God in the British Museum

Biblical Archaeology

Archaeological evidence for the Bible

The British Museum is known for priceless artefacts from millennia of human civilisation: Egyptian mummies, Greek sculptures, Assyrian reliefs. Its greatest treasure though is its collection of Biblical Archaeology. Unknown to most and dismissed by many, the British Museum is a witness to the authenticity of the Bible – right in the heart of London!

One of my favourite galleries in the museum is the display of the Lachish reliefs. They detail the siege and capture of Lachish, second largest city in the kingdom of Judah, by the Assyrian king Sennacherib in 701 BC. The artefacts connected with it mention king Hezekiah by name and give details which correspond to the Biblical account found in 2 Kings 18–19.

Yet they are more than evidence of the Bible’s accurate records of events 2700 years ago, showing that it truly is a historical and reliable source. The Lachish reliefs are a witness to a living God.

Fake news in ancient Assyria

Let me start from the beginning: in around 701 BC Sennacherib, king of the Assyrian empire, the superpower of its day, sacks nation after nation, city after city, but not so Jerusalem. He conquers the surrounding cities, besieges Jerusalem, then returns home to Assyria and has these reliefs made in honour of his great achievement – capturing Lachish, Judah’s second largest city.

Sounds a bit like fake-news? One does rightly wonder why the proud ruler of an unrivalled superpower captures 46 cities of a tiny nation, inferior in military strength, and then spares the capital city.

A simplistic interpretation would be to say it had not been his intention at all to do so. But that gives no explanation why Jerusalem was spared and not any other city. Or why Sennacherib built himself a memorial for a minor achievement. A man who is ready to build himself memorials for his military successes is unlikely someone that would miss out on an even greater success. Something unusual must have stopped him.

The Bible’s insight into historical events

The Bible in 2 King 19 sheds light into the unusual event. Sennacherib indeed had intended to capture Jerusalem, but it didn’t go as planned: besieged by the Assyrian army, Hezekiah king of Judah prayed for God’s help and intervention and God answered. The 185 000 Assyrian soldiers camping outside the city walls mysteriously died overnight and Sennacherib had no choice than to return home humiliated and with a decimated army.

Embarrassment and defeat was not something he would live with and so the reliefs depicting his victorious siege of Lachish were a means to cover up the disgrace of his failure. This would fit well with the attitude of ancient Assyrian rulers – historians know to treat the Assyrian annals and their account of military campaigns (always victorious and always without casualty!) with caution.

God intervenes in history

This story reminds me of the Miracle of Dunkirk in May 1940. It followed a national day of prayer when the outlook of British troops, stranded on the coast of France and encircled by the advancing German Army, was dire. Humanly speaking there were no chances to get the trapped 300 000 soldiers back home safely, but King George VI urged the nation to seek God’s help through prayer. We all know what happened: for unexplained reasons Hitler ordered a halt to his army, which gave the British Army enough time to evacuate their men.

The recent film “Darkest Hour” recounts the events, but leaves the most important detail of that remarkable story out: God’s answer to the nation’s prayer. In hindsight it is easy to dismiss it as religious superstition but to the British people living through those dark hours, the rescue of their troops was indeed the answer to their prayer – a miracle.

When we look deeper into the facts surrounding historical events like those recounted in the Lachish reliefs and in Darkest Hour, we see evidence for the miraculous. Sadly our society tends to omit any hint of the supernatural and dismisses what the generations before us were so assured of: that God does answer prayer and that He does intervene in history.

If you are interested in seeing the Lachish reliefs and other items of Biblical Archaeology, join us on our Bible in the British Museum tour!