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.

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The Weekly Roundup – 2.8.19

“The assertion by the opposing narrative that Elijah’s wife was a prostitute and later, that Elijah ate her son, does seem a little over the top and may indicate that the opposing narrative itself was propaganda and was responding to an even earlier narrative. But that is a mirror-reading of a mirror-reading, and it’s difficult to say with any certainty.” – @MiraScriptura


Featured image: Wikimedia Commons. 

Michael D. Coogan: The Deuteronomic School

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 186.

The Deuteronomic school, as we have seen, had connections with both the Levitical priesthood and the prophets. It continued to revise its core text, the book of Deuteronomy, as Israel’s circumstances changed from autonomous nation to people in exile. It also produced the Deuteronomistic History, the interpretive narrative of Israel’s history in the Promised Land based on the ideals of the book of Deuteronomy, an extended work covering the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The Deuteronomistic History was itself revised several times, much like the book of Deuteronomy….

Preaching to the Choir: On Pop-Apologists and Their Craft

I’m not a very intelligent individual nor am I an exceptional writer. This blog, my presence on Twitter, and my (slowly) growing YouTube channel represent my rather insignificant contribution to the world of biblical studies (and sometimes atheism). But though my influence is small, it is fundamentally honest. I try to do my homework and write what I actually think is the case on biblical texts and related subjects. I do my best to cite my sources and not misrepresent scholars upon whom I depend as a mere amateur. And when I’m shown to be wrong on the facts, I do my best to acknowledge error and align my views to fit the facts.

Quotemining and Plagiarizing

Compare my approach with the many pop-apologists out in the world. As is often the case, their lack of epistemic humility leads them to making numerous errors in their writing and speaking. Take SJ Thomason, the Queen of the Quotemine, who once wrote in a blog post,

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, but critics say the battle never occurred. They state that walls do not fall down because of people marching around them. Yet, as Professor John Garstang, who’s an archaeologist and British authority on Hittite civilization says, “As for the main fact, there remains no doubt the walls fell outward so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city” (Kennedy 1999, pp. 20).What is unusual is the fact that archaeological evidence demonstrates the walls fell outward, when ordinarily walls fall inward.1

You’ll notice that she quotes John Garstang, a British archaeologist who became famous for his field work that he believed supported biblical narratives found in the Torah and the book of Joshua. She isn’t quoting Garstang directly but is instead quoting James Kennedy in his book Why I Believe. And Kennedy is not quoting Garstang directly as his note shows he is depending on Josh McDowell’s 1979 edition of Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

So not only is this yet another instance of Thomason quotemining, it is mine that runs pretty deep. But there is more. Let’s compare what Thomason wrote in her blog post and what Kennedy wrote in his book over a decade before Thomason wrote.

SJ Thomason

James Kennedy

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Joshua fought the battle of Jericho,
but critics say the battle never occurred. but the critics say that it never happened.
They state that walls do not fall down because of people marching around them. One does not just walk around a city and have the walls fall down flat.
Yet, as Professor John Garstang, who’s an archeologist and British authority on Hittite civilization says, But what did Professor John Garstang, British archaeologist and authority on Hittite civilization, discover when he came to the site of Jericho to dig? He stated:
“As for the main fact, there remains no doubt the walls fell outward so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city” (Kennedy 1999, pp. 20). “As for the main fact, there remains no doubt the walls fell outward so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city.”
What is unusual Why is that so unusual?
is the fact that archeological evidence demonstrates the walls fell outward, when ordinarily walls fall inward. Because walls do not fall outward. Ordinarily they fall inward, but in this case the walls were made by some superior power to fall outward, as the Bible says.2

The only attribution Thomason offers in her piece is at the end of her quoting of Garstang. She offers no citation for her words which have clearly been lifted and altered from Kennedy. This is plagiarism and is frankly inexcusable for anyone, especially for someone like Thomason who not only holds a PhD but teaches students in a university setting.3

But there is another issue. Because Thomason is clearly depending on Kennedy for her information she ends up holding a position that is simply not tenable. I have already discussed the issues in another post so I won’t rehash it here, but it suffices to say that there was no Israelite invasion of Canaan and, even if there was, the city of Jericho was either uninhabited or sparsely populated and was unfortified at the time it purportedly occurred.4

 Virtually no modern archaeologist of ancient Israel believes that the city was sacked by Joshua and his armies. As historians Simon Price and Peter Thonemann write with regards to Jericho, “[T]here is simply no easy way of marrying the biblical narrative with the archaeological evidence.”5

Threats of Hell 

Pop-apologists also have a tendency to resort to threats of hellfire when they lack substantive arguments. For example, Del Potter, an apologist who holds a Master of Arts in Apologetics from Southern Evangelical Seminary, recently used this tactic against biblical scholar Steven DiMattei.

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 10.02.36 AM

In context, DiMattei had been discussing the radical nature of some of Jesus’ teachings, particularly with regards to wealth and possessions.  Potter was unable to present a sound rebuttal to DiMattei and was thus left with threatening DiMattei with hellfire. When I called Potter out on this, this is how he responded.

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 10.10.11 AM

As Potter explains, “both [DiMattei and I] have been warned.” Furthermore, Potter has “labored with [me] on certain issues and [has] taken time to answer [my] questions.” To this I replied,

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 10.13.33 AM

Potter didn’t care for this and ended our conversation.

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 10.14.55 AM

Apparently pointing out the truth is “childish.”

In any event, I have no idea why threatening hell seems to be so compelling to people who paid good money to earn a degree in apologetics. I’m curious as to what professor taught them, “If all else fails, just tell them that if they don’t agree with you that they’ll wind up in hell.” Hell probably doesn’t exist but even if it did is this how God wants people to arrive at belief in him? A “believe me or else” line of argumentation?

Stuck in the Past

Pop-apologists also tend to be stuck in the past with regards to attacking the arguments of modern scholarship. Like creationists who attack Charles Darwin when attempting to refute evolutionary biology, blissfully unaware that in the nearly one hundred and sixty years since he wrote his work on the topic a lot of scientific research bolstering the theory has happened, so too pop-apologists will at times display little knowledge of modern biblical scholarship, no doubt a byproduct of their tendency to read only those authors with whom they already agree.

One example of this can be seen in the interactions of Heather Schuldt, a blogger and student in the graduate level apologetics program at SES. In attacking the Documentary Hypothesis Schuldt doesn’t attack modern formulations of it but instead focuses in on the work of Julius Wellhausen, one of the founders of the hypothesis. A search of “Wellhausen” on Schuldt’s Twitter page reveals her obsession with the moniker.

And there are even more references to be found. The obsession reveals that Schuldt has likely never interacted with modern works defending the hypothesis like those by Richard Elliot Friedman or Joel Baden.She has probably read another apologist who attacks Wellhausen’s dated argument and then just parrots. Like those creationists who somehow think attacking Darwin erases the scientific research of the last century and a half, so too Schuldt’s attack on Wellhausen and his “followers” reveals a total lack of awareness of the scholarship that has been produced in the last century and a half on the Documentary Hypothesis.

Preaching to the Choir

What this all reveals is that pop-apologists like Thomason, Potter, and Schuldt are only interested in speaking to the already converted. Otherwise they wouldn’t write and interact the way that they do. Can’t be original? Just plagiarize. Can’t convince your interlocutor? Threaten them with hell. Can’t defend against modern scholarship? Attack older scholarship that virtually no one now promotes.

To be fair, I have seen non-believers act in ways similar to the pop-apologists. Their actions are inexcusable. Yet there is a clear difference between their actions and those of the pop-apologists: they aren’t claiming that God is their ground of morality and truth. The pop-apologists hold others to a high standard that they themselves fail to realize. But as their usual move is to either ignore counter arguments or to strawman them, they are left to themselves in their echo chambers. Their followers see no problem with their work because they simply do not know any differently. Like so many, they simply don’t have the tools or requisite knowledge to identify bad arguments. This is no fault of their own, of course, but it does bring greater condemnation to the pop-apologists who are willfully deceiving their followers.

It seems that pop-apologetics is nothing more than preaching to the choir.

NOTES

1 In an earlier iteration of that blog post Thomason did not include (to my knowledge) the quote from Garstang via Kennedy. Instead she wrote,

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, but critics say the battle never occurred. They state that walls do not fall down because of people marching around them. What is unusual is the fact that archaeological evidence demonstrates the walls fell outward, when ordinarily walls fall inward.

That is the quote I dealt with on my blog when I wrote a refutation to her last year. It appears that only after I posted my response that she changed her blog post. Here is a screenshot of the current quote in case she changes it again.

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 7.17.34 AM

I may need to make this my practice for the future.

2 D. James Kennedy, Why I Believe (W Publishing Group, 2005), 34.

3 The tragic irony of it all is that Thomason has flouted her academic pedigree as evidence of her knowledge and ability. Here are some examples from Twitter.

4 For a brief but excellent treatment of the issues written on a popular level, see Eric H. Cline, From Eden To Exile: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Bible (National Geographic, 2007), 93-120.

5 Simon Price and Peter Thonemann, The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine (Penguin Books, 2010), 55.

6 See Richard Elliot Friedman’s Who Wrote the Bible? (HarperOne, 1997) and The Bible With Sources Revealed (HarperOne, 2003) as well as Joel Baden’s The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis (Yale University Press, 2012).

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Evangelical Eisegesis: SJ Thomason and “God’s Promises,” part 2

This is the second post in a seven-part series responding to the blog post “And Babylon Will Never Be Inhabited” by pop-apologist S. J. Thomason. You can read the first post here.

All biblical quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the English Standard Version. (Crossway, 2001)

PROMISE TWO – “MARCH AROUND JERICHO 7 DAYS AND JERICHO WILL FALL”

Continuing her post on God’s “promises” that he kept in the Bible, Thomason writes,

Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, but critics say the battle never occurred. They state that walls do not fall down because of people marching around them. What is unusual is the fact that archeological evidence demonstrates the walls fell outward, when ordinarily walls fall inward.

As you can see, Thomason offers no source for the claim that “archeological evidence demonstrates that the walls fell outward.”  However, in the previous section on Babylon Thomason had relied on James Kennedy’s Why I Believe and it is there we find her claim.

Then there was the story about Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, but the critics said that it never happened. One does not just walk around a city and have the walls fall down flat. But what did Professor John Garstang, British archaeologist and authority on Hittite civilization, discover when he came to the site of Jericho to dig? He stated: “As for the main fact, there remains no doubt the walls fell outward so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city.” Why is that so unusual? Because walls do not fall outward. Ordinarily they fall inward, but in this case the walls were made by some superior power to fall outward, as the Bible says. The critics also declared that the account is obviously fatuous because it says that the Israelites marched around the city seven times in one day. You could not walk around a modern city of one hundred thousand people seven times in one day, and Jericho was described as a great city. But Garstang’s investigation provided an interesting fact about Jericho – it was small than the sites upon which many large metropolitan churches are built. Having been to Jericho many times, I know that I could walk around it seven times in one morning and play a set of tennis before lunch! Again the critics were proved wrong. (Kennedy, 2005, 34)

So, what do we make of this? Are Thomason and Kennedy right that the archaeological evidence shows that the walls of Jericho fell outward? Is this proof that God keeps his promises?

Joshua and Jericho

If you went to Sunday School as a child you are no doubt familiar with the story of Joshua and the fall of Jericho. After Moses’ death, Joshua, Moses’ assistant, is left to command the Israelites as they enter Canaan. (Joshua 1:1) One of the first major cities that Joshua has scouted is Jericho and he sends two men to the city to check out its defenses. They end up in the house of a prostitute named Rahab. (2:1) The king of Jericho learns that spies from the Israelite military were in Jericho and so he searches the city. He asks Rahab if she was housing the men but she lies and says that while they came to her house, she did not take them in and they left the city later that night. If the king wants to catch them, he should do so quickly. (2:2-5)

After the king leaves, Rahab goes to where she has hidden the two men and tells them that everyone in the region knows that Israel is on the move and that Yahweh is with them. She also knows that they will take Jericho which could mean death and destruction for her family and for herself. So she pleads with them to “deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” (2:12-13) The spies commit to this and she helps the men escape Jericho. (2:14-21)

Foster_Bible_Pictures_0085-1_The_Two_Israelites_Letting_Themselves_Down_from_Rahab's_House
An illustration of the two spies leaving Rahab’s house. From the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us. 

After a few days, both spies return to Joshua and tell him that “all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” (2:24) Not long after, Israel crosses over the Jordan River and begins to approach Jericho. Jericho, in the mean time, has prepared for a siege and the city shuts down. (6:1) Yahweh tells Joshua to march around the city once a day for six days. While they do that, seven priests with seven trumpets will march too with the ark of the covenant behind them. On the seventh day, the Israelite military will march around the city seven times and then the priests will blow with their horns. Once the people hear the sound of the trumpet, they are to shout “with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat.” (6:2-5)

Joshua follows Yahweh’s command and on the seventh day, when the trumpets blew and the people shouted, Jericho’s walls fell and the people took the city. They “devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” (6:21) As a result of Jericho’s capture and destruction, Joshua’s “fame was in all the land.” (6:27)

Now, as fascinating a story this is and as memorable as it may be, it is unlikely that it has any basis in historical fact. It is not simply that, in Thomason’s words, “walls do not fall down because of people marching around them.” The reason is that at the time the Canaanite conquest was purportedly taking place, Jericho had no walls. In fact, it was likely not even inhabited.

