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"Based on the Bible" Topic

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25 Mar 2019 11:21 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Areas of Interest


1,597 hits since 18 Aug 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian18 Aug 2018 12:37 p.m. PST

Is the Bible a reliable source for ancient warfare?

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Aug 2018 12:59 p.m. PST

Sure! It's not laid out for you like an old Phil Barker "Ancient Armies" volume, but you will find the importance of terrain, surprise, the value of a "few good men" rather than hordes of indifferent to just plain bad.


Legion 418 Aug 2018 1:14 p.m. PST

The History Channel had a series call "Battles of the Bible", IIRC. They still show now & then. Or you could find else on the net. It was pretty darn good! Showing terrain, numbers etc.

tigrifsgt18 Aug 2018 1:19 p.m. PST

There is also a book called Battles of the Bible. It is supposed to be the actual historical accounts of the bible battles.

Tgunner18 Aug 2018 1:41 p.m. PST

I will say this. The "Battles of the Bible" series mentioned above gave out an interesting factoid. This article spells it out.


So this officer used this little bit from the Bible to outmaneuver the Turks and win a small but decisive victory over them. I would say that this little nugget shows that a very compelling case can be made that the Bible knows what it's talking about.

If you want to catch the series you can find it on Youtube.

YouTube link

Battles BC carries on this particular thread of documentaries. However, annoyingly, they pick up a 300 aesthetic which takes away from what would be an excellent series. But if you hold your nose a bit it can be endured for what is a superior series on major conflicts antiquity.

YouTube link

Soaring Soren18 Aug 2018 1:44 p.m. PST

Ezekiel 4: 1-3 actually describes a miniatures game, with two sides in a siege battle, with ramps, battering rams and terrain pieces.

So yes, the Bible can be a good wargaming source…

Cacique Caribe18 Aug 2018 3:38 p.m. PST

I always wanted to have figures to play out the Battle of Mount Gilboa (Saul and Jonathan's last stand).




wmyers18 Aug 2018 3:40 p.m. PST

Without the Bible, we did not even have records of the Hittites being a people or an empire, for instance! Let alone who they fought and how.

Lucius18 Aug 2018 7:42 p.m. PST

Lots of small details ring true, such as the ability of an observer to tell who was driving a chariot by their driving style("And the charioteer is driving like Jehu . . . he drives like a madman"), or the Philistine chariots not being effective in the hills(Judges).

Major Vivian Gilbert famously read a passage from 1 Samuel to find a hidden pass that Saul had used, and so defeat the Ottomans at Michmash, in 1918. So yes, I think it should pretty accurate.

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2018 8:38 p.m. PST

As reliable as Dianetics is.

Cacique Caribe18 Aug 2018 9:20 p.m. PST

Dianetics? You mean Dianetics has accounts of battles, and descriptions of weapons and other battle gear? It must be in the expanded version then, and not the version Hubbard prepared for mere initiates.


Personal logo Grelber Supporting Member of TMP18 Aug 2018 9:32 p.m. PST

Charles Gordon, of colonial fame, spent several months of leave in the Holy Land and visited a bunch of battle sites. He found that the Biblical accounts made a great deal of sense if read in conjunction with a visit to the actual site.

Presumably, he would have appreciated CC's photo or nice Google Earth photos or maps.


BillyNM18 Aug 2018 10:50 p.m. PST

Wymers, I thought Ramesses provided enough detail in his account of Kadesh, etc. to inform us about the Hittites – all written / carved long before the bible…

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2018 3:15 a.m. PST

Like any contemporary source they offer useful information, but as with all such sources which are rarely experts they all should be taken with a grain of salt.

ZULUPAUL Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2018 3:41 a.m. PST

Yes, it's ancient & has plenty of battles.

HANS GRUBER19 Aug 2018 5:23 a.m. PST

Understanding ancient warfare is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, every little piece helps.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Aug 2018 5:35 a.m. PST

Reliable? Yes. Useful? Not really. while the Bible describes a number of battles, it doesn't really do it from a military perspective, focusing on the important things associated with the battle dynamics. Then again, that is not the purpose of the narrative; it's not really fair to judge the "accuracy" of a document with respect to a perspective that is not important to the intent of the document.

