The Weekly Roundup – 4.12.19

“Mark, wanting to make a theological point, locates the event in a place whose name is associated with casting out demons – the language, as Marcus points out, does kinda support this. This strengthens the exorcism theme of the pericope– seems legit. A few years later, Matthew, using Mark as a source for his own gospel, either misses Mark’s theological point or wants to achieve something else with his text and attempts to “correct” the event’s location. He deals with a remaining issue by locating the herd “some distance away” rather than on the hillside next to the lake. Around 150 years later Origen comes along, and, knowing that Matthew’s attempted fix isn’t watertight, relocates the event to Gergasa based on what is probably an ancient tradition.” – @bibhistctxt

  • Last month @MiraScriptura interviewed biblical scholar Tzemah Yoreh on topics including the Supplementary Hypothesis, his academic work (the guy is working on a second PhD), New Testament source criticism (i.e. the Synoptic Problem), and more. @MiraScriptura utilizes Yoreh’s website when working on his mirror reading material and so I know that he was excited to get to interview him!
  • @Bibhistctxt wrote a piece covering the geographic issues inherent to both the Markan and Matthean versions of the exorcism of Legion (Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34). The central issue is over the location of Gerasa (Mark) and Gadara (Matthew) and their relationship to the Sea of Galilee. The portrait painted in Mark is that the exorcism happens on the shores of the Sea such that when the demon-possessed pigs rush off the cliff they don’t have to run very far. Matthew apparently recognized this problem in Mark and changed the town to Gadara but even this doesn’t help as much as you’d think. And then there are textual variants and interpretations of early Christian writers! It’s a freakin’ mess!
  • I got behind in @StudyofChrist’s ongoing series covering the book of Isaiah but I’m nearly caught up! Here is what I’ve watched recently.
    • His video on Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:1) covers the attack of Assyria on Israel in the eighth century BCE. Maher-shalal-hash-baz means something like “rush to the spoils” and is intended to be a preview of how the Assyrians will carry off the spoils of Israel in war (8:4).
    • The next video begins to cover the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah. One prominent figure that plays a central role in all of this is Merodach-baladan who, as @StudyofChrist points out, foments rebellion against Assyria which leads ultimately to the siege on Jerusalem.
    • The siege itself, described in both the book of Isaiah and in Assyrian records, is the topic of the next video. My favorite part is all the trash-talk between the Assyrian king’s representative and the king of Judah which amounts to, “Hey, your army sucks and your god will be of no help to you.” He also teases that we have three sources for the siege: the Hebrew Bible, Assyrian records, and Herodotus (with Egyptian records).
  • Back in November Candida Moss wrote a piece on the Pericope Adulterae (i.e. John 7:53 – 8:11). In it she discusses a new book that has come out on the text entitled To Cast the First Stone: The Transmission of a Gospel Story. As Moss discusses, the book shows that the pericope has long been noted as missing from manuscripts of John’s Gospel. This was first observed in the fourth century but it apparently was a significant issue. The pericope’s varying interpretation has made it a classic and Moss’ piece discussing it and To Cast the First Stone is a great introduction to it.
  • Does morality depend on God’s existence? This is the question Jason Thibodeau answers in a post from November of last year. The argument he puts forward is based on the suffering of children caused by torture. Step-by-step he shows that torturing a child is morally wrong for reasons that are valid whether or not God exists.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

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Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Hand Washing and Running Water

“When the one with a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, he shall count seven days for his cleansing: he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in fresh water, and he shall be clean” (Leviticus 15:13).


To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

Ray Comfort continues to amaze and astound with his inept reading of biblical texts in his book Scientific Facts in the Bible.1 Quoting Leviticus 15:3 he writes,

The Bible states that when dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water. Up until the 1800s doctors washed their hands in a basin of still water, leaving invisible germs and resulting in the death of multitudes. We now know that doctors must wash their hands under running water. The Encyclopedia Britannica documents that in 1845, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis in Vienna was horrified at the terrible death rate of women who gave birth in hospitals. As many as 30 percent died after giving birth. Semmelweis noted that doctors would examine the bodies of patients who had died, then go straight to the next ward and examine expectant mothers. This was their normal practice, because the presence of microscopic diseases was unknown. Semmelweis insisted that doctors wash their hands before examinations, and the death rate immediately dropped to 2 percent.2

Comfort’s recounting of Ignaz Semmelweis is more or less accurate and so there is no need to address it. Instead our focus will be on Comfort’s (mis)understanding of the regulations found in Leviticus 15:13. Comfort’s central claim is that “[t]he Bible states that when dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water.” Is Comfort correct? Is this evidence of advanced epidemiological knowledge in the Priestly text of Leviticus?

