. The essential perspective to develop is that the eternal purpose of God is to make believers holy or Christlike.
Let’s be assured of our justification. Since then we are free from the penalty of sin. And be patient with our sanctification. Each day we are being freed increasingly from the power of sin. And be eager for our glorification. One day we will be freed from the presence of sin.
The best is yet to come for believers. They can look forward to living with Jesus Christ in heaven where there is no sin, suffering, disease or death. It’s the fulfilment of God’s promises to the believer and the best time of their life.
Let’s look forward with joyful anticipation to our glorious future.
Appendix A: First summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Encylopaedia Britannia)
Part I of Pilgrim’s progress was published by John Bunyan in 1678. It’s the story of a journey “from this world to that which is to come”. It’s the spiritual journey of a man named Christian from where he lives in the City of Destruction to the Celestial City (meaning heaven). “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory or parable in which the literal, physical level of action is intended as a picture of something else. For example, if you are living in sin, you are in the City of Destruction. The Lord on the hill is God. The Shining Ones are angels.
It’s a story of the author’s dream of the trials and adventures of Christian (an everyman figure) as he travels from his home, the City of Destruction, to the Celestial City. Christian seeks to rid himself of a terrible burden, the weight of his sins, that he feels after reading a book (the Bible). Evangelist points him toward a wicket-gate, and he heads off, leaving his family behind. He falls into the Slough of Despond, dragged down by his burden, but is saved by a man named Help. Christian next meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who persuades him to disregard Evangelist’s advice and instead go to the village of Morality and seek out Mr. Legality or his son Civility. However, Christian’s burden becomes heavier, and he stops. Evangelist reappears and sets him back on the path to the wicket-gate. The gatekeeper, Good-will, lets him through and directs him to the house of the Interpreter, where he receives instruction on Christian grace. As Christian continues his journey, he comes upon a cross and a sepulchre, and at that point his burden falls from his shoulders. Three Shining Ones appear and give him a sealed scroll that he must present when he reaches the Celestial Gate.
Christian continues on his way, and when he reaches the Hill Difficulty, he chooses the straight and narrow path. Partway up he falls asleep in an arbor, allowing the scroll to fall from his hands. When he wakes, he proceeds to the top of the hill only to find he must return to the arbor to find his lost scroll. He later arrives at the palace Beautiful, where he meets the damsels Discretion, Prudence, Piety, and Charity. They give Christian armour, and he learns that a former neighbour, Faithful, is traveling ahead of him.
Christian next traverses the Valley of Humiliation, where he does battle with the monster Apollyon. He then passes through the terrifying Valley of the Shadow of Death. Shortly afterward he catches up with Faithful. The two enter the town of Vanity, home of the ancient Vanity Fair, which is set up to ensnare pilgrims en route to the Celestial City. Their strange clothing and lack of interest in the fair’s merchandise causes a commotion, and they are arrested. Arraigned before Lord Hate-good, Faithful is condemned to death and executed, and he is immediately taken into the Celestial City. Christian is returned to prison, but he later escapes.
Christian leaves Vanity, accompanied by Hopeful, who was inspired by Faithful. Christian and Hopeful cross the plain of Ease and resist the temptation of a silver mine. The path later becomes more difficult, and, at Christian’s encouragement, the two travelers take an easier route, through By-path Meadow. However, when they become lost and are caught in a storm, Christian realizes that he has led them astray. Trying to turn back, they stumble onto the grounds of Doubting Castle, where they are caught, imprisoned, and beaten by the Giant Despair. At last, Christian remembers that he has a key called Promise, which he and Hopeful use to unlock the doors and escape. They reach the Delectable Mountains, just outside the Celestial City, but make the mistake of following Flatterer and must be rescued by a Shining One. Before they can enter the Celestial City, they must cross a river as a test of faith, and then, after presenting their scrolls, Christian and Hopeful are admitted into the city.
Appendix B: Second summary of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (From: Wikipedia)
The allegory’s protagonist, Christian, is an everyman character, and the plot centers on his journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” (“this world”), to the “Celestial City” (“that which is to come”: Heaven) atop Mount Zion. Christian is weighed down by a great burden—the knowledge of his sin—which he believed came from his reading “the book in his hand” (the Bible). This burden, which would cause him to sink into Hell, is so unbearable that Christian must seek deliverance. He meets Evangelist as he is walking out in the fields, who directs him to the “Wicket Gate” for deliverance. Since Christian cannot see the “Wicket Gate” in the distance, Evangelist directs him to go to a “shining light,” which Christian thinks he sees. Christian leaves his home, his wife, and children to save himself: he cannot persuade them to accompany him. Obstinate and Pliable go after Christian to bring him back, but Christian refuses. Obstinate returns disgusted, but Pliable is persuaded to go with Christian, hoping to take advantage of the Paradise that Christian claims lies at the end of his journey. Pliable’s journey with Christian is cut short when the two of them fall into the Slough of Despond, a boggy mire-like swamp where pilgrims’ doubts, fears, temptations, lusts, shames, guilts, and sins of their present condition of being a sinner are used to sink them into the mud of the swamp. It is there in that bog where Pliable abandons Christian after getting himself out. After struggling to the other side of the slough, Christian is pulled out by Help, who has heard his cries and tells him the swamp is made out of the decadence, scum, and filth of sin, but the ground is good at the narrow Wicket Gate.
On his way to the Wicket Gate, Christian is diverted by the secular ethics of Mr. Worldly Wiseman into seeking deliverance from his burden through the Law, supposedly with the help of a Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality, rather than through Christ, allegorically by way of the Wicket Gate. Evangelist meets the wayward Christian as he stops before Mount Sinai on the way to Mr. Legality’s home. It hangs over the road and threatens to crush any who would pass it; also the mountain flashed with fire. Evangelist shows Christian that he had sinned by turning out of his way and tells him that Mr. Legality and his son Civility are descendants of slaves and Mr. Worldly Wiseman is a false guide, but he assures him that he will be welcomed at the Wicket Gate if he should turn around and go there, which Christian does.
At the Wicket Gate begins the “straight and narrow” King’s Highway, and Christian is directed onto it by the gatekeeper Goodwill who saves him from Beelzebub’s archers at Beelzebub’s castle near the Wicket Gate and shows him the heavenly way he must go. In the Second Part, Goodwill is shown to be Jesus Himself. To Christian’s query about relief from his burden, Goodwill directs him forward to “the place of deliverance.”
Christian makes his way from there to the House of the Interpreter, where he is shown pictures and tableaux that portray or dramatize aspects of the Christian faith and life. Roger Sharrock denotes them “emblems”.
From the House of the Interpreter, Christian finally reaches the “place of deliverance” (allegorically, the cross of Calvary and the open sepulchre of Christ), where the “straps” that bound Christian’s burden to him break, and it rolls away into the open sepulcher. This event happens relatively early in the narrative: the immediate need of Christian at the beginning of the story is quickly remedied. After Christian is relieved of his burden, he is greeted by three angels, who give him the greeting of peace, new garments, and a scroll as a passport into the Celestial City. Encouraged by all this, Christian happily continues his journey until he comes upon three men named Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. Christian tries to help them, but they disregard his advice. Before coming to the Hill of Difficulty, Christian meets two well-dressed men named Formality and Hypocrisy who prove to be false Christians that perish in the two dangerous bypasses near the hill, named Danger and Destruction. Christian falls asleep at the arbor above the hill and loses his scroll, forcing him to go back and get it. Near the top of the Hill of Difficulty, he meets two weak pilgrims named Mistrust and Timorous who tell him of the great lions of the Palace Beautiful. Christian frightfully avoids the lions through Watchful the porter who tells them that they are chained and put there to test the faith of pilgrims.
Atop the Hill of Difficulty, Christian makes his first stop for the night at the House of the Palace Beautiful, which is a place built by God for the refresh of pilgrims and godly travelers. Christian spends three days here, and leaves clothed with the Armor of God (Eph. 6:11–18), which stands him in good stead in his battle against the demonic dragon-like Apollyon (the lord and god of the City of Destruction) in the Valley of Humiliation. This battle lasts “over half a day” until Christian manages to wound and stab Apollyon with his two-edged sword (a reference to the Bible, Heb. 4:12). “And with that Apollyon spread his dragon wings and sped away.”
As night falls, Christian enters the fearful Valley of the Shadow of Death. When he is in the middle of the Valley amidst the gloom, terror, and demons, he hears the words of the Twenty-third Psalm, spoken possibly by his friend Faithful: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you [the Lord] are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). As he leaves this valley the sun rises on a new day.
Just outside the Valley of the Shadow of Death he meets Faithful, also a former resident of the City of Destruction, who accompanies him to Vanity Fair, a place built by Beelzebub where every thing is to a human’s tastes, delights, and lusts are sold daily, where both are arrested and detained because of their disdain for the wares and business of the Fair. Faithful is put on trial and executed by burning at the stake as a martyr. A celestial chariot then takes Faithful to the Celestial City, martyrdom being a shortcut there. Hopeful, a resident of Vanity Fair, takes Faithful’s place to be Christian’s companion for the rest of the way.
Christian and Hopeful then come to a mining hill called Lucre. Its owner named Demas offers them all the silver of the mine but Christian sees through Demas’s trickery and they avoid the mine. Afterward, a false pilgrim named By-Ends and his friends, who followed Christian and Hopeful only to take advantage of them, perish at the Hill Lucre, never to be seen or heard from again. On a rough, stony stretch of road, Christian and Hopeful leave the highway to travel on the easier By-Path Meadow, where a rainstorm forces them to spend the night. In the morning they are captured by Giant Despair, who is known for his savage cruelty, and his wife Diffidence; the pilgrims are taken to the Giant’s Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The Giant and the Giantess want them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until Christian realizes that a key he has, called Promise, will open all the doors and gates of Doubting Castle. Using the key and the Giant’s weakness to sunlight, they escape.
The Delectable Mountains form the next stage of Christian and Hopeful’s journey, where the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as “Immanuel’s Land”. The pilgrims are shown sights that strengthen their faith and warn them against sinning, like the Hill Error or the Mountain Caution. On Mount Clear, they are able to see the Celestial City through the shepherd’s “perspective glass”, which serves as a telescope. The shepherds tell the pilgrims to beware of the Flatterer and to avoid the Enchanted Ground. Soon they come to a crossroad and a man dressed in white comes to help them. Thinking he is a “shining one” (angel), the pilgrims follow the man, but soon get stuck in a net and realize their so-called angelic guide was the Flatterer. A true shining one comes and frees them from the net. The Angel punishes them for following the Flatterer and then puts them back on the right path. The pilgrims meet an Atheist, who tells them Heaven and God do not exist, but Christian and Hopeful remember the shepherds and pay no attention to the man. Christian and Hopeful come to a place where a man named Little-Faith is chained by the ropes of seven demons who take him to a shortcut to the Lake of Fire (Hell).
On the way, Christian and Hopeful meet a lad named Ignorance, who believes that he will be allowed into the Celestial City through his own good deeds rather than as a gift of God’s grace. Christian and Hopeful meet up with him twice and try to persuade him to journey to the Celestial City in the right way. Ignorance persists in his own way that he thinks will lead him into Heaven. After getting over the River of Death on the ferry boat of Vain Hope without overcoming the hazards of wading across it, Ignorance appears before the gates of Celestial City without a passport, which he would have acquired had he gone into the King’s Highway through the Wicket Gate. The Lord of the Celestial City orders the shining ones (angels) to take Ignorance to one of the byways of Hell and throw him in.
Christian and Hopeful make it through the dangerous Enchanted Ground (a place where the air makes them sleepy and if they fall asleep, they never wake up) into the Land of Beulah, where they ready themselves to cross the dreaded River of Death on foot to Mount Zion and the Celestial City. Christian has a rough time of it because of his past sins wearing him down, but Hopeful helps him over, and they are welcomed into the Celestial City.
Written, April 2019
Also see: Outline of future events
The Trojan Horse is a story by Homer about the deception that the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy and win the Trojan War. After a 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war.
In this post we look at an older example of deception.
A promise and warning
After king Solomon had finished building the temple, God promised that if he was obedient his dynasty would always rule over Israel (1 Ki. 9:1-9; 2 Chron. 7:17-22). But if his descendants turned to follow other gods there would be disaster and they would be cut off from their land and the temple would be destroyed.
The Israelites were told not to intermarry with other nations because this would cause them to follow other gods (1 Ki. 11:1-8). But king Solomon “loved many foreign women”, and “his wives led him astray”. “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods” (v.4-8NIV).
The punishment for this disobedience was that the kingdom of Israel would be divided (1 Ki. 11:9-13). And that’s what happened. Ten tribes followed Jeroboam and set up the kingdom of Israel in the north and two tribes followed Rehoboam and set up the kingdom of Judah in the south.
The kingdom of Israel rebels against God
As Jerusalem was in Judah, Jeroboam set up golden calves to worship in Bethel and Dan and led the Israelites into idolatry. At first Jeroboam was based at Shechem, but then he moved to Tirzah (1 Ki. 12:25; 14:17). The first five kings of Israel reigned from Tirzah, the capital of the northern kingdom. The next king Omri reigned in Tirzah for 6 years before buying the hill of Samaria and building his palace and the city there in about 925BC (1 Ki. 16:23-24). Samaria is 55 km (35 miles) north of Jerusalem.
Omni’s son, king Ahab built, an altar in Samaria to Baal, a pagan god, under the influence of his wife, Jezebel. The palace was called the “Ivory house” (1 Kings 22:39), the furniture and some of the wall decor was made of ivory. In the Bible, Samaria was condemned by the Hebrew prophets for its “ivory houses” and luxury palaces displaying pagan riches.
Ahab was the most evil of the kings of Samaria: “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel” (1 Ki. 21:25).
All the remaining kings of Israel ruled from Samaria. They all “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Ki. 22:52) and followed the sins of Jeroboam (2 Ki. 13:2) despite the warnings of the prophets Micaiah, Ahijah, Jehu, Elijah, Elisha, Hosea, Amos, and Jonah.
The false prophets deceive Israel
There were many false prophets in Samaria. During the reign of Ahab there were 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Ki. 18:19; 22:6).
After Aram (Syria) captured Ramoth Gilead from Israel, king Ahab planned a war against them (2 Chron. 18:1-34). He asked for help from the king of Judah. When they asked the false prophets for a message from God, they were told to go ahead because they would be victorious. The Arameans would be destroyed. But Micaiah, a true prophet, predicted their defeat and Ahab’s death. And that’s what happened. Meanwhile, king Ahab had Micaiah imprisoned.
Although the Israelites in Samaria continued to follow the false prophets rather than the true ones, and they continued to worship idols, God didn’t punish them yet.
In His mercy God delayed His punishment and so provided Israel with an opportunity to repent and obey the covenant once again. The kingdom continued for 130 years after the reign of king Ahab. Although they sinned, God didn’t forget the covenant He had with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God was patient with them. For example:
– Aram (Syria) besieged Samaria and they were starving. But God miraculously rescued them (2 Ki. 6:24 – 7:20).
– “Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence” (2 Ki. 13:22-23).
– “Since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash” (2 Ki. 14:26-27).
God’s judgment – The kingdom destroyed
The climax of the covenant curses for disobedience was Israel’s expulsion from Canaan (Lev. 26; Dt. 28). During the reign of Jeru the kingdom of Israel experienced the beginnings of this curse. God judged Israel at this time by giving some of their land to the Arameans (2 Ki. 10:32-33). Then Pul the king of Assyria invaded Israel and taxed the wealthy (2 Ki. 15:19-20). And Tiglath-Pileser the king of Assyria attacked the northern tribes in 738-732 BC and deported people to Assyria (2 Ki. 15:29). Israel was a vassal under Shalmaneser the king of Assyria (2 Ki. 17:3-6). But when they stopped paying tribute, the Assyrians besieged Samaria for three years and captured the city in 722 BC.