Dating the Conquest

There are a variety of issues that need to be considered when asking what happened at Jericho. We cannot address each and every one of those issues but we do need to consider both historical and archaeological issues related to the conquest of Canaan by Israel which began with the destruction of Jericho.

In dating the conquest we must also date one of the major events that preceded it: the Exodus. The Deuteronomic Historian in 1 Kings 6 wrote that the time between the fourth year of Solomon’s reign and the Exodus of Israel was four-hundred and eighty years. (1 Kings 6:1) We can date Solomon’s reign to around 968 BCE which would put the Exodus at 1448 BCE. And since we know that Israel wandered for forty years in the desert before entering Canaan (Deuteronomy 2:7), this would put the conquest of Canaan and the sacking of Jericho at around 1408 BCE.

There are a variety of problems with this view. For starters, the number four-hundred and eighty may be symbolic as it is 40 x 12. Both the number forty and the number twelve are significant in biblical texts. And, as R. K. Harrison observed, it isn’t always easy to determine whether the numbers that the Bible is using are meant to be taken literally or symbolically. (Harrison, 1970, 131) The number forty in the Bible signifies a generation and it may be here that the historian is trying to fit twelve generations – just as there are twelve tribes of Israel over which Solomon ruled – into the period between the Exodus and the building of Solomon’s temple. In other words, perhaps it is merely a symbolic dating, not a historical one.

There is another issue as well. The first mention of Israel in non-Jewish texts comes from a poem written by the Egyptian Pharoah Merneptah who ruled from 1213-1203 BCE. The Merneptah Stele, composed sometime during that period, says,

The princes are prostrate saying: “Shalom!”
Not one of the Nine Bows lifts his head:
Tehenu is pacified, Hatti at peace,
Canaan is captive with all woe.
Ashkelon is captured, Gezer seized,
Yahoam made nonexistent;
Israel is wasted, bare of seed,
Hurru is become a widow for Egypt.
All who roamed have been subdued
by the King of Upper and Lower Egypt,
Banere-meramun,
son of Re, Merneptah, Content with Maat,
given life like Re every day.
(Coogan, 2013, 75)

If the Exodus happened in 1448 and the conquest began in 1408, why is there no record of Israel for two-hundred years in Egyptian literature or, for that matter, any literature? This is problematic.

Merenptah_Israel_Stele_Cairo
The Merneptah Stele, By Webscribe – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8206743

Another problem for the dating of Exodus in the fifteenth century BCE can be found in Exodus 1:11 – “Therefore they [i.e. the Egyptians] set taskmasters over them, to afflict them [i.e. the Israelites] with heavy burdens. They built for Pharoah store cities, Pithom and Raamses.” These cities were in actuality military garrisons that guarded northern Egypt from enemy invasion. Pithom – Egyptian for “house of Atum,” an Egyptian deity – and Ramesses (i.e. Raamses) – which would have been known in Egypt as Pi-Raamses or “house of Ramesses” – were cities constructed during the Nineteenth Dynasty, a period in Egyptian history that lasted from 1295-1186 BCE. (Durham, 1987, 8) The Pharoah who built Pi-Ramesses, Ramesses II, reigned in Egypt from 1279-1213 BCE, well over one-hundred and fifty years after the Exodus allegedly took place if we follow the chronology of the Deuteronomic Historian in 1 Kings 6:1. There is simply no way that the Israelites built those two cities if the Exodus happened in 1448.

We must also observe that in the fifteenth century BCE, the Pharoah who would have been the one presiding over the events of the Exodus would have been Thutmose III whose reign lasted from 1479 to 1450. (Cline, 2007, 75) Following his decisive win against a coalition of the Canaanites in Megiddo, Thutmose gained control of Canaan and used it as a platform to invade Mesopotamia. In fact, Egypt’s control of Canaan remained well into the thirteenth century under Pharoah’s like Ramesses II as the empire was in the thirteenth century “at the peak of its authority – the dominant power in the world.” (Finklestein & Silberman, 2001, 60) The idea that the Israelites were dominating Canaan during the late fifteenth and early fourteenth centuries does not fit with the data.

So, when did the Exodus occur? [1] It must have occurred before the reign of Merneptah (1213-1203) but not before the reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213). Many scholars date the Exodus, then, to around 1250 BCE. This would put the conquest of Canaan under Joshua’s regime to 1210. But now we run into more trouble.

Did the Walls Come Tumbling Down?

We have already noted that Egypt’s power in Canaan was at its height, making an Israelite conquest of the region unlikely. But there is specific evidence that makes the claim to an Israelite attack on cities like Jericho even more improbable, if not entirely untenable.