Determining the Context

Leviticus 15 is primarily about what ordinary people are to do when they have some ritual impurity. The text is divided into two basic categories: male genital discharges (15:2b-18) and female genital discharges (15:19-30). These two categories can be further subdivided.

  • Male genital discharges (15:2b-18)
    • Abnormal genital discharges (15:2b-15)
    • Normal genital discharges (15:16-18)
  • Female genital discharges (15:19-30)
    • Normal genital discharges (15:19-24)
    • Abnormal genital discharges (15:25-30)

Regardless of gender, for normal genital discharges there is no sacrifice required. Instead those experiencing such discharges are unclean for a specific period of time: “until the evening” for males and seven days for females. If a man and woman engage in sexual intercourse and the male achieves orgasm then both of them are unclean until the evening.

Things are quite different for abnormal genital discharges. If a woman experiences a “discharge of blood” that is not part of her normal menstrual cycle or if her menstruation lasts longer than it normally does she remains unclean and all she has touched are considered unclean as well. Once her discharge has ceased, she is to count seven days before she can be considered clean. Then on the eighth day she is to take either two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the tabernacle so he can offer up a sin offering and a burnt offering to “make atonement on her behalf before the LORD for her unclean discharge” (15:30).

Similarly, males who experiencing an abnormal genital discharge are considered unclean during the period of discharge. Once the discharge has ceased he is to count seven days, wash his clothes, and “bathe his body in fresh water” before he is considered clean. Then on the eighth day he is to take two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the tabernacle so he can offer up a sin offering and a burnt offering to “make atonement on his behalf before the LORD for his discharge” (15:15).

The role of mayim ḥyym 

As noted earlier, Comfort capitalizes on the phrase rendered in the NKJV as “running water” (mayim ḥyym). Literally, mayim ḥyym is “living waters” with ḥyym functioning adjectivally to mayimTo what is mayim ḥyym referring? The NRSV renders the phrase as “fresh water” which doesn’t truly capture what is being said here. The NKJV is much closer to the Hebrew in this regard. But considering that modern plumbing was not a feature available to ancient Israel, what exactly does running water entail?

The key is what we read in Leviticus 14:5: “The priest shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered over fresh water [mayim ḥyym] in an earthen vessel.” In context, the passage is describing what must be done to declare and make one with a skin disease ṭāhēr – “clean.” Normally such a slaughter would take place at the tent of meeting but because of the nature of skin disease everything happened outside the camp to avoid spreading the infection. As part of the ritual, a priest would take one of two birds that were brought for the ritual and slaughter it over a vessel containing mayim ḥyym. But how can it be considered running water if it is in a container? Well, it depends on how it got to be there. If it came from an underground source like a well (cf. Genesis 26:19) or from a river or stream then it was suitable for use.3 Such water could be stored in a vessel for later use in rituals as it was considered mayim ḥyymIn other words, if the water was taken from a source that was flowing then it was deemed appropriate for use. It did not matter that in a container like the earthen vessel it was no longer flowing.

Let’s return then to Leviticus 15:13. When the texts says that the one with the genital discharge is to “bathe his body in mayim ḥyym” it isn’t saying necessarily that he must wash in water that is currently flowing. Rather, the water must have come from a source that was, i.e. a river or an Artesian well. Water in an earthen vessel as we read in Leviticus 14:5 is still considered mayim ḥyym even though it is no longer flowing.

Another Failure

And so yet again Comfort has misunderstood the biblical text, this time by failing to look at surrounding context and how mayim ḥyym is used.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016).

2 Ibid., 6.

3 John E. Hartley, Leviticus, WBC vol. 4 (Zondervan, 1992), 195.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 4.5.19

“One would certainly not expect any literary reference to Christians or Christianity or Jesus himself in Roman authors of the first century.  Christianity was simply a tiny (TINY) religious movement that no one had heard of.  Most Romans would not even have heard the name Christian until probably the middle or end of the second century, well over a century after the movement started.” – Bart Ehrman


