This question was raised on a televised debate in Bury, England. It was shown on BBC and it is available on the video-sharing website – YouTube.com – https://youtu.be/CAEpc1zhcuo . There were several people invited with a different perspective on the Bible, like Dr. Franceska Stavrakopoulou, a Bible scholar from Exeter University, Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner from Alyth Sinagogue, a well known atheist Prof. Richard Dawkins, the author of „The God Delusion”, and others.
During the debate, different questions were raised, such as „Is anything in the Bible a historical fact?”, or „Why does the Bible have such an privileged position?”, or „Will the Bible be strong next 2000 years,” as well as the question about morals in the Bible. In this piece we will look at their answers, and comment on them.
Is anything in the Bible a historical fact?
The historicity of the Bible has been a big debate throughout the enlightenment period, up to today, and also this debate started with this question. Dr. Stavrakopolou answered first: “Very little, probably.” She claimed then that neither of the big characters in the Old Testament (henceforth “The Hebrew Bible”) of King David and Moses were real persons, but admitted that Jesus is considered amongst scholars to have really existed. She went on to explain that at that time the people had a different understanding of the facts and fiction, than us.
It is true that besides the Bible, there is little evidence for both David and Moses, and those that are there, are very ambiguous. It does not mean, however, that these two, for Judeo-Christian culture very important characters did not exist. Until recently there was no mention of the name David in the archeological writings, but that changed in 1993, when in northern Israel a piece of “stele” in Aramaic was found, where is written “the house of David”. Aramaic, similarly to Hebrew, does not write down the vowels, so what could be read on this stone, was “the house of DWD” which made room to speculations that it could also be meant to be, for example, “the temple of (a god named) Dod.” A year later, though, the same person found two other pieces, that gave a context to “the house of DWD”. This context read:
(…)5. And Hadad went in front of me, [and] I departed from [the] seven […-]
- s of my kingdom, and I slew [seve]nty kin[gs], who harnessed thou[sands of cha-]
- riots and thousands of horsemen (or: horses). [I killed Jeho]ram son of [Ahab]
- king of Israel, and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin-]
- g of the House of David. And I set [their towns into ruins and turned]
- their land into [desolation …]
- other [… and Jehu ru-]
- led over Is[rael … and I laid]
- siege upon [… ] (Mckenzie (2000))
This actually contradicts the Bible, which credits the Israelite general Jehu with killing the two mentioned persons (2 Kings 9-10), but that gives genuinity to the inscription from the 9th century BC, because a modern forger would almost certainly try to copy the Bible in the text. Despite this, it does not prove David`s existence, for a legend could develop within around 150 years that are between the alleged time of the life of David and this stele, but it certainly does seem to tip the scales in that direction. (Mckenzie (2000)).
Moses has even more difficulties to prove his existence outside the Bible, however. Scientists claim that Moses never existed, because archaeology is silent about the Exodus, and fails to mention the exit of more than a million Hebrew slaves in Egyptian writings. Still, it is a rather weak argument from silence and could be easily overturned on an event of finding new evidences. Even more, it would be highly unlikely that the Egyptian chroniclers would want to write about it. Peter Fineman imagines, how it would have sounded, as a press release:
A spokesman for Rameses the great, Pharaoh of Pharaohs, supreme ruler of Egypt, son of Ra, before whom all tremble in awe blinded by his brilliance, today announced that the man Moses had kicked his royal (rear end) for all the world to see, thus proving that God is Yahweh and the 2,000-year-old-culture of Egypt is a lie (Fineman, quoted by Sheler (1999), p. 78).
Furthermore, Nelson Glueck, a renowned Jewish archaeologist, wrote: “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” (Glueck (1969), p. 176) So far, there have been many findings that confirms the stories of the Bible, which means we have a good reason to believe that Bible tells us the factual truth.
Why does the Bible have such a privileged position?
