Historical memories and records in scriptural accounts are often confirmed, supplemented and clarified by archaeological finds. The Bible is of course , essentially a theological document devoted to the exposition of the nature and moral imperatives of God. It is only secondarily a book of history and geography. Selected historical materials were incorporated into the Biblical text for the sole purpose of illustrating and underlining the kind of religious teaching of the Biblical books passionately believed to be divinely ordained.
Historians, nevertheless, and archaeologists in particular, have learned to rely upon the amazing accuracy of historical memory in the Bible. The most fleeting references to persons and places and events contained in the accounts of the Exodus, for instance, or the biographies of such Biblical heroes as Abraham, Moses and David, can lead, if properly considered and pursued, to important historical discoveries. Historical clues in the Bible can lead to a knowledge of the civilizations of the ancient world in which the Bible developed and with whose religious concepts and practices the Bible so radically differed. In can be regarded in effect as an almost infallible divining rod, that has revealed to experts the whereabouts and characteristics of lost cities and civilizations.
When we reflect on the means by which the Biblical account has reached us, its accuracy is indeed astounding. The last fifty years have seen a great and immensely fruitful burst of archaeological activity in the Holy Land. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was only the most dramatic of many discoveries which throw light on the beginnings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is worth emphasizing that in all this work no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a single, properly understood Biblical statement.
The ruins of the gate and walls were discovered and excavated between 1899 and 1914 by Robert Koldeway, a German archeologist and architect. After its excavation the entire Gate was shipped to Berlin where it was reconstructed and now resides at the Pergamon Museum. The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate may be one of Cryptozoology’s strangest, yet best-documented, ancient crypids. This two and a half millennium old depiction is so unusual that many treat it as a chimera, an impossible combination of animals that could never have existed in nature.
But the people of ancient Babylon knew and accepted the ‘dragon’ as real, as real as the bulls and lions that also share the walls.The Ishtar Gate itself was one of eight entrances to the ancient city of Babylon. Built during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) and dedicated to the goddess Ishtar it was the main entrance to the city until the final fall of Babylon sometime in the 1st or 2nd century AD. (King Nebuchadnezzar also constructed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a marvel filled with exotic plants and animals.)
”It was Koldeway who recognized the animal as the mushhushshu, a name derived from an Akkadian word that is loosely translated as “splendor serpent.” Early researchers mistakenly read it as sirrussu but the word has now been properly translitereated as musrussu, with mushhushshu as the commonly-accepted modern form. Koldeway considered the dragon to be a real animal. His belief was based on the fact that the animal had been depicted in ancient Babylonian art for centuries and had remained unchanged by the passage of time. He noted that depictions of gods and mythological creatures did change through the years leaving him to believe the mushhushshu was an animal well known to the Babylonians. (While Koldeway was right in most regards notice the belly scales on this version of the mushhushshu. Its scales are like those of a snake while the one on the gate and most other depictions are like those on a lizard. A misrepresentation or the degradation of a myth?)
While the Ishtar Gate is the source most often cited when referencing the mushhushshu there is at least one written account of the Babylonian ‘dragon’. In the Apocrypha, a collection of stories excluded from the Protestant Bible, is found the Book of Bel and the Dragon. In the Book is a story of how Nebuchadnezzar kept a dragon in the temple of the god Bel and when the prophet Daniel denounced the worshipping of false gods the king introduced Daniel to the dragon saying it “liveth and eateth and drinketh; you cannot say that he is no living god; therefore worship him.” Daniel feed the dragon lumps of tar, fat, and hair that kille
e animal proving it was mortal and not a god.”
In ancient Talmudic legend, the snake was a symbol of evil that walked upright and had a brain superior to that of all other animals. It was the envy of man that caused the snake to plot his downfall in the Garden of Eden, thereupon invoking the punishment, ”upon thy belly shalt thou go.”
In another instance, the description in the Bible of the ancient city of Hazor, which was the capital of northern Canaan in the time of Joshua, helped archaeologists identify it with the great mound of Tell el-Quedah in eastern Galilee. Joshua conquered it and burned it. Its importance was not truly restored until Solomon rebuilt and refortified it, together with Megiddo and Gezer, making them three of the major strongholds of his kingdom.
Extensive excavations were carried out by Yigael Yadin. Knowing that Solomon’s architects and engineers followed a more or less uniform pattern in the fortifications they erected, Yadin reasoned that the gateway of Hazor should conform to the plan of the gateway of Megiddo, which had already been excavated by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. When his excavations got to the buried gate, Yadin traced on the surface of the ground what he felt had to be the general plan of the gateway. Some of the workmen thought he was a magician when the actual excavations revealed that the gateway of Hazor conformed to the sketch he had made.
Even isolated historical allusions in the Bible have been linked to archaeological finds of importance. There is a reference in II Samuel to the ”pool of Gibeon” , by the side of which a bloody gladiatorial contest took place between adherents of Joab and Abner, who were mortal enemies. In a sense, it seems beyond belief and credibility than an account of a struggle at Gibeon should have survived in great detail as an oral tradition before being committed to manuscript. However, studies of the same transmission of history among the modern Bedouins have resulted in minute detail and exactitude over groups in widely removed encampments with hardly a hairsbreadth of difference.
James B. Pritchard in the mid 1950′s found the Pool of Gibeon in El-Jib, north of Jerusalem basing his work on that of American scholar Edward Robinson. They reopened the pool and found it to be ten meters in diameter and ten meters deep , with a spiral staircase leading downward around the inside face of a pool. An all of it had to be carved out of solid rock. At the bottom of the staircase, excavators found and cleared out a tunnel which curved downward for fifteen more meters until it reached a chamber where a pool of water collects.