Biblical Archaeology Coming Out of Syria -- By: James L. Kelso

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 096:381 (Jan 1939)
Article: Biblical Archaeology Coming Out of Syria
Author: James L. Kelso


Biblical Archaeology Coming Out of Syria

James L. Kelso

Sidon was the early center of Syrian archaeology and, strange to say, its first prominent work was done by the French liberal Bible scholar, Ernest Renan about 1860. If he were alive today he would be startled at the conservative contributions which have been made by Syrian archaeology to Bible study. Two major values came out of the pre-war work of southern Syria to aid in Bible study: (1) the discovery of art objects representative of the various types of religion found in that country, (2) the discovery and translation of Phoenician inscriptions, both of a religious and an historical nature.

The chief field of pre-war work in northern Syria was at the strategic crossing of the Euphrates river at Carchemish-a key city connecting Syria with Armenia to the north and Mesopotamia to the east. Thus Hittite influence from the north and Assyrian-Babylonian influence from the east entered Syria at this point. The English worked this field and one of their staff was T. E. Lawrence, who later became Colonel Lawrence so famous in the world war in Palestine. The other important field in north Syria connected not only northward with Armenia, but especially northwestward with the peninsula of Asia Minor and its great Hittite centers. Zenjirli was excavated by the Germans, and Sakchegozu by the Englishman Garstang, who has become a prominent figure in the Palestinian archaeology of post-war times.

After the world war, the French were given a mandate for Syria, and at once their archaeological scholars began exploratory works at many sites and intensive work at a number of strategic cities. As their work is published in

French it does not receive the attention it deserves by American Bible students. Just north of Beirut is ancient Byblos, called “Gebal” in the Bible. Here was located an Egyptian colony with its own Egyptian temple in the early Egyptian dynastic period before Abraham. From the late part of the third millennium BC a number of inscriptions was found, some on stone and some on copper plates. Their language is as yet unknown, but they will doubtless soon be deciphered and will thus open up an entirely new field of knowledge in that part of Syria which is just north of Galilee. From the same site in the twelfth century BC comes a beautiful sarcophagus of a Phoenician king called Hiram. This name often occurs in Phoenician royalty, but is best known to Bible readers in that King Hiram of Tyre who assisted Solomon in the building of the temple in Jerusalem. The inscription on this sarcophagus is a great aid in tracing back the old Canaanite alphabet which today we call the Hebrew alphabet.

Near the ancient city...

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