Dr Clifford Wilson, long-time friend of CMI, died on 4 April 2012. Over many years he has given a powerful defence of the Bible’s historicity, a big encouragement to many people in Australia and the USA in particular. He is most famous for his best-selling book, Crash Go the Chariots, a thorough refutation of Erich von Daniken’s bizarre ideas of visits by ‘ET’ to explain ancient artefacts. This is a previously published interview with Dr Wilson, on the archaeological reliability of the Bible, especially Genesis.
Interview with archaeologist Dr Clifford Wilson … by Dr Carl Wieland
A: I started as a lecturer with the Australian Institute of Archaeology more than 35 years ago—I was with them for some time. Later I came back as its director when I had certain other qualifications. I am not only recognized in the field of archaeology, I am also a registered psychologist and a Fellow of the Commercial Education Society of Australia—I have a number of different hats!
I was an area supervisor at the excavation of Gezer in Israel with the American Schools of Oriental Research. Later I was the associate director of the first dig at Tel-Nusieh, which is possibly the biblical site of Ai. I have visited sites in nine Bible countries and have had the privilege of being taken seriously where I’ve gone. I even excavated briefly at Nineveh (Kouyunjik)—that’s out of Mosul—where I personally uncovered a little pathway between the palace of King Sennacherib in Iraq and the temple, with an inscription stating that this pathway was dedicated to the goddess Esagilla.Q: What was your most interesting ‘hands-on’ experience?
A: I think it was at Gezer, where we excavated over a period of quite a few days. All we were going through in one area was a whole lot of black ash, and it was very discouraging. Professor Nelson Glueck—a very important archaeologist who gave the world the idea of Solomon’s mines—suggested that we ought to do more sieving. So we sieved, and we found evidences of a civilization which had Egyptian and Canaanite artefacts with a Solomonic wall nearby. The team found little god-figures and the like; I was in charge of that area. All the excavation leaders were very excited because they realized the ash was from the time when the Egyptians had burned the city of Gezer and then handed it over to Solomon as a wedding present when he married the Pharaoh’s daughter.Q: That was, of course, consistent with the Bible?
A: Very much so—the burning is referred to in 1 Kings 9:16. I found it interesting at that time that here were some of the world’s leading archaeologists—G. Ernest Wright of Harvard, for instance. They weren’t so much pleased about proving the Bible, but rather that they had found something in history they could now peg their hats on, as it were. What impressed me was that the Bible was taken by them as an acceptable textbook, reliable in its historical statements. They were very pleased that they had something that fitted into acceptable history. And that history was in the Bible.Q: Have you found in your researches in archaeology anything that has contradicted the biblical account in a definite sense?
A: There have been plenty of claims that things contradict the biblical account, but the Bible has a habit of being proved right after all. I well remember one of the world’s leading archaeologists at Gezer rebuking a younger archaeologist who was ‘rubbishing’ the Bible. He just quietly said, ‘Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t rubbish the Bible.’ When the younger archaeologist asked ‘Why’?, he replied, ‘Well, it just has a habit of proving to be right after all.’ And that’s where I stand.
Professor Nelson Glueck, who I suppose would be recognized as one of the top five of the ‘greats’ in biblical archaeology, gave a marvellous lecture to 120 American students who were interacting with the Arabs. He said, ‘I have excavated for 30 years with a Bible in one hand and a trowel in the other, and in matters of historical perspective, I have never yet found the Bible to be in error’.
Professor G. Ernest Wright, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Harvard University, gave a lecture at that same dig. He made the point that (because of the researches associated with the Hittites and the findings of Professor George Mendenhall concerning what are called the Suzerainty Covenant Treaties between the Hittite kings and their vassals) it had become clear that the records of Moses, when dealing with covenants, must be dated back to the middle of the second millennium BC. That’s about 1500 BC. Also, that those writings should be recognized as a unity. In other words, they go back to one man. That one man could only be Moses.
I went to Professor Wright later and said, ‘Sir, this is very different from what you’ve been putting out in your own writings.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Clifford, for 30 years I’ve been teaching students coming to Harvard to train for the Christian ministry; I’ve been telling them they could forget Moses in the Pentateuch, but at least in these significant areas of the covenant documents that are there in the Pentateuch, I’ve had to admit that I was wrong.’
