Friday, November 25, 2022

Factuality of the Bible - answering Earnest Farr


Factuality of the Bible: answering Earnest Farr · Guestpost · answering Dick Harfield · Answer on Acts (to Dick Harfield)

Q
On what grounds have secularist historians concluded Pentateuch, Ruth, Daniel, Esther, and Acts are not factual?
https://www.quora.com/On-what-grounds-have-secularist-historians-concluded-Pentateuch-Ruth-Daniel-Esther-and-Acts-are-not-factual/answer/Earnest-Farr


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.


Anachronisms

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.

Linguistics

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
25.XI.2022
General

"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."

What papyrus?

"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.

Anachronisms

"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"

Like?

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.

Linguistics

"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.

General again

"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!"

No comments: