The Bible and its Critics: Part One
I have often found myself astonished while perusing the multifarious and ancient narratives accounting of a great flood. From the Near east — the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians — to Asia, the New World native traditions, and the Masai people of sub-Saharan Africa, and, of course, the ever cherished Noah, the ubiquity of these stories and their similarity is nothing short of amazing and perplexing.
The scholars have enlisted the aid of the psychologist. In an effort to dismiss everything and reveal nothing, scholars of ancient traditions explain the phenomenon in hopelessly confused terms. They claim that there may exist something in the human mind that acted forcefully, or experience which acted incidentally, on the ancient scribes that induced them to put to print stories of such global demolition, something of an arcane, perhaps limbic, reaction to the noticed contingencies of life — earth, wind, water, fire — and their potential for great benefit and great suffering. And like today, bad news is profitable news. Modern cynicism having been superimposed over the detailed and ancient sketches of human experience, they are reduced to mere mechanisms of political and social control. This is what scholars suggest, and it is suggested frequently.
Picking up on this tone, literary atheists and secular scholars chime with great enthusiasm that there exist no extra-biblical evidence that suggests the Israelite exodus from Egypt and subsequent conquest of Canaan occurred, or that the Kingdoms of David and Solomon were more than mere tribal chiefdoms. This is not true, as we will see in forthcoming posts. However, let us assume, for the sake of this exposé on the discipline, that it is true.
Archaeology is not in the business of ontological proofs. Lack of evidence should never be considered evidence of lack. When dealing with a text “innocent until proven guilty” should be the maxim of analyses, as the Historian and legal scholar J. W. Montgomery notes,
historical and literary scholarship continues to follow Aristotle’s dictum that the benefit of doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself. This means that one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.
With this dictum in mind, one must ask the relevant question: is there any evidence that compromises or contradicts the historical narrative, as it concerns the exodus and conquest, of the Biblical text? There exists none. Not a scrap. Not even the semblance of circumstantial evidence.
Moving back to the flood narrative one should notice the contrasting principles of what is expected in the conquest narrative and what is provided in the flood narrative. A specific, extra biblical, category of evidence that is demanded in the case of the political and demographic accounts of the Israelite excursions, is reduced to the universal psychological superfluity of ancient man upon the demand being met in the ubiquity of the flood narrative. Arguments now follow like tipping dominoes. It is modern science, critics proclaim, that precludes any flood on a global or large regional scale. Meteorologist and geologist repeat this with one tongue, while the other pontificates with serpent like duplicity that if global warming is not addressed, much of the lower lying regions of the continents will soon be covered in water. Dismal science, meet Dismal theory. Ancient myth, meet modern theory.
That the multitude of accounts of diluent devastation might be veridical is dismissed because of the encroaching theological suggestions. That the biblical text may not be mere mythic flotsam in cases of historical events has led some secularist scholars to occupy themselves with the concern that people of reasonable faculties may be more inclined to take its theological superstructure into more serious consideration. They are correct in their fears. In a man disposed to see historic accuracy, visions of metaphysical congeniality, if not accuracy, are not far behind.
The duplicity and double standard that the bible is subjected to should be sorely disappointing, but it never is. Keep these considerations in mind for the following posts. We are dealing with a narcissism that has plagued men of intellectual posture for millenia, thus the Greek historian Thucydides writes in his Peloponnesian War,
“For though I have found it impossible, because of its remoteness in time, to acquire a really precise knowledge of the distant past or even of the history preceding our own period, yet, after looking back into it as far as I can, all the evidence leads me to conclude that these periods were not great periods either in warfare or in anything else.”
Thucydides’ calm admission of both certainty and ignorance should not be dismissed as the ancient ramblings of a nascent discipline. The most salient feature of the history of Historians is the presumption of knowledge while disposed to ignorance, if not arrogance.