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Bible Problems to Ponder

Virtually everybody who attends a mainline seminary learns facts about the Bible that will rarely, if ever, be shared with the typical congregation.   Ministers are generally reluctant to talk about how the Bible was largely shaped by  geopolitical facts on the ground.  Perhaps the lack of discussion about problems with the Bible is an example of the attitude expressed in that famous line from the film “A Few Good Men,” when Jack Nicholson’s character shouts, “You can’t handle the truth.”

When I was working in churches, I too, never really shared what I had learned about the Bible.  Here are just a few examples of some difficult realities that believers should probably know about:

  • There is basically no archaeological evidence at all to show that the Exodus event ever happened.  Most of the evidence actually suggests that the Israelites were  Canaanites all along.  All those marvelous images we have from the movie “The Ten Commandments”?–forget about them.  It’s all fiction.  And there was no conquest of the land as depicted in Joshua and Judges. These stories are most likely national creation myths written down in the late 7th century BCE, to support King Josiah’s plan for national unification and expansion.
  • There is also no evidence that either David or Solomon ruled over a great kingdom.   If David did exist, he was probably a minor tribal chieftain and not a commander of vast armies.   The temple of King Solomon was supposed to have been one of the grandest edifices in the ancient world, yet none of its remnants have ever been found–and not for lack of trying.
  • Jesus, as depicted in the gospels, gets more than a few things wrong, and that’s problematic if he’s supposed to be fully divine.   He was an intensely apocalyptic preacher who clearly expected the end-times to happen very soon.  See, especially,  the thirteenth chapter of Mark, where Jesus predicts the darkening of the sun and the moon, the stars falling from the sky and the “Son of Man” coming in glory within the lifetime of those hearing his words.   Obviously, the prediction did not come true.
  • Paul’s letters predate the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life by many years.  Yet Paul does not reference the teachings or miracles of Jesus.  When Paul talks about Jesus’ resurrection he does not mention a bodily resurrection, an empty tomb, or many of the other details we associate with the Easter story.

Well, this is just the beginning of the problems to grapple with.  And none of the items mentioned above are some kind of fringe position.   This is all part of mainstream biblical scholarship.  But it’s not widely known or discussed in churches.

I only have a vague notion of who reads this blog.  But I would be interested to know a couple things:  If you are a believer, how do you deal with the numerous historical and archaeological problems in the Bible?   And if they don’t impact your faith, why is that?  If you are a freethinker, do you ever engage your believing friends on these issues?  If so, what do they say?

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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  1. Jesus
    May 22, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    Mike Aus, I love your blog and I’m always surprised there aren’t more people who comment on it.

    I myself don’t believe the bible is anything more than a mutilated and evolved historical document, and I’m aware of the arguments you just made against the historical accuracy of the stories in it. Unfortunately, and probably as you’d expect, when I relate these facts to believers, the response is typically a mixture of disbelief of me and some wild attempt to explain. For example, many Christians seem to think that Jesus wasn’t wrong, there’s just still some poor man wandering the Earth, undying, waiting for Jesus’s return.

  2. krissthesexyatheist
    May 23, 2012 at 12:54 am

    First time here and I’am on Team Atheist. It seems to me that the peeps that know this kinda info is…Team Atheist. The average lay believer would never question their beliefs on such important “facts” like did Adam and Eve even exist, when was the first gospel written, what about all the gospels that did not make it into the final “edition (i.e. gospel of judas and Mary Madeleine), was JC born on December 25th (cause that is winter, bro), etc etc etc…For sure the biblical scholars know about this stuffs, and for sure Team Atheist knows about this (that is why we chose Team Atheist), but very few lay Christian believers know about this stuff, much less have the capacity to even question. Period.

    Awesome sauce, great work, yo,

    Kriss

  3. C. John Stutzer
    May 23, 2012 at 1:16 am

    Having been both (that is, having accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, and baptized in the local lake as a youth & then finding the Lord Jesus Christ and the local Baptist minister sadly lacking when my mother died of cancer while yet a teen) my viewpoints exist from two entirely different places of “knowing”.

