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E-Skeptic #30 for August 13, 2004

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Mr. P

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E-Skeptic #30 for August 13, 2004

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Seemed interesting enough for us!Mr. P.We encourage you to forward this e-Skeptic to new potential subscribers. Newcomers can subscribe to e-Skeptic for free by sending a blank e-mail to: [email protected]: Where Nothing is Certain...But We're Not Sure About That... Contents Faith Under Fire: The State of Biblical Scholarship Letter from Faith Under Fire Producer Reply to Faith Under Fire ProducerSupporting Website Exerpts Faith Under Fire: The State of Biblical Scholarship A forthcoming television series entitled Faith Under Fire on the PAX network has been contacting theologians, scholars, scientists, and skeptics to appear as guests in a debate format. Here is the query I and many others have received, including skeptic Edward Babinski, who wrote the producer of the show such a thoughtful letter on the state of biblical scholarship that I thought it worth publishing in this e-Skeptic venue. Be sure to check out his general web page: edwardtbabinski.us as well as the specific page on this topic: www.skeptical-christian.n...roble.html To Ed's list of biblical experts I would add our own Religion Editor of Skeptic and e-Skeptic, Tim Callahan, whose book The Secret Origins of the Bible is choc-a-block full of historical examples of pre-biblical myths co-opted by the various authors of the Bible, as well as Randel Helms and his book, Who Wrote the Gospels?, both books of which we (Millennium Press) publish and are available at www.skeptic.com Here is the letter both Ed and I received from the producer of the show (although mine was for a different segment, one on Intelligent Design theory), followed by Ed's reply: Dear _______________ I am writing to ask you for some feedback on who are the top scholars/experts in the field of debunking the Bible. I am a producer for a new nationwide, primetime TV show Faith Under Fire, and I am seeking a guest for the segment entitled Is The Bible Bogus? to be a proponent of the view that there are errors, contradictions, etc. in the Bible, and that it is not a valid religious document. Faith Under Fire is a brand new hour-long talk/debate show that takes an unflinching look at the provocative issues of religion, spirituality and morality in the fast-paced, face-off format of "Hardball" or "The O'Reilly Factor." Faith Under Fire will be an open forum for all points of view, with guests coming from all faith perspectives (e.g. Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Atheism, Scientology, Wicca, etc.) and from all arenas (e.g. politics, pop culture, academia, science, etc.). Topics to be discussed include a wide variety of compelling topics, including Is God a Silly Superstition? Darwin vs. Design: No Middle Ground? Is Hollywood Anti-Faith? We're encouraging guests to jump right into the heart of the issues for a lively discussion. And even though these are heady issues, we're trying to keep it at a very compelling popular level, so that the average American will be engaged. We're producing 13 episodes of Faith Under Fire for its first season, with each episode having six 7-minute segments. Each topic presented will have one person each representing the pro and con sides. Lee Strobel, the host and moderator, is a former award-winning investigative journalist and former Legal Editor of the Chicago Tribune, as well as a New York Times best-selling author. As a former journalist, he will provide a fair and balanced platform for spirited point and counterpoint on compelling topical issues, all from a faith perspective or hook. Faith Under Fire debuts this Fall 2004 on PAX TV, and each show will air twice weekly in primetime during its initial run. With PAX TV reaching 89% of U.S. television households via nationwide broadcast television, cable and