Saturday, August 13, 2011

Old News

Is the Bible inerrant and infallible?  Some people still think so, irrationally.  The reverent believers who study the oldest available manuscripts know better.

Ahab over at the Republic of Gilead sent me an interesting news link regarding a little known project which has been going on for over half a century.  Tucked away in a corner of the Promised Land, a small group of Orthodox Jews are re-writing their Bible, what Christians affectionately call the "Old Testament."  These Jews are meticulously going letter by letter using all of the modern finds, like the Dead Sea Scrolls and other, more obscure scraps of Scripture, and comparing them with the traditional sources used in today's mainstream interpretations of the Bible.

In this tedious process, they've uncovered that some, um, mistakes which were made.  Sometimes, they were just minor changes of a word or two.  Sometimes, the issues were a little more damaging:
"Some verses, including ones containing a prophecy about the seizure and return of Temple implements by Babylonian soldiers, appear to have been added after the events happened."

To the skeptic, this is manna from Heaven.  ;-)   It would be inappropriate to assume that all of the prophesies which appear to have accurately come true were written after the fact based on this finding, but it has happened.  At least once.  That represents something incredibly significant.

An intentionally forged prophesy.  Made to deceive the readers, and/or the followers.  This represents evil intent.  It's a lie.  Why would you need to lie if you have the truth?  If you knew God did exist, how could you dare purposefully write a forgery in His holy book?  If you realize the truth isn't so true, but you benefit from that misguided belief, why not help it become more believable?

The Jewish scholars continue their work with unyielding faith.  Quietly.  With full knowledge that the people working on this project today will not be alive by the time this labor of love is complete.


  1. We have been attending a relatively progressive church the past month and the message this morning actually cited this very same group of translators. The message intended to show, basically, that the inerrant/fundamentalist/Southern Baptist view of the bible is untenable. It was a good message.

    I always like study of the bible in church like that because it holds on tangible data about the bible which you can delve into. There isn't a requirement to put on the "lens of faith" or some other such requirement to see the "truth" that nobody else can see. It puts us all on an even footing, without resorting to magic to understand one another.

    But at the point when a person then gets excited about it being all the more God's word, just recorded by fallible hands... I'm happy for them, in a way. But I just don't get it. Why find special inspiration there above special inspiration from anywhere else?

  2. That progressive church does sound like a breath of fresh air by comparison to the fundies, atimetorend.

    I don't get why they would find special inspiration there either. However, a thought which occurred to me while considering your comment is that if you embrace the Bible as fallible and errant, but still containing the essence of truth, then if can be a great relief. Any verses which do not match your idea of God you can mentally categorize as being possibly errant. Suddenly, all is right with the world again. :-)

  3. I read that article as well. I found it very interesting. I'm wondering what will happen if the secret group becomes not so secret. Will the fundies become even more radical? Or will fundamentalism fall apart as people realize that whether divinely inspired or not, the Bible is definitely not inerrant.

    But then we come back to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy which states:

    Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appear to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.

    Just one little problem....where are those autobiographical texts?

  4. Exactly, D'Ma. That's a huge problem! They don't have any extant examples of original autobiographical texts. Not knowing what's been inserted, or deleted, from the original inspired source means that you are basing your faith and establishing your doctrine on a tenuous foundation.

  5. When I read this article in the news I knew you would be jumping for joy and would soon have a post about it. ;-)

    While I don't want to ruin the good mood here by defending the historicity of the Old Testament, I'm compelled to point out the fact that all we have in this news article is the opinion of a small team of scholars that "some verses...appear to have been added after the events happened." Sounds interesting, and I'd very much like to hear their reasons for believing so, but until some details are provided there's not much to go on here.

    But again, I don't want to spoil the Bible-bashing mood, so here's some "manna from Heaven" to cheer you up: There are other verses that some scholars believe were added later. Look into the debate about Mark 16:9-20 (if you haven't already). In this case, at least, all the reasons that have been presented by those who believe these verses were a later addition are publicly available.

  6. "Jumping for joy" is a bit of an overstatement. ;-)

    Having read through the OT, suspicions of this nature were aroused. A classic example is Daniel 11. When you look at most prophesies, they are generally somewhat vague, but Daniel 11 reads like a play-by-play. Or at least it does from Daniel 11:3-39. After that, it seems the author gets a little more creative in such a fashion as to not mimic the history portrayed in the preceding versus.

    The two main reason why this is newsworthy to me is that 1) these are scholars with a biased interest in God's favor and 2) this is something which is easy for a layperson to understand without deep study. In that latter sense, I am quite happy to hear it because not everyone has the time to study the Bible like I have.

    I have indeed heard of the Mark 16:9-20 issue. There are merits to the argument that it was later added, as if it was not part of the original story. To me section itself seems a little inconsistent with the writing style of most of Mark, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. (I sure don't write in a 100% consistent style.) In the end, to me there is enough textual evidence elsewhere of mythology that this passage is not critical to the defense of a skeptic.

  7. As I recall, the article makes no mention that these scholars are even Jews, let alone *practicing* Jews, let alone practicing *orthodox* Jews, so I'm not so sure that they have a "biased interest in God's favor." And while it's true that even a layperson can appreciate that these scholars feel that certain OT verses *appear* to have been added later, if there's not even so much as an explanation as to *why* they feel that way, then there's nothing here to debate. But. . . the article was widely read and certainly helped your cause (which is why I expected you to be thrilled).

    Regarding Daniel 11, if you read this from the perspective of one who believes that prophecies cannot possibly come true, then you will, of course, view it as being far too descriptive and accurate and must conclude that it could not have been written in the 6th century BC. Those who view it this way have decided that the entire book must be referring to Antiochus IV and must have been written several centuries later--a perspective that's very problematic, for many reasons. But let's save that debate for your upcoming post on Daniel 11.

  8. In this case, your memory is not serving you well. The link to the article is in the post. In the second to last paragraph, it states:

    "Considering that the nature of their work would be considered controversial, if not offensive, by many religious people, it is perhaps surprising that most of the project's scholars are themselves Orthodox Jews."

    I don't know if I will be doing a specific post about Daniel 11. ;-) Even without a scoffer's bias of what can and can't come true, the skeptic sees other red flags, such as the fact that the detail in this prophesy is completely unlike the extent of details in any other prophesy in the entire Bible making it an uncharacteristic revelation, and the fact that circumstances described in the prophesy are relegated to an era gone by.

  9. Oops... I stand corrected on that. That was a dumb mistake on my part, because the fact that most of these scholars are Orthodox Jews is what makes the article newsworthy.

    Oh, I think that at the rate you're going, it's inevitable that you'll do a post on Daniel 11 within a year or two. ;-) And when you do, I'll be the first one with a comment!

  10. Don't fret, if I had a dollar for every stupid mistake I had made, I just might be able to retire decades early. ;-)

    I got some big studies in mind. Maybe Daniel 11 will be included...