PART II: Why Biblical Context Matters


This was first published on April 16, 2015

This is what we have to work with. Note that I am only using ‘classical’ Western Civilization and leaving out references to other parts of the world. I am doing this for a reason, primarily to emphasize exactly what would have influenced the ancient Hebrews, when and where.

3500 BC: Egyptian calendar
3300 BC: Bronze Age begins in the Near East
3300 BC: Newgrange Ireland
3300 BC: Hakra Phase of the Indus Valley Civilization begins in the Indian Sub-continent.
3300-3000 BC: Saflieni phase in Maltese prehistory
3200 BC: Cycladic civilization in Greece
3200 BC: Norte Chico civilization begins in PeruScreen Shot 2015-04-14 at 11.16.24 PM
3200 BC: Rise of Proto-Elamite Civilization in Iran
3100 BC: Skara Brae Scotland
3100 BC: First dynasty of Egypt
c. 3000 BC: Sumerian cuneiform writing system.
c. 3000 BC: Stonehenge construction begins. In its first version, it consisted of a circular ditch and bank, with 56 wooden posts.
c. 3000 BC: Cucuteni-Trypillian culture in Romania and the Ukraine
3000 BC: Jiroft civilization begins in Iran
3000 BC: First known use of papyrus by Egyptians
2700 BC: Minoan Civilization ancient palace city Knossos reach 80,000 inhabitants
2700 BC: Rise of Elam in Iran
2700 BC: The Old Kingdom begins in Egypt
2600 BC: Oldest known surviving literature: Sumerian texts from Abu Salabikh, including the Instructions of Shuruppak and the Kesh temple hymn.
2560 BC: King Khufu completes the Great Pyramid of Giza.
2500 BC: The mammoth goes extinct.
2200 -2100 BC: 4.2 kiloyear event: a severe aridification phase, likely connected to a Bond event, which was registered throughout most North Africa, Middle East and continental North America. Related droughts very likely caused the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt and of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia.
2200 BC: completion of Stonehenge.
2000 BC: Domestication of the horse
1800 BC: alphabetic writing emerges
1600 BC: Minoan civilization on Crete is destroyed by the Minoan eruption of Santorini island.
1600 BC: Mycenaean Greece
1600 BC: Beginning of Hittite dominance of the Eastern Mediterranean region
1200-1150 BC: Bronze Age collapse in Southwestern Asia and in the Eastern Mediterranean region. This period is also the setting of the Iliad and the Odyssey epic poems (which were composed about four centuries later).
c. 1180 BC: Disintegration of Hittite Empire
1100 BC: Use of Iron spreads.
1020 to 930 BC: The beginning of the Kingdom of Israel (united monarchy) occurred sometime between these dates
890 BC: Approximate date for the composition of the Iliad and the Odyssey
800 BC: Rise of Greek city-states
776 BC: First recorded Olympic Games.
753 BC: Founding of Rome (traditional date)
745 BC: Tiglath-Pileser III becomes the new king of Assyria. With time he conquers neighboring countries and turns Assyria into an empire.
728 BC: Rise of the Median Empire.
653 BC: Rise of Persian Empire.
612 BC: An alliance between the Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians succeeds in destroying Nineveh and causing subsequent fall of the Assyrian empire.
586 BC: Destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem (Solomon’s Temple) by the Babylonians.
550 BC: Foundation of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great.
549 BC: Mahavira, founder of Jainism is born.
546 BC: Cyrus the Great overthrows Croesus King of Lydia.
539 BC: The Fall of the Babylonian Empire and liberation of the Jews by Cyrus the Great.
529 BC: Death of Cyrus
525 BC: Cambyses II of Persia conquers Egypt.
c. 512 BC: Darius I (Darius the Great) of Persia, subjugates eastern Thrace, Macedonia submits voluntarily, and annexes Libya, Persian Empire at largest extent.
509 BC: Expulsion of the last King of Rome, founding of Roman Republic (traditional date).
508 BC: Democracy instituted at Athens
c. 500 BC: completion of Euclid’s Elements
499 BC: King Aristagoras of Miletus incites all of Hellenic Asia Minor to rebel against the Persian Empire, beginning the Greco-Persian Wars.
490 BC: Greek city-states defeat Persian invasion at Battle of Marathon
480 BC: Persian invasion of Greece by Xerxes; Battles of Thermopylae and Salamis
470/469 BC: Birth of Socrates
465 BC: Murder of Xerxes
458 BC: The Oresteia by Aeschylus, the only surviving trilogy of ancient Greek plays, is performed.
449 BC: The Greco-Persian Wars end.
447 BC: Building of the Parthenon at Athens started
432 BC: Construction of the Parthenon is completed
431 BC: Beginning of the Peloponnesian war between the Greek city-states
429 BC: Sophocles’s play Oedipus the King is first performed
427 BC: Birth of Plato
404 BC: End of the Peloponnesian War
399 BC: Death of Socrates
384 BC: Birth of Aristotle
331 BC: Alexander the Great defeats Darius III of Persia in the Battle of Gaugamela, completing his conquest of Persia.
326 BC: Alexander the Great defeats Indian king Porus in the Battle of the Hydaspes River.
323 BC: Death of Alexander the Great at Babylon.
321 BC: Chandragupta Maurya overthrows the Nanda Dynasty of Magadha.
305 BC: Chandragupta Maurya seizes the satrapies of Paropanisadai (Kabul), Aria (Herat), Arachosia (Qanadahar) and Gedrosia (Baluchistan)from Seleucus I Nicator, the Macedonian satrap of Babylonia, in return for 500 elephants.
250 BC: Rise of Parthia (Ashkâniân), the second native dynasty of ancient Persia
206 BC: Han Dynasty established in China, after the death of Qin Shi Huang; China in this period officially becomes a Confucian state and opens trading connections with the West, i.e. the Silk Road.
202 BC: Scipio Africanus defeats Hannibal at Battle of Zama.
149-146 BC: Third Punic War between Rome and Carthage. War ends with the complete destruction of Carthage, allowing Rome to conquer modern day Tunisia and Libya.
146 BC: Roman conquest of Greece, see Roman Greece
129 BC: Roman conquest of Turkey.
121 BC: Roman armies enter Gaul for the first time.
80 BC: The city of Florence is founded.
49 BC: Roman Civil War between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great.
44 BC: Julius Caesar murdered by Marcus Brutus and others; End of Roman Republic; beginning of Roman Empire.
40 BC: Roman conquest of Egypt.
6 BC: Earliest theorized date for birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
4 BC: Widely accepted date (Ussher) for birth of Jesus Christ.

