Advances in O.T. Archaeology

Marston on the O.T. (1933)

Excerpts from: Sir Charles Marston,
The New Knowledge about the O.T., (London, 1933)

Page Index

Excerpt: - Sir Charles Marston on O.T. Archaeology
    Introduction New Discoveries, General Results
    Conclusion Vindication of O.T. Texts

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Sir Charles Marston (1867-1946) The eldest son of John Marston (the founder of both the Sunbeam Cycle and Motor Car Companies), he entered into the family business in 1885 and was eventually put in charge of the Villiers Cycle Components Company in Villiers Street. This became the mainstay of Charles's business interests and its success enabled him to indulge in his many creative and charitable interests.

One remarkable and delightful anecdote regarding Sir Charles was his challenge to Biblical Critics to try their hand upon the Times (see Conclusion, below), to fairly demonstrate their seeming extraordinary powers at dismantling texts and identifying layers of editors etc. Of course no modern critic took up the challenge, in such a verifiable scientific experiment!

For archaeological details, a modern book on Biblical Archaeology would be better to consult. Yet although the discoveries Sir Charles discusses have since been superceded and expanded, his Introduction and Conclusion still stand the test of time quite well.

News Story, 1934:

"The fall of Jericho took place in 1400 B.C. In 1927 A.D. a stocky, bustling, bemonocled Englishman set a party of diggers to work on the site. He was Sir Charles Marston, 66, Justice of Peace, officer in the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, fellow of the Society of Antiquarians, maker of Sunbeam automobiles and bicycles. A member of the House of Laity of the Church of England Assembly, Sir Charles is a hearty believer in the Holy Bible.

Since 1925 he has spent a fortune on archaeological expeditions in Palestine, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Syria, to bolster up Biblical lore which in the past 150 years has been assailed by "Higher Criticism" — comparison of ancient texts and detective work on internal evidence. Last month Sir Charles published an account of his work: New Bible Evidence.* The potsherds, cuneiform tablets, scarabs, bricks, cartouches, scraps of foodstuffs and cloth brought to light by his diggers convinced him that:

The Higher Critics are wrong in alleging that the Bible is based on oral tradition current in the Eighth and Ninth Centuries B.C. Sir Charles's discoveries show that alphabetical writings in archaic Hebrew, some paralleling Biblical passages, were set down in 1400 B.C., in the time of Moses.

The double walls of Jericho fell as related, probably as the result of an earthquake which may also have caused the damming of the River Jordan described in Psalm 114: The sea saw it and fled: Jordan was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs. Not a scrap of metal was found in Jericho, thus bolstering the statement in Joshua: And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. The foodstuffs dug up in the ruins of Jericho had remained uneaten because, as Holy Writ reports, the captors spurned such remnants of an "accursed" city.

Though its date is still in doubt, the occurrence of the Flood is indicated by an eight-foot stratum of sediment (implying an immense depth of water) found in Ur of the Chaldees. Beneath this were relics of an even older civilization.

Says Sir Charles:

"Why, we haven't scratched the surface of Biblical knowledge yet. We don't know one-tenth of the truth, historically speaking. And the sporting thing to do is for all of us to wait, to reserve judgment, until that knowledge comes into our possession. That goes for Fundamentalists and Modernists alike. The die-hard Fundamentalist is quite wrong, I think, in insisting upon a word-for-word and letter-for-letter correctness of the King James version. And the Modernist—the extremist at the other end—he's just as wrong in leaping to snap judgments and wild conclusions on mere textual criticism."

Antiquarian on Jericho
Monday, Apr. 09, 1934

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Sir Charles Marston
on O.T. Archaeology


Excerpts from: Sir Charles Marston, F.S.A.
The New Knowledge about the O.T., (London, 1933)

Headings have been added for clarity and navigation purposes.

The New Knowledge
About The Old Testament


About a century ago men began to use the current knowledge of their time as a standard for the criticism of the Old Testament. Each succeeding generation adopted similar methods. So it is that today we can survey the efforts and conclusions of several generations of the critics based upon the current knowledge of their time.

Where past conclusions obviously conflicted with new knowledge, each generation of critics has, to some extent, endeavoured to modify them. But its remarkable how few seem to have taken any account of the unreliable character of the standards with which they and their predecessors worked. For knowledge has been ever changing this last century, and this is especially the case with our knowledge of ancient civilisations. It was a generation or so after the critics had commenced work that men began to dig into the mounds of ancient ruins in the Bible lands in order to learn about their past history. Thus archaeology asserted itself and began to correct the assumptions of the critics and to check their conclusions. Today a clearer understanding of Bible civilisation is being revealed to us; but in the meantime there has accumulated an inchoate mass of critical conclusions which, being originally based upon incorrect data, have become serious obstacles to the ascertainment of the truth.

