3. Foundational Scriptures

Knee Jerk

The defense mechanisms of Christian apologetics rapidly engage with such claims. I assure you that my own mind responded with swiftness along such lines, erecting a full panel of barriers, all standard and admittedly unoriginal:

  • We have an enemy, and he seeks ever to discredit the truth.
  • It is unfortunate that in this modern era people have come to value the evidences of the scholars over faith in God’s scriptures.
  • The conflict with science is old, and we have an answer for it.
  • There is nothing new under the sun, and we have heard the age-old propositions of reason against faith before.
  • Some things can only be known by faith.
  • We may chalk these rantings up to the liberal agenda.
  • It all comes down to who one listens to, and I know of an expert that disagrees.
  • The church declares truth, which has far more weight than mere ‘fact’.

It is fairly obvious that barrier statements like these are simply means by which we opt-out of real inquiry. They do not actually answer. They dismiss. But more to the point, they should not be required by those holding the one truth in their hands.

Consideration

A more honest approach is in order. I considered how it was possible that the single true canon of divinely inspired Scripture could appear to be always so undercut by evidence. As our knowledge of the past accumulates, the canon appears ever more discrepant. We should not have evidence problems. 

Evangelicals are all too aware of the “tensions” surrounding the Genesis accounts and the natural history of origins. These tensions have continued to grow with passing centuries of investigation; they have not diminished. Similar “tensions” now face Israel’s claims regarding their own national origins. And of course, “tension” has always been a politically soft way of saying “contradiction” or “disconfirmation”. But how is this possible?

If we examine the case for credibility of the ancient Hebrew texts, we find the answer.

Moses Wasn’t Wrong

As it happens, Moses did not write the Pentateuch [14]. A number of editorial seams are visible throughout, indicating that different textual sources were merged together in a later multi-source redaction. And unfortunately, we cannot say who the authors of the various sections actually were. We do not actually know who wrote any part of the Pentateuch. I found the books by Peter Enns enormously helpful in these areas, and highly recommend The Evolution of Adam as a must read [14]:

The Pentateuch was not authored out of whole cloth by a second-millennium Moses but is the end product of a complex literary process— written, oral, or both— that did not come to a close until the postexilic period… This summary statement, with only the rarest exception, is a virtual scholarly consensus after one and a half centuries of debate.

~ Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam

The downfall of the centuries-held view regarding ‘The Books of Moses’ is accepted by the consensus of scholars in the field. More distressing still – this problem has been known since the 18th century [14], yet it seems to be a fact more often obscured from the faithful than disclosed. The credibility of church as the guardians of the canon wanes substantially on both points. And we are left with a serious problem regarding the foundational texts of Judaism and Christianity: the Pentateuch is a collection of writings without pedigree. Who wrote it? Unknown, but several authors. When was it written? Also unknown, but apparently some time after Moses. When did it begin being considered divinely inspired scripture? Unknown.

Whatever the issues with the Pentateuch, we cannot blame Moses. He wasn’t wrong. But the church was mistaken about the ascription, and with it the texts authority. For a very long time.

Implications

Questions naturally follow. The absence of clear Mosaic authorship – and indeed, the lack of any identifiable authorship – makes it reasonable to ask: if we cannot identify a prophet responsible for this text, what is to say it carries sufficient authority to be considered Scripture?  What makes the Pentateuch anything more than a collection of ancient Jewish lore, which at some later point was elevated in designation to ‘holy writ’? Who assembled it and shaped its message? What authority decided that it should be designated as holy scripture? Further still, on what basis should this text be considered a serious opponent to the undercutting evidences of serious modern inquiry? That is, can we honestly put this text ‘in the ring’ against the evidences obtained through serious investigation?