    As a believer, as a youth, I accepted it all as a literal truth – as revealed by my pastor. The few times I questioned something odd in the Bible, the pastor explained that I lacked faith, and he & the Deacons needed to pray over me.

    During those transitional years, the ones where I still tried to benefit from attending church, but finding the literal truthfulness impossible to accept, I explained to myself that belonging to a social group with high moral values outweighed the lies we had to tell and accept.

    Then, I came to the point where I am today, that if a lie is the basis for a group’s existence, then it is an immoral group.

    I do not waste my time discussing where I am in my views of ANY formal religion with the “True Believers” – it is a Fool’s Errand. Circular reasoning and shouts of “Heresy!” drown any attempts at insight.

    But I tell you this: The best communion service I ever attended wasn’t called that – it was when I ate dinner in a VFW hall with several hundred people over the course of weeks while we fought the flood on the Mississippi in 1993. We appreciated each other, the power of Nature, and looked forward to the unknowable of the next day.There were Baptists and Catholics and Jews and Hindi and Athiests – Republicans and Democrats (and I suspect a few closet Communists) – young and old and rich and poor. What we were doing was Holy and the brand of faith didn’t matter. We all witnessed horrors and miracles, we all achieved what none of us thought possible.

    I’d rather not debate or “engage in meaningful discourse”, and just find and keep the way of a Good Life – with friends.

  4. Matthew Comley
    May 23, 2012 at 1:47 am

    Im a “freethinker” if you will and raised in the church My best friend and I follow
    Your blog. When we challenge or ask believers we receive nonsense answers about blind faith and how my lack of faith will send me to Hell.

  5. Julia
    May 23, 2012 at 3:11 am

    Regarding the Isrealites being Caananites, I’m a little confused. Were the Jews never slaves then?

    As for what I believe. I had no doubts that there is a creator/God out there. I believe that athiests annoy me as much as Bible literalists do. As sure as death and taxes, we can be sure of two other things: we don’t know everything and we never will.

    I’m sure that stories in the bible run the gamut of being made up, exaggerated to factual. I believe that the only reason Christianity is so wide spread is because Christians know very little about their own faith. They know what they’ve been told. They aren’t going to look up facts. They aren’t going to take the time to read the bible and certainly aren’t going to go back and read the original text in Hebrew or Aramic. So they remain blissfully ignorant.

    However, I won’t let that change my views on God. I don’t know where Jesus fits in to my faith honestly. He sounds like he was a great man and probably would have been an open minded person who would have befriended anyone. VERY unlike the Christians who follow him.

    What I can NOT wrap my mind around is the Trinity. Pastor maybe you can help me? Christians will say they worship Jesus. Jesus is their savior. In fact many prefer using the name Jesus over God. Yet in the bible Jesus clearly refers to God as his father, over and over and over. So how can Christians say Jesus and God are the same when Jesus didn’t even say that? Is a man the same person as his father? Of course not. In the book of Mark when the people asked Jesus what the most important commandment is, he says to worship God, not worship me.
    So why do Christians worship Jesus?

  6. May 23, 2012 at 4:19 am

    Wonderful post. You raise many objections/questions that the common religious adherent never even thinks of considering.

  7. Chris Breman
    May 23, 2012 at 7:47 am

    I grew up fundie, found out that the xtian solutions didn’t work at all, escaped from my parent’s church and was never able to heal the breach in my family, gave it up in the end. So I’m interested other people who work out that they need to abandon religion.

  8. Robert Ballard
    May 23, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    If theist do not believe in evolution with all the evedence it has how can we expect them to believe what you are saying. all they need is blind faith. I bet they would say that god did it that way to test thier faith.

  9. adtz
    May 23, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Well I grew up agnostic (really apathetic – didn’t know, didn’t care) and joined a church as an experiment in my 30’s. Been in and out of the liberal side of the church for 20 years. Very, very different than the experiences I’ve heard on the ‘fundie’ side of the coin. While I am, at best, a deist or loose agnostic, there appears to be value in the church experience.

    I agree, however, that asking believers these questions is, at best, amusing, if you enjoy contorted logic. Given an a priori belief in God and the ‘correctness’ of the Bible, any questions will assume that and give a response based on it. This approach is the single biggest incompatibility with scientific thought and is the root cause of many of the issues involved. This is ‘faith’ i.e. I believe it because I believe it.

