2017-10-27 20:18:32 UTC
The historicity of the Bible is the question of the Bible's "acceptability as a history," in the words of Thomas L. Thompson, a scholar who has written widely on this topic as it relates to the Old Testament. This can be extended to the question of the Christian New Testament as an accurate record of the historical Jesus and the Apostolic Age.
Many fields of study span the Bible and history, such fields range from archeology and astronomy to linguistics and comparative literature. Scholars also examine the historical context of Bible passages, the importance ascribed to events by the authors, and the contrast between the descriptions of these events and other historical evidence.
Archaeological discoveries since the 19th century are open to interpretation, but broadly speaking they lend support to few of the Old Testament's historical narratives and offer evidence to challenge others.[a][b][c][d]
Very few texts survive directly from antiquity: most have been copied – some, many times. To determine the accuracy of a copied manuscript, textual critics examine the way the transcripts have passed through history to their extant forms. The higher the consistency of the earliest texts, the greater their textual reliability, and the less chance that the content has been changed over the years. Multiple copies may also be grouped into text types (see New Testament text types), with some types judged closer to the hypothetical original than others.
A central pillar of the Bible's historical authority was the tradition that it had been composed by the principal actors or eyewitnesses to the events described – the Pentateuch was the work of Moses, Joshua was by Joshua, and so on. But the Protestant Reformation had brought the actual texts to a much wider audience, which combined with the growing climate of intellectual ferment in the 17th century that was the start of the Age of Enlightenment threw a harsh sceptical spotlight on these traditional claims. In Protestant England the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his major work Leviathan (1651) denied Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and identified Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings and Chronicles as having been written long after the events they purported to describe. His conclusions rested on internal textual evidence, but in an argument that resonates with modern debates, he noted: "Who were the original writers of the several Books of Holy Scripture, has not been made evident by any sufficient testimony of other History, which is the only proof of matter of fact;"
The publication of James Hutton's Theory of the Earth in 1788 was an important development in the scientific revolution that would dethrone Genesis as the ultimate authority on primeval earth and prehistory. The first casualty was the Creation story itself, and by the early 19th century "no responsible scientist contended for the literal credibility of the Mosaic account of creation." The battle between uniformitarianism and catastrophism kept the Flood alive in the emerging discipline, until Adam Sedgwick, the president of the Geological Society, publicly recanted his previous support in his 1831 presidential address:
We ought indeed to have paused before we first adopted the diluvian theory, and referred all our old superficial gravel to the action of the Mosaic Flood. For of man, and the works of his hands, we have not yet found a single trace among the remnants of the former world entombed in those deposits.
All of which left the "first man" and his putative descendants in the awkward position of being stripped of all historical context, until Charles Darwin naturalized the Garden of Eden with the publication of On The Origin of Species in 1859. Public acceptance of this scientific revolution was, at the time, uneven, but has since grown significantly. The mainstream scholarly community soon arrived at a consensus, which holds today, that Genesis 1–11 is a highly schematic literary work representing theology/symbolic mythology rather than actual history or science.
In the following decades Hermann Gunkel drew attention to the mythic aspects of the Pentateuch, and Albrecht Alt, Martin Noth and the tradition history school argued that although its core traditions had genuinely ancient roots, the narratives were fictional framing devices and were not intended as history in the modern sense. Though doubts have been cast on the historiographic reconstructions of this school (particularly the notion of oral traditions as a primary ancient source), much of its critique of biblical historicity found wide acceptance. Gunkel's observation that
if, however, we consider figures like Abraham, Issac, and Jacob to be actual persons with no original mythic foundations, that does not at all mean that they are historical figures ... For even if, as may well be assumed, there was once a man call 'Abraham,' everyone who knows the history of legends is sure that the legend is in no position at the distance of so many centuries to preserve a picture of the personal piety of Abraham. The 'religion of Abraham' is, in reality, the religion of the legend narrators which they attribute to Abraham
has in various forms become a commonplace of contemporary criticism.[f]
In the United States the biblical archaeology movement, under the influence of Albright, counterattacked, arguing that the broad outline within the framing narratives was also true, so that while scholars could not realistically expect to prove or disprove individual episodes from the life of Abraham and the other patriarchs, these were real individuals who could be placed in a context proven from the archaeological record. But as more discoveries were made, and anticipated finds failed to materialise, it became apparent that archaeology did not in fact support the claims made by Albright and his followers. Today, only a minority of scholars continue to work within this framework, mainly for reasons of religious conviction. William Dever stated in 1993 that
[Albright's] central theses have all been overturned, partly by further advances in Biblical criticism, but mostly by the continuing archaeological research of younger Americans and Israelis to whom he himself gave encouragement and momentum ... The irony is that, in the long run, it will have been the newer 'secular' archaeology that contributed the most to Biblical studies, not 'Biblical archaeology'.