Dynaman878919 Aug 2018 7:29 a.m. PST

I'm still wondering how the sun was kept shining well past the normal day that one time. Was it held above the Earth or was the rotation of the Earth stopped and then started up again?

Tgunner19 Aug 2018 7:35 a.m. PST

Wymers, I thought Ramesses provided enough detail in his account of Kadesh, etc. to inform us about the Hittites – all written / carved long before the bible…

True, but IIRC we didn't have access to that until the 19th Century when they found the Rosetta Stone and used it to decipher hieroglyphics. The Bible has been around in a readable form, one way or another, for centuries. So we "knew" about the Hittites long before Ramses told us about Kadesh in hieroglyphics. Sort of how like we know about Troy from Greek and Roman texts before Schliemann actually found the place.

As reliable as Dianetics is.

Dianetics? You mean Dianetics has accounts of battles, and descriptions of weapons and other battle gear? It must be in the expanded version then, and not the version Hubbard prepared for mere initiates.


+1 to CC!


I don't get the impression that anyone is talking about the Bible as a religious text here. We are looking at the information that it gives us about battles in the Bronze/Iron ages. It does provide, in between sections on teaching morals, interesting tidbits on warfare during the time period. It give clues about weapons, equipment, general tactics, and even short overviews of important battles. I think any reasonable historian would tend to look at the Bible as a decent, if limited, source on the period and only the really foolish ones would throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Winston Smith19 Aug 2018 9:04 a.m. PST

The Bible was not written as a text on ancient warfare, much less as a scenario book for gamers with an Early Hebrew army. It can be useful.

1 Kings 4:26 has been used by gamers to determine what type of chariot to use for Solomon's army, for instance.
However, scholars can't even agree on how to translate the words, or even the numbers. It's not like we have divinely inspired Army Lists.
Is that a recommendation for Foundry or Eureka Assyrian 4 Horse chariots with 4 crew, or Ral Partha 2 Horse 2 crew Canaanite chariots? Algebra comes into play here.

Allow me to add a lament here that few if any Ancient historians wrote with future wargamers in mind. Sad but true.

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2018 3:37 p.m. PST

It is not at all a contemporary source for any of the battles mentioned. It is an oral history written down between the 6th to 1st centuries BCE. Abraham and the time of Abraham is a mythologial origin story and hard to pinpoint to a historical timeframe, but would be c.2000–1500 BCE.

As all oral histories shift and change with each generation of telling, it is a less reliable source than Homer is for Hellenic history. The mythology of the Trojan War is c.1250 BCE, written down about the 6th century.

One example of the unreliablity of the oral transmission in the Bible is the references to Midianiates riding camels in battle c.1500. That detail makes perfect sense for oral history telling many centuries later. But there is no archaeological evidence of Arab tribes riding camels before c.1000.

khanscom19 Aug 2018 4:10 p.m. PST

"There is also a book called Battles of the Bible. It is supposed to be the actual historical accounts of the bible battles"

"Battles of the Bible" by Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon, ISBN 0-394-50131-4

A friend who did archeological work in Israel was dismissive of this one, but it seems to me to provide a reasonable set of battle reconstructions. He recommended Yadin's work.

Cacique Caribe19 Aug 2018 10:17 p.m. PST

MiniMo: "It is not at all a contemporary source for any of the battles mentioned. It is an oral history written down between the 6th to 1st centuries BCE."

Then it must be one of the most accurate of oral histories ever put together, because they seem to contain names of historical people and places that were long forgotten during the 6th to 1st centuries BCE, and were only recently discovered by archaeologists in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Winston Smith19 Aug 2018 10:56 p.m. PST

I always thought that the Kings in Kings got a bad rap. If they tried to unify their ethnically and religiously diverse kingdoms by taking on a few wives or concubines, some smelly chap would show up and condemn them before G*d.
Especially the conquering kings, who had even more tribes to pacify and bring in.
The prophets would have loved Baelor the Blessed.

