False Testament

First of a series

 

 

With this series of reviews I am barging into a topic about which I know very little. That would be archeology, the study of old stuff. We will see how it turns out.

But first I need to discuss Focus on the Family. Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

Focus on the Family (FOTF or FotF) is an American Christian conservative organization founded in 1977 in Southern California by psychologistJames Dobson, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[3] It is active in promoting an interdenominational effort toward its socially conservative views on public policy. Focus on the Family is one of a number of evangelical parachurch organizations that rose to prominence in the 1980s.

Focus on the Family’s stated mission is “nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide”.[4]It promotes abstinence-only sexual educationcreationism;[5] adoption by married, opposite-sex parents;[6] school prayer; and traditional gender roles. It opposes abortion; divorce; gambling; LGBT rights, particularly LGBT adoption and same-sex marriage;[7] pornography; pre-marital sex; and substance abusePsychologistspsychiatrists, and social scientists have criticized Focus on the Family for trying to misrepresent their research to bolster FOTF’s fundamentalist political agenda and ideology.

The core promotional activities of the organization include a daily radio broadcast by its president Jim Daly and his colleagues, providing free resources according to Focus on the Family views, and publishing magazines, videos, and audio recordings. The organization also produces programs for targeted audiences, such as Adventures in Odyssey for children, dramas, and Family Minute.

Here is what they have to say about themselves:

Focus on the Family is a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. We provide help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.

We’re here to come alongside families with relevance and grace at each stage of their journey. We support families as they seek to teach their children about God and His beautiful design for the family, protect themselves from the harmful influences of culture and equip themselves to make a greater difference in the lives of those around them.

All of this is to give readers a heads up. The core of Focus on the Family is not scientific rigor, so when I set out to review their video titled Is the Bible Reliable?, I went in expecting science and truth to be sacrificed on an alter of some sort. Since this one features creationist Stephen C. Meyer, as does the previous one, Does God Exist?, I expect not to be disappointed.

Also note the person in the image above. That’s David Stotts, host and narrator of at least the first two of this series of videos from Focus on the Family. Below is a screen shot from the title sequence of Episode 1. I am watching this on Amazon Prime Video, and I will start with the first episode, titled ” The Patriarchal Narratives & The Documentary Hypothesis.” Amazon has this to say:

Dr. Stephen Meyer begins to lay a historical foundation for the accuracy of the biblical text by looking into the lives of Abraham and his descendants.

By way of introduction, Here is Meyer addressing students in a dramatized seminar at a college campus.

Throughout, as was the case with the previous video, Meyer puts up a sequence of presentation foils, and I have captured some of them to assist in narrating.

Here’s the text from above:

Theories Undermining the bible’s Historicity

Where do they come from historically?
What’s the intellectual background?
What are the assumptions that the advocates of these theories make?

Meyer is going to kick off by attacking the credibility of the arguments against biblical historicity. Fifteen years ago James Cunliffe gave a presentation to the North Texas Skeptics on biblical historicity. Here is an excerpt from the meeting report:

Scientist have gone head-to-head with creationists on the matter of Genesis for two hundred years. For a long time it has been apparent the first story in the Bible just does not add up. Neither does the second biblical story, Exodus, according to James Cunliffe.

James Cunliffe has a Ph.D. in geology from Rutgers University, and he dabbles in archeology. He has previously lectured on the “rock wall” that gave Rockwall, Texas, its name. At the July NTS meeting he explained what has been talked around in archeological circles for years and is now popping up in the popular press. Not only is the story of the escape of the Jews from Egypt a myth, but there is no evidence there was ever such a large number (in the order of 600,000) of ancient Jews in the land of the Nile, much less as slaves building the pyramids.