    @Julia – there is no historical evidence that the ancient Jews came from Egypt after the other ‘Canaanites’. Current thinking shows that they arose from the same groups and simply conquered or merged with the tribes around them. However, the Semitic languages do have roots in common with Ethiopian languages, so that might have come from Africa at some point – however, that includes *all* of the tribes in that language groups, including the ones who were attacked in the Biblical stories by the proto-Jewish nation(s).

    For an interesting take on this, read “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright.

  10. kimsac
    May 23, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    I was lucky enough to grow up with liberal parents who always taught me that the bible is not to be taken literally. My father is a biblical scholar and would tell us these inaccuracies all the time. He was fired from a conservative seminary as a result of his views and at one time considered himself an atheist. He was constantly frustrated with fundamentalists because of their inability to see reason and he basically told me not to even bother engaging in contradictory conversation with those folks. Somehow he has been able to hang on to his faith despite all of this whereas I have lost it. I DO like understanding the facts/history behind the bible and Christianity for two reasons. First, it reinforces/reaffirms my doubts about xtianity I felt all along and helps solidify my somewhat mushy but growing agnosticism. It also gives me “ammunition” to speak intelligently when such conversations arise. So keep informing us pagan preacher!

  11. Kevin
    May 28, 2012 at 5:37 am

    I just happened to stumble upon your blog. Looking at a few posts, it looks great! I admire the courage that it takes to be a gadfly.

    It is true that as a seminary student I have looked at these issues (and many more). However, it is my contention that the degree of certainty that you espouse is quite separate from the reality of the matter.

    After all, one’s justification for his or her beliefs comes on a continuum. And I think most would agree that a dogmatic atheist is no way intellectually superior to a dogmatic theist.

    So in order to further promote discussion, I thought I might ask how certain you are of the veracity of your claims. Preliminarily, it might be helpful to quantify them. Where does each of your four points fit on this continuum of justification? For example, perhaps you might say that you have a 90 percent certainty that the Exodus event did not happen.

    I look forward to hearing back!

  12. Floyd
    June 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I have wrestled with faith all of my life. I was pushed unwillingly into Church as a young man all the while going through terrible experiences in my childhood. I watched as my sister was boiled from the waist down, but went to Church on Sundays. Sundays were great. I had to get up early thus not sleeping in on my (1 of 2) days a week I could. I ate breakfast and waited for the Church van to come and get me so I could be ridiculed my the older kids on the way there. Then we would get to Church and do the weekly same thing over and over again and listen to how this White hippy with blue eyes and a light tan would walk with some lambs and talk to the kids.

    After those 2 hours we were then forced to go to the main sermon with the congregation and try like hell not too fall asleep. Because if you did, ohhhh man!

    Well after I grew up I stayed out of the Church but it was always impressed within me and I always wanted to go back but never really did. However I moved to TX, met my wife and she introduced me too someone you know quite well and bamn! I was baptized and back in Church on Sundays. However I would start to drift off because my Church had the worst music I have ever heard – Couple of Associate Pastors that were not lets say the best speakers. And frankly I really started dreading getting up on Sundays (again 1 of 2 days I have a chance to sleep in) and going to Church. It was more of a routine then a heart felt or cleansing experience.

    But I go a long way of asking a question – I could never swallow the story of Judas Iscariot. Why would GOD allow any Man to be in that situation? Why did Judas have to be labeled the betrayer of the Son of Man? How could GOD let someone carry that type of burden? To me that is as bad as the cross should GOD be GOD and Jesus be the True Messiah. No Man would surely be able to handle that type of guilt and sorrow. And my real question here to believers if there are any here or anyone. If you take the story as true and literal and that there is a GOD and Jesus was his true son and GOD was in human form – Did GOD forgive Judas for betraying him? If he did is that mentioned in the Bible? Because it sounded like Judas hit a rough patch after the betrayal and died a horrible death. I would figure there would be a big section to discuss Judas and forgiveness.

