Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Bible: History It Is Not

Check out these articles on the internet magazine, The Bible and Interpretation. Here are a few essays regarding "minimalism." Reading these articles from bottom to top will give you an idea of the questions being asked and who the players are in Old Testament scholarship. Let me warn you. Scholars are nastier and dirtier than preachers when it comes to mud slinging. Thank Jehovah for the good guys, the ones who agree with me and who rise above it all.

For those of us trying to figure out the issues, I think the bottom line questions are these: Is the Old Testament history? Did the authors intend to write history? Can we trust anything the Bible says regarding historical events?

Here is Jim West's view from the essay, The Copenhagen Boomerang:

If the intention of the authors of the biblical text were to write history, they did a fairly poor job of it since they included virtually nothing in their account of a historical nature. God is everywhere in the pages of the Hebrew Bible after all--but God is not bound by the historical and hence cannot be the subject of historical investigation. But if, on the other hand, they intended to write a theological narrative, then they hit the mark with great accuracy and aplomb. The whole of the Old Testament (and the New) overflows with talk of God--and that is what theology is--a word about God.
Thanks, Jim. So what is the relationship between historical events and the Bible?
...the Hebrew Bible tells us nothing of events as they really were. This seems to me a self evident truth. The writers of the Old Testament had no more intention of telling about things for the sake of the telling than a mathematics textbook today intends to teach art or grammar. The purpose of the Hebrew Bible is purely, simply, and completely a theological one. The attempt to make it fit a historical model is to force a square peg into a round circle.
That sounds painful. So those who try to shore up the Bible's authority by making claims for its "historical veracity" are doing nothing more than ramming their square pegs where they don't belong?

Theological historiography, when degraded to the status of mere historiography, becomes myth and legend rather than message and claim. Curiously, the very people who are attempting to defend the Old Testament’s historical nature are denuding it of its theological value. Their misunderstanding of the purpose of the biblical writings is robbing them and their adherents of the pleasure of hearing the message contained in the text because they are focused on the shell and they forget the meat.

Nicely put. So there, fundies. Learn how to read and keep your square peg away from my Bible.

18 comments:

  1. notI found this statement:

    If the intention of the authors of the biblical text were to write history, they did a fairly poor job of it since they included virtually nothing in their account of a historical nature.

    To be quite contrary to what I have found in the scriptures. I took one chapter we heard at last Sunday's sermon 2 Kings 18. When I read this I found that most of the verses answered questions of "who, what, when where, why, and how". Very few were opinion or theological. (Don't believe me, check it out yourself.)

    Here is a summary of my analysis:
    * Verses 1-2,4,7-11,13-37 answer who, what, when, where, and how.
    * Verses 3,5-7,12 answer why, are theological, or editorial.

    It seems to me that there are sections of the Old Testament that have lots of historical content.

    Paul

    ReplyDelete
  2. Paul,

    In the passage you linked, I found the following statements; it isn't even exhaustive:

    "He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD"

    "And the LORD was with him..."

    "This happened because they had not obeyed the LORD their God..."

    Those are obviously theological statements. The whole thrust of 2 Kings is for theological purposes. The details of who, what, why are illustrations to make a theological point.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Where I come from the term "Copenhagen Boomerang" means something that shouldn't be discussed in mixed company.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I had my first copenhagen boomerang when I was ten. I snuck some of my dad's stash and was sick for two days.

    ReplyDelete
  5. For a complete and devestating refutation of O.T. minimalists. Read Dr. Kenneth Kitchen's monumental and historically detailed work: On the Reliability of the Old Testament.

    Also for a full refutation on the minimalist views of the Biblical Gospels, read Dr. Craig Blombergs, Historical Reliability of the Gospels (2nd edition) and the Historical Reliability of the Gospel of John. Both excellent works from a man that defies your simple logic. He is not a confessionalist, but comes from liberal traditions.

    ReplyDelete
  6. For a complete and devestating refutation...

    Spank us with your square peg.

    ReplyDelete
  7. John,

    Do you not believe in God or that God can communicate in a personal manner?

    Yet you wrote, "In the passage you linked, I found the following statements; it isn't even exhaustive: "He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD"
    "And the LORD was with him..."
    "This happened because they had not obeyed the LORD their God..."
    Those are obviously theological statements. The whole thrust of 2 Kings is for theological purposes. The details of who, what, why are illustrations to make a theological point."

    You seem to be excluding this as history because the author is saying that God is acting and making judgments. Just because something is written with theological purposes, does not mean that it is not also historic? Even modern history is often written for the purposes of theology/philosophy, that does not mean that the history is inaccurate or not history at all. I sometimes read a more modern history from a clearly more liberal stance, but I do not reject the historical facts as mere fiction, because the author is attempting to defend a more progressive conclusion. I might reject the conclusion, but I don't foolishly reject the historical facts. What one chooses to include or exclude and the emphasis that it is given teaches something. Historical writings by their very nature are selective.

    Do you not believe that God works in history to teach us of himself? Do the confessions not istruct you in this? Oh I forgot you are not confessional. Hmmm...don't your vows say something about being instructed by the confessions and that you are to vow and affirm that they are reliable expositions of what the scriptures affirm? I wonder how this might fit together with your non-confessional stance?
    Why do you hold onto some kind of Christian facade over your New-Age-like beliefs?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Also consider these points on the historicity of the Gospels, which you indicate you are beginning to think is all fiction as well. I posted these comments on Rev's Rumbles.


    Are you completely ignorant of the fact there are non-Christian testimonies that confirm the general contours of Christ's life -- Josephus, The Talmud, and Tacitus for starters? They affirm that he was a real man, he was Jewish, lived and had disciples, attracted a great following and did strange deeds, miracles and casting out of demons. He was known for mingling with outsiders. John the Baptist is fully attested in history. Those and other non-Christian documents affirm that he was arrested for blasphemy and crucified for sedition and that he was believed by his followers to have arisen from the dead.

    It has also been affirmed by scholars on the left and right that the literary genre of the NT gospels most resembles that of the other more trustworthy histories and biographies from the ancient world, such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Josephus.

    The idea that the gospels and the New Testament are pure fiction is just that...pure fiction.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Do you not believe in God or that God can communicate in a personal manner?"

    Let's be honest. Fundamentalists only believe that God communicates in a personal manner, if He happens to agree with them.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Do you not believe in God or that God can communicate in a personal manner?

    A lot of terms need definition in that question. However, it is beside the point regarding how the Bible is to be regarded as a source for historical events.

    Just because something is written with theological purposes, does not mean that it is not also historic?

    Well, this is where historians would have to evaluate the text.

    "Near Antietam, during the War of Northern Aggression, The Lord smote J.S. Shuck, of Company E, 7th Indiana Infantry, with the yellowing of skin for not praying to Lord with sufficient earnestness. The Lord caused such fear to rise upon the Union soldiers that thousands were slaughtered as pleased the Lord."

    Let's say the above was found in a Civil War diary. What is and what is not historical and how do you know?

    The Bible is a saga with theological language that may refer to historical events. But it is a theological collection.

    Your theological error, Adel, is to think that the Bible must be historically and scientifically accurate for it to be authoritative spiritually.

    This clouds your judgment regarding history and science. And, I think it takes all the fun out of the Bible, too.

    Don't feel alone. Many apologists for Christianity agree with you.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Are you completely ignorant of the fact there are non-Christian testimonies that confirm the general contours of Christ's life -- Josephus, The Talmud, and Tacitus for starters? They affirm that he was a real man, he was Jewish, lived and had disciples, attracted a great following and did strange deeds, miracles and casting out of demons.

    Can you cite some actual texts?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Are you serious John? Are you telling us that you have been so engrossed in extreme radical left theologies that you have never before heard of or read that there is evidence outside the New Testament and early church leaders for Jesus and John the Baptizer?

    But I'll take the bait and give you one quote from Josephus.

    "Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, who name was James, and some others..." (Ant., Book XX).

    ReplyDelete
  13. You brought it up. So where are all these sources? There really is not much. That itself is interesting. If Jesus did all of this stuff, one might think he would get more of a mention.

    For those interested, here are a couple of sites:

    Testimonium Flavianum

    Here is a summary article about the various texts

    and,

    Alan Humm

    Even if the saying you quote is about "our Jesus" that says nothing about the fiction written about him.

    I don't insist. Granted, most NT people even aside from the apologists assume an historical person. Even the Jesus Seminar says he existed and did and said things. I personally think many of the deeds and sayings they attribute as historical are fictional.

    That is neither here nor there. My point is that the gospels (and the Old Testament) is purposely theological, mythological, narrative, fiction.

    In my view, we misread it when we think of the gospels as historical biography or of the Old Testament saga as history. It is proclamation and claim. That is its beauty and its value. Its authors try to tell us what it means to be human. It does so by using the myths and metaphors of its time. I think that is a far richer way to read the Bible than to pretend it is historically accurate.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Your links are to a text in Josephus that has had some level of historical tampering though scholars disagree as to the level of tampering. I gave you an example of a Josephus text that all agree has not been tampered with.

    The other link is to criticism that even most liberal scholars reject as overstatement.

    Your "scholars" are more closely partnered with the new atheists than they are to middle-of-the-road liberals.

    My statement about what the non-Christian (pagan) texts attest to still stand even among most liberal scholars. These texts make no claims about the truths of the New Testament, but they do affirm certain contours of the New Testament.
    They affirm that he was a real man, he was Jewish, lived and had disciples, attracted a great following and did strange deeds, miracles and casting out of demons. He was known for mingling with outsiders. John the Baptist is fully attested in history. Those and other non-Christian documents affirm that Jesus was arrested for blasphemy and crucified for sedition and that he was believed by his followers to have arisen from the dead.

    Why do we not have more:
    1. Pagans were not interested in recording the details of what was considered by many in the 1st and and early 2nd centuries as a sect of Judaism.
    2. There might indeed have been more recorded, but unless it was included among significant historians, it would not have been preserved or copied.

    The links you gave do not include several other key records...read Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels...FF Bruce has also written a good book on this topic titled Christian Origins Outside the New Testament.

    Good Christian apologists do not overstate any one aspect of what history shows, but when all the pieces of evidence are put together the weight of the scales tips toward reliable history.

    ReplyDelete
  15. They affirm that he was a real man, he was Jewish, lived and had disciples, attracted a great following and did strange deeds, miracles and casting out of demons. He was known for mingling with outsiders. John the Baptist is fully attested in history. Those and other non-Christian documents affirm that Jesus was arrested for blasphemy and crucified for sedition and that he was believed by his followers to have arisen from the dead.

    Show me. You presented one about the death of Jesus's brother.

    What I don't understand about apologists is why they insist that the gospels are historical accounts when it is just so obvious that they are religious legends. These legends were a dime a dozen.

    For those eavesdropping on Adel's and my conversation, check out Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth. Research for yourself. For whoever cares, this is where I am leaning.

    Miracles, rose from the dead, cast out demons. What do you really think that is? Here is what I think it is: these are the characteristics of ancient gods. They were applied to Jesus.

    But if you want to say, no these things really happened to our guy. Fine. But for those who are not convinced by the apologists and yet enjoy the Christian story, there are other ways to look at it.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wow John. I guess you do not read very well, only seeing what you want to see. This is a very sad thing to see in a "Christian" leader on any side of an issue.

    I gave you two books that explain in detail all the evidence you would like to see. You point to some extreme left web site that proclaims things that even most Jesus Seminar PhD's rejects as pure fantasy or they would be excoriated by their peers.

    If you want a brief summary, because you are somehow unable to grasp well reasoned thorough scholarship, I'll be happy to provide a couple. There dozens that I am aware of, some a little more skeptical, others overstate the historical value.

    Here are a couple that are a little more balanced. For anyone reading this interaction, this is a good place to start. But do not stop there. Read more thoroughly. The two books I indicated are by prominent renowned scholars of the highest calibur. Another would be Bruce Metzger's excellent work.

