biblical studies

Did the Hebrews Believe in Other Gods?

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Did the Hebrews believe in one god or many gods?

For a great read on the topic see this brief article: http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/henotheism.htm 

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The authors of the four gospels were not eyewitnesses

raymond brownAs a child I was taught the traditional view that the four Gospels were written by disciples who were eyewitnesses of the events they spoke of. Yet the biblical scholarship of the 20th century argues that the evidence strongly suggests the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses.

In a book commenting on the fact that the Roman Catholic Pontifical Biblical Commission changed its stance, rejecting the dogmatic position that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, Raymond Brown, a leading Catholic biblical scholar writes:

“The view that the evangelists were not themselves eyewitnesses of the public ministry of Jesus would be held in about 95% of contemporary [biblical] scholarship.

The designation that you find in your New Testament, such as “the Gospel According to Matthew” are the results of late-second-century scholarship attempting to identify the authors of works that had no identification. No evangelist indicated who he was.”

The many voices of the Bible often disagree

I once preached that “the bible is a elegantly cohesive book that contains one voice and story” which is a very common idea among the most conservative of Christians.

However, the Bible, as it turns out, does not really reflect this simple declaration, instead it’s a complex book with many voices, and sometimes, these voices disagree.

Ronald J. Allen, a New Testament Professors at ‘Christian Theological Seminary’ writes that:

“Some biblical writers disagree with one another. The Deuteronomist, for instance, assumes that obedience begets prosperity while disobedience calls forth a cures, but the book of Job says, “not necessarily.” Readers are advised in 1st Peter to be obedient to the emperor since the emperor is Gods agent, but the book of Revelation regards the Roman empire as an instrument of Satan. The Bible is not a rigid anvil… [there are] many forms of pluralism in the Bible.”

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Mark and Luke differ on when Jesus was seized in the Garden of Gethsemane

garden of gethsemane contradiction

While most historians and biblical scholars believe a historical Jesus existed and was crucified, many are also aware that the gospel narratives are told from very different perspectives, with significant idiosyncrasies.

There are many examples where the gospel stories diverge and contain discrepancies, and while this doesn’t mean the original events didn’t happen, it makes claims like “every word in the Bible is historically true” a bit misguided.

This picture shows yet another instantiation of these differences. What likely happened is that that the author of Luke, writing much later than Mark, was trying to defuse the image of early Christians being involved in a violent uprising, and this story in Marks gospel seems to show a violent incident that is neither corrected nor rejected by Jesus. Thus Luke alters this narrative by saying Jesus healed the dismembered ear and commanded the violence to stop, but in order to incorporate these two elements, Luke had to change the order of Marks account.

There are two different dates and times for the crucifixion of Jesus

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As a kid I was always confused as to why different Christian groups have different days for the crucifixion (some say it was Thursday, others Friday). This uncertainty runs even deeper than tradition, for even the Gospels of Mark and John narrate different dates for the crucifixion.

In this example, there have been plenty of attempts by apologists to reconcile these two conflicting dates, speculating that perhaps John was using some different way of telling time or perhaps in one of the narratives Jesus decided to celebrate the Passover one day earlier, and thus it can be called “Passover” in that narrative, even while the other narratives refer to that date as “before Passover.” However, none of these highly speculative attempts have ever been taken seriously, and today, the view of mainstream New Testament scholars remains that:

“John differs from the Synoptic Gospels also in the date which he gives for the crucifixion:

According to Mark the last supper was a Passover meal; that is, it was eaten in the early hours of Nisan 15; the arrest and trial took place in the same night and in the course of the next (solar) day Jesus was crucified. All these events took place on Nisan 15. “

-According to John the crucifixion happened on Nisan 14, the day before the Passover; the last supper must have been eaten the preceding evening. Thus the events are set a day earlier than in Mark, and the last supper is no longer the Paschal meal; Jesus died at the time when the Passover sacrifices were being killed in the Temple. Here again is a real contradiction; it seems impossible to reconcile the dates.”

– C. K. Barrett, President of the Society for New Testament Studies (1973)

Dan Wallace thinks that 99% of liberal bible scholars started out as conservatives

According to one of the world’s leading conservative evangelical scholars, most “liberal” Biblical scholars start out as devout conservatives.

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Daniel Wallace, a leading evangelical scholar of textual criticism writes:

“Some years ago, I was on a committee that was working on a revision of the standard Greek grammar of the New Testament. In one of our annual two-day meetings about ten years ago, we got to discussing theological liberalism during lunch. Now before you think that this was a time for bashing liberals, you need to realize that most of the scholars on this committee were theologically liberal.

And one of them casually mentioned that, as far as he was aware, 100% of all theological liberals came from an evangelical or fundamentalist background.

I thought his numbers were a tad high since I had once met a liberal scholar who did not come from such a background. I’d give it 99%. Whether it’s 99%, 100%, or only 75%, the fact is that overwhelmingly, theological liberals do not start their academic study of the scriptures as theological liberals. They become liberal somewhere along the road.” (1)

William Dever, a leading archeologist argues the Hebrew Bible is overlaid with legendary material that can’t be history

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The consensus of biblical archaeologists is that the Hebrew Bible contains much history but its “overlaid with legendary and even fantastic materials that the modern reader may enjoy as ‘story’ but which can scarcely be taken seriously as history.”

William G. Dever, commonly referred to as “America’s leading archaeologist of Israelite history” writes: “While the Hebrew Bible in its present, heavily edited form cannot be taken at face value as history in the modern sense, it nevertheless contains much history.

Let me begin by clarifying which books of the Hebrew Bible I think can be utilized by the would-be historian, whether textual scholar or archaeologist. With most scholars, I would exclude much of the Pentateuch, specifically the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. These materials obviously constitute a sort of “pre-history” that has been attached to the main epic of ancient Israel by late editors… As for Leviticus and Numbers, these are clearly additions to the “pre-history” by very late Priestly editorial hands, preoccupied with notions of ritual purity, themes of the “promised land,” and other literary motifs…

All this may be distilled from long oral traditions, and I suspect that some of the stories – such as parts of the Patriarchal narratives – may once have had a real historical setting. These traditions, however, are overlaid with legendary and even fantastic materials that the modern reader may enjoy as “story” but which can scarcely be taken seriously as history.”

(William G. Dever “What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It? – What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel” 2001 – William B. Eerdmans Publishing )