The Bible in the British Museum
Handsome, isn’t he? His glass eyes are kind of worn these days, but otherwise he has that old-worldly charm. These days, he lives in the British Museum in London (room 57, if you want to go visit him). If you want to get a closer look, you can click on his picture and see a larger version on their website.
Idrimi goes back to about 1550 B.C., about 150 years before Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. He was found in Alalakh, in northern Syria. Besides his dashing good looks, he is interesting to those who know the Bible because a scribe named Sharruwa wrote Idrimi’s life story all over his statue.
It turns out Idrimi had to run away from home for a while, before he came back and became the king of Alalakh. Where did he go? A place called “Canaan.” He also fought a war, after he was established on his throne, against some people called “Hittites.”
Some people say that the Bible is just fiction, that its historical accounts aren’t worth anything. They put together theories saying it was all written a lot later, that Moses didn’t really write the first five books around 1400 B.C. Things like the land of Canaan, hardly ever mentioned after the first seven books of the Bible (because it came to be called the land of “Israel”, after all), could just be inventions by someone writing around 700-900 B.C. These scholars would tell us you just can’t trust the Bible for historical facts.
That might have been a neat theory, if it weren’t for people like Idrimi. What a mess — didn’t he know about those theories? He should have stayed buried in the sand, or something. The name of “Canaan” was a very old historical fact after all. Worse (for the theories, anyway), Genesis and Exodus don’t talk about it as an old historical fact, they talk about it as the current name of the land. It’s almost as if those books were written by someone who was living way back in history, long before 900 B.C., back when the land was still called “Canaan” — maybe even somebody named Moses?
Some people used to say that there were never any Hittites, that the Bible was just wrong when it described them. There couldn’t have been Hittites, they said, because we have no historical records of them. It turns out that lots of people (like Idrimi) knew about the Hittites — and Idrimi and others have been popping up in archaeological finds all over the place in the last 150 years.
So, there was a “Canaan” and there were “Hittites,” way back when — back in the days when the Bible tells us that Moses lived, and wrote the first five books, and mentioned “Canaan” and “Hittites.” That’s rather annoying. Don’t people like Idrimi know how hard those skeptical scholars worked on their theories?
According to T.C. Mitchell, archaeologists have found records of “Canaanites” going back to the 18th century B.C., but Idrimi is the oldest reference we have to a land of “Canaan.”
Lord willing, I’ll be posting more items of interest in the coming weeks. Idrimi also talks about the Hapiru people — I hope to write more on them later.
My primary resource for these posts will be the book, The Bible in the British Museum: Interpreting the Evidence, by T.C. Mitchell. I would often differ from his interpretation of the evidence, but I’ve found it a very useful reference.
Summary post for the series, with links to other articles on Bible-related artefacts:
The Bible in the British Museum