The Reliability of the Old Testament Dr. Rodney K. Duke Appalachian State Univ.
ADDRESSING BACKGROUNDED ASSUMPTIONS What do we mean by “reliable”? What is the personal response to that which is reliable?
2 TIMOTHY 3:14-17 Red = purpose statements 14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able [Duke: “empowering”] to make you wisefor salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed[Duke: or “God breathing”] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
POSSIBLE “MODERN” ASSUMPTION • To be reliable, it (e.g. Book of Isaiah) must be written by one person from the first word to the last! • Why? The evidence is that much of the Bible is communal literature that was passed down in both oral and written forms and was shaped by the community of faith for generations.
POSSIBLE “MODERN” ASSUMPTION • We will find systematic propositional truths about God! (E.g. God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omnipresent, etc.) • Why? Psalmists, prophets, others move from relational experience (top down) to general conclusions about nature of God, not from abstract projections (bottom up) onto God.
POSSIBLE “MODERN” ASSUMPTION • Biblical rules will be logically consistent! • Yes, but, consistent to the purposes of the Scripture! • Proverbs 26:4,5: • 4) Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. • 5) Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
POSSIBLE “MODERN” ASSUMPTION • All biblical narratives/stories must be historically accurate to be true! • Why? Even our culture does not make an absolute separation between history and fiction. We have a range of literature with “blends”: fables, parables, legends, tall tales, dramatic enactments, historical fiction, fictional history.
Propositional Truth versusMimetic Truth Language creates Referential Quality Textual World How does it relate? Mimetic Quality Real World Asks if textual world is “accurate” to real world historically (events in time & space) Asks if textual world is “accurate” to nature of real world in terms of how life “works” (life’s experiences) Note: One might call both qualities “referential,” but pointing to two different considerations: historically unique and/or nature of reality.
MAIN ISSUE REGARDING BIBLICAL STORIES What genre/type of literature are we dealing with? How do we know? Caution: Biblical faith is grounded on an understanding that God intervenes in history, in time and space, for God’s purposes. Still, we have to be careful about assuming that every narrative is meant to be accurate historically rather than mimetically.
POSSIBLE “MODERN” ASSUMPTION • Scripture (historical narrative) should be word-for-word accurate! • Why, if that was not the nature of the literature of the time in which the Israelites lived? • Speeches in Chronicles: same words from different people. • (Nature of ancient historiography.) • Large numbers in Joshua. • (Nature of battle accounts in the ancient Near East.)
POSSIBLE “MODERN” ASSUMPTION • There is only one true scientific history! (“historical positivism”) • Why? The Hebrew Bible contains TWO accounts of the history of Israel, Joshua – 2 Kings, and 1-2 Chronicles. They contain some of the same events interpreted differently as well as different stories and events. But BOTH were accepted as authoritative and canonical.
Summary • “Reliable” means that we can entrust ourselves to it. • God’s purposes of Scripture, from 2 Tim 3:14-17: • Wisdom (guidance) to salvation (deliverance/wholeness) • Equipped to do good works (service) • False assumptions of modernity, regarding the OT: • Each book must be written by one, known author • We will find systematic, propositional (T/F) statements • [Assumes “truth and meaning” are found in referential statements] • Teaching will be completely consistent • All stories must be historically accurate to be “true” [Ignores mimetic truth of stories] • Historical narrative must be word-for-word accurate to be true • There can be only one scientifically true history
Issue of Historicity Minimalists vs. Maximalists Skeptical of biblical “records” Date text by latest element (linguistic style, anachronisms, etc.) Late = inaccurate or made up Demand outside corroborative definitive proof Assume essential historicity of story Expect later editing and modernizing of text See any outside correlation as support Jehu, King of Israel paying tribute to Shalmaneser III of Assyria, 825 BCE.
Recommended book: On the Reliability of the Old Testament Kenneth Anderson Kitchen Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003
Joseph Story • Names mainly Egyptian • Types of characters & customs • Dreams interpretation and cup of divination • Price for slave (Gen 37:28 - 20 shekels fits 1900-1600 BCE. • Treatment of foreigners: good to bad by 1540. • Foreigners in power (c. 1860 – 1540 BCE) • Etc.
Exodus & Conquest • Real problems: • 1440 or 1280 BCE, other? • Biblical count of years? • Correlation to Egyptian data? • Misreading of Biblical text: • Myth of total conquest • Myth of all cities burned • Myth of disparate culture Egyptian Merneptah Stele, first external mention of Israel, c. 1210 BCE
Deuteronomy: Covenant/Treaty • Scholars date to c. 620 BCE, “discovered” in Temple • But: • Treaty format (from c. 80-90 known treaties) ONLY fits the format used from c. 1400-1200 BCE. • Antiquarian interest in Egypt from c. 711-525 BCE (Saite dynasty) went through temple archives
Historicity of David Dwdtyb“House of David” • Questioned by minimalists, because there are no foreign records. • But: • Neither Assyria nor Egypt were involved in the Mediterranean area at the time. • Biblical profile fits the pattern of other states that expanded their reign at this time. • Tel Dan Inscription ( 9th cent, 250 years after David) Tel Dan Inscription
Issue of Historicity Joseph story David Exodus Dwdtyb Jesus Merneptah Stele, first external mention of Israel, c. 1210 BCE