A lot of the discussion pulled from a Harper’s article written by Daniel Lazare and titled “False Testament,” whence the title of these reviews. Follow the link, and you will find a link to a PDF of the Harper’s article. I have a copy, from which I obtain these excerpts:

False testament: archaeology refutes the Bible’s claim to history – Criticism
Harper’s Magazine,  March, 2002  by Daniel Lazare

Not long ago, archaeologists could agree that the Old Testament, for all its embellishments and contradictions, contained a kernel of truth. Obviously, Moses had not parted the Red Sea or turned his staff into a snake, but it seemed clear that the Israelites had started out as a nomadic band somewhere in the vicinity of ancient Mesopotamia; that they had migrated first to Palestine and then to Egypt; and that, following some sort of conflict with the authorities, they had fled into the desert under the leadership of a mysterious figure who was either a lapsed Jew or, as Freud maintained, a high-born priest of the royal sun god Aton whose cult had been overthrown in a palace coup. Although much was unknown, archaeologists were confident that they had succeeded in nailing down at least these few basic facts.

Also:

Some twelve to fourteen centuries of “Abrahamic” religious development, the cultural wellspring that has given us not only Judaism but Islam and Christianity, have thus been erased. Judaism appears to have been the product not of some dark and nebulous period of early history but of a more modern age of big-power politics in which every nation aspired to the imperial greatness of a Babylon or an Egypt . Judah, the sole remaining Jewish outpost by the late eighth century B.C., was a small, out-of-the-way kingdom with little in the way of military or financial clout. Yet at some point its priests and rulers seem to have been seized with the idea that their national deity, now deemed to be nothing less than the king of the universe, was about to transform them into a great power. They set about creating an imperial past commensurate with such an empire, one that had the southern heroes of David and Solomon conquering the northern kingdom and making rival kings tremble throughout the known world. From a “henotheistic” cult in which Yahweh was worshiped as the chief god among many, they refashioned the national religion so that henceforth Yahweh would be worshiped to the exclusion of all other deities. One law, that of Yahweh, would now reign supreme.

And much more. It is against narratives such as this one that Meyer is going to need to bring counter evidence, refuting not just one, but all the findings Lazare recounts in his article. If Meyer fails to validate a single point brought forth in the Bible as the divine truth, then that book can no longer claim to be infallible. As it turns out, very little that is in the Bible passes a test for validity. We will see how Meyer strives mightily to refute claims of the Bible deniers.

Start with the assertion that multiple people wrote the biblical text. Biblical scholars point out different names for God in different parts of the Bible, indicating different authors.

The Documentary Hypothesis: The Four

J (for Yahwist), 850 BC
E (for Elohist), 750 BC
D (for Dueteronomical), 621 BC (Josiah)
P (for Priestly Code), 570-530 BC

The person behind the name hypothesis was Julius Wellhausen:

Julius Wellhausen (17 May 1844 – 7 January 1918), was a German biblical scholar and orientalist. In the course of his career, he moved from Old Testament research through Islamic studies to New Testament scholarship. Wellhausen contributed to the composition history of the Pentateuch/Torah and studied the formative period of Islam. For the former, he is credited as one of the originators of the documentary hypothesis.

Wellhausen’s Reasons for Skepticism

  • Lack of archaeological or textual evidence
  • Use of different names for God in the Torah.

Meyer’s counter argument:

Thesis

  • Extra-biblical evidence corroborates the testimony of the Patriarchal narratives.
  • Several classes of external archaeological evidence have shown that the Documentary Hypothesis is untenable because the evidence “situates” the narratives in the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1550 B.C.).
  • Naturalistic assumptions about the origin of the Bible, gives rise to a view of the Bible that is at odds with the archaeological  and documentary evidence.

Meyer recounts Genesis 11:31.

Abram on a Journey

“Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and then went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there.

Genesis 11:31

He recounts the biblical story of the Abraham patriarchy.

The Patriarchal Period, Summary, Cont.

  • Jacob, son of Isaac, has his name changed to Israel and fathers 12 sons who become the 12 tribes of Israel.
  • Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son, is sold into slavery and is taken to Egypt, where he rises to prominence and eventually saves Egypt and his entire family from famine.

The Patriarchs

From there Meyer moves to indirect evidence.

