False Testament

Number 4 of a series

This is the fourth and last of my reviews of the video series, “Is the Bible Reliable?” The series is produced by Focus on the Family and features creationist Stephen C. Meyer. The video is marketed as a DVD containing ten episodes. The first six episodes cover the Old Testament, hitting on some high points that Meyer believes will make a case for the reliability of the Bible. As noted (see the above link) Meyer skips a large body of biblical  text that would sink any other publication.

The final four episodes deal with the New Testament, the contribution by Christians, telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his teachings, his trial and execution, and his return from the dead. Meyer wants to assure viewers all those doubts about the validity of the New Testament are groundless.

He wants to demonstrate the New Testament is reliable as a source of information due to several  characteristics:

  • A documentary style rather than a piece of satire (for example)
  • A reliable transmission—not a bunch of stuff mangled in retelling
  • Contemporaneous or as nearly contemporaneous with the events described
  • Corroboration  from  other sources
  • Reputable character of those telling the story

He demonstrates that Luke comes off as a historical work.

From BibleGateway.com:

Luke 1:1-4 King James Version (KJV)

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,

Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

He offers up early manuscripts to demonstrate the New Testament is truly an ancient work.

He references:

  • Codex Alexandrinus, 5th century A.D.
  • Complete Manuscript of the New (and Old) Testament in Greek

From Wikipedia:

The Codex Alexandrinus (London, British Library, MS Royal 1. D. V-VIII; Gregory-Aland no. A or 02Soden δ 4) is a fifth-century manuscript of the Greek Bible, containing the majority of the Septuagint and the New Testament. It is one of the four Great uncial codices. Along with the Codex Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus, it is one of the earliest and most complete manuscripts of the BibleBrian Walton assigned Alexandrinus the capital Latin letter A in the Polyglot Bible of 1657. This designation was maintained when the system was standardized by Wettstein in 1751. Thus, Alexandrinus held the first position in the manuscript list.

The Magdalen Papyrus, Gospel of Mathew (P64)

The “Magdalen” papyrus was purchased in Luxor, Egypt in 1901 by Reverend Charles Bousfield Huleatt (1863–1908), who identified the Greek fragments as portions of the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 26:23 and 31) and presented them to Magdalen College, Oxford, where they are cataloged as P. Magdalen Greek 17 (Gregory-Aland {\displaystyle {\mathfrak {P}}}{\mathfrak {P}}64) and whence they have their name. When the fragments were finally published by Colin H. Roberts in 1953, illustrated with a photograph, the hand was characterized as “an early predecessor of the so-called ‘Biblical Uncial'” which began to emerge towards the end of the 2nd century. The uncial style is epitomised by the later biblical Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. Comparative paleographical analysis has remained the methodological key for dating the manuscript: the consensus is ca AD 200.

And possibly the earliest, the John Rylands (P52) Fragment.

The Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St. John’s fragment and with an accession reference of Papyrus Rylands Greek 457, is a fragment from a papyrus codex, measuring only 3.5 by 2.5 inches (8.9 by 6 cm) at its widest; and conserved with the Rylands Papyri at the John Rylands University Library ManchesterUK. The front (recto) contains parts of seven lines from the Gospel of John 18:31–33, in Greek, and the back (verso) contains parts of seven lines from verses 37–38.[3] Since 2007, the papyrus has been on permanent display in the library’s Deansgate building.

Meyer wants to compare the meager New Testament holdings with those of other famous works.

A favorable Comparison

  • Gallic Wars by Caesar, written  in 55 B.C., earliest manuscript from 850 A.D. 10 mss extant.
  • Histories by Tacitus, written in 100 A.D., earliest manuscript from 900 A.D., 2 mss extant.
  • History by Thucydides, written in 430 B.c., earliest manuscript from  900 A.D., 8 mss extant.

This last part echoes from a few years back when Michael Shermer debated Douglas Geivett at the University of Texas at Arlington.

This was our first encounter with Douglas Geivett, but a number of the more erudite have studied his writings and arguments. Richard Carrier has reviewed In Defense of Miracles. In “Geivett’s Exercise in Hyperbole” Carrier takes issue with Geivett’s lack of understanding of history:

He then issues a comparison, in the voice of a mock critic, asserting that the resurrection of Jesus is as historically evidenced as Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C. 3

Geivett’s over the top comparison of the resurrection with this well-established historical event severely blunts the credibility of any other arguments he might make, and it takes some of the shine off his professed piety. Whether he will continue to be an effective proponent of the reality of God will depend on how well he controls his handling of the truth. His standing as a creationist, however, is looking brighter all the time.

That footnote reference links to this:

It should be clear that we have a huge number of reasons to believe that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, all of which are lacking in the case of the resurrection. In fact, when we compare all five points, we see that in four of the five evidences of an event’s historicity, the resurrection has no evidence at all, and for the one kind of evidence it does have, it has not the best, but the very worst kind of evidence–a handful of biased, uncritical, unscholarly, unknown, second-hand witnesses.

In Episode 8 Meyer addresses the early composition of Luke and Acts. He argues there is evidence they are (nearly) contemporaneous.

People, Positions and Places

And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:

Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.

The biblical quotes are from BibleGateway.com.

Roman Rule of Cyprus

  • Up to 22 BC, Imperial Province. Legate.
  • 21 BC and after, Senatorial Province According to Luke.
  • Paul and Barnabas meet the proconsul Sergius Paulus in Cyprus.

The point here is that differing Roman territories were ruled either by Caesar, and the local ruler was call a legate, or they were ruled by the Senate, and the local ruler was called a proconsul. Paul got it right when referring to the ruler as a proconsul for the date of his supposed visit.

There is the Temple Warning Inscription.

The Temple Warning inscription, also known as the Temple Balustrade inscription or the Soreg inscription, is an inscription from the Second Temple in Jerusalem, discovered in 1871 by Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau and published by the Palestine Exploration Fund. Following the discovery of the inscription it was taken by the Ottoman authorities, and it is currently in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

From BibleGateway.com:

Acts 21:27-28 King James Version (KJV)

27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,

28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

Luke, writing for Acts, got this right.

In Episode 9 Meyer takes up external corroboration.

There is the Miracle of Cana:

The transformation of water into wine at the Marriage at Cana or Wedding at Cana is the first miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of JohnIn the Gospel account, Jesus, his mother and his disciples are invited to a wedding, and when the wine runs out, Jesus delivers a sign of his glory by turning water into wine.

The location of Cana has been subject to debate among biblical scholars and archeologists; several villages in Galilee are possible candidates.

 

Miracle at Cana

“Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification …”

– John 2:6

Meyer observes John 2:6 got that right. This was the time stone water pots were used, rather than clay ones.

I was amazed Meyer brought up the James Ossuary:

The James Ossuary is a 1st-century chalk box that was used for containing the bones of the dead. The Aramaic inscription: Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua (English translation: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”) is cut into one side of the box. The inscription is considered significant because, if genuine, it might provide archaeological evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. However, the authenticity of the inscription has been challenged.

