by David Sisler

Many scholars say, much of what is recorded in the Bible is at best distorted, and some characters and events are probably totally fictional.

Most scholars suspect that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Judaism's traditional founders, never existed.

Few modern historians believe in Joshua's conquest of Jericho and the rest of the Promised Land.

That's what THEY say. "They," in this case, are Michael D. Lemonick, Marlin Levin, Felice Maranz, and Richard N. Ostling, writing in Time magazine's recent cover story, "Are the Bible's Stories True?"

The writers use archaeological discoveries to prove (or disprove) the historical accuracy of the Bible. They admit the truth of a principle in archaeology which says "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Then they proceed to ignore the maxim when it suits their purposes.

For instance: the Bible describes the conquering of Jericho and eventually the entire Promised Land by Joshua and the Israelites. Not so, saith Time.

Appealing to Magen Broshi, curator emeritus of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they reject the whole idea with the statement: "The central hill regions of Judea and Samaria were practically uninhabited. The Israelites didn't have to kill and burn to settle."

But while demanding proof from Biblical literalists (like yours truly) they do not submit any proof of their own. Nor do they offer evidence for their alternate claim: "The Israelites were simply a breakaway group of Canaanites fed up with the existing society."

Here's one for the "you-figure-it-out" department. Mr. Lemonick, et al, cite British researcher Kathleen Kenyon, "who excavated at Jericho for six years [and] found no evidence of destruction at that time." There was no battle which Joshua fit, they say.

Au contraire declare the good folks at ChristianAnswers Net (on the Internet at Appealing to the same Ms. Kenyon, a different story is unearthed: Ruins excavated at Jericho "were from the city wall which had collapsed when the city was destroyed." Quoting Kenyon directly, the report continues, "The destruction was complete."

Not content with casting doubt on the Old Testament, Time continues with a side-bar, by John Elson, "The New Testament's Unsolved Mysteries."

Mr. Elson writes, "Nazareth, ... many scholars contend, was the probable site of Jesus' birth, rather than Bethlehem (emphasis mine)."

So, Micah was mistaken when he wrote, "But you, Bethlehem ... out of you will come ... one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2). And Matthew was confused, too, because he said, "Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea" (Matthew 2:1).

Into the fray enters a group called "Internet Infidels" with their magazine, Freethought. In an article entitled, "The Historicity of Jesus," Farrell Till declares that Jesus was a quasi-historical person, like Robin Hood, William Tell, King Arthur, "and other famous legendary characters."

For proof of this astounding statement, Mr. Till appeals to the Jesus Seminar. The Seminar concluded it's most recent meeting with the astounding news that "the story of the historical Jesus ended with his death on the cross and the decay of his body."

Till calls the Jesus Seminar "conscientious Christian scholars." However, not one of them believe in the verbal inspiration of the Bible, nor the virgin birth of Jesus, nor the bodily resurrection of Jesus (as they just proclaimed), to name just a few of the items in their "Christian" resume.

Till argues that if Jesus were real, someone contemporary to him would have written about him. Evidently, in his open-minded research, he has never discovered Josephus, Suetonis, Thallus, Pliny the Younger, the Talmud, or Lucian? Curious.

One single archaeological discovery, argues Time (and Till agrees) "could erase all doubts ... about anything ... in the Bible. The historical accuracy of much of the Bible could be settled, one way or another, almost at a stroke."

Poet John Clifford described passing a blacksmith's door and seeing discarded, worn-out hammers lying on the floor. He asked how many anvils the smith had used over the years to wear out so many hammers. The answer was, "Just one."

"And so I thought," Clifford writes, "the anvil of God's Word for ages, skeptics blows have beat upon. Yet tho' the noise of falling blows was heard, the anvil is unharmed--the hammers gone."

At least Time left one crumb of hope on their table of skepticism and doubt. We are -- they say -- "deeply gratified to learn that much of [the Bible] appears (emphasis mine) to be based on fact." Even then, they can't give us an unequivocal declaration of faith.

But then, WE don't need another.

"Faith," the writer of Hebrews declared, "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 1/13/96

Copyright 1995 by David Sisler

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