The Assyrians then deported many of the people out of the northern kingdom, and brought in many people from Babylon and other countries to live in Israel. Sargon II claimed to have deported 27,290 Israelites to Assyria. This policy of deportation and re-population was intended to weaken the countries that Assyria dominated, to make it more difficult for a group of people to rise up and try to reclaim independence for their homeland. In time, these different groups of people intermarried and the whole area around the city of Samaria became known as Samaria, and the people became known as the Samaritans. The leadership of Samaria was taken away and replaced by foreign peoples. So the Jews in Judea regarded the Samaritans as a mixed race, and not true Israelites.
God’s promise to Solomon was fulfilled. After they rebelled against God for many years, Israel was eventually “cut off from their land”. They suffered a similar fate to the Canaanites who were driven from their land about 780 years earlier. The Bible says that Israel was exiled because of their sin (2 Ki. 17:7-23). They had repeatedly refused to heed the prophet’s warnings of impending judgment. Instead, they followed idols and disobeyed the covenant obligations. They had been deceived by their leaders and by the false prophets.
Samaria only lasted about 200 years as a capital city. But its name continued as it was used to describe that region of the kingdom of Israel. The Bible says that those who resettled in Samaria continued to worship their national deities (2 Ki. 17:24-41). They also practiced syncretism – they mixed different religions together (this has been confirmed by archaeologists).
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great captured the city and settled Macedonian soldiers there following a revolt by the Samaritans. And in 108 BC, John Hyrcanus (a Jewish Maccabean) conquered and destroyed the city. King Herod the Great later rebuilt the city and named it Sebaste. Today the ruins of the Israelite town, as well the ruins of towns built at this same location later in history, are all adjacent or within the modern Palestinian village of Sebastia.
Samaritans oppose the rebuilding of Jerusalem
In about 627BC, the prophet Jeremiah warned the people of Jerusalem that like Samaria, because of their idolatry, they would be invaded and deported (Jer. 7:15). And in 586 BC, Judea was invaded and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews were exiled to Babylon. After the 70 year exile, Zerubbabel returned to rebuild the temple and Nehemiah returned to rebuild the city wall. Both of them were opposed by Samaritans. For example, the Samaritans:
– Pretended that they wanted to assist in the rebuilding of the temple when in fact they wanted to disrupt the work (Ezra 4:1-3).
– Tried to “discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building” (Ezra 4:4).
– “Bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans” (Ezra 4:4). They succeeded in having work on the temple stopped for 20 years until the second year of Darius’s reign (Ezra 4:24).
– Wrote letters to Xerxes and Artaxerxes to try to stop the rebuilding of the city wall (Ezra 4:6-23).
Sanballat and Tobiah led the opposition to Nehemiah. Sanballat was a prominent Samaritan – he held a position of authority in Samaria (Neh. 4:1-2). Sanballat and Tobiah:
– Ridiculed the Jews.
– Plotted to fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (Neh. 4:8).
– Tried to get Nehemiah to leave his work and meet with them in the plain of Ono in order to assassinate him (Neh. 6:1-4). They did this four times!
– Sent a letter with false accusations to Nehemiah (Neh. 6:5).
– Hired false prophets to trick Nehemiah into sinning so they could discredit him (Neh. 6:10-13).
– Tried to intimidate Nehemiah (Neh. 6:14).
One of Nehemiah’s reforms was to banish the high priest’s son because he was son-in-law of Sanballat the Samaritan!
So the Samaritans opposed those who returned to Judah from the exile in Babylon. This rebellion against the God of Judah was similar to the rebellion that had occurred in the kingdom of Israel.
Good news for Samaritans
In New Testament times the country of Samaria was the area bounded by the Mediterranean Sea (west), the Jordan Valley (east), Judea (south) and Galilee (north). During the time of Jesus there was continuing hostility between Jews and Samaritans (Jn. 4:9; 8:48; Lk. 9:52-53). When the Jews wanted to ridicule Jesus, they said that He was a Samaritan, which was a racial slur (Jn. 8:48).
The disciples were surprised to find Jesus speaking with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (Jn. 4:7-9). He revealed to her that He was the Messiah. And she believed and so did many other Samaritans (Jn. 4:28-42). This showed that salvation was being extended to all the people of the world and not just Jews.
In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus shows that the Samaritan acted as a neighbour who helped the injured man, whereas the Jewish Priest and the Levite didn’t help the man. So the one that Jesus commended was a hated foreigner. Jesus is saying that the command to “love your neighbour as yourself” crosses national and racial boundaries.
When Jesus healed ten men with leprosy, the only one who thanked Him was a Samaritan (Lk. 17:11-19). This indicates that Jesus didn’t show favoritism to the Jews, but included the marginalized in His ministry.
Jesus told His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Philip took the gospel to Samaria and churches were established there (Acts 8:5-14; 9:31). And Peter and John also preached in Samaria (Acts 8:25).
Lessons for us
We have looked at what the Bible says about the 200 year history of Samaria as a capital city and about the following 750 year history of Samaria as a region in Palestine. Although it was settled by God’s people, it was a center of disobedience and rebellion against God. The people were deceived by the leaders and the false prophets. And they suffered the consequences. But God kept the promises He made to Moses and Solomon. He said that disobedience would lead to being removed from their land. And that’s what happened.
God was patient, giving them lots of time to repent and change to obey the covenant. But in the long term, judgement comes to those who rebel against God. And in the long term, false prophets will be shown to be wrong.
Jesus reached out to the Samaritans even though they followed a corrupted version of the Pentateuch. And the apostles preached the gospel to the Samaritans and set up churches.
From these events we learn that:
– If God kept the promises He made in the Old Testament, then He will also keep the promises He makes to us in the New Testament.
– If God was patient in judging the Israelites, He will be patient in judging people today. Peter confirms this, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9).
– Let’s beware of deceivers (false teachers or false prophets) whose message isn’t consistent with that of the New Testament.
– Let’s include marginalized people in our ministries, not exclude them.
– Let’s spread the good news about Jesus to all nations and races; and not write off anyone as being unworthy of God’s love and mercy.
Written, January 2019
Also see other posts on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles at Jericho
There’s a widespread government crackdown on religion in China (including Christians and Muslims). Church leaders have been arrested on subversion charges and taken away. But this isn’t new or surprising because there’s a pattern of persecution of God’s people across the past 3,500 years of history.
The Hebrews were God’s special people in Old Testament times. God gave their ancestor Abraham some great promises. But before these were fulfilled, his descendants were persecuted in Egypt. Slave masters oppressed them with forced labor (Ex. 1:11-14). The Egyptians worked them ruthlessly with harsh labor. And Pharaoh commanded that all Hebrew male babies be put to death; they were to be drowned in the Nile River (Ex. 1:15-22).
But God saw their misery, heard them crying out and groaning because of their slave drivers, and was concerned about their suffering. (Ex. 3:7; 6:5). The oppression increased when they were commanded to gather the straw for brick making (Ex. 5:6-21). This continued until God used Moses to rescue them from slavery in Egypt so they could travel back to Canaan.
Some Hebrew prophets were also persecuted by royalty. Elijah was persecuted by Jezebel (queen of Israel), Micaiah by Ahab (Jezebel’s husband, king of Israel), and Uriah by Jehoiakim (king of Judah) (1 Ki. 19:1-3; 22:26-26; Jer. 26:20-22).
John the Baptist and Jesus
Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of promises that were given to Abraham and King David. John the Baptist announced that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. But both John and Jesus were persecuted by Jewish rulers. King Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus by ordering all the young boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem to be killed (Mt. 2:13-18). Fortunately His family had been warned to escape to Egypt (the country where the Hebrews had been persecuted about 1450 years earlier!).
John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded by King Herod Antipas (a son of Herod the Great) (Mt. 14:3-12; Mk. 6:17-29). Herod Antipas was also involved in the trial of Jesus (Lk. 23:6-12). In fact the Jewish and Gentile (Roman) leaders conspired together to arrange the death by crucifixion of Jesus (Acts 4:27).
Because the Jewish religious leaders were jealous of the popularity of the apostles, they persecuted and imprisoned them. Stephen was stoned to death and the church was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria and to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch (Acts 4:1-2; 5:17-18; 7:54-58; 8:1-3; 11:19). So as a result of persecution, Christianity was spread across the Middle East. During his missionary journeys, Paul was also abused and persecuted by jealous Jews (Acts 13:45; 14:5, 19; 17:5; 18:6). He was publicly beaten and imprisoned without a trial (Acts 16:22-24, 37). He was arrested and tried before the Roman governors and the king of the Jews and transported to Rome for trial before Caesar (Acts 21:27 – 28:31). Furthermore, Paul was flogged at least eight times, imprisoned frequently and pelted with stones (Acts 14:19; 2 Cor. 11:23-25).
King Herod Agrippa I (a nephew of King Herod Antipas) imprisoned Peter and executed James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:1-18). After Peter escaped from prison, Herod had the prison guards executed. And the Roman governor of Judea, Antonius Felix, left Paul in prison for two years (Acts 24:22-27).
Some of the people who persecuted God’s people in New Testament times are listed below and shown in the schematic diagram (prepared by Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk). They are selected members of the Herodian family and Roman governors who are significant in New Testament events. The numbers in the list match those in the diagram. Those referred to in the New Testament are shown below in boldface.
- Herod the Great, founder of the dynasty, tried to kill the infant Jesus by the “slaughter of the innocents” at Bethlehem.
- Herod Philip, uncle and first husband of Herodias, was not a ruler.
- Herodias left Herod Philip to marry his half-brother Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee & Perea.
- John the Baptist rebuked Antipas for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, while his brother was still alive—against the law of Moses.
- Salome danced for Herod Antipas and, at Herodias’s direction, requested the beheading of John the Baptist. Later she married her great-uncle Philip the Tetrarch.
- Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee &: Perea (r. 4 B.C.E.–39 C.E.), was Herodias’s uncle and second husband. After Salome’s dance and his rash promise, he executed John the Baptist. Much later he held part of Jesus’ trial.
- Herod Archelaus, Ethnarch of Judea, Samaria and Idumea (r. 4 B.C.E.–6 C.E.), was replaced by a series of Roman governors, including Pontius Pilate (r. 26–36 C.E.).
- Philip the Tetrarch of northern territories (r. 4 B.C.E.–34 C.E.) later married Herodias’s daughter Salome, his grandniece.
- King Herod Agrippa I (r. 37–44 C.E.) executed James the son of Zebedee and imprisoned Peter before his miraculous escape.
- Berenice, twice widowed, left her third husband to be with brother Agrippa II (rumored lover) and was with him at Festus’s trial of Paul.
- King Herod Agrippa II (r. 50–c. 93 C.E.) was appointed by Festus to hear Paul’s defense.
- Antonius Felix, Roman procurator of Judea (r. 52–c. 59 C.E.), Paul’s first judge, left him in prison for two years until new procurator Porcius Festus (r. c. 60–62 C.E.) became the second judge, and Paul appealed to Caesar.
- Drusilla left her first husband to marry Roman governor Felix.
China has intensified its crackdown on religion, with crosses being burned and destroyed at Christian churches, churches closed down, and the sale of Bibles banned. The crosses are often replaced with objects such as the Chinese flag and photos of Chinese President Xi Jinping and former Communist Party leader Mao Zedong. This is part of a Government drive to “Sinicise” religion (make it Chinese and compatible with socialism) by demanding loyalty to the officially atheist Communist Party and eliminating any challenge to its power over people’s lives. “Chinese characteristics” (including unwavering loyalty to the Communist party) must be incorporated into all activities, beliefs and traditions. Under Chinese law, religious followers are only allowed to worship in congregations registered with authorities, but many millions belong to so-called underground or house churches that defy government restrictions.
Open Doors identified three major factors behind the increased persecution of Christians in China. These are:
New religious regulations which were passed in 2017 and enacted in February 2018 to “preserve Chinese culture and party authority against ideological threats”. Since then, religious persecution, including both Christians and Muslims, has escalated to a level of persecution few saw coming. The new regulations include “guidelines on religious education, the types of religious organizations that can exist, where they can exist and the activities they can organize”. These are part of an endeavour to resist “foreign” religions (Christianity is considered to be a product of the west which is being used to destabilize Chinese “harmony”). These religions are considered to be a cultural invasion. The regulations have led to:
– Arrests of church leaders and church members.
– Muslims and Christians sent to re-education camps.
– The destruction and closure of unregistered churches.
– Anyone under 18 not allowed in churches.
– The removal of crosses from church buildings.
– Requiring many registered churches to install facial-recognition technology.
The increased cult of personality around Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping is the general secretary of the Communist Party of China and president of the People’s Republic of China. His policies have been placed into the Chinese constitution, granting it the same level of authority in the country as former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. As the emphasis on Communist ideology and the personality cult emerging around President Xi gets stronger, the authorities will act more strongly against all other ‘ideologies’ not fitting into this system, including the Christian religion.
The positioning of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party against Jesus and His church. Christians are being told that Jesus can’t help them with illness or poverty, and only Xi Jinping can, so they should remove religious images and replace them with pictures of Xi. They are being urged to rely on the communist party for help rather that Jesus.
At the same time, an estimated 1 million Muslims have been detained in “re-education” camps in Xinjiang province. The measures ultimately have the same goal: to give Beijing tighter control over groups officials see as a potential threat to their grip on power. The situation in China is likely to continue to escalate as the Chinese Communist Party increases its power and focus on Chinese nationalism. Meanwhile, Big Brother watches – China is setting up a vast camera surveillance system that is using facial recognition to track every single one of its 1.4 billion citizens.
In the historical cases mentioned in the Bible, the civil rulers persecuted God’s people. It came from the top of society (Pharaoh and the Herodian family). They seemed to be insecure and jealous and afraid of losing the allegiance of their subjects. Similarly, in China the persecution is being driven by the President and the Communist Party. It’s a pattern of persecution across about 3,500 years of history. So, it’s not surprising that Christians are being persecuted today in China and some other communist and Muslim countries (see Appendix). Ironically, such crackdowns on religious freedom will cause the church to grow faster, and help church be more united! History shows they didn’t succeed in Roman times, under Stalin or under Mao.
Christians may also be persecuted in western countries by being looked down upon, mocked or ridiculed and marginalized. Because Christians are assumed to be intolerant or hostile towards those with different beliefs or practices, it’s not possible for Christians to live by their convictions in some careers.
The Bible says that those following Jesus will face persecution. Jesus told His disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (Jn. 15:20NIV). And Paul told Timothy, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
How should we respond to persecution? Sometimes it’s possible to escape from persecution (Mt.5:12; Acts 14:6). If that’s not possible we can persevere and endure under it (Heb. 10:32-36). This involves committing our circumstances to God; “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pt. 4:12-19). The book of 1 Peter is full of instructions for those facing persecution. It was written just before the outbreak of the Roman persecutions under Nero in AD 64.
Jesus said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:44-45). This means forgiving and praying for our persecutors like Jesus and Stephen did (Lk. 23:43; Acts 7:60). And not taking revenge (Rom. 12:14-21). He also taught the disciples to rejoice under persecution! “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:11-12;). That sounds difficult! But the apostles considered it a privilege to suffer for Jesus (Acts 5:41). God shows His strength to those facing persecution, “for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Lessons for us
Let’s pray for those experiencing religious persecution. And pray for those persecuting them. Are we ready to suffer persecution for our Christian faith, because the Bible says that it will come?
Appendix: Violators of religious freedom
In many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs. In December 2018 the US Secretary of State mentioned the following countries of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations of religious freedom”: Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Other governments that have engaged in or tolerated “severe violations of religious freedom” included: Comoros, Russia, and Uzbekistan. And entities of particular concern included: Nusra Front, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa’ida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan, and the Taliban.
Information about religious persecution in China was sourced from Open Doors.
Information about the Herodian family was sourced from the Biblical Archaeology Society.
Written, January 2019
Did you know that ancient history has confirmed the existence of many people mentioned in the Bible? In articles in the Biblical Archaeology Review, Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk lists 23 people from the New Testament who have been confirmed historically. These include Roman Emperors, members of the Herodian family, and Roman governors. These political figures are mentioned in extra-biblical writings and some of their names appear in inscriptions (normally on hard objects, such as potsherds) and on coins.
