Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beyond Sunday School

Last night PBS aired an interesting show about the efforts of archaeologists to corroborate biblical historical claims. Among the tidbits:

- The Torah was written by four groups of scribes over a period of several hundred years, with the final compilation by Israeli exiles in Babylon.

- David is the oldest figure whose existence can be independently confirmed.

- No archaeological evidence of the Exodus has been found. It is believed that the actual event involved a much smaller number of people who subsequently hooked up with other groups.

- Likewise, based on excavations at the various sites, the alleged mass conquests of Canaanite cities by Joshua-led Israelites did not happen. Indeed, some evidence indicates that rather than being outsiders, the Israelites were in fact mostly disaffected Canaanites combined with the aforementioned Egyptian escapees.

- The much-ballyhooed (and repeatedly violated) monotheism did not really take hold until after the Babylonian invasion and destruction of Jerusalem.

I enjoy shows like this not so much for what they find - the evidence supporting some of the conclusions is at best scant - but for the fact that some of the research is being done by religious scholars and institutions trying to clarify history, even to the point of acknowledging that at least some of their sacred text is inaccurate. They want their faith to be based as much as possible on accurate information.

This is a stark contrast to the popular view of too many believers that because the Bible (or Koran) says it no further inquiry is necessary or even desirable. This shallow, Sunday School level of faith is the biggest contributor to the many acts of stupidity committed by believers.


Dale said...

Thanks for the summary of that, Mike. I was able to catch most of the first hour or so when they were establishing that the Israelites were ultimately just an offshoot of the Canaanites. Interesting stuff.

It's an interesting dynamic -- I would think that most of the people drawn to Biblical (or Koranic) archaeology are believers. And yet there's every chance their field will continue unearthing facts that cast doubts on the tradition and the content of the holy books.

I guess it sucks to be them. Is that crass? ;-)

Mike said...

Dale, the show was a reminder to those of use who grew up with "don't ask questions" Christianity that Judaism has a long tradition of scholarship and debate, and that even the Big Stuff isn't immune to investigation.

The History Channel has also chronicled the process of assembling the New Testament.I don't think most Christians realize how much politicking, bias and plain guesswork went into their "inerrant" texts.