Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Bible: Fact or Fiction Part 1

John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

I have been thinking a lot of about the bible and the stories in them regarding biblical characters and situations that are mentioned in which many of the events seem impossible, even unbelievable to the normal person.  In fact, there are some skeptical people out there that believe the bible to be a work of fiction or an exaggeration of what really happened.  These people will reason that logically, some of the events couldn’t be true because they seem to be so unreal and there is no proof or evidence to claim that they are true.  For example, did Noah really build a very large ark and travel with his family and a large menagerie of animals during a flood?  Did Moses really exist and did he really lead 60,000 Jews out of Egypt back to their homeland?  Was there really a King David and did he really defeat a Philistine giant Goliath who was 9 ft 9 inches tall?  Did Jesus really walk on water and heal the sick with is hand, and was he really the son of God who was later resurrected after his crucifixion or was he just an ordinary man as the Jewish people believe?  Also, how much of the bible is true and how much is fiction?  

I while ago I learned that some characters and chapters in the bible are work of fiction.  These characters include the heroine Judith known for beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes.  Other fictional biblical figures are Ruth, Boez, Queen Esther.  Some even wonder if King David was real or a work of fiction or Abraham, Joshua etc.  Having always believing in the bible, I have recently discovered that the bible isn’t 100% historically accurate and there is certain elements of fiction mixed with truth in the stories presented.  This knowledge leaves me to wonder just how much is fiction and how much is true and would like to analyze this further.  One historical fictional event is the Book of Judith which was original in the ancient Jewish Books Aprocrypha and not included in the Hebrew bible although it was later included in the Catholic and Orthodox Christian bible in the Old Testament.  In this chapter, there is mention of King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyrian when reality, he was the King of Babylon mentioned in the chapter Jeremiah. Also certain events including places, time periods are also not accurate.  

Some scholars  have  based Judith off of historical female leaders including Queen Salome Alexandra, one of two female leaders of Judea who reigned between 76 through 67 B.C.E.  Also some scholars have based King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria off of historical conquerors of Judea.  Biblical scholar Gabriele Boccaccini based him off of Tigranes the Great, an Armenian King who conquered all the lands in Book of Judith during Queen Salome Alexandra’s reign. Others linked him to Artaxexes III the Ochus, a Persian Emperor, simply because Holofernes and Bagoas who are military figures in the Judith.  In reality there was a Holofernes who was a general under Artaxexes III and his servant was Bagoas.  19th century Catholic Priest and Scholar Fulcran Vigouroux attempts to based the Assyrian King on Assyrian King Ashburbanipal.  He claimed that in the Septuagint version of the book of Judith, the battle between King Nebucnezzar and King Arphaxad is identified with the battle between King Ashburbanipal and King Phaorates of Median Empire in which Phaortes was killed.  Then there is the Book of Esther which is also be acknowledged as historical fiction.  Some Scholars believe that Esther’s husband the King Ahasueres is modeled after Xerxes I of Persia who ruled between 486-465 B.C.   

However, some doubt that Xerxes’s first wife and mother to several of children Amestris is based on Esther or Vashti Ahasueres’s first wife, since Amestris was never banished.  Besides, there is no resemblance between Amestris and Esther.  According to first century historian Josephus, Ahasueres was actually based on Xerxes’s son Artxerxes I of Persia.  Josephus claimed that Artxerxes married a Jewish woman from a royal family who saved the nation of the Jewish people.  There isn’t much evidence of this since historically Artxerxes married Damaspia whom he had several children.  He also fathered children with several concubines.  Some of claimed Damaspia to be the daughter of Esther and Xerxes and therefore Artxerxes’s half sister which was common in those times.  Whether Esther existed or her husband Ahasueres was actually King Xerxes or King Artxerxes is still unclear.  Other historical fiction is that of the Book of Ruth, where Ruth and Boez are fictional characters.  This also leads many to wonder if King David, the most famous King of Israel who was Ruth’s descendent in the bible is also real.  There has been many skepticism if King David existed for a while now, but some scholars do believe he existed due to evidences found other the centuries.  The first evidence of his possible existed is 1868 when a German Anglican medical missionary F.A. Klein discovered a stone tablet in Dibon Jordan written by Mesha a Moabite king who was an enemy of Israel in mid-ninth century B.C.  The tablet was written 200 years after King David and mentions the “House of David”.  

