Rebuttal of Chapter 4: How Believable is the "Old Testament"?

Seeker


This is a commentary on the Watchtower Society's 1989 book The Bible: God's Word or Man's?, Chapter 4: "How Believable Is the "Old Testament"?"

Chapter 4

How Believable Is the "Old Testament"?

An ancient city is under siege. Its attackers have swarmed across the Jordan River and are now encamped before the city's high walls. But what strange battle tactics! Each day for six days, the invading army has marched around the city, silent except for an accompanying group of priests blowing on horns. Now, on the seventh day, the army silently marches around the city seven times. Suddenly, the priests blow their horns with all their might. The army breaks its silence with a mighty battle cry, and the towering city walls collapse in a cloud of dust, leaving the city defenseless. -- Joshua 6:1-21.

2 This is how the book of Joshua, the sixth book of the Hebrew Scriptures, describes the fall of Jericho that occurred almost 3,500 years ago. But did it really happen? Many higher critics would confidently answer no. They claim that the book of Joshua, along with the previous five books of the Bible, is made up of legends written up many centuries after the alleged events took place. Many archaeologists would also answer no. According to them, when the Israelites came into the land of Canaan, Jericho may not even have existed.

The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with accounts (like the above) of Jehovah's leading the Israelites to victory over their enemies, but this is not unique to the Bible; the literature of surrounding nations tells of gods who led their people to victory too. The Moabite Stone recorded the victories that the god Chemosh had led Mesha, a Moabite king mentioned in 2 Kings 3:4, to win over his enemies.

If Christians are to accept such stories in the Bible as literal truths, on what basis do they give the Bible a privileged status? Should this status not likewise be shared with the literature of other nations contemporary to biblical times, that also make such incredible claims? Since belief in the supernatural was commonplace back then, obviously the literature of the times reflected that belief. The Jewish historian Josephus (a historian often quoted by the WTS) wrote many accounts of supernatural events, some supportive of biblical writings, and others independent of the Bible. Are we to accept only the supernatural accounts in the Bible and dismiss all the rest? Why? On what basis? And what of the supernatural actions performed by the god of Chemosh, as recorded on the Moabite Stone -- are we to accept these or dismiss them?

3 These are serious charges. As you read through the Bible, you will notice that its teachings are solidly linked to history. God deals with real men, women, families, and nations, and his commands are given to a historical people. Modern scholars who cast doubt on the historicity of the Bible cast doubt also on the importance and reliability of its message. If the Bible really is God's Word, then its history must be trustworthy and not contain mere legends and myths. Do these critics have grounds for challenging its historical truthfulness?

We see the ground is set. "Higher critics" are all lumped together as if they were one. They are all given suspicious motives, as will be seen even more clearly later on. And the black-and-white type of argument that the Society likes to reduce everything to has been raised.

When the WTS infers that miraculous biblical events happened, what proof do they offer? Can it even be proved? Perhaps they think that by poking holes at their critics' arguments this will somehow prove that these events took place. Think about it, can they or anybody else prove that this or any other miraculous event recorded in the Bible (or in any other contemporary writing for that matter) ever took place?

How do you evaluate a claim of which there is no firsthand knowledge?

Consider this method:

"When you lack evidence, the only way to decide whether or not to believe something is to ask: Is it likely? If you tell me a bird flew past my window, I will probably believe you, even though I did not see it myself and I have no evidence. That is because such a thing is likely. I have seen it happen before. It is more likely that a bird flew past my window, than that you are deceiving me. But if you tell me a pig flew past my window, I will not believe you, because my past experience tells me that such things do not happen, and so I presume that what you reported is false. Thus, where there is no evidence we have to rely on our own past experience of the sort of things that really happen."(Lofmark, Carl. What Is the Bible? pp. 41-42)

So let us see if the WTS does, indeed, provide evidence to back up their claims...

Higher Criticism -- How Reliable?

4 Higher criticism of the Bible got started in earnest during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the latter half of the 19th century, the German Bible critic Julius Wellhausen popularized the theory that the first six books of the Bible, including Joshua, were written in the fifth century B.C.E. -- about a thousand years after the events described. He did say, though, that they contained material that had been written down earlier. This theory was printed in the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, published in 1911, which explained: "Genesis is a post-exilic work composed of a post-exilic priestly source (P) and non-priestly earlier sources which differ markedly from P in language, style and religious standpoint."

