Thursday, May 18, 2006

Dagood's deadwood

“I see a sad tendency (on both sides of the fence, but primarily on the Christian) to “toss out” any conceivable rejoinder to an issue, followed by a sense of satisfaction that the argument was rebutted, succeeded by surprise that the opponent didn’t ‘bite.’”

No surprise that Dagood didn’t respond. He, Loftus, Morgan, and the ex-exbeliever have a history of picking a fight with Christians, then leaving the table before the game is over as they see their pile of chips melting away while they play one losing hand after another.

“Frankly, if the Bible is the sole divine revelation, from the sole source of Truth, I am disappointed that Christians would be willing to reduce the standard of its viability down to ‘any possibility’ rather than what is more likely.”

This is a straw man argument. Neither Jason nor I have argued for any outside chance over what’s more likely.

But I’m not disappointed by Dagood’s straw man argument. He never fails to rise to my low expectations.

“Imagine coming home and seeing your son, baseball bat in hand, a broken window, and a ball rolling around the living room floor. An obvious portrayal of the previous moments comes quickly to mind.”

Imagine concocting a fictitious, self-serving illustration as a substitute for a real argument.

“The clearest example of this is in the debate on inerrancy. An inerrantist will hold to any possible resolution of any contradiction, as if this would satisfy inerrancy. Resolutions that are bent, twisted and contorted to fit that particular moment, and just as quickly discarded in the next discussion.”

The clearest example of this is in the debate on errancy. An errantist will hold to any possible irresolution of any alleged contradiction, as if this would satisfy errancy. Irresolutions that are bent, twisted and contorted to fit that particular moment, and just as quickly discarded in the next discussion.

“Honestly? No body except other inerrantists are buying it. We understand their natural bias to manufacture a resolution.”

Honestly? Nobody except other errantists are buying it. We understand their natural bias to manufacture an irresolution.

“We see the double standard. What is ridiculed in the Qur’an is revered in the Bible.”

What double standard would that be? Muhammad sends his doubters to the Jews and the Christians to verify or falsify his prophetic claims.

So we take him at his word. We judge him by his very own standard.

How is that a double standard?

“A great example of this is David’s Census.”

Ah, yes, the musty chestnut of David’s Census.

“Oh, good. A copyist error. Then can anyone show me the copies that had a ‘3’ rather than a ‘7?’ What? There AREN’T ANY? Then how can I possibly say this is a ‘copyist’ error? And which one (2 Sam. Or 1 Chron.) was the ‘copyist error?’ I wonder if apologists ever get tired of trying to explain these situations for God.”

“If this is a copyist error, and I claim that John 3:16 is a copyist error, how can you possibly argue against it?”

Dagood is such an ignoramus. He knows nothing about OT textual criticism generally or the text-critical status of Chronicles in particular.

He also doesn’t know the difference between NT textual criticism and OT textual criticism. The two are not interchangeable.

i) To begin with, the technical term for this exercise is conjectural emendation. This is not a conservative apologetic ploy. No one is freer when it comes to emending the text of the OT than the liberal scholars.

Not only is Dagood clueless about conservative scholarship, he is equally clueless about liberal scholarship.

ii) Conjectural emendation is a standard feature of OT textual criticism. As the world’s leading OT textual critic explains in the standard work on the lower criticism of the OT:


Scholars are aware of the fact that conjectural emendations are hypothetical…Justification for conjectural emendation comes, first and foremost, from the recognition of the imperfections of the available textual evidence. Only a very small part of all the readings that were created and copied throughout the many generations of the transmission of the text are known to us. Many readings have been lost, among which were necessarily readings that were contained in the first copies. Since the evidence that has been preserved is arbitrary from a textual point of view, it is permissible to attempt to arrive at the ancient texts by way of reconstruction.

