Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gobekli Tepe

Unless you are a follower of archaeology, you have probably never heard of Gobekli Tepe. That's too bad because it is perhaps the most significant and amazing archaeological discovery in modern time. And it has fascinating implications for anyone interested in the Bible and human history.

The Bible in Genesis 1 and 2 describes the beginning of humanity and the place where man first lived. In summary, man was created by God. His creation was relatively recent, in contrast to the usual evolutionary scenario of a gradual rise to humanness that compasses 100,000 years or more. Man was created unique. He was a creature with a spirit and great capacities, a being created in the image of God. And he first lived in a place describe as a garden east of Eden.

That biblical description becomes particularly interesting when we come to Gobekli Tepe.

Gobekli Tepe is a hill in southern Turkey where in 1991 a spectacular discovery was made. It was the discovery of an large and extremely ancient building whose purpose most likely was as a place of worship. It is magnificent in construction and the detail of the artwork carved into the stone pillars. And it has been dated using several different methods at 9,000 to 12,000 years ago. That is as much as 6,000 years earlier than the ruins of the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia. And it is as much as 7500 years earlier than the writing of the book of Genesis.

So, how are Gobekli Tepe and the Bible connected? First, Gobekli Tepe and the locations of the Garden of Eden are very close to one another. It may be that they are a mere several hundred miles apart. Both are closely connected to the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Second,the dates are very close. The Bible records a genealogy for Adam that, allowing for gaps, can be stretched only to about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Third, early man is described in the Bible as having built cities, developed tools, created musical instruments, and as having an organized religion. It is the last that is most interesting.

Klaus Schmidt,the archaeologist who has done the most work at Gobekli Tepe, made the statement that our whole idea of how civilization developed has been set on its head by this discovery. It now appears that religion was the driving force of civilization, not agriculture. That fits perfectly with the Bible because the first activity besides food gathering recorded there (in chapter 4 of Genesis) was worship.

Of course, the worship at Gobekli Tepe can not be described as the worship of the God of the Bible. Rather it appears by the pictures and sculptures to have been animistic. Yet, that too correlates with the Bible's story, for the Bible tells us that men early corrupted the worship of the one true God and began to worship other things. Ultimately by chapter 6 in Genesis, worship focused on men of renown. And perhaps that correlates with the last mystery of Gobekli Tepe.

Strangely, the site declined. Over several centuries new temples were build on top of the original. But they were inferior in size and detail and artwork. Finally, the entire site was intentionally entombed - not destroyed, but entombed in rubble and sand. It was as if this civilization moved on from animism or something like that to the worship of other things. Yet, with a respect for the past that caused them to expend much hard labor and time in preserving it.

The work uncovering the mystery of Gobekli Tepe has only just begun. Schmidt expects it will take another fifty years to do the digging. And that may not uncover all the secrets. But so far this has proven to be the most exciting find for students of the Bible and archaeology in a long time. And again it seems, science is catching up to the Bible.

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