All posts by Gary Zacharias

The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification–Part 10

We’re continuing a look at the so-called genocide in the Old Testament when the Israelites were told to wipe out the Canaanites. There’s so much to this encounter. Be sure to start with my previous blog post.

 

Secondly, we need to realize the Israelites were not fearful of strangers (non-Israelites). After all, God told Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed through his offspring. Later positive stories are told about good foreigners – Melchizedek, leaders of the Egyptians in Genesis 12 and the Philistines in Genesis 20, the wife of Moses, who was dark-skinned, the gentile Rahab in Joshua. Furthermore, God also repeatedly commanded Israel to show concern for aliens who were sojourners in their midst – Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 10:18-19. According to Israelite civil law, the stranger living in Israel had the same legal rights as the native Israelite – Leviticus 24:22.

 

Next, we may not understand what happened when the children of Israel entered their promised land. The books of Joshua and Judges suggest that taking the land included more use of infiltration and internal struggle rather than slaughter. See Judges 1:1-2:5. So, Israel’s entrance into Canaan included more than the military motif. The stereotypical model of an all-consuming Israelite army descending upon Canaan and destroying everything in its way cannot be accepted. There certainly was military action but without causing extensive material destruction.

 

More to follow in the next post that continues this “genocide” issue.

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The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification–Part 9

Let’s plunge on, considering issues in the Bible that have confused or intrigued people.

 

Garden of Eden

 

A key question here is the location for this garden. There is a reference to a total of four rivers, but two of the four are missing today. Some radar images of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers shows other rivers under the surface, so this may be a likely place for the setting of the story.

 

Genocide in the Old Testament

 

Some people, when encountering stories of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, are horrified at what appears to be genocide waged by the Hebrews. For example, Richard Dawkins, noted atheist, says that the killing of the Canaanites was an act of ethnic cleansing in which “bloodthirsty massacres” were carried out with “xenophobic relish.” We see verses like this from Deuteronomy 2:34: “So we captured all his cities at that time and utterly destroyed the men, women, and children of every city. We left no survivor.” But there is more to the story.

 

First, we need to think about the Canaanite culture that the children of Israel were encountering. They were horrified by the degradation they found. Canaanites were idolaters; they practiced incest and adultery. In addition, bestiality was part of their culture. Probably most disturbing of all to the Israelites was the use of child sacrifice, in which a Canaanite baby was placed on a red hot idol to be burned alive.

 

There’s much more to say here, but I’ll leave that for a future blog post.

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The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification–Part 8

I’m continuing a list of places/terms/people in the Bible that confuse people. Let’s look at a key event that has sparked a ton of discussion–the Flood.  Some think it’s a myth, others think it was a local event, and yet others think it was a world-wide devastation.

 

First, is there any evidence outside the Bible for some sort of flood? Yes, other major civilizations have stories about a horrific event like this. For example, the area of Mesopotamia has the story of Gilgamesh. — probably a local flood people remembered.

 

The next big question has to do with the extent of the flood. A quick reading of Genesis might suggest it was a world-wide flood since we see phrases like “the flood kept coming on the earth” and “all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered.” But keep in mind “earth” can equally be translated as “land,” and “mountains” can be translated as “hills,” while “heavens” can be translated as “sky.”

 

That leaves a very different feel for the story – a local flood seems more likely, especially in a flat area like Mesopotamia. In addition, one verse says the waters covered the mountains to a depth of more than 20 feet, but the word “covered” can mean “running over” or “falling upon.” Again, this would work well with a local flood.

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The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification–Part 7

Here’s some more info on confusing terms associated with the Bible. This one is a continuation of the last one dealing with Israel, Egypt, and the Exodus.

 

Secondly, there is evidence of Israel entering Canaan around 1400 BC. There’s something called the Amarna Letters which referred to the conquest of Canaan by “Habiru,” which some scholars think is a term used for Hebrew people throughout the Middle East. What is recorded in these matches the biblical record. A second piece of evidence is the Merneptah Stele, a commemorative stone that records an attack in Canaan by a pharaoh in 1209 B.C. It mentions Israel as part of the settled population of Canaan and implies that Israel was the dominant group in the area. This is an important piece of evidence since it lets us know Israel was established in Canaan and dominant by 1209 B.C.

 

Another Egyptian monument from around 1400 B.C. describes “nomads of Yahweh” in the specific area mentioned in the Bible for Israel’s 40 years of wandering. Then there is the Ipuwer Papyrus, an Egyptian poem, which describes events that resemble the 10 plagues mentioned in Exodus.