Evidence of New Testament Political Figures
|Name||Who was he or she?||When did they rule?||Where in the New Testament?||Evidence in historical writings||Evidence in inscriptions|
|2||Tiberius||Roman Emperor||14–37 C.E.||Luke 3:1||Numerous||Numerous|
|3||Claudius||Roman Emperor||41–54 C.E.||Acts 11:28; 18:2||Numerous||Numerous|
|4||Nero||Roman Emperor||54–68 C.E.||Acts 25–26; 28:19||Numerous||Numerous|
|Rome’s King of the Jews over all of Palestine.||37–4 B.C.E.||Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||Coins|
|6||Herod Archelaus||Oldest son of Herod the Great. Ethnarch of Judea, Samaria and Idumea.||4 B.C.E.–
|Matthew 2:22||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||Coins|
|7||Herod Antipas||Son of Herod the Great; second husband of Herodias. Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (Transjordan). He ordered the execution of John the Baptist.||4 B.C.E.–
|Luke 3:1; 13:31–32; 23:7–12; Mark 6:14; 6:16–28; 8:15||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||Coins|
|8||Herod Philip||Son of Herod the Great but not a ruler; Herodias’s uncle and first husband; father of their daughter Salome.||Matthew 14:3–4; Mark 6:17–18; Luke 3:19||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||(No coins because he was not a ruler)|
|9||Herodias||Granddaughter of Herod the Great; niece and wife of Herod Philip, mother of his daughter Salome; then Herod Antipas’s wife. She brought about the order to execute John the Baptist.||Mathew 14:2–11; Mark 6:17–28; Luke 3:19–20||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||(No coins because she was not a ruler)|
|10||Salome||Herodias’s daughter. Her dance led to the execution of John the Baptist. Grandniece and later wife of Philip the Tetrarch.||Matthew 14:3–12; Mark 6:17–29||Josephus, Antiquities||Coins of her second husband, Aristobulus, king of Chalcis|
|11||Philip the Tetrarch||Son of Herod the Great. Tetrarch of Trachonitis, Iturea and other northern portions of Palestine. Eventually husband of his grandniece Salome.||4 B.C.E.–
|Luke 3:1||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||Coins|
|12||Herod Agrippa I||Grandson of Herod the Great; brother of Herodias. King of Trachonitis, Batanea, gradually all of Palestine. Executed James the son of Zebedee and imprisoned Peter.||37–44 C.E.||Acts 12:1–6, 18–23||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||Coins|
|13||Herod Agrippa II||Son of Herod Agrippa I. Initially Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, then also over parts of Galilee and Perea, Chalcis and northern territories. Festus appointed him to hear Paul’s defense.||50–
c. 93 C.E.
|Acts 25:13–26:32||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||Coins|
|14||Berenice/Bernice||Sister and companion of Herod Agrippa II, rumored lovers. Attended Paul’s trial before Festus.||Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||Inscription of King Herod Agrippa II in Beirut|
|15||Drusilla||Sister of Herodias and Herod Agrippa I; Jewish wife of Roman governor Felix.||Acts 24:24||Josephus, Antiquities||(No coins; not
|Roman Legate and Governors|
|16||Publius Sulpicius Quirinius
( = Cyrenius)
|Roman imperial legate brought in to govern Syria-Cilicia after Herod Archelaus’s rule led to rebellion.||6–9 C.E. and possibly earlier||Luke 2:2||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||The Lapis Venetus inscription discovered in Beirut|
|17||Pontius Pilate||Roman prefect of Judea who conducted Jesus’ trial and ordered his crucifixion.||26–36 C.E.||Matthew 27:11–26; Mark 15:1–15; Luke 3:1; 23:1–24; John 18:28–19:22||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars; Tacitus, Annals; Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium||Pilate Stone discovered at Caesarea Maritima; coins|
|18||Lucius Junius Gallio||Roman proconsul of Achaia who convened and dismissed the trial of Paul in Corinth.||c. 51–55 C.E.||Acts 18:12–17||Seneca, Letters; Tacitus, Annals||Stone inscription discovered in Delphi, Greece|
|19||Marcus Antonius Felix||Roman procurator of Judea who held initial hearings in the trial of the apostle Paul.||52–
c. 59 C.E.
|Acts 23; 24||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||Coins|
|20||Porcius Festus||Roman procurator of Judea who conducted a hearing in the trial of Paul, during which Paul appealed to Caesar and was sent to Rome.||59–62 C.E.||Acts 24:27–25:27; 26:24–32||Josephus, Antiquities||Coins|
|Independent Political Figures|
|21||Aretas IV||Arabian king of Nabatea. Father of Herod Antipas’s first wife, before Herodias.||9 B.C.E.–
|2 Corinthians 11:32||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||Inscriptions at Petra, etc.; coins|
|22||The unnamed Egyptian leader||His Jerusalem-area insurrection was suppressed by Roman procurator Felix.||Acts 21:38||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||(No coins because he was not a ruler)|
|23||Judas of Galilee||Led a rebellion against the census of Roman imperial legate Quirinius.||Acts 5:37||Josephus, Antiquities and Wars||(No coins because he was not a ruler)|
Appendix: Sample evidences from ancient writings and archaeology
1–4. Roman emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius and Nero.
The four Roman emperors mentioned in the New Testament are all abundantly verified in the writings of Roman historians, such as Tacitus’s Annals, which mentions all four, as well as in Josephus’s writings and in many inscriptions. For these, no further verification is needed. (Gaius, nicknamed “Caligula,” the Roman emperor after Tiberius, goes unmentioned in the New Testament.)
5. Herod I, the Great, Rome’s King of the Jews.
Josephus, Antiquities 14.14.4, 15.6.7
Josephus, Wars 1.33.8‒9
At Masada, 393 coins of Herod the Great were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, p. 71, pp. 87–91 no. 110–502, Plate 62 no. 115–461. These coins from Masada have the inscription, “Of King Herod,” in Greek, sometimes abbreviated to only a few letters.
At Meiron, 6 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 21–22 no. 200–205, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 200, 202, 203.
At Herodium, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Herodium, p. 75 no. 2.
At Tel Anafa, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa, p. 253 no. 249; also in Ancient Jewish Coinage 2, p. 237, type 17.
At Caesarea Maritima, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Caesarea Maritima, p. 138.
6. Herod Archelaus, Ethnarch of Judaea, Samaria and Idumea.
Josephus, Antiquities 17.8.2‒4, 17.13.1‒3, 18.2.1
Josephus, Wars 1.33.9, 2.6.1‒3, 2.7.3
In the inscriptions in Greek on all his coins, he calls himself only “Herod” or “Herod the Ethnarch” (sometimes abbreviated), never using his name Archelaus.
At Masada, 176 coins of Herod Archelaus were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 91‒93, and Plate 63 no. 503–677 (with gaps among numbered photographs).
In various parts of Palestine, including Galilee and Transjordan, other coins of Archelaus have been discovered, according to Treasury of Jewish Coins, p. 85.
7. Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.1, 18.2.3, 18.4.5, 18.5.1, 18.5.2, 18.7.1
Josephus, Wars 2.9.1, 2.9.6
Archaeology confirms his rule and title of Tetrarch (of Galilee and Perea) on several coins with the inscription “Of Herod the Tetrarch” in Greek, without giving his name Antipas. Also inscribed on some of his coins is the name of a city, “Tiberias,” which Antipas founded in Galilee and where he built a mint that produced these coins. Josephus’s writings and modern analysis of Jewish coins reveal that the only tetrarch named Herod who ever ruled Galilee was Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas apparently produced fewer coins than his father and brothers did, and according to the dates inscribed on his coins compared with theirs, he minted them less often. As a result, fewer have been recovered in excavations.
Near Tiberias, where they were minted, is the area that has yielded most of Antipas’s coins that have a known place of discovery.
At Meiron, 3 coins of Herod Antipas were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, p. 22 no. 206–208, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 208 only (from year 37 of the Emperor Tiberius (33 C.E.). Meiron was north of the city of Dan in Galilee, which Antipas ruled. Coins no. 206 and 207, from the Emperor’s 34th year (29/30 C.E.), are recognizably his by their decorations and visible Greek letters.
At Jerusalem, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Treasury of Jewish Coins, p. 85.
8. Herod Philip (not a ruler; compare Philip the Tetrarch, below).
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.1 and 4
Josephus, Wars 1.28.4, 1.29.2, 1.30.7
9. Herodias, wife of Herod Philip, mother of Salome; then Herod Antipas’s wife.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.1 and 4
Josephus, War 2.9.6
10. Salome, Herodias’s daughter.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4
Coins of her second husband, Aristobulus, king of Chalcis, display her image (Hendin, Guide, pp. 276‒277, no. 1255).
11. Philip, Tetrarch of Trachonitis, Iturea and other northern portions of Palestine, sometimes called Herod Philip II, to distinguish him from his half-brother, Herod Philip, who was not a ruler (see above).
Josephus, Antiquities 17.1.3, 18.2.1
Josephus, Wars 1.28.4
Philip did not have to avoid portraits on his coins because his subjects were generally not Jewish and had no religious prohibition against graven images. One of his coins from Tel Anafa features the head of Caesar Augustus on one side and the head of Philip on the other—literally a two-headed coin (Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa, p. 253 no. 250, p. 260 = coins plate 3, no. 250).
Most of his coins were discovered in his own tetrarchy in Palestine’s northern territories.
At Meiron, 2 coins of Philip the Tetrarch were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, p. 23 no. 209 & 210, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 209 and 210.
At Tel Anafa, 7 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa, pp. 253–254 no. 250–256, p. 260 = coins plate 3, no. 250, 251, 252, 254.
On Cyprus, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Treasury of Jewish Coins, p. 90.
12. Herod Agrippa I, King of Trachonitis, Batanea, gradually all of Palestine.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4, 18.7.2, 19.5.1
Josephus, Wars 2.9.5‒6
At Masada, 114 of Herod Agrippa I’s coins were excavated, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, 100 no. 1195–1198, Plate 66 no. 1195–1198.
At Meiron, 5 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 23–24 no. 211–214, p. 127 (photographic plate) no. 211 and 214.
At Herodium, 5 identical coins of his were discovered, according to Herodium Coins, p. 75 no. 4.
In and near Jerusalem, as well as in all parts of Palestine, on Cyprus, at Dura-Europos in Syria, and even on the acropolis at Athens, his prutah coins (Jewish coins of low value, made of copper; see Hendin, Guide, p. 270, no. 1244) have been discovered. They are distinctive in their decorations and the spelling of his name.
13. Herod Agrippa II, Tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, then also over parts of Galilee and Perea, Chalcis and northern territories.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4, 20.7.3
Josephus, Wars 2.11.6
Quite a few series of Agrippa II’s coins are identified as his because they have the name Agrippa, sometimes abbreviated, and can be dated to his reign, rather than his father’s (King Herod Agrippa I).
At Masada, 2 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, 100 no. 1308–1309, Plate 66 no. 1309.
At Meiron, 6 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 24–25 no. 215–220, p. 128 (photographic plate) no. 216–220.
14. Berenice/Bernice, Sister and companion of Herod Agrippa II, distinguished by her fuller name Julia (in Latin, Iulia) Berenice from several other noted women of ancient times named Berenice.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4, 19.5.1, 20.7.3
Josephus, Wars 2.15.1
In the National Museum of Beirut is a partly broken, Roman-era dedicatory inscription in Latin that mentions “Queen Berenice.” The inscription states that she, and someone who is implied to be her fellow offspring, restored a building which “King Herod their ancestor” had made. Note the plural: “their ancestor.”
By using facts of the historical background, it is possible to identify both her and her relatives as the ones to whom the inscription refers, because of its location and because the names of her family members seem uniquely suited to fit this inscription. Berenice is said to be “of the great king A—” (name broken off), and the prominent family ties in the inscription suggest a daughter or descendant. The “great king A—” is very likely her father, King Herod Agrippa I, who was a descendant of King Herod the Great. The other offspring, her contemporary, is very likely her brother, King Herod Agrippa II.
A scholarly book in Italian describes this inscription: Laura Boffo, Iscrizioni Greche e Latine per lo Studio della Bibbia (Brescia, Italy: Paideia Editrice, 1994), pp. 338‒342, no. 41.
15. Drusilla, Sister of Herodias and Herod Agrippa I; wife of Roman governor Felix.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.5.4
16. Publius Sulpicius Quirinius (= Cyrenius), Roman Imperial legate to Syria-Cilicia.
Josephus, Antiquities 17.13.5, 18.1.1, 18.2.1
Josephus, Wars 7.8.1
The Lapis Venetus inscription discovered in Beirut is a stone inscription in Latin that mentions a census that this Quirinius ordered in a Syrian city. It is included in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum vol. III, no. 6687. See Craig L. Blomberg, “Quirinius,” in ISBE, vol. 4, pp. 12–13.
17. Pontius Pilate, Roman prefect of Judea.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.1‒2, 18.4.1‒2
Josephus, Wars 2.9.2‒4
Tacitus, Annals 15:44, in The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero (trans. J. C. Yardley; introduction and notes Anthony A. Barrett; Oxford World’s Classics; New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008), p. 438. Cornelius Tacitus (c. 55‒c. 118 C.E.) was a historian, a Roman senator and a member of the priestly organization that supervised foreign religions in Rome; therefore he had exceptional access to information known by his colleagues and to archives accessible to the elite.
Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium 38, in The Works of Philo, Complete and Unabridged (trans. C. D. Yonge; new updated ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), p. 784. Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.E.‒c. 50 C.E.) was Pilate’s learned contemporary.
The “Pilate Stone” was discovered at Caesarea Maritima in 1961 in the theater or arena of the ancient city of Caesarea Maritima, on Israel’s northern seacoast. This limestone block—2.7 feet high, 2 feet wide and 0.6 feet thick—was lying face down and had been used as a step. It had been trimmed down to be reused twice. Two of its four lines read, in English translation with square brackets marking missing portions that have been supplied by scholars: “[Po]ntius Pilate … [Pref]ect of Juda[ea],” as shown in Inscriptions Caesarea Maritima, pp. 67–70, no. 43, Plate XXXVI. The inscription could potentially be dated to any time in Pilate’s career, but a date between 31 and 36 C.E. seems most likely (Inscriptions Caesarea Maritima, p. 70.). The word for the building dedicated to the emperor Tiberius, “Tiberieum,” is in the first line of writing (on the line above it is only a mark resembling an apostrophe). On the second line of writing are the last four letters of the family name Pontius, which was common in central and northern Italy during that era. Still visible, clearly engraved in the stone, is the complete name Pilatus, which is translated into English as “Pilate.” Pilatus was “extremely rare” (A. N. Sherwin-White, “Pilate, Pontius,” in ISBE, vol. 3, p. 867). Because of the rarity of the name Pilatus, and because only one Pontius Pilatus was ever the Roman governor of Judea, this identification should be regarded as completely certain and redundantly assured.
As with other Roman governors, the coins Pilate issued do not have his name on them, but rather display only the name of the Roman emperor, in this case Tiberius. Pilate’s coins also display his distinctive decorations.
At Masada, 123 of Pontius Pilate’s coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, pp. 96–97 no. 851–973a, Plate 64 no. 851–912, Plate 65 no. 913–930.
At Caesarea Maritima, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Caesarea Maritima, p. 139 no. 6, p. 146.
At Herodium, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Herodium, p. 75 no. 3.
18. Lucius Junius Gallio, Roman proconsul of Achaia.
Seneca, Letters 104
Tacitus, Annals xv.73
Dio Cassius lx.35
Pliny the Elder Naturalis Historia xxxi.33
Near the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Greece, a stone inscription in a now-fragmented stone block discovered in the late 19th century refers to this particular Gallio. Carved into a stone now broken into fragments, with some words missing, it takes the form of a letter from the Roman emperor Claudius and includes a date. See C. K. Barrett, ed., The New Testament Background (rev. ed.; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), pp. 51‒52, no. 49.
