Factuality of the Bible: answering Earnest Farr · Guestpost · answering Dick Harfield · Answer on Acts (to Dick Harfield)
- On what grounds have secularist historians concluded Pentateuch, Ruth, Daniel, Esther, and Acts are not factual?
- Earnest Farr
- Wed (23.XI.2022)
- They are secular historians. There’s no such thing as a secularist.
The evidence you are asking for cannot be provided to you in a Quora post. Entire books are written about the evidence demonstrating that these books are not literal/historical.
That said, there are common types of evidence that historians take into account.
Conformity with known fact
We know certain things about the world. We know our planet is billions of years old. We know species evolved from a common ancestor. We know there was never a global flood. We know the Hebrew tribes did not develop into a settled, literate polity with a bureaucratic administration until after the 14th century BCE. We know there was no captivity and exodus from Egypt or conquest of Canaan.
This is the low-hanging fruit. If a text contradicts known fact, well, that’s that.
Conformity with parallel sources
In some cases, it’s possible to locate Biblical stories within a wider context of tales and legends. A few examples:
- The two creation stories in Genesis parallel Egyptian creation stories in which Egyptian gods create humans out of clay and speak the world into existence.
- There are other Ancient Near Eastern myths telling how a god created humans for labor (in one of the two Genesis accounts, humans are created to till the ground in the garden of the gods) but things go wrong and the humans turn out to be ungovernable.
- The epic of Gilgamesh also has a flood narrative with the character Utnapishtim in the role of Noah.
- The story of Moses in the basket retells the legend of Sargon of Akkad.
- Within the Hebrew texts, Israelite criticisms of Solomon rehash the story of Pharaoh and the Israelites from Exodus, and the account of the Benjaminite civil war rehashes the story of Sodom.
- Within the Christian texts, Acts often disagrees with Paul’s letters about what he did and said and believed and where he went and with whom.
Many ancient texts purport to be much older than they are. But they never get the past quite right. They use placenames that did not exist in the claimed time of authorship, for example, or mention technology that didn’t exist or social groups, conventions, or customs that hadn’t yet developed.
Religious, political, and social issues
Suppose someone were to produce a text which they claimed was from the 1700s, let’s say a set of letters debating the adoption of the Second Amendment. Yet there’s no mention of the issues of the day, such as federalism and abuse of standing armies. Instead, all the issues are modern ones such as home defense and rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment. We would know these could not be authentic.
The same is true of ancient texts. In the story of Noah, for example, we can tell that two different accounts have been merged together, because all the events happen twice. In one story, Noah takes 7 of all the clean animals so he can offer sacrifice after the flood. In the other, he takes two and offers no sacrifice. That latter version was a rewrite of the former, merged in a later time, because the Temple priesthood purged the scriptures of all mention of sacrifice to Yahweh prior to the building of the Temple.
This is why the Bible contains three different accounts of the rise of Saul and two irreconcilable accounts of how David joined Saul’s court. Most of the contradictions in the Bible can be traced to differences in theocratic politics among the priestly factions who wrote the varying accounts which were later merged into a single scroll, or which are preserved in separate scrolls.
Language and writing evolve over time. It’s easy to distinguish between, say, texts composed in the mid 1700s, mid 1800s, and mid 1900s without reference to content, just by vocabulary and syntax, and in the case of manuscripts, handwriting and fonts and ink and such. The same is true with Biblical texts. We now have extensive knowledge of the stages of Classic Biblical Hebrew, for example.
Using tools such as these, combined with archaeology and other realms of historical inquiry, it’s possible to tease out a good deal of information about these ancient texts. There are still scads of questions. We aren’t always sure if a text or a section of a text is unitary or composite, for example, and possible dates of composition can span generations. We don’t always know what’s original and what’s been edited. But there’s a lot we do know.
And it’s not as simple as declaring a scroll or a book to be fact or fiction. The law codes in the Pentateuch, for instance, are actual law codes. There was probably a historical Moses and a historical Aaron, but they did almost nothing described in the Biblical texts. Esther and Ruth, and Daniel on the other hand, appear to be fictional heroes.
All this is very complex, and if you want to answer your own question you are free to actually read the secular scholarship. But you must read it with an open mind. If you have decided in advance that you don’t accept it and you’re only looking to argue with it, then you might as well save yourself the time.