Excavations of the ruined city of Jericho began in the nineteenth century but a more thorough one was conducted by the British archaeologist John Garstang who was referenced by Kennedy. Garstang conducted his work in the 1930s and concentrated on City IV, the version of Jericho that supposedly existed at the time of the Israelite conquest of the region. Among the various things Garstang discovered, by far the most important was a wall that had been destroyed presumably by an earthquake. Jericho had walls throughout much of its history, even as far back as 3000 BCE. But the wall at City IV had to be dated to 1400 BCE in Garstang’s view for a number of reasons. This was proof that the biblical account was vindicated: the Israelites had marched on Jericho and sacked it after an earthquake and taken down its wall. (Cline, 2009, 40-41)

This was, of course, not without controversy. Previous excavators had dated City IV to 1550 BCE and so Garstang was essentially upending the prevailing model. This is, of course, what good scientists do, but good scientists also check each other’s work. And in Garstang’s case that peer-review came in the form of Kathleen Kenyon, director of the School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. From 1952 to 1958 she labored in Jericho to see if Garstang was right and to uncover what happened to the famous city. (Cline, 2009, 40)

Kenyon [2] discovered that Garstang was wrong about much of his findings. For starters, City IV was indeed destroyed by a military force but it wasn’t the Israelites and it wasn’t in 1400. Rather, the destruction had been caused by the Egyptians around 1500 BCE. Furthermore, the wall that Garstang had discovered was likely destroyed by an earthquake, not in 1400, but in 2400 BCE. (Dever, 2003, 45)

However, Kenyon’s most important finding deals a death-blow to the version of the Canaanite conquest recorded in the book of Joshua. She showed that during the time period when the Israelite conquest must have occurred that the city of Jericho was abandoned and unfortified. There were no inhabitants to slaughter and no wall to march around. In other words, the biblical story was flat-out wrong. (Dever, 46-47)

The Purpose of the Story

So if there was no battle at Jericho, where did the story come from? For starters, we must acknowledge the fact that the book of Joshua was not written at the time of the conquest. The book shows similarities with Deuteronomy, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings. It is a Deuteronomic History and as such was likely put together from various sources during the days of King Josiah. The Deuteronomic Historian

took texts that told the story of his people’s arrival in the land – the stories of Joshua, Jericho, and the conquest – and he added a few lines at the beginning and at the end to set the story in a certain light. This became the book of Joshua. (Friedman, 1997, 130)

The main purpose behind telling such stories, particularly at that time in Judah’s history, was to show that Yahweh had been with Joshua and the people in their conquest of the land. That land belonged to them, their descendants, despite the threats from the Assyrians or Egyptians or Babylonians. Just as Yahweh was with Joshua so too would he be with Judah if they would return to him and get rid of false gods.

That isn’t to say that the Deuteronomic Historian knew he wasn’t writing history. Undoubtedly, he thought he was. But six centuries would have separated him from Joshua and without proper records he would have had to rely on much later traditions no doubt. Furthermore, there was no such thing as “archaeology” by which he could have unearthed evidence of City IV of Jericho, nor were there things like radiocarbon dating or the “Kenyon-Wheeler” method of excavation. The historian worked with what he had. And what he had, as it turns out, was false.

God’s Broken Promise

So in the end, despite the claims of Thomason (or Kennedy), the promise from God that if the people marched around Jericho once a day for six days, seven times the seventh day, and shouted when they heard the blast of the priests’ horns, the walls would fall down simply did not come to pass for one very simple reason: there was no wall there to be felled.

END NOTES

[1] In proposing a date for the Exodus I am in no way committing myself to belief that it occurred as the book of Exodus narrates. I am skeptical that such an event ocurred and tentatively think that if an exodus-type event happened, it was in reality multiple events that took place gradually over time. As I type this end note, it is August 28th, 2017 and in September a new book is coming out by Richard Elliot Friedman entitled The Exodus: How it Happened and Why It Matters (HarperOne, 2017). I am looking forward to seeing Friedman’s view on the issues.

[2] The Vassar College website has an excellent overview of the excavations at Jericho that can be found here.

PRINTED WORKS CITED

Eric H. Cline. From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2007.

Eric H. Cline. Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Michael D. Coogan. A Reader of Ancient Near Eastern Texts. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013.

William G. Dever. Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

John I. Durham. Exodus. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987.

Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York, NY: Touchstone Books, 2001.

Richard Elliot Friedman. Who Wrote the Bible? second edition. New York, NY: Harper One, 1997.

R. K. Harrison. Old Testament Times. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1970.

James Kennedy. Why I Believe. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2005.