This is it. You cannot add or use something that did not exist at the time. It doesn’t work. You can give to Abraham the knowledge of the real ancients, all the sum total of those who lived before he did. You cannot give him character traits or sensibilities of say, Plato, Homer, or Ovid. It doesn’t work. What we can say about him is that he was trained as a priest in Ur. Sarah was a priestess. They were at least half-brother & sister. He knew mathematics, the calendar, astronomy, calculus, science that existed during the day, and architecture. He was a brilliant man. According to Talmud legends he was history’s first real genius. He was also so afraid his beautiful wife would up and leave him or another more powerful man wanted her, and would take her by force, that he had no problem lying about their relationship.

There are some theorists and archaeologists who think that civilization began in the Indus Valley and moved outward. Linguists can trace our Indo-European languages to one proto-Indo-European language from that region. Graham Hancock thinks a massive and highly advanced civilization, extremely ancient civilization existed in the region, only to be lost to the ravages of war, catastrophe and time. I happen to think he is correct. If so, we don’t know what has been lost. We can only deal with what we know. What we do know is that something caused Abraham to pack up the fam, and put them in the ancient version of the family truckster and move them to a brave new world.

For those who doubt the Bible, and Old Testament history, that’s fine. My answer to your question is quite simple. If something was not terribly important and highly critical to history and civilization, why do we spend so much time talking about a very small group of men and women who should have absolutely no historical significance. But, they do. Something happened to cause that.

Jesus of Nazareth was as far removed from Abraham as we are to the founding of Rome. He was basically as far removed from Moses as we are to him. The religion founded by Moses had radically changed by the time he began his ministry. By the time he was born, we had the entire rich context of ancient classical history, save for the growth of the Roman Empire, which was going on around him.

Science fiction writers, astronomers, and so forth and so on like to discuss what would happen if we were to encounter alien life. If alien life were to meet us, here on earth, it would be far more complex than we an even comprehend, in ways we cannot comprehend. The same holds true of the ancients in the Bible. We are living a life they could not possible comprehend, nor probably even adapt. Taking it a step farther, Abraham, Moses, and even David were part of a world so far removed from the Romans that they would have a difficult time comprehending it. It is a given they would have been as lost in the world of Jesus of Nazareth as we would be in theirs.