The extent to which the evidence is random can be illustrated from the Qumran discoveries. Various emendations, made in the manner described above, before these texts were discovered, have now been found actually to exist in the Qumran texts, as shown in Table 1 below. If the Qumran scrolls had not been discovered, these proposed emendations would have remained mere conjectures. The fact that they have been attested in the Qumran texts removes them from the area of conjectural emendation and confers on them the status of variants readings similar to that of all other readings. If more ancient texts like the Qumran texts are discovered, the circle of witnesses for the understanding of the biblical text will be wider and the need for suggesting new emendations will diminish.

E. Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Fortress 1992), 353.


Beyond the general evidence is the evidence particular to Chronicles. As one archeologist explains:


Recent studies have shown that the Chronicler did not modify his sources at will. Rather, some of his sources arose from a different Hebrew tradition from that of the MT. In addition to the Massoretic tradition preserved in the MT, there also existed a “Palestinian” tradition of the texts of the Pentateuch and Samuel-Kings. It is now clear from comparison of Chronicles with the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Greek translations of the Pentateuch that the text Chronicles used was more like these texts than the MT. Similarly, comparison of Chronicles with parallel passages in Samuel-Kings from 4QSam(a) and 4QSam(b) and 4QSam(c) and the LXX show that the Chronicles text is more like these than the MT versions of Samuel-Kings. The Palestinian text tradition can be identified in the Lucianic LXX, Chronicles, the DDS fragments, and the Jewish writer Josephus. In short, the Chronicler faithfully used the sources he had.

1,2 Chronicles (Broadman (1994), 23.


Continuing with Dagood’s obscurantist doodlings:


And how can we “round” these numbers to get to these two figures (1.3 Million vs 1.57 Million)? Look:

2 Sam. 1 Chron.
Israel – 800,000 1.1 Million
Judah – 470,000 500,000


But as another scholar explains:


According to v9, the figures in Israel and Judah are 8000,000 and 500,000 respectively, while in 1 Chron 21:5 they re 1,100,000 and 470,000 (or, in the LXX, 480,000; cf. BHS) respectively. To complicate matters further, “both Josephus and the Lucianic texts of Samuel show 900,000 for Israel and 400,000 for Judah in Samuel.”

R. Youngblood, EBC 3:1098.


In other words, there are several variant readings in play. So we have specific textual evidence that the numerical transcription is unreliable in our extant MSS.

Continuing with Dagood:

“Further, one should address the capabilities of a nation in 1000 BC with a possible army of 1.3 Million men. To say they would be a world-power is underestimating the capabilities.”

Except that the Hebrew word (‘elep) has more than one meaning, so which sense we assign in any given occurrence is context-dependent.

As both Baldwin and Youngblood point out, the word in v9 probably means a “military unit” or “contingent.” Cf. 1 Sam 4:2.

As to 1 Chron 27:24, Thompson explains:


If one were to read these verses in isolation, they would imply that Joab was to blame for the census and that David was innocent. But this is an allusion to the account in chap. 21 where Joab acted under David’s orders (21:2).

Ibid. 187.


Regarding the different pronominal forms, Ornan “is a regular variant for” Araunah. Cf. Thompson, 162.

Moving along:

“There was a legend about a census during Kind David’s reign that resulted in a punishment on the people. At various times, and various places the legend modified, based upon who was telling it. Three different authors wrote it down. Being human, and hearing the legends from humans, they wrote different accounts.”

This is another textbook example of Dagood’s inexhaustible ignorance.

If you had three independent accounts, each retelling the same “legend,” then there would be the possibility of mutual contradiction inasmuch as each writer didn’t know what the others wrote.

Like suspects separately interrogated, they never had a chance to get their stories straight.

But this disregards the literary dependence of Chronicles on Samuel. As Thomson explains:

“It seems clear, and it is generally agreed, that the Chronicler’s primary source was the books of Samuel-Kings in the Palestinian tradition,” ibid. 23.