 

While the Exodus isn’t specifically mentioned in archaeological evidence, the above collection of facts is interesting because it does appear to match the biblical record in a number of ways. At least it adds up to a reasonable argument that can be made.

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The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification–Part 6

OK, here’s another post dealing with an extremely interesting part of the Old Testament–the Israelites in Egypt. Is it all myth?

 

Egypt, Israel, and the Exodus

 

Is there any evidence for the story of the Israelites being in Egypt? The story takes place near the end of the Bronze Age when there were major social migrations. There are three minimal facts that we know – there were Israelite slaves in Goshen before 1446 B.C. (before the biblical date for the Exodus); Israel arrived in Canaan about 1400 BC; Israel wandered from Egypt to Canaan about the time of the Exodus. Let’s look at each of these.

 

First, there is evidence for Israel being in Goshen prior to 1400 BC. Researchers note the style of architecture, statues, tombs, pottery, wall paintings, and artifacts that suggest people from Canaan were in Egypt during that time. Also, there are Egyptian household records listing slave names including distinctively Hebrew names. People have discovered public works building projects built by Semites, wall murals depicting Semitic slaves working, wall inscriptions in the Semitic language and written reference to Asiatic (a term used by Egyptians to refer to residents of nations east of Egypt) sheepherders who didn’t worship Ra.

 

I’ll cover another part of this topic in the next blog post.

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The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification–Part 5

Many people have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but they don’t realize the significance of them. Here’s another blog post on the Bible–this time I look at those scrolls.

 

Dead Sea Scrolls

 

For a lot of reasons, biblical scholars were excited at the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947. In a dusty, dry desert area called Qumran (northwest of the Dead Sea), jars containing ancient manuscripts were found. A group of individuals who wished to live separate from society, called Essenes, hid these manuscripts in the time of Jesus, probably to keep them from falling into the hands of Roman soldiers.

 

There are scrolls that deal with Essene practices, but the big news was the discovery of Old Testament scrolls (the entire Old Testament except for the book of Esther was found). Up until then, the oldest copy of the Hebrew Bible had been from around 1000 A.D. Scholars were not sure how much of the Bible had changed between the time when the books were written and 1000 A.D. , roughly 1700 years in the case of the book of Isaiah.  What scholars discovered was amazing – there were no significant changes between the Dead Sea Scrolls and copies from 1000 A.D. They concluded, therefore, that what we have probably accurately reflects the original manuscripts written centuries before.

 

By the way, Dan Brown, who wrote The Da Vinci Code, claims to be such a careful scholar, but he got it wrong when he referred to the Dead Sea Scrolls. He said there were gospels that mentioned Jesus, but that was not true. No Dead Sea Scroll made any reference to the life of Jesus. That was just one of many errors found throughout Dan Brown’s popular book.

 

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The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification–Part 4

Here are a couple more areas that have been controversial and misunderstood in the Bible.

 

Cain:

A very common question that people ask has to do with Cain – where did he get his wife? In fact, it was asked at the famous Scopes monkey trial early in the 20th century. The answer is so simple that it is embarrassing. Cain got his wife from his sisters — Genesis 5: 4. That may sound creepy to many of us today, but any law against marrying a close relative didn’t start until Moses (Leviticus 18-20 ). In fact, Abraham married his half sister in Genesis.  We may wonder about the possibility of having defective children, but some experts say there were not as many accumulated genetic mistakes then.

 

Creation:

The Bible sounds pretty modern if you read the first chapter of Genesis where it says all matter, space, time, and energy had a start. For a long time there were many other popular theories about the beginning of the universe. Many believed it had always been here while others thought we were part of a cyclical universe which expanded and contracted repeatedly.    But experiments in the 20th century have caused scientists to believe in what originally was sarcastically referred to as the Big Bang theory. This says that the universe sprang into existence out of nothing around 14-15,000,000,000 years ago. Ever since then the universe has been expanding and cooling. What’s interesting is that other Bible passages may be referring to this expansion –Job 9:8, Isaiah 40:22, Psalm 104:2.

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The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification–Part 3

We’re continuing with an examination of Bible confusion. Let’s hope I don’t add to it.

For this blog post, I’d like to take a look at an odd topic–Bible codes.

 

A few years ago there was a book called The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin which was very popular. The author claimed that there were secret messages hidden inside the Bible. People could find these messages through something called equidistant letter sequences (els).