    My other glitch is the following:

    The Bible says turn the other cheek, but that I also need to forgive. Well isnt turning the other cheek really walking away without “any” actions other than you walking away? However I am supposed to forgive and wrath is only for GOD?

    Religon to me is like the IRS – It gives me a problem that took forever to write, comes in a large book that is really hard to read and makes no sense half of the time, AND if I get it wrong I end up in a Hell (prison).

  13. June 7, 2012 at 1:07 am

    Floyd,
    Lots good thoughts here. Thanks for sharing. Really you bring up too much to respond to in a brief reply, and I hope to pick up some of your questions in future posts. But I would like to address the Judas issue. It’s a huge conundrum for folks who “believe” the Bible. First of all, there is a discrepancy in the New Testament over how Judas died. According to Matthew 27 he hanged himself. But in Acts 1 he apparently threw himself down and somehow disembowled himself. Fundamentalists get around this one by claiming that he hung himself, the rope subsequently fell to the ground and that’s when the disembowlment happened. At any rate, it seems strange that different books of the New Testament can’t even agree on this detail.

    But you’re right. If the execution of Jesus was necessary for atonement, then Judas was an instrument of salvation rather than an evil betrayer. So then how could he be considered culpable for committing an act that was essential in the economy of salvation? I don’t get it either.

    Thanks for the comments. I look forward to more conversation.

  14. Constantly Searching
    June 11, 2012 at 3:17 am

    I am generally a blog lurker, rarely responding, but I’m compelled to respond now. Not because I’m a great thinker like you and many of your readers, but because several years ago, I visited a church in Katy, TX where you spoke about the reasons Atheists attend church and referenced a letter written to the Houston Chronicle. If you remember that sermon, then you likely know that it resonated with me because as I said, it was years ago. Your notion of acceptance moved me so much, that I think of it VERY often. So I feel safe to speak up here. A few churches later, I went on to join that particular church where I am still a member today.

    I’m an extremely alternative Christian (w/ small portions of Buddhism & Kabbalah woven in there) – I think that I’m in a similar place as you were when you began your journey (per the MSNBC interview). I believe in….. pockets. I draw overly simplistic parallels that make me able to move forward with this faith. (for example, turning the other cheek = Karma & positive energy out = positive energy in) I find the bible to be mostly confusing (having actually read it and attended hours and hours of bible study in hopes of catching up from my Catholic childhood where the bible was not to be read by the average person). The virgin birth, the Trinity, the plagues, Noah and his Arc, the resurrection, and the entire chapter of Revelations are all downright confusing. I have lots of questions and I generally don’t engage in conversations with the general public because I’m so unclear, but I once spoke up in a bible study to say that I believe that heaven and hell exist here on earth and that we enter and exit freely depending largely on our own actions / reactions / coping skills. I should’ve mentioned that at the time I voiced this opinion I was mostly among 60+ year old ELCAs who grew up believing in pearly gates and a fire-filled hell found beneath the earth’s surface. And while many gasped at my admission, I was equally shocked to uncover the pastor believed as I did.

    I think that I’m still in the Christian church because I’m fear driven (which is oftentimes the source of my hell on earth) and think if for some reason I just happen to be wrong, then I’d be better off on the believer side. I’m sure, then, you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve read the confusing revelations chapter to my children because, after all, it said that I would be blessed for reading it aloud and who ever heard it would be blessed. Did I understand what I was reading? No. Did I feel silly for reading it? Yes. Better safe than sorry, right?

  15. John Stutzer
    June 15, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    @ Constantly Searching;
    “I think that I’m still in the Christian church because I’m fear driven (which is oftentimes the source of my hell on earth) and think if for some reason I just happen to be wrong, then I’d be better off on the believer side. I’m sure, then, you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve read the confusing revelations chapter to my children because, after all, it said that I would be blessed for reading it aloud and who ever heard it would be blessed. Did I understand what I was reading? No. Did I feel silly for reading it? Yes. Better safe than sorry, right?”

    Oh, WOW. That so precisely describes what I perceived in others attending the church of my childhood – and is what motivated me to dig down to the truth.

    To live in fear – to act on others because of those fears – I can’t say anything else, I lack the words.

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