Meyer apparently made this video in  2010, seven years after this artifact was demonstrated to be a fake:

In 2003, The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) determined that the inscriptions were forged at a much later date. In December 2004, Oded Golan was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fraud and deception, including forgery of the Ossuary inscription. The trial lasted seven years before Judge Aharon Farkash came to a verdict. On March 14, 2012, Golan was acquitted of the forgery charges but convicted of illegal trading in antiquities. The judge said this acquittal “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago”. The ossuary was returned to Golan, who put it on public display.

Meyer notes some key facts.

Some Key Facts

  1. Paleographical analysis of the inscription dates the ossuary between 20 B.C. and 70 A.D.
  2. Reburial by ossuary was done primarily in the city of Jerusalem between the late 1st century B.c. and 70 A.D.
  3. Only wealthy and prominent people had their bones placed in ossuaries. Inscriptions incurred further expense and expertise.

Episode 10 concludes the video series with the trial of Jesus.

I  will mention some artifacts and some quotes that Meyer asserts attest to the reliability of the scriptural account of Jesus. First there is the authenticity of Herod Antipas.

Herod Antipater (GreekἩρῴδης ἈντίπατροςHērǭdēs Antipatros; born before 20 BC – died after 39 AD), known by the nickname Antipas, was a 1st-century ruler of Galilee and Perea, who bore the title of tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”) and is referred to as both “Herod the Tetrarch” and “King Herod” in the New Testament although he never held the title of king. He is widely known today for accounts in the New Testament of his role in events that led to the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

There is the finding of Peter’s House in Capernaum:

Capernaum (/kəˈpɜːrniəm/ kə-PUR-nee-əmHebrewכְּפַר נַחוּם‎, Kfar NahumArabic: كفر ناحوم, meaning “Nahum’s village” in both languages) was a fishing village established during the time of the Hasmoneans, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It had a population of about 1,500. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other. A house turned into a church by the Byzantines is said to be the home of Saint Peter.

Peter’s House

  • 4th century A.D. writings of the Pilgrim Egeria, say, “And in Capernaum, what is more, the house of the prince of the apostles [Peter] has been turned into a church, leaving its original walls however quite unchanged.”

Josephus is one person who is presumed to have spoken with people who knew Jesus:

The works of Josephus include material about individuals, groups, customs, and geographical places. Some of these, such as the city of Seron, receive no mention in the surviving texts of any other ancient authority. His writings provide a significant, extra-Biblical account of the post-Exilic period of the Maccabees, the Hasmonean dynasty, and the rise of Herod the Great. He refers to the Sadducees, Jewish High Priests of the time, Phariseesand Essenes, the Herodian Temple, Quirinius‘ census and the Zealots, and to such figures as Pontius PilateHerod the GreatAgrippa I and Agrippa IIJohn the BaptistJames the brother of Jesus, and to Jesus (for more see Josephus on Jesus). Josephus represents an important source for studies of immediate post-Temple Judaism and the context of early Christianity.

From Tufts University:

[63] Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Finally, there are historians mentioning Jesus.

Historians Mentioning Jesus

  • Titus Flavius Josephus, Yosef Ben Matityahu (ca. 37-100 A.D.)
  • Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56-117 A.D.)
  • Mara Bar-Serapion (late 1st century A.D.)
  • Flavius Lustinus, Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 A.D.)
  • Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 9230 A.D.)
  • Pliny the Younger, ca 61-113 A.D.)

Taking them in turn.

Titus Flavius Josephus, already noted.

Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus.

A survey of the literature indicates that this citation by Tacitus has not been given enough regard, having often been overshadowed by the citations in Josephus (see next entry). Respected Christian scholar R. T. France, for example, does not believe that the Tacitus passage provides sufficient independent testimony for the existence of Jesus [Franc.EvJ, 23] and agrees with G. A. Wells that the citation is of little value.

It is unfortunate that France so readily agreed with Wells’ assessment. An investigation into the methods and background of Tacitus, as reported by Tacitean scholars (whose works, incidentally, France does not consult), tells us that this is an extremely reliable reference to Jesus and for early Christianity.

Mara Bar-Serapion:

The letter has been claimed to include no Christian themes[2][4] and many scholars consider Mara a pagan, although some suggest he may have been a monotheist.[3] Some scholars see the reference to the execution of the “wise king” of the Jews as an early non-Christian reference to Jesus. Criteria that support the non-Christian origin of the letter include the observation that “king of the Jews” was not a Christian title, and that the letter’s premise that Jesus lives on in his teachings he enacted is in contrast to the Christian concept that Jesus continues to live through his resurrection. Another viewpoint is that he could be referring to the resurrection recorded in Jesus’s teachings which say he lived on, that would mean we don’t know if he believed the resurrection happened or not and leaves it up to speculation whether he was a Christian or a non-Christian who agreed with Christians as regarding Jesus as a “wise king” according to the Gospels.

Flavius Lustinus:

The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia notes that scholars have differed on whether Justin’s writings on the nature of God were meant to express his firm opinion on points of doctrine, or to speculate on these matters. Specific points Justin addressed include that the Logos is “numerically distinct from the Father” though “born of the very substance of the Father,” and that “through the Word, God has made everything.” Justin used the metaphor of fire to describe the Logos as spreading like a flame, rather than “dividing” the substance of the Father. He also defended the Holy Spirit as a member of the Trinity, as well as the birth of Jesus to Mary when she was a virgin. The Encyclopedia states that Justin places the genesis of the Logos as a voluntary act of the Father at the beginning of creation, noting that this is an “unfortunate” conflict with later Christian teachings.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus:

The Roman historian Suetonius (c. AD 69 – c. AD 122) mentions early Christians and may refer to Jesus Christ in his work Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

One passage in the biography of the Emperor Claudius Divus Claudius 25, refers to agitations in the Roman Jewish community and the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Claudius during his reign (AD 41 to AD 54), which may be the expulsion mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (18:2). In this context “Chresto” is mentioned. Some scholars see this as a likely reference to Jesus, while others see it as referring to an otherwise unknown person living in Rome.

Pliny the Younger:

In any event, the value of the Pliny letter as “evidence” of Christ’s existence is worthless, as it makes no mention of “Jesus of Nazareth,” nor does it refer to any event in his purported life. There is not even a clue in it that such a man existed. As Taylor remarks, “We have the name of Christ, and nothing else but the name, where the name of Apollo or Bacchus would have filled up the sense quite as well.” Taylor then casts doubt on the authenticity of the letter as a whole, recounting the work of German critics, who “have maintained that this celebrated letter is another instance to be added to the long list of Christian forgeries…” One of these German luminaries, Dr. Semler of Leipsic provided “nine arguments against its authenticity…” He also notes that the Pliny epistle is quite similar to that allegedly written by “Tiberianus, Governor of Syria” to Trajan, which has been universally denounced as a forgery.

