11 August 2014

Review of The Bible Unearthed

The power of the biblical saga stems from its being a compelling and coherent narrative expression of the timeless themes of a people liberation, continuing resistance to oppression, and quest for social equality.  It eloquently expresses the deeply rooted sense of shared origins, experiences, and destiny that every human community needs in order to survive. 
(Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 318)
If you’re looking for a book to bolster your beliefs in the absolutely 100% historical accuracy of the Bible, this is not that book.  That being said, the authors do respect the biblical narrative and the texts and realize their import in the lives of millions of people worldwide, calling it a “great national epic of liberation.”
… it is only when we recognize when and why the ideas, images, and events described in the Bible came to be so skillfully woven together that we can at last begin to appreciate the true genius and continuing power of this single most influential literary and spiritual creation in the history of humanity. (Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 318)
This book gently, but firmly breaks down several major parts of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament for you Christians out there); Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman present archaeological and historical evidence that much of the Bible was written to help coalesce the nation after several years of exile.  The Christian New Testament is not covered in this book, and partly, I believe that after chopping at the foundations, the building built on those foundations will also suffer; but, mostly, I believe it’s because the authors are Jewish and not Christian: hence, the New Testament is not their Bible.

So, I guess you could say that The Bible Unearthed actually uncovers the facts and many of the events that in fact took place, many directly opposed to what we find written in the pages of the Bible.  So, I guess you could say The Bible Unearthed unearths what happened outside of the Bible as we know it, and gives us something closer to what actually took place.  It gives detailed information, including bibliography and index and a few maps and illustrations.

Where does Biblical Inerrancy fit in here?  Some believe the Bible is 100% accurate history, science, etc.  They attempt to strengthen their arguments and their belief by going to the Bible itself.  Others have tried to manipulate archaeological and historical finds to fit what the Bible says.  At the end of the day, you just have to believe that if we were created, then God would not have given us minds that could figure things out if he didn’t want us to figure them out.  Also, if the Bible is inspired by God, and God is all-knowing (yes, I know the fancy word is omniscient), then he woulda known a looooong time ago that some smartass would come along and show how all the things written in there are not 100% accurate.  Some of those who attempt to defend the Bible forget that if there God is as powerful as they say they believe he is, he is more than capable of taking care of it himself.
Does that mean they are false?  NO!  It means the Bible is made up of stories which are meant to lead people to live a better life.  It was written to show people how to love and how to behave in the world.  It’s not always pretty; much of the Hebrew Bible is blood, murder, and other awfulness that one wouldn’t expect to see in a book about a God who is love.
I’m not trying to attack anyone’s faith, and I don’t believe that is Finkelstein and Silberman’s desire, either.  In fact, my faith was strengthened because I realized that Christianity wouldn’t be here if the Jews hadn’t pulled together and written their Tanakh (I know some fancy words, I know!  Actually, that’s an acronym for the three sections of the Hebrew Bible: Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim: or The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings), and much of what I take for granted may never have happened.  I also realize that a lot of bloodshed wouldn’t have happened: i.e. the Crusades; the bloody Protestant/Catholic conflicts; the whole awful war going on in Israel and Palestine and that which is going on in the Middle East.

All the good and bad can be traced right back to that time when a group of Jewish exiles decided to put together a book for their nation, and then, use stories of their ancestors who obeyed and were blessed; and others who disobeyed and were cursed.  The blessings and the cursings all go back to those stories.  And, that is what they are: stories.

You cannot build a science on Genesis.  You cannot build a history on any of the “historical” books.  Yes, some of them have accurate depictions, but the timing is off.  The Exodus is a big one; as is the stories of the kings of both Judah and Israel. 

While this book does not cover the New Testament, I think Paul’s epistle to Timothy has probably come to mind and so, I will quote from verses 15 – 17 of the third chapter:
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

You see?  It says there that all scripture is given by inspiration of God.  That’s the King James Version.  The English Standard Version says, in verse 16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God …”  New International Version says: “God-breathed.”  But, notice what these verses do not say.  They do not say that everything in the scripture is to be considered 100% accurate.  Does it have to say that?  Apparently some believe it does.  I for one have read the Bible many times and have never read in its pages anything remotely saying that it’s to be taken literally.  Rather, the more I read it, the more I believe it should be read literarily.
Basically, this guy's up here writing this review and saying that the Bible shouldn't be believed.  I am not saying that!  I’m saying that believe it the way it’s meant to be believed.  Use it for doctrine (a fancy word for the teachings of your particular belief system), for reproof (an antiquated word which means discipline), for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.  How can one do that with literature?  People do it all the time; in fact, it’s what we have all been doing for centuries. 

Realizing that something is not the way you have believed it can be difficult.  It can stun you, I know.  But, it can be liberating, too.  It can open completely new ways of thinking and understanding.  And, once your mind has been stretched to see something, it cannot un-see it, barring permanent amnesia. 
According to the entry on Biblical Inerrancy at the Religious Tolerance website:
Belief of biblical inerrancy in the U.S.:
On 2007-MAY-25, Gallup reported the results of a national poll on Biblical inerrancy. Those polled were asked which of three statements comes closest to describing their personal views about the Bible. The average of polls taken during MAY of 2005, 2006 and 2007 were:
  • 31% believe that "The Bible is the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word." This would imply acceptance of biblical inerrancy.
  • 47% believe that "The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally."
  • 19% believe that "The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."
  • 3% were uncertain or didn't answer.
  • Margin of error was ±3 percentage points.
An identical poll taken during 2011-MAY showed little change:
  • 30% believe that "The Bible is the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word."
  • 49% believe that "The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in it should be taken literally."
  • 17% believe that "The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man."
  • 4% were uncertain or didn't answer.

Only 30% of those asked believe that each and every word of the Bible is to be taken literally.  I’m in between the 17% and the 49%: I believe that the Bible is inspired, but that it is recorded by humans.  Harold Bloom argues, in his The Book of J, that possibly parts of the Hebrew Bible (those written by one scholars call the Jahwist) were possibly written by a woman.  I like to think that that could be true: I like to hope that it is.  For more on these ideas of the “documentary hypothesis,” read this

There is a humorous take on the idea of taking the Bible literally on the Religious Tolerance site.

I love this book.  I really have to buy myself a copy, so I can spend more time going through it and its sources.  If you’re interested in the history of the Levant, the nation of Israel, the Bible, or in archaeology, or in old texts, I think you will enjoy this book.  If you don’t, please don’t throw it at me,  it is a pretty hefty tome and might do some serious damage to my spectacles. 

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