Saturday, January 31, 2015

Iron Chariots On The Creation Of The Early Parts Of The Bible

Yesterday I noticed a reference to Matt Dillahunty holding forth, in a video from his radio show, about the creation of the Bible. For any number of reasons, I didn't feel like sitting through the entire video, but I was curious to know what Matt might have to say on the subject. (Regular readers of this blog know that I am occasionally somewhat critical of the statements of New Atheists on historical topics.) I looked for a printed text by Matt on the subject. I didn't find much in that vein, although I did find a ton of links to Matt on video. I also found out that he is a founder of Iron Chariots, a wiki which describes itself as "intended to provide information on apologetics and counter-apologetics."

I posted the following quote from Iron Chariots about the writing of the Bible, and said it was pretty much okay:

"The Jewish and Christian Bibles are actually collections of what were originally a number of independent books. The overwhelming majority of Christians refer to the Bible as the combination of Hebrew Scripture, known to Christians as the Old Testament or First Testament; and the New Testament, which describes the life and message of Jesus. For Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and some Protestants, the Deuterocanonical books — various writings important in the Second-Temple period of Judaism (often regarded by many Protestants as (or part of the) Apocrypha) — are considered to be part of the Old Testament and as such part of the Bible, although they are rejected by many Protestants and are not in the Hebrew Bible as accepted in modern Judaism. Some books considered deuterocanonical by Orthodox Churches are considered apocryphal by other Orthodox Churches and/or Catholics. For Jews, the term refers only to the Hebrew Bible, also called the Tanakh, which includes the Five Books of Moses (the Torah) as well as the books of the Prophets and Writings. Both Christians and Jews regard the Bible as divinely inspired, with widespread variation on its accuracy, interpretation and legitimacy. Archaeological study has shown that the primary elements the first five books of the Bible, especially Exodus, were around before the Old Testament was. They were found in several unrelated oral traditions around 500 BCE, but the oldest examples of biblical scripture were dated using radiometric dating to have been written between 325 and 125 BCE. The Bible is nowhere near as old as claimed by the majority of Jews and Christians)"

But overnight a couple of things occurred to me:

1) Iron Chariots sez "the oldest examples of biblical scripture were dated using radiometric dating to have been written between 325 and 125 BCE," and that date may be accurate for the oldest OT manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Oxyrhychus, but a 7th-century-BC silver scroll has been found containing the Priestly Benediction (May the Lord bless and keep you[...]" etc. That's Numbers 6 24-26, by the way, and it's a good passage to keep in mind when people are trying to tell you that the early books of the Bile are all about Massacre all of the unbelievers and Rape your daughters and If your slave touches pigskin or a shrimp, slay him. If you have no idea who would try to tell you that the early books of the Bible are made up exclusively of such horrors, then you've been much luckier than I in avoiding the company of some simpleminded and fanatical atheist communities.)

2) The article sez "The Bible is nowhere near as old as claimed by the majority of Jews and Christians." What do the majority of Jews and Christians claim about it? I don't know, and I don't think the person who wrote the Iron Chariots article know either. I think a much more accurate statement would be something like: The traditional view was that Moses wrote the 1st 5 books of the Bible sometime between 1200 and 1400 BC. In the 17th century doubts about Moses' authorship of those texts began to be raised. Today scholars have very serious doubts about whether Moses really ever existed at all, and generally agree that if there was an exodus from Egypt to the land of Israel, it was much smaller and briefer than the one described in the book of Exodus. And furthermore, there is no evidence of written Hebrew of any sort, let alone the entire Pentateuch, as early as 1200 BC.

Still. Credit where credit is due: the above-quoted passage from Iron Chariots is miles ahead of a lot of the dimwitted nonsense you're going to hear from a lot of New Atheists about Bronze-Age goat herders and Constantine and the Pope writing the Bible at Nicea, and celibacy not being valued highly by Christians until about AD 1000, when the Vatican figured out how much more property they could inherit from clergy if the clergy were childless, and Aristotle being Belgian and so on.

However, unfortunately, the above passage is also higher in quality than much of the rest of the long Iron Chariots article on the Bible, and, and this is my point, much lower in quality than what you could learn from easily-accessible reference works such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica or the Cambridge Ancient History, not to mention more specialized works by legit Biblical scholars, which I ain't and those guys at Iron Chariots ain't either, not to mention actually *gasp* learning Hebrew and Greek and Latin and Aramaic and referring directly to the primary materials and becoming a legit Biblical scholar yrself.

Writing that Iron Chariots article rather than referring to the actual scholars is a real disservice to atheists who want to know what's up with the Bible. It's sort of an insult to those atheists to assume that direct contact with the real scholarship might give them Judeo-Christian cooties and that they might not be able to detect pro-religious bias in that scholarship all by themselves. (Of course, a lot of the legit scholars are actually *gasp* atheists and aren't going to give anybody religious cooties.)

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