They were two scholastic giants. One says, ‘I’ve excavated for 30 years and I’ve never found the Bible to be in error’—basically that’s what he was saying. The other says, ‘For 30 years I’ve been wrong.’ It’s rather sad, isn’t it, that a good man such as Professor Wright had been so swept along with the ridiculous documentary hypothesis* that he had taken a wrong stand for so long. Let me stress that Professor Wright was a man of the highest integrity.Q: Can you recall any other experience relevant to the authenticity of Genesis in particular?
A: Yes. In the late 1970s soon after the excavation of Ebla in North Syria (between Damascus and Aleppo), Italian archaeologist Professor Paulo Matthea, and epigrapher (translator) Professor Pettinato, were making known to English-speaking scholars their findings at Ebla. Their whole lecture tour was arranged by Professor David Noel Freedman, the man who gave to the English-speaking world the information about these fantastic new tablets which had been discovered. His picture was on the front of TIME magazine.
I had the privilege of being invited to a dinner with about a dozen leading archaeologists because I was in the area and so was invited by Professor David Noel Freedman.
After the meal, technical questions were being asked backwards and forwards, and frankly I wasn’t too interested in some of them, because I am not a cuneiform scholar. But I’d heard a rumour, and so after a while I said to Professor Freedman as chairman, ‘Sir, I hear there is a new creation tablet that has been found. Is that a fact’?’ He shrugged his shoulders, and said, ‘Ask him’. I put my question to Professor Pettinato and, after some hesitation, he indicated that the information shouldn’t be made public. So I made the point, ‘If there is a new creation tablet you simply can’t hold it back; it must he made known.’ After thinking about it he revealed that there was indeed a new creation tablet.
I found it very interesting to hear those world-leading scholars discussing the impact this would have on what is called the ‘documentary hypothesis’. This basically says that the Old Testament documents are oral traditions, so that only after the time of Solomon were the various strands brought together. They were supposedly brought together at intervals of about a century, from the time of Solomon up to Ezra who, ultimately, with his team of chroniclers, brought these things into Scripture.
One of those scholars, as a result of this revelation of a new creation tablet that was even earlier than Moses, declared ‘It looks like we’ve got to forget the “P” document.’ Now the ‘P’ document is the ‘Priestly’ document that supposedly dates to the time of Ezra. The argument used to be that the creation story did not come into the Pentateuch (the records of Moses) until the time of Ezra—that Moses could not have had it. But in fact we not only find that Moses could have had it but that it was known even earlier than the time of Moses.Q: That seems to raise a problem, because isn’t the first knowledge of it heard in the Bible with Moses?
A: The answer is, ‘Yes’. But there is very good evidence to suggest that the Genesis records were compiled by Moses from written records on clay tablets. Donald Wiseman, formerly Professor of Archaeological and Semitic Studies at London University, recently edited and revised a book put out by his father P.J. Wiseman, back in 1948, called New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis. It is now called Clues to Creation in Genesis. In it he acknowledges that his father’s approach was basically correct, which is this: through Genesis there is the regular use of a literary form called a colophon. It tells you that this is where a particular tablet ends and then another one starts. In the Genesis record this centres around the expression, ‘These are the generations of ’ … These records of early Genesis were presumably carried over the Fertile Crescent by Abraham, and eventually they were used by Moses (centuries after Abraham) under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to compile what we have in Genesis.
Of course there never was such a thing as a ‘P’ document. We can just accept the Genesis records as being what they claim to be—factual eye-witness records. There is legitimate editing to make things understood to a later generation (for instance, Genesis 14:3 talks about the Vale of Siddim and then it says, ‘which is the Salt Sea’), but the basic text is there in writing right from the very times of Genesis itself.Q: Dr Wilson, we are often told that religion has evolved—that people started off worshipping spirits, then there were lots of gods, then fewer gods, and eventually came the idea of one true God. Can you tell us if this is confirmed in the archaeological records of the civilizations with which you are familiar?
A: At the time just after the Flood, we find a record of three gods— the god of the earth, the god of the sky, and the god of the waters. And fairly soon after that you’ve got hundreds of gods in ancient records. You start with the concept of monotheism (one God), leading up to polytheism (many gods). It does not start with dozens of gods. And even at Ebla, although there are some 500 gods there, there is also in ancient Canaan the concept of a ‘great one’, Lugal, who was associated with creation. Later the word Lugal came to mean king.Q: So that would be consistent with what Paul tells us in Romans, that people abandoned the worship of the one true God and turned to the worship of other things?