  • Biblical scholar David Glatt-Gilad addresses the issue as to why Elijah is able to sacrifice to Yahweh at an altar other than the one in Jerusalem. The Deuteronomic law prohibited sacrificing anywhere except the one designated by God which just so happened to be at the temple of Solomon. Yet in 1 Kings 18 Elijah sacrifices to Yahweh upon Mount Carmel in his famous contest with the prophets of Baal. How is this possible? Glatt-Gilad briefly discusses the rabbinic interpretations for this issue and then goes over some historical-critical responses to it.
  • @bibhistctx has continued his series on Israelite origins with a post on the Late Bronze Age collapse. As he points out, the consequences of this event are enormous but provided the opportunity for a people group like the Israelites to arise. His summary of the influence the Peleset people (i.e. Philistines) had on Egypt is vital to understanding their role in the biblical texts, including anachronistically in the book of Genesis. They loom large in Israelite memory.
  • Last year in The Journal of Theological Studies New Testament scholar Max Botner published a piece addressing Mark 2:25-26 entitled “Has Jesus Read What David Did? Probing Problems in Mark 2:25-26.” It is an interesting take on how we should understanding Jesus’ citing of scripture to support his disciples’ actions. There is much I disagree with but it is a well written and well thought out piece on the text. (See my post covering the same passage.)
  • About three years ago Justin Scheiber produced a video on the Real Atheology YouTube channel discussing the problem of divine hiddenness. For those unfamiliar with the problem, it is an argument against theism which asserts that the existence of sincere unbelief is incompatible with a God who wants to be known by and in a relationship with humans. The existence of sincere unbelief is contested by many Christians a la Romans 1:20. However, most reasonable people would agree that there are those who do not believe in God’s existence and that they do so for rational reasons.
  • Over on his blog Bart Ehrman posted an interview he did with History.com on non-Christian sources for the existence of Jesus. He brings up Josephus, Tacitus, and others. It is a good little post discussing why we can be relatively certain there was a historical Jesus.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Christian Defenders’ 5 Reasons: Archaelogy and the Bible

In my experience, Christian apologetics is geared towards reinforcing the faithful, not convincing the skeptic. As I wrote last October, “It seems that pop-apologetics is nothing more than preaching to the choir.”1 This in spite of the oft-repeated claim that apologetics is biblically mandated: “Always be ready to make your defense [apologian] to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, NRSV).Presumably “anyone [panti; literally, “all”]” would include unbelievers yet the quality of the material produced by pop-apologists betrays any such notion. It is often written in either very simplistic ways that ignore the complexities of the relevant historical, scientific, textual, and philosophical issues or it grossly misrepresents both the evidence and scholarship which examines it. As such it is ill-suited as an apologetic for anything beside serving as an example of how not to defend one’s beliefs.

This should not be taken to mean that pop-apologists are insincere. On the contrary, the vast majority of those I’ve interacted with genuinely think they are contributing to the world of Christian apologetics in positive ways. And often they run Twitter accounts, record podcasts, write blog posts, and produce YouTube videos that are intended to stem the tide of skepticism that is rampant online. Few are professionals; most are amateurs like myself. This I can appreciate.

Last year a group of sincere amateurs posted to their website a piece entitled “5 Reasons How We Know the Bible is True.”3 In response to the claim that Christians accept the Bible as true on “blind faith,” the Christian Defenders offer “the 5 best reasons why we know that the Bible is true.” The post itself is not very long – it is only around thirteen hundred words – but it does raise some interesting issues surrounding such topics like archaeology and the Bible, the nature of the Gospels, and the resurrection of Jesus. However, as we will, see their case isn’t as sure as they think it is.

Readers are encouraged to read the piece by the Christian Defenders to get both sides of the issue. It would be a shame to do as so many Christians apologists do and just read from authors who confirm our beliefs. Furthermore, reading those to whom I am responding creates accountability since the reader is able to see if I am accurately representing what the other side is trying to say. With that said, let’s dive into the first of the five.

ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE

The first of the five reasons the Christian Defenders present that show the Bible is true comes from the field of archaeology. Under the subheading “Archaeology Has Confirmed the Bible” they write, “One of the most powerful tools we use to check to see if the biblical account is true is through archaeology.” As evidence for this claim they mention 1) archaeological work at Shiloh, 2) the Dead Sea Scrolls, and 3) confirmation of details in the book of Acts. Let’s consider each in turn.

Archaeological Work at Shiloh

According to the Deuteronomistic Historian (DH), Shiloh was the site where Israel permanently erected the tent of meeting (Joshua 18:1). It was still where the tent stood during the days of Eli when conflict broke out with the Philistines resulting in the capture of the ark of the covenant and the death of Eli (1 Samuel 4:12-22). Though the DH does not tell us that Shiloh was destroyed, the prophet Jeremiah records a tradition that it was destroyed on account of Israel’s wickedness (Jeremiah 7:12-14). Excavations of Shiloh have revealed that during the mid-eleventh century BCE (i.e. Iron Age I) that the site was met with a violent end that included a fierce fire, a sign to some that this was the destruction described by Jeremiah and hinted at by the DH.4 However, others have urged caution in speaking where the evidence is in fact silent.5 Whatever happened, the site was largely abandoned for a short time in the first part of Iron Age II (i.e. 1000 BCE to 586 BCE).6 

