The Bible, Archaeology and the Study of Military Affairs -- By: David G. Hansen

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 09:4 (Autumn 1996)
Article: The Bible, Archaeology and the Study of Military Affairs
Author: David G. Hansen


The Bible, Archaeology and the Study of Military Affairs

David G. Hansen

Col. David G. Hansen (Rtd.) is President of the Board of the Associates for Biblical Research, formerly department head and instructor at the Army War College, Carlisle PA.

The Lessons of History

Almost all scholars of the art and science of warfare believe that the basic principles of war, strategy and tactics have changed little throughout time. Most will concede that Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 BC), Sun Tzu (ca. 500 BC), Josephus (ca. AD 70), Machiavelli (ca. AD 1500), or Clausewitz (ca. AD 1820) are as important for the student of military affairs today as they were when written.

For example, in a preface to a translation of Sun Tzu, the respected military historian B.H. Liddell Hart argues that Sun Tzu’s small tome written about 500 BC

embodied almost as much about the fundamentals of strategy and tactics as I [Liddell Hart] had covered in more than 20 books (Tzu 1963: vii).

Another preface to a well-known book on military science has the writer, General T. H. Bliss, making a similar statement when he argues that

every science, that of war as well as peace, has a basis of general truths or principles of perennial application. These unchanging principles are the foundation on which is slowly built a superstructure.. .. Some of the germs of the eternal principles ... are to be found in the earliest writings that have been preserved to us. .. (Spaulding, Nickerson and Wright 1937: iii-iv).

Given that students of the art and science of warfare are counseled to search out the “the general truths or principles...in the earliest writings” [emphasis mine], I find it interesting that most scholars of military affairs look back only as far as the traditional Classical (Greco-Roman) period for their historical lessons and neglect, or even worse ignore, the pre-Classical Near East. As a soldier, it saddens me that the U.S. Military Academy’s text-book Ancient and Medieval Warfare, dedicated “to the citizen-soldier of ancient times” [emphasis added], starts with the Greek hoplite rather than the rich Near Eastern history available in the Bible — records of events centuries prior to the Greeks (May, Stadler and Votow 1984: frontispiece). Arther Ferrill chastises his colleagues and corroborates my analysis of this problem when he states that

although most military historians have paid slightly more attention to warfare in the ancient Near East than to the origins of war in prehistoric times, ancient Near Eastern war remains a much neglected subject (1985: 33).

Military Science in the Bible
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