Despite Meyer’s enthusiasm for his list of historical reference to Jesus, these seem paltry at times. However, in religion enthusiasm counts for a lot.

Suppose…

Suppose we grant Meyer all his points about when the texts were written and how these place names and these people are as told in the Bible (including the New Testament). There is one thing he cannot get past. The details can be demonstrated to have been fabricated. Some examples are in called for. Refer to previous posts for examples I am not repeating here. These are new.

A talking donkey:

Numbers 22:26-30 King James Version (KJV)

26 And the angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.

27 And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.

28 And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?

29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.

30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? and he said, Nay.

Nay, indeed. Here is another:

Luke 22:41-44 King James Version (KJV)

41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

You may have noticed Jesus was by himself, with nobody around to hear him. So, who is writing down what he’s saying?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem? Really? Why? Mary and Joseph were required to travel to Bethlehem (from Nazareth) for a census (for tax purposes). Really? Since when did the Romans, or any other government require this? From all appearances this is made up in order for Jesus to fulfill the prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

The nativity of Jesus or birth of Jesus is described in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. The two accounts agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the time of Herod the Great to a betrothed virgin whose name was Mary. There are, however, major differences. Matthew has no censusannunciation to the shepherds or presentation in the Temple, implies that Jesus’s parents’ home is Bethlehem, and has him born in a house there, and has an unnamed angel appear to Joseph to announce the birth. In Luke there are no Magi, no flight into Egypt, or Massacre of the Innocents, Joseph is a resident of Nazareth, the birth appears to take place in an inn instead of the family home, and the angel (named as Gabriel) announces the coming birth to Mary.[1] While it is possible that Matthew’s account might be based on Luke, or Luke’s on Matthew, the majority of scholars conclude that the two are independent of each other.[1]

From where I observe, Meyer is clawing at the air to validate the Bible to a bunch of Christian youth. His aim is to ensure they (and viewers) retain their faith in the Bible and thereby retain their faith in Christianity. Were I a cynic among them this sort of hoax would only put me off the message of The Lord. Which is pretty much what happened with me, about 60+ years ago.

I watched to  the end of Episode 10 streaming on Amazon Prime Video (where I obtained these screen shots), and when that finished another episode started up, featuring not Stephen C. Meyer, but Del Tackett, former president of Focus on the Family. It’s Episode 1 of Season 3, with Season 3 having the title, “Who is Jesus?” Season 3 does not appear on Amazon’s Prime Video menu. You may have to do a search to find it. I make no promises I will watch and review Season 3, except.. Except that Amazon may have this available for a limited time, and I  would hate to let slip the opportunity to watch it without having to  pay the $25+ to purchase a DVD.

Keep reading. God may grant your wish.

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False Testament

Number 3 of a series

This is number three in my review of the video Is the Bible Reliable, produced by Focus on the Family and featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. This installment covers episodes 4-6 of 10, concerning principally the biblical  kingdoms of David and Solomon and the stories of the conquest of the nations of Israel and Judah. The first episode dwells on Meyer’s argument that the David and Solomon are real characters from history, and furthermore the related biblical stories are true. Meyer introduces the prevailing skeptical views. He begins with the minimalist view, which is the notion that these kings existed but that their importance is much puffed up in the biblical narrative.

The Minimalist View

  • Israel Finkelstein  and colleagues at Tel Aviv view Saul and David as leaders of a small tribal confederation.
  • Tenth century B.C. Judah shows little or no evidence of permanent population, urban centers, capital, temple or big building projects in Jerusalem.
  • Some textual critics (Thomas Thompson) still deny that David existed.

Meyer is going to dispute Finkelstein and Thompson, so it is worth reviewing what minimalist (nihilists?) have had to say. First Finkelstein:

Israel Finkelstein (Hebrewישראל פינקלשטיין‎‎, born March 29, 1949) is an Israeli archaeologist and academic. He is the Jacob M. Alkow Professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages at Tel Aviv University Finkelstein is widely regarded as a leading scholar in the archaeology of the Levant and a foremost applicant of archaeological data in reconstructing biblical history. He is also known for applying the exact and life sciences in archaeological and historical reconstruction. Finkelstein is the excavator of Megiddo – a key site for the study of the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Levant.

He has this to say about Saul. Again from Wikipedia:

Finkelstein dealt with a variety of themes related to the archeology and history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He proposed that the first North Israelite territorial polity emerged in the Gibeon-Bethel plateau in the late Iron I and early Iron IIA. He found archaeological evidence for this in the system of fortified sites, such as Tell en-Nasbeh, Khirbet ed-Dawwara, et-Tell (“Ai”) and Gibeon. Historical evidence for the existence of this polity can be found in the campaign of Pharaoh Sheshoqn I in this region in the middle-to-second half of the 10th century BCE. According to Finkelstein, positive memories in the Bible of the House of Saul, which originated from the North, represent this early Israelite entity. He suggested that this north Israelite polity ruled over much of the territory of the highlands, that it presented a threat to the interests of Egypt of the 22nd Dynasty in Canaan, and that it was taken over during the campaign of Sheshonq I.

Additionally, there is this concerning King David:

Finkelstein has recently dealt with the location of the ancient mound of Jerusalem (with Ido Koch and Oded Lipschits). The conventional wisdom sees that “City of David” ridge as the location of the original settlement of Jerusalem. Finkelstein and his colleagues argued that the “City of David” ridge does not have the silhouette of a mound; that it is located in topographical inferiority relative to the surrounding area; and that the archaeological record of the ridge does not include periods of habitation attested in reliable textual records. According to them, the most suitable location for the core of ancient Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. The large area of the Herodian platform (today’s Harem esh-Sharif) may conceal a mound of five hectares and more, which – similar to other capital cities in the Levant – included both the royal compound and habitation quarters. Locating the mound of Ancient Jerusalem on the Temple Mound resolves many of the difficulties pertaining to the “City of David” ridge.

According to Finkelstein, the history of Jerusalem in biblical times should be viewed in terms of three main phases: A) Until the 9th century BCE, Jerusalem was restricted to the mound on the Temple Mount and ruled over a modest area in the southern highlands. Accordingly, Jerusalem of the time of David and Solomon can be compared to Jerusalem of the Amarna period in the 14th century BCE: it had the size of a typical highlands mound (for instance, Shechem), ruled over a restricted area, but still had impact beyond the highlands. B) The first expansion of Jerusalem came in the 9th century BCE, perhaps in its second half, when the town grew significantly in a southerly direction. Remains of the Iron IIA were unearthed south of al-Aqsa Mosque, above the Gihon Spring and to the south of the Dung Gate of the Old City. In parallel to this development, Judah expanded to the Shephelah in the west and Beer-sheba Valley in the south, and for the first time became a territorial kingdom rather than a city-state restricted to the highlands. C) The most impressive phase in the settlement history of Jerusalem commenced in the late 8th century BCE and lasted until its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. At that time Jerusalem expanded dramatically, to include the entire “City of David” ridge, as well as the “Western Hill” (the Armenian and Jewish Quarter of today’s Old City). This expansion was the result of the arrival of Israelite refugees after the demise of the Northern Kingdom in 722-720 BCE. These groups brought with them traits of Northern material culture, and more important – their foundation myths, royal traditions and heroic stories. These Northern traditions were later incorporated into the Judahite Bible.