Some of the campaigns and battles in the more historically narrative books, are quite descriptive and hold up well to analysis. I think the scribes had a lot more than oral history to go by.

advocate20 Aug 2018 2:37 a.m. PST

Winston, 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses, doesn't that suggest 8-horse chariots? Try and get one of them on a 40mm base…

From a wargames point of view, the bible is a source, from closer to the period than we are, to be treated like other sources.

Tgunner20 Aug 2018 6:10 a.m. PST

Sounds like it's "get out the 6mm" time.


Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP20 Aug 2018 7:53 a.m. PST

@Cacique Caribe "Then it must be one of the most accurate of oral histories ever put together, because they seem to contain names of historical people and places that were long forgotten during the 6th to 1st centuries BCE, and were only recently discovered by archaeologists in the 19th and 20th centuries."

The academic study of oral tradition as a literary foundation is studied quite strongly across many cultures. Preserving names of people and places that are given is entirely normal. It is the stories that are told regarding those people and places shift to meet the needs of each generation of the audience.

No one in 1200 would believe that Arabs were riding camels in battle a few hundred years earlier, because no one was riding camels in 1200 either! A few generations after camel-riding is introduced, then camel-riding in the oral tradition seems normal and no one notices the shift, the camels embellishment adds more credence to the story telling.

The myth of Jewish slavery in Egypt under an un-named Pharaoh and details of the Exodus is at best an amalgamation of many different stories that were woven together around the 5th century BCE.

Legion 420 Aug 2018 8:08 a.m. PST

Great looking models Tgunner !!!! thumbs up

Cacique Caribe20 Aug 2018 11:27 a.m. PST


They must have been spares to rotate and not have tired horses when it was time to fight.


colin knight20 Aug 2018 4:52 p.m. PST

I think it is a good source tak8ng in account historical evidence also. It adds to the jigsaw trying to piece together ancient warfare and tactics. Should never be dismissed as as source.

Cacique Caribe20 Aug 2018 8:14 p.m. PST

I'm sure there are many other ancient books (like the Koran, the Mahabharata, etc) that may not have been written as military manuals but still mention battles that aren't recorded anywhere else, or that have never been supported by archeological evidence. But very few of those ancient sources get dismissed or discredited so quickly these days as does the Bible.

For those people, the Bible will never have anything worth their time, yet they have no problem giving all other books and oral traditions the benefit of the doubt.

Two words … their loss.


Dn Jackson20 Aug 2018 9:01 p.m. PST

"As reliable as Dianetics is."

As I said in another thread: To some people everything is politics…everything.

"One example of the unreliablity of the oral transmission in the Bible is the references to Midianiates riding camels in battle c.1500. That detail makes perfect sense for oral history telling many centuries later. But there is no archaeological evidence of Arab tribes riding camels before c.1000."

For centuries there was no archaeological evidence the Hittitites existed. Just the bible and Ramesses inscription. Once evidence of their existence was found, it confirmed the biblical account. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Aug 2018 10:48 p.m. PST

And while "Oral History" is certainly the oldest form, and inevitably predates "Written History," with the possible exception of some of the Genesis stories (just possibly some very old), it is a mistake to make the a priori position that Hebrew History begins in prehistory, thus "Oral History."

Written language was already around by the time of the Patriarchs, and well before the Exodus (even if one chooses to dismiss that as myth), and absolutely throughout the time of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan, and all centuries thereafter.

Choosing to tar Biblical accounts as rooted in Oral History, and that such history is unreliable, is simply evidence of a serious misunderstanding.

The fact is that Oral History is necessarily impossible to critique--it's generally not being passed on in that manner any more--but once it is recorded, it can then be compared against the objective historical record, or in this case, anthropological evidence.

And, to date, far more Biblical detail has been confirmed via direct evidence than not. Does that mean we must accept everything at face value? Obviously not, but that's what the science is for. Dismissing things out of hand without evidence is the same folly as accepting everything without caution.


colin knight21 Aug 2018 4:01 a.m. PST

Interesting thought. Gideon faced Midianites who were raiding with camels….if 1000bc is the time camels were first ridden then that would indeed put Exodus later as in the

D Rohl revised chronology ???

