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Friday, May 5, 2006

Society of Skeptics

The last few issues of Biblical Archeology Review (BAR) have reminded me why I cancelled my subscription in frustration several years ago. Whether it is an article on who "the disciple whom Jesus loved" was or one about the possibility of a clay tablet hoard at Hazor, the magazine's authors take their jibes at the Bible's historical veracity. And this is in a magazine that purports to defend biblical archeology! However, it is clear that BAR is really a supporter of archeology in Bible lands, not the Bible itself. Its editors and authors are clearly more driven by current scientific thought and attitudes than in any kind of faithful defense of God's Word. In fact, they would probably take umbrage at describing the Bible as God's Word.

BAR does not stand alone, by any means. It could be lumped into a huge class of institutions that have Christian or Jewish roots and links but are actually humanist and scientific in their approaches to their fields of endeavor. In other words, while pretending to be religious or at least supportive of the religions to which they are connected, they are really skeptical, liberal organizations. They present a veneer of faith but at heart are agnostic, and thus they express doubt about the historicity and reliability of the Bible. In reality, they dismiss its authority.

For example, Joshua's account of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites lists the towns that were conquered, some of which were burned and some of which were not. It is all very straightforward. According to their own scientific surveys and digs, archeologists know that many of the same towns suffered burning during the late fifteenth or the early fourteenth century BC. However, these same towns are not known to have been burned in the thirteenth century, when modern critical scholars say Israel came into the land. These scholars, then, assume that Joshua's account is wrong. They say what probably happened is that the author (not Joshua, of course), writing long afterward, either made up which towns were burned, or because local history remembered that certain towns had been burned in conquest in the distant past, applied those conflagrations to Joshua's conquest, when in fact they belonged to an earlier destruction.

Their first instinct is to call God a liar! His Word through Joshua is unreliable as a historical account of events during Israel's return to Palestine. These are the actions of skeptics.

Someone who really had faith in God's Word, though, would look at it the other way around. He would reason, "The archeological record shows that there is no burn level at city X for the thirteenth century BC. The Bible says there should be. This means one of three things: 1) Our dating of this level is wrong. 2) The Israelites did not invade during the thirteenth century (late date) but in the late fifteenth or early fourteenth century (early date) when a burn level exists. Or, 3) the biblical account is wrong." A biblical scholar would at least give the Bible the benefit of the doubt.

Another example of Bible-bashing is a recent "discovery" published in a Canadian scientific journal that Jesus did not walk on the water of the Sea of Galilee but strode confidently across on ice. Seriously! A news account of their findings reports:

A research team of oceanographers from Florida State University, Colombia University in New York and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said it has found data to refute the biblical account. . . . The study said there was a rare combination of optimal water and atmospheric conditions for the development of a unique freezing phenomenon that the researchers called "springs ice." During the time of Jesus—when the temperature in the region was several degrees colder than it is today—this type of ice could have occurred every 100 or so years. . . . It would have been difficult to distinguish such an ice patch floating on the surface of the small lake from the unfrozen water surrounding it along the lake's western shore in Tabgha—the area of the lake where many archeological finds from the time of Jesus have been documented.

Clearly, it was their intention to debunk the Bible's account because they are unwilling to admit that miracles happened—and perhaps, that God exists. The end of the article says that this same group came up with another scheme to disprove the parting of the Red Sea. Obviously, they are skeptics.

What is so maddening is that these broadcasters of doubt are part of the mainstream of our society. The media pick up these stories and spread them as "truth" over their airwaves, often in accepting tones. Few rise up to defend the faith, and those who do are shot down with barbed labels like "fundamentalist," "right-winger," or "extremist." Even "biblical literalist" has become a bad word among the postmodern, tolerant set.

This phenomenon is not just confined to biblical studies, either. On college campuses, conservative political and cultural opinion is often not even allowed to be presented, as it is considered so reactionary as to be ridiculous and unworthy of discussion. Therefore, what passes for debate on college campuses is really friendly argument between progressives who differ only by degree. For example, Roe v. Wade is allowed to be debated only between those who favor it in the first trimester and those who favor it throughout pregnancy. Those who desire to have it overturned are considered Neanderthals.

It comes down to this: We are living in a post-Christian culture, even here in America. Despite three-quarters of Americans claiming to be Christian, this nation has moved beyond belief into doubt. Most would probably say they believe, but their behavior belies their profession of faith. For real Christians, this means we face a steadily diminishing influence on the course of this nation's culture. The optimist in me shouts that, if we stand strong, we will eventually turn matters to God's favor, but the more pessimistic side says that it will probably take Christ's return to set matters straight. I am leaning pessimistic.