- Hans-Georg Lundahl
- Hans-Georg Lundahl
"They are secular historians. There’s no such thing as a secularist."
Already false. A devout Catholic like Don John of Austria was a secular lord, and a devout Catholic like Pope St. Pius V who prayed for him was a spiritual or clerical lord. Neither was a secularist.
Voltaire was a secularist and he wanted secular lordships to be separated from the Church as much as from Islam. And [the Church] in practise humiliated, in France.
The counterpart in sciences is one that wants the Catholic dogma (and other religious dogmas identified by him as such) left out of the equation, and in practise contradicted.
"The evidence you are asking for cannot be provided to you in a Quora post. Entire books are written about the evidence demonstrating that these books are not literal/historical."
There is actually no evidence demonstrating it was not literal, even on your view. You would be meaning, the evidence demonstrates it is literally false - but it is still clearly literally meant.
Conformity with known fact.
"We know our planet is billions of years old.
"We know species evolved from a common ancestor.
"We know there was never a global flood."
So far that would, if correct, rule out just first eleven chapters of Genesis.
"We know the Hebrew tribes did not develop into a settled, literate polity with a bureaucratic administration until after the 14th century BCE."
In and of itself irrelevant. This is common ground with what the Bible says.
"We know there was no captivity and exodus from Egypt or conquest of Canaan."
OK, that would by now (if true) make the Pentateuch not factual. So far nothing of Ruth, Daniel, Esther and Acts.
"If a text contradicts known fact, well, that’s that."
Well, the problem is, you are not specifying on what grounds the things you call "known fact" are supposed to be that.
Conformity with parallel sources.
"possible to locate Biblical stories within a wider context of tales and legends."
The heading you gave actually usually implies truth because more than one source claims so. Interesting that you pretend to use it as argument for falsehood.
According to the Bible, Egyptians and Babylonians also descend from Noah who descended from Adam, so it would make sense they had access to the information, and didn't ditch all of it when becoming idolaters / polytheists.
"parallel Egyptian creation stories in which Egyptian gods create humans out of clay and speak the world into existence."
"in one of the two Genesis accounts, humans are created to till the ground in the garden of the gods"
No, the two accounts of creation involve NO tilling of the ground in Genesis. You confuse that with Babylonian myth, landing straight between both and the account of the fall.
"The epic of Gilgamesh also has a flood narrative with the character Utnapishtim in the role of Noah."
Indeed. That's one of the items we Creationists use as argument FOR the historicity of the Flood.
"The story of Moses in the basket retells the legend of Sargon of Akkad."
Or the reverse. Or - what I think more likely - first Satan saved Sargon in one basket and then God saved Moses in another one.
"Israelite criticisms of Solomon rehash the story of Pharaoh"
"Benjaminite civil war rehashes the story of Sodom."
Or similar evils happened more than once over time ...
"Acts often disagrees with Paul’s letters about what he did and said and believed and where he went and with whom."
I think all the pretended disagreements can be accounted for, and most already have been accounted for - feel free to give your favourite example of this.
"They use placenames that did not exist in the claimed time of authorship"
I think Moses authoried the Cohanim to update the placenames.
"or mention technology that didn’t exist"
My favourite example would be riding horses for battle. Assyrians rode from 800 BC on. But how much earlier than that Persians and Israelites were riding horses is not clear. One could also think David’s horsemen were riding onagers to battle and dismounting just before the fight.
"or social groups, conventions, or customs that hadn’t yet developed."
Much harder than previous to make even a case for.
"we can tell that two different accounts have been merged together, because all the events happen twice. In one story, Noah takes 7 of all the clean animals so he can offer sacrifice after the flood. In the other, he takes two and offers no sacrifice."
The fact is, there are no two parallel accounts of coming out of the ark and sacrificing (or not).
The 7 or one pair can be explained like this:
God said "one pair" when explaining what dimensions Noah was going to build. The clean animals being a clear minority of landwalking or flying creatures, the seven of each clean would make no difference.
God said "one pair and seven of each clean" when explaining how Noah was to immediately prepare for going in.
In general for this type of argument:
"Yet there’s no mention of the issues of the day, such as federalism and abuse of standing armies. Instead, all the issues are modern ones such as home defense and rights granted by the Fourteenth Amendment."