    Mark Roberts for those PCUSAers has a fine series of blog articles:
    http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/gospelsreliable.htm

    Here is one that more specifically speaks on this topic:
    http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/gospelsreliable3.htm#oct2405

    Here is another by Probe Ministries that speaks directly to this issue:
    http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4223639/k.567/Ancient_Evidence_for_Jesus_from_NonChristian_Sources.htm

    Remember, none of these are thorough in any way, so you will need to follow up with Blomberg, Bruce, or Metzger for a deeper analysis of these historical texts and their applicability to the historical reliability of non-Christian sources.

    Given the historicity of these documents, it still would in no way "prove" the historicity of the New Testament. It would be one weight on the scales of historical evidence. We must address the historical reliability from many other directions as well.

    One of those other directions is to point out several facts about the Gospels themselves that historians find to be compelling by their criteria of accurate historical recording:

    The gospel writers made no attempt to harmonize their accounts. They included material that put Jesus in a bad light. They left difficult passages in their text.
    They retained many self-incriminating details.
    They included many demanding sayings of Jesus.
    They distinguished their words from Jesus’ words.
    They did not deny their testimony under threat of death.
    They claimed their record was based on eyewitnesses.
    They had women witnessing the resurrection before men.
    They challenged readers to check out the facts.
    They discarded long-held Jewish beliefs overnight.
    They included more than 30 historical archaeologically proven people.

    They did not include words on the lips of Jesus that would have helped settle major divisive issues in the early church such as circumcision.

    We are only scratching the surface. Each one adds another weight in the scales of evidence. Then after hearing both sides on all these issues, one can make an informed decision. There are certainly issues that make it difficult for us who live 2000 years after the events to accept as historical. I recognize those difficulties and problems both archaeologically and textually. But I believe that when all the evidence is weighed on both sides the prepoderence of the evidence leans more heavily to the historicity of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

    Yet John would like his readers to believe that there is no evidence whatsoever that would indicate that the Gospels are historically reliable, or at least so minute as to be meaningless. Why is this?

    ReplyDelete
  17. And you still can't provide texts. Just insults and more links to apologists who pile on layers of apologetic nonsense. It reminds me of the intelligent design crowd. Oh yeah, you are that crowd.

    I make no claim to be mainstream. I am left of the Jesus Seminar. I go back and forth on how much of the gospels might be historical.

    Sources outside of the gospels at best and at most say that Jesus existed and they say what other Christians thought about him. That is like saying some folks believe in Santa. That is not saying there is a Santa.

    However, I think there may have been a person named Jesus who was executed. There were a lot of people named Jesus and a lot of people were executed. Adel is right, John the Baptist is more attested as an historical figure than Jesus.

    Now, jump from there to the Gospel of Mark and suddenly, you have a whole narrative. A narrative filled with repeats of stories from the Elijah/Elisha narratives, a passion narrative that is a rewrite of Psalm 22 and other texts of the Hebrew Scriptures. You find a narrative in which its hero, Jesus, has all the elements common to savior/god stories (miracles, wise sayings, healings, rising from the dead). It is that kind of literature.

    It is a powerful narrative. I read Mark as a critique of Empire. It is written to and for its readers to inspire them to be human beings in the face of dehumanization. The good news it offers is counter to the emperor's "good news."

    There are a number of ways to read the narrative. Mary Ann Tolbert has written Sowing the Gospel in which she takes a literary approach to Mark understanding the parable of the sower with the good soil, rocky soil, thorny soil, and hard path being the guiding metaphor throughout the gospel for types of people. What kind of soil are you, dear reader?

    That is one way to look at it from a literary point of view. The Gospels are stories with Jesus as a character--a parable for the presence of God--that the authors use to tell us what it means to live a good and meaningful (eternal) life.

    We miss that when we insist that these stories are literal journalistic accounts of events.

    ReplyDelete
  18. adel writes, "Yet John would like his readers to believe that there is no evidence whatsoever that would indicate that the Gospels are historically reliable, or at least so minute as to be meaningless. Why is this?"

    Mooo.

    In spite of the ample evidence that folks who read this blog have more than their fair share of their own opinions, I guess if Adel, et. al. are going to assume that those of us who read here are just dumb, driven cattle, we may as well play the part convincingly, eh?

    Mooo.

    ReplyDelete