Babylon clay tablet confirms Jeremiah
In a find hailed as a breakthrough for biblical archaeology, an Austrian scholar has discovered that a cuneiform clay tablet from the time of Nebuchadnezzar found on the site of biblical Babylon names a government official who is identified in the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah.
The Australian reports that the British Museum has hailed the discovery within a modest clay tablet in its collection as a dramatic proof of the accuracy of the Old Testament.
The cuneiform inscription in a tablet dating from 595BC has been deciphered for the first time - revealing a reference to an official at the court of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, that proves the historical existence of a figure mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.
This is rare evidence in a non-biblical source of a real person, other than kings, featured in the Bible.
The tablet names a Babylonian officer called Nebo-Sarsekim, who according to Jeremiah xxxix was present in 587BC when Nebuchadnezzar "marched against Jerusalem with his whole army and laid siege to it".
The cuneiform inscription records how Nebo-Sarsekim lavished a gift of gold on the Temple of Esangila in the fabled city of Babylon, where, at least in folk tradition, Nebuchadnezzar is credited with building the Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Irving Finkel, assistant keeper in the British Museum Department of the Middle East, said: "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."
The discovery was made by Michael Jursa, associate professor at the University of Vienna, on a routine research trip to the museum.
"It's very exciting and very surprising," he said. "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."
Since 1991, Dr Jursa has been visiting the museum to study a collection of more than 100,000 inscribed tablets.
Although they are examined by international scholars daily, reading and piecing together fragments is painstaking work and more than half are yet to be published.
Cuneiform is the oldest known form of writing. During its 3,000-year history it was used to write about 15 languages including Babylonian, Assyrian, Hittite and Urartian.
Dr Jursa told The Times that the British Museum tablet was so well preserved that it took him just a couple of minutes to decipher.
This one - which is 5.5cm wide - was acquired by the British Museum in 1920.
It was unearthed from the ancient city of Sippar, where there was a huge sun temple, just over a mile from modern-day Baghdad. It was part of a large temple archive excavated for the British Museum in the 1870s.
Dr Jursa, who made the discovery while conducting research into officials at the Babylonian court, said that the tablet recorded Nebo-Sarsekim's gift of gold to the temple - a gift so large that it would be comparable in value today to the cost of a large townhouse.
Tablet aids Old Testament's credibility (The Australian, 11/7/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Book of Jeremiah (Wikipedia)
Cuneiform script (Wikipedia)
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Irish equivalent of Dead Sea Scrolls unearthed (CathNews, 27/6/06)
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Archeologists discover St Paul's tomb (CathNews, 18/2/05)
12 Jul 2007