This can be much more safely done with modern history, since we have good sources already for the times of second and fourteenth amendments.
When you apply this kind of method to very ancient history, you are guessing that clean animals (in the temple) were not yet an issue in Moses' time (or time of his purported existence) but became so only later.
"It’s easy to distinguish between, say, texts composed in the mid 1700s, mid 1800s, and mid 1900s without reference to content, just by vocabulary and syntax,"
Excepting the very obvious exception of deliberate old fashioned ones. Would you have placed Tolkien's prose in the mid 1900's without knowing the fact?
Again, a thing much safer to try (unlike phonology and morphology) for periods where you actually have some abundance of undisputed reference material of undisputed age. Not the case for the linguists playing this game with the Bible against its historicity.
"We don’t always know what’s original and what’s been edited."
A good reason not to take the linguistic shape of a book as evidence against the early redaction.
If I cite a Swedish poem in the spelling "Där växte uti Hildings gård" for first line (or halfline), this would put the redaction after 1870's. In fact the original spelling is "Der vexte uti Hildings gård" but the poem is popular and I read it first in updated spelling. Frithiofs saga was edited as one book with complete text in 1825 and first parts to appear in public started in 1820. Tegnér died 1846.
"And it’s not as simple as declaring a scroll or a book to be fact or fiction. ... All this is very complex, and if you want to answer your own question you are free to actually read the secular scholarship."
Saying "it's not as simple" equates to pleading "please excuse the fudge factors!"
- Hans-Georg Lundahl
- St. Andrew's Vigil
- I think I actually answered your answer to my question on November 25 … at least, when I copied your answer, I copied my comment under it too:
[+ link to this post]
- Earnest Farr
- Vigil of St. Andrew
- You have plagiarized my post. Remove it immediately. If you do not, I will report you to your web host, which can result in your site being shut down. (And no, reposting my writing for the purpose of arguing with me is not fair use.) This is your official notice to remove my creative property from your site. You will not be notified again. If the content is still up tomorrow, I will report you.
- Hans-Georg Lundahl
- St. Andrew's Day
- I think it is fair use.
It is also journalism - I am showing off how my intellectual opponents argue.
So did the Gospellers with the Pharisees, and Plato with the opponents of Socrates, including Gorgias.
While I am definitely not on the quora partners programme, you have already signed that anyone on that one can use your material freely. Shows you do not really value your creative property.
- Earnest Farr
- St. Andrew's Day
- You are wrong. That is not the law. You are violating the law.
- Hans-Georg Lundahl
- St. Andrew's Day
- Let’s take the quantity part of “fair use” first.
No more than ten % of your work quoted.
No more than ten % of my work being a quote.
Here are the word counts for your answer, and the word counts for my four-post-work, prior to these updates:
Eamonn Farr (initial) 905 words
All four posts 12 552 words
Here are the character counts:
Eamonn Farr (initial) 5373 characters
All four posts 73 799 characters
On both accounts, I fulfill the requirement of non more than ten % of my work being a quote from you.
Now what about the other ten % requirement?
First, it would be immoral to apply when it comes to refutation. If I can only quote ten % of sth I refute, I may have only refuted ten % of it.
Second, this is only so, if the thing I refute is an entire and separate work of yours. Is your answer to this question a separate work? If so, I have taken ten times more than I could legally do, but on the other hand, I had a moral right to it in the interest of refutation.
Or is this very small piece of text if you compare it to books and booklets more like a part of your work? For instance, what % is it of your 5.2 K answers on quora?
So much for the legal part. Unless you are doing sth illegal by impersonating someone else and making him or her look bad by arguing badly. I am not.
Now, a bit more on morals.
I posed the question you answered.
I posed it in the direct intention of debating and refuting .
I also did so on Friday, Day of St. Catherine, 25th of November. By posting a comment under your answer. Then I copied both your answer and my comment, my answer to your answer, to my blog.
It is not monetised. You cannot complain about me getting money for text that you have copyright to.
Hence, your only concern is, I am making your answer available on a platform where it is also given my refutation.
Both Quora and my blog are publically accessible. Even if the comments under your answer are only accessible after logging in, given the number of Quora users, that’s public.
So, you want to have your answer accessible without my refutation so badly you delete my comment.
And threaten to take legal action if I don’t delete both on my blog.
As far as good manners go, that pretty much sucks.