Israel Finkelstein has collaborated with Neil Nasher Silberman, and one outcome has been the book The Bible Unearthed. From Wikipedia:

The methodology applied by the authors is historical criticism with an emphasis on archaeology. Writing in the website of “The Bible and Interpretation”, the authors describe their approach as one “in which the Bible is one of the most important artifacts and cultural achievements [but] not the unquestioned narrative framework into which every archaeological find must be fit.” Their main contention is that:

“ …an archaeological analysis of the patriarchal, conquest, judges, and United Monarchy narratives [shows] that while there is no compelling archaeological evidence for any of them, there is clear archaeological evidence that places the stories themselves in a late 7th-century BCE context. ”

On the basis of this evidence they propose

“ … an archaeological reconstruction of the distinct histories of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, highlighting the largely neglected history of the Omride Dynasty and attempting to show how the influence of Assyrian imperialism in the region set in motion a chain of events that would eventually make the poorer, more remote, and more religiously conservative kingdom of Judah the belated center of the cultic and national hopes of all Israel. ”

As noted by a reviewer on Salon.com the approach and conclusions of The Bible Unearthed are not particularly new. Ze’ev Herzog, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, wrote a cover story for Haaretz in 1999 in which he reached similar conclusions following the same methodology; Herzog noted also that some of these findings have been accepted by the majority of biblical scholars and archaeologists for years and even decades, even though they have only recently begun to make a dent in the awareness of the general public.

In their book, Finkelstein and Silberman devote Appendix D to “Why the Traditional Archaeological of the Davidic and Solomonic Period is Wrong.” Here is part:

The Davidic Conquests: A Ceramic Mirage

The most important archaeological evidence used to link destruction levels with the Davidic conquests was the decorated Philistine pottery, which was dated by scholars from the beginning of the twelfth century BCE until about 1000 BCE. The first strata that did not contain this distinctive style were dated to the tenth century, that is, to the time of the united monarchy. But this dating was based entirely on biblical chronology and was thus a circular argument because the lower date for the levels with this pottery was fixed according to the presumed era of the Davidic conquests around 1000 BCE. In fact, there was no clear evidence for the precise date of the transition from the Philistine style to later types.

Moreover, recent studies have revolutionized the dating of Philistine pottery. In recent decades, many major sites have been excavated in the southern coastal plain of Israel, the area of strong Egyptian presence in the twelfth century BCE, and the region where the Philistines settled. These sites included three of the cities mentioned in the Bible as the hub of Philistine life— Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron (Tel Miqne) as well as several sites that served as Egyptian forts. The latter disclosed information about the Egypto-Canaanite material culture in the last decades of Egyptian hegemony in Canaan. Their finds included Egyptian inscriptions related to the imperial administration of Canaan as well as large quantities of locally made Egyptian vessels. Some of the inscriptions date from the reign of Ramesses III— the pharaoh who fought the Philistines and supposedly settled them in his forts in southern Canaan.

The surprise was that the strata that represent the last phases of Egyptian domination in Canaan under Ramesses III did not reveal the early types of the decorated Philistine vessels, and the earliest Philistine levels did not reveal any sign of Egyptian presence, not even a single Egyptian vessel. Instead, they were completely separated. Moreover, in a few sites, Egyptian forts of the time of Ramesses III were succeeded by the first Philistine settlements. In chronological terms this could not have happened before the collapse of Egyptian domination in Canaan in the mid– twelfth century BCE. The implications of this revelation for the archaeology of the united monarchy create a sort of domino effect: the whole set of pottery styles is pushed forward by about half a century, and that includes the transition from Philistine to the post-Philistine styles.

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts (pp. 340-341). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

[I note in the Kindle edition the name Israel is misspelled in page attribution.]

Wikipedia has this concerning Thompson:

Thomas L. Thompson (born January 7, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan) is a biblical scholar and theologian. He was professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993 to 2009, lives in Denmark and is now a Danish citizen.

Thompson is closely associated with the minimalist movement known as The Copenhagen School (other major figures include Niels Peter Lemche, Keith Whitelam, and Philip R. Davies), a loosely knit group of scholars who hold that the Bible cannot be used as a source to determine the history of ancient Israel, and that “Israel” itself is a problematic concept.

It is critical to evaluate the level of analysis given to the matter of biblical historicity by Meyer against that given by serious scholars. Meyer’s presentation is not, nor should ever presume to be, a scientific discourse. First, the lectures presented in the video are less than 30 minutes each, leaving little time for deep analysis. Second, there is no way to escape the conclusion there is never any intent at a factual presentation. Meyer’s lectures are aimed at impressionable minds with a goal of keeping them convinced of the veracity of the Bible and to reinforce a reliance on the supernatural.

In the remainder of this review I am not going to provide any depth at disputing Meyer’s presentations. I will post some salient points and offer a top-level discussion.

Meyer urges that the discovery of a fortified wall is evidence of David’s kingdom.

David’s Kingdom: The Fortress of Elah

  • Great big fortified wall, but there is no city inside.

There is the matter of the Tel Dan Stele:

The Tel Dan Stele is a broken stele (inscribed stone) discovered in 1993–94 during excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. It consists of several fragments making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-Damascus, an important regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. Hazael (or more accurately, the unnamed king) boasts of his victories over Omri, the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David” (bytdwd). It is considered the first widely accepted reference to the name David as the founder of a Judahite polity outside of the Hebrew Bible, though the earlier Mesha Stele contains several possible references with varying acceptance. A minority of scholars have disputed the reference to David, due to the lack of a word divider between byt and dwd, and other translations have been proposed. The stele was not excavated in its primary context, but in its secondary use. The Tel Dan stele is one of four known contemporary inscriptions containing the name of Israel, the others being the Merneptah Stele, the Mesha Stele, and the Kurkh Monolith.

The Tel Dan inscription generated considerable debate and a flurry of articles, debating its age, authorship, and authenticity; however, the stele is generally accepted by scholars as genuine and a reference to the House of David. It is currently on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

David: The Tel Dan Stele

  • Found in 1993 at Tel Dan, inscribed in the mid-9th century B.C.
  • “I (King Hazael) killed Joram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and I killed  [ ]yahu son of [ ] of the House of David” (Lines 7-9).

There is the Kurkh Stele of Shalmaneser III:

The inscription on the Shalmaneser III Stela deals with campaigns Shalmaneser made in western Mesopotamia and Syria, fighting extensively with the countries of Bit Adini and Carchemish. At the end of the Monolith comes the account of the Battle of Qarqar, where an alliance of twelve kings fought against Shalmaneser at the Syrian city of Qarqar. This alliance, comprising eleven kings, was led by Irhuleni of Hamath and Hadadezer of Damascus, describing also a large force led by King Ahab of Israel.