It is interesting to note that Wellhausen is the only higher critic referenced in this chapter, as if he stands for all of "higher criticism" and if you just answer him, you have answered all. This is, of course, far too simplistic.

5 Wellhausen and his followers viewed all the history recorded in the earlier part of the Hebrew Scriptures as "not literal history, but popular traditions of the past." The earlier accounts were considered to be merely a reflection of the later history of Israel. For example, it was stated that the enmity between Jacob and Esau did not really happen, but it reflected the enmity between the nations of Israel and Edom in later times.

Are any of Wellhausen's reasons for this belief given? No. Instead the Society holds out his ideas, without any backing, in order for them to be mocked by an audience of Witnesses who don't feel the same way. This is a way of reducing Wellhausen's influence by making him look silly. Of course, if the Society actually included Wellhausen's reasons for believing this, his views would make sense, even if you disagreed with him. But if they are going to bring out these issues in the first place, why is the Society afraid to bring out the reasons behind the issues?

6 In harmony with this, these critics felt that Moses never received any commandment to make the ark of the covenant and that the tabernacle, center of Israelite worship in the wilderness, never existed. They also believed that the authority of the Aaronic priesthood was fully established only a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, which the critics believed happened at the beginning of the sixth century B.C.E.

Why do "these critics" believe this? Do you know? The Society certainly isn't telling. And they know most of the friends will never bother doing any research to find out. They assume that the Society is telling them all there is to know. Note this next paragraph, for example:

7 What "proof" did they have for these ideas? Higher critics claim to be able to divide the text of the early books of the Bible into a number of different documents. A basic principle they use is to assume that, generally speaking, any Bible verse using the Hebrew word for God ('Elohim') on its own was written by one writer, while any verse referring to God by his name, Jehovah, must have been written by another -- as if one writer could not use both terms.

This is quite insidious. The paragraph begins with a question, implying they are going to now give us Wellhausen's side of the story on all the issues raised earlier, namely that the Pentateuch was written much later than thought, that enmity between Esau and Jacob never happened, nor did the ark or the tabernacle happen, or that the priesthood was set up in early days. After making this implication, what do they do? Give one, only one, reason Wellhausen had for theorizing one, only one, of the above issues (the Pentateuch being written later).

8 Similarly, anytime an event is recorded more than once in a book, it is taken as proof of more than one writer at work, even though ancient Semitic literature has other similar examples of repetition. Additionally, it is assumed that any change of style means a change of writer. Yet, even modern-language writers often write in different styles at different stages in their careers, or when they are dealing with different subject matter.

Now a second reason, very simply stated, is given for the same issue, and again all the other issues and reasons are ignored. Any Witness reading these paragraphs is going to thing "Ha! What a stupid idea, that because sometimes it says Elohim and sometimes it says Jehovah that this means Esau didn't have enmity with Jacob. Absurd! What was this Wellhausen guy thinking??? Oh well, we can sure dismiss this nutcase..."

There is much more to what Wellhausen theorized than what the Society is letting on here. I will list some references you can check later on. For now, let's notice what the Society does next:

9 Is there any real proof for these theories? Not at all. One commentator noted: "Criticism, even at its best, is speculative and tentative, something always liable to be modified or proved wrong and having to be replaced by something else. It is an intellectual exercise, subject to all the doubts and guesses which are inseparable from such exercises." Biblical higher criticism, especially, is "speculative and tentative" in the extreme.

What the commentator noted is correct, and there is nothing wrong with such exercises. This is how learning proceeds, step by step, with mistakes made and corrected along the way. But what proof does the Society give for that last sentence? Why is Biblical higher criticism so much more "speculative and tentative" than other kinds of higher criticism? They don't say, leaving one to assume it is a personal and emotional opinion. That last sentence from the Society is "an intellectual exercise, subject to all the doubts and guesses which are inseparable from such exercises."

10 Gleason L. Archer, Jr., shows another flaw in the reasoning of higher criticism. The problem, he says, is that "the Wellhausen school started with the pure assumption (which they have hardly bothered to demonstrate) that Israel's religion was of merely human origin like any other, and that it was to be explained as a mere product of evolution." In other words, Wellhausen and his followers started with the assumption that the Bible was merely the word of man, and then they reasoned from there.