About a century later in 1993, another stone was discovered near Tel Dan in Northern Israel directed by Archaeologist Avraham Biram.  This stone was also written 200 years after King David by another Israel enemy Hazael, King of Dmascus.  It stated that he killed 70 kings including one from the House of David.  However, even if David existed, did he really fight a Phillistine Giant Goliath from the city of Gath and defeat him with a slingshot.  The earliest report of this incident is a fourth century AD Codex Valicanus Graecus 1209.  Although this manuscript doesn’t contain some verses in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, regarding David, it does narrate Goliath challenging the Israelites to combat in which they were afraid until David accepts.  It also gives reasons for the challenge as being Saul’s shield-bearer.  Despite the legend that Goliath was 9’9 ft, the oldest manuscript the Dead Sea Scrolls, first century historian Josephus, fourth century Septuagint manuscripts describe Goliath as four cubits and a span( 6’9 ft).   Later manuscripts increased his height to six cubits and a span(9’9ft).   There is also doubt about him being injured from a slingshot to the forehead.  According to British Rabbi Jonathan Magonet, Philistine helmets had forehead covering sometimes down to their nose.  He also claims the Hebrew word “meitzach” meaning forehead is identical to another word used earlier in the passage “mitzchat” which means greaves, the flexible leg-armor that protected Goliath’s lower leg mentioned in 1 Samuel 17:9.  Rabbi Magonet believes it possible that in verse 49, the word metizach replaces mitzchat, meaning Goliath was hit in the lower leg-armor causing him to stumble.  King David is not the only biblical character that many wonder existed or not.  

The famous Abraham’s existence has been doubted by some skeptics.  There isn’t any real evidence of Abraham’s existence.  However, sources of have found some historical info that collaborates the story in the Bible.  The bible claims that Abraham was born in Terah in the city of Ur of Chaldees and later moved to the land of Canaan on God’s wishes.  The people in the city of Ur were known for worshipping the Sumerian Moon God, Nanna as mentioned in the Book of Genesis. Another factor, is the Nuzu tablets found between 1925 and 1941 in Nuzi, Iraq on Tigris. These clay tablets were made in the fifteenth BC and detail the customs Abraham and other Patriarchs of that time period.  One custom is if a couple is barren, the patriarch may adopt a servant as an heir until a real heir is born. This is related to Abraham adopting the servant Eliezer as an heir in the Book of Genesis. The tablets also mention a barren woman asking her husband to take their slave girl as a surrogate wife and produce an heir with her which is in reference to Sarah asking Abraham to use their slave girl Hagar and produce a son.  

Even the most important biblical figure Moses who is known to have led the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land has been considered fictional by many. Just like with Abraham, there is no hard evidence that Moses existed.  However, there are some clues.  Most notably the Tell El-Armarna letters, over 350 clay letters found accidently in Tell El Armana in Egypt in 1887.  These clay stones, possibly written in the time of Moses, details certain events including the Hebrews conquering the land of Canaan.  Within these texts, there has been a debate among scholars regarding a group of people referred to as Habiru or Abiru, who may have been slaves or fugitives who fled Egypt may have been Hebrews.  Also the letters also detail events in the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges.  Another factor is the famous burning bush where God speaks to Moses in Exodus 3:1-22.  What is believed to be the burning bush is now surrounded by a massive wall of St. Catherine’s Monastery near Mount Sinai in Egypt.  Other locations relating to the story of Moses were claimed to be discovered.  There is the famous Red Sea Crossing in the book of Exodus in which Moses and the Israelites crossed ground land on the sea to flee the Egyptian Pharaoh’s army caused by God.  After they finished crossing, God removed the dry land causing the Egyptian army to drown in the sea. 

 In 1978, the late treasure hunter Ron Wyatt who has also claimed to have discovered several biblical locations also claimed to have found the Red Sea Crossing in Saudi Arabia on the Nuweiba beach in the Gulf of Aqaba.  Between that time and the 1980s, he found artifacts in the ocean which included chariot wheels, human and horse bones.  The chariot wheels were claimed to date to the 18th century Dynasty in Egypt.  Mr. Wyatt also declared the location of Mount Sinai where the ten commandants was given to Moses was in Jebel-al-Lawz.  After a few attempted trips in 1985, Wyatt along with treasure hunter David Fasold returned to Jebel-al-Lawz in search for the gold of Exodus. They discovered a shell bracelet and what seemed to be an ancient temple, where stones were engraved with a petroglyph of Hathor an Epyptian Bull god known as the Golden Calf that the Israelites worshipped when Moses spent 40 days and nights in Mount Sinai.  

In 1988, two more treasure hunters Larry Williams and Bob Cornuke traveled twice the allege Mount Sinai where they also found the location of the ancient altar of the golden calf and the peltroglyphs of the bull god.  They also discovered caves where they found tombs supposedly of Moses’s father-in-law Jethro and his wife Zipporah.  Both Williams and Cornuke would write books on their findings. However, some biblical scholars dispute all these claims stating that they are false and inaccurate.  Also, In 1978  Ron Wyatt also found what he believed to be the Ark of Covenant, a stone of tablets where God engraved the Ten Commandments.  He was in Jerusalem walking on the Garden tomb grounds where he later discovered an underground cave. Mr. Wyatt traveled to this area over a few years to make this discovery.  However, many critics rebuked his claims.  In fact, several others have claimed to have the Ark of Covenant in several different countries.  

There have been many claims of discovering famous biblical locations, from Noah’s Ark, Jesus’s tomb, the Garden of Eden, even what Jesus Christ would have really looked liked.  I will discuss these all these theories and findings in part 2 of this topic.