Most modern scholars hold that the canonical Gospel accounts were written between 70 and 100 or 110 CE, four to eight decades after the crucifixion, although based on earlier traditions and texts, such as "Q", Logia or sayings gospels, the passion account or other earlier literature (See List of Gospels). Some scholars argue that these accounts were compiled by witnesses although this view is disputed by other scholars. There are also secular references to Jesus, although they are few and quite late.
Many scholars have pointed out that the Gospel of Mark shows signs of a lack of knowledge of geographical, political and religious matters in Judea in the time of Jesus. Thus, today the most common opinion is that the author is unknown and both geographically and historically at a distance to the narrated events although opinion varies and scholars such as Craig Blomberg accept the more traditional view. The use of expressions that may be described as awkward and rustic cause the Gospel of Mark to appear somewhat unlettered or even crude. This may be attributed to the influence that Saint Peter, a fisherman, is suggested to have on the writing of Mark. It is commonly thought that the writers of the Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke used Mark as a source, with changes and improvement to peculiarities and crudities in Mark.
Biblical archaeology has helped us understand a lot about the world of the Bible and clarified a considerable amount of what we find in the Bible. But the archaeological record has not been friendly for one vital issue, Israel's origins: the period of slavery in Egypt, the mass departure of Israelite slaves from Egypt, and the violent conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites. The strong consensus is that there is at best sparse indirect evidence for these biblical episodes, and for the conquest there is considerable evidence against it.
— Peter Enns.
The mainstream view of critical biblical scholarship accepts that Genesis-Joshua (perhaps Judges) is substantially devoid of reliable history and that it was in the Persian period that the bulk of Hebrew Bible literature was either composed or achieved its canonical shape
— Philip Davies.
He cites the fact—now accepted by most archaeologists—that many of the cities Joshua is supposed to have sacked in the late 13th century b.c. had ceased to exist by that time. Hazor was destroyed in the middle of that century, and Ai was abandoned before 2000 b.c. Even Jericho, where Joshua is said to have brought the walls tumbling down by circling the city seven times with blaring trumpets, was destroyed in 1500 b.c. Now controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the Jericho site consists of crumbling pits and trenches that testify to a century of fruitless digging.
— Jennifer Wallace.
So although much of the archaeological evidence demonstrates that the Hebrew Bible cannot in most cases be taken literally, many of the people, places and things probably did exist at some time or another.
— Jonathan Michael.
But someone may ask: 'Is not Scripture opposed to those who hold that heaven is spherical, when it says, who stretches out heaven like a skin?' Let it be opposed indeed if their statement is false.... But if they are able to establish their doctrine with proofs that cannot be denied, we must show that this statement of Scripture about the skin is not opposed to the truth of their conclusions
— Davis Young.
[F]or not only has "archaeology" not proven a single event of the patriarchal tradition to be historical, it has not shown any of the traditions to be likely ... it must be concluded that any such historicity as is commonly spoken of in both scholarly and popular works about the patriarchs of Genesis is hardly possible and totally improbable.
— Thomas Thompson.