4 Sep 2013

Integrating the Bible with history

Last year we saw this tablet at the Melbourne Museum's terrific exhibition showcasing the wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia.  If you are cleverer than I am, and can read it, you will know that the tablet is part of a narrative of the main events of the years 605-595 BC, and tells of Nebuchadnezzar's first capture of Jerusalem in 597 BC, the deportation of Jehoiachin and his family, and the beginning of the Babylonian exile. 2 Chron 36:9,10 and 2 Kings 24:15-17

I felt quite emotional when I saw the tablet and recognised it as actual archaeological evidence for this major Biblical event.  Christians, of course, believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, and that God himself maintains the integrity and accuracy of his word through the work of the Holy Spirit.  As such, we believe that its historical accounts are flawlessly accurate, and so it should not be surprising to find archaeological evidence confirming the events recorded in his Word, but it was pretty cool all the same.

Despite this inerrancy, it is really difficult to chronologically calibrate early Biblical history.  Some Christians use genealogies, others generations of forty years.  Still others look at the reigns of kings.  Some believe in continuous lists; others allow overlap or omissions.  Attempts, therefore, to date Moses and the Exodus, the birth of Abraham, Noah's Flood and the actual date of Creation have proved controversial.  As a consequence, in my family, we choose not to attempt to date these events when compiling Books af Centuries and timelines.  It is just too easy to make a mistake.

All such controversy over the dates of the Babylonian exile disappears, however, when you have evidence like that contained on this little stone tablet.  The exile happened in 597 BC.  It did.  It has been substantiated by archaeological evidence, and importantly, that evidence fits with the evidence contained in Scripture.  It is easy to add it to timelines with confidence (and so we did!)

We also made a decision to introduce the Bible as history during this time period into our school history, given that the history was so much easier to reconcile with Biblical events.   The credibility of Scripture is certainly a multifaceted issue, and dating the early Bible is really difficult, but the events of the exile are easier to substantiate than earlier periods.

And so this is what we did...

The events of the exile occur between Chapters XXXIII and XXXIV of H. A Guerber's The Story of the Greeks, which is read in AO6, and this year of Ancient History was the perfect chance to integrate Biblical History with our basic history spine.  During this term we read Bible as a history source, integrating the passages of Scripture where they fitted in our readings. As an introduction, we read the Bible texts of the exile during Week 16 of AO6.  (You can find a summary of our readings at the end if you want them.)

Daniel 1 tells of the taking of Daniel and other members of Judah's elite into captivity in 605 BC. 2 Chronicles 36 describes the taking of Jehoiakim in 597 BC.  Three months and ten days later the events narrated in the tablet occur, as told in 2 Chronicles 36 and 2 Kings 24. Finally, after a siege lasting about one and a half years, Jerusalem was conquered and destroyed in 596 BC.  We read in 2 Kings 25 that most of the people were taken to Babylon, along with the articles from the temple.  Only the poorest people remained.
He (Nebuchadnezzar) carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:

“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.’”

2 Chron 36:20-23 NIV
The decrees of Cyrus the Great allowing the people of Judah to return home, occurred in the first year of his reign.  He was later defeated and killed by Sythians, and Sythia was taken over by Darius, The Great King.  We learn about The Great King in detail in Chapter XL of The Story of the Greeks. This is the Darius mentioned in Chapter 6 of Ezra (but not the Darius the Mede of Daniel, which is why we don't read Daniel 9, because it confuses small people.), and so this is a great time to read this fascinating historical book. There are 10 Chapters of Ezra.  We read two per day during Week 17 in Term II.

Darius is killed, and succeeded by his Son, Xerxes.  We read about that in Chapter XLVII. Xerxes, otherwise known as Ahasuerus, is the husband of Hadassah...otherwise known as Esther.  We read about her in Week 18.

Xerxes, in turn, is succeeded by his son, Artaxerxes, whom we are introduced to at the end of Chapter LV. It is Artaxerxes who commissions Ezra to take charge of the ecclesiastical and civil affairs of the Jewish nation, and we read that decree in Ezra 7:13-28.  Later, in Artaxerxes' 20th year, Nehemiah, his cupbearer, hears from his brother that Jerusalem remains without walls and returns to restore them.  We read the first of 13 Chapters of Nehemiah during Week 19.

The history of God’s people in the Old Testament closes at the end of the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. God’s people have returned to  their homeland. The temple has been rebuilt, and worship has been restored.  It would be 400 more years before our Saviour would come into the world, and the New Testament would begin.  And we read about that in AO6 Term III!

We found our integration of history in Term II fascinating, and we learned a great deal. Below, in summary, are the Bible passages we read.  It is my hope that some of you might find them useful too.

