Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Response to Don’t Know Much About the Bible by Kenneth C. Davis (Part 2)

Don’t Know Much About the Bible by Kenneth C. Davis (part of the “Don’t Know Much” series) is a thoughtful work, but takes a negative attitude toward Scripture. One reviewer claims "Davis writes like Isaac Asimov." According to Davis, “The vivid biblical description of the cruel treatment of the Canaanites in Ai and other cities comes wrapped in the cloak of divine approval, pointing up one of the great ethical contradictions of the Bible. When a supposedly ‘evil’ people is eradicated at God’s direction, does that justify it” [1]? The Israelites did not initiate these conquests on their own accord. When they fought the Amalekites on their own they were defeated (Num. 14:39-45)! God sent the global Flood, Yahweh destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and the New Testament predicts a future judgment where the heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:7,10). The Lord is a God of justice as well as love. The conquest of Canaan is a supreme example of God’s patience in judgment! The Canaanites were polytheistic, practiced child sacrifice, temple prostitution and divination. Yet God waited 400 years before the punishment came - thus fulfilling his promise to Abraham (Gen. 15:16).

Davis claims that the conquest of Canaan by the Jews was a long process of “settlement.” But what do the facts indicate? The Amarna tablets discovered in Egypt in 1887 include letters form Palestine and Syria. These writings complain about the attacking “Habiru” and mention that Gezer, Ashkelon, Lachish and other cities were conquered. This matches up with Joshua’s conquest of Canaan in 1400-1380 BC. Abdi-Hiba, governor of Jerusalem, wrote to Pharaoh Akhnaton (1387-1366 BC) with great urgency, “The Habiru plunder all lands of the king ... if the archers [from Egypt] are not here, then the lands of the king, my lord, are lost” [2]. This level of desperation makes no sense unless the conquest of Canaan lead by Joshua really happened.

Davis asks “Is mocking a bald man any reason to kill children” [3]? This is in reference to when Elisha called down a curse on a crowd of youths who called him “baldy” and were killed by bears (2 Kings 2:23,24). Disrespecting a prophet was a serious offense and was part of the reason why the Jews were exiled to Babylon (2 Chron. 36:16,20). Remember Samson? Lots of hair is symbolic of strength, so reference to baldness is almost like saying, “your God has no power.” If 42 youths were actually killed, how big was the original mob? Would this qualify as a riot? Was Elisha in danger of his life? The fact that it was a miracle proves that it was God’s decision not an angry whim of Elisha!

Regarding the discovery of the Book of the Law during Josiah’s reign, Davis maintains his tirade, “There is a discrepancy between the Kings account and a later account in Chronicles, which states that King Josiah began his reforms before the ‘Book of the Law’ was found. This is typical of the contradictions between the versions of the ’history’ of Israel and Judah presented in Kings and Chronicles...” [4]. Josiah was devoted to the Lord before the discovery of the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:1,2). In the twelfth year of his reign he began to destroy Judah’s idols (2 Chr. 34:3). This work continued more vigorously after the discovery of the Book of the Law as Chronicles so states: “Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites...” (2 Chr. 34:33).

Davis critiques the promise of the virgin born Messiah in Isaiah 7:14, “Isaiah’s original words clearly refer to a ‘young women’ or ‘maiden’ and not a virgin” [5]. The first gospel in Genesis 3:15 states that the Messiah will be the “offspring of the woman,” uses “he” and says nothing of Adam and so intimating a virgin birth of a male child. In the unusual case where a woman gives birth without intercourse the child is always a girl. If Is. 7:14 is not a virgin birth, how could it be a “sign” (miracle)? Every singular use of “almah” (young woman in Is. 7:14) in the Old Testament refers to a virgin! In Gen. 24:43 “betulah” (virgin) and “almah” are both applied to Rebekah!

Davis next attack is on poor old Jonah, “the tale of Jonah is another familiar legend... Historical records from ancient Assyria contain no reference to the event described in Jonah” [6]. Jesus took Jonah literally, so should we (Matt. 12:40). Jonah 4:11 mentions a very specific historical fact: more than 120,000 people inhabited Nineveh. Do you find such details in legends? An inscription of King Ashur-nasir-pal II mentions a banquet at Nimrud, 20 miles from Nineveh, attended by 70,000 people [7]. During the reign of Adad-nirari III (811-783 BC) there was a movement toward monotheism; there were plagues in 759 and 756 BC also a solar eclipse in 763 BC [8]. Could these events have been providential preparations for Jonah? James Bartley in 1891 was swallowed by a sperm whale - his skin was bleached and looked like parchment and never turned back to its former color [9]. If someone like that showed up today we would probably call them an “alien!” The Assyrians had a god that was part man and part fish. Berosus, a Babylonian historian of the fourth century BC called the fish-god “Oannes.” This is exactly the same name for Jonah in the Septuagint and the New Testament (with “I” at the beginning) [10]!