 

Here’s how it supposedly works. You take a passage from the Bible, ignore all the spaces between words, and count a certain number of letters. Whatever you land on with your count (for example, every five letters) is a letter that you highlight. Then you count another five letters and highlight that letter that you land on. You do this repeatedly to see if those letters you have landed on spell out anything.

 

Let’s try a simple example. Look at this sentence: “All of our avenues are wide.” We will start with second letter (the letter “L”). Skip the next three letters and mark down the fourth letter (this time it is the letter “O”). If we do this repeatedly for our original sentence, we will have spelled out “LOVE.” Ah ha, we are on to something here–or are we?

 

It is reported that a scientist and mathematician in 1994 found the names of 34 famous Jewish people in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). Some verses in Genesis (if you skip every 50 letters) spell Torah.   So, is there something to this?  Skeptics say you can do the same in Moby Dick and end up predicting all sorts of things. Apparently, the probability of creating words and phrases that make sense is high if you use any skip method. There are a couple of websites that you can examine for more details if you are interested – biblecodedigest.com and skepdic.com/bibcode.html.

 

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The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification–Part 2

Ark of the Covenant

 

Steven Spielberg brought the ark into our movie theaters and homes with his famous movie The Raiders of the Lost Ark. It might be good to set the record straight here. The ark was a sacred portable chest that contained key items important to the Jewish people. It was the most important sacred object of the children of Israel during the wilderness period.

 

It was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold and four rings of gold through which carrying poles were inserted so that nobody actually touched the ark. On the top was something called the mercy seat, which was a slab of pure gold which fit exactly on the top of the ark. It measured roughly four feet by two feet by two feet, so it was not very big. The Jews constructed that as they wandered in the wilderness after escaping Egypt. Inside the box were placed the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, manna (the miracle food used by God to sustain the people in their wanderings), and the rod of Aaron, representing his priestly role. Later, after they came into the land promised them by God centuries before, they lost the ark to the Philistines in a battle. These enemies of the Jews soon returned the ark to its rightful owners because it had caused disasters for them. David eventually brought it to Jerusalem where it was later established in the Holy of Holies of the Temple which Solomon, David’s son, built.

 

What’s especially interesting about the ark is its disappearance. In 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, leader of the Babylonians, destroyed Jerusalem. From that point on, the ark disappeared. There are all sorts of stories regarding its final resting place. Some say it was hidden by the Jews as the Babylonians approached their city and is buried somewhere in Jerusalem. Others report that Jeremiah took the ark and buried it on Mount Nebo in today’s Lebanon. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims it has the original ark which is kept under guard. There are stories from South Africa and Zimbabwe that natives ended up with the ark and have hidden it somewhere in their territories. The Knights Templar have also figured in stories of the ark’s disappearance; it was claimed that they took the ark to Chartres Cathedral in France. There are even some who suggest the ark made its way to America or Ireland. So, if you have some money and some spare time, you may want to find out for yourself where the ark ended up.

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The Bible–Confusion, Controversy, and Clarification

Let’s switch topics here. For the next several blog posts I’d like to discuss  subjects that you may have wondered about. Even if you haven’t given some of these topics any thought, I hope they spark an interest in the Bible for you. They are in alphabetical order, so here goes.

 

Apocrypha versus Apocalypse

 

People get these mixed up all the time. The word “Apocrypha” means things that have been hidden away. The term refers to texts of uncertain authenticity or writings where there is confusion about the author. Specifically when it comes to Judeo-Christian writings, it refers to any collection of texts that are not counted among the official 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. It doesn’t mean these are bad books or evil in some sense.

 

These works, which were written sometime between the 200s B.C. to New Testament times, include Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Sirach (sometimes called Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, First and Second Maccabees, the two Books of Esdras, various additions to the book of Esther, the book of Daniel, and the prayer of  Manasseh. These books were generally excluded from Protestant churches for a simple reason: Jesus and the apostles never quoted from any of these books. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches included most of them because they believed they were of value for moral uses. One key point to remember is that they were never included in the Hebrew Bible. They did show up in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible).

 

What’s funny is that the term “Apocalypse,” so easily confused with “Apocrypha,” actually means just the opposite – a lifting of the veil, a disclosing of something previously hidden. The book we often call Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, in Greek is actually called the Apocalypse of John. You can understand why as you read the book, noting the things that are revealed to the author.

 

Actually, apocalyptic writing is found in other books of the Bible and among other Jewish writings, so it is considered a specific genre of writing with its own rules and expectations. We will be discussing this further, but key features include dreams, revelation of mysteries, visions of the future and end times, use of symbolism, otherworldly beings and activities.

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