While we know that during the Late Bronze Age (i.e. 1550 to 1200 BCE) Shiloh featured a cult site,7 we have no evidence for the tent of meeting that could be found in Iron Age I. This of course is neither evidence against the existence of a tent of meeting or that it was erected at Shiloh. But the absence of evidence does detract from the claim made by the Christian Defenders that archaeologists at Shiloh “have found several important artifacts” that “verify biblical events and places.” Given how important Shiloh was to the Israelite cult according to the biblical texts, one might expect to find more evidence of it. However, the findings there only substantiate the most basic of claims the biblical texts make: there were people there.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Christian Defenders move on to the Dead Sea Scrolls, writing,

Among the most popular discoveries are The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 in the caves of Qumran, Israel. They provide conclusive evidence that the biblical record is accurate. The scrolls were written by the Essenes and are referred to by the Roman historian, Josephus.

The DSS were written by the Essenes, a tiny8 apocalyptic group that lived in Qumran.9  The documents discovered fall into four general categories.

  • manuscripts of every book of the Hebrew Bible (excluding the book of Esther);
  • books included in the Apocrypha (i.e. Book of Tobit);
  • pseudepigraphic works (i.e. Book of Enoch)
  • sectarian literature (i.e. calendars and liturgical texts).10

This fact alone complicates any claim that the DSS “provide conclusive evidence that the biblical record is accurate.” For example, most Christians reject 1 Enoch (i.e. Book of Enoch) as canonical despite the fact that it is quoted directly by the author of the epistle of Jude (Jude 1:14-15).11 Does this mean that the author of Jude considered 1 Enoch to be sacred scripture? And if so, what are the implications for the Christian canon?

The variety of literature is not the only problem for the Christian Defenders’ claim. The manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible that have been discovered demonstrate that particular books of the Bible have complex textual histories. For example, in cave 4 at Qumran a number of fragments of the book of Jeremiah were discovered.12 Most of these reflect the Masoretic Text but one, 4QJerb, is in line with readings found in the LXX, a sign that it more closely reflects the Hebrew Vorlage underlying the LXX than it does the MT.13 Emmanuel Tov has suggested that the version of Jeremiah found in the LXX and 4QJeris probably closer to the original than what is found in the MT14 which would mean that the longer version of Jeremiah is an expansion. And it is not just the book of Jeremiah that has a complicated textual history!15 

Given what I’ve presented above, in what sense do the DSS “provide conclusive evidence that the biblical record is accurate“? Surely qualification is needed.

Historicity of the Book of Acts

The Acts of the Apostles is the second book of a two-volume work by an anonymous author identified traditionally as Luke, a companion of Paul (Philemon 1:24; cf. Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11). It traces the development of the early Christians beginning with Jesus’ ascension and ending with Paul in Rome just prior to his execution. Consequently, it has been considered by many to be straightforward history, rendering with precision the activities of the most important figures in early Christianity. To bolster that view, some have noticed that the author throws in details that seem to lend credibility to the narrative. The Christian Defenders write,

Scholar and historian Colin Hemer who wrote The Books of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History describes 84 facts in Acts that have been confirmed by archaeological and historical research. The Bible is clear and full of specific details so that we can discover it’s validity.

I do not have access to Hemer’s work and so I have not had a chance to read and review it. However, Hemer’s work is mentioned by other apologists including Lee Strobel,16  William Lane Craig,17 and, in parallel to the words of the Christian Defenders, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek.

Classical scholar and historian Colin Hemer chronicles Luke’s accuracy in the book of Acts verse by verse. With painstaking detail, Hemer identifies 84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research.18

Geisler and Turek then list all eighty-four facts from Hemer’s book which include things like

  • the proper location of Lycaonia (Acts 14:6),
  • the depiction of the Athenian life of philosophical debate in the Agora (17:17),
  • employment of the ethnic term Asianos (20:4),
  • the proper term of the time for the Adriatic (27:27),

and more. It is an impressive list from which Geisler and Turek conclude,

Is there any doubt that Luke was an eyewitness to these events or at least had access to reliable eyewitness testimony? What more could he have done to prove his authenticity as a historian?19

Luke’s bona fides are seemingly confirmed.

But can we conclude that because the author of Acts gets these details correctly that then everything he records actually happened? Of course not. The fact that Luke knows Zeus and Hermes were often associated (14:12) cannot mean that Jesus was taken up by a cloud into heaven (1:10). Simply because he knew that Roman citizens had the right of appeal (25:11) doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit came down and caused the gathered Christians to speak in other languages (2:1-4). To conclude that the supernatural elements described in the book of Acts must have happened because the author gets a number of details correct is a non sequitur.

