Sunday, August 01, 2004

Sifting the evidence

The Secular Web has chosen "It Ain't Necessarily So," by Matthew Sturgis, as its book of the month. According to the review, " The book offers fresh, sometimes unsettling, perspectives on the Bible and its history—results which are not encouraging for Biblical fundamentalists as the author concludes that virtually all of the early stories of the Bible are fabrications. Not surprisingly, however, the later in history the more the archaeological evidence coincides with the Biblical accounts."

Such a sceptical assessment calls for a number of comments:

1. Stugis is not exactly a pro. He is not a field archeologist. He is not, to my knowledge, a student of the ANE languages. In this respect he stands in distinct contrast to writers like Currid, Kitchen, Millard, Mitchell, Thompson, Yamauchi, or Wiseman. Rather, his attainments in the field of historical studies are distinguished by such weighty contributions as "The English Cat at Home," and "Off the Lease: Memoirs of a Royal Corgi."

2. There is the preliminary question of what trace evidence we would expect to survive. Regarding the conquest of Canaan, Kitchen notes that "one may also cite the innumerable campaigns of Egyptian, Hittite, Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian armies in the Levant, of whose encampments and battlefields almost no traces are ever found," On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 545, n.84.

Likewise, the Nile Delta is not conducive to the preservation of perishable materials. In addition, we would hardly expect Egyptian and Assyrian regimes on the losing side of a conflict with ancient Israel to memorialize their ignominious defeat in official inscriptions.

3. Liberals are duplicitous in their rules of evidence. If there's no corroboration, then a liberal will say that the Bible writer made up the story whole cloth; if there is corroboration, then a liberal will say that the Bible writer borrowed the story whole cloth.

4. The fact that the trail grows colder the further back in time we go is scarcely surprising. To the contrary, the evidential cone is consistent with, and even implies, the very reverse.

When someone invents the past, the result is not a lack of historical parallels. Rather, the problem is that the parallels are contemporaneous with the time of the writer rather than the period he pretends to be writing about. He can only write about what he knows, and what he knows best the present. It is the presence of anachronisms, and not the absence of corroboration, or—rather, the presence of corroboration from the time of the writer rather than the putative time of the history—that is the telltale sign of a historical forgery.

5. If, as the liberals would have it, the Pentateuch was written or redacted in the exilic or post-exilic or even Intertestamental period, then there'd be plenty of local detail and abundant corroboration, but out of historical sequence with the stated setting of the Pentateuch. But if Gen 1-11 records the period it claims to record, then, of course, the further back in time you go, the less artifactual evidence you find—especially if you throw in a global flood.


  1. Hello, just visited your bible blog, I also have a bible related website, it's about some books which is helpful to understand the God's Words

  2. Blogger, Been looking on the web for the latest information on corgi truck - saw your site clicked on it.Found Sifting the evidence, maybe not a perfect match - but found it interesting anyway.. off to look for corgi truck..

  3. steve, your article is simply brilliant, spot on! I am working on a scholarly article dealing with the unlikeliness of not finding at least some extant denials of the early Christian claims by contemporary writers,given that so many of the likely hostile corroborators , were orthodox jews and colonial Romans, who all had a vested interest in debunking the earliest Christain claims.