The argument from fictitious history

"I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know! Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar." - Proverbs 30:3-6


In many ways I consider this the chapter in the thesis with the strongest argument for the non-existence of Yahweh. The objective of Chapter 7 in the thesis is straightforward enough: "There is simply no getting around the fact that, if it can be demonstrated that the stories witnessing to such supposed divine acts and guidance are fictitious and the events depicted therein never occurred as presented, all grounds for realism disappear. If the history of Yahweh's acts in the world had no corresponding extra-textual counterparts, it follows that neither does the god Yahweh-as-thus-depicted." And once again I agree with the basic argument that if it can be shown that the history as recorded in the Bible is fictitious, all grounds for realism with regards to the existence of Yahweh disappear.

Before continuing with the arguments of the thesis itself, let me in this anti-thesis lay out how I believe archaeology should inform our approach to textual artefacts (of which the Bible is simply one example). Other Ancient Near East (ANE) texts can be used to determine the actual genre of the specific book. This will prevent us from comparing the Bible to modern history books, but rather allow us to read it in its natural ANE setting. If the T"anach is considered in this context, it becomes clear that most ANE "history" included references to deities. Both as justification for various acts of the rulers, but also as an explanation for the outcome of the various events. But in general, this does not prevent the unbiased archaeologist/historian from using them as source material for determining what actually happened. If the text claims to record real history (true events), the claims are compared with other known facts and with any material remains, as far as possible. If there are no conflicting accounts, in general the historical claims are accepted on face value as true, keeping in mind the fact that it might only be a half-truth for propagandistic purposes. Where more than one source exist, describing the same event, the facts as presented in the different texts are harmonized as far as possible. Obvious hyperbole can usually be identified easily in this way. Where there are contradictions between the sources and more than 2 sources exist, the majority most likely describe the true events. But in general, texts are read fairly, both critically to identify any biases and sympathetically in the sense that it is given the benefit of the doubt if there are no contradictory evidence. I would suggest that the Bible should be approached in the same way when evaluating those books that claim to present historical events. It is important to note here that the inspiration of the Bible is not the basis for this approach (since none of the other ANE texts are considered as inspired), but rather that for historical purposes, the Bible should be treated the same as any other textual source from the ANE. Also, as was already mentioned in Chapter 2, ANE texts were usually updated when copied by later scribes. This included updating the language to more modern forms and modern words and frequently updating place-names with the "modern" name of the same place, sometimes as an explanatory note, but often as a simple replacement of the old name by the new. Many so-called anachronisms are therefore simply the result of scribal updates to the text.

Arguments against historicity

From the thesis p.280: "There is a general consensus among critical scholars that the actual history of Old Testament times is not the same as what an uncritical surface reading of the biblical texts may impress one with (cf. Thompson 1998:02). In addition, the amount of scholarly literature dealing with the critical reconstruction of the possible historical realities behind the Old Testament texts is staggering." What should be kept in mind is that most of this "scholarly literature" is based on the theories of Welhausen and co. who worked without any external constraints when creating their speculations from thin air on how the Old Testament texts was written. They did not know that the tabernacle as described in the Torah corresponded in plan and technology to that of second millennium BC Egyptian usage as shown by archaeology, so they could easily claim it never existed and was only the literary creation of later, first millennium BC writers. They did not even know that alphabetical writing already existed at the time of Moses for centuries! They did not know that the ANE treaty/covenant formats changed over the centuries and that the format found in the Torah and Joshua corresponds with that of the late second millennium BC and not with that of Iron Age first millennium BC. If you reject the value of the Biblical texts as written for historical purposes, of course you are free to let your imagination roam and create all kinds of critical reconstructions of the "possible historical realities". The fact that there are so many alternative theories and "histories" of this kind, counts against it as being a convincing argument rather than for it. After all, if there was a good, fact-based alternative history to that given in the Hebrew bible, would that not have become the dominant view? The fact that the devil's advocate does not even attempt something like this (while archaeologists have done just that for Mesopotamia, the Hittites and Egypt without the use of the Bible) shows how little confidence he truly have in these "alternative histories".

Intra-textual contradictions?

Before considering the long list of examples that Dr. Gericke provides, just a number of observations. 1. The ancient Hebrews did not always (or even usually) tell a story in chronological order, but rather in topical order (things that logically, even if not chronologically, fit together, are grouped together.). Does this really mean that the facts recounted are any less reliable? Only if you expected a chronological order in the first place! As much as Dr. Gericke would down-play the importance of the different mind-sets between the Greek (and Western) mindset and the ancient Hebrew mindset, this difference is important for understanding the structure of Hebrew narration (this is even true in the New Testament gospels). 2. Instead of our typical expectation of a story building up to a climax (chronologically) to be followed by a short conclusion ("happily ever after"), the ancient Hebrews expected and made use of Chiastic structure throughout, with the "crux" of the narrative in the middle rather than at the end. This structure does not necessarily entail that the facts recounted did not happen, even if they did not happen in the order in which they are narrated. 3. As was said in Chapter 2, a combination of prose and poetry where the same event is described in both ways and the one could include details not found in the other, was normal ANE usage. Given our current knowledge of ANE literature, this common usage can no longer legitimately be considered as evidence for multiple sources.

The list of alleged contradictions:

Cosmographical fiction?

The impossible narrator?

Numerical absurdities

Chronological schematisation

Mythological motifs?

Alleged archaeological falsification

Anachronisms in the text

Intrusive literary constructs?

Etiological ideology?

Typological constructions?

Misinterpretation of natural and social phenomena?

Retrojective ideological projections?

Scientific absurdities?

Historical errors?


Next: Chapter 4