The nature of the book of Acts is fiercely debated in the world of New Testament scholarship. Scholars have long recognized that in many ways it is a complicated piece of literature that fails to fit into any one category. Is it history? Is it biography? Is it a novel? Is it an apologetic? Is it a combination of all these things? This is a topic for another time but it should go without saying that the issues are complex and will likely never be decided and so the reader is encouraged to read scholarship on the issue.20

When History Contradicts the Bible 

To close out their section on archaeology and the Bible the Christian Defenders quote Clifford Wilson:

I know of no finding in archaeology that’s properly confirmed which is in opposition to the Scriptures. The Bible is the most accurate history textbook the world has ever seen.

I could not find a primary source for this claim but it hardly matters. The point of the quote is to say that the Bible has never been proven wrong. But is this true? Not at all.

For example, the book of Joshua makes a rather big deal out of the conquest of Canaan. But the evidence for such a conquest is virtually non-existent as my friend @bibhistctxt has made clear on his blog in a series covering chapters ten and eleven of Joshua.21 The same can be said for the attack on Jericho, a city in which there was “little or no occupation…in the thirteenth century.”22 The use of archaeology to prove the “truth” of the Bible is a task fraught with problems:

By the end of the twentieth century, archaeology had shown that there were simply too many material correspondences between the finds in Israel and in the entire Near East and the world described in the Bible to suggest that the Bible was late and fanciful priestly literature, written with no historical basis at all. But at the same time, there were too many contradictions between archaeological finds and the biblical narratives to suggest that the Bible provided a precise description of what actually occurred.23

Sometimes details in the archaeological record fit the biblical narrative but quite often they simply contradict it.

The same is true for the general historical record. Consider the book of Daniel, a text that is about persons and events in the sixth century BCE but which was clearly composed long after that period. Consequently, the author of Daniel gets a number of things wrong including the timing of the siege of Jerusalem, the relationship of Belshazzar to Nebudchadrezzar, and the existence of a “Darius the Mede.”24 And not only does it contradict the non-biblical historical record, it even contradicts the biblical one.

Conclusion

Far more could be said about the relationship of archaeology and the Bible but one thing should be abundantly clear: it is complicated. On the one hand, many of the minor details found in the biblical texts are rooted in real history and can be confirmed by the archaeological record. But the larger narrative points, especially those of a supernatural kind, are not and simply cannot be confirmed. And there are other areas in which the archaelogical record does not confirm the biblical record but rather disconfirms it.

NOTES

1 Amateur Exegete, “Preaching to the Choir: On Pop-Apologists and Their Craft” (10.28.18), amateurexegete.com. Accessed 16 March 2019.

2 For example, Josh and Sean McDowell write in the most recent edition of the massive Evidence That Demands a Verdict,

Our motivation in using this research is to glorify and magnify Jesus Christ, not to win an argument. Evidence is not for proving the Word of God, but rather for providing a reasoned base for faith. One should have a gentle and reverent spirit when using apologetics or evidences: “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15, NASB, emphasis mine).

See Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life Changing Truth for a Skeptical World (Thomas Nelson, 2017), xviii.

3 5 Reasons How We Know the Bible is True” (12.7.18), christiandefenders.org. Accessed 16 March 2019.

4 Israel Finkelstein, “Shiloh,” in Ephraim Stern (editor), The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (The Israel Exploration Society & Carta, 1993), 4:1368. See also Lawrence E. Stager, “Forging an Identity: The Emergence of Ancient Israel,” in Michael D. Coogan (editor), The Oxford History of the Biblical World (Oxford University Press, 1998), 127.

5 For example, Richard Nelson cautions that we should not accept the tradition from Jeremiah unreservedly, writing that

[i]t is commonly asserted by biblical historians that the sanctuary at Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines. This unconfirmed notion is based on traditions of Philistine victories over Israel near Aphek and the witness of Jeremiah (Jer 7:12, 14; 26:6; cf. Ps 78:60). The site…was indeed destroyed in the mid-eleventh century, but by whom cannot be known.

See Richard D. Nelson, Historical Roots of the Old Testament (1200-63 BCE) (SBL Press, 2014), 37.

6 Finkelstein, 4:1369.

7 Jonathan M. Golden, Ancient Canaan & Israel: An Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2004), 188; Finkelstein, 4:1367.

8 Geza Vermes writes that

[i]t is not irrelevant…to note that the archaeologists have deduced from the fact that the cemetery contained 1,100 graves, dug over the course of roughly 200 years, that the population of Qumran, an establishment of undoubted importance, can never have numbered more than 150 to 200 souls at a time. Also, it should be borne in mind that the total membership of the Essene sect in the first century CE only slightly exceeded ‘four thousand’ (Josephus, Antiquities XVIII, 21).