Kurkh Stele of Shalmaneser III

  • Specifically mentions King Ahab.
  • King Ahab sends over 2,000 chariots and 10,000 men to fight in the battle of Qarqar in 853 B.c.
  • In the record of those defeated by the Assyrians are the names of Ahab, king of Israel, and Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, who appears in 1 Kings 20:33.

And that finishes the review of Episode 4.

Next, Meyer launches into Episode 5, “The Assyrian Invasion.” From Amazon:

This lesson examines the archaeological record of Sennacherib’s assault on Judah. Learn how the evidence backs up the Bible’s account of the defense of Jerusalem.

Historians do not doubt that about 2749 years ago invasions and conquests from nearby people threatened and ultimately brought an end to the dynasty of the Davidic kings. From all appearances, Meyer seeks only to demonstrate the Bible’s account jibes with history.

Hezekiah and Sennacherib

  • According to the book of 2 Kings, in approximately 732 B.C. the Assyrian Empire invaded the norther kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:3).
  • By ca. 722 B.C. Israel had been defeated, and King Hoshea had been taken captive (2 Kings 17:6).
  • In about 701 B.C., following the conquest of Israel, the Assyrians moved on to attack the kingdom of Judah, ruled by King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:13).
  • This culminated in a siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians. Under Sennacherib, however, the Assyrians failed to capture Jerusalem and returned to Nineveh (2 Kings 19:36; 2 Chronicles 32:21).

There is the Sennacherib Prism:

Sennacherib’s Annals are the annals of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. They are found inscribed on a number of artifacts, and the final versions were found in three clay prisms inscribed with the same text: the Taylor Prism is in the British Museum, the Oriental Institute Prism in the Oriental Institute of Chicago, and the Jerusalem Prism is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The Taylor Prism is one of the earliest cuneiform artifacts analysed in modern Assyriology, having been found a few years prior to the modern deciphering of cuneiform.

The annals themselves are notable for describing his siege of Jerusalem during the reign of king Hezekiah. This event is recorded in several books contained in the Bible including Isaiah chapters 33 and 36; 2 Kings 18:17; 2 Chronicles 32:9. The invasion is mentioned by Herodotus, who does not refer to Judea and says the invasion ended at Pelusium on the edge of the Nile delta.

Sennacherib (or Taylor) Prism

“As for Hezekiah,the Judean who did not submit to  my yoke, I Surrounded and conquered 46 of his strong-walled towns…by leveling with battering-rams and by bringing up siege-engines. 200,150 people…I brought away from them and counted as spoil.”

More conquests. Here is the Attack on Azekah.

Attack on Azekah

The Azekah inscription, ca. 701 B.C., describes the Assyrian attack of Sennacherib on the Judean stronghold of Azekah.

“I overwhelmed the district of Hezekiah of Judah…Azekah, his stronghold, which is located between my land and the land of Judah.”

The corresponding excerpt from 2 Kings relating to the event.

I will just quote from the bible:

2 Kings 18:13-17 King James Version (KJV)

13 Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.

14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.

15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king’s house.

16 At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.

17 And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field.

From 2 Chronicles 32:9-12

From BibleGatway.com:

2 Chronicles 32:9-12 King James Version (KJV)

After this did Sennacherib king of Assyria send his servants to Jerusalem, (but he himself laid siege against Lachish, and all his power with him,) unto Hezekiah king of Judah, and unto all Judah that were at Jerusalem, saying,

10 Thus saith Sennacherib king of Assyria, Whereon do ye trust, that ye abide in the siege in Jerusalem?

11 Doth not Hezekiah persuade you to give over yourselves to die by famine and by thirst, saying, The Lord our God shall deliver us out of the hand of the king of Assyria?

12 Hath not the same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall worship before one altar, and burn incense upon it?

The God of Abraham at this point intervened.

2 Kings 19:35-36:

2 Kings 19:35-36 King James Version (KJV)

35 And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.

But now the Sennacherib Prism is silent on the matter, and Meyer takes note of that silence, and for what reason? Is it possible Sennacherib was embarrassed by this miraculous defeat and left it unrecorded?

Conspicuous Silence

“He himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage…Fear of my lordly splendor overwhelmed that Hezekiah. The warriors and select troops he had brought in to strengthen his royal city Jerusalem, did not fight…

From the Sennacherib (or Taylor) Prism

When extra-biblical sources fail to mention the miracle, Meyer interprets it as an embarrassment for Sennacherib.

Meyer winds down Episode 5 by posting four competing hypotheses regarding the Old Testament narrative.

He will eventually cross out all but the one in the lower right, the “divinely inspired” hypothesis. Yes, the Bible is divinely inspired.

Episode 6 has the title “The Babylonian Conquest of Judah.”

From Amazon:

This lesson describes the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, thereby ending the Davidic monarchy. Due to Israel’s rebellion against God, He handed them over to their enemies to be taken into exile.

Here is what is interesting about the use of language. Whenever God fails to protect the Jews, it is because they displeased God, and God was punishing them. Whenever a miracle saved the Jews (185,000 dead enemy soldiers), then it was God intervening to  protect his chosen people.

The Babylonian Conquest of Jerusalem

  • Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Jehoiachin’s  uncle, Zedekiah, to be King. After nine years Zedekiah rebelled.
  • This rebellion ended in the summer of 587 B.C. when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem after a siege of over a year.
  • From 605BC-587BC [sic], all of the fortified cities of Judah fell to the Babylonians, and 3 kings of Judah either died or were captured.

Next Meyer invokes the Lachish Letters:

The Lachish Letters or Lachish Ostraca, sometimes called Hoshaiah Letters, are a series of letters written in carbon ink in Ancient Hebrew on clay ostraca. The letters were discovered at the excavations at Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir).

The ostraca were discovered by James Leslie Starkey in January–February, 1935 during the third campaign of the Wellcome excavations. They were published in 1938 by Harry Torczyner (name later changed to Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai) and have been much studied since then. Seventeen of them are currently located in the British Museum in London, a smaller number (including Letter 6) are on permanent display at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

The Lachish Letters

Letter 4 indicates Lachish and Azekah as among the last cities to be conquered.

Letter 4: “We are watching for the signal stations of Lachish, according to all the signals you are giving, because we cannot see the signals of Azekah.”

This is further confirmation to Meyer that the biblical account is historically correct.

From the biblical account:

Bullae from city of David

Jeremiah 36:10-12 King James Version (KJV)

10 Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the Lord‘s house, in the ears of all the people.

11 When Michaiah the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, had heard out of the book all the words of the Lord,

12 Then he went down into the king’s house, into the scribe’s chamber: and, lo, all the princes sat there, even Elishama the scribe, and Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, and Elnathan the son of Achbor, and Gemariah the son of Shaphan, and Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, and all the princes.