Ah, now the Society turns to a seemingly impartial observer in order to support their cause that Wellhausen didn't know what he was doing. What reason does Archer give? That Wellhausen began with an assumption that Israel's religion was of human origin.

So what? Does not the Society, in this book, start with the assumption that Israel's religion was of divine origin? Why is this OK, but Wellhausen's assumption is not?

Scientists in every field follow a standardized, objective approach to answer questions. One starts with a hypothesis, then through a series of tests, experiments, studies, etc. that hypothesis is challenged and tested. Based on the results of such experiments and tests, the hypothesis will either stand on firm ground, be modified or possibly be completely discarded in the light of new evidence. Unfortunately, the WTS does not follow this standard, unbiased approach. They do begin with their hypothesis, that the Bible is God's word, but then they set out to prove that their hypothesis is correct, rather than impartially examining all the available evidence and then letting the evidence draw the proper conclusions. Ask yourself why they act this way. Why do they ignore much of the evidence?

As for Mr. Gleason L. Archer, Jr., just who is he? The Society doesn't say, leaving one to assume he is some impartial critic. Who is he? Well, if you do a web search on him, you will find he is not impartial at all. He is, in fact, a religious evangelical Christian who writes books in behalf of the Bible being of divine origin. So Mr. Archer certainly has a few assumptions that he begins with!

Let's get this straight: If you start with an assumption that the Society agrees with, they quote you in support of themselves. If you start with an assumption that the Society disagrees with, they tear you down as 'prejudiced'. Just where is the prejudice in this picture?

Mr. Archer would never be quoted in the Trinity brochure, by the way, for he also wrote the following:

"Our Lord Jesus Christ was speaking here, not in His Divine nature as God the Son, but in His human nature, as the Son of Man. Christ came to suffer and die, not as God, who can do neither, but as the second Adam, born of Mary. Only as the Son of Man could he serve as Messiah, or Christ (the Anointed One). Unless He could take Himself a true and genuine human nature, He could never have represented Adam's race as Sin-Bearer at the Cross. But as the Son of Man, He certainly was lower in station than God the Father. As Isaiah 52:13-53:12 makes clear, He could only become our Savior by becoming the Servant of Yahweh. The servant by definition can never be as great as his master. (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason L. Archer, p. 375, 1982)"

Mr. Archer seems to believe in the Trinity and the cross, not assumptions the Society would be comfortable with, wouldn't you say? Does he sound like the most impartial person to judge Wellhausen?

The Society also quotes another reference on this subject:

11 Back in 1909, The Jewish Encyclopedia noted two more weaknesses in the Wellhausian theory: "The arguments by which Wellhausen has almost entirely captured the whole body of contemporary Biblical critics are based on two assumptions: first, that ritual becomes more elaborate in the development of religion; secondly, that older sources necessarily deal with the earlier stages of ritual development. The former assumption is against the evidence of primitive cultures, and the latter finds no support in the evidence of ritual codes like those of India."

As Wellhausen was theorizing that much of Jewish tradition was incorrect, it would not be surprising that The Jewish Encyclopedia would find this concept threatening, and try to find examples to fight it. Again, not the most impartial of observers.

12 Is there any way of testing higher criticism to see whether its theories are correct or not? The Jewish Encyclopedia went on to say: "Wellhausen's views are based almost exclusively on literal analysis, and will need to be supplemented by an examination from the point of view of institutional archeology." As the years went by, did archaeology tend to confirm Wellhausen's theories? The New Encyclopædia Britannica answers: "Archaeological criticism has tended to substantiate the reliability of the typical historical details of even the oldest periods [of Bible history] and to discount the theory that the Pentateuchal accounts [the historical records in the earliest books of the Bible] are merely the reflection of a much later period."

It would not be surprising that archaeological developments over the past hundred years have added much more knowledge in this area. Such new knowledge would update any theories on the subject, including Wellhausen's. Does this mean Wellhausen has now been discredited? The Society makes it seem that way. Does everyone agree? No, not really. Note this reference, as taught at the University of California at Santa Barbara today:

"In 1878 Julius Wellhausen, a German scholar, proposed a theory to account for the construction of the Pentateuch, or Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Wellhausen and others before him had noticed various discontinuities, repetitions, and occasional contradictions in the narrative of the books. His theory, generally called the Documentary Hypothesis, attempted to account for these. Though it has generated controversy and several competing theories over the past century, no other explanation has commanded the same continuous attention, and some version of the Documentary Hypothesis is accepted by nearly all biblical scholars today."