Categories of Indirect Evidence Situating the Patriarchal Narratives in the Middle Bronze Age

I. Covenants and social customs
II. Law codes indicating slave prices

the Patriarchs

The concept of situating is new to me. I pulled some references from a Google search:

Taussig, H. (Ed), Kotrosits, M. (Ed)

The Bible and Cultural Studies series highlights the work of established and emerging scholars working at the intersection of the fields of biblical studies and cultural studies. It emphasizes the importance of the Bible in the building of cultural narratives—and thus the need to intervene in those narratives through interpretation—as well as the importance of situating biblical texts within originating cultural contexts. It approaches scripture not as a self-evident category, but as the product of a larger set of cultural processes, and offers scholarship that does not simply “use” or “borrow” from the field of cultural studies, but actively participates in its conversations.

Meyer puts the biblical narrative into the context of historical (by means of archaeological study) customs.

I. Covenants

  • At Shekhna, an ancient city in Syria, an archive of the 18th century B.C. Akkadian tables was discovered.
  • Many tablets contained a specific type of covenant protocol unique to the early 2nd millennium B.C.

Middle Bronze cuneiform tablet

He explains how this relates to dating the biblical texts.

I. Covenants

  • These covenants contain 5 elements: witnesses (a deity), oath, stipulations, ceremony, & curse
  • This format mirrors Genesis 21:23-32, 26:29-31, and 31:51-54

– Same elements
– Generally 5 elements
– Roughly in the same order

  • But covenants in the Late Bronze Age contain 7 elements.

He gives some explanation. Who is witnessing this agreement, what is sworn to, stipulations (statements of fact), any ritual that accompanies the agreement, and finally the curse—what the person swears will happen to him if he does not fulfill the agreement.

Covenants referenced in Genesis have the five elements, but Genesis would have referenced seven elements had it been written in the Middle Bronze (much later).

The matter of social customs:

I. Social Customs

  • Ismael, born first, son of Hagar the slave. Isaac born to Sarah, Abraham’s wife and thus made heir and the son to carry on the family line (Genesis 21:10).
  • The Code of Hammurabi from  Babylon, (ca. 1760 B.C., laws 170-171) requires that the son(s) of a man’s first wife, not those of his female slaves, should be given preferential treatment in inheritance.
  • Patriarchal narratives reflect this and other social customs.

I likely missed this in Meyer’s narrative, but I fail to see how this ties the Genesis narrative to ca. 1760 B.C. I will let it pass.

The story of Joseph being sold into slavery.

Joseph Sold into Slavery

“Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh. … they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.

Genesis 37:27-28

What this is getting to is the historical record of the going price of slaves. Here is how Meyer uses the sale of Joseph to the historical time line.

Slave prices increased over time, ranging from  10 to 120 shekels over a period of 2000 years. All biblical accounts of slave prices are accurate to the time period the Bible purports to be describing.

See the graph.

Then there is the matter of personal names in  the historical time line.

III. Personal Names

  • Names such as Abraham, Abram, Aburahana, Abarama, Israel, Esau, Job, Zebulanu, Noah, Laban and Jacob appear in Early and Middle Bronze Age texts ca. 2400-1700 B.C.
  • These texts include Egyptian Execration texts, the Dilbat Tablets, Mari Tablets, and Ebla Tablets.

Cuneiform tablet and Execration text

He does a similar thing with place names.

IV. Place Names

  • Cities such as Ur, Haran, Hebron,  Sodom, Gomorrah, Laish, Salem (Jerusalem), and Shechem all appear in both the Patriarchal narratives and Middle Bronze Age texts.
  • Many of these sites have also been excavated and demonstrate Middle Bronze habitation just as Genesis describes.

Lament of Ur and MB gate at Dan/Laish

Now Meyers feels satisfied he has established his point of situating the biblical texts in the historical time line.

Categories of Indirect Evidence Situating the Patriarchal Narrative in the Middle Bronze Age

I. Covenants and social  customs

II. Law codes indicating slave prices

III. Personal names

IV. Place names

He lists four additional categories of indirect evidence.

Other Categories of Indirect Evidence Situating the Patriarchal Narratives in the Middle Bronze

  • V. Existence of the Amorites and Hurrians
  • VI. Nomadism
  • VII. Climate
  • VIII. Political cinditions

The Patriarchs

He next attacks some anachronisms skeptics have noted in the biblical text. One is the matter of the use of camels.