A: Absolutely. The specific reference to only three gods just after the Flood may, in a vague way, be associated with the Trinity, because it does seem that Satanic forces are prepared to offer a parody of spiritual realities. The Canaanites had three main gods. They had El, the father, Baal, the son, and Asherah, the mother who is the wife of El (and also the mother of Baal, according to some scholars). There is some challenge as to the interrelationships, but you have three gods there. So when the Israelites got away from Jehovah, they were offered the worship of the Canaanites and their three gods without all the problems of being a holy people and so on. It seems to be a parody on the Trinity, which of course is not fully revealed until New Testament times. But the demonic spirits have always known about the Trinity.Q: People raised on evolutionary thinking might find it hard to see how an archaeologist who digs through the earth can possibly believe that the Bible can be right about Genesis—which of course would imply that the earth is young. Have you ever been involved in any other research or seen any other evidence which would lead you to cast doubt upon the evolutionary geological system of dating?
A: Well, many years ago I was lecturing at a college in the United States and declaring that the earth could be as old as you would like to have it—millions or billions of years—and a student came to me and asked me to read some research papers by Professor Tom Barnes. And that led me on a search. I even found myself with the scientist who had done the investigation for Professor Barnes’ arguments about the depletion of the earth’s magnetic field. This person was associated with one of the biggest institutions in America. I asked him about his conclusions. He said, ‘Well, it’s not a matter of my conclusions, it’s the institution I represent.’ And he made it quite clear that he would personally recommend (and could not flaw) Dr Barnes’ arguments. However, the institution was not prepared to accept them, because this would mean accepting that the earth was young—just a few thousand years rather than billions of years. And their argument was, ‘We know that Professor Barnes is wrong.’ We ‘know’—simply because of the establishment belief, it seems.
A: Sometimes. For instance, in the excavations at Gezer to which I have referred, on the last day of two particular digs, we actually found a cache of Philistine pots, which were about 150 years out, based on the argument that the Exodus took place about 1290–1270 BC (which is the date taken by many modern scholars). They are plain wrong, by the way. The evidence from Dr Bryant Wood today is being taken very seriously these days: he has done a great deal of work to show that Jericho fell about 1400 BC, which gives you an Exodus date of about 1440 BC. So these particular Philistine pots just shouldn’t have been there on this accepted theory. And they didn’t know what to do with it, so they just went quiet on it.
That’s what happens from time to time. My own experience is that if the Bible says something is accurate, well, be very slow to suggest otherwise, because it does have a habit of proving to be right after all.Q: Have you handled or seen any fossil evidence which would contradict the geologic column?
A: Yes, I’ve excavated a number of times at the Paluxy River in Texas, and there’s very interesting evidence there. I’ve talked to the lady, Jeannie Mack, who with her mother found a famous trilobite. She is the curator of the Somervill County Museum at Glen Rose, at that location in Texas. She and her mother found this trilobite in the same fossil limestone strata where there have been plenty of undeniable dinosaur footprints found. And when I challenged her because of the sensational nature of a trilobite and a dinosaur track being found in the same place, she was upset with me because she thought I was calling her a liar. She knew what dinosaur limestone strata were and where dinosaur prints would be, and she was emphatic that just across from where she lives at the Paluxy River this trilobite was found in exactly that stratum with dinosaur footprints.Q: Did you see the fossil yourself?
A: I’ve handled the trilobite, yes. It’s in about four inches of limestone. But it was undoubtedly a trilobite—nobody argues about that. And it was found in the same stratum as dinosaur footprints, which according to evolutionary theory is impossible—they’re supposed to be separated by tens of millions of years.Q: I understand that you know something about some dinosaur prints at the Paluxy River that are found in the wrong place.
A: Yes, it’s very interesting. Back in 1982, we had come to the last day of that particular excavation and the field supervisor came to us and said, ‘I think I’ve seen what might be the start of a dinosaur footprint on the top stratum over there. And the leader of the excavation and I (the associate) said, ‘Well, forget it. That’s on the top stone stratum of the earth’s surface in this area. There are no dinosaur footprints up there.’ Then he said, ‘Look, the machinery is sitting here, we’ve paid good money for it and we’ve finished with it. Let me just remove the overburden—the topsoil—and see what’s there.’ So we agreed and off he went.