Hmmmm... it seems that Wellhausen's ideas are not as discredited as the Society would have you believe. In fact, they form the basis for much of what "all" biblical scholars accept today! Are all biblical scholars prejudiced, and only the Society is right? Is it really that black-and-white? Why not do some research on your own and see for yourself. For more information on the Documentary Hypothesis, including it's development through the centuries, and the way it is actually viewed today, see this link.

This is from the University of Santa Clara, and it very clearly and simply describes the ideas that Wellhausen discussed, and how it has been viewed and developed to our day. Things are not quite as simple as the Society makes it seem.

13 In view of its weakness, why is higher criticism so popular among intellectuals today? Because it tells them things that they want to hear. One 19th-century scholar explained: "Personally, I welcomed this book of Wellhausen's more than almost any other; for the pressing problem of the history of the Old Testament appeared to me to be at last solved in a manner consonant to the principle of human evolution which I am compelled to apply to the history of all religion." Evidently, higher criticism agreed with his prejudices as an evolutionist. And, indeed, the two theories serve a similar end. Just as evolution would remove the need to believe in a Creator, so Wellhausen's higher criticism would mean that one does not have to believe that the Bible was inspired by God.

Here we see the Society make a judgment call. All higher critics can be lumped together and thrown out because obviously they all have bad motives. They even quote a guy from a hundred years ago and apply this to every higher critic since then. That certainly proves it!

In fact, as you study higher criticism, you will see that motives vary widely, and that conclusions reached are not as universal as the Society pretends it is. Once again, if you only read what the Society feeds you, you will never know the real extent of the issue.

14 In this rationalistic 20th century, the assumption that the Bible is not God's word but man's looks plausible to intellectuals. It is much easier for them to believe that prophecies were written after their fulfillment than to accept them as genuine. They prefer to explain away the Bible accounts of miracles as myths, legends, or folk tales, rather than consider the possibility that they really happened. But such a viewpoint is prejudiced and gives no solid reason to reject the Bible as true. Higher criticism is seriously flawed, and its assault on the Bible has failed to demonstrate that the Bible is not the Word of God.

Another judgment call. Higher critics are prejudiced against the Bible. Of course, the Society is just as prejudiced, but for the Bible, so does that mean we must throw out their viewpoint too? If not, why not? Because they tell you what you want to hear?

Besides, if you don't approach the Bible from a "rational" point of view, what does that mean? That you should approach the Bible irrationally? What are they really telling us here?

Their last sentence is, of course, highly subjective, and would be debated by many. Certainly nothing presented in this chapter gives any weight to their argument. They presented things in far too simplistic a manner. Higher criticism is far more reaching, with much more credible reasons, than the Society even hints at here. Why don't they take on these arguments? This is the book of all books where these arguments should be dealt with, and yet they just gloss over the subject and move on. Have you asked yourself why they avoid this issue?

The WTS began this chapter with the question "Do these critics have grounds for challenging its historical truthfulness?" Do you think the WTS has honestly and impartially attempted to answer this question? Have they examined and presented all the evidence and carefully weighed it? Or have they simply extracted the information required to support their pre-conceived conclusions, namely that higher criticism is "prejudiced", "seriously flawed", and "failed to demonstrate the Bible is not God's Word"?

Does Archaeology Support the Bible?

15 Archaeology is a much more solidly based field of study than higher criticism. Archaeologists, by digging among the remains of past civilizations, have in many ways increased our understanding of the way things were in ancient times. Hence, it is not surprising that the archaeological record repeatedly harmonizes with what we read in the Bible. Sometimes, archaeology has even vindicated the Bible against its critics.

And sometimes archaeology has contradicted the Bible completely. See, for example, archaeological evidence regarding evolution, or the idea of a Global Flood, at http://www.talkorigins.org/

16 For example, according to the book of Daniel, the last ruler in Babylon before it fell to the Persians was named Belshazzar. (Daniel 5:1-30) Since there appeared to be no mention of Belshazzar outside the Bible, the charge was made that the Bible was wrong and that this man never existed. But during the 19th century, several small cylinders inscribed in cuneiform were discovered in some ruins in southern Iraq. They were found to include a prayer for the health of the eldest son of Nabonidus, king of Babylon. The name of this son? Belshazzar.