There is no longer any doubt that the races who inhabit the Euphrates Valley, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, possessed a much higher culture than had been postulated for them by the earlier Bible critics. For example, we now know that the art of writing in cuneiform was in general use long before the days of Abraham (2100 B.C.), and discoveries referred to in this work carry alphabetical script back to the time of Moses (1500 B.C.). Thus for many years before the time of Abraham scribes had the means for recording events in writing at any rate after the Deluge.

One wonders how different the whole attitude of criticism of the Old Testament would be today had this evidence been accessible a century ago. We are, of course, aware that modern critics affirm that they take account of the art of writing being in existence in ancient times. So, too, said Dr. Driver, one of the most celebrated of the last generation of scholars; nevertheless, he writes:

“The two earliest narratives are undoubtedly those by J and E; these are based upon the oral traditions current in the eighth and ninth centuries.”

Driver’s Exodus, p. xliii.

Readers will ask – How can one postulate oral tradition when the art of writing was being practised even in Sinai when Moses led the tribes there? It is against common sense for scholars to try to sustain a theory of oral tradition under such conditions; and then to affirm that the widespread use of writing in the period makes no difference! Such assertions, even by Dr. Driver, impose too great a strain on our credulity.

Again, Dr. Langdon’s discoveries about monotheism being the original religion; and the existence of primitive belief in a Future Life (see Chapter III), make it impossible to accept the numerous conclusions that spring from such assumptions as the following:

“We have seen that religious belief in its gradual development among early races passed through the stages of Animism and Polytheism. Since this is recognised as a universal rule among all peoples whose religion develops sufficiently, we may assume that the Hebrews or their forbears were no exception.”

Hebrew Religion, by Osterley and Robinson, p. 18.

or again:

“There was no Heaven in the Semitic or Sumerian beliefs.” Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. I. P. 531.

A further illustration of the far-reaching effect of the new knowledge is Professor Garstang’s discovery that the Exodus from Egypt took place about 1447 B.C. or more than two centuries earlier than has been generally assumed to be the case.

Because critics found evidence of the presence of some of the tribes of Israel in Canaan earlier than 1220 B.C. they jumped to the far-fetched idea that these tribes never went down into Egypt at all. Thus we read:

“We shall see there is no good reason to doubt the statement due to writers who lived at a much later date that all the Israelites migrated in a body to Egypt…. Records left by Sety I (1317-1295 B.C.) and Rameses II (1295-1229) mention Asaru = Asher among their conquests in N. Palestine, the locality assigned to Asher in the Old Testament… these records show that not all the Israelites in Canaan had migrated to Egypt.”

Vide The New Commentary on Holy Scripture, p. 177.

One would have thought critics might have sensed the fact that the presence of the tribe of Asher in its proper place in Palestine as early as 1317 B.C. presupposed an earlier date for the Exodus. But instead, the initial mistake, with the aid of the critical apparatus, develops as follows:

“We may thus take it as reasonably certain that only the Joseph tribes, Ehpraim and Manasseh, were led into Palestine by Joshua.”

Ibid., p. 191.

One cannot wonder that the critic immediately goes on to affirm that:

“The Book of Joshua does not contain an historically accurate account of the Hebrew settlement in Canaan.”

Joshua vii. 18.

Thereupon the critic writes:

“As he (Achan) belonged to Judah he can scarcely have been with the tribes under Joshua.”

The New Commentary on Holy Scripture, p. 195.

So because the Book of Joshua contains matter destructive of a far-fetched theory based on an incorrect date, it is the Book of Joshua that is wrong!

Our readers will shortly be able to judge whether the accuracy with which the Jericho story has been transmitted, suggests “writers of a much later date.”

Lastly, there is Sir Flinders Petrie’s conclusion that the Hyksos domination over Egypt extended over an even longer period than the five centuries assigned to it by Manetho, the Egyptian historian. Following the lead of German critics, out commentaries have reduced this to about a century. That, too, completely confuses the perspective.

These, and other discoveries which will be referred to in this book, cast such doubts not merely on conclusions, but on the very assumptions of modern commentaries on the Old Testament, that in our quest for Truth is seems safer to follow the traditional road mapped out by the Old Testament, and endeavour to verify the route by studying the ancient landmarks that have been found. The alternative, of following the guidance and authority of critics and commentators, in the light of the new knowledge appears to be the only likely to bewilder the issue, and lead us astray.

It is quite obvious that the complete assurance with which many wrote, is entirely unjustified, and out of harmony with the scientific outlook of the present day. Yet the mass of people are not aware of this fact, and the erroneous belief that scholars and scientists know about all there is to be known, has had a blighting effect upon popular progress in the study of the Old Testament.

The vast archaeological discoveries of the past few years resemble the fragments of some immense jigsaw puzzle. They need a guide to fir them together. The Old Testament has proved an excellent guide to the Geography of the Holy Land, may it not also be of service in elucidating its History?

