Intro. And Apologies
So, it has been a while. I appreciate your collective (no pun intended) patience as I have gone through various medical ordeals over the past few weeks. Prayerfully, my output will come back as I am able to do more. That being said, I also ask that you be patient as I change topics from time to time as well. I find it easier to work on several issues in rotation, than one topic at a time. This means that each of my posts will fall within certain series, or categories as we move forward. Thus, I will be continuing my short (or not) exegesis of Ezekiel, and will also, with this post, be beginning a series on the reliability of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament Missing in Discussion
It has become clear to me that issues of textual criticism, and textual reliability, tend to stay within the arena of the New Testament and apologetics. However, this does not mean that there is little evidence concerning the reliability of the Old Testament, rather it tends to mean that the materials that argue for the reliability of the Old Testament tend to be cumbersome, scholarly, or inaccessible to the layman. Many are aware of F. F. Bruce’s work on the reliability of the New Testament, but few are aware of Kenneth A. Kitchen’s work On the Reliability of the Old Testament (2003) or Eugene Merril’s Kingdom of Priests (2008). Again, for a variety of reasons these tend to be out of reach, or at least not as popular outside of the classroom. It is my goal to use a series of posts to bring information brought forth in these texts down to a more accessible level, and in short nuggets, in order to make a broader and clearer argument for the reliability of the Old Testament.
Now, there are a few preliminaries that we need to cover. First, this series will be focused on the historicity of the information portrayed in the Old Testament. Thus, this will sit firmly within the topic of history and archaeology. This series will not cover textual criticism. However, I do aim to moving to the issue of textual criticism of the Old Testament in another series. Second, the goal will be to compare direct information found within texts to the history and known artifacts that we have from neighboring civilizations. This means that the focus will not be on interpretations of texts, but on tangibles. So, don’t look for me to give you a date for the flood or creation etc. However, as Kitchen has put it, there is a sense in which we can use direct and indirect information in order to come to a conclusive decision as to whether a text fits within the context that it portrays.
What is Truth?
As to questions of truth that are common in apologetic and philosophical discussions, we will not be seeking to answer Pilate’s age old question, “What is truth?” However, I think Kitchen is most helpful here:
(In regards to truth and postmodernism) “Such matters can only be assessed by expert examination of the available facts, and not by the ignorant pronouncements of some species of neo-Nazi ‘thought police’. It has also been rumored that, in turn, such things as hard facts, objective fact, and (above all) absolute truth have been discarded by resort to the dictates of ‘postmodernism’. …individual absolute truths in the shape of objective fact, ‘hard facts’ that exist independently of what any human being may choose or wish to think – these abound around us in their hundreds of thousands in everyday life, and (quite simply) cannot be gainsaid or wished away…. The Great Pyramid stands firm at Giza in Egypt (as it has done for at least 4,500 years), totally regardless of whether I know about this, or approve of this, or disapprove of this. The facts are wholly independent of me, my prejudices, or my knowledge, and of everyone else’s. This itself is an absolute fact of life, along with countless others. And so, we must firmly say to philosophical cranks (politically correct, postmodernist, or whatever else) – ‘your fantasy agendas are irrelevant in and to the real world, both of today and of all preceding time back into remotest antiquity. Get real or (alas!) get lost!’”[i]
While his witticism is a bit harsh, his points, I believe are quite valid. Without foundations, real and unaltered by experience, historical study itself is impossible. We might, as it is popular in many institutions these days, manage different “readings” of texts, but we will be unable to suggest that such readings bear any real authority or real information in regards to the text being read. However, the confessional position of the historian must not be ignored either. As Merrill says, “by virtue of our confession that we are under the authority of the very sources we are investigating, we have already surrendered our right to reject what we cannot understand or what we find difficult to believe.” [ii] Thus, our own study of this history cannot be wholly objective. Yet, in as far as it is based on historical fact, we can clearly speak of the Old Testament’s reliability.
In the end, I certainly believe that you will find that the texts of the scriptures clearly contain information and factual data that could not have been made up in a later age than the books of the biblical text suggest. Much of the factual data that was held in question by critical scholars has been laid to rest as archaeological data has confirmed methods, rituals, people, and places that are mentioned in the biblical witness. While this is not as clear and cut if you read critical scholarship, the factual data is overwhelmingly in favor of the historicity of the facts put forward in the Old Testament.
Texts vs. Artifacts
One of the overwhelming issues in regards to the current debate is the question of the value of artifacts vs. texts. Which is more useful in determining what happened and when? This will be an issue that we will need to deal with over and over again. Generally speaking, liberal scholars will favor artifacts and conservative or confessional scholars will favor texts. I am no exception to this general rule. The liberal desire for artifacts tends to come, as I see it, from their need to insert a narrative as to how things happened. A pot or sandal can only tell an archaeologist so much, but because it can only do so much, one might be able to construct a narrative around the artifacts that agrees with one’s preconceived narrative. However, texts are decidedly direct. Ledgers, royal missives, and religious texts allow scholars to get into the mind of the authors and help us get a vision for what the time was like. This emphasis on texts, as you will see, lends strength to the argument for the reliability of the Old Testament. Though, it must be noted, there are liberal scholars who will also favor ANE texts, essentially lending them a level of inerrancy while finding our scriptures fundamentally flawed. This, I hope will be an enjoyable and enlightening adventure into the past.
Help From My Readers
However, this is where you as a reader come into the equation. As we move forward, I will be looking for feedback in order to better get a sense of whether I am being clear in what I am writing. The goal of this series is to make this material accessible, if I fail in that, then I am wasting your time and mine. Also, Merrill starts at the beginning of the scriptures, and moves to the end of the Old Testament, yet Kitchen starts at the end, where the factual data is more plentiful and works his way back building his case from most data to least. I would like to know which order you as a reader would proffer. Also, hearing from my reading audience, whether in agreement or in disagreement, is an encouragement to me as I like to know how my writings are being received. Thanks again for all of your time and patience with my medical woes. I’m looking forward to this series and I hope you are as well.
[i] K. A Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2006), xiv.
[ii] Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2008) p.14-15.