17 So there was a Belshazzar! Was he a king, though, when Babylon fell? Most documents subsequently found referred to him as the son of the king, the crown prince. But a cuneiform document described as the "Verse Account of Nabonidus" shed more light on Belshazzar's true position. It reported: "He [Nabonidus] entrusted the 'Camp' to his oldest (son), the firstborn, the troops everywhere in the country he ordered under his (command). He let (everything) go, he entrusted the kingship to him." So Belshazzar was entrusted with the kingship. Surely, to all intents and purposes that made him a king! This relationship between Belshazzar and his father, Nabonidus, explains why Belshazzar, during that final banquet in Babylon, offered to make Daniel the third ruler in the kingdom. (Daniel 5:16) Since Nabonidus was the first ruler, Belshazzar himself was only the second ruler of Babylon.

Uh, that's it? Just Belshazzar? That's not much to go on, but the fact that some people erroneously thought Belshazzar didn't exist doesn't prove all that much. When you write about a place it helps to include real details. That is what the author of Daniel did. The Koran writes about real places and people too.

Since we're using the archaeological evidence to support one character referred to in the book of Daniel, why not impartially present and examine all the archaeological findings related to that same book. What have archaeologists discovered? They have found so many discrepancies between archaeology and the book of Daniel that they have pieced together a very different history of Babylon from archaeological records recovered in the last century and a half.

So far, there isn't much here. Most of this first half was devoted to higher criticism, but instead of dealing with this, the Society merely picked on Wellhausen and did so in the most narrow of ways. If you take the time to read those web references, you will see that this subject is far from closed.

Other Supporting Evidence

18 Indeed, many archaeological discoveries have demonstrated the historical accuracy of the Bible. For example, the Bible reports that after King Solomon had taken over the kingship from his father, David, Israel enjoyed great prosperity. We read: "Judah and Israel were many, like the grains of sand that are by the sea for multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing." (1 Kings 4:20) In support of this statement, we read: "Archaeological evidence reveals that there was a population explosion in Judah during and after the tenth century B.C. when the peace and prosperity David brought made it possible to build many new towns."

Historical accuracy is not the same as proof of divine authorship. When a person wishes to ground their story in reality, they set their tales in historical settings and they get the details right. Shakespeare, for instance, set his fictional works in very real settings and circumstances. This is not to say the Bible is a work of fiction. I am merely making the point that just because a written work contains historical accuracy it does not necessarily follow that this work is divinely inspired.

19 Later on, Israel and Judah became two nations, and Israel conquered the neighboring land of Moab. At one time Moab, under King Mesha, revolted, and Israel formed an alliance with Judah and the neighboring kingdom of Edom to war against Moab. (2 Kings 3:4-27) Remarkably, in 1868 in Jordan, a stela (a carved stone slab) was discovered that was inscribed in the Moabite language with Mesha's own account of this conflict.

Why is this considered remarkable?

20 Then, in the year 740 B.C.E., God allowed the rebellious northern kingdom of Israel to be destroyed by the Assyrians. (2 Kings 17:6-18) Speaking of the Bible account of this event, archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon comments: "One might have a suspicion that some of this is hyperbole." But is it? She adds: "The archaeological evidence of the fall of the kingdom of Israel is almost more vivid than that of the Biblical record.... The complete obliteration of the Israelite towns of Samaria and Hazor and the accompanying destruction of Megiddo is the factual archaeological evidence that the [Bible] writer was not exaggerating."

There is much of Israel's history contained in the Bible. Typically, the later in history you go in the Bible, the more accurate and less fanciful the accounts become. For instance, the time-period thousands of years ago is referred to in the Bible as a time of giants and fire from heaven and a global flood. As time goes on, however, the account becomes more rooted in reality until you come to time-periods, such as the eighth-century B.C.E., which contain actual history. Giants and fires from heaven cannot be verified from secular historical sources. Invasions by Assyria can.

Far from indicating a divine source, such progress from fanciful accounts to historical accounts is evidence of typical human embellishment.