19. Marcus Antonius Felix, Roman procurator of Judea.
Josephus, Antiquities 14.11.7, 20.7.1‒2, 20.8.5
Josephus, Wars 1.12.1, 2.12.8, 2.13.7
Felix followed the custom of Roman governors, issuing coins that do not display his name. But they are identifiable as his, because they display the name and regnal year of the emperor. Several also have the name of the empress, Julia Agrippina.
At Masada, 39 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, 97‒98 no. 974‒1012, Plate 65 no. 974‒1012 with gaps in the numbered photographs.
At Meiron, 4 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, pp. 25–26 no. 221–224, p. 128 (photographic plate) no. 221 and 223.
At Caesarea Maritima, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Caesarea Maritima, p. 139 no. 7.
At Herodium, 1 of his coins was discovered, according to Coins Herodium, p. 75 no. 5.
20. Porcius Festus, Roman procurator of Judea.
Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.9, 20.9.1
During the reign of the emperor Nero, Festus minted coins in the custom of Roman governors, which do not show his own name. Still, as with Felix, we can identify them as his by using the name and regnal year of the emperor.
At Masada, 184 of Festus’s coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 72, 79, pp. 98–99 no. 1013–1194, Plate 65 no. 1013–1194 with gaps among the numbered photographs.
21. Aretas IV, king of the Arabian kingdom of Nabatea.
Josephus, Antiquities 13.13.3, 14.1.4
Josephus, Wars 1.6.2, 1.29.3
During Aretas IV’s reign, the Arabian kingdom of Nabatea reached the height of its power, wealth through trade, and political influence.
Stationary inscriptions that name King Aretas IV and members of his immediate family have been discovered south of the Dead Sea at Petra, at Avdat (Obodat) in southern Israel and even at Puteoli, Italy (Coins Nabataea, pp. 48, 61).
The fact that the coins Aretas minted have been discovered in “enormous quantity … testifies primarily to a flourishing economy,” as observed in Coins Nabataea, p. 41. Aretas IV’s coins are treated on pp. 41–63, with photos on Plates 4–7 no. 46–122. These coins typically refer to him as “Aretas, king of the Nabataeans, who loves [lit., the lover of] his people” (Coins Nabataea, pp. 46–47, table: “Dated Coins and Inscriptions of Aretas IV.”
At Masada, 22 of Aretas IV’s coins were discovered, according to Coins of Masada, pp. 76, 79, Plate 73 no. 3603–3623.
At Meiron, 2 of his coins were discovered, according to Coins of Ancient Meiron, p. 26 no. 225 and 226, p. 128 (photographic plate) no. 226.
At Curium on Cyprus, at Dura-Europas in what is now eastern Syria, and at Susa in Persia (present-day Iran), his coins have been discovered far and wide, according to Coins Nabataea, p. 41 note 2.
22. The unnamed Egyptian leader who escaped after his violent uprising was suppressed by the Roman governor Felix.
Josephus, Antiquities 20.8.6
Josephus, Wars 2.13.5
23. Judas of Galilee, the leader of the rebellion against Cyrenius (also spelled Quirinius, identified above) because of Cyrenius’s census and taxation, which scholars usually date to 6 C.E.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.6, 20.5.2
Josephus, Wars 2.8.1
Abbreviations and references
Ancient Jewish Coinage 2 = Ya’akov Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage, vol. 2: Herod the Great through Bar Cochba (Dix Hills, NY: Amphora Books, 1982).
Coins 1968–1986 Tel Anafa = Y. Meshorer, “Chapter 4: Coins 1968–1986,” in Sharon C. Herbert, Tel Anafa I, i: Final Report on Ten Years of Excavation at a Hellenistic and Roman Settlement in Northern Israel (Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplement Series 10, Part I, i and Kelsey Museum Fieldwork Series; Ann Arbor, MI: Kelsey Museum of the University of Michigan and Museum of Art and Archaeology of the University of Missouri—Columbia, 1994).
Coins of Ancient Meiron = Joyce Raynor and Yaakov Meshorer, The Coins of Ancient Meiron (Winona Lake, IN: ASOR/Eisenbrauns, 1988).
Coins Caesarea Maritima = D. T. Ariel, “The Coins,” in Lee I. Levine and Ehud Netzer, Excavations at Caesarea Maritima, 1975, 1976, 1979—Final Report (Qedem 21; Jerusalem: The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).
Coins Herodium = Ya’akov Meshorer, “The Coins,” in Ehud Netzer, Greater Herodium (Qedem 13; Jerusalem: The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1981).
Coins Nabataea = Ya’akov Meshorer, Nabataean Coins (Qedem 3; Jerusalem: The Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1975).
Coins of Masada = Yaacov Meshorer, “The Coins of Masada,” in Masada I: The Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963‒1965: Final Reports. (ed. Joseph Aviram, Gideon Foerster, and Ehud Netzer; Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1989).
Hemer, Acts = Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (ed. Conrad H. Gempf; Tübingen, Germany: J.C.B. Mohr, 1989; reprinted Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2001, 2016).
Hendin, Guide = David Hendin and Herbert Kreindler, Guide to Biblical Coins (5th ed.; New York: Amphora Books, 2010).
Inscriptions Caesarea Maritima = Clayton Miles Lehmann and Kenneth G. Holum, The Greek and Latin Inscriptions of Caesarea Maritima (The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima, Excavation Reports 5; Boston, MA: The American Schools of Oriental Research, 2000).
ISBE = International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 4 vols., fully rev. ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979–1988).
Josephus, Antiquities = Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, in The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged (trans. William Whiston; new updated ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), pp. 27‒542. An alternative translation of the title is: Jewish Antiquities.
Josephus, Wars = Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, in The Works of Josephus, Complete and Unabridged (trans. William Whiston; new updated ed.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), pp. 543‒772. An alternative translation of the title is: The Jewish War.
Treasury of Jewish Coins = Ya’akov Meshorer, A Treasury of Jewish Coins: From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba (Nyack, NY: Amphora, 2001).
This post has been sourced from the Biblical Archaeology Society
Written, January 2019
Also see: Archaeology confirms biblical characters
I have received a comment that challenges my understanding that the flood described in Genesis 6-9 of the Bible was a global event. The reasons given for the comment include:
– The biblical passages quoted don’t support it in any way.
– Many people who believe Noah was a real person, also believe the flood was local.
– Scholars devote their lives to their studies, and while we don’t always have to agree with what they say, we also don’t have to completely disregard them, either.
They conclude that I’m making a huge assumption to believe that the flood was global rather than local.
My understanding with regard to this topic is based on the biblical text and my concerns about the common interpretation of sedimentary rock layers. I will begin with the Bible as it is the primary historical record of the flood.
What did Moses believe?
Moses complied the book of Genesis, so he knew more about the flood than any other biblical author. This is how he described the floodwaters: “They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark” (Gen. 7:19-23NIV). Note that the flood account is written from God’s perspective, not Noah’s. This seems to be more like a global flood than a local flood. And the purpose of the flood was to destroy sinful humanity (Gen. 6:5-8), which wouldn’t be achieved by a local flood.
Moses recorded the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood as follows.
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth” (Gen. 9:8-17).
The format of this covenant follows that of a Royal Grant in the ancient near east where a king grants land (or some other benefit) to a loyal servant for faithful or exceptional service. The grant was normally perpetual or unconditional, but the servant’s heirs benefited from it only as they continued their father’s loyalty and service (NIV Study Bible).
This covenant was made with Noah, and his descendants and “every living creature on earth” (Gen. 9:9-10). It was an “everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (Gen. 9:16). The covenant sign was the rainbow in the sky (Gen. 9:13, 17).
The promise was, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth … Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Gen. 9:11, 15). It was an unconditional divine promise to never again destroy all earthy life with a flood. This is what Moses believed. With regard to the destruction of life, the flood was a unique event. But a local flood can’t be unique in terms of the destruction of life. Therefore, Moses didn’t believe that it was a local flood. Clearly Moses believed that it was a unique global catastrophe. There have been no more global destructive floods, but there have been many local destructive floods. And Noah was on the ark for over 380 days (Gen. 7:10-11; 8:14); which is much too long for a local flood! And on the ark “they had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings” (Gen. 7:14). This wouldn’t be necessary for a local flood.
Psalm 104 was written about 400 years after the time of Moses. See the Appendix A for comments on Psalm 104:9, which has been used to support the idea of a local flood.
What did Isaiah believe?
In the context of Israel’s captivity and restoration, Isaiah wrote, “To me [God] this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you [Israel], never to rebuke you again” (Isa. 54:9). Here Israel’s captivity and exile is likened to the flood. Both are God’s judgment on rebellion and sin. Isaiah believed “that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth”. But a local flood can’t be unique in terms of water covering the earth. Therefore, Isaiah didn’t believe that it was a local flood. Clearly Isaiah believed that it was a unique global catastrophe. There have been no more global floods covering the earth, but there have been many local floods covering the earth.
What did Jesus believe?
In Matthew 24, Jesus describes the behavior of people when He returns to establish His kingdom. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man [Jesus]. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark [boat]; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt. 24:37-39). This is also recorded by Luke, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man [Jesus]. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all” (Lk. 17:26-27). The flood came suddenly and Jesus will return suddenly to establish His kingdom. In both instances God’s judgment comes suddenly. No one outside the ark escaped the flood. It was inescapable. Likewise, no unbelievers will escape God’s coming judgment.
These passages don’t say specifically whether the flood was local or global. But the fact that it was inescapable suggests that it was more than a local flood. So, what did Jesus think? Jesus knew the Old Testament very well and taught from it in the synagogue. For example, He taught from Genesis (Mt. 10:15; 11:23-24; 19:4-5; 22:31-32; 23:35; Mk. 10:6-8; Lk. 17:26-27) and from Isaiah (Mt. 13:14-15; 15:7-9; Mk 7:6-7; Lk. 4:16-19). Jesus would have understood the Old Testament in the same way that the original authors understood it. His understanding would have been consistent with that of Moses and Isaiah. Therefore, Jesus didn’t believe that it was a local flood.
Furthermore, a global flood illustrates the extent of God’s judgement better than a local flood. Even though a local flood is sudden, people and creatures can escape a local flood. But this is not the case for a global flood.
What did Peter believe?
1 Peter 3 describes what happened in the days of Moses. “In which [by the Holy Spirit] He [Christ] went and made proclamation [through Noah] to the spirits (now) in prison [the unrighteous people in Noah’s day, who were now in hades waiting for the final judgment] who in the past were disobedient [to Noah’s preaching], when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water” (1 Pt. 3:19-20CSB). And 2 Peter 2 gives examples of God’s judgment of sin including, “He [God] did not spare the ancient world when He brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others” (2 Pt. 2:5). The fact that only a few people were saved from the destructive flood, illustrates that it isn’t surprising when only few people respond to the offer of salvation from God’s judgment through Jesus Christ.
These passages don’t say whether the flood was local or global. So, what did Peter think? Peter was with Jesus during His earthly ministry. He was an apostle who brought the good news to Jews and Gentiles and established the early church. He would have believed what Jesus believed. Because Jesus didn’t believe that it was a local flood (see above), Peter didn’t believe that it was a local flood. The main difference between the teaching of Jesus and Peter is that Jesus taught under the old covenant (of Moses) and Peter taught under the new covenant. But this difference is irrelevant as to whether the flood was local or global.
Furthermore, a global flood illustrates the extent of God’s judgement better than a local flood. Even though a local flood is sudden, people and creatures can escape a local flood. But this is not the case for a global flood.
What did the prophets and apostles believe?
The Old Testament was written by the Hebrew prophets and their associates. Moses and Isaiah were prominent Old Testament prophets. We have shown that both Moses and Isaiah didn’t believe that it was a local flood. The other Hebrew prophets would have believed the same as they believed and taught the same law of Moses. This means that they believed that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood.
The New Testament was written by the Jewish apostles and their associates. Peter was a prominent apostle. We have shown that Peter didn’t believe that it was a local flood. The other apostles would have believed the same as they believed and taught the new covenant which was instituted by Jesus and revealed to Peter and Paul. This means that they believed that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood.
Therefore, the writers of the Bible believed that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood. And all Bible translations understand the account of the flood in universal terms. We find none of them substituting the word land for earth or using any other terms that would imply a limited scope for the flood. So, written history shows that the flood was a unique global catastrophe and not a local flood. And written history is the most reliable record of ancient history.
What do sedimentary rock layers show?
The sedimentary rock layers show whatever we want them to show. Our interpretation of these layers is based on our presuppositions. If we believe the theory of biological evolution we will use the geologic time scale which assumes that evolution occurs gradually over a long period of time, and we will say that the layers indicate erosion, sedimentation and deposition over a long period of time.
But if we realize that creatures and plants aren’t being fossilized today, we will wonder, “When were the vast sedimentary rock layers deposited on the earth?”. “When were lots of plants and animals buried to produce fossil fuels”? “When were lots of creatures buried to produce fossils”? If we believe the recorded history of the Bible, we will realize that Noah’s flood caused the death of “every living thing that moved on the earth”, except those on the ark. And a flood of such a magnitude and duration could have caused massive erosion, sedimentation and deposition. In this case, the vast layers of sedimentary rock probably indicate erosion, sedimentation and deposition over a relatively short period of time, mainly during Noah’s flood and its aftermath.
So although the Bible does not say if sedimentary rocks were deposited by Noah’s flood and eroded by the runoff as the waters subsided, this is the most likely event/catastrophe in recorded history to have caused a majority of the sedimentary stratification and the geomorphology of the earth.
My concerns with regard to geologic time
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a number of geologists began to argue that the thick sedimentary rock layers on the earth were not formed quickly during a global flood, but slowly over long ages. As a result of this shift in interpretation, a number of people began to re-interpret biblical verses referring to the flood as a local flood, rather than a global inundation.
Unfortunately, the geologic time scale used today by many geologists and paleontologists is based on assumptions that make it unreliable. These are the presupposition of uniformity and biological evolution.
It is assumed that “the present is the key to the past”. But this is incorrect with respect to the extent and rate of formation of sedimentary rock layers.
Extent: Sedimentary rock layers cover vast areas of the continents. But today deposition is only occurring in restricted areas like river deltas, lake beds and along narrow strips of coastline. This is different to the pattern of sedimentation in the past. So in this context, the present is not the key to the past.
Rate of formation: Rapid burial is necessary to produce fossils and polystrate fossils (where tree trunk fossils cut across many sedimentary rock layers) and to preserve animal tracks, ripple marks, and raindrop marks in sedimentary rock layers. But today deposition is slow and gradual. This is different to the pattern of sedimentation in the past. So in this context, the present is not the key to the past.
Sedimentary rock layers are generally parallel, with no evidence of long periods of time between adjacent layers. For example, there is no evidence of erosion between these sedimentary rock strata at Umina Point, NSW Australia. It looks like the layers were laid down in rapid succession or simultaneously and not sequentially with millions of years between each deposit and the next. Such lack of erosion within and between sedimentary strata is a feature of sedimentary rocks all over the earth.
Furthermore, the presupposition of uniformity is a huge extrapolation from the present to the past which can’t be verified. It’s poor science (see Appendix B).
Sedimentary rock layers are usually characterized by the fossils they contain and are dated according to the presumed dates when these fossils were living. These dates are speculative, as there is no way they can be calibrated (no one was there to make a historical record).
When radiometric dating methods are used to date geological strata, the only dates accepted are those consistent with the assumed evolutionary dating. In practice, the radiometric dates are very unreliable as the initial conditions and boundary conditions since the assumed date are unknown.
Sin affects all creation
Paul personifies creation when he describes Christ returning to rule over the world, “I consider that our [Christians] present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed [when Christ returns]. For the creation was subjected to frustration [at the fall into sin], not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies [at the rapture]” (Rom. 8:19-23).
When Adam and Eve sinned it impacted the whole earth – the ground was cursed (Gen. 3:17-19). Creatures can experience disease and violent death. All creation was subjected to futility, frustration, disorder and decay. The whole creation is now suffering like a woman in childbirth. Meanwhile creation looks forward to being restored to the idyllic conditions that existed before the fall into sin.
Because humanity’s sin affects all creation we see that God’s judgment of sin affects all creation as well. There are three examples of this in the Bible:
– At the flood – “By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed” (2 Pt. 3:6).