This distressing authorship crisis propagates through the remainder of the Old Testament, which is largely of unknown authorship, undocumented pedigree, and ultimately of late assemblage into what we now know as the Jewish bible. It was apparently undertaken as a sort of coping mechanism and for identity preservation following the Babylonian captivity [14]:

The creation of the Hebrew Bible…is an exercise in national self-definition in response to the Babylonian exile…

~ Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam

However, following sustained reflection, I consider that the pedigree problem is not all bad news. Quite the contrary, realizing that we do not know where the texts originated actually explains a number of things. It can help resolve certain intractable points of disconnect, like those between Genesis and the evidences of natural science, or like those between the Pentateuch and the troubling archeological findings. If the texts remain of dubious authorship, and they do, the possibility that some or all of the material may not have been divinely sourced could resolve the problem. Indeed, it would constitute a total resolution, a divisor leaving no remainder.

Shoe Shot

It is worthwhile to consider the protracted and excruciating lengths to which New Testament scholars have gone in order to argue and support the apostolic authorship of the Gospels and epistles [10, 47]. Apostolic authorship means an authoritatively received message. Hence, ascriptions are argued to matter critically.

Yet we largely have none for the most foundational books of the Jewish people. Insistence upon legitimacy and pedigree for texts of the New Testament ultimately skewers, on principle, the authority of the Old Testament. But this is to saw the branch one is sitting on. After a long circular chase, the hound regrettably catches up to his own tail.

Truth, or My Truth

A return to the Mormon consideration. Evangelicals largely maintain that the Book of Mormon is simply not factual in any historical sense; the events recounted simply did not happen, and their assertions of truth stand sadly baseless and transparently subjective. It does indeed take eyes of a rather misplaced faith to maintain that the Book of Mormon is true. With cheerful sternness, Protestants have long pointed this out. Our own foundational histories were far more ancient, and by our own profession (though scant less), our texts were no mere charlatan’s whimsy. Yet with finger still outstretched, the ground has given way beneath our own position.

If I look at the situation with cold objectivity, the Pentateuch bears regrettable similarities to the book of Mormon in both content and pedigree. Regarding content, it rests on roughly the same plane of historical accuracy: the creation, the flood, the patriarchal period, the Exodus. They are compelling, and they were perhaps inspired by true seedling tales in some form. Yet protracted investigation has not only failed to support these narratives, it has produced an impressively uniform disconfirmation.

Regarding authorship, both the Pentateuch and the Book of Mormon remain dubious regarding any pretense of divine origins. We have no credible grounds to assert that Pentateuch was penned under any better circumstances than Joseph Smith and his golden tablets. They may have been, but given their fabricated content, it doesn’t appear so. Jewish law was not received during the non-events of Sinai following the non-event of the Passover. The tablets of the law may not have been gold, but neither were they stone.

Against such accusations, defenders can only object that (1) the Jewish texts carry the inertia of a very old tradition, and (2) our ignorance of their pedigree provides a beneficial obscurity to ever really proving deliberate opportunism.

Summary

What we can say is that the Pentateuch pre-histories of Israel show little to no correspondence with the realities of actual past events, and that they have yet long been held as sacred by the Jewish people. What we cannot say is that the texts are of prophetic origin, or that their author was blessed with a ‘divine uplink’, since we cannot even identify the author.

The bleakness summed: the Old Testament texts are not what we thought; they were not written by whom we thought; they were not written when we thought. The keepers of the flame were mistaken about both being designated as keepers and about possessing the flame.

Next: [4] Crayons >>

4/5/2013

© Copyright 2013

Comments

  1. It is fairly obvious that barrier statements like these are simply means by which we opt-out of real inquiry. They do not actually answer. They dismiss. But more to the point, they should not be required by those holding the one truth in their hands.

    Yes!!!! I have no idea why that’s not apparent to everyone!

    Like

  2. hermes discount bags 3. Foundational Scriptures – Jericho Brisance

    Like

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Michael Seidel, writer

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My freedom from spiritual abuse happened when I walked away from the abusers. My healing and recovery from the complex trauma of spiritual abusers, spiritually abusive faith and toxic religion happened while I was still a Christian and continues to this day. My deconversion came later after many many years of studying the Bible, Christian apologetics, cults and spiritual abuse. When I realized that the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God, the only honest thing I could do was to stop calling myself a Christian. What I write here, may be very different from what I’ve written in the past. It might also be repeats of the past themes. ~ Zoe

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