WILLIAM EDELEN: The Bible and Scholars



The Contrary Minister

Scholars with pre-eminent credentials all agree that the Old Testament is far, far removed from facts or history.

Dr. James Bennet Pritchard has been recognized internationally as one of the most distinguished biblical scholars and archaeologists in the world. He was Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, the curator of the Near Eastern section of the museum at the same university, biblical archaeological advisor to National Geographic magazine, as well as to the British Broadcasting System and Time-Life Books. Authentic biblical scholars of this caliber are rare indeed. In the professions of religious and biblical studies (I use the word loosely) are more phonies, quacks and charlatans than any other known to me.

I heard him speak several years ago when he was the President of the Archaeological Institute of America. I have copies of his lecture in my files so that I have no need to rely only on my memory.

“It is no longer possible,” he said, “to read the bible as our parents and grandparents did. Far too many discoveries have been made, using dating methods that are the most sophisticated known. Six discoveries are crucial.” It would take ten full columns to document why they know each to be true. They are:

1. There was no flood. The Hebrews borrowed the myth.
2. The myth of “divine” commands (the Ten Commandments) was a common theme found everywhere as “cultic” codes given by a God.
3. The discovery of a highly sophisticated Canaanite language and mythology hundreds of years older than the Hebrew mythology.
4. Stories about David and Solomon are gross exaggerations.
5. Basic New Testament ideas, themes and mythic formulas had been around for hundreds of years before Jesus.
6. The discovery of Ebla. Biblical names and legends of the patriarchs had been used for a thousand years prior to Hebrew times. The Hebrews borrowed them from past cultures.

A new book, The Bible Unearthed, confirms these discoveries. The book is written by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman. Dr. Finkelstein is the chairman of the Department of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and director of excavations. He writes, “Jerusalem was only a typical highland village and not a royal capital.” And again, “The glorious reign of David and Solomon are myth… the most famous stories of the bible just did not happen. The Biblical stories about Joseph and Moses and the events of the Exodus just did not happen. They are not history. The Battle of Jericho as reported in the bible is only a romantic mirage. The Hebrew bible is only a product of the hopes and fears and ambitions of the people.”

Another new work on this subject is The Mythic Past… the Myth of Israel by Thomas Thompson. He writes that “Biblical scholars can say with confidence that the bible is not a history of anyone’s past.” “The bible’s ‘Israel’ is a literary fiction.”

Most churches like to advertise that they have bible “study” groups, which is pure nonsense. What they really have are bible “reading” groups with the blind leading the blind. In my 40 years of church experiences I have never seen a bible “study” group in any church.

A “study” group would have to include all of the complexities of the Greek and Hebrew language… plus thousands of years of translation and transmission problems… combined with the historical… religious… archaeological and sociological implications of the times that produced the material… plus an exhaustive exposure to comparative mythologies.

You can rest assured that you will never hear about any of this from the pulpit of your church on Sunday morning. If your minister does not know about current scholarship, it is pure ignorance. If he, or she, does know and does not share it with you… it is deceit.

Truth is seldom comforting to those trembling in fear.