– In the tribulation between the rapture and Christ’s reign – where natural disasters are part of God’s judgment (Rev. 6:5-6; 8:7-12; 16:4, 8-12; 17-21).
– Destruction of the earth by fire (maybe a global nuclear holocaust) at the end of Christ’s Millennial reign (2 Pt. 3:7, 10).
This explains why the flood affected the natural world as well as humanity, and is consistent with the flood being global rather than local. But Sodom and Gomorrah are an example of a local judgement of sin (Appendix C).
After the flood Noah’s family repopulated the world like Adam and Eve did in the beginning. Adam and Eve were told: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground … I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food” (Gen. 1:28-29).
Similarly, Noah was told: “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Gen. 9:1-3).
An assessment of some of the written history of Noah’s flood shows that there is more evidence for a global flood than for a local flood. Because of its global extent, Noah’s flood and its aftermath probably caused a majority of the sedimentary stratification and the geomorphology of the earth.
Because it relies on the ideas of uniformity and biological evolution, the geologic time scale is unreliable. Likewise radiometric dating of rock layers is unreliable because of the huge assumptions involved.
Appendix A: What about Psalm 104:9?
This verse has been used to say that the flood was local and not global. The passage says,
“5He set the earth on its foundations;
it can never be moved.
6 You covered it with the watery depths as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 But at your rebuke the waters fled,
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
8 they flowed over the mountains,
they went down into the valleys,
to the place you assigned for them.
9 You set a boundary they cannot cross;
never again will they cover the earth.” (Ps. 104:5-9).
This psalm is a poem/song to God as the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He is praising God’s greatness in nature, and in the general laws under which he has placed it. It addresses: the heavens (v.2-4), the earth (v.5-9), plants and animals (v. 10-18), cycles (v.19-23), marine life (v.25-26), God’s providence (v.27-28), birth and death (v. 29-30).
Does v.9 refer to creation (Gen. 1:2) or to the floodwaters of Noah’s time (Gen. 9:11-15)?
Those who believe that the context is the original separation of land and water during creation (Job 38:10-11; Prov. 8:29) may say that this means the flood was local and not global. Or they may think that because humanity crossed the boundaries of human behavior, then God crossed His boundary in Noah’s flood but re-established it in the covenant promise with Noah. God command the waters to cover the earth in Noah’s flood, but afterwards He promised not to drown the world again. Some think there is no need to make this exception; since this was written after the flood, and when God had sworn that the waters should no more go over the earth (Isa. 54:9).
But v.6-9 could be a poetic description of the flood, in which case it is consistent with a global flood.
How can we resolve these two views?
Some principles of biblical hermeneutics (interpretation) are that:
– “Scripture interprets Scripture”, which means that we should read any passage of the Bible in light of the entire Bible and not build a doctrine or position on a single proof text. Also,
– Obscure passages of Scripture must be interpreted in light of clear passages as God is the author behind all Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pt. 1:20-21; Jn. 10:35-36). If something is unclear in one part of Scripture, it probably is made clear elsewhere in Scripture. When we have two passages in Scripture that we can interpret in various ways, we want to interpret the Bible in such a way as to not violate the basic principle of Scripture’s unity and integrity. We use clear statements to help understand ambiguous ones.
As there are many Bible passages that are consistent with a global flood (see the main text of this post), we mustn’t use this single verse to say that it supports a local flood.
Appendix B: Water above the Himalayas?
Some criticize the idea of a global flood by saying that there’s not enough water to cover the Himalayan mountains. That’s true because Mt Everest is 8,848m (29,030 ft) above sea level. But the flood didn’t have to cover the present Earth. The Bible says that “the world of that time [pre-flood] was deluged and destroyed” (2 Pt. 3:6). No one knows the height of the mountains or the depth of the ocean valleys in Noah’s day. Thus, one cannot know how much water was on the earth during the Noahic flood.
But if the earth’s surface was completely flat, with no high mountains and no deep ocean basins, then the water in the oceans would cover the earth to a depth of about 2,500 m (8,200 ft). Afterall, about 70% of the earth’s surface is water.
During the flood the pre-flood topography was eroded and deposited in sedimentary strata beneath water. Later some of these strata were uplifted and some subsided – the mountains rose, and the valleys sank down (Ps. 104:8). Those that were uplifted formed continents and mountain ranges, while those that subsided formed deep ocean basins and troughs. This is illustrated by the fact that the uppermost parts of mountains ranges, including Mount Everest, are composed of fossil-bearing, water-deposited layers.
So Noah’s flood didn’t cover the Himalayas, but it caused them to be formed and uplifted! Where did all the water go? Most of the waters of Noah’s Flood are probably in today’s ocean basins.
This illustrates the misunderstandings that result from the idea of uniformity. The present is not the key to the past. Instead, understanding what happened in the past helps to explain the present. So the past is key to the present!
Appendix C: What about Sodom and Gomorrah?
About 530 years after the flood, God destroyed the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim because of their wickedness (Gen. 19:12-29; Dt. 29:23). “The people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). It was a local catastrophe that was restricted to the plains near Sodom and Gomorrah, “Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land” (Gen. 19:24-25). “Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (Gen. 19:27-28). The NIV Study Bible suggests that perhaps a violent earthquake spewed up burning asphalt.
The vegetation in this area has never recovered. What was once good grazing land that attracted Lot to this wicked city is now bare or submerged under shallow water.
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an example of God’s judgment of sin (2 Pt. 2: 6-7; Jude 1:7). He judged the ungodly and rescued the righteous. In this case it was regional and not global in extent.
Written, January 2019
Also see: Noah: Fact or fiction?
Uncertainty in the dating of past events
The volcanic eruption that destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii probably took place two months later than previously thought, Italian officials say. Historians have traditionally dated the disaster to 24 August 79 AD, but excavations in southern Italy have unearthed a charcoal inscription written on a wall that includes a date which corresponds to 17 October. The writing came from an area in a house that was apparently being renovated just before the nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii under a thick blanket of ash and rock.
Other evidence that supports autumn rather than summer for the eruption includes:
– The south-easterly debris pattern is consistent with the prevailing winds in autumn, but not those in August.
– The remains of victims of the eruption in heavy clothing.
– Braziers have also been found in the ruins, suggesting a date closer to winter.
– A calcified branch bearing berries that normally only come out in the Italian autumn.
– Remnants of autumnal fruits (such as the pomegranate),
– Large earthenware storage vessels which were laden with wine at the time of their burial by Vesuvius. This could indicate that the inundation occurred after the year’s grape harvest and winemaking.
If such an error (or uncertainty) is possible in recorded history, what about ancient history?
Wikipedia says that recorded history starts at about 3000BC, but the oldest specific date they quote is 1046BC when the Zhou force (led by King Wu of Zhou) overthrew the last king of the Shang Dynasty, and the Zhou Dynasty was established in China. 776BC is the legendary start of the ancient Olympics and 753BC the legendary founding of Rome. The dates of events before Greece and Rome are only approximate or traditional and those in the early years of Greece and Rome are in doubt.
The Bible is an amazing record of ancient history. In 1440-1480BC Moses compiled and documented a history of the world up to the time of his death. This included Adam and Eve at about 4000BC, the global flood at about 2400BC, and Abraham at about 2000BC. And in about 1000BC the Hebrew king David captured Jerusalem.
So recorded history is quite short, being a few thousand years.
Dating ancient events
Ancient events have been dated by methods such as recorded history, archaeology, geology, dendrochronology (tree rings), radiometric dating, and luminescence. Most of these methods assume the principle of uniformity.
According to the American Museum of Natural History, “The uniformitarian principle means that the processes occurring today have operated throughout most of the Earth’s history. For example, an ancient sandstone formed exactly as a beach forms today – by the gradual build-up, over many years, of water-transported sands. The principle is one of the guiding rules for understanding rocks and landforms, reconstructing their histories, and estimating the time it took for them to form.”
Uniformitarianism assumes we can look at the present to see what has happened in the past. It is the geological theory that states that changes in the earth’s crust throughout history have resulted from the action of uniform, continuous processes. It can be summarized as “the present is the key to the past” and was pioneered by Hutton (1785) and Lyell (1830).
The geological column was formulated using fossils to correlate between rock layers in geographically distinct areas. The fossils were assumed to occur in an evolutionary order, from early simple organisms to more complex ones later in time. It was assumed that the rock layers were a chronologic sequence laid down gradually at the same rate as they are today, not catastrophically. And the rock strata were dated using radiometric methods. Between the mid 18th century and the mid 20th century the estimated age of the earth increased from 75 thousand years to 4.55 billion years.
Today, earth’s history is considered to have been a slow, gradual process (uniformity), punctuated by occasional natural catastrophic events. So there is some allowance for catastrophic events, but uniformity is still the dominant assumption.
Comparing with recorded history
In a previous blogpost I have shown that, “As a reliable eyewitness is superior to forensic science in the investigation of crime, so reliable history is better than ancient forensic science (the use of science to investigate ancient times) in investigating ancient times. So, history trumps science when dealing with the past”.
So, if a small error is possible in dating events like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius using recorded history, then larger errors are possible and probable in dating events using ancient forensic science.
The presuppositions used when dating ancient events usually involve the uniformity of some parameters over extended periods of time. There is no way to verify these assumptions because they relate to conditions that occurred in the ancient past, prior to recorded history. All these dating methods rely on unprovable assumptions. One of the main assumptions is that geological layers represent the gradual deposition of sediments (uniformitarianism). But archaeologists and geologists were not there to observe how the sediments were built up over time. So they don’t really know how long it took. And they don’t consider factors such as the Biblical flood and the ice age.
Although these dating methods appear to be objective and scientific, they are subjective. They are largely driven by the prevailing “long-age worldview”. However, the ‘age’ is calculated using assumptions about the past that cannot be proven.
The dating methods involve enormous extrapolation from what has been observed during recorded history, which cause a huge uncertainty in the predicted dates (Appendix A). In normal (operational) science such extrapolations would be viewed as being speculative guesses.
Those involved with unrecorded history gather information in the present and construct stories about the past. They use radiometric dating that relies on assumptions that are unknowable like the initial conditions, the radioactive decay rate over time, and that the fossil or rock are a closed system which doesn’t exchange chemicals with its environment. This makes the calculated dates unreliable and untrustworthy.
When I flew to Tasmania last month, the limit for checked in luggage was 20kg. I have a hand-held electronic scale to measure the weight of my luggage. At the airport I check that my scale gives a similar weight to that measured by the airline. This is how I check the calibration of my scales. If the readings are significantly different, I need to purchase a new scale.
The problem with ancient forensic science and the evolutionary/geological time scale is that they have never been calibrated against actual time. It’s impossible to calibrate them against real time because there are no records older than recorded history. Outside the range of recorded history, it’s impossible to calibrate dating methods independently. In fact, the use of all dating methods outside the range of recorded history rely on unprovable assumptions.
Have the methods of ancient forensic science been tested against samples of known age? The only instance that I can find gives examples where radiometric dates are much older than actual dates, where different radiometric methods gave different dates, where known recent lava flows are dated at millions of years, where DNA and soft tissue is found in fossils that are alleged to be millions of years old, and where 14C is found in coal and fossils that are supposedly millions of years old (Catchpoole et al, 2006, Mason 2014). This casts doubt on the reliability of all radioactive dating methods.
The past is the key to the present
We all know that time moves forwards, not backwards; and that causes precede effects. So it’s more accurate to say that “the past is the key to the present”. And “the present is the key to the future”.
This is a fundamental flaw of the principle of uniformity when it’s used to date ancient times using ancient forensic science. It’s a simple and obvious problem. The present isn’t the key to the past.
In the scientific method, a hypothesis is suggested and then tested by experimentation and observation. To be scientific the hypothesis must make predictions that are testable and falsifiable. The results of a test may either support or contradict the hypothesis. If they contradict the hypothesis, then the hypothesis has been found to be false. It’s easier to disprove a hypothesis because observations and experiments may disprove a scientific hypothesis, but can never entirely prove one. You can’t prove something is true. But you can disprove it.
According to the evolutionary/geologic timescale, the dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period about 66 million years ago. So a possible hypothesis that is based on the evolutionary/geological timescale is that dinosaur bones are at least 66 million years old. A testable prediction from this hypothesis is, “If dinosaur bones are at least 65 million years old, then they will contain no proteins (unstable molecules) or soft tissue (because this will have decomposed over such a long time period)”. But paleontologist Mary Schweitzer found proteins, blood vessels and soft tissue in dinosaur fossils. So the hypothesis is false. This means that the evolutionary/geologic timescale has been proven scientifically to be false. Dinosaur bones are not millions of years old. And the evolutionary/geologic timescale is nothing like real time.
This conclusion has been reached using the measured rates of protein degradation. But those who advocate the evolutionary/geologic timescale have faith that this anomaly can be explained by claiming that the rate of protein degradation can vary widely and a reason for this longevity will be discovered. But they won’t recognize that radioactive decay rates could also vary over time! Instead they claim that, “many independent observations indicate that nuclear decay rates have been constant for millions of years”. I wonder how they measure millions of years without assuming millions of years? No one was there to measure the time period.
The Bible (which has the best record of ancient history) says that most of the world was destroyed by a global flood in about 2,400BC. And this was probably the precursor of the ice age (Job 38:29-30). The impact of this flood is evident across the world as widespread thick layers of sedimentary rock, some containing fossil graveyards. As such a catastrophic event would invalidate the assumptions of all ancient forensic science, dates reported to be older than 2,400BC do not represent true calendar dates (see Appendix B). They are purely hypothetical dates that may convey some information about relative dating, but not about absolute dating.
What about cave paintings that have been dated about 40,000BP? Whatever assumptions were made to determine these dates, they are obviously not calendar dates. This confirms that the uncertainty associated with dating events using ancient forensic science can be huge. These uncertainties are caused by the assumptions that are made when calculating the dates.
The hypothetical geological column is based on a fragmentary sedimentary record. And there are far fewer sedimentary rocks on earth than should have been deposited if its age is about 4.5 billion years. This means that either the earth is not that old as is generally believed or that most of the strata are missing because of erosion.
The lack of erosion surfaces between strata, the presence of poly-strata fossils, and the presence of any fossils show that sedimentary rock strata were deposited rapidly, not gradually. Note that when animals die today, they aren’t fossilized.
Cataclysmic events such as the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 have indicated that large amounts of sedimentation and erosion can be associated with cataclysmic vulcanism and floods.
Radiometric methods use isotope concentrations which can be measured very accurately. But isotope concentrations or ratios are not dates. To calculate ages from such measurements unprovable assumptions have to be made. The radiometric method is unreliable because of the unknowable assumptions that must be made about the history of the sample being dated. In practice, dates that do not fit the evolutionary/geologic time-scale are discarded. Only dates that fit this paradigm are reported. Because what a person thinks about the age of the earth depends on their worldview, the findings in most publications that use ancient forensic science depend on the author’s worldview.
Radiometric dating doesn’t directly measure the ages of fossils and rocks. It measures the concentrations of isotopes and then many unprovable assumptions are used to determine the probable age.
Let’s be sceptical of ages for events that are claimed to be older than recorded history. These hypothetical dates have huge uncertainties, which are never mentioned by scientists. When the real uncertainties are taken in account, the dates are shown to be speculative guesses.
Appendix A: Enormous extrapolation
Scientists use mathematical methods to make predictions. These mathematical methods (which are called “models”) are developed from measurements (observations) that have been made over a certain period of time and under a certain range of conditions. The predictions are most accurate for circumstances that lie within those under which the model was developed. Predictions made outside these circumstances are less reliable as they are extrapolations outside the realm that was measured and observed.
The ancient forensic scientific explanation of ancient history uses theories and observations made in the past few hundred years to make statements about what happened millions and billions of years ago. In science it is well known that the accuracy of a prediction decreases as it extends outside the region of measurement and observation.
Orders of magnitude are used to compare very large differences between numbers. It this case the difference is expressed as the power of 10. For example, 1,000 is one order of magnitude greater than 100, two orders of magnitude greater than 10, and three orders of magnitude greater than 1.
