For Drs. Ethon Lowe, Michael Abrahams and others
Though many (learned and unlearned folk) seem not be aware of it, there is an academic version of the biblical “believe not every spirit…” It is “double-check all sources.” I ‘push up’ myself in the company of renowned scholars and join Egyptologist William Dever in asking “How is it that the biblical texts are always approached with postmodernism’s typical ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’, but the non-biblical texts are taken at face value? It seems to be that the Bible is automatically held guilty unless proven innocent.”
This quotation is on p. 128 of Dever’s 2002 (paperback) book What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did they Know It? It should be noted that Dever’s book is quite critical of the biblical documents at points.
Persons who are untutored in the biblical disciplines should be humble enough to ask questions and not pronounce or pontificate in stark ignorance.
Now for a few pointers for those who would read the Bible responsibly. The Bible is at least literature, sacred literature for Christians but literature nonetheless and a translated piece of literature at that.
Literary conventions must be borne in mind [text, context, authorial/literary intent, language features, literary genres [kinds of material], figures of speech. socio-cultural writing and other conventions, and some awareness of the original languages of the text being read [Hebrew/Aramaic for the Old Testament and Greek for the New]
Which University graduate, worthy of the status, is unaware of the trite fact that a piece of literature may record (describe) what it does not recommend (prescribe)? The sordid misdeeds of some biblical characters are never ever held up for emulation and are roundly condemned explicitly or implicitly Dr. Lowe.
The approach I am urging here is to learn how to read the Bible literarily (not to be confused with literally), that is. reading poetry as poetry history as history, and so on, which entails knowing the various kinds of literary material (genres) in the Bible.
To read every text in the Bible literally or every text figuratively is to misread the Bible because some texts purport to be poetry and ought not to be read literally while others may appear to us moderns to be figurative or unhistorical when. by the known writing conventions of the era of those texts, they are plain history.
Try taking literally the text in Matthew that says “If your right eye offends you pluck it out…” and you end up as a kind of Cyclops because the non-literal language of the text means ‘deal decisively with anything that blocks your growth in godly living’!
The modern critic’s aversion to biblical accounts containing divine intervention is a tad presumptuous given what specialists know about Ancient Near eastern writing conventions. The Merneptah stele, like the Bible, provides evidence of divine intervention in a historical narrative.
Kenneth Kitchen, British Egyptologist and specialist on the literatures of the Ancient Near east, says: “The support of deity is repeatedly invoked in what are otherwise straightforward historical accounts, because that is simply how the ancients saw their world. Again, the Ten-Year Annals of Mursil II are a good example among very many. This feature does not imply nonhistoricity either outside the Hebrew Bible or inside it.” (On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, 175).
I recommend to Christians and Bible critics my CD Reading the Bible Meaningfully (available by calling 876-521-5052).
When the average Bible critic charges that if the Biblical Exodus really happened, it should have been mentioned on some Egyptian stele somewhere, ignorance is at work. Such a critic needs to know that Pharaohs never document defeat, indeed, they sometimes exaggerate their victories. But then again, hyperbole (exaggeration for effect) was the norm in Near Eastern military reporting, and this is evidenced in the biblical book of Joshua as well as on Pharaoh Merneptah’s stele.
Most clergy persons and lay preachers need to revisit the text and context of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 to appreciate that this discourse is not primarily about the 2ndComing of our Lord and tribulation in the modern world but primarily (though not exclusively) about the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple. The fulfillment of this prophecy happened in AD 70.
I wonder how many Egyptophiles realize the dilemma of relying on Manetho’s records while doubting the reliability of the transmission of the biblical documents. The dilemma is this. Manetho’s historical work Aegyptiaca was written around 290-260 BC. The work is now lost and though it relied on much earlier works, the time gap between Manetho and the earliest periods about which he writes is about 2000 years.
Additionally, Manetho’s text, accessible only via quotations in other ancient writers, was not the most reliable in terms of names of certain kings of Egypt. As revered master linguist and Old Testament scholar the late Robert Dick Wilson said while arguing for the unusual accuracy of the Old Testament manuscripts:
“I have been blamed for not referring to the classical writings more frequently in my book on Daniel. Here is the reason — take the list made by the greatest scholar of his age, the librarian at Alexandria in 200 B.C., [Manetho]. He compiled a catalogue of the kings of Egypt, thirty-eight in all; of the entire number only three or four of them are recognizable. He also made a list of the kings of Assyria; in only one case can we tell who is meant; and that one is not spelt correctly…” (In Bible League Quarterly, 1955, cited in David Otis Fuller (Ed.), Which Bible? (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1990), 45.)
Despite these limitations in Manetho’s work “…historians today take Manetho seriously and follow his dynastic system.” (James K. Hoffmeier, Ancient Israel In Sinai, 2005, 18).
The charge of contradictions in the Bible needs clarification. The philosophical law of noncontradiction informs us that something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. In court as in general logical thinking two persons may relate the same witnessed event from different perspectives and thus with different details. Taking a complementary view of both may offer a fuller picture of the event.
The differences in the gospels re the same incidents have to do with the literary intent of the particular writer so one should take a complementary view of similar texts for a fuller picture of what happened.
Care needs to be taken too in seeing what exactly a writer said or did not say, for example, the issue of how many angels were in the tomb after the resurrection when the disciples visited. If there were 2 there and only one spoke, to mention just the one that spoke does not pose a problem. The writer’s intent must be factored in, if 2 were there then 1 was also there! Eyewitness testimony in court also comes from particular perspectives depending on what struck a particular witness while seeing the same incident. The complementary approach gives a fuller picture.Critics as well as lovers of the Bible who desire to be taken seriously must do their homework on reading ancient texts responsibly in their literary contexts.