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.
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendents I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:18-21)
These words have probably caused more problems for the course of human history than any other single Bible passage. It’s a prime example of how the Bible continues to poison our national discourse and adversely impact the lives of millions. Because of this passage…
–The Unites States spends more money on military aid to Israel than any other nation. Your tax dollars at work!
–American politicians–including many running for president right now–feel compelled to out-do each other in their vociferous support for Israel, no matter what, no matter the cost, no matter the consequences.
–Humans continue to be slaughtered because of differing interpretations of this passage. A case in point would be the outbreak of hostilities along the Gaza border in the past couple days.
Of course for American evangelicals the significance of Genesis 15 goes beyond the Jews’ ancient claim on the land. Many Christians see the establishment of modern Israel–along with Jewish control of Jerusalem–as a necessary precursor to the second coming of Jesus.
And why does a tiny nation of some 7 million people have such disproportionate influence on American foreign policy, domestic politics, and budget priorities? All because an ancient, mythical nomad once heard the voice of a deity give the land to Abraham’s descendents in perpetuity. Does this make any sense at all?
Certainly one could make rational arguments for supporting Israel without saying, “for the Bible tells me so.” Israel is, after all, a rare democracy in a part of the world dominated by authoritarian governments. But for god’s sake, leave god out of it. Religion should have no influence whatsoever on how our government responds to geopolitical realities.