The Chronicler already knows the account in Samuel. What is more, his audience knows the account in Samuel.

So some of the differences are deliberate editorial differences rather than inadvertent mistakes.

There is more theological complexity to the Chronicler’s account because he is heir to a literary tradition, taking Samuel-Kings as his point of departure, and also because he is writing from a post-exilic perspective. So his is a more subtextured account, having, as it does, the additional layering of the Exile to furnish retrospective insight in the history of the Davidic monarchy.

For instance, the Chronicler introduces Satan as an intermediary. This does nothing to bring the earlier account into conflict with the later, but merely augments the earlier account with an ulterior dynamic. Cofactors are complementary, not contradictory.

“If it weren’t in the Bible, every person would agree it was ‘human error’ every time. That is why simply coughing out some words that would align one part of one clause of one story, while disregarding the more likely probability of human error is not persuasive.”

If the Bible is like any other book, then the Bible should be treated like any other book. Dagood’s inference is only probable because he begs the question in favor of unbelief by assuming all along that the Bible is just like any other book.

His contention is only persuasive if you accept his prejudicial assumption.

Suppose we back up and begin with a different operating assumption. Is it possible that there is a God? If so, is it possible that such a God would reveal his will to man?

Suppose God revealed himself in a book written some two to three thousand years ago.

If such a thing had happened, would a modern reader never be at a loss for an easy explanation?

Of course not!

An author always assumes more than he says. He assumes a shared background of common knowledge.

We, in reading the Bible many centuries after the fact, lack that cultural preunderstanding. There will be gaps in our understanding of how certain things go together.

It’s the same if you’re reading Dante or Shakespeare. Heck, it’s even the same if you’re reading a modern author like Wittgenstein.

I could run through some of Dagood’s other examples, but it’s not my job to do his research for him. His whole case is based on culpable ignorance of the standard exegetical and text-critical literature.


  1. Why do you guys on this blog project such arrogance towards the legitimate questions posed by skeptics? Do you not even recognize that the Bible stating that 800,000 = 1.1 million should raise a query or two? It should be noted that your response is almost all attitude and commentary with very few actual answers to the questions raised. Nonetheless, here is another one: how do you define inerrancy? If you say that the scriptures were inspired in their orignial autographs, what prevents a God who inspires men to write from inspiring men to preserve what was written?

  2. Mr. Eurisko: I'm not one of the official contributors to this blog, so you may prefer to wait until a more suitable response is forthcoming. But I can tell you from my own more limited experience that there is a great deal of assumption behind calling the skeptic's questions "legitimate." Frequently it seems as though objections are tossed out simply in an effort to trip up the defense. As Steve has pointed out repeatedly in this particular instance, Dagood's questions and objections arise out of an apparent unfamiliarity with important issues in textual criticism. His need to ask them could have been ameliorated with some effort on his part to do the necessary research. It is not as though these text problems have suddenly been discovered in 2006 and inerrantists were previously unaware of them. A significant existing literature is available to the one seeking legitimate answers. That little effort on the part of the typical skeptic appears to be made to avail himself of these answers is what leaves the bitter taste of disingenuousness in the mouth of the defender.

  3. "Why do you guys on this blog project such arrogance towards the legitimate questions posed by skeptics?"

    A few responses (which have already been pointed out by the T-bloggers themselves, but would be worth re-hashing):

    * The folks over at "Debunking Christianity" certainly do not present themselves as mere "skeptics," in the sense that they are simply doubtful or uncertain of Christianity.

    * Rather they are actively opposed to it; they actively attempt to undermine Christianity.

    * Or should we expect differently from a weblog titled "Debunking Christianity"?

    * Let's not forget who initiated most of these debates.

    * A definition of arrogance might be claiming superiority when there is no basis for it. Thus, let the reader(s) judge who is arrogant and who is not.

    * Lastly, as a friend describes it, Steve and crew are really masters of "answering a fool according to his folly."