Sunday, March 10, 2013

"History" in the Bible

I did not have a chance to watch the new History Channel mini-series I mentioned last week. However, I have noticed some rather entertaining responses to the initial airing by theists. I especially found Joel Hoffman's take on it quite amusing. In "The Bible Isn't The History You Think It Is" he tries to sound scholarly but what he really does is employ a type of literary sleight-of-hand. He seems to be comfortable admitting that the majority of the Bible's contents are not historical. However, this concession seems to be mainly about making his opinion that there is a part of the Bible that is historical more plausible. The Bible does not contain any "history" in terms of verifiable facts. None. There are aspects of the bible that can be useful in terms of understanding the mind-set and sociological circumstances of a particular time-frame. That, however, does not seem to be what Hoffman means.

He creates an artificial division that I do see as being potentially useful.
"One way to understand the difference between history and fiction in the Bible is through the Old Testament's natural division into three parts:
    The world and its nature (Adam to Terah).
    The Israelites and their purpose (Abraham to Moses).
    The Kingdom of Israel and life in Jerusalem (roughly from King David onward)."
This can be a handy delineation when approaching biblical studies within its own context, as literary analysis. It still isn't history. His reference to King David is a pretty good indication of his lack of critical thinking or ability to approach historical research from an un-biased fact-based position. There is no extra-scriptural support for David as an historical figure. There have been many claims to the contrary but not one has ever been confirmed by anthropology, archeology, or geology. I have previously written post on various "historical" figures in the Bible and about the supposed archeological proof for such legendary figures.

Hoffman makes even more ridiculous claims further on in his piece.
"The situation not unlike a modern newspaper, which combines news with opinion, puzzles, comics, etc. The news can be accurate even if the comics are not. The same is true for the different parts of the Bible."
Actually, there is no comparison. Who cannot distinguish the pieces intended to be factual from those intended to be opinion and/or entertainment in today's newspaper? It should also be pointed out that any news story can be fact checked. There are any number of sources external to the newspapers that can be used for this purpose. There is plenty of documentation that can be reviewed and pieced together to establish fact from fiction.

Personally, I think the following does an excellent job summarizing his whole rationale and approach:
"All of this is important for people who want to believe, for instance, that a man named Jesus was crucified in ancient Jerusalem (as described in the Gospels) even if they don't believe that a donkey spoke aloud (Numbers); or that Jews lived in Jerusalem during the first millennium BC (Kings, for example) even if they didn't leave Egypt 600,000 strong (Exodus)."
He believes that parts of the Bible are historical not because there is evidence supporting such an idea but because he wants to believe it.

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