New archaeological find affirms Old Testament historicity
A clay tablet with details of one of Nebuchadnezzar’s court officials supports the historicity of the book of Jeremiah
This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 30(2):14–15.
Photo Marie-Lan Nguyen
A clay tablet, similar to this one in the cuneiform script, is a receipt for payment made by Nebo-Sarsekim, an official of Nebuchadnezzar mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3
A clay tablet recently deciphered in the British Museum contains a receipt issued by a high official of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon.1 The receipt is for gold donated to a temple in Babylon. The full translation reads:
‘(Regarding) 1.5 minas (0.75 kg) of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila. In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Alpaya, the royal bodyguard, [and of] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni. Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon.’
Michael Jursa, a visiting professor from Vienna, made the discovery. The name on the tablet, Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, seemed familiar and he recalled that Jeremiah 39:3 mentions ‘Nebo-Sarsekim a chief officer’ of Nebuchadnezzar who came into Jerusalem when Jerusalem was besieged and conquered. The tablet is dated to the 10th year of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (595 BC) or 12 years before the siege of Jerusalem. Jeremiah dates the visit of this man to Jerusalem as in the 11th year of Zedekiah, 16 months after Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:1–3).
Most English translations transliterate the names of the Nebuchadnezzar’s officials following the tradition of the KJV: ‘Nergalsharezer, Samgarnebo, Sarsechim, Rabsaris, Nergalsharezer, Rabmag’ although most translate the titles or positions of the officials (‘Rabsaris’ as ‘chief official’ or ‘chief eunuch’ and ‘Rabmag’ as ‘high official’). As biblical Hebrew was written without spaces between words, in the absence of archaeological evidence it is understandable that many translations do not connect ‘Nebo’ with ‘Sarsechim’. However, at least one English translation does, which lists the officials as: ‘Nergal-Sharezer of Samgar, Nebo-Sarsekim a chief officer, Nergal-Sharezer a high official’ (New International Version). The Hebrew is: נבושרסכים, where the vav (ו) and yod (י) are consonants that indicate vowel occurrences. Hebrew does not have vowels like English, so the reader has to insert the vowels from memory (this is not a problem for someone who knows Hebrew well and knows the context!). Looking at the consonants in the name on the tablet, NBShRSKN, there is undoubted correspondence with the Hebrew, which transliterated into the Roman alphabet would be NBShRSKM (Hebrew ש can indicate an ‘sh’ or an ‘s’ sound). But the context reinforces the identification.
Dr Irving Finkel, a British Museum expert, said, ‘This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find. If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power.’
Of course there are plenty of other archaeological findings that have confirmed the historicity of the Old Testament (and the New Testament). In 2005 we reported on the discovery of the Pool of Siloam, which was fed by Hezekiah’s tunnel (2 Kings 20:20; John 9:7). Bible sceptics are repeatedly proven wrong by archaeological discoveries. But this latest finding is so significant because the person is a minor figure in history. A person writing some time after the events could be expected to get the major players correct, but to get the names of relatively insignificant persons right indicates that the writer was an eye-witness of the events and recorded them accurately.
The errant JEDP hypothesis, which posits that the books of Moses (the Pentateuch) were not written until a thousand years or more after the events described, continues to be taught in many theological institutions, in spite of the overwhelming archaeological evidence against it (see Debunking the Documentary Hypothesis). It is difficult to believe that the sceptics have ever even read the books of Moses to claim such a thing, because the historical detail given throughout shouts that these books came from eyewitnesses (for example, see Numbers 7). How could someone writing so far removed from the events know of such details? Or why would they bother to make up such things? Those with the same sceptical attitude to the Bible reject the later writings as non-historical also, such as the prophets (Daniel, Jeremiah, etc.). This discovery at the British Museum is just one more piece of evidence that such sceptics are wrong and that the Bible should be trusted.
- Reynolds, Nigel, Tiny tablet provides proof for Old Testament, Telegraph.co.uk, 13 July 2007 <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/07/11/ntablet111.xml> Return to text.