We will now estimate the degree of extrapolation that is made by ancient forensic science. In order to be conservative, we will assume that the scientific theories and observations have been developed from measurements and observations made in the past 1,000 years. So any prediction that applies greater than 1,000 years ago is an extrapolation outside the range of measurement and observation. Therefore, a prediction of an event 10,000 years ago represents an extrapolation of one order of magnitude. Using the dates taught in the Big History Project, we see that the extrapolations are at least 2 to 7 orders of magnitude. As the degree of uncertainty usually increases with the size of the extrapolation, these enormous extrapolations indicate a huge uncertainty in these predictions. In normal science such extrapolations would be viewed as being speculative guesses.
|Proposed Event||Extrapolation – Orders of magnitude|
|Big bang||7 (a factor of 107 )|
|Earth and solar system formed||6 (a factor of 106)|
|First life on earth||6 (a factor of 106)|
|First humans||2 (a factor of 102)|
Appendix B: The flood and radiometric dating
The Genesis flood would have greatly upset the carbon balance of the earth. The 14C/12C ratio in plants, animals and the atmosphere before the flood would have been lower than after the flood. And volcanism, which occurred during the flood, would have also reduced the 14C/12C ratio at that time.
Catchpoole D, Sarfiti J, Weiland C, Batten D (2006), “The creation answers book”, Creation Book Publishers.
Mason J (2014) “Radiometric dating”, Chapter 6 of “Evolution’s Achilles heels”, Creation Book Publishers.
Written, November 2018
Did Michael Jordan walk away from Nike? No. This rumor was debunked by FactCheck.org. This story was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. And snops.com also investigates American urban legends. While, Fact Check determines the accuracy of claims by politicians, public figures, advocacy groups and institutions engaged in the public debate in Australia. Bruce Masse, an environmental archaeologist says “Myths are largely event-based, in that they are triggered to a large part by an event, or combination of events, that catastrophically impact society”.
In this post we look at ancient legendary flood stories. Are they entirely imaginary, fictional and mythical or is there some factual reality or truth behind them? And could the Biblical account of the flood be based on ancient mythology like the Gilgamesh flood myth?
Hebrew account of the flood
The book of Genesis was edited by Moses in about 1450BC and the earliest copies available today are from the 2nd century BC found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It begins with the creation of the world and the universe (Gen. 1-2). Then there is the fall into sin (Gen. 3-5) and the flood (Gen. 6-9). The sources of Genesis are 12 family documents. The account of the flood is in the record of the descendants of Noah (Gen. 6:9-9:29). According to the Bible, the Flood occurred about 2350BC and Noah died about 2000BC (these are rounded numbers). So the original account (which was edited by Moses) would have been dated to before 2000BC.
God created a universe that was good and free from sin. God created humanity to have a personal relationship with Him. Adam and Eve sinned and thereby brought evil and death into the world. Evil increased steadily in the world until there was only one family in which God found anything good. God sent the flood to wipe out evil, but delivered Noah and his family along with the animals in the Ark. After the flood, humanity began again to multiply and spread throughout the world.
The biblical account of the flood is summarized below.
God commanded Noah to build an ark (boat) about 135m long, 23m wide and 14m high. It had three decks, a roof and a door. Noah and his three sons and their wives entered the ark. God made a male and female of very kind of bird and animal go into the ark. Then God shut the door and after seven days subterranean water gushed out of the earth and rain fell for 40 days. The flood waters rose to a depth of at least 7m above the mountains that existed at that time (which were lower than today’s mountains). There was much erosion and sedimentation, followed by more erosion, associated with the global flood. The earth was flooded for another 150 days before the waters receded until the ark rested on the Ararat mountains. All the other birds and animals on earth were drowned in the catastrophe. Tectonic forces raised mountains and there was much erosion as massive amounts of flood water flowed to lower levels (Ps. 104:6-9). After another 74 days the tops of the mountains became visible. After another 40 days Noah sent out a raven, and then 7 days later he sent out a dove, but it returned to the ark. Seven days later he sent out the dove again and it returned with an olive leaf. Seven days later he sent out the dove again, but it didn’t return. After about 370 days in the ark, God commanded Noah to come out of the ark with his family and all the animals. Noah then built and altar to sacrifice an offering to God for protecting them. God made a covenant with Noah and promised that those who were on the ark will repopulate the earth. And never again will there be such a flood that destroys the earth. And the rainbow in the sky will be the sign (symbol) of this covenant.
Babylonian account of the flood
The Gilgamesh flood myth is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was written on 12 clay tablets. A copy of Tablet 11 was found in Nineveh and is dated in the 7th century BC. This was the Babylonian account of the Flood, which was inscribed in cuneiform text on a baked clay tablet. Many scholars believe that the flood myth was added to Tablet 11 in the “standard version” of the Gilgamesh Epic by an editor who utilized the flood story from the Epic of Atrahasis (Appendix E). Tablet 11 has the following clue, “It was not I who revealed the secret of the Great Gods, I only made a dream appear to Atrahasis, and thus he heard our secret”. The oldest copy of the Epic of Atrahasis is dated 1650BC and scholars reckon the time of its first compilation in the Akkadian language is around 2,000 B.C. But some editorial changes were made to the text in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s believed that the Epic of Atrahasis utilized the flood story from The Eridu Genesis, which contains a Sumerian flood story (Appendix F).
The Babylonian flood account has been summarized as follows.
The Sumerian hero Gilgamesh traveled the world in search of a way to cheat death. On one of his journeys, he came across an old man, Utnapishtim, who told Gilgamesh a story from centuries past. The gods brought a flood that swallowed the earth. The gods were angry at humanity so they sent a flood to destroy them. The god Ea, warned Utnapishtim and instructed him to build an enormous boat to save himself, his family, and “the seed of all living things.” He does so, and the gods brought rain which caused the water to rise for many days. When the rains subsided, the boat landed on a mountain, and Utnapishtim set loose first a dove, then a swallow, and finally a raven, which found land. The god Ishtar created the rainbow and placed it in the sky, as a reminder to the gods and a pledge to mankind that there would be no more floods.
The text of the flood from Genesis is given in Appendix A and the text from Gilgamesh is given in Appendix B. Can we tell if one was influenced by the other? Or are they separate accounts of the same event? There are similarities and differences between these accounts.
In both Genesis and Gilgamesh, the flood is global in extent and after the flood is announced Noah and Utnapishtim are both instructed to build a boat coated in pitch, with many compartments, one door and at least one window. After the flood they both released birds to test for dry land. The boats both landed on mountains. Noah and Utnapishtim both offered sacrifices after the flood and they were both promised blessings.
Many of the similarities between the Genesis and Gilgamesh would be expected to be found in any ancient flood account. The landing of the boats on a mountain and the use of birds to determine when the flood subsided are probably the most unusual similarities.
There are also significant differences between Genesis and Gilgamesh. The theme of the Gilgamesh Epic is the quest for immortality. This isn’t mentioned in the Genesis flood story. Genesis is occupied with relating early history in the overarching plan of redemption of the true and living God.
The Bible says that the reason for the flood was that the earth was corrupt and full of violence; there was great wickedness and “the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5, 11-13). Whereas in Gilgamesh there is no clear reason for the flood: He says is was because Ištar said “evil things in the Assembly of the Gods” and mentioned “Charge the violation to the violator, charge the offense to the offender”. And the Sumerian flood story says that the gods were irritated by the noise of mankind (Appendix F). Noah was saved from the flood because he “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Gen. 6:9). But no reason is given in Gilgamesh for Utnapishtim being saved from the flood.
Noah urged the people to repent (maybe for 120 years; Gen. 6:3) to avoid God’s judgment, whereas Utnapishtim escaped death by deception (Gen. 6:3; 1 Pt. 3:19-20; 2 Pt. 3:9).
Noah is instructed directly by God, whereas Utnapishtim is instructed indirectly via dream. In Genesis the boat is rectangular, which is stable, whereas in Gilgamesh it is square, which is unstable. The Gilgamesh boat was an unseaworthy cube which would immediately flip over or roll around in the water. In contrast, the ark had dimensions that were ideal for a seaworthy ship. Noah’s boat had 3 decks, but Utnapishtim’s boat had 6 decks. In Genesis the passengers were all family members, whereas in Gilgamesh it was family members and the craftsmen. In Genesis the animals came to Noah and entered the ark, whereas in Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim loaded the animals into the boat. In Genesis God shut the door, whereas in Gilgamesh Utnapishtim shut the door. In Genesis the water is subterranean plus rainfall, whereas in Gilgamesh it is only rainfall. In Genesis the storm lasted 40 days, whereas in Gilgamesh it lasted 6 days. When Utanapishtim looked out, “all the human beings had turned to clay”, but no such statement is attributed to Noah. Noah was on the boat for over a year, whereas Utnapishtim was on the boat for only a few weeks. Noah released a raven first and then a dove was released three times, whereas Utnapishtim released a dove first, then a swallow and a raven last. Noah’s boat landed on Mt Ararat, whereas Utnapishtim’s boat landed on Mt Nisir. When Noah sacrificed he burnt clean animals and clean birds. Whereas Utnapishtim burned incense from the oil of reeds, cedar, and myrtle.
Noah’s blessing was that he would have many descendants who would repopulate the earth, people would now be able to eat animals for food (as well as plants) and God promised to never destroy the earth again with a flood. Whereas Utnapishtim and his wife were turned into gods that lived for ever.
The God in Genesis is monotheistic, while Gilgamesh has many gods – it’s polytheistic. Enlil, who mainly decreed the flood, is not omnipotent or omniscient because a fellow god Ea thwarted him. Ea tells Utnapishtim to deceive the rest of the people so they would not realize a flood was coming even when the huge ship was being built. The polytheistic gods are fallible and not ethical or moral. They are constantly fighting amongst each other, plotting and deceiving each other.
These differences illustrate the differences between the Hebrew and Babylonian worldviews. They are completely different worldviews. The Mesopotamian story reflects the world-view of continuity whereby the worlds of humanity, nature, and the divine have no definite borders and so interact with each other. The world-view of the Bible, by contrast, is that of transcendence; where humanity and nature is not God, but instead, God is other than, and not bound by, the world and humanity.
Monotheism and polytheism in the Bible
The Bible (the most reliable source on ancient history for the God who is sovereign over human history) teaches that humanity was originally monotheistic and monotheism preceded polytheism. It says that the one true God created the earth and the universe. The first couple, Adam and Eve communicated with the one true God, who banished them from the garden of Eden. So the world was monotheistic at the beginning. In the next generation, Cain and Abel, offered sacrifices to the one true God. God communicated with Cain and Cain was banished for murdering Abel. We are not told when polytheism began, but it is said that in Seth’s generation “people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). The implication seems to be that the descendants of Cain weren’t following God. For example, Lamech practiced polygamy and was violent (Gen. 4:19-24). Presumably he also followed another god(s).
The fact that Enoch “walked faithfully with God”, probably means that there were others who were not following God. (Gen. 5:21-24). Presumably they also followed other gods. Before the flood, Noah “walked faithfully with God” and he “did everything just as God commanded him” (Gen. 6:9, 22). The rest of humanity “had corrupted their ways” and “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5, 12). This probably means that the other people were not following God. Presumably they followed other gods. All those who worshipped other gods drowned in the flood and the earth was repopulated by Noah’s family. So the world was monotheistic again immediately after the flood.
Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The nations that descended from them are given in Genesis 10. Shem, Ham, and Japheth were monotheistic because they followed the one true God. But their descendants forgot the true God and followed false gods. In the following paragraphs we see how the Bible says that the following Hamites were polytheistic: Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and the Canaanite clans (Gen. 10:6-20).
The first specific mention of a person that practiced polytheism in the Bible relates to Terah, the father of Abraham, who lived about 2000BC. God told Joshua, “Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods” (Josh. 24:2). So after the flood and the dispersion from Babel, those who lived in Mesopotamia were polytheistic. After God revealed himself to Abram, Abram forsook the gods of his ancestors and followed the God who created the world. He obeyed God and travelled to Canaan where he offered sacrifices to the one true God. So he is an example of someone who converted from polytheism to monotheism. In about 1900BC his nephew Lot lived near Sodom. The Bible says, “the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). God destroyed Sodom because there were less than ten righteous people in the city (Gen. 18:32 – 19:29). This probably means that they were not following God. Presumably they followed other gods.
The first specific mention of a person that practiced polytheism in the Bible is when “Rachel stole her father’s household gods” at Harran in Paddan Aram in about 1750BC (Gen. 31:19). Later Jacob buried all the foreign gods (idols) in his household at Shechem because he was monotheistic and not polytheistic (Gen. 35:2-4).
The ten plagues in about 1450BC were God’s “judgment on all the gods [idols] of Egypt” (Ex. 12:12). The Egyptians were polytheistic; they worshipped many idols. The land of Egypt is mentioned first in the Bible when Abram visited during a famine in about 1900BC (Gen. 12:12-20). Presumably the Egyptians were also polytheistic then as they were 450 years later.
In about 1450BC God warned the Israelites not to worship the gods of “the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites” (Ex. 23:23-24, 33) because that would draw them away from the true God. When God made a covenant with Abram in about 1900BC, He said “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16). This probably means that they were not following God. Presumably they followed other gods as they were 450 years later.
When Abraham was living in Canaan in about 1900BC, “the Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land” (Gen. 13:7). Presumably they also followed other gods as they were 450 years later. In about 1875BC, God promised Abram to give his descendants “the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites” (Gen. 15:19-21). Presumably they also followed other gods as they were 425 years later.
As we can see, polytheism was prevalent in the ancient world. But it began as a rebellion against the one true God. So monotheism originated earlier than polytheism.
Evidence for the global flood
A global flood would leave geological, geomorphic, and cultural evidence. Sarfati (2015) summarized the physical evidence for the global flood in terms of two stages: inundation, followed by recession. Evidence of the flood inundation is:
– The huge horizontal extent of many rock layers. For example, the Great Artesian Basin in Australia.
– The rapid formation of the main rock layers. This includes: rapidly buried fossils (which we discover today in their sequence of burial); thick sandstones formed under water (like the 96 meter thick Coconino sandstone at the Grand Canyon); rapidly formed landscsapes and their rapid repopulation in the present (like the island of Surtsey near Iceland, and the Mt St Helens eruption); and rapid rock layering (many layers were formed quickly at Mt St Helens).
– Very little time between the rock layers. This includes: lack of erosion above and below; preservation of animal tracks, raindrop marks and ripple marks; and fossil tree trunks penetrating multiple layers.
Evidence of the flood recession is:
– Massive erosion (like around the 275 meter high Devils Tower in Wyoming).
– Planation surfaces – huge flat areas (by a giant sheet of water eroding freshly deposited rock layers). For example, the plateau of the Blue Mountains in Australia.
– Water gaps where rivers flow through mountains rather than around them (by channelized water flow). For example, the Heavitree Gap in the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in Australia.
– Rapidly formed canyons by channelized water flow (like at Mt St Helens).
Sarfati (2015) also claimed that all people groups across the world remember a global flood in their flood legends. These stories often have a common root that relates to a real event, not just a myth. The best explanation is that they have a common memory of the real event that’s described in Genesis. But the account became distorted over time.
Many assume that Gilgamesh is the older of the two flood stories. But they assume that Genesis was edited during the Jewish exile in the 6th century BC. And the assumed date for the compilation of the Epic of Atrahasis is about 2000BC. That’s a difference of about 1,500 years! As mentioned above, the Bible says that Genesis was edited by Moses in about 1450BC. And the material he edited was from the record of the descendants of Noah, which dates to before 2000BC. For example, the directions in Genesis 10:19 include “toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim”. These were the cities of the plain God destroyed for their extreme wickedness 500 years before the time of Moses. When this is taken into account, it’s clear that both of the flood accounts are ancient and it’s not clear which is the oldest.