Additionally:

Jeremiah 36:22-24 King James Version (KJV)

22 Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him.

23 And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.

24 Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words.

Meyer highlights key words from the Bullae from the City of David.

Here is what is archaeologically significant:

Bullae from the First Temple period found in the City of David excavations

Shedding light on the bureaucracy and officials of ancient Jerusalem

A collection of seals (bullae) from the late First Temple period, discovered in the City of David excavations, shed light on the bureaucracy and officials of ancient Jerusalem

A collection of dozens of sealings, mentioning the names of officials dated to the days of the Judean kingdom prior to the Babylonian destruction, was unearthed during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David National Park in the area of the walls of Jerusalem, funded by the ELAD (El Ir David) organization.

The sealings (bullae- from which the Hebrew word for stamp, “bul”, is derived) are small pieces of clay which in ancient times served as seals for letters. A letter which arrived with its seal broken was a sign that the letter had been opened before reaching its destination. Although letters did not survive the horrible fire which consumed Jerusalem at its destruction, the seals, which were made of the abovementioned material that is similar to pottery, were actually well preserved thanks to the fire, and attest to the existence of the letters and their senders.

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “In the numerous excavations at the City of David, dozens of seals were unearthed, bearing witness to the developed administration of the city in the First Temple period. The earliest seals bear mostly a series of pictures; it appears that instead of writing the names of the clerks, symbols were used to show who the signatory was, or what he was sealing. In later stages of the period–from the time of King Hezekiah (around 700 BCE) and up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE–the seals bear the names of clerks in early Hebrew script. Through these findings, we learn not only about the developed administrative systems in the city, but also about the residents and those who served in the civil service.”

This is archaeological confirmation of this portion of the scripture. Meyer cites the biblical events confirmed, or at least not invalidated, by science.

Events in the Babylonian Conquest of Judah: Top Points of Agreement

  • Sometime after the appointment of Zedekiah the Babylonians completely destroy Jerusalem.
  • The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar took many Jews captive to Babylon.
  • Cyrus the Great, a Persian emperor, conquers Babylon in roughly 539 B.C.
  • Cyrus allows the Jews to return from Babylon.

What has happened is this. As Judaic scribes started recording events as they happened, the biblical text began to come more in line with the actual history. Gone were the absurdities of Genesis and Exodus, and gone also were such that Finkelstein and Silberman note in their book:

The first question was whether Moses could really have been the author of the Five Books of Moses, since the last book, Deuteronomy, described in great detail the precise time and circumstances of Moses’ own death.

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts (p. 11). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Meyer lists biblical persons identified in history.

Top Characters Attested: Great and Small

  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • Jehoiachin, king of Judah
  • Necho, king of Egypt
  • Cyrus the Great
  • Possibly Jeremiah, “the prophet”
  • Baruch, son  of Neriah
  • Yerame’el, son of the king
  • Elishama, servant of the king
  • Gemariah, servant of the king

Concluding Episode 6, Meyer makes an astounding assertion.

The Bible is true and accurate in all the things it records.

Particularly:

  • In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

    And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

  • 15 And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.16 And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the Lord shut him in.

    17 And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.

    18 And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.

    19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.

    20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

    21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:

    22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.

  • 21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
  • [Supposedly written by Moses]

    34 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lordshewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan,

    And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea,

    And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar.

    And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.

    So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.

    And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.

  • 18 Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof.19 And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

I am so glad Meyer can assure me everything in the Bible is true and accurate, because I am daily battered by a flood of facts to the contrary.

For Meyer that is the end of the Old Testament. He next launches into the New Testament and the story of Jesus, which story will cover the final four episodes. Episode 6 is titled, without surprise, “New Testament.” From Amazon:

Recent archaeological finds have unearthed mounds of evidence that are slowly bringing an end to Biblical skepticism. By looking at this evidence, studying the recent findings and corroborating the stories, we realize the accuracy of the New Testament.

I will likely summarize the final four episodes in the next (final) review. Keep reading.

Don’t cry for me, Venezuela

Previously

 

This classic drama is drawing to its logical outcome:

Relying on a populist base for support, while continuing to ignore some basic economic and human rights principles, the Maduro government has rudely extended the fantasy world of the late Hugo Chávez. In close parallel to the Castro regime in Cuba, the ideologically-based rule in Venezuela has sent the country’s economy into a downward spiral. Only Chávez, and now Maduro, haven’t had somebody like the former Soviet Union to prop them up. As with the failing Cuba, the staggering Venezuela has cast about for somebody to blame. A villain is needed. For such as Mr. Maduro there is always one close at hand.

Taking over from the deceased Hugo Chávez over four years ago, designated survivor Nicolás Maduro has extended the Chávez legacy, one might say with a vengeance. The election held on Sunday had the clear intent of settling power solidly in Maduro’s grasp. Prior to the vote Mr. Maduro’s opponents controlled the national assembly, and he is seeking to reverse that. But the outcome may not be to his liking. The New York Times reports:

But the powers of the new assembly members will be so vast that they could possibly remove Mr. Maduro from office, some analysts noted, ending a presidency that has been deeply unpopular, even among many leftists.

Chávez, rode a populist movement to power, opposing the oligarchical political structure then in place, an echo of Venezuela’s, and much of Latin America’s, colonial history. He embraced socialistic reforms, generally wrong-headed, which produced an inexorable inward folding of the country’s economy. As Maduro continued these policies the situation in the country reached unbearable, with necessities disappearing from store shelves and people digging into trash heaps for something to eat. A response has been street protests and many killed:

Headlines about ongoing violence in Venezuela are practically inescapable, with at least 123 people dead since opposition-led protests aimed at toppling the government began in early April.

In addition to those killed, hundreds have been injured in the protests.

Other regional governments are becoming increasingly concerned. Chávezista sentiment is  prevalent among many:

Bolivian President Evo Morales on Thursday slammed ongoing right-wing opposition protests in Venezuela, claiming they serve the interests of multinational elites looking to privatize the country’s oil resources.

Morales also said foreign and domestic attacks against President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution are intended to send a threatening message to anti-imperialist governments around the world.

“The plan of the empire is to overthrow the constitutional president elected by Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, as a warning to anti-imperialist governments,” Morales said.

“Any internal conspiracy or external intervention is intended to steal Venezuelan oil.”

Checking to see if there is any validity to the Evo conspiracy theory, I find this:

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez Friday “to address the dire situation in Venezuela,” as concern over U.S. interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs continues to grow.

In his phone conversation with Lopez, Pence praised “Mr. Lopez for his courage and outspoken defense of Venezuelan democracy,” according to the White House press statement.

A repressive government roiling an oil-rich country? The United States becomes suddenly aware? People at the top of our government weighing in and taking sides? Sanctions and what else under consideration? Where have we heard this before?

Disregarding Bolivia’s President Evo, there is a load of nonsupport for Maduro among countries south of the Rio Grande:

Eight Latin American nations, including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, have collectively denounced Venezuela’s “excessive use of force” against civilian protesters after the death toll from anti-government unrest in the country rose to 36.