Such are the general lines of progress pursued in this book. Nevertheless, whatever method, all need more landmarks to guide them through the story of these ancient records.

And it may here be pointed out that at times the Old Testament makes contact with a territory which has been even less explored than Palestine – the Territory of the Unseen. The radio is beginning to familiarise us with the potentialities of space. What are its secrets? Has it inhabitants? Whence come those messages and manifestations to which all ages of man, civilised as well as uncivilised, Christian as well as pagan, bear witness? Men are still trying to weigh and measure the Bible by imperfect historical evidence, and the materialistic conceptions of the Unseen which Science has already discarded.

But to return to archaeology – our readers will readily understand what has prompted the author to encourage and promote excavations. The authorities who are quoted in these pages are not to be held to assent to all the deductions and conclusions of this book. They are concerned with questions of fact, or, in so far as their statements involve deductions, an endeavour has been made to quote their actual words.

The author’s share in the excavations of the Hill of Ophel, outside modern Jerusalem, brought him into contact with Professor Garstang, at that time Directorof Antiquities to the Palestine Government. How they came to collaborate on the Jericho excavations, and the results and conclusions that flow from them, form part of the subject-matter of this little book. For technical details and more extended information out readers are referred to The Foundations of Bible History – Joshua, Judges, by Professor Garstang.

He was in charge of the excavations at Jericho; and his expert knowledge and painstaking ability, coupled with the devoted service of his wife, deserve the widest and fullest recognition. His name should go down to posterity for haing discovered the correct chronology of the Old Testament from the Exodus onwards, and for the evidence he has found which suggests that the narrative was written my contemporaries.

So far as finances are concerned, thanks are also due to the late Lord Melchett for having borne half the cost of one expedition, and to Mr. Davies Bryan, the Musées du Louvre, the University of Liverpool, and the Leeds Philisophical and Literary Society for collaboration in a later one.

Congratulations must be offered to all the distinguished Frenchmen concerned in the recent discovery and decipherment of the Ras Shamra Tablets, and to Professor Bauer of Halle.

Reference must also be made to the invaluable work of Dr. Langdon, Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, and the expeditions of the Herbert Weld (for the University of Oxford) and Field Museum of Chicago. These expeditions have excavated Kish, about 8 miles east of Babylon, and Dr. Langdon has discovered and deciphered quantities of its cuneiform tablets.

Such contributions from Mesopotamia are essential for a correct understanding of early Old Testament history. We are also indebted to Dr. Woolley for his excavations at Ur of the Chaldees, and his reports on this work.

Lastly, our veteran excavator and Egyptologist, Sir Flinders Petrie, of whom the country may well be proud, instead of resting on his laurels, is with his wife, devoting the remaining years of a great career to excavations on the Palestine side of the Egyptian frontier where the Hyksos have left ample traces of their presence. And, as will shortly be seen, the Hyksos civilisation is also of the first importance in connection with the early history of Genesis.

Considerations of space alone prevent the mention of other excavators; as will be seen this little volume covers a long period of Bible history.



Thus today, out of the dust of distant ages, are emerging landmarks which tend to authenticate the early Old Testament narrative.

There is the evidence of the original Monotheism, and the use of the Old Testament names for God, long before the days of Moses; there is the evidence of the Flood, and of the subsequent dispersion; of the supremacy of Shem, and the subservience of Canaan.

There is the Hyksos-Elamite culture at old Gaza; and the Hyksos occupation of Jericho, hard by to where Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, fought the battle with his tributary subjects.

There is a date for the Exodus that satisfies both Bible and Egyptian chronology and history. There is evidence for the pre-existence of ancient Semitic ritual and legislation utilised by Moses in the compilation of the Pentateuch.

There is proof that writing was in common use in Moses’ time. There is evidence for the correctness of the book of Joshua, particularly its account of the fall of Jericho. There is the further evidence of the Tel ell Amarna tablets with their actual mention of the name Joshua.

Lastly, there is the reconciliation of the foregoing with the history and chronology of the Book of Judges.

Readers must agree that the New Knowledge creates a presumption for the reasonable correctness of the earlier books of the Old Testament, however that may conflict with conclusions that rest on such unsound assumptions as those cited in the Introduction.

It may be further suggested that the METHOD of the criticism applied to these sacred Books has actually been as unsound as the assumptions, for the following reason.:

The so-called textual criticism of the Old Testament is an endeavour to extract internal evidence from the sacred text. Such a method, save in very exceptional cases, cannot be applied to contemporary liturature. The leading articles in The Times are the work of various writers, but are doubtless amended by editors and sub-editors.

