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Notes from Philip R. Davies: In Search of 'Ancient Israel', 1992--

The Bible -- History or Story?

Most Bible scholars have traditionally assumed that the Bible is basically a true record of the history of Israel. But Davies observes that their reasons for believing this are in fact only circular arguments:

1. "The authors of the Bible were obviously informed about the past and were concerned to pass on a truthful record of what they knew. Their audiences also knew enough of the past to keep those authors honest." This claim simply asserts, without proof, that the Bible is true. It is just as easy to claim that bible authors made everything up.
2. "Some Bible books claim to have been written at very specific times and places (e.g. in the first year of such and such a king). If some of these kings really lived and we know that some of events really happened then we should generally believe the rest of what those books say." This again just assumes without proof that the Bible is true. It is just as easy to assume that the authors, like fiction writers of all ages, chose real settings for their stories.
3. "Some Bible books give precise details about events and life in the distant past. We can therefore safely assume that there must have been some real connection between those past events and the stories about them in the Bible. The stories must have some truth behind them." Good story tellers always try to add color to their fictions by touching them up with realistic details. No-one says that James Bond stories are true just because they are set in times of real Russian leaders, true places, etc."
4. "Where a book is clearly written long after the time it speaks about we must assume that it relies on sources or traditions that were originally close to those ancient events and that these details were preserved and passed down through many generations." This is simply asserting, without evidence, that the stories must be true "because" we know they must have been true! One can just as easily assume that the stories were invented.

All of these reasons for believing that the Bible contains real history are circular arguments. They say, in effect: "We know the Bible is true because its authors were careful to tell the truth, and we know they were careful to tell the truth because what they wrote was true ...." and so on.

To break this circular reasoning and to find out if the Bible does write factual history we need to confirm the events of the Bible independently of the Bible itself. This means comparing the Bible record with other historical records and the finds of archaeology.

It is naive to take any book, the Bible included, at face value. We need supporting evidence to know:

  1. WHEN it was WRITTEN
  2. IF its stories are TRUE.

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