Let’s move to the New Testament and look at concerns people have had over the years. Here’s a quick overview of the gospels, which have come under attack recently. For example, Dan Brown, in his highly successful book The Da Vinci Code, says there were many other gospels, but the winners in a theological struggle outlawed some of them. By the way, Brown got sooooo much wrong in his book. You can see some of these if you go to my audio and video files on this site.
The only reason I mention this is that Dan Brown’s theories were not peculiar to him alone; other people share his ideas, which have gained traction in our cynical, suspicious era. He and others point especially to Gnostic gospels found near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Perhaps the most famous of these other gospels is the Gospel of Thomas, which anyone can access via the internet.
However, all these other challengers to the traditional four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) have been dated much later. The four traditional gospels are actually the best records that we have of the life of Jesus and the only ones mentioned by early Church Fathers from the second century on. This is not just the opinion of religious leaders but even by skeptics like Bart Ehrman, noted scholar and best-selling author of New Testament studies.
We have been looking at controversies and misunderstandings when it comes to the Bible. Right now I’m exploring the idea that the Bible urged and condoned genocide in the Old Testament (see previous blog posts). I will continue the discussion here.
In addition, we have to consider the literary use of hyperbole, which is exaggeration for effect. We see it throughout the Bible. How do we know that it applies to the stories dealing with battles in the Old Testament? Think about the verse I used above from Deuteronomy. If you go just a few chapters later (7:3-5), you encounter this: “… you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.” Now, if all Canaanite inhabitants were dead, there’d be no need for this injunction. Then look at Judges 1:21 where it says the Israelites did not drive out Canaanites who lived in Jerusalem, and, in fact, lived near them for years. Notice Joshua 11: 22, which says there were no Anakim left in the land, and that they were utterly destroyed. But later Caleb asks permission to drive out the very same Anakites from the hill country, so they obviously had not been destroyed by Joshua.
There are a few other things to consider. According to those who have studied this, the ones who were destroyed were political leaders and army combatants, not noncombatants. The towns of Jericho and Ai, mentioned so prominently in the opening attacks by Joshua, were military forts rather than towns full of peaceful people. Some of the battles fought were defensive in nature since many Canaanites had attacked the Jewish people during their wanderings in the desert. There are also verses that tell the Israelites to give the towns a chance to surrender before attacking them. Other verses talk about “driving out” the enemy, not destroying them.
OK, next time let’s move on to another issue involving the New testament.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are a couple more areas that have been controversial and misunderstood in the Bible.
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.
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.
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.