Somewhat later in the debate, Prof. Richard Dawkins said that he does not understand why does the Bible have such a privileged position between other myths from Greek mythology and Northern mythology. He said that he is worried that the Judeo-Christian myth is so important, as if it contained some special truths compared to other myths. He claimed that there is no reason to give such a privileged status to this myth. Later in the debate, he said that we should drop the Bible and find good stories and truths wherever we can find it.
My question is, then, why not keep it? It has served well for over 2000 years as the moral guide for those that have read it with an open heart, truthfully and observing some basic rules in reading. One might point out to the Crusades, Inquisition, Conquistadors and other big mistakes made by Christians in the history of the world, but they were exactly that – mistakes, made by men, who misunderstood the Bible. Of course, evil things can (and unfortunately do) come out from reading Bible, but that is because it is misunderstood and, just as well, evil things can come out from reading children’s stories, like Winnie the Pooh.
Morals and the Bible.
A big part of the debate was spent on the topic of morals in the Bible and from the Bible. Professor Dawkins in his book had written:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal…” (Dawkins, quoted by Plantinga (2007)).
Accordingly, the presenter, Nicky Campbell, quoted this passage from his book, and Dawkins continued with looking at the God of the New Testament. He described God as wanting to save people, but deciding that, in order to do that, he needs to torture and sacrifice his son Jesus Christ, instead of just forgiving them. He continued by exclaiming “Is that not the most disgusting idea you`ve ever heard?” Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, on the other hand, replied that there could be no forgiveness without a cost, while one of the guests said that it was not necessary for Jesus to die from the divine point-of-view, but maybe more because of the culture he was in at that time.
Then Dawkins was asked about the phrase “love your neighbour”, and he replied that they are lovely things to say, but that just as well, you could cherry-pick from other places. He claimed “The way you do your cherry-picking is that we are all decent human beings.” He asked then, “Why bother with the Bible at all?” One should take the nice messages from all sorts of places. After quite a lot of discussions here and there, Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali came up with claim that the moral values, which Dawkins uses to claim that we are all decent people, come from the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount.
Unfortunately, they fail to give any more reason for why to bother with the Bible. One could agree with Professor Dawkins that you can find encouraging and touching stories from everywhere else. Why is then the Bible so special? One reason is that Jesus thought it was special. He thought and taught that the Old Testament was divinely authoritative, imperishable, infallible, inerrant, historically reliable, scientifically accurate, and has ultimate supremacy. In addition to the claims of Jesus, there are many other reasons to believe the truthfulness of the Old Testament, like strong manuscript support, confirmation by archaeology and a storyline that the authors would not invent. Jesus also taught that the New Testament would come, for he left the Holy Spirit to remind them of what had been taught to them (Geisler & Turek (2004), pp. 356-365).
Will the Bible be strong next 2000 years?
At the end of the debate this question was asked to the four main guests if the show and this is what they answered:
Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali answered that the Christianity is very much growing in Africa, Asia and South America, and that it is very relevant for their everyday lives. Prof. Richard Dawkins tried to make a joke that it needs to stay in the King James Version, because otherwise people could read the nonsense that is in there. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner claimed, Bible and the interpretations, the Bible as the source. Dr. Franceska Stavrakopoulou thought that her equivalent (Bible scholars) will be still at work for 2000 years, because it is impossible to imagine our western culture without the Bible.
As the Bible has been tried to destroy for many of those 2000 years so far, it has still remained to be important for the world, it will still continue to be important for the next 2000 years.
Geisler, N. L. & Turek, F. (2004) I Don`t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Glueck, N. (1969) Rivers in the Desert: History of Negev. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America.
McKenzie, S. L. (2000), King David, A Biography. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/mckenzie-david.html (09.04.2015.)
Mentorn Media (2011) The Big Questions. Is the Bible still relevant today? London, UK: BBC, retrieved from https://youtu.be/CAEpc1zhcuo (08.04.2015.)
Plantinga, A. (2007) The Dawkins Confusion. Carol Stream, IL: Books & Culture Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2007/marapr/1.21.html?paging=off (12.04.2015)
Sheler, J. L. (1999) Is the Bible True? San Francisco, CA: Harper SanFrancisco.