The group of nations, also including Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay, condemned the increase in violence in the oil-producing country and urged its government to respect the human rights of its citizens.

Can we pull back a moment and see if other countries in the region will step up and work to quell this local brush fire? The drama will continue to play out, and there will be more. Keep reading.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

This week’s Quiz Question is a mixture of nostalgia, history, and language. Answer as many as you can. Post your answers in the comments section below.

  1. SNAFU is an acronym. What does it stand for?
  2. FUBAR is an acronym. What does it stand for?
  3. Where was Killroy?

Update and answers

These date back to the Second World War.

SNAFU (in dinner table language) stands for Situation Normal, All Fowled Up.

FUBAR stands for Fowled Up Beyond All Reason.

Killroy was always “here.” The simple drawing with the slogan, “Killroy was here,” adorned many a fighting vehicle and bunker of American forces.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

The topic for this week’s Quiz Question is famous quotes.

  1. Somebody first said famously, “There is no “there” there. Who said it first and what is it?
  2. When told that a certain person had died, the response was, “How can they tell?” Who died, and who said it?
  3. “If I owned half that dog I would kill my half.” Who said it?
  4. “It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” Who said it? What was the inspiration?
  5. “Veni, vidi, vici.” Who said it first? What does it mean?
  6. “She makes you want to burn every bed in the world.” Who said it.
  7. “I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.” Who said it? Not Churchill as I first thought.
  8. “Gott Mit Uns.” You know what it means. Where was it famously inscribed?
  9. “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.” May not be an actual quote, but what is the supposed origin?
  10. “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.” Who wrote that?

Update and answers

Readers should have know most or all of these.

  1. Gertrude Stein said this about Oakland, California.
  2. Dorothy Parker, when told that Calvin  Coolidge had died, famously asked, “How can they tell?”
  3. Actually what Mark Twain said was, “If I owned half that dog, I would shoot my half.”
  4. The fat lady is the archetypal soprano in a Wagnerian opera. The opera is not over until the fat lady sings. Yogi Berra is alleged to have said it as a way of explaining when the game is over. Actually, he never  attended an opera in  his life, and it is most likely Sam Goldwyn said it first.
  5. Supposedly Julius Caesar said, in Latin, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
  6. H.L. Mencken said this on admiring a grotesque sample of the opposite sex.
  7. Legendary trial lawyer Clarence Darrow said that.
  8. The Nazi storm troopers who ravaged a conquered Europe, raping, looting, and killing, wore belt buckles with the inscription, in German, “God [is] with us.”
  9. This was supposedly discovered inscribed on a wall in one of the Nazi death camps after liberation.
  10. Nobel Prize-winning  poet Bob Dylan provided this thought in his song Talkin’ World War III. I use it from time to time.

Politicians Acting Foolishly

Number 2 in a series

Twenty-one months ago I made this ridiculous promise:

This comes around with such regularity I’m going to create a recurrent series of posts. Where do I start? I will go back a few years, back four years even…

And I did go back four years to then Congressman Anthony Weiner, who, until June 2011, represented New York’s 9th congressional district. What got him excused from politics was his propensity of exhibiting less than interesting body parts on the Internet. People picked up on the last name.

So, I’m late getting back to the matter of politicians acting foolishly. I can’t imagine what took me so long. Here is round number 2, this time with my favorite American governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey. Although he is my favorite governor, his popularity is currently polling about 15%. We have to wonder why. Here is the most recent.

Consider his public persona. The man definitely has a way with public image. I caught the story on yesterday’s edition of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir, courtesy of Hulu.

Yes, the governor got onto a radio program, which he co-hosts, and for no apparent reason a bunch of people wanted to talk about stuff that happened last week. New Jersey reached a budget impasse, and, lacking a budget, the Governor closed public parks, including beaches. Then he and his family ensconced themselves upon one of said beaches. And got their picture took.

On the radio the Governor started taking calls from listeners. “Mike in Montclair” had some choice words:

Governor, next time you want to sit on a beach that is closed to  the entire world except you… You put your fat ass in  a car… and go to one that’s open.

Whoa! Somebody is displeased. The Governor’s response was classic Christie:

You know, Mike, I love getting calls from communists in Montclair.

Communist? How long has it been since I heard that comeback? Fifty years at least. Mike believes he’s being bullied.

Apparently the Governor sees the error of his ways and knows he needs to make a final effort to show grace and to save the situation. He does it with style.

You know, you’re swearing on the air, Mike, and you’re a bum!

With an exclamation mark.

Irony upon irony. ABC reporter David Wright reports the story with the George Washington Bridge in the background.

It was somewhat over three years ago I first visited the topic:

Concerns were raised that the New Jersey’s Republican state government had rigged a phony traffic study just to create havoc for Fort Lee residents, this in payback because the town’s Democratic mayor had declined to endorse Governor Chris Christie’s re-election.

Placing traffic cones at the George Washington Bridge.

Additional irony. Last year on a family outing with Barbara Jean, we were skirting the Big Apple, trying to get to Rhode Island. I perked up when I realized I was about to drive through the place pictured above. The irony faded somewhat when they charged me $15 to drive the Camry across. But thanks to Governor Christie, I got some of it back in chuckles.

Race To The Bottom

It was long ago, maybe 150 years, they started calling it. The United States of America had seen 15, and  then with the death of Abraham Lincoln 16, presidents come and go. Some outstanding, many mediocre. George Washington seemed to be everybody’s favorite. For some reason Andrew Jackson scored highly. Millard Fillmore was tops in mediocrity. But 150 years ago one stood out. James Buchanan ranked the lowest. Absolutely the worst president of all.

Until this year.

Reporter and author Garry Boulard published The Worst President in 2015, prior to the ascendancy of Donald Trump. To summarize, James Buchanan politicked 40 years to acquire the presidency and then took another four to destroy the office. What James Buchanan accomplished in four years, President Donald Trump put to shade within his first 100 days. We are going to hope Trump’s is a record that will stand for a thousand years.

Boulard’s dissection of the 15th president is neat and nearly surgical. He recounts Buchanan’s early years and his rise to prominence and then catalogs the fumble upon fumble that marked his term in office. And that’s all I’m going to do. There is some interesting stuff about Buchanan’s early times, and then I will sketch four highlights of his presidency.

To start:

When Buchanan was born, George Washington had been president for only 24 months. The U.S. Supreme Court had convened for the very first time the year before. There was no telegraph, no train, no Library of Congress, no Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Texas or California. There wasn’t even a New York Times.