Davis claims that the Song of Solomon is, “not overly concerned with marriage” and wonders how this book could “make it into the Bible in the first place” [11]? First of all, this love song involves one man and one woman which is the basis of marriage. God created sex for pleasure and procreation. Deut. 17:17 warns kings not to multiply wives. Solomon’s work gives no attention to his harem. In fact, Solomon’s polygamy turned his heart away toward other gods (1 Kings 11:1-4). Therefore, the Song of Solomon supports marriage in every way!

Davis doubts that Daniel wrote the prophecy by that name [12]. Jesus accepted that Daniel was the author (Mt. 24:15) - if Christ lied, he’s not God! Daniel himself claims to be the author in 7:1-2, 15, 28; 8:1,15,27; 9:2,21,22; 10:1,2; 12:5. The lack of Greek loan words indicates that Daniel was written before the time of Alexander the Great. Daniel usually places the verb later in the clause in contrast to what was practiced centuries later as in the Qumran manuscripts [13].

Davis places doubt on the traditional authorship of the Gospels [14]. The second century writer Papias (c. 130-140 AD) said, “Matthew compiled the Logia [oracles]...” [15]. Matthew was a tax collector and so was good with numbers. Isn’t it interesting the he gives Christ’s genealogy in three groups of 14 in the first chapter?

Regarding Mark, Papias wrote: “Mark having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ; not, however, in order” [16]. Mark mentions the healing of Peter’s Mother-in-law in the first chapter! Why this emphasis?! Luke waits till ch. 4 and Matthew ch. 8. Peter refers to “my son Mark” (1 Peter 5:13). The inner circle consisted of Peter, James and John - the most detailed account of the healing of Jairus’ daughter is in Mark and was attended by only the inner three (Mk 5:22, 23, 37-43). So, Peter is the most likely candidate for the ultimate source of Mark. The streaker in Mk. 14:51,52 is probably Mark and thus he may have been an eyewitness of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Luke was a doctor (Col. 4:14). Luke mentions technical medical terms in Acts 3:7,9,18; 12:23; 13:11; 28:8 etc. [17]. Only Luke mentions Malchus’ ear (Lk 22:51) and Christ sweating drops of blood (Lk 22:44). There are many “we” sections in Acts: 16:10-17, 27:1 - 28:16 etc. Silas and Timothy are mentioned so they could not be the author (Acts 15:22, 17:14). Titus was with Paul before the “we” sections began (Gal 2:3). Luke appears as a companion of Paul in the later epistles (Col 4:14, Philemon 24, 2 Tim 4:11). Luke was with Paul in Rome (cf. Acts 28:16, Col 4:10,14,18). Acts speaks of a former book - both addressed to Theophilus (Lk 1:3, Acts 1:1). Who else but a doctor would take the scientific analytical approach of a research historian (Lk 1:1-4)?

The fourth gospel was clearly written by the Apostle John. The upper room discourse in John chapters 13-17 was clearly written by one of the inner circle (Peter, James and John). John 12:16 states, “at first his disciples didn’t understand all this...” which indicates the narration of one of the inner circle. The core of the inner circle was Peter and John, who made preparations for the Last Supper (Lk 22:8). If Peter was the source of Mark, it makes perfect sense that John is indeed the author of the fourth evangelist. John 21:20, 24 eliminates Peter as the author. James was martyred in 44 A.D. (Acts 12:2). John is specifically named as the author of Revelation (Rev 1:1,4,9; 22:8). Note the reference to Jesus as “the Word” in John 1:1,14; 1 John 1:1 and Rev. 19:13. The word “true” (alethinos) occurs eight times in John, four times in 1 John and ten times in Revelation! The word meaning “to overcome” (nikao) is found in John 16:33, seven times in 1 John and seventeen times in Revelation [18]. John’s mother was a witness to the crucifixion (Mt. 27:56). Note carefully, Christ spoke to Mary first - not his beloved disciple (Jn. 19:26, 27). If Jesus spoke to John first then his intended meaning would have been lost, since his own mother was present as well! According to Dorothy Sayers, “... St. John’s [gospel] is the only one that claims to be the direct report of an eyewitness. And to one accustomed to the imaginative handling of documents, the internal evidence bears out this claim” [19].