At the time of the flood, Noah’s family was monotheistic. Therefore, the record of the flood by his family should be more accurate that other polytheistic records. The Genesis account of the flood is written as a historical event and contains better explanations for what happened. It also makes more sense. For example, in the Gilgamesh epic, the ark is a cube, a terrible design for rough waters. Whereas Noah’s Ark was built to be tremendously stable. Gilgamesh’ flood account starts with an apparently arbitrary destruction of life and ends with an equally arbitrary extension of life into eternity. And Gilgamesh is clearly mythological, but Genesis is not mythological. It is common to make legends out of historical events, but not history from legends.
Evidently, the Genesis account came first, and the human writers of the Gilgamesh Epic rewrote the true account, and made their gods in their own image. This means that if one borrowed from the other, it was the Babylonian account that was influenced by the Genesis account. And it’s highly unlikely that Moses would have borrowed flood history from a foreign polytheistic civilization.
A clear flood tradition existed in ancient Mesopotamia from very early times and the fact that such ancient flood stories are common across the world indicate that it’s based on a real event. But with time this was corrupted and garbled by polytheistic and mythological superstition as seen in the accounts copied in this post.
Many scholars assume that Gilgamesh is the older of the two flood stories and that the Biblical account has been derived from the Gilgamesh account. We have shown that this is incorrect. We need to be aware of the bias and poor exegesis demonstrated by many scholars who just follow current trends and don’t realize that their presuppositions are wrong.
God’s message to polytheists
Many people who lived in the Roman Empire during the first century AD were polytheistic. Although they were religious, they followed many false gods (idols); they didn’t know about the true God. So Paul told them about “the God who made the world and everything in it” (Appendix G). The one true God sustains the world, “He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else”. And this God controls history, “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands”.
Then Paul told them about the true God and “the good news about Jesus and the resurrection”. He would have explained how humanity’s sin separated them from God and that Jesus was going to return to judge them. And He said, “He [God] commands all people everywhere to repent”. They were to turn around from following false gods and confess their sinfulness to the true God, and acknowledge that Jesus paid for their sins when He died and rose again.
Ancient flood stories can have elements of fact and fiction. Both the Biblical flood and the Gilgamesh flood are accounts of the global flood that occurred in the 3rd millennium BC. The Genesis flood account is an accurate historical record of the flood event, whereas the Gilgamesh flood account lost historical accuracy and was distorted over time. Other accounts of an ancient flood would have also been derived from this global flood. So ancient flood stories are not entirely imaginary, fictional and mythical because there some factual reality or truth behind them. But see Genesis in the Bible for the best account of this event.
According to this evidence, the biblical version of the flood isn’t based on ancient mythology like the Gilgamesh flood. Let’s be sceptical of those who assume that the Bible’s account was derived from Mesopotamian flood accounts.
Also, let’s remember that the good news about Jesus is for all those who don’t follow the one true God, whether they are polytheists or monotheists, or atheists.
Jona Lendering, Dutch historian, website on ancient history: http://www.livius.org
Sarfati J D (2015) The Genesis account. Creation Book Publishers. p. 509-510, 525-550.
Appendix A: Genesis 6:9-9:17 (NIV)
Jewish account of the flood
9 This is the account of Noah and his family.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
1The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3 and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”
5 And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.
13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.
17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
1But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.
6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.
13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.
15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”
18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”
1Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.
4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.
7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
Appendix B: Tablet 11 of the Epic of Gilgamesh
Sumerian Flood Story
A translation from Jona Lendering of Tablet 11 of this epic is given below.
 Gilgameš spoke to Ut-napištim, the Faraway:
“I have been looking at you,
but your appearance is not strange – you are like me!
You yourself are not different – you are like me!
My mind was resolved to fight with you,
but instead my arm lies useless over you.
how is it that you stand in the Assembly of the Gods, and have found life?”
 Ut-napištim spoke to Gilgameš, saying:
“I will reveal to you, Gilgameš, a thing that is hidden,
a secret of the gods I will tell you!
Šuruppak, a city that you surely know,
situated on the banks of the Euphrates,
that city was very old, and there were gods inside it.
 The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood.
Their Father Anu uttered the oath,
Valiant Enlil was their Adviser,
Ninurta was their Chamberlain,
Ennugi was their Minister of Canals.
 Ea, the Prince, was under oath with them
so he repeated their talk to the reed house:
‘Reed house, reed house! Wall, wall!
O man of Šuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu [Ut-napištim]
Tear down the house and build a boat!
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make [the seed of] all living beings go up into the boat.
The boat which you are to build,
its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
its length must correspond to its width.
Roof it over like the Apsu.’ [the firmament in the primordial waters]
 I understood and spoke to my lord, Ea:
‘My lord, thus is the command which you have uttered
I will heed and will do it.
But what shall I answer the city, the populace, and the Elders?’
 Ea spoke, commanding me, his servant:
‘You, well then, this is what you must say to them:
“It appears that Enlil is rejecting me
so I cannot reside in your city,
nor set foot on Enlil’s earth.
I will go down to the Apsu to live with my lord, Ea,
and upon you he will rain down abundance,
a profusion of fowl, myriad fishes
He will bring to you a harvest of wealth,
in the morning he will let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat!”‘
 Just as dawn began to glow
the people assembled around me.
The carpenter carried his hatchet,
the reedworker carried his flattening stone,
[two lines destroyed]
 The child carried the pitch,
the weak brought whatever else was needed.
On the fifth day I had laid out her exterior.
It was a field in area,
its walls were each 10 times 12 cubits in height,
the sides of its top were of equal length, 10 times 12 cubits each [the boat was cubic].
 Then I designed its interior structure as follows:
I provided it with six decks,
thus dividing it into seven levels.
The inside of it I divided into nine compartments.
I drove plugs to keep out water in its middle part.
I saw to the punting poles and laid in what was necessary.
 Three times 3,600 units of raw bitumen I poured into the bitumen kiln,
three times 3,600 units of pitch […] into it,
there were three times 3,600 porters of casks who carried vegetable oil.
Apart from the 3,600 units of oil for the dedication,
the boatsman stored away two times 3,600 units of oil.
 I butchered oxen for the carpenters,
and day upon day I slaughtered sheep.
I gave the workmen beer, ale, oil, and wine,
as if it were river water,
and they made a party like the New Year’s Festival!
 I set my hand to the finishing of the ship.
The boat was finished by sunset.
The launching was very difficult:
They had to keep carrying a runway of poles front to back,
until two-thirds of it had gone under water.
 Whatever I had I loaded on it:
whatever silver I had I loaded on it,
whatever gold I had I loaded on it.
All the living beings that I had I loaded on it,
I had all my kith and kin go up into the boat,
all the beasts and animals of the field and the craftsmen I had go up.
 [The sun god] Šamaš had set a stated time:
‘In the morning I will let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat!
Go inside the boat, seal the entry!’
 That stated time had arrived.
In the morning he let loaves of bread shower down,
and in the evening a rain of wheat.
I watched the appearance of the weather:
the weather was frightful to behold!
 I went into the boat and sealed the entry.
For the caulking of the boat, to Puzur-Amurri, the boatman,
I gave the palace together with its contents [A cynical joke. Puzur-Amurri must have though he had concluded a good deal].
 Just as dawn began to glow
there arose from the horizon a black cloud.
[the storm god] Adad rumbled inside of it,
before him went Šhullat and Haniš [Sack and Suppression],
heralds going over mountain and land.
 [The god of destruction] Erragal pulled out the mooring poles,
forth went [the war god] Ninurta and made the dikes overflow.
 The gods lifted up the torches,
setting the land ablaze with their flare.
 Stunned shock over Adad’s deeds overtook the heavens,
and turned to blackness all that had been light.
He shattered the land like a raging bull, broke it into pieces like a pot.
 All day long the South Wind blew,
blowing fast – and then the Flood came,
overwhelming the people like an attack.
 No one could see his fellow,
they could not recognize each other in the torrent.
 Even the gods were frightened by the Flood,
and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.
The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall.
 Ištar shrieked like a woman in childbirth,
the sweet-voiced Mistress of the Gods wailed:
‘The olden days have alas turned to clay,
because I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods!
How could I say evil things in the Assembly of the Gods,
ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people?
No sooner have I given birth to my dear people
than they fill the sea like so many fish!’
 The gods -those of the Anunnaki- were weeping with her,
the gods humbly sat weeping, sobbing with grief,
their lips burning, parched with thirst.
Six days and seven nights
came the wind and flood,
the storm flattening the land.
 When the seventh day arrived,
the storm was pounding.
She who had been struggling with itself like a woman writhing in labor,
the sea, calmed; the whirlwind fell still; the flood stopped.
 I looked around all day long – quiet had set in
and all the human beings had turned to clay!
The terrain was as flat as a roof.
 I opened a vent and daylight fell upon my cheek.
I fell to my knees and sat weeping,
tears streaming down my cheeks.
I looked around for coastlines in the expanse of the sea,
and at twelve leagues there emerged a region of land.
 On Mount Nimuš the boat lodged firm,
Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
One day and a second Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
A third day, a fourth, Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
A fifth day, a sixth, Mount Nimuš held the boat, allowing no sway.
 When a seventh day arrived
I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
 I sent forth a swallow and released it.
The swallow went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
 I sent forth a raven and released it.
The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.
It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.
 I sacrificed: I offered a libation to the four corners of the world,
I burned incense in front of the rising mountain.
Seven and seven cult vessels I put in place,
and into the bowls I poured [the oil of] reeds, cedar, and myrtle.
 The gods smelled the savor,
the gods smelled the sweet savor,
and collected like flies over a sacrifice [An almost insulting comparison].
Just then the Mistress of the Gods arrived.
She lifted up the large fly-shaped beads which Anu had made for their engagement:
You gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli around my neck,
may I be mindful of these days, and never forget them!
The gods may come to the incense offering,
but Enlil may not come to the incense offering,
because without considering he brought about the Flood
and consigned my people to annihilation.’
 Just then Enlil arrived.
He saw the boat and became furious,
he was filled with rage at the Igigi gods:
‘Where did a living being escape?
No man was to survive the annihilation!’
 Ninurta spoke to Valiant Enlil, saying:
‘Who else but Ea could devise such a thing?
It is Ea who knows every machination!’
 Ea spoke to Valiant Enlil, saying:
‘It is yours, O Valiant One, who is the Sage of the Gods.
How, how could you bring about a Flood without consideration
Charge the violation to the violator,
charge the offense to the offender,
but be compassionate lest (mankind) be cut off,
be patient lest they be killed.
 Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that a lion had appeared to diminish the people!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that a wolf had appeared to diminish the people!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that famine had occurred to slay the land!
Instead of your bringing on the Flood,
would that Pestilent Erra had appeared to ravage the land!
 It was not I who revealed the secret of the Great Gods,
I only made a dream appear to Atrahasis, and thus he heard our secret [This is a strange line: the hero is not called Atrahasis, but Ut-napištim, and Ea had used another trick].
Now then! The deliberation should be about him!’
 Enlil went up inside the boat
and, grasping my hand, made me go up.
He had my wife go up and kneel by my side.
He touched our forehead and, standing between us, he blessed us:
 ‘Previously Ut-napištim was a human being.
But now let Ut-napištim and his wife become like us, the gods!
Let Ut-napištim reside far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers.’
 They took us far away and settled us at the Mouth of the Rivers.
[To Gilgameš] Now then, who will convene the gods on your behalf,
that you may find the life that you are seeking!
Wait! You must not lie down for six days and seven nights.”
 Soon as Gilgameš sat down (with his head) between his legs
sleep, like a fog, blew upon him.
Ut-napištim said to his wife:
“Look there! The man, the youth who wanted (eternal) life!
Sleep, like a fog, blew over him.”
Appendix C: Summary of the Babylonian Flood Story
Because Gilgamesh fears death, he determines to find immortality. During this search that he meets Utnapishtim, the character most like the Biblical Noah. Utnapishtim had become immortal after building a ship to weather the Great Deluge that destroyed mankind. He brought all of his relatives and all species of creatures aboard the vessel. Utnapishtim released birds to find land, and the ship landed upon a mountain after the flood.
Here is a summary of the poem according to Wikipedia.
Ea leaks the secret plan
- Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh a secret story that begins in the old city of Shuruppak on the banks of the Euphrates River.
- The “great gods” Anu, Enlil, Ninurta, Ennugi, and Ea were sworn to secrecy about their plan to cause the flood.
- But the god Ea (Sumerian god Enki) repeated the plan to Utnapishtim through a reed wall in a reed house.
- Ea commanded Utnapishtim to demolish his house and build a boat, regardless of the cost, to keep living beings alive.
- The boat must have equal dimensions with corresponding width and length and be covered over like Apsu boats.
- Utnapishtim promised to do what Ea commanded.
- He asked Ea what he should say to the city elders and the population.
- Ea tells him to say that Enlil has rejected him and he can no longer reside in the city or set foot in Enlil’s territory.
- He should also say that he will go down to the Apsu “to live with my lord Ea”.
- Note: ‘Apsu’ can refer to a fresh water marsh near the temple of Ea/Enki at the city of Eridu.
- Ea will provide abundant rain, a profusion of fowl and fish, and a wealthy harvest of wheat and bread.
Building and launching the boat
- Carpenters, reed workers, and other people assembled one morning.
- [missing lines]
- Five days later, Utnapishtim laid out the exterior walls of the boat of 120 cubits.
- The sides of the superstructure had equal lengths of 120 cubits. He also made a drawing of the interior structure.
- The boat had six decks [?] divided into seven and nine compartments.
- Water plugs were driven into the middle part.
- Punting poles and other necessary things were laid in.
- Three times 3,600 units of raw bitumen were melted in a kiln and three times 3,600 units of oil were used in addition to two times 3,600 units of oil that were stored in the boat.
- Oxen and sheep were slaughtered and ale, beer, oil, and wine were distributed to the workmen, like at a new year’s festival.
- When the boat was finished, the launching was very difficult. A runway of poles was used to slide the boat into the water.
- Two-thirds of the boat was in the water.
- Utnapishtim loaded his silver and gold into the boat.
- He loaded “all the living beings that I had.”
- His relatives and craftsmen, and “all the beasts and animals of the field” boarded the boat.
- The time arrived, as stated by the god Shamash, to seal the entry door.
- Early in the morning at dawn a black cloud arose from the horizon.
- The weather was frightful.
- Utnapishtim boarded the boat and entrusted the boat and its contents to his boatmaster Puzurammurri who sealed the entry.
- The thunder god Adad rumbled in the cloud and storm gods Shullar and Hanish went over mountains and land.
- Erragal pulled out the mooring poles and the dikes overflowed.
- The Annunnaki gods lit up the land with their lightning.
- There was stunned shock at Adad’s deeds which turned everything to blackness. The land was shattered like a pot.
- All day long the south wind blew rapidly and the water overwhelmed the people like an attack.
- No one could see his fellows. They could not recognize each other in the torrent.
- The gods were frightened by the flood, and retreated up to the Anu heaven. They cowered like dogs lying by the outer wall.
- Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth.
- The Mistress of the gods wailed that the old days had turned to clay because “I said evil things in the Assembly of the Gods, ordering a catastrophe to destroy my people who fill the sea like fish.”
- The other gods were weeping with her and sat sobbing with grief, their lips burning, parched with thirst.
- The flood and wind lasted six days and six nights, flattening the land.
- On the seventh day, the storm was pounding [intermittently?] like a woman in labor.
Calm after the storm
- The sea calmed and the whirlwind and flood stopped. All day long there was quiet. All humans had turned to clay.
- The terrain was as flat as a roof top. Utnapishtim opened a window and felt fresh air on his face.
- He fell to his knees and sat weeping, tears streaming down his face. He looked for coastlines at the horizon and saw a region of land.
- The boat lodged firmly on mount Nimush which held the boat for several days, allowing no swaying.
- On the seventh day he released a dove which flew away, but came back to him. He released a swallow, but it also came back to him.
- He released a raven which was able to eat and scratch, and did not circle back to the boat.
- He then sent his livestock out in various directions.
- He sacrificed a sheep and offered incense at a mountainous ziggurat where he placed 14 sacrificial vessels and poured reeds, cedar, and myrtle into the fire.