Cacique Caribe21 Aug 2018 4:33 a.m. PST

Just watch. Next month someone will find physical remains that prove camels were there before, much the way that recent discoveries of plant and animal remains have pushed back other timelines around the world.

But in the meantime … some will continue to ridicule everything in the biblical record, while giving every other ancient book the benefit of the doubt.


Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Aug 2018 5:29 a.m. PST

Next month someone will find physical remains

Or perhaps people could dig into the text itself. The designation "camels" comes from gamal, the root word meaning "to carry", and as such identifies a beast of burden as opposed to food animal. Koine Greek and Masoretic Hebrew/Aramaic only have about 5K different words each, as opposed to ~150K in modern English. Both languages also read very differently than English, and differently than each other. It is entertaining to see people pick on a specific word in a sentence that is an expressive euphemism. "Their camels were as numerous as (or … could no more be counted than, maybe) the grains of sand ("on the beach (possibly shore)", or not, depending on the reading)" is best translated into Modern English as "They had a Metric butt-ton of rides, yo."
I look forward to Rip van Winkling into a 1K year coma to awake and have people ask me how they can trust anything written in this century when people use the term "internet" to variously mean the Internet, the World Wide Web, a peer to peer provider connection, a cellular data connection, and a host of other things.

Cacique Caribe21 Aug 2018 8:59 a.m. PST

Etotheipi: "They had a Metric butt-ton of rides, yo."

Wow, that would be some translation! Is that from the Samuel L Jackson version?

Seriously though, considering the very few source that went into the writing of the Textus Receptus, I'm sure there are hundreds of passages that could benefit from the input of hundreds of older manuscripts that were discovered after the TR was first patched together.

The middle eastern flora and fauna known to Europeans back in the 16th/17h centuries was very limited too.


goragrad21 Aug 2018 10:46 a.m. PST

Interesting etotheipi – not unlike the Chinese character usually translated as chariot that could actually be referring to other wheeled transport such as carts.

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Aug 2018 10:52 a.m. PST


Well done, Sir!


Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Aug 2018 3:43 p.m. PST

Thanks for the compliments. You should really direct them toward the professor who taught the course on the Masoretic text that I took as an elective when I was an undergrad. Can't remember her name. I've always had a knack for languages (that is, I am adept at learning enough to get myself into all kinds of trouble), being raised by an immigrant who spoke half a dozen languages fluently. And I have always been interested in the intersection of expressive languages (like human ones) and formal languages (mathematical ones). The prof of that course introduced me to an extremely rich and interesting nexus of meaning, culture, and spirituality as well as epistemology and rhetoric. I've bought and read a book or two on the text every year fo the last two decades. You accolades should also go to those authors.

Lost Wolf22 Aug 2018 11:35 a.m. PST

I beleive the Bible is the inspired word of a Living God. Even the part where God kept the sun up so the fight could continue as well as Balaam's donkey. This same book also explains how God made a way to us to have a new relationship with Him by the death and resurrection of his son. With that in mind, the Bible offers many accounts of battles (past and future) that we can play. David's skirmish with Goliath has always interested me. A small young man armed with only a few stones and a sling takes on a giant warrior. That could easily be embellished. What about a war between angels and demons which the Bible certainly talks about. What if Judah launched a raid against Dan and its worship sight. Skirmishes between the David's mighty warriors and the enemies of Judah or Jonathon and his servant attacking a small garrison. CC's scenario idea would be a hoot. All kinds of scenarios are there for the taking. PS. I also think God leading Israel out of Egypt is anything but a myth.

Hector Blackwolf22 Aug 2018 5:26 p.m. PST

There are competing theories of biblical authorship. It has been a while since I reviewed the topic. However, as I recall it is generally agreed the Old Testament was written but diverse authors over a period of centuries and long after most of the events it purports to describe.

Assuming for the sake of argument the writers where not military historians what it describes is likely an academic's view of warfare at the time of its writing. It does describe bronze age warfare. And in many cases it is the only source we have. However, I don't think it was intended as 'history' at least as we understand the concept.

