Unravelling myths about myth
Carl Wieland chats with historian and archaeologist Murray Adamthwaite
Dr Murray Adamthwaite has a B.A. from Melbourne University with majors in Philosophy, History, and Philosophy of Science, and a sub-major in Hebrew. He studied Ancient History, Ancient Mesopotamia, Akkadian, and Hebrew at the London School of Oriental and African Studies in London, subsequently graduating with a B.D. with Distinction at the Reformed Theological College in Geelong. He has a Master’s degree in Ancient History from Sydney’s Macquarie University, and a Ph.D. in Ancient History, Languages (Akkadian), and Literature from Melbourne University. Murray has participated in three archaeological excavations, at Tel Gerisa and Lachish in Israel, and Tell Ahmar in Syria. He has been a senior lecturer in OT at Tahlee Bible College, a pastor of two churches, and a lecturer at Melbourne University where he is currently a Research Fellow and still does sessional lecturing in his fields of expertise.
Murray was brought up in a Christian home, with a minister father. But, he says, “I knew I couldn’t get to heaven on my parents’ apron-strings. God used a crisis in my teens to convict me of my sin and my need of salvation—and to enable me to appropriate Christ’s atonement for myself, by faith.”
His career in academia got off to a slow start; his initial plan to be a pilot was precluded by red-green colour blindness. So he enrolled for his first degree in arts, with the intention of entering the ministry.
The Bible-science battles
In the 1960s, a book by professing evangelical and ‘progressive creationist’ Bernard Ramm, supposedly reconciling science and its ‘millions of years’ with Scripture,1 was very popular with educated evangelicals. Murray says he thought it was ‘the answer’. But deep down certain things sat uneasily with him. For example, he says, if there had been these vast ages prior to man, then “the 6,000 years of biblical history were almost like an irrelevant afterthought in the grand scheme of things.”
And then there was Genesis 1:31 where God describes everything as “all very good”. Ramm claimed this merely meant that the present world was the best possible world. Contemplating all the death and suffering in both humans and animals, Murray thought, “If this as good as it gets, oh, boy … and that means it won’t get any better when things are restored, either.”
The way in which the Bible spoke of Christ reconciling the world to Himself also implied an original falling out between God and man. In short, Christian doctrine all made sense if Genesis was real history, and the Fall disrupted a once-perfect world. However, the millions of years used to explain the fossil record had to have death and suffering long before sin. According to Paul, death was “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), whereas the evolutionary/long-age mindset had death as a normal part of life.
For Murray, the classic 1961 book by Drs John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, The Genesis Flood, was a real eye-opener. It made far more sense biblically, and he promptly accepted its powerful arguments for a global Flood—especially the persistent universal language in the Flood account itself.
Reviewing Ramm’s arguments, he realized that Ramm “had put the narrator of Genesis into an impossible position; if Moses were trying to describe a global Flood, what other language could he have possibly used to make that point?”
Checking out the myth-peddlers
In his undergraduate years in the late 60s, Murray says, he was “mercilessly hammered” by an unbelieving lecturer who insisted the Bible was full of myths. He claimed that early Genesis was a conglomeration of the myths of surrounding cultures, because of parallels to early Genesis found in the Babylonian culture. The lecturer’s opening words to his students were, “I would think you very bigoted and obscurantist if you believe the stories in Genesis. They are myth.”
So in the early 70s, Murray chose to study Akkadian, so he could read the ancient cuneiform language for himself. He wanted to investigate Mesopotamian texts and source material and archaeology to see if these alleged relationships to the Bible were real. Of course, he already believed the Bible’s claims about itself. “No-one is a blank sheet,” says Murray. “We all bring our presuppositions to the table.” But he had genuine questions, and wanted to see for himself the evidence that was alleged to demolish the Bible’s claims.
He repeatedly found that the Bible’s critics were really not open-minded at all. Not only did they seem to presuppose that it was not the Word of God, often they had not even read and investigated the Bible in anything like the detail they claimed.
Not surprisingly, Murray found that when one took the Bible on its own terms, there were generally straightforward answers to the overconfident challenges of the critics in his field of specialty.
Twilight of the gods
A fascinating text for him was Jeremiah 10:11, an Aramaic verse sandwiched between Hebrew passages: “Thus shall you say to them: ‘The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’”
Murray says that it struck him that “this is exactly what has happened; all of the ‘gods’ of that time have indeed literally vanished. We dig them up from the earth. At the time those words were written, this would have seemed the least likely thing imaginable.”
Dr Adamthwaite has written scholarly articles for CMI’s peer-reviewed Journal of Creation, which he regards as a very high-quality publication. He also ‘raves’ about the more layman-level Creation magazine, which he has been getting for decades. Murray, who sometimes shares the platform with CMI speakers, agrees totally with us about the Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 chronogenealogies. “The formula, in which the age of the ancestor is given at the time the descendant is born, simply leaves no room for ‘gaps’ in the timeline.”
His talks address among other things the conflict between the Bible’s dates and secular archaeology, especially in such areas as David and Solomon. “If we try to make the Bible fit the secular dates, then things get worse and worse. But if one starts with the Bible’s dates as primary, and critically examines the secular chronological schemes, one sees that these are the actual cause of the alleged problems.” Interestingly, he says, even many secular sources are now convinced that the Egyptian chronology, often taken as the ‘absolute’ gold standard, has to be drastically revised downwards, for solid archaeological reasons. When that is done, the problems tend to disappear.”
Where’s that watch?
“You will never find a lost watch if you’re looking for it in the wrong place,” says Murray. “If we are looking in the wrong period, because of the erroneous assumptions about the Egyptian chronology of Manetho, then it’s no wonder we don’t find evidence of the civilizations of David and Solomon, or the walled cities of the Conquest, or the Exodus from Egypt. No wonder secular archaeologists stand up and confidently claim there is no evidence of an Israelite sojourn in Egypt.
“However, secular archaeologists themselves have found evidence of the land of Goshen—the region of Faqus (Gk. Phacusa, the name in Ptolemaic times, traces back to the Egyptian Pa Kesem, with the ‘m’ later dropping off; the Septuagint calls the land of the sojourn Gesem, not Goshen.) There is a strong local tradition linking this area to Goshen. Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, in the 4th Century AD, asking about the land of Goshen, was pointed to this area. Austrian archaeologist Manfred Bietak, excavating there in the mid-1980s, found evidence of Semitic occupation—including homes with artefacts and animals of Canaanite origin, not found elsewhere in Egypt, plus the way in which they buried their dead. Because of the faulty chronology, he does not associate those settlements with Israel and Egypt (‘too early’). Bietak also concluded that these Semites had participated in the building of a significant nearby Egyptian metropolis.” The Bible does not say the Hebrews built pyramids; as Murray teaches his history students, “Hollywood is not in the business of teaching true history.”
So what does he think of the work of the Russian atheist psychiatrist Velikovsky, whose influential books opposing mainstream history (and particularly on shortening the Egyptian chronology) have given him many well-meaning devotees, even in creation circles? “His stuff has problems, despite having the right idea, and his followers often have the right motivation. But I found his claims oversimplified the situation in the field, and conflicted with data in many ways.” Murray’s Ph.D. research on Akkadian showed him that Velikovskians “cannot just carve a chunk out of the conventional chronology and then close the gaps, it doesn’t line up.”
What about another influential revisionist, David Rohl? Murray says “He also has some unresolved problems; his line on the Exodus is right, I think, but some of his conclusions later on seem unwarranted, though I’m still working on it.”
Murray was delighted when I told him, following a CMI conference in which he was one of the featured speakers, that many were thrilled to hear his presentations in this area. He says, “I hope I can inspire some others, especially the young, to enter this sort of field, which is really wide open. There are many exciting discoveries to be made in the defence of the Bible, and thus really the Christian faith, for those willing to take Him at His Word.”
“Enuma Elish, the so-called Babylonian creation story, is not really one at all,” says Murray; “it is all about the origin of the gods of the Babylonian pantheon, and the various cult centres. It consists of bloodthirsty and even grotesque stories of their battles, and there is no scholarly reason to believe that it is in any way the forerunner of the Genesis account,” says Murray.
The Epic of Gilgamesh contains what has been called the Babylonian forerunner of the story of Noah’s Flood, with Utnapishtim the name of its Noah. Murray says, “It is basically about the quest for immortality, and scholars are now mostly in agreement that the flood account it contains (which had been circulating prior to that) was tacked on, even awkwardly so.” Rather than seeing the Epic as showing that Genesis is borrowed from Babylonian myth, it is far more likely, he says, that the Babylonian Flood accounts represent corrupted memories of the original event described in Genesis (see also creation.com/gilgamesh).
References and notes
- Ramm, B., The Christian View of Science and Scripture, Eerdmans, 1954. Return to text