21 Later still, the Bible tells us that Jerusalem under King Jehoiachin was besieged by the Babylonians and was defeated. This event is recorded on the Babylonian Chronicle, a cuneiform tablet discovered by archaeologists. On this, we read: "The king of Akkad [Babylon] ... laid siege to the city of Judah (iahudu) and the king took the city on the second day of the month of Addaru." Jehoiachin was taken to Babylon and imprisoned. But later, according to the Bible, he was released from prison and given an allowance of food. (2 Kings 24:8-15; 25:27-30) This is supported by administrative documents found in Babylon, which list the rations given to "Yaukîn, king of Judah."

Again, why is this considered remarkable? Of course Jerusalem fell to Babylon. This is attested to by history as well as the Bible. The Hebrew scriptures, after all, form much of the ancient history of the Jewish people. We should not be surprised to find historical details that match secular sources.

22 Regarding the relationship between archaeology and the Bible's historical accounts, Professor David Noel Freedman commented: "In general, however, archaeology has tended to support the historical validity of the biblical narrative. The broad chronological outline from the patriarchs to N[ew] T[estament] times correlates with archaeological data.... Future discoveries are likely to sustain the present moderate position that the biblical tradition is historically rooted, and faithfully transmitted, though it is not history in the critical or scientific sense."

Did you notice how many vague words are used in this quote? 'In general', 'has tended', 'broad...outline', etc. This quote, taken from a 1959 edition of a book, realistically acknowledges, implicitly, that not all archaeological discoveries have supported the biblical record. Indeed, if you study this subject, you will see that there are numerous examples of archaeology contradicting the Bible accounts.

23 Then, regarding the efforts of higher critics to discredit the Bible, he says: "Attempted reconstructions of biblical history by modern scholars -- e.g., Wellhausen's view that the patriarchal age was a reflex of the divided monarchy; or the rejection of the historicity of Moses and the exodus and consequent restructuring of Israelite history by Noth and his followers -- have not survived the archaeological data as well as the biblical narrative."

Freedman takes the fact that adjustments have been made to Wellhausen's views to imply that those views are now discredited, whereas the Bible's views have been upheld. The actual facts are just the opposite, as any research on the subject will show.

In fact, archaeological discoveries have shown the Bible to be not as accurate as the Society would have us believe. Notice how they try to deal with this dilemma in the next subheading.

The Fall of Jericho

24 Does this mean that archaeology agrees with the Bible in every case? No, there are a number of disagreements. One is the dramatic conquest of Jericho described in the beginning of this chapter. According to the Bible, Jericho was the first city conquered by Joshua as he led the Israelites into the land of Canaan. Bible chronology indicates that the city fell in the first half of the 15th century B.C.E. After the conquest, Jericho was completely burned with fire and was then left uninhabited for hundreds of years. -- Joshua 6:1-26; 1 Kings 16:34.

25 Before the second world war, the site believed to be Jericho was excavated by Professor John Garstang. He discovered that the city was very ancient and had been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Garstang found that during one of these destructions, the walls fell as if by earthquake, and the city was completely burned with fire. Garstang believed that this took place in about 1400 B.C.E., not too distant from the Biblically indicated date for the destruction of Jericho by Joshua.

Garstang's work was contested at the time as relying on evidence that did not support his conclusions. The press, however, went with the sensationalistic story and publicized Garstang's findings as proof the Bible was accurate. The facts turned out otherwise:

26 After the war, another archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon, did further excavations at Jericho. She came to the conclusion that the collapsed walls Garstang had identified dated from hundreds of years earlier than he thought. She did identify a major destruction of Jericho in the 16th century B.C.E. but said that there was no city on the site of Jericho during the 15th century -- when the Bible says Joshua was invading the land. She goes on to report possible indications of another destruction that might have taken place on the site in 1325 B.C.E. and suggests: "If the destruction of Jericho is to be associated with an invasion under Joshua, this [latter] is the date that archaeology suggests."

I invite you to read an account of these findings at this link.

There you will see that things are not as murky as the Society makes it sound in paragraph 26. In fact, several archaeologists have independently found that Jericho was destroyed around 2400 B.C.E. and was, at best, a small village by the time Joshua came along, making a conquest unnecessary.

Even if the last sentence of paragraph 26 is used as a way to weasel out of the archaeological embarrassment, things are still bad for students of the Bible. 1325 B.C.E. is still way off, and would wipe out much of the biblical historical record.