But there was Pennsylvania, celebrating its third year as a state when Buchanan came to life in the tiny, forested Cove Gap, near the Maryland border, on April 23, 1791.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 447-451). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Tragedy struck early for young James. He became engaged to Anne Coleman, of a wealthy family, but after a friend suggested the proposed marriage was driven by money, she saw no honorable way out, and she killed herself. Buchanan never married, the only president who never did. Already in politics, he clawed his way up, always seeming to be in the know of the people who counted. Some of his rise was actually based on merit:

But his bachelorhood in a country that revered family never really hurt him as he rose in the ranks, mostly out of public view, serving as Andrew Jackson’s Minister to Russia in the early 1830s, James Polk’s Secretary of State in the mid-1840s and Franklin Pierce’s Minister to Great Britain in the mid-1850s.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 286-289). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Compared to other presidents of the time, his foreign policy experience was possibly unmatched. His term in office, however, was marked by episodes without compare up to that point. Here are six:

Kansas

Slavery was the big issue of those years preceding the Civil War. The United States, seemingly founded on human liberty, codified human slavery within its constitution. It quickly developed that the Southern economy depended on the cheap (free?) labor of slaves, and that drove the politics of the region. As new states were added to  the Union, especially states that could pass as southern, it was important for southerners to maintain a balance of power in Congress by admitting these states as “slave states.” Slavery would be legal in those states. Kansas was the flash point.

Blood had already been shed in the Kansas Territory when Buchanan came to power, a Democrat and a proponent of legal slavery. His solution to the Kansas problem was ambiguous to say the least. He proposed the people of Kansas should determine for themselves whether it would be a slave state,  then he worked the machinery to ensure it would be.

First he appointed his old friend Robert J. Walker, to be the territorial governor during the admission process. This was after much cajoling, because Walker did not want the job and declined multiple entreaties from Buchanan, some in writing. The problem was, once Walker became ensconced in the position, he proceeded to carry out Buchanan’s promise of impartiality. Buchanan immediately came under pressure from slavery advocates and caved with great public notice:

Whatever doubts Buchanan may still have had regarding Walker were probably finally resolved eight days later when his long-time trusted adviser Robert Tyler bluntly urged him to remove Walker “without hesitation.”

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 941-942). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Dred Scott

Scott was an escaped slave who sued in court for his freedom. The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, ruled that slavery was, in fact, legal, and Scott’s petition was denied. President Buchanan gained additional notoriety by interfering with the process:

Bumptiously inserting himself into the preliminary deliberations of the court, Buchanan had not only corresponded with Catron on the matter, but also Associate Justice Robert Grier, pushing him to join the Southern majority. Grier, of Pennsylvania, was uncomfortable going against the wishes of the president-elect of his own state and may have felt additional pressure recalling that he held his seat primarily because Buchanan had declined an earlier nomination from President Polk to the

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 808-811). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Cuba

The United States was not to acquire the island of Cuba for another 50 years, but expansionist elements already had an eye in that direction. There were plans to purchase Cuba from mother Spain, plans which did not involve what is commonly considered to be a purchase:

The task of advancing the President’s Cuban proposal in the Senate fell to the durable John Slidell, a long-standing devotee of invading the island nation. Brandishing charts and maps, Slidell, beginning in January 1859, championed legislation that would give Buchanan $30 million to be used in the acquisition of Cuba. Slidell imaginatively argued that the purchase of Cuba was a natural outgrowth of American expansionism. The “law of our national existence is a growth we cannot disobey,” he exclaimed, telling his colleagues that as Britain was in India, and France was in Africa, the U.S. should be in Cuba.

It wasn’t just Slidell who swung into action on this one. To Buchanan’s pleasure, his pals came out of the woodwork in favor of his proposal.

“If Spain be indisposed to sell, I would seize Cuba,” Mississippi Senator Aaron Brown told an enthusiastic gathering of Tammany Hall Democrats in New York. Brown went on to note that the U.S. had tried to negotiate before with Spanish officials over Cuba—always unsuccessfully. “I have grown weary of this thing, of having young, proud, glorious America knocking at the door of Spain and asking for admission. It is our policy not to ask justice, but to demand it, because it is our right.”

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 1099-1109). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

L’affaire Sickles

This was a nasty bit of business:

Sickles’ victim was Philip Barton Key, the District Attorney of Washington and son of Francis Scott Key, author of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Sickles accused Key of having an affair with his attractive 22 year-old wife Teresa. He shot him three times, resulting in the District Attorney’s instant death and Sickles’ arrest later that afternoon. Buchanan was told of the shooting within minutes by a breathless White House page named John Bonitz who witnessed the killing.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 1138-1142). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

The President of the United States gave this witness, John Bonitz, a bundle of money and advice to get out of town. This was doubly mysterious, since there were numerous other eye witnesses who came forward and testified against Sickles, a very good friend of the President’s. With the President’s additional meddling, along with the code of honor prevailing in those days, Sickles got off and served his country many years following.

The Crittenden Proposal

Perhaps no motion more dipped in human depravity ever came before the United States Government than the so-called Crittenden Proposal. The Democratic Party of those days was the party of slavery, and the newly launched Republican Party had in its plank the elimination of slavery. As the election of 1860 approached, it became evident the Republicans had the odds on at winning the presidency, with Abraham Lincoln, an acknowledged opponent of slavery, at the helm. Southerners saw no recourse but to secede from the Union in that event, and Buchanan saw the need to forestall secession. His solution involved throwing human rights to the wolves, and the Crittenden Proposal was emblematic:

No stranger to tackling thorny challenges, the 73 year-old Crittenden had served as President Millard Fillmore’s attorney general, painstakingly helping to broker the famous Compromise of 1850 which recognized Southern slavery, admitted California as a free state and organized the Utah and New Mexico territories with no restrictions on slavery. Now Crittenden visited the White House and told Buchanan that he thought he could make magic happen again, a magic that would rob secession of its purpose through the adoption of a series of amendments to the Constitution.

Those amendments would primarily prevent Congress from abolishing slavery where it existed; require that slave owners be compensated whenever fugitive slaves were harbored by abolitionists; prohibit slavery north of the Missouri Compromise line and protect slavery in territories south of that line. A final Crittenden proposal would lock it all in by declaring that none of the above amendments could be changed by subsequent amendment.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 2113-2120). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

The Civil War

Buchanan is best noted for his inability, or his unwillingness, to avoid civil war. A pronouncement of his is one that will live in infamy:

On December 3, drawing heavily on Black’s opinion, Buchanan declared in his annual message to Congress that while it was certainly unconstitutional for any state to leave the union, if one did, there really wasn’t much he could do about it.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 91-93). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

This followed the secession of South Carolina and came a few months preceding the onset of armed conflict. The result was 785,000–1,000,000+ dead within the following  four and a half years. We can only hope that President Trump succeeds only in continuing to make himself and the rest of us look foolish and will keep his finger off the launch button.

This is the place where I point out curiosities found in my edition. Emphasis added:

  • Multiple ways of spelling Buchanan. It’s Buchannan in three places.
  • That he now claimed to have summarily rejected the offer, and even went so far as to call it an insult, rang hallow.

    Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 1536-1537). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

  • When, on the next day, that move was was completed,

    Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Location 1982). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.