But in this case no textual critics ever pretended to be able to distinguish one writer from another, nor to identify the emendations of the editorial staff. If methods of textual criticism are powerless to analyse contemporary composition, how can they correctly analyse documents composed more than two thousand years ago, and written in a dead language? Yet it is the very fact that the documents are so ancient, and the language is so old, that seems to be responsible for the superstition that the critics can do so, and to sustain their supreme confidence.

If textual critics would try their hands on The Times, then verification, or otherwise, could immediately follow their conclusions. But the only check that can readily be applied to this Old Testament criticism is the plain common-sense meaning of the Text and of tradition. When these differ from the critical interpretation, they are described as “untrustworthy”; and “unreliable”; “the insertion of a later writer”; etc., slanders which could not be brought against The Times staff! So the process proceeds until archaeological discoveries demonstrate some conclusion to be absurd.

It is reasonable to assume that the Pentateuch is based upon documents; and that those documents may have been revised at various times in Jewish history. But so far from that making the critics’ task easier, it would seem to make it more impossible.

To go behind those revisions; to break up sentences and to assign them to different unknown sources; to date these original sources; and then to pronounce with certainty, all manner of things directly contrary to what the text that has been so worked over tells us. Surely, this is contrary to the whole spirit of scientific inquiry as it is conducted today in other fields of research.

Professor Garstang has summed up the evidence supplied by the Jericho excavations in the following words:

“Set side by side with the Biblical narrative, the material evidence is seen to bear out in every essential detail the record of the capture and destruction of Jericho by the Israelites under Joshua.”

This summary of the evidence uncovered at Jericho carries far-reaching consequences.

In our introduction, Dr. Driver’s declaration on the sources and transmission of the Pentateuch has already been quoted. In his Introduction to The Literature of the Old Testament the same author associates the sources of the Book of Joshua with those of the Pentateuch, and this example has been followed by later critics. Thus, side by side with Professor Garstang’s conclusion, we may compare the already quoted statement:

“The two earliest narratives are undoubtedly those by J and E; these are based upon the oral traditions current in the eighth or ninth centuries.”

Driver’s Exodus, p. xliiii.

Think of it! All the “essential details” about Jericho transmitted by “oral traditions” for a period of six centuries, and even then not committed to writing!

And yet the details are correct to a remarkable degree. Our readers may feel that in the light of Professor Garstang’s discoveries, it is more probable to presume the actual presence of J or E or some other scribe, with Joshua at the taking and destruction of Jericho.

But as the J and E of the Joshua narrative are the same anonymous compilers of the Pentateuch, future commentators must date much of its composition back to the same period. Current critical objections to this course will probably prove to be of quite a specious character.

For example the assumption that Mosaic legislation could not have been in existence till a late period of the Kings of Israel and Judah, because Israel did not observe it; may be compared with an assumption that the Bible was only composed at the time of the English Reformation. There are too many evidences of the neglect of the Bible today, to entitle us to assume that the Pentateuch was still unwritten in David’s time.

The word “forgery” has a sinister meaning; and yet it has been a very useful word for those whose attention it drawn to any ancient record that conflicts with their conjectures. One is reminded of the story about the school-boy who defined a lie as “a very present help in trouble.”

The academic world has been far too lax in allowing ancient documents to be discredited. This, there is the case of Sanchuniathon’s Writings alleged to have been forged by Philo of Byblos, and now verified by the Ras Shamra discoveries. There must be a number of similar records in existence which have been set aside with equal contempt.

When we approach the study of the Old Testament one might anticipate the critics would have employed far greater care and respect. For though Christianity does not involve the belief of a plenary inspiration of the Old Testament, yet on the other hand, the Faith does require the exercise of some sense of proportion.

In His conflict with the Devil in the Wilderness, the Saviour quotes thrice from the Old Testament. It is significant that all three quotations are from the Book of Deuteronomy. Now, although the commentators have dated this work as late as the sixth century B.C., the book itself purports to report the words of Moses. Whoever was the author represents Moses as saying:

“I am a hundred and twenty years old this day.”

Deuteronomy xxxi. 2.

and immediately afterwards his death is recorded. There follows the crossing of the Jordan and the fall of Jericho, which took place as we now know about 1400 B.C. So Moses is represented as speaking words not later than 1400 B.C. which are first committed to writing by a scribe of the sixth century. That involves an interval of more than eight hundred years. On such an assumption the Book of Deuteronomy is a pious forgery.

How is it possible to believe that the Christ would choose sentences from such a work to refute the Father of Lies? In face of such a predicament it almost seems needless to recall such passages as:

“Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the Law till all things be accomplished.”

St. Matthew v. 18 (R.V.).

Or again:

“If ye believed Moses ye would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?”

St. John v. 46, 47 (R.V.).

Those who in all sincerity desire independent proof of the correctness of Christ’s attitude to the Old Testament, will welcome the new knowledge that archaeology is giving us.'

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