He came back in a little while and said, ‘I think there’s something up there.’ We all went up to where he had removed the overburden on top of the stone (an average of between six and 11 feet of topsoil—the debris that accumulates over the centuries). It was about 30 feet by 30 feet in area. I got down into the mud and personally excavated the six dinosaur footprints that I found there. I stepped them out as being approximately three feet six inches from each other. There were cameras going, and there were people there; there’s no possibility of this being faked. We found six dinosaur footprints that started from the edge of the Paluxy River and led over to where the overburden was no longer removed.
About two years later I was in the area, and well-known scientist-author Dr Charles Thaxton was there this time, and we had quite an interesting chat. He said, ‘By the way, do you remember those dinosaur footprints you found up there in that top stone stratum?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Well, do you know how that was written up?’ ‘No’. ‘Well, they claim that they couldn’t possibly be there, they couldn’t be genuine because that’s not the Cretaceous limestone (a layer supposedly 70–100 million years old). So they claim that those footprints were carved there by Indians or you people faked them.’
Well, we checked out with a particular Indian art history man at a nearby university to find out what the usual practice was with Indians and carving. Did they carve into a rock? No. They would paint into the caves, just on the outside of the caves and sometimes just inside, but certainly they did not get into the rock and make carvings. And in any case, how they would do that under deep overburden, I don’t know. I’m glad I was the one who dug them out, because I can say before God that there is no faking in this whatever. I personally got down in the mud—we could see the beginnings of one of the dinosaur footprints. I uncovered that, and if I stepped it out in the direction in which it pointed—I would, and did, find the others. And so we found a total of six of them.
They were dinosaur footprints—the same pattern of dinosaurs as at other places in that region. However, these prints were supposedly in the ‘wrong’ place and so this plain, straightforward evidence is rejected—simply because it doesn’t fit the evolutionary timetable.Dr Wilson, thank you very much.
Footnote* The documentary hypothesis (J,E,D,P,H hypothesis) is still, sadly, taught in many Christian institutions. It claims that the five books of Moses were written not by him, but by at least five different sources (code-named J,E,D,P,H) which gradually came together over many centuries. The hypothesis has been amended from time to time, but is still taught in many institutions despite clear evidence opposing it. The basic Bible documents come from eye-witnesses with legitimate minimal editing to make them clearer to later generations—see for example Genesis 14:3, where the Vale of Siddim had become part of the Dead Sea.
Readers’ commentsNigel C., United Kingdom, 25 April 2012
I read Wiseman's book "New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis" some years ago, and it transformed the way I saw Genesis. Before this, I has no idea how Moses knew what to write regarding the creation, life before and during the flood. Then I discovered that the accounts were eye-witness material. Why was the account of the flood so repetitive? Because three accounts had been combined into one - and the authors' names were still attached! How do we know the account of the Garden of Eden is accurate? Because the author of that chronicle was there, and his name still exists at the end of the narrative!
This interpretation was confirmed to me by Romans 4 vs 23 + 24 which states that Abraham's imputed righteousness was written for us to read, and also for HIM to read! Now, that must have been written in Abraham's lifetime, long before Moses was even born; so he could read in God's Word that God counted him righteous.
There are many interesting points this interpretation throws up. For instance, there was never a time when God's word didn't exist for man to read. The first section was most likely written for Adam when he was newly created as an explanation by God regarding our most important questions in life: where did we come from? Is there a God? etc. Also Noah ends his account with his greatest discovery: 'Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.' and the next section begins with Noah's sons' appraisal of their father: 'Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.'
Genesis is absolutely trustworthy from the first verse.
Peter N., Australia, 26 April 2012
I fully support Nigel C's assessment, above, of "New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis". That was first published in 1936 (not 1948). A second study called "Creation Revealed in Six Days" was published In 1946 or 1948 (both dates are cited). In 1977 the two were combined as Parts I & II of "Clues to Creation in Genesis".
Part I, New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis, is a well argued case that Moses faithfully passed on creation documents received from his ancestors. This not only refutes the Documentary Hypothesis but is also evidence that Genesis is reliable history of a recent creation.
Part II, the 1946/48 "Creation Revealed in Six Days", is a capitulation to the prevailing dogma that the earth is millions of years old. Wiseman tries to explain away a plain reading of Moses' writing; he argues that God spent the six days telling man about the creation.
