New Testament Bible Class

Archeology & the Bible – Issues 11 through 15

Archaeology & the Bible #11

Quail using the eastern European migratory flyway are toxic only during the southern, fall migration, while quail using the western flyway are toxic only during the northern, spring migration. There is also a strange patchy distribution of human poisonings, with cases reported from northern Algeria, southern France, mainland and island Greece, northeastern Turkey, and southwest Russia.

The medical term for the effects of eating toxic quail is coturnism. The illness sounds dreadful, with a list of symptoms that includes vomiting, respiratory distress, excruciating pain, and paralysis, but it is seldom fatal except to elderly people. . . .

The name coturnism wasn’t coined until this century, but people have known about quail poisoning for perhaps as long as 3,500 years. This estimate is based on a Biblical story of Israelites in the wilderness feasting on quail and quickly being struck down with a plague. Later, ancient Greek and Roman writers, described the syndrome as well. From then until fairly recently, it was generally believed that the birds’ toxicity derived from their eating poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) seeds during migration.

The hemlock theory has been disputed, based on modern research carried out by nutritional geographer Louis Grivetti, who found that hemlock seeds are fatal to Asiatic quail:

Grivetti notes that the quail might obtain coniines (the toxic compound in hemlock) from a plant other than hemlock. Or, Asiatic quail may be more sensitive to coniines than the European form, although the two species are very closely related.

Another possibility is “the seeds of a member of the mint family, Stachys annua. Russian scientists found these seeds in the digestive tracts of quail that caused coturnism and, just as important, this plant sets seed in the various parts of its range at the same time the quail are toxic.”

Here’s the relevant Biblical passage, from Numbers 11:31-34:

Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. 32 All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp. 33 But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. 34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah,  because there they buried the people who had craved other food.

Quail out at sea???  Only if they are migrating south from Europe!  God used an east wind to divide the Red Sea to help the Israelites escape from Pharaoh (Exodus 14).  Maybe He used quail to bring a plague of coturnism.  Regardless, we know that God was, is, and will be in control.

Archaeology & the Bible #12

The earliest extra-biblical reference to the nation of Israel

Merneptah was a Pharaoh who ruled over Egypt in the late 1200s B.C. (Remember, “late” in a century before Christ is at the low end of the century, like 1920 B.C., whereas, “late” in a century after Christ is at the high end of the century, like 1990 A.D.) The son of Ramesses the Great (Ramesses II), Merneptah was the fourth Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty.

The “Merneptah Stele” is the name given to a stone slab engraved with a description of Merneptah’s military victories in Africa and the Near East. It was discovered by renowned British archaeologist Flinders Petrie at Thebes in 1896.

The Merneptah Stele is significant to biblical archaeologists because it is the earliest extra-biblical reference to the nation of Israel yet to be discovered. The mention of Israel is very short; it simply says, “Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.” Nevertheless, despite its brevity, the reference is very telling. It indicates that at the time the inscription was engraved, the nation of Israel was significant enough to be included by name among the other major city-states which were defeated by Merneptah in the late 1200s B.C. This implies that Israel was a major player in the region during the late 1200s B.C., serving to corroborate to a degree the biblical narrative.  The 1200s was about the time that Judges governed Israel from time-to-time on God’s behalf and His direction.The stele is about 10 feet tall.  The Inscription contains a hymn and a list of the Pharaoh’s military victories. The Merneptah Stele currently resides in the Cairo Museum, Egypt.

Because it remains the earliest known extra-biblical reference to the nation of Israel, the Merneptah Stele is also commonly known as the Israel Stele, or the Israel Stela (stela being another way to say and write stele). It is currently housed in the Cairo Museum in Cairo, Egypt.

Archaeology & the Bible #13

Domesticated Camels?

The first Biblical references to domesticated camels occur in the stories of Abraham who lived about 2000 to 1825 B.C.  Abraham owned camels (Genesis 12:16) AND HIS SERVANT USED THEM AS PACK ANIMALS (Genesis 24:10).  Camels are also mentioned in the stories of Jacob and Joseph and were found among the Amalekites, Ishmaelites, and Midianites. 

 Scholars have debated the historicity of these references to camels because most believe that these animals were not widely domesticated until long after the time of Abraham. 

 But, evidence that supports earlier domestication included: 

  • a braided cord of camel hair from predynastic Egypt (prior to 3100 BC),
  • a Sumerian text refers to camel’s milk, and
  • a Babylonian text from the early 1000s BC describes the camel as a domestic animal. 

 Such tamed animals probably were rare during the 1000s BC and may have been owned almost exclusively by wealthy people – and Abraham was very, very wealthy.

(Archaeological Study Bible)

 Archaeology & the Bible #14

 Handmaidens Confirmed

Until the discovery of the Nuzi tablets, scholars had assumed that a later editor had added the notes to the Bible that Laban gave named maidservants to his daughters when they married (Genesis 29:22-24, 28-29). 

 But researches have discovered Nuzi marriage contracts stipulating that the bride was to be given a handmaiden, whose name was duly recorded in the contract. 

 The ancient city of Nuzi located a few miles southwest of Kirkuk in Iraq, has provided archaeologists with a wealth of material.  The most significant discovery to date has been extensive archives dating to approximately 1500 to 1350 B.C.  Most of the 3,500 Nuzi tablets in these archives originated from private homes and document the lives of the city’s ruling families as well as providing information regarding the political structure and social conditions of this region and time. 

(Archaeological Study Bible)

 Archaeology & the Bible #15

 Is the Old Testament an oral tradition that was put into writing many years later?

 Writing was in use by the 2000s B.C. (about the time of Abraham) so it is unnecessary to assume that a long period of oral transmission existed between most of the Old Testament events and their documentation in written records. 

 People of the late 2000s B.C. and early 1000s B.C. maintained written records and did not depend on memory for matters they considered to be important. 

 The Biblical names Serug, Hanor, Terah, Abram appear in other documents of the first half of the 1000s so those names were not creations of a later writer.  

 The patriarch’s travel (Abraham “moved” from what is now southern Iraq to southeastern Turkey, to Syria, to Israel and even traveled as far as Egypt) is not to be regarded as improbable.  Texts from Ebla and Cappadocia indicate that travel, commerce and trade regularly occurred throughout the ancient Near East. 

 The patriarchal stories faithfully reflect customs that were not practiced and institutions that did not exist during later periods, some of which were even prohibited under the religious norms of later Israel.  For example marriage to a half sister (Lev. 18:9) or to two sisters simultaneously (Lev. 18:18) was permissible during patriarchal times but forbidden in later Israelite society.  This fact argues against the idea claimed by some critics that these stories were invented later.  How could supposed later writers use customs and practices unknown to them?  Why would they intentionally create “facts” about their ancestors that would be repugnant to their readers? 

 If you were making up stores about your ancestors of many hundreds of years ago, could you accidentally include accurate descriptions of social norms of which you had not knowledge.  And, would you intentionally include fabricated repugnant details about your ancestors actions and motivations?

 No, Scripture is an accurate, albeit sometimes disappointing, description of real people in a really age who were all part of the story of salvation through Jesus Christ.

 (Archaeological Study Bible)


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