- The gods smelled the sweet odor of the sacrificial animal and gathered like flies over the sacrifice.
- Then the great goddess arrived, lifted up her flies (beads), and said
- “Ye gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli [amulet] around my neck, I shall be mindful of these days and never forget them! The gods may come to the sacrificial offering. But Enlil may not come, because he brought about the flood and annihilated my people without considering [the consequences].”
- When Enlil arrived, he saw the boat and became furious at the Igigi gods. He said “Where did a living being escape? No man was to survive the annihilation!”
- Ninurta spoke to Enlil saying “Who else but Ea could do such a thing? It is Ea who knew all of our plans.”
- Ea spoke to Enlil saying “It was you, the Sage of the Gods. How could you bring about a flood without consideration?”
- Ea then accuses Enlil of sending a disproportionate punishment, and reminds him of the need for compassion.
- Ea denies leaking the god’s secret plan to Atrahasis (= Utnapishtim), admitting only sending him a dream and deflecting Enlil’s attention to the flood hero.
The flood hero and his wife are granted immortality and transported far away
- He then boards a boat and grasping Utnapishtim’s hand, helps him and his wife aboard where they kneel. Standing between Utnapishtim and his wife, he touches their foreheads and blesses them. “Formerly Utnapishtim was a human being, but now he and his wife have become gods like us. Let Utnapishtim reside far away, at the mouth of the rivers.”
- Utnapishtim and his wife are transported and settled at the “mouth of the rivers”.
Appendix D: Summary of Tablet 11
According to Wikipedia, the first half of the Epic of Gilagamesh discusses Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a wild man created by the gods to stop Gilgamesh from oppressing the people of Uruk. After Enkidu becomes civilized through sexual initiation with a prostitute, he travels to Uruk, where he challenges Gilgamesh to a test of strength. Gilgamesh wins and the two become friends. Together, they make a six-day journey to the legendary Cedar Forest, where they plan to slay the Guardian, Humbaba the Terrible, and cut down the sacred Cedar. Later they kill the Bull of Heaven, which the goddess Ishtar sends to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. As a punishment for these actions, the gods sentence Enkidu to death.
In the second half of the epic, distress over Enkidu’s death causes Gilgamesh to undertake a long and perilous journey to discover the secret of eternal life. He eventually learns that “Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands”. However, because of his great building projects, his account of Siduri’s advice, and what the immortal man Utnapishtim told him about the Great Flood, Gilgamesh’s fame survived his death.
Here’s a summary of Tablet 11 of the Epic of Gilgamesh according to Wikipedia.
Gilgamesh observes that Utnapishtim seems no different from himself, and asks him how he obtained his immortality. Utnapishtim explains that the gods decided to send a great flood. To save Utnapishtim the god Ea told him to build a boat. He gave him precise dimensions, and it was sealed with pitch and bitumen. His entire family went aboard together with his craftsmen and “all the animals of the field”. A violent storm then arose which caused the terrified gods to retreat to the heavens. Ishtar lamented the wholesale destruction of humanity, and the other gods wept beside her. The storm lasted six days and nights, after which “all the human beings turned to clay”. Utnapishtim weeps when he sees the destruction. His boat lodges on a mountain, and he releases a dove, a swallow, and a raven. When the raven fails to return, he opens the ark and frees its inhabitants. Utnapishtim offers a sacrifice to the gods, who smell the sweet savor and gather around. Ishtar vows that just as she will never forget the brilliant necklace that hangs around her neck, she will always remember this time. When Enlil arrives, angry that there are survivors, she condemns him for instigating the flood. Ea also castigates him for sending a disproportionate punishment. Enlil blesses Utnapishtim and his wife, and rewards them with eternal life. This account matches the flood story that concludes the Epic of Atra-Hasis (see also Gilgamesh flood myth).
The main point seems to be that when Enlil granted eternal life it was a unique gift. As if to demonstrate this point, Utnapishtim challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh falls asleep, and Utnapishtim instructs his wife to bake a loaf of bread on each of the days he is asleep, so that he cannot deny his failure to keep awake. Gilgamesh, who is seeking to overcome death, cannot even conquer sleep. After instructing Urshanabi the ferryman to wash Gilgamesh, and clothe him in royal robes, they depart for Uruk.
As they are leaving, Utnapishtim’s wife asks her husband to offer a parting gift. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that at the bottom of the sea there lives a boxthorn-like plant that will make him young again. Gilgamesh, by binding stones to his feet so he can walk on the bottom, manages to obtain the plant. Gilgamesh proposes to investigate if the plant has the hypothesized rejuvenation ability by testing it on an old man once he returns to Uruk.
There is a plant that looks like a box-thorn, it has prickles like a dogrose, and will prick one who plucks it. But if you can possess this plant, you’ll be again as you were in your youth
This plant, Ur-shanabi, is the “Plant of Heartbeat”, with it a man can regain his vigor. To Uruk-the-sheepfold I will take it, to an ancient I will feed some and put the plant to the test!
Unfortunately, when Gilgamesh stops to bathe, it is stolen by a serpent, who sheds its skin as it departs. Gilgamesh weeps at the futility of his efforts, because he has now lost all chance of immortality. He returns to Uruk, where the sight of its massive walls prompts him to praise this enduring work to Urshanabi.
Appendix E: Epic of Atrahasis flood story
Tablet III of the Atrahasis Epic contains the flood story. It tells how the god Enki warns the hero Atrahasis (“Extremely Wise”) of Shuruppak, speaking through a reed wall (suggestive of an oracle) to dismantle his house (perhaps to provide a construction site) and build a boat to escape the flood planned by the god Enlil to destroy humankind. The boat is to have a roof “like Apsu” (a subterranean, fresh water realm presided over by the god Enki), upper and lower decks, and to be sealed with bitumen. Atrahasis boards the boat with his family and animals and seals the door. The storm and flood begin. Even the gods are afraid. After seven days the flood ends and Atrahasis offers sacrifices to the gods. Enlil is furious with Enki for violating his oath. But Enki denies violating his oath and argues: “I made sure life was preserved.” Enki and Enlil agree on other means for controlling the human population.
A translation from Jona Lendering of the flood portion of this epic is given below.
[After the creation of humanity, the human population increases and their noise disturbs the gods, who decide to wipe out mankind. The god Enki, however, sends a dream to Atrahasis. When the text resumes, Enki is still speaking.]
Enki explains Atraḥasis’ dream
[i.b35] “Enlil committed an evil deed against the people.”
[i.c11] Atraḥasis made ready to speak,
and said to his lord:
“Make me know the meaning of the dream.
let me know, that I may look out for its consequence.”
[i.c15] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to his servant:
“You might say, ‘Am I to be looking out while in the bedroom?’
Do you pay attention to message that I speak for your:
[i.c20] ‘Wall, listen to me!
Reed wall, pay attention to all my words!
Flee the house, build a boat,
forsake possessions, and save life.
[i.c25] The boat which you build
… be equal …
Roof her over like the depth,
[i.c30] so that the sun shall not see inside her.
Let her be roofed over fore and aft.
The gear should be very strong,
the pitch should be firm, and so give the boat strength.
I will shower down upon you later
[i.c35] a windfall of birds, a spate of fishes.'”
He opened the water clock and filled it,
he told it of the coming of the seven-day deluge.
Atraḥasis and the Elders
Atraḥasis received the command.
He assembled the Elders at his gate.
[i.c40] Atraḥasis made ready to speak,
and said to the Elders:
“My god does not agree with your god,
Enki and Enlil are constantly angry with each other.
They have expelled me from the land.
[i.c45] Since I have always reverenced Enki,
he told me this.
I can not live in …
Nor can I set my feet on the earth of Enlil.
I will dwell with my god in the depths.
[i.c50] This he told me: …”
Construction of the Ark
[ii.10] The Elders …
The carpenter carried his axe,
the reedworker carried his stone,
the rich man carried the pitch,
the poor man brought the materials needed.
[About fifteen lines missing; the word Atraḥasis can be discerned.]
Boarding of the Ark
[ii.29] Bringing …
[ii.30] whatever he had …
Whatever he had …
Pure animals he slaughtered, cattle …
Fat animals he killed. Sheep …
he choose and and brought on board.
[ii.35] The birds flying in the heavens,
the cattle and the … of the cattle god,
the creatures of the steppe,
… he brought on board
[ii.40] he invited his people
… to a feast
… his family was brought on board.
While one was eating an another was drinking,
[ii.45] he went in and out; he could not sit, could not kneel,
for his heart was broken, he was retching gall.
The outlook of the weather changed.
Adad [The storm god] began to roar in the clouds.
[ii.50] The god they heard, his clamor.
He brought pitch to seal his door.
By the time he had bolted his door,
Adad was roaring in the clouds.
The winds were furious as he set forth,
[ii.55] He cut the mooring rope and released the boat.
The Great Flood
[iii.5] … the storm
… were yoked
Anzu rent the sky with his talons,
He … the land
[iii.10] and broke its clamor like a pot.
… the flood came forth.
Its power came upon the peoples like a battle,
one person did not see another,
they could not recognize each other in the catastrophe.
[iii.15] The deluge bellowed like a bull,
The wind resounded like a screaming eagle.
The darkness was dense, the sun was gone,
… like flies.
[iii.20] the clamor of the deluge.
[Lines missing. The gods find themselves hungry because there are no farmers left and sacrifices are no longer brought. When they discover that Atrahasis has survived, they make a plan to make sure that the noise will remain within limits: they invent childbirth, infant mortality, and celibacy]
[iii.45] Enki made ready to speak,
and said to Nintu the birth goddess:
“You, birth goddess, creatress of destinies,
establish death for all peoples!
[iii.d1] “Now then, let there be a third woman among the people,
among the people are the woman who has borne
and the woman who has not borne.
Let there be also among the people the pasittu (she-demon):
[iii.d5] Let her snatch the baby from the lap who bore it.
And establish high priestesses and priestesses,
let them be taboo, [celibate]and so cut down childbirth.”
Appendix F: Sumerian flood story
The earliest record of a Sumerian creation myth, called The Eridu Genesis was written in the Sumerian language and dated to around 1600 BC. After a missing section in the tablet, we learn that the gods have decided not to save mankind from an impending flood. Zi-ud-sura, the king and gudug priest, learns of this. A section is missing that probably has instructions for the ark. When the tablet resumes, it is describing the flood. A terrible storm rocks the huge boat for seven days and seven nights, then Utu (the Sun god) appears and Zi-ud-sura creates an opening in the boat, prostrates himself, and sacrifices oxen and sheep. After another break, the text resumes: the flood is apparently over, the animals disembark and Zi-ud-sura prostrates himself before An (sky-god) and Enlil (chief of the gods), who give him eternal life and take him to dwell in Dilmun for “preserving the animals and the seed of mankind”. The remainder of the poem is lost.
The Eridu Genesis is written on a Sumerian cuneiform tablet of which about two thirds are now lost. It us claimed that the missing parts can be reconstructed from texts like the Sumerian King List and “Babylonian History” by Berossus. A translation from Jona Lendering is given below.
The Creator Goddess thinks about humankind
[1′-9′] Nintur [The creator goddess.] was paying attention:
“Let me bethink myself of my humankind, all forgotten as they are;
and mindful of mine, Nintur’s, creatures let me bring them back,
let me lead the people back from their trails.
Let they come and build cities and cult places,
that I may cool myself in their shade;
may they lay the bricks for the cult cities in pure spots,
and may they found places for divination in pure spots!”
She gave directions for purification, and cries for clemency,
the things that cool divine wrath,
[10’ff] perfected the divine service and the august offices,
said to the surrounding regions: “Let me institute peace there!”
When An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursaga
fashioned the dark-headed people,
they had made the small animals that came up from out of the earth
come from the earth in abundance and had let there be, as befits it,
gazelles, wild donkeys, and four-footed beasts in the desert.
[large part lost; perhaps a story of a failed attempt to build a city]
Creation of kingship
[32′-40′] … “and let me have him advise;
let me have him oversee their labor,
and let him teach the nation to follow like unerringly like cattle!”
When the royal scepter was coming down from heaven,
the august crown and the royal throne being already down from heaven,
the king regularly performed to perfection
the august divine services and offices,
and laid the bricks of those cities in pure spots.
They were named by name and allotted half-bushel baskets.
The first cities
[41’ff] The firstling of the cities, Eridu, she gave to the leader Nudimmud,
the second, Bad-Tibira, she gave to the Prince and the Sacred One,
the third, Larak, she gave to Pahilsag,
the fourth, Sippar, she gave to the gallant Utu,
the fifth, Šuruppak, she gave to Ansud.
These cities, which had been named by names,
and had been alloted half-bushel baskets,
dredged the canals, which were blocked with purplish
wind-borne clay, and they carried water,
Their cleaning of the canals established abundant growth
[Large part lost, in which the antediluvian kings must have been mentioned. Working in the canals and on the fields, they produced so much noise, that the supreme god Enlil persuaded the other gods to destroy humankind.]
[81′-89′] That day, Nintur wept over her creatures
and holy Inanna was fill of grief over her people;
but Enki took counsel with his own heart.
An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninhursaga
had the gods of heaven and earth swear by the names of An and Enlil.
At that time Ziusudra was king and lustration priest.
He fashioned, being a seer, the god of giddiness [A statue is meant.]
and stood in awe beside it, wording his wishes humbly.
As he stood there regularly day after day
[90′-99′] something that was not a dream was appearing: conversation,
a swearing of oaths by heaven and earth, a touching of throats, [Ziusudra witnesses in a vision how the gods are discussing the fate of humanity. The touching of throats is a gesture to indicate that if someone breaks his oath, he allows himself to be beheaded. The Kiur mentioned in the next line was a part of the temple of Enlil in Nippur.]
and the gods bringing their thwarts up to Kiur.
And as Ziusudra stood there beside it, he went on hearing:
“Step up to the wall to my left and listen!
Let me speak a word to you at the wall and may you grasp what I say,
may you heed my advice! By our hand a flood will sweep over
the cities of the half-bushel baskets, and the country;
the decision, that mankind is to be destroyed, has been made.
A verdict, a command of the assembly, can not be revoked,
[100’ff] no order of An and Enlil is known to have been countermanded,
their kingship, their term, has been uprooted; they must bethink themselves …
What I have to say to you …”
[Lines missing; Enki orders Ziusudra to build the ark and load it with pairs of animals.]
[132’f] All the evil winds, all stormy winds gathered into
one and with them, them, the Flood was sweeping over the cities of the half-bushel baskets,
for seven days and seven nights.
After the flood had swept over the country,
after the evil wind had tossed the big boat about on the great waters,
the sun came out spreading light over heaven and earth.
[138′-139′] Ziusudra then drilled an opening in the big boat
and the gallant Utu sent his light into the interior of the big boat.
[140′] Ziusudra, being the king,
stepped up before Utu kissing the ground before him.
The king was butchering oxen, was being lavish with the sheep,
barley cakes, crescents together with …
… he was crumbling for him
juniper, the pure plant of the mountains he filled on the fire
and with a … clasped to
the breast he …
[Lines missing; Enlil is angry at finding survivors, but Enki explains himself]
End of Enki’s speech
[175′-178′] “You here have sworn by the life’s breath of heaven, the life’s breath of earth that he verily is allied with you yourself;
you there, An and Enlil, have sworn by the life’s breath of heaven, the life’s breath of earth, that he is allies with all of you.
He will disembark the small animals that come up from the earth!”
Reward of Ziusudra
[179′] Ziusudra, being king, stepped up before An and Enlil, kissing the ground,
and An and Enlil after honoring him
[180’ff] were granting life like a god’s,
were making lasting breath of life, like a god’s, descend into him.
That day they made Ziusudra, preserver, as king,
of the small animals and the seed of mankind,
live toward the east over the mountains of Dilmun. [Dilmun was a legendary place, far away on the edges of the earth. It was later identified with present Bahrain]
Appendix G Paul preaching to polytheists
The Bible gives the following summary of Paul preaching to polytheists in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).
16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols [they were polytheistic]. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed [Jesus]. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising Him [Jesus]from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
Written, September 2018