Week 16: The Exile: 605-597 BC

Day 1: Daniel Chapter 1
Day 2: 2 Kings 24
Day 3: 2 Chronicles36
Day 4: Jeremiah 25: 1-14
Day 5: Jeremiah 29: 1-23

Week 17: Return from Exile with Zerubbabel : 536 BC

Day 1: Ezra 1,2 (Search for interesting info in the list of names.)
Day 2: Ezra 3,4
Day 3: Ezra 5,6
Day 4: Ezra 7,8
Day 5: Ezra 9,10

Week 18: Those who remain in Persia  497 B.C to 466 BC

Day 1: Esther 1,2
Day 2: Esther 3,4
Day 3: Esther 5,6
Day 4: Esther 7,8
Day 5: Esther 9,10

Week 19: Nehemiah returns with additional exiles  444 BC

Day 1: Nehemiah 1,2
Day 2:Nehemiah 3,4
Day 3:Nehemiah 5,6:1-14
Day 4:Nehemiah 6:15-8:18
Day 5:Nehemiah 9,10

Week 20

Day 1: Nehemiah 11,12
Day 2: Nehemiah 13


  1. Thanks for sharing - I'm always looking for ways to make this kind of Biblical Integration work without totally re-inventing the wheel since I like AO History the way that it is. Definitely bookmarking this for when we hit Year 6!!

  2. Jeanne, I've posted below a couple of points you may find fascinating if you haven't already dug them up yourself from Daniel's story. I know of 2 reconstructions of the Babylonian wall & the Gate of Ishtar. You can find them on~line. They are incredibly beautiful.

    At this time Babylon was considered the most beautiful city of the known world & famous for its hanging gardens, built by king Nebuchadnezzar for his Medean wife, Amytis. It was a walled city neatly divided in 2 by the Euphrates River. So what, you’re probably thinking. Who cares? What has Amytis to do with anything? Quite a lot actually, from a spiritual point of view. Even the very name of Babylon from Babilu means ‘gateway of the gods’ & it was considered a holy city.The marriage of Nebuchadnezzar & Amytis united the Median & Babylonian kingdoms, a move that freed Babylon from dependence on Assyria, who’s capital, Ninevah, Babylon laid waste.

    Remember Jonah? What was he preaching against when he went to Ninevah? The deity Istar, goddess of fertility, sex & war, personified in the planet Venus & whose worship included sacred prostitution.

    Now the wall around Babylon was 90m high, 24m wide, buried 10m into the ground & 97K in circumference ~ think a small great wall of China. The biggest & most impressive of its 12 gates was the Istar Gate, dedicated to the Assyerian goddess. It was exceeding beautiful & very impressive as can be seen from the various reconstructions. It was the main gateway into Babylon & it was probably through this gateway that the Israeli hostages were led. I will discuss the symbolism of this a little later...The last part of this story is very familiar to us. Daniel is thrown to the lions. Now this is fascinating for 2 reasons. Firstly kings collected lions as symbols of their own majesty & the Hebrew word seems to indicate they were neither young, nor old nor female so these would have been mature male lions forming an artificial coalition. Typically males will not tolerate outsiders so this will have been a family group. A fully grown lion weighs as much as 225 kilos. If you looked closely at the picture of the gate of Istar you will have seen that one of the mosaics is of a lion. This is the ‘striding lion’ of Babylon. More to the point it is the emblem of Istar. Daniel is literally being thrown to the pagan goddess.

  3. This is fascinating, Ganeida. I will google the pics with Jemimah later. It will be great!

  4. So glad it was of use. I always laugh at how I read my bible more as great lit than theology because I'm always rootling after the symbolism. This is particularly good. There is more to do with the names ~ *sigh* I should not start. Enjoy your historical ramblings.

  5. Extremely interesting post and I enjoyed reading of your enjoyable reading and I'm sure the seeds that were planted in your hearts and minds will bear oh so much blessed fruit. We did integrate the ancients with our Bible reading and, having not been raised in a Christian home, I was enamored with seeing God's economy throughout history.

    Ganeida's comment has also thrilled me to no end - I love the symbolism she spoke of. I well remember my sister telling me while we were reading Judges years back that Deborah means "bee" and Jael means "mountain goat." Striking when you think of the promised land of milk and honey.

    Jeanne, you also got me thinking about Plutarch who wrote of Artaxerxes' grandson (also Artaxerxes) in his Parallel Lives but he starts with this interesting tidbit, "The first Artaxerxes, preeminent among the kings of Persia for gentleness and magnanimity, was surnamed Longimanus, because his right hand was longer than his left, and was the son of Xerxes."


  6. wow! so cool! Thank you Jeanne :) (now I have to wait 5.5 years before we get to do this :pout)

    We have a bit of an interest in archeology here, so we may have to make a Summer project of comparing/contrasting various theories of the earlier years - including differing opinions of the Egyptian dynasties (are there generations - or whole dynasties - missing?) and then guesses about which pharoahs are in the Exodus story, etc - then perhaps we'll each choose our favourite theory and put it in our individual BoC in pencil... maybe in y12, if we have time...

  7. That's a great idea, Claire. We could put all controversial characters and dates in like that. I like it - especially in the upper years. I don't like muddying the waters with smalls.

  8. This is so fascinating to read. I love how it all fits together and we even have the gifts such as the tablet pictures above that have been left here for us to have the pleasure of showing our children as we walk alongside them learning Biblical history together. I am waaay behind you on my learning/homeschool journey, but this post makes me excited to keep going! I can't wait to get there!!

  9. ps. That was me, Jeanne @ www.wheretheblacktopends.weebly.com
    I have such a time leaving comments for you... sigh :)

  10. thank you for this! And please, I'd liked to ask you what have you used on term 3 with the Romans then...


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