Davis makes the assertion that, “the authorship of the New Testament books remains clouded in mystery... as the first generation of ’apostles’ who were spreading the ’good news’ started to die off... it seemed like a good idea to set these words down” and claims that Paul’s letters were first collected around 90 A.D. [20]. On what basis can this be backed up? John Robinson, leader of the ’death of God’ movement, dates ALL of the New Testament between 40 and 70 A.D. William Albright, the famous archaeologist, dated the writing of the New Testament between 50 and 75 A.D. [21]. The last book written, Revelation, clearly describes the temple still standing in Jerusalem (Rev 11:1, 8). The scriptures of the new covenant community were written by eyewitnesses, not decades later (Heb 2:3, Lk 1:2, 1 Cor 15:6, Jn 21:24). Paul quotes Luke as scripture (1 Tim 5:18). 2 Peter 3:15, 16 refers to Paul’s letters as scripture! According to Eusebius, Peter and Paul were both martyred during the reign of Nero around 67/68 A.D. [22]. Jude cites 2 Peter: compare Jude 4-12 with 2 Peter 2:1,4,9,10,12,13,15 and 17. Now Jude 5-7 mentions several divine acts of judgment against the Canaanites, fallen angels and Sodom and Gomorrah. If this was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, this event would have fit perfectly in this context! So Peter was before Jude and Jude is prior to 70 A.D. John 5:2 states that there is a pool near the Sheep Gate which indicates that the author wrote before 70 A.D.

The general paradigm in redemptive history is that prophecy and inscripturation are contemporary phenomena (Jer 36:27,28). Paul himself wrote the closing of his letters (Gal 6:11, 1 Cor 16:21, Col 4:18, Philemon 19). “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters... (2 Thes 3:17). Paul claimed that his writing had authority (2 Thes 2:15). Paul said, “... what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command” (1 Cor 14:37).

Carsten Peter Thiede has studied the Magdalen Papyrus (Greek 17 and p64) which contains 24 lines from Matthew 26:7-33. He concluded that the paper, ink, style of letters and line length demonstrate that the fragments were written around 60 A.D. [23]. Josephus tells us that James, the half-brother of Jesus, was stoned to death in 62 A.D. [24]. Thus, the book of James must have been written before 62 A.D.! Jose O’Callahan, a paleographer, announced in 1972 that he discovered a fragment of the Gospel of Mark from Qumran [25]. Several fragments from Mark are dated around 50 A.D.! A fragment from Acts is dated c. 60 A.D. Fragments from Romans, 1 Timothy, 2 Peter and James are dated c. 70 A.D.!

Remember that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and he is our only source of true truth and salvation from sin, both now and forevermore!

1) Davis, Kenneth C., Don’t Know Much About the Bible, William Morrow
& Co., 1998, p.152.
2) McDowell, Josh, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Vol. 2), Here’s Life Publ., 1981, p. 336.
3) Davis, p. 199.
4) ibid. p.205.
5) ibid. p. 226.
6) ibid., p. 258.
7) “Digging up Nineveh” found here
8) “Jonah” by Al Maxey found here
9) “Swallowed by a Whale” found here
10) “Christian Evidences” found here
11) Davis, p. 303.
12) ibid. p. 314.
13) Archer, Gleason, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan, 1982, p. 283.
14) Davis, p. 332.
15) Bruce, F. F., The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable? (6th ed.), Inter-Varsity Press, 1981, p. 38.
16) ibid., p.35.
17) Dummelow, J. R. (ed.), A Commentary on the Holy Bible, Macmillan, 1908 (1955 reprint), p. 815.
18) Hailey, Homer, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, Baker, 1979, pp. 24, 25.
19) Bruce, p. 49.
20) Davis, p.336.
21) Geisler, Norman & William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (rev.), Moody Press, 1986, p. 213.
22) Bruce, F. F., New Testament History, Doubleday-Galilee, 1980, p. 367.
23) Book Review of Eyewitness to Jesus by Carsten Peter Thiede and Matthew d’Ancona , rev. by Bob Passantino,found here
24) “History, Archaeology and Jesus” by Paul Maier found here
25) Geisler, Norman, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker
Books, 1999, p. 530.