Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Defending Daniel

Although this post has special reference to Daniel, much of what I say is applicable to Scripture in general.

i) Warranted belief in Scripture doesn't hinge on corroboration from outside. Most Christians are in no position to independently verify Scripture. If the God of Scripture exists, he wouldn't make faith dependent on access to information which few Christians enjoy. 

In apologetics, we cite various lines of evidence to rebut attacks or provide additional reasons for belief. But that doesn't mean faith in Scripture should depend on independent confirmation. 

ii) Although unbelievers routinely attack the historicity of Scripture, that's really a red herring. Even if we had independent corroboration for every merely historical report in Scripture, that wouldn't make a dent in the unbeliever's disbelief. That's because unbelievers don't really care about the merely historical events recorded in Scripture. Their real objection is to the specifically supernatural or miraculous events. Even if we had complete corroboration for every "natural," nonmiraculous incident in Scripture, unbelievers would continue to reject Scripture out of hand. 

iii) The argument from silence is only significant if there's a reasonable expectation something would be mentioned if it occurred.  

iv) I find historical objections to Scripture inherently unimpressive. As I've said before, hits are far more impressive than misses. 

If two ancient sources disagree, it's easy to account for their disagreement if one or both are wrong. By contrast, if two ancient sources independently agree, then it's hard to account for their agreement unless both are (at least approximately) correct.

If the reported event really happened, they agree because that's the source of their information. And that's the standard of comparison.

Roughly speaking, there's only way to be right, because there's only one event. By contrast, sheer imagination is the only limit on the number of false reports. Since error isn't aligned with a standard of comparison (i.e. the actual event), there's no external check on variations in error. Proliferation of erroneous accounts is uncontrollable in a way that true accounts are not. 

Two accounts can easily disagree if both are out of touch with reality. The permutations of error are infinite. It's sheer coincidence if two fictional accounts happen to agree. Likewise, two accounts can easily disagree if one is factual while the other is fictitious. 

v) What makes the hits even more impressive is the scattershot nature of the surviving evidence. Given how little evidence survives, given how little interest ancient historians took in Israel or 1C Christianity, given the inevitable bias of ancient sources, it's nothing short of remarkable that we even have much independent corroboration of Scripture.

So this is something Christians always need to keep in mind when reading historical criticisms of Scripture. Hits are very impressive, but misses are very unimpressive. These are radically asymmetrical. 

vi) I think some scholars view a historical reconstruction like a jigsaw puzzle. In a good reconstruction, all the available pieces should fit together. 

But that's a misleading metaphor. Events fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Things only happen one way. One thing follows another. One thing happens at the same time as another–in a different locale. So there's only way that events fit together.

But in the case of ancient history, we don't have direct access to the events. What we have are sources. Ancient sources are unlikely to have the tight-fit of a jigsaw puzzle. Due to bias and ignorance, our ancient extrabiblical sources are, at best, raw data. 

If, say, a Christian scholar identifies Darius the Mede with Cyrus, his historical reconstruction needn't dovetail with all of the available evidence. For the extant evidence is likely to have jagged edges rather than smooth edges. The extant evidence is going to be piecemeal at best and often inaccurate to some degree. A rough fit is usually the best we can expect. 

vii) If Daniel was fictional, the more evidence that archeology turns up, the more the historical problems for Daniel should multiply. But the opposite is the case. The more evidence that archeology turns up, the more that eliminates or ameliorates past objections to the historicity of Daniel. 

That's not the emerging pattern we'd expect if Daniel was fictional. That's antithetical to the pattern we'd expect if Daniel was fictional. 

Liberals used to say Belshazzar was fictional, until archeology discovered extrabiblical evidence. 

Liberals used to raise linguistic objections to the 6C date of Daniel. But comparative linguistics based on archeological discoveries of extrabiblical Hebrew and Aramaic texts made that argument backfire. 

Liberals used to say Daniel 1:1 got the date wrong, but archeology has turned up evidence of different calendrical systems which can harmonize Daniel and Jeremiah. 

Liberals often say Darius the Mede is fictional. But archeology has supplied evidence that makes Cyrus a plausible candidate. 

Liberals used to say the designation of Belshazzar as a "king" is inaccurate. Yet archeology has turned up evidence to corroborate that title, viz. distinguising between a "king" and a "great king." 

Likewise, there's fragmentary evidence that Nebuchadnezzar suffered a bout of mental illness, which is consistent with boanthropy. 

viii) Apropos (vii), why would Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Jehoiakim be historical figures, but Darius the Mede be fictional? It's consistent to say all three are fictional. But since even liberals admit that's untenable, that puts pressure on their position. You could argue that if the Belshazzar pericope is fictional, and Belshazzar is fictional, then Darius the Mede is fictional. It's all of a piece. But when evidence turns up that Belshazzar is historical, then the claim that Darius the Mede is just a literary construct becomes very ad hoc.

ix) When unbelievers read conservative defenses of Daniel, this smacks of special pleading. Yet liberals and conservatives alike engage in historical reconstructions. Both sides extrapolate from trace evidence. Both sides interpolate missing evidence. 

For instance, Collins, in his commentary, doesn't think Darius the Mede ever existed. However, he's enough of a scholar to realize that it's inadequate to say Daniel was wrong and leave it at that. For he needs to explain what motivated the author to write Dan 6. He needs to provide an alternative explanation to account for Dan 6. 

So he comes up with an ingenious reconstruction. Yet his explanation is at least as complicated and speculative (if not more so) than scholars who identify Darius the Mede with Cyrus. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! Every Christian apologist would do well to read this.