I find his argument here convoluted and even disingenuous. E.g. Part II concludes (p203): "Consequently there was one thing our Lord was not doing on those six days, he was not creating the heavens and the earth and all life on it." Then (p204) "Nowhere in the Bible, not even in the fourth commandment, does it say that God created [created in italics] the heavens and earth in six days." But he does not reference or discuss Exodus 20:11.
Neither does Appendix I, a list of "Scripture References to Creation", list Exodus 20:11. Considering his explicit reference to the fourth commandment, this is a very strange, even disingenuous omission - obscuring the fact that he is splitting semantic hairs to make a distinction between 'created' and 'made'.
Andy S., Canada, 26 April 2012
If I wrote a fictional novel and set it in Paris around some historic monuments, would archaeologists decide my story was factual and historically accurate, simply because they dug up the monuments mentioned in my text? If I threw in some philosophical discussion would they also then claim my theories were true, because they'd found the monuments? Using archaeology to claim truth in the Bible is no more more than this, and demands more rigorous support than saying, "hey they Bible mentions it, and here it is under my spade!"
Don Batten responds:
The Dan Brown phenomenon (fiction in an historical setting) is a recent invention. I think it was CS Lewis, the first Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University, who pointed out that historical fiction is a modern phenomenon unknown in earlier times. There is not a shred of evidence that your completely hypothetical suggestion applies to the Bible’s record.
The context seems clear: archaeology confirms a biblical claim about the particular issue at hand, often one which had been disputed by skeptics, like the destruction of Jericho or the early cultural aspects of Genesis paralleled in the Ebla tablets, or that Jeremiah was ‘made up’. It also lends credibility to the authors: if they were accurate about the history and geography that we can check, it makes it more likely they were accurate about other things they reported, especially if they were prepared to die for them. Here is a response to something similar: http://creation.com/should-genesis-be-taken-literally-countering-critic.
Much of the Bible was clearly written by eyewitnesses who recorded the people involved, the time frame, the places and what they did. It is these things that are consistently corroborated by archaeological discoveries. Indeed, Hebrew, the language of nearly all the Old Testament, has special grammatical form for recording history. Poetry (e.g. the Psalms) does not use this special structure but an entirely different one; there is no confusion. However, there is not even any evidence that the poetic passages were in any sense fictional, although they could use figures of speech such as simile and metaphor, etc.
Any good historian asks “How did the writers intend the reader to understand the writings.” It is clear the biblical writers intended that their historical narrative writings be understood as history. The Oxford Hebraist, Professor James Barr, made this point about Genesis 1-11.
In standing by their testimony, many of them were willing to pay for their stand with their lives. If they invented these things they would hardly be willing to die for it.
Also, in the article you refer to, the archaeologists who initially did not regard the Bible as historically reliable did not expect to find archaeological corroboration for it. When they consistently found archaeological evidence that backed the Bible’s account, they changed their attitude to the Bible. Clearly these experts in the literature and archaeology of the times had no concept of what you suggest of a work of fiction set in an historical context. It’s quite a bizarre suggestion.
The archaeological discoveries do underline the historicity of the writings. That’s the point. But it is not just archaeology that backs the Bible; see Should we trust the Bible?
Henry S., United States, 3 May 2012
Thanks for writing this article in memory of Clifford Wilson. Dr. Wilson has an strong and decades-long connection with the Associates for Biblical Research ministry. Our Director of Research, Dr. Bryant Wood, has written a dedication to his life and ministry on the ABR website. Thanks again for your remembering the work of our brother and friend. Sincerely, Henry B. Smith Jr
You can spend all day finding different varieties of sea slugs and you would not find them all. In fact scientists keep finding new sea slugs. It is impossible to keep up with all the varieties in the world! Here is a page that is child-friendly. Consider that there are over 3,000 types of sea slugs that we have identified and we keep finding more. Think of all the various types of spiders/arachnids there are. How about bacteria? Grasses? There are multiple thousands of differing grass types in the world. Evolution, if it actually happened, would tend to choose one or maybe three or ten types of grass. Not thousands! Of course, there is not one verified instance of evolution being observed since science has begun looking for it. We see variation within kind, which is the Biblical model. We do not see one kind of organism becoming another. It doesn't happen. Ever!