See Geza Vermes (translator), The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin Books, 2004), 27.

9 See John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, second edition (Eerdmans, 1998), 145-176.

10 Ibid., 10-12.

11 For an overview, see Biblical Historical Context, “Does Jude Quote Enoch?” (1.5.19), biblicalhistoricalcontext.com. Accessed 17 March 2019.

12 For an overview, see Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar (editors), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Brill, 1999),  270-272.

13 Karen H. Jobes and Moíses Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker Academic, 2000), 175; Peter C. Craigies, Page H. Kelley, and Joel F. Drinkard, Jr., Jeremiah 1-25, WBC vol. 26 (Thomas Nelson, 1991), xlii-xliii.

14 Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, second revised edition (Fortress Press, 2001), 319-321.

15 For example, see the essays by John Elwolde, Russell Fuller, and Alexander Rofé in Armin Lange, Emmanuel Tov, and Matthias Weigold (editors), The Dead Sea Scrolls in Context: Integrating the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Study of Ancient Texts, Languages, and Cultures (Brill, 2011), 1:79-123.

16 Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity (HarperCollins, 2000), 129-130.

17 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, third edition (Crossway, 2008), 294 note 14.

18 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Crossway Books, 2004), 256.

19 Ibid., 259.

20 For example, see Loveday Alexander, “Fact, Fiction and the Genre of Acts,” New Testament Studies, vol. 44 issue 3 (July 1998), 380-399 ;Richard I. Pervo, The Mystery of Acts: Unraveling Its Story (Polebridge, Press); Luke Timothy Johnson, “Luke-Acts, Book Of” in David N. Freeman (editor), Anchor Bible Dictionary (Double Day, 1992) 4:403-420; James M. Robinson, “Acts,” in Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (editors), The Literary Guide to the Bible (The Belknap Press, 1987), 467-478; Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, sixth edition (Oxford University Press, 2016), 312-333.

21 In his first post, @bibhistctxt writes,

As more and more digging took place it became abundantly clear that, archaeologically speaking, the conquest described in Joshua 10 and 11 never happened.

See Biblical Historical Context, “Joshua 10 and 11: The Problem” (11.6.17), biblicalhistoricalcontext.com. Accessed 18 March 2019.

22 Stager, “Forging an Identity,” 95.

23 Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (Touchstone, 2002), 20, 21.

24 See Amateur Exegete, “Evangelical Eisegesis: A Dalliance with Daniel, part 1” (12.2.18), amateurexegete.com. Accessed 18 March 2019.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 3.1.19

“Israel did not ‘believe’ in dragons anymore than their neighbors did. When Israel says God defeated the dragon, they use this myth in two ways. Most of the time, as in Psalm 74; Isaiah 27:1, where the dragon is named Leviathan just as in the Canaanite myth; and Isaiah 51:9, they are saying, ‘Whatever you Canaanites mean when you say ‘Our god defeated the dragon’–it’s true of our God, not yours. Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is the one who defeated the dragon, whatever that means.’” – Robert Miller II


  • @StudyofChrist’s video on the identity of Immanuel in Isaiah 7 is superb. He analyzes the text, draws from commentaries, and shows that at least in the context of Isaiah the reference is to a child born in the 8th century BCE and not Jesus. The video is longer than usual but it is well worth the twenty minutes it would take to watch it.
  • Back in October of 2018 Robert Miller II wrote a short piece for ANE Today on “Dragons in the Bible and Beyond.” He notes that dragon myths typically involve a conflict between the dragon and a storm deity. In the Baal Cycle the Litan is the creature Baal defeats, a beast who is depicted as a “fleeing serpent” (cf. Isaiah 27:1). Considering how often dragons appear in some form or fashion in prophetic literature, this is an excellent introductory article. Miller has also written a book on the topic entitled The Dragon, the Mountain, and the Nations: An Old Testament Myth, Its Origins, and Its Afterlives
  • New Testament scholar Michael Bird has a brief review of Donald Hagner’s latest book How New is the New Testament: First Century Judaism and the Emergence of Christianity. I have benefited from Hagner’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and will hopefully get my hands on this volume in the near future. Bird notes that this volume is based on lectures Hagner gave in the Philippines and that in their written form the author suggests that Christianity is not something other than Judaism but is rather “the fulfillment of Judaism.” Perhaps, but I would be interested in seeing how my Jewish friends might view such a position.
  • Phil Long over at Reading Acts posted a short piece on whether Saul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9 constitutes a call or a conversion. He writes, “Using modern Christian categories like “conversion” and “call” to describe Paul’s experience is a mistake. Paul’s experience in Acts 9 is quite unique in salvation history.” He also notes that while some have tried to place Paul’s theology within the spectrum of Judaism, this misses the radical nature of some of Paul’s teachings.
  • A couple of years ago Pete Enns wrote a brief post over on his website on how the biblical genealogies were not intended to convey “history” but rather something else. He writes, “The biblical writers were not ‘historians’ writing ‘accounts’ of the past. They were storytellers accessing past tradition to say something about their present. That includes genealogies.” Amen.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – The Life of the Flesh

“If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).


