Do you remember your Bible, that the patriarch Abraham lived in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur before traveling at God’s direction westward to Canaan, to what is currently Israel and the disputed West Bank?
One of Abraham’s most famous, some might say infamous, exploits was the near sacrifice of his son Isaac at God’s command, only to be stopped by an angel at the last moment before blade pierced his son’s skin. The Bible recounts Abraham then spotted a ram with horns tangled in a thicket. He immediately substituted the ram on the altar he had built.
Abraham is believed to have lived around 1600 B.C.E.
Now, flash forward some 3,500 years. Ninety-five years ago in 1928 archeologists uncovered two identical statues depicting a horned goat standing in a thicket. The discovery occurred in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, some 180 miles southeast of Baghdad. The statues were estimated to have been sculpted between 2600-2400 B.C.E., about a millennia before Abraham’s fateful encounter with a ram.
Lead British archeologist C. Leonard Woolley surely knew his Bible. He named the two goat statues “Ram in a Thicket” as homage to the Abrahamic story.
Were the statues—discovered in the Great Death Pit of one of the graves of the Royal Cemetery in Ur—common knowledge to the author(s) of the Bible (assuming, of course, that human(s), not God, wrote Scriptures)?
Is it not a telling coincidence that Abraham came from Ur? That the animal he sacrificed, like a goat, was horned and in a thicket?
The pair of statues today reside separately, one in the British Museum in London, its twin in the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. U of Penn and the British Museum underwrote Woolley’s multi-year expedition.
I heard about these statues while watching a recording of a PBS series on Agatha Christie by British historian Lucy Worsley. Christie frequently visited Iraq and its archeological sites. She met her second husband, archeologist Max Mallowan, on a dig.
Admittedly, I am stretching credulity to suggest a link between the statues and Abraham. But it would not be the first time observers forged an association between Bible texts and Mesopotamian histories and lore. The story of a flood engulfing mankind is part of Mideast culture (as well that of other regions). And the Ten Commandments and many laws passed down to Moses parallel those found in the Code of Hammurabi formulated in Babylonia 1755-1750, about 500 years before the Mount Sinai revelation.
Let’s call my Ram-in-a-Thicket-connection imaginative story-telling to fill in the blanks the Bible chose not to include. It’s what Jewish scholars refer to as midrash.
More Agatha: While we’re on the subject of what I learned from the Agatha Christie bio-series, I was reminded of a story from World War II. Christie and her husband owned a home, Greenway House, in Devon, along the southwest coast of England.
In the early years of the war the Christies permitted Greenway House to be used as a refuge for families fleeing the blitz in London. As preparations for D-Day drew closer, Greenway House was requisitioned by the British Admiralty to house U.S. servicemen preparing for the Normandy invasion.
One of those stationed in Greenway House, along with officers of the 10th U.S. Coast Guard flotilla, was Herbert Bilus, an ensign on an LCI (landing craft infantry). Herb was the father of dear friends, his daughters Jane Gould, Pat Lager and Fran Feldman and their respective husbands Ken, Marty and Rick.
Lucy Worsley’s series showed some of the interior rooms of Greenway House, but not the library. Too bad. It was in the library that the lead officer of Herb’s LCI, Lt. Marshall Lee, painted a frieze across the top of three sides of the library’s upper walls. The frieze depicted daily life of the seamen before D-Day.
When she regained use of Greenway House Agatha Christie kept the artwork intact.