Not knowing who wrote it, when, or why calls for a certain amount of skepticism. However, from a purely historical prospective, it remains a valuable insight into the cultures of the time.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP23 Aug 2018 11:13 a.m. PST

I think we do know why the various scriptures were written and we can be pretty confident that it had only a tangential relationship to military science.

Or accounting, or logistics management, or physical science, or any quantitative discipline. That's fairly evident in the discussion of the quote from Judges above and the large number of "numbers" in the Bible that are actually parts of euphemisms. The most famous of these is "forty days and forty nights" which is an idiomatic phrase in Hebrew meaning "a long time" and is no more meant to be a quantitative measurement of time than the use of "just a second" is meant to be specific in modern English or "sanpun" (literally "three minutes", but idiomatically "a short delay") in modern Japanese.

It's not that the information is not reliable, but it is no more appropriate to hold expressive statements to a quantitative standard than is the criticism "Liar! You said you needed a minute to finish up what you were doing, but you actually took fifty-eight seconds".

I think the Bible is intended as history (one intent of many), however it is focused on the history of the relationship between God and man and not necessarily on the presentation of quantitative facts. Honestly, beyond secondary school (and often within it) the presentation of quantitative facts is a fairly narrow focus within the study of history. The fact that my mother cannot put specific calendar dates to the events that happened to her during the Nazi invasion of her homeland does not somehow invalidate it as a historical narrative with meaning. It just means that she is not presenting a Gregorian date timeline.

wmyers23 Aug 2018 11:44 p.m. PST

The more is discovered historically, archaeologically, etc the more what the Bible states is being proven true; leading those extreme few (but extremely vocal, far out of proportion to their numbers) who have a personal agenda to try to seek ever more to try to find some small speck to discredit the Bible.

Yet, every time they pick on something (I would think in this case camelry) they end up being proven wrong.

Instead of actually learning, they merely resort to name calling, refusing to acknowledge evidence, trying to claim some error in authenticity as opposed to accepting the overwhelming fact (and it is a proven fact!) the accuracy is unrivaled in any other work(s)!

Old Contemptibles Supporting Member of TMP24 Aug 2018 7:50 a.m. PST


sidley24 Aug 2018 2:07 p.m. PST

I would not say the accuracy is unrivalled in any other works (Xenophon and Caeser come to mind). However my view (note my personal view, so biblical fundamentalists or rampant anti theists would disagree) is that the bible was written some time after the events so probably oral record.traditions were probably written down during the Babylonian captivity. Hence the infamous camel reference during the exodus. However there are some very good historical references and descriptions suitable for wargaming within the bible. The Bible covers most events in a broadly accurate manner but there are haters who will never accept that.

keyhat25 Aug 2018 7:08 a.m. PST


Wonder no more. The apparent stopping of the sun in it's transit across the sky does not require the earth to stop rotating. This can be accomplished by a gradual increase in the refractive index in a boundary layer or layers within the atmosphere.
You, yourself, see the effects of this on many days at sunset when the sun continues to appear in the sky after it has actually set below the horizon.
Shackelford, the explorer, reported on seeing this phenomena while on his failed expedition.

"The sun which had made ‘positively his last appearance' seven days earlier surprised us by lifting more than half its disk above the horizon on May 8. A glow on the northern horizon resolved itself into the sun at 11 am that day. A quarter of an hour later the unreasonable visitor disappeared again, only to rise again at 11:40 am, set at 1 pm, rise at 1:10 pm and set lingeringly at 1:20 pm. These curious phenomena were due to refraction which amounted to 2° 37′ at 1:20 pm. The temperature was 15° below 0° Fahr., and we calculated that the refraction was 2° above normal."

By simply changing the temperature, density and most importantly the amount of water vapor and or ice crystals in the various layers within the atmosphere this phenomena can become quite pronounced. And this is without any Divine intervention.
For A God who can turn a mass of electrical charges into a sentient being this should not be too difficult a problem.

Oberlindes Sol LIC26 Mar 2019 11:23 a.m. PST

Tgunner: Thanks for the great picture of beautiful miniatures.

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