To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

We have already seen how spectacularly weak Comfort’s approach to the biblical texts tends to be. And not only does he routinely misunderstand the Bible, he also exhibits a less than rudimentary knowledge of science. In the twenty-first century, both are without excuse. Biblical scholarship and science are clicks away on the Internet and so for Comfort to make the errors that he does reveals either one who argues in bad faith or one who simply wishes to remain in his cognitive bubble. Comfort may somehow fall into both camps.

The next claim Comfort makes in Scientific Facts in the Bible is that Levitical law revealed that

blood is the source of life. Up until 200 years ago, sick people were “bled,” and many died because of the practice. We now know that blood is the source of life. If you lose your blood, you will lose your life.1

As support for this, Comfort quotes Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” But does this text support Comfort’s claim? And is it really a sign that the Bible contains advanced scientific knowledge?

The Importance of Blood 

Human blood is actually a mixture of a variety of organic structures including plasma, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells are what give blood its color as the hemoglobin on them binds with iron which then binds with oxygen which causes oxidation. And this brings us to the primary purpose of blood: oxygenation. When you breathe in oxygen, the blood pumping through your body absorbs it in the lungs and transports it to all the cells in your body via capillaries. The oxygen in turn is processed by the cells’ mitochondria which turn that oxygen into energy for those cells. If you are deprived of oxygen you die because your cells’ mitochondria are not provided with what they need to produce energy to keep those cells alive.2 

But ancient people had no idea what red blood cells were, let alone things like oxygen molecules or mitochondria. But they did know that if you slit the throat of a sacrificial animal or stabbed your enemy in the chest with your sword that the resultant loss of blood invariably meant the loss of life. Humanity quickly learned that blood was vital to the life of an organism. The reason for this was because it was how the gods had created humanity. The Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish describes how Marduk, the one who defeated Tiamat, plans to create humanity telling the gods, “Let me put blood together, and make bones too. Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name.”3 Then at the prompting of the Igigi (i.e. the great gods), Marduk uses the blood of Qingu, a warrior of Tiamat, to create mankind.4

Blood Eating in Priestly Literature

The association between blood and life is strongly correlated by the biblical authors. In the original creation envisioned by the Priestly author (i.e. Genesis 1:1-2:4a), humanity and the animal kingdom were not permitted to consume meat (Genesis 1:29-30). But this changed as humanity became more corrupt and the earth became “filled with violence” (Genesis 7:12), causing God to destroy the world with a Flood save for Noah and his family. This reset on the creative order brings with it new rules and regulations that in some ways parallel those of the original order. One key difference between the original and the reset is that humanity was now allowed to consume meat (Genesis 9:3) but comes with a prohibition: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4).

Other P literature reiterates this prohibition. In Leviticus 3 we read of the “sacrifice of well-being” (Hebrew, zebaḥ šĕlāmîm) wherein an Israelite offers an unblemished animal at the tent of meeting. The Aaronid priests take the blood of the animal and dash it on the sides of the altar and then the animal is burned such that its fat and blood are wholly consumed. After going through the protocols for various kinds of animals, P says this, “It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood” (Leviticus 3:17). Why? Because P knows the prohibition given by God to Noah: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). The zebaḥ šĕlāmîm was not intended to be one of expiation but rather was meant to be a way to provide consumable meat to the Israelites.5

Further instructions for the zebaḥ šĕlāmîm are given in Leviticus 7. There we again read a prohibition against consuming blood. But this time is comes with a warning “You must not eat any blood whatever, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Any one of you who eats any blood shall be cut off from your kind” (Leviticus 7:26-27). The penalty for consuming blood is to be “cut off” (Hebrew, krt), that is, die prematurely.6 

Blood Eating in the Holiness Code

Having observed certain differences in themes and vocabulary between Leviticus 17-26 and the rest of the book, many scholars have dubbed that section as deriving from a separate source and call it “the Holiness Code” (H).7 Within it are a variety of regulations that were intended to set Israel apart from its neighbors, to make them qōdeš (“holy”).8

“The LORD spoke to Moses saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy [qĕdōšîm], for I the LORD your God am holy [qādôš]” (19:2; cf. 20:7, 20:26).

It is within the first chapter of H that we see the text at the center of our inquiry in this post. Let’s briefly consider the context of the words of Leviticus 17:11.

