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Miscellaneous meanderings and philosophical ramblings. The title from a spiral notebook I used to jot down my thoughts on religion and other matters some years ago. I like to write, think and express my views on various issues. Robust discussion is welcome.

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I will not submit. I will not surrender.
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Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Old Testament and Archeology - Round 1

This exchange is from July of this year. For those who are not involved in these dicussions, I want to point out that these are not real time debates or formal in structure or time limits. In some cases several days or even weeks between replies due to many factors affecting the forum (ie spammers) or just time constraints on the participants.

This first comment by another, and my reply, set off a several round debate with Nietzsche's Antichrist on the issue of archeology and the Old Testament. I'll just bold the notation of who is replying as the comments in this round didnt involve being interspersed within previous replies.


Science and the bible are totally diffrent things. You see One of those two changes over time, where the other dosent

My reply to that:

Not the Bible but our understanding of the Bible has changed over time. As archeology has made more discoveries we have been able to have more confidence in the historical reliability of the Bible. Advances in understanding of that culture have helped us in textual criticism and in gaining more accurate and deeper understanding.

Not that your comment was all the relevant anyway. It should hardly be surprising that science changes as it is dependent on our limited knowledge and ability to study nature. The Bible, if indeed it is recounting man's interaction with the transcendent and unchanging creator, would necessarily be more certain than knowledge contingent on our limited abilities.

Nietzsche's Antichrist wrote in reply:

Actually, Mark, "Biblical Archaeology" (now called 'Syro-Palestinian archaeology' because of its lack of adherence to the Biblical accounts) has shifted drastically in thinking and discoveries. the bible is no longer regarded as an accurate field guide but is summized as a simple collection of disproportionate legends and embellished fairy tales.

The BBC journalist Matthew Sturgis account in his book It Ain't Necessarily So (2001) summarizes the current situation nicely:

A new generation of archaeologists has emerged...they are challenging the intellectual assumptions of their predecessors...During the years since World War II it has become harder and harder to escape this sense of doubt. The expected discoveries of specific biblical artifacts and buildings were simply not being made...Discrepancies between the biblical account and the ever increasing archaeological record become more noticeable and harder to ignore...Rather than using the Old Testament as a field guide, the current crop of archaeologists is increasingly putting the Bible aside...The very term biblical archaeology has become tainted, and is now rejected by many academics...The old quest to confirm the historical truths of the events in the Bible has been replaced by a new agenda: to build a full and detailed picture of life in the ancient Near East. If the Bible is consulted at all, it is approached with varying degrees of skepticism. The onus of proof has shifted: the text [of the Bible] is now considered historically unreliable until proven otherwise.

Over even this past decade, there have been several books who touched on the issues descibed in the quote:
* T.W. Davis, Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology, Oxford 2004
* I. Finkelstein, The Bible Unearthed, Free Press 2001
* A.D. Marcus, The View from Nebo, Little, Brown & Co 2000
* M. Sturgis, It Aint Necessarily So, Headline 2001
* T.L. Thompson, The Mythic Past, Basic Books 1999
* T.L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives, Trinity 2002

The main thesis of these books is simply that which was considered to be historical past, such as the Abraham patriarchal narratives, Moses and the exodus, and the conquest of Canaan have largely been shown to be mythical- non-existent in the archaelogical record. Finkelstein goes further out of all these men by asserting that historical evidence is even lacking for the kingdom of David and Solomon to the described Biblical proportions.

So, to essentially conclude and make my point, your statement that archaelogical evidence has strengthened the Bible is simply incorrect from the standpoint of the field of archaeology itself.

My reply:

First of all, you seem to think I am a 100% literalist type, but that simply is not the case. However, that you would see these people as mainstream and free from their own bias is rather humorous.

The Bible Undug - Some Observations on Finkelstein and Silberman's The Bible Unearthed

We will close this review with an observation from William Dever, a more moderate critic/archaeologist, who notes in his What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? [42-3] that although he does not go to the same extreme, Finkelstein's work has been abused by biblical minimalists who regard the Biblical record as almost entirely fictional. Dever also notes that Finkelstein's conclusion about Israelite chronology is "idiosyncratic" and "scarcely accepted by any other archaeologist." Of particular note is the specific disagreement with the mainstream Finkelstein has on the cities of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer (discussed in TBU Appendix B). As a whole, TBU is not the threat it's title portends. It is merely a case of FS presenting a point of view unilaterally as if no informed opposition exists, and based on these conclusions, erecting a psychological edifice to explain the Biblical text. It sounds fine in theory -- especially when the dead are not around to defend themselves from psycho-probing!

I see not reason to be impressed with Thompson when he writes something like The Messiah Myth.


It takes little discernment to see where Thompson comes from. Anyone who decries the Jesus Seminar as too conservative [11!] obviously lives in a tree and has hit his head one too many times climbing down. Though he is a credentialed scholar, he is on the utmost fringe as one of the so-called radical minimalists (the sort of person saner minds like Dever disdain and Kitchen pummels) who regard even the most basic accounts of the books of Kings and Chronicles as pious fiction. Give this one a pass and a laugh.

Marcus is not an archeologist but a journalist and considering the extreme minimalism that you characterize these people as presenting, I see no reason to be impressed. You seem to think extremism only goes one way and are quite happy to accept your favored brand of extreme positions.

Bias should of course not taint interpretation but that cuts both ways and you've shown that you only like that to work in one direction only.

Archeology has verified many things in the Bible, despite controversy over the Exodus and other matters. Names, places, customs for the OT. The NT is quite reliable regarding historical data for an ancient source.

If you think that just because something is published recently, that automatically makes it more accurate, you need to do some better thinking.


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