Tiny Tablet Offers Bible Proof
BY MARK A. KELLNER, Adventist Review News Editor
he Babylonian equivalent of a church offering receipt—a clay tablet acknowledging a donation to a pagan temple by one of Nebuchadnezzar’s chief eunuchs—is being hailed as verification of the veracity of the Old Testament, particularly the book of Jeremiah.
In July, the British Museum announced that an inscription on a 2,600-year-old cuneiform contains the name of Nebo-Sarsekim, a “chief eunuch,” or chief officer of King Nebuchadnezzar, who is referenced in Jeremiah 39:3, according to the New International Version and some other translations. (In the Authorized Version, his name is rendered merely as “Sarsekim.”)
According to a report in London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, the full inscription 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.”
That amount of gold would equal approximately 26.46 ounces, worth more than U.S.$18,100 at the spot price of $684.40 on July 24, 2007. The donation was one which clearly merited recording.
OFFERING RECEIPT: This 2,600-year-old cuneiform tablet, an offering receipt from a pagan Babylonian Temple, confirms the existence of Nebo-Sarsekim, a “chief officer” of King Nebuchadnezzar, who is mentioned in Jeremiah 39:3. Its discovery was announced by a researcher studying such tablets at London’s British Museum. [Photo: Courtesy The British Museum]
Nebo-Sarsekim, according to the Biblical account, “was present at the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC with Nebuchadnezzar himself,” according to the British Museum announcement.
“The Babylonian tablet proves that his name was really pronounced as Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, and gives the same title, ‘chief eunuch,’ in cuneiform script, thereby confirming the accuracy of the Biblical account,” the British Museum said in a July 10 announcement. The difference in spelling is attributable, scholars say, to a transliteration of the Akkadian (STET) language, used in ancient Babylon and Assyria, into Hebrew, from which the English Nebo-Sarsekim is derived.
One Adventist scholar who has examined other cuneiform tablets at the British Museum said this is an exciting discovery.
“It’s wonderful,” Dr. Roy Gane, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Languages in the Old Testament Department of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, said. “We have names of some other individuals in other contexts from Babylonian (sources). But having one that is a lesser official that is named in the Biblical text is rare and provides a special degree of confirmation that the text is right.”
Gane added, “It’s encouraging that we’re still finding new things. Even if we can’t dig [in Iraq], there is more excavation to be done in the British Museum.”
According to Bible translator Dr. Kenneth Barker, a retired member of the Committee on Bible Translation of the International Bible Society and general editor of the NIV Study Bible (Zondervan), the discovery confirms the New International Version’s rendering of Nebo-Sarsekim’s name, as distinct from the Authorized Version’s. However, he said in a telephone interview, don’t blame the King James translators.
“It’s simply a different word division,“ Barker explained. “When you’re dealing with names, especially foreign names; these are names from Babylonia, these are ancient Babylonian names. The language was called Akkadian, the cuneiform language of ancient Babylon and Assyria. They can be treacherous at times. It’s difficult to know how names are to be divided. Are two names together or are they separate names?”
Dr. Michael Jursa, an Associate Professor of Assyrian Studies at the University of Vienna, Austria, has been studying tablets at the British Museum since 1991, and made the find.
“Reading Babylonian tablets is often laborious, but also very satisfying: there is so much new information yet to be discovered,” Jursa said in a statement released by the Museum. “But finding something like this tablet, where we see a person mentioned in the Bible making an everyday payment to the temple in Babylon and quoting the exact date is quite extraordinary.”
Dr. Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper in the Museum’s Middle East Department commented, “Cuneiform tablets might all look the same, but sometimes they contain treasure. Here a mundane commercial transaction takes its place as a primary witness to one of the turning points in Old Testament history. This is a tablet that deserves to be famous.”
According to the British Museum, “Cuneiform is the oldest form of writing known to us and was commonly used in the Middle East between 3,200 BC and the second century AD. Today there are only a small number of scholars worldwide who can read cuneiform script, which was created by pressing a wedged-shaped instrument (usually a cut reed) into moist clay. Each tablet is a unique window into the past and allows us a direct link to the people who lived during that period. Examples of cuneiform tablets are on permanent display in the Museum and the whole collection can be accessed by appointment through the Middle East Study Room. More information on cuneiform can be found at www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/explore/themes/writing
-- With reporting from The British Museum