If we were to outline Leviticus 17 we would notice a pattern.9

  • Introduction (17:1-2)
    • Prohibition (17:3-7)
      • Animals eligible for sacrifice must be sacrificed at the tent of meeting (17:3-4) so that Israel might stop offering sacrifices to goat-demons (17:5-7).
      • Both Israelites and resident aliens must not sacrifice to anyone but Yahweh at the tent of meeting (17:8-9)
        • Central Prohibition (17:10-12)
          • The blood of all animals is not to be consumed (17:10) because the blood is functions as a ransom for human life in sacrifice (17:11-12).
      • Reiteration of Central Prohibition (17:13-14)
        • The blood of game is not to be consumed because blood is life (17:13-14).
    • Regulating governing consuming carcasses (17:15-16)
      • The regulation (17:15)
      • Consequences for disobedience (17:16)

As the outline suggests, 17:10-12

is…the axis upon which the chapter revolves. 

The merest glance at the content leads to the same conclusion: all five paragraphs [of Leviticus 17] deal with the legitimate and correct manner of disposing of the blood of those animals which may be eaten. The first two speak of sacrificeable animals – which, in the view of this chapter, must indeed be sacrificed – and the last two speak of animals which, though they may be eaten, may not be sacrificed. At the center, between the first two and the last two, stands the axiom upon which all four depend: that partaking of blood is prohibited. The first two lead to this axiom and provide its rationale; the last two derive from this axiom and implement it.10 

And the rationale for the central prohibition of 17:10-12 is this: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (17:11).

So why does the Levitical law prohibit the consuming of blood? Because blood was not intended for consumption but for the making of atonement. To eat blood is to use it in an inordinate way.  That’s what lies behind the prohibition. It has absolutely nothing to do with any advanced scientific revelation that blood is the body’s oxygen transport system. It had to do with the observation that 1) the loss of blood leads to death and 2) the claim of the Priestly author that blood in animals is that which atones for sin. In other words, the claim is religious, having to do with the sacrificial cult and not scientific, having to do with the composition of blood and its biological function.

Sorry, Ray. You’re wrong again.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016), 5.

2 For an excellent overview of blood, see Chris Cooper, Blood: A Very Short Introduction, e-book (OUP, 2016), 68-113.

3 The Epic of Creation, Tablet VI, in Stephanie Dalley (translator), Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (OUP, 1989), 260.

4 Ibid., 261.

5 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Doubleday, 1991), 222.

6 Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, e-book (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 42.

7 See Henry T. C. Sun, “Holiness Code,” in David N. Freedman (editor), Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 3:256-257.

8 See H. P. Müller, “קדש qdš holy,” in Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann (editors) and Mark E. Biddle (translator), Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 3:1103-1118.

9 Adapted from Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible (Doubleday, 2000), 1449.

10 Baruch J. Schwartz, “The Prohibitions Concerning the ‘Eating’ of Blood in Leviticus 17,” in Gary A. Anderson and Saul M. Olyan, Priesthood and Cult in Ancient Israel (Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 43.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 2.22.19

“The stories of the ancestors of the Israelites do not come from any one period but developed over time. It is best to see the ancestors as composite characters.” – John McDermott

  • Bart Ehrman asks and answers the question “Why does it matter if Mark’s Gospel was written first?” What it boils down to is that once we realize Mark’s Gospel was in all likelihood the first of the Synoptics to have been written we then have a framework with which to interpret Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. They must have edited Mark’s Gospel for some reason. If we can deduce what those reasons were then we “have some purchase on the question of what [their] ultimate concerns and objectives were.”
  • Related to Ehrman’s piece, a post over at Broken Oracles discusses the redaction of Mark 14:47 in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both try to resolve Markan ambiguity about the moral nature of the violent action undertaken by the anonymous disciple with particular additions. It is an interesting example of Markan priority at work.
  • Over a decade and a half ago John McDermott’s Reading the Pentateuch was published and its first chapter laid out the case for why it cannot be read as “strict history.” Some of that first chapter is available online. McDermott discusses the historical Abraham, the Exodus, and more.
  • Bradley Bowen at Secular Outpost wrote an introduction to a series making the case for atheism. In that post he briefly discusses strong vs. weak theism as well as type 1 atheism vs. type 2. As he defines it, atheism is at its core a rejection of theism and there may be a variety of reasons for which a person rejects theism.
  • Scholars have long observed that the Gospel of John appears to have gone through different stages of redaction. Back in 2015, Paul D. on his blog Is That in the Biblepublished a post examining the reasons why scholars think this. His discussion centers on two kinds of aporia or contradictory texts: geographical and chronological. This piece provides an excellent summary for the evidence of Johannine redaction.

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