Alleged Anachronisms

  • A major criticism of historicity in the Patriarchal narratives is the claim that they contain obvious and blatant anachronisms.

One alleged anachronism is the presence of domesticated camels in the Middle Bronze Age.

Meyer counters with what he considers to be a refutation of the claim of anachronism. It’s the matter of domesticated camels that was brought up in  the Daniel Lazare article.

Domesticated Camels in Abraham’s time?

  • “Camel” is used in a domesticated sense 22 times in Genesis (12:16; 24:10-64; etc.) and 3 times in Job (1, 42).

[There is an archaeological graphic.]

Man leading a camel caravan ca. 2200 B.C.

  • Archaeological evidence from artwork, ancient documents and biological remains demonstrates that camels were domesticated in the Near East before 2000 B.C. and the time of Abraham.

What Meyer is saying is that, contrary to skeptics’ claims, camels were domesticated during the supposed time of Abraham. Here Meyer is either being careless with his research or else dishonest. Camels were domesticated by the time Meyer cites, but not in the Levant, the Eastern Mediterranean, what is now Israel. National  Geographic has published on the matter:

The study, published late last year in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, concerned the introduction of domesticated camels at copper smelting sites in Israel’s Aravah Valley.

The dromedary, or one-humped camel that so many tourists picture when they think of the Middle East, is mentioned in the Bible 47 times. Stories about the Jewish patriarchs—Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob—include descriptions of camels as domesticated animals. For example, Genesis 24:11 says, “And he made his camels to kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water.”

Historians believe these stories took place between 2000 and 1500 B.C., based on clues such as passages from Genesis, archaeological information from the site of the great Sumerian city of Ur (located in modern Iraq), and an archive of clay tablets found at the site of Mari (in modern Syria).

Using radiocarbon dating and evidence unearthed in excavations, Israeli archaeologists Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen have pegged the arrival of domesticated camels in this part of the world—known to scholars as the Levant—to a much later era. They were also able to more precisely pinpoint the time span when that arrival occurred.

No disrespect to Stephen C. Meyer, but given the choice of believing something from National Geographic and believing somebody with a history of promoting false science, I will go with National  Geographic any day.

Meyer wraps up Episode 1.

Conclusion

The form of treaties, covenants, cultural practices, lifestyle and place and personal names in  the Patriarchal narratives conforms to documentary evidence in external sources from the ancient Near East in the Middle Bronze Age. This evidence situates the origin of the text close to the time of the events it describes, contradicting the Documentary Hypothesis about the origin of the Torah.

I did not run a deep analysis of all of Meyer’s claims, and I have neither the background nor the resources to do so. However, in light of Meyer’s false posturing in matter of the camels, there is good reason to question the remainder of his presentation. Hints at inconsistency abound.

  • He mentions Noah, as though Noah were a real person. The story of Noah is demonstrated to be a complete fabrication. No archaeological or geological evidence exists for the Flood story of Genesis.
  • Meyer wants to validate the historicity of the Bible, yet he completely ignores the Bible’s most glaring defect. Specifically, “In the beginning…” Yes, the Bible gets it wrong from the very beginning. All evidence is contrary to the Earth and the Universe being created a few more than 6000 years ago. And this is galling in light of Meyer’s acceptance, in other presentations, of the reality of modern cosmology and the multi-billion year age of the Universe.
  • Meyer talks of the sale of Joseph as a slave and taken to Egypt, setting the scene for the Exodus. All evidence points to the fallacy of the Exodus story. The ancient Hebrews were never in Egypt but were likely situated in what is now Israel for all  their existence as a tribe-nation.

Possibly Meyer is going to address these points in one or more of the nine remaining episodes. I will be viewing these in coming days. Watch for a review. Coming up next is Episode 2 titled “The Exodus: From Egypt to Canaan.” From Amazon:

Historians have discussed the narrative of the Exodus story for centuries, but this is more than just a great drama; the Exodus is a revealing look into the nature and character of God Himself.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

2 thoughts on “False Testament

  1. Pingback: False Testament | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: The Years of Living Stupidly | Skeptical Analysis

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