27 Does this mean that the Bible is wrong? Not at all. We have to remember that while archaeology gives us a window to the past, it is not always a clear window. Sometimes it is decidedly murky. As one commentator noted: "Archaeological evidence is, unfortunately, fragmentary, and therefore limited." Especially is this true of the earlier periods of Israelite history, when archaeological evidence is not clear. Indeed, the evidence is even less clear at Jericho, since the site has been badly eroded.

This quote comes from Biblical Archaeology Review, not the most impartial of observers on this topic. One well-known biblical archaeologist, George Wright, is quoted as saying that biblical archaeology was to be used for apologetical purposes:

"The Biblical archaeologist may or may not be an excavator himself, but he studies the discoveries of the excavations in order to glean from them every fact that throws a direct, indirect or even diffused light upon the Bible. He must be intelligently concerned with stratigraphy and typology, upon which the methodology of modern archaeology rests .... Yet his chief concern is not with methods or pots or weapons in themselves alone. His central and absorbing interest is the understanding and exposition of the Scriptures."--Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research, by William G. Dever, p. 18.

As usual, when evidence is found that contradicts the Bible, the Society resorts to saying bad things about the field in question. If archaeology consistently supported the Bible, the Society would universally praise the field. Because it sometimes contradicts the Bible, the Society cautions us that this field is not too reliable.

The end result? Just believe the Bible no matter what the evidence says. Not a very compelling proof.

The Limitations of Archaeology

28 Archaeologists themselves admit the limitations of their science. Yohanan Aharoni, for example, explains: "When it comes to historical or historio-geographical interpretation, the archaeologist steps out of the realm of the exact sciences, and he must rely upon value judgements and hypotheses to arrive at a comprehensive historical picture." Regarding the dates assigned to various discoveries, he adds: "We must always remember, therefore, that not all dates are absolute and are in varying degrees suspect," although he feels that today's archaeologists can be more confident of their dating than was the case in the past.

So now the Society implies bad motives on the part of archaeologists everywhere, saying that they must rely on value judgements, and the implication being that their values are suspect. Then they put a quote that implies dates being suspect, and then cuts off the quote before we hear in detail what Mr. Aharoni thinks about dates used by today's archaeologists. It would appear he thought modern dates are fairly accurate. It's good to remember that he died in 1976, so this quote is already over 20 years old, and thus archaeologists can be said to have even more accurate information today. This does not bode well for biblical historical accuracy.

29The World of the Old Testament asks the question: "How objective or truly scientific is the archaeological method?" It answers: "Archaeologists are more objective when unearthing the facts than when interpreting them. But their human preoccupations will affect the methods they use in making the 'dig,' too. They cannot help destroying their evidence as they dig down through the layers of earth, so they can never test their 'experiment' by repeating it. This makes archaeology unique among the sciences. Moreover, it makes archaeological reporting a most demanding and pitfall-ridden task."

More implications that we just can't trust those archaeologists! Of course, while what the quote says is true, it hardly stops the Society from quoting archaeologists whenever it suits them. And it hardly stops people in general from placing great confidence in archaeological discoveries and interpretations. Archaeologists have limitations to deal with, but they have learned to overcome those limitations very well.

Ask yourself why the Society quotes archaeologists without question when they find something that supports the Bible, and then downplays any discovery that contradicts the Bible. Did their methods suddenly fail them on the latter cases? Or should the Society apply the same level of skepticism to findings that support the Bible, just to be fair and consistent? After all, we have just been given several paragraphs telling us how unreliable archaeology is.

30 So archaeology can be very helpful, but like any human endeavor, it is fallible. While we consider archaeological theories with interest, we should never view them as incontrovertible truth. If archaeologists interpret their findings in a way that contradicts the Bible, it should not automatically be assumed that the Bible is wrong and the archaeologists are right. Their interpretations have been known to change.

And if archaeologists interpret their findings in a way that supports the Bible, should we not then automatically assume the Bible is right? Should we continue to be skeptical of these findings in those cases too? Or is it all right to pick and choose what you want to believe?

31 It is interesting to note that in 1981 Professor John J. Bimson looked again at the destruction of Jericho. He studied closely the fiery destruction of Jericho that took place -- according to Kathleen Kenyon -- in the middle of the 16th century B.C.E. According to him, not only did that destruction fit the Bible's account of Joshua's destruction of the city but the archaeological picture of Canaan as a whole fit perfectly with the Bible's description of Canaan when the Israelites invaded. Hence, he suggests that the archaeological dating is wrong and proposes that this destruction really took place in the middle of the 15th century B.C.E., during Joshua's lifetime.

Professor Bimson, is, of course, a Christian author who would have much to lose if archaeology disproved the Bible account. It would not be surprising to find that he would like to repudiate the Kenyon (and others) findings. Of course, this doesn't change the consensus, but as long as the Society can find one member of Christendom to say something that they want to hear, they will quote him.

The Bible Is Genuine History

32 This illustrates the fact that archaeologists often differ among themselves. It is not, then, surprising that some disagree with the Bible while others agree with it. Nevertheless, some scholars are coming to respect the historicity of the Bible in general, if not in every detail. William Foxwell Albright represented one school of thought when he wrote: "There has been a general return to appreciation of the accuracy, both in general sweep and in factual detail, of the religious history of Israel.... To sum up, we can now again treat the Bible from beginning to end as an authentic document of religious history."

Do archaeologists differ? Of course, especially when you have some of them being biblical archaeologists with an axe to grind! Christendom taught for centuries that the sun revolved around the earth. When astronomers finally showed that this was wrong, there were other astronomers at the time who disagreed, saying things to please the Church. Did the fact that astronomers were 'differing among themselves' at time mean that the earth really didn't revolve around the sun? Of course not! As long as you have people who are pressing for a particular point of view, no matter what the facts show, you will always find conflict among those who just look for facts.

Mr. Albright is well-known for working from an assumption (the Bible is true and inerrant), and looking for findings to fit those assumptions. As such, he has long been repudiated, as you will see if you read the article as the web site referred to above. People who act this way (from an assumption, not from the facts) have been condemned by the Society, yet here they resort to quoting this repudiated biblical apologist.

33 In fact, the Bible in itself bears the stamp of accurate history. Events are linked to specific times and dates, unlike those of most ancient myths and legends. Many events recorded in the Bible are supported by inscriptions dating from those times. Where there is a difference between the Bible and some ancient inscription, the discrepancy can often be attributed to the ancient rulers' distaste for recording their own defeats and their desire to magnify their successes.

General hand-waving now, as all of the problems that remain get ignored. Although many events are linked to specific times and dates, not all are, and many such dates have been repudiated by modern findings. It's worth the effort to do a little research and see how much the Society is covering over in this chapter.

34 Indeed, many of those ancient inscriptions are not history as much as they are official propaganda. In contrast, the Bible writers display a rare frankness. Major ancestral figures such as Moses and Aaron are revealed with all their weaknesses and strengths. Even the failings of the great king David are honestly revealed. The shortcomings of the nation as a whole are repeatedly exposed. This candor recommends the Hebrew Scriptures as truthful and reliable and lends weight to the words of Jesus, who, when praying to God, said: "Your word is truth." -- John 17:17.

Frankness does exist in the Bible, but so does Israelite propaganda and bragging, well out of proportion to their actual historical significance. Furthermore, the Bible is hardly the only written record that notes failings and weaknesses.

35 Albright went on to say: "In any case the Bible towers in content above all earlier religious literature; and it towers just as impressively over all subsequent literature in the direct simplicity of its message and the catholicity [comprehensive range] of its appeal to men of all lands and times." It is this 'towering message,' rather than the testimony of scholars, that proves the inspiration of the Bible, as we will see in later chapters. But let us note here that modern rationalistic thinkers have failed to prove that the Hebrew Scriptures are not true history, while these writings themselves give every evidence of being accurate. Can the same be said for the Christian Greek Scriptures, the "New Testament"? We will consider this in the next chapter.

So since the testimony of scholars sure didn't work to prove the Bible is God's word, the Society now drops back to what? Someone's emotional view of its 'towering content'? Someone who started with the assumption that the Bible is God's word is certainly going to have a warm emotional view of it, but how does this "prove" inspiration of the Bible?

As for 'modern rationalistic thinkers' not proving that the Hebrew Scriptures are not true history, what the Society means is that they don't care for their proof. The fact is that there are many findings that contradict the historical accuracy of the Bible, but the Society tries to ignore those.

Finally, the Hebrew writings themselves do not give every evidence of being accurate, as this chapter alone shows several inaccuracies that have surfaced. The Society may wish to ignore those inaccuracies, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.


Index