Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Don't Know Much About the Bible - Review (Part 1)

Don’t Know Much About the Bible by Kenneth C. Davis (part of the “Don’t Know Much” series) is a very fascinating volume; however, it is often flawed in its general approach to Holy Writ. Davis has some clever chapter titles: Hebrew 1 - Lions 0 (Daniel) and Jesus is Coming - Look Busy (Acts of the Apostles). He also rightly points out that Noah’s Ark was a box and that The Bible Code is bogus. Davis also presents many provocative quotes such as this from Mark Twain: “The Bible has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies” [1]. But is this really the case? Davis’ sub-evangelical view of scriptural authority is unrelenting: “for centuries, scholars and thinkers... have been raising legitimate doubts about the Bible” [2]. Davis asks, “How strong is a faith that can’t stand up to a few honest questions” [3]? Do we have the chutzpah to be skeptical about doubt and fight the future of despair by realizing that the truth is out there? TORAH TORAH TORAH! In a trial the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Are we at least open to the evidence for the Bible’s accuracy?

Davis claims that “the Bible is a book of faith, not history, biology, biography, science, or even philosophy” [4]. Says who? Is not faith founded on fact? And isn’t the Resurrection the greatest event of history? Until archaeological verification in the 1800’s, many scholars doubted the very existence of the Hittites mentioned in the Old Testament. The Bible predicts history! Daniel foretold that Rome would rule the world, but they did not capture Jerusalem until 63 B.C. (Dan. 2:40, 41). No scholar dates Daniel this late. Luke was a great historian (Lk. 1:1-4). Leviticus 17:11 tells us that “the life is in the blood” yet for many years people practiced “bloodletting.” The life stories of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Peter show both their glory and their shame. This demonstrates the brute honesty of scripture. Job said, “speak to the earth and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you” (Job 12:8). The Word tells us that the earth is spherical and that it hangs in space (Is. 40:22, Job 26:7). The number of stars are “countless,” yet Ptolemy in the second century said there were 1056 luminaries (Heb. 11:12). Solomon said, “Go to the ant, your sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” (Pr. 6:6).

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite-wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-34 NIV).

Solomon was a scientist and also wrote a work of philosophy called “Ecclesiastes” (qoheleth means “teacher“).

Davis believes that the present versions of the Bible “are only recent links near the end of a long chain of troubled, sometimes badly garbled, and often conflicting translations” [5]. The Isaiah A scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) is complete and is dated around 100 B.C. The earliest previous text of Isaiah was around 900 A.D. which is a gap of a millennium! The differences are insignificant and are listed in the margins of the NIV. The Isaiah B scroll from the Dead Sea (illustrated above) is incomplete, but is more in agreement with the Masoretic text.

Davis doubts the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch [6]. Davis claims that the kings of Edom listed in Gen. 36:31-39 lived after Moses died [7]. The passage does not give the years of each reign, so how can they be dated? Moses stated that these kings ruled Edom before an Israelite king ruled over them. This may seem like an odd expression, yet Moses anticipates the Jews’ desire for a king in Deut. 17:140-20. The Hebrews were in Egypt for 430 years; maybe this was the period during which these kings reigned.

What evidence is there that Moses wrote the Torah? “So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord , and to all the elders of Israel” (Deut. 31:9 NIV). “At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey...” (Num. 33:2 NIV). Every seven years the Law was to be read (Deut. 31:10,11). Those who knew Moses wrote the Law would still be alive. Moses was the prince of Egypt, so obviously he knew how to write. “These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me [Moses] to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (Deut. 6:1 NIV). The Israelites were commanded to write the scriptures on their door (Deut. 6a,9). They knew what Moses said and could write it down. Joshua copied the law of Moses on stones (Joshua 8:32). Jesus accepted the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (Lk. 24:27). Trees and plants are mentioned in the Pentateuch that are common to Egypt but not Palestine [8].

While Abraham was in Canaan, why does Gen. 13:10 refer to a place in Egypt unless it was composed by an Egyptian resident to those who had lived in Egypt, possibly Moses? Numbers 13:22 tells us that Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. Doesn’t this imply knowledge of Egypt by the author and audience? The emphasis on the tabernacle, a mobile tent for the worship Yahweh, in Exodus 25-40, is exactly what we’d expect if the Jews were in a transition period from leaving Egypt and entering into the Promised Land. Gleason Archer states that, “a far greater number of Egyptian names and loan words are found in the Pentateuch than in any other section of Scripture” [9]. If the Pentateuch was composed at a late date, why is Jerusalem, the future capital, not mentioned by name? Genesis 14 speaks of the “king of Salem” but there is no hint given that this town would one day be an important city. “The Lord of Hosts” is mentioned 67 times in Isaiah, 83 times in Jeremiah yet not once in the books of Moses! The extreme optimism about the complete conquest of the Promised Land indicates its pre-conquest date (Deut. 7:5, 12:2,3). The law demands stoning for idol worshipers (Deut. 13:6-11), yet later in Israel’s history this was tolerated. If this law were enforced long after Moses a large portion of Israel would have been wiped out. Such idealism belongs to the early stages of the Jewish nation.

Davis claims that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two different versions of Creation Week [10]. Read both chapters carefully - there are no contradictions. The entire book of Genesis starts with the general and moves to the specific. Genesis starts out the cosmic origins, then presents Abraham, the twelve tribes of Israel and finally concentrates on Joseph. This is the same literary device in the first two chapters of the Bible. Genesis 2 does not mention the number of days, but this does not mean that it’s unimportant since the six days are even part of the Ten Commandments (Ex20:11)!

Davis points out that the Hebrews may have drawn on earlier accounts of creation [11]. God may have directed Moses to use what was true from previous records. Using source material does not imply error (Lk. 1:1-4). The descendants of Adam and Eve spoke to Noah, and the descendants of Noah spoke to Abraham etc. This is one source of true truth (cf. Francis Schaeffer). In contrast to ancient myths, the Bible gives predictive prophecy and historical details that have been verified by archaeology.

According to Davis, “in eating from the tree, Adam and Eve acquire the capacity for rational and ethical judgments...” [12]. Man was made in the image of God. God is rational, so is humanity. “God made mankind upright” (Eccl. 7:29). Eve knew ethics. Adam and Eve were rational and ethical before they ate the fruit. Davis claims that Paradise was boring and devoid of science and art [13]. The first couple was given charge of taking care of the garden (Gen. 2:15). Science is not a sin. Adam the taxonomist named the animals, as Bob Dylan points out in “Slow Train Coming” (Gen. 2:20). Technology is not evil. Elisha performed a techno-miracle when he made the ax-head float (2 Kings 6:5,6).

Davis says, “the Scriptures contain no explanation for Cain’s wife” [14]. However, Genesis 5:4 plainly states that Adam had “other sons and daughters.” Clearly, Cain married his sister.

Davis rightly points out that, “almost every ancient culture has some sort of flood, or deluge, myth that shares much with the biblical Flood” [15]. Nevertheless, the Bible’s account has many important details: Noah’s Ark is seaworthy, but the Babylonian cube of the Gilgamesh epic is not. The date of the Flood is given and number of people in ark is specified in Genesis which shows its account to be superior to the mythical versions.

These global accounts are evidence for a universal flood, not a local one as Davis supports. “...All the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered” (Gen. 7:19). According to Davis, “...no one has discovered evidence of a flood that could have covered the whole earth” [16]. Oh, really? The majority of the geological column was deposited during a singular epoch of rapid geologic activity, i.e. the Flood! In his book The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, Derek Ager concluded that, “Sedimentation in the past has often been very rapid indeed and very spasmodic. This may be called the phenomenon of the catastrophic nature of much of the stratigraphical record” [17]. Ager illustrates: “in the late Carboniferous Coal Measures of Lancashire, a fossil tree has been found, 38 feet high and still standing in its living position. Sedimentation must therefore have been fast enough to bury the tree and solidify before the tree had time to rot” [18]. In the following edition of Ager’s book he takes pains to point out that he rejects the Deluge theory, despite the facts he presents. If each formation was made episodically (catastrophically) and there is no global unconformity (time gap), then most of the deposits of the world must have been formed during one great deluge of planet earth - Noah’s Flood! Studies of isotopes by Robert Gentry in coalified wood indicate that the geologic periods may be 10,000 times shorter than the orthodox estimates [19]. Certain geologic formations interpreted as deposited in a gradual manner by wind may now be considered to have formed under water due to new evidence [20]. Radioactive dating methods often pose problems: the volcanic explosion of Mount St. Helens in 1986 deposited rocks that have been dated from 200,000 to 400,000 years old using the potassium-argon method [21].

Kenneth Davis claims that eyewitness reports of sightings of Noah’s Ark are false [22]. Ed Davis, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, was stationed in Hamadan, Iran and saw Noah’s Ark in the summer of 1943 while escorted there by a group of Kurds. Ed Davis was the friend of George, the Shah’s brother. The book The Painful Mountain contains a photo of Ed Davis with Ayatollah Khomeni’s cousin and a notation in his Bible from 1943: “Went to Ararat with Abas we saw a big ship up on a ledge ...” [23]. Many reliable witnesses have claimed to have seen Noah’s Ark [24]. It is interesting to note that the center of the earth is near the capital of Turkey - Ankara, not all that far from Ararat [25]. How convenient for Noah and his family to repopulate the planet!

1) Davis, Kenneth C., Don’t Know Much About the Bible, William Morrow
& Co., 1998, p.1.
2) ibid., p.xxiii.
3) ibid.
4) ibid.
5) Davis, p.15.
6) Davis, p.17.
7) ibid.
8) Archer, Gleason, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan, 1982, p.46.
9) ibid. p.48.
10) Davis, pp. 42, 43.
11) ibid., p.45.
12) ibid., p.54.
13) ibid.
14) ibid., p.58.
15) ibid., p.62.
16) ibid., p.63.
17) Ager, Derek, The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, Halsted Press,
1973, p.42 (all caps and italics removed).
18) ibid. p.41.
19) Kazmann, Raphael, “It’s about time: 4.5 billion years,” Geotimes, Sep.
1978, vol. 23 no. 9, p. 19.
20) Brand, Leonard, “Field and Laboratory Studies on the Coconino sandstone (Permian) vertebrate footprints and their paleoecological implications,“ Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 1979, vol. 28, p.25.
21) Austin, Steven, “Excess Argon within Mineral Concentrates from the New Dacite Lava Dome at Mount St. Helens Volcano,” found here.
22) Davis, p. 63.
23) Shockey, Don, The Painful Mountain, Pioneer Publ., 1986, pp. 51, 56.
24) ibid., pp. 109, 110.
25) Morris, Henry et al eds., Creation: Acts Facts Impacts, Creation-Life Publ., 1974, p. 121.