Events covered in the Old Testament (first half) of the Bible go back to at least 4000 BC. Archaeological evidence reveals that civilization began in Mesopotamia (the Middle East around Iraq where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were).
2300 BC NOAH and his family were the lone survivors of the worldwide flood. Noah lived around 2300 BC and was ten generations from Adam. Noah could have easily taken with him into the ark the account of the creation of the world and of his ancestors. Mesopotamia had phonetic writing by 2800 BC. According to the genealogy in Genesis 5, Noah was born only 126 years after the death of Adam.
Notice the reference to the great flood. This inscription was dated by the scribe who engraved it. In years we use today, it was inscribed in the early 2100s BC. Some people claim the Genesis account of the flood was a copy of a myth. It is just the opposite. Various accounts around the world of a Great Flood are copies of the Genesis account.
This engraving is on the “Weld-Blundell Prism,” featuring a well-preserved version of the Sumerian King List. It is housed at the Ashmoleon Museum in Oxford, England.
2000 BC ABRAHAM was nine generations from Noah and lived around 2000 BC. He certainly had copies of his earliest ancestors. Two cities were apparently named after Abraham’s brothers (Genesis 11:26, 32 and 24:10), so the family was quite influential. Abraham was fairly wealthy himself. In fact, he had his own army and fought against kings (see Genesis 14 in the Bible). Therefore, we can safely say that Abraham was both powerful and educated and made sure his family was.
Fifty miles north of UR where Abraham grew up, archaeologists found in Legash more inscriptions than any other city in early Mesopotamia. About 100 miles north of Ur was Accad where a library of 30,000 tablets was unearthed. Near there was Nippur where 50,000 tablets were discovered, and among them a library of 20,000 writings. All were dated around the time of Abraham and before. Of course, writings have been
discovered in Ur also, as it was a very cultured city. All of this testifies to the fact that writing did exist in Abraham’s time. Important stories, beliefs and genealogies were carved in stone. Abraham’s ancestry and stories must have been carved similarly. He would have had the money to hire a scribe and the education to read it. Noah’s son, Shem, lived for 75 years after Abraham moved and settled in Canaan (Palestine).
We know Ur existed over 4000 years ago. This clay tablet is from the reign of UR-Nammu, 21st century BC. It is an “Urnammu Hymn”, one of a group of texts that are composed in the voice of king Ur Nammu. It also includes the king’s ancestry. The text recorded in this tablet is known as TCL (Textes Cuneiformes du Louvre) 15 12, and is in the Louvre in Paris France ~ Louvre, AO (Antiquités Orientales) 5378.
1800 BC JOSEPH lived around 1800 BC. He was a great-grandson of Abraham and 22 generations from Adam. He became the equivalent of Prime Minister of Egypt (Genesis 41:39-41). Before this, he was in charge of the household of the captain of Pharaoh’s guard (Genesis 39:1,5f). He had to know how to write and use mathematics to keep account of income from the fields and expenditures. When Joseph’s father came to Egypt to live, he surely brought the records of his ancestors with him. It was important to prove one’s ancestry.
According to the Egyptian Scribe Department of Andrews University, “All high-ranking people had scribal careers in officialdom, military or priesthood; kings too were literate…Such people had surpassed the level of achievement at which writing was the main occupation [being a scribe]” (www.andrews.edu/archaeology/pubs/scribe).
Even before the time of Abraham, Papyrus had been invented in Egypt. Papyrus was made from a plant grown in abundance in Egypt. From it comes the English word for paper. The oldest written papyrus known to be in existence is, according to Kenyon (The Paleography of Greek Papyri, Oxford, 1899), an account-sheet belonging to the reign of the Egyptian king Assa around 2600 B.C. The alphabet is believed by archaeologists to have begun in ancient Egypt. By 2500 BC, Egyptians had developed a set of some 22 hieroglyphs to represent the individual consonants of their language.
Whether Abraham’s family record was on stone or papyrus, perhaps Joseph transferred it to papyrus where he could easily add the extensive account he gave of his own life. The earliest history between Adam and Noah takes up 11 of the 50 chapters of Genesis. The accounts of Abraham through Joseph takes up 39 of the 50 chapters of Genesis, nearly 80% of Genesis.
This is part of an Egyptian scroll called the Kahun Papyrus which dates back to the time of Joseph. The entire collection covers mathematical, medical, business and veterinary papers as well as hymns to the pharaoh. It was found at El-Lahun by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1889. They are kept at the University College in London, England.
1400 BC MOSES lived in Egypt around 1400 BC. He was raised as a step-grandson of Pharaoh himself ( Exodus 2:1-11). Elsewhere, the Bible (Acts 7:20-22) says “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action”.
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East explains, “By the second millennium BC…Mesopotamia and Egypt had established a code of ethics for the professional scribe.” Colophons contained the names of the scribe and the owner of the tablet, the date, the source of the original from which the tablet was copied, the number of lines, and so forth. Very often the scribe added: “According to its original, it was
written and checked.” This line and word counting can be seen at the end of all manuscripts, whether stone, papyrus or leather, from then on.
After Moses led the children (descendants) of Israel (AKA Jacob, grandson of Abraham) out of Egypt, he spent forty days on Mount Sinai receiving the over 600 laws in what became known as the Law of Moses. It is found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy of the Bible. It was also on the mountain that he received the Ten Commandments engraved on stone (Exodus 34:27-28).
What happened to those 600 Laws of Moses? In Deuteronomy 1:9-18, Moses said he appointed officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens to help him judge the people. The Hebrew word for “officer” is often translated here and elsewhere in the Bible as “one who writes or records” or “an official who assisted the judge in secretarial work”. These officials knew how to write and even make their own copies of the
Law of Moses.
During the forty years that Moses led the Israelites, he recorded legal matters in Exodus 24:4, 7 and 34:27f, and in Deuteronomy 31:24-26. He recorded a song (see Deuteronomy 31:22), and the movements of the Israelites from place to place during all those years (see Numbers 33:2). Sometimes the Bible says he wrote in a book. The word translated “book” comes from the Hebrew “Sepher” also sometimes translated register, letter, scroll. Apparently, the Law of Moses was written on both papyri and stone.
Near the end of Moses’ life, he commanded, “Obey all the commands that I give you today. You will soon go across the Jordan River into the land that the Lord your God is giving you. On that day, you must put up large stones. Cover those stones with plaster. Then write on those stones all these commands and teachings. You must do this when you go across the Jordan River. Then you may go into the land that the Lord your God is giving you—a land filled with many good things. The Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised to give you this land. After you go across the Jordan River, you must do the things I command you today. You must set up the stones on Mount Ebal. You must cover these stones with plaster”.
Is it possible to fit over 600 laws onto stones? The Code of Hammurabi consisted of nearly 300 laws. It also included a long prologue and epilogue. Read the entire code at www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/hamcode.html
All of the nearly 300 laws fit onto this 7-foot stele which also includes images at the top. So about five feet of it holds the Code of Hammurabi.
Since Moses and Joshua both ordered that the Law of Moses be carved onto several stones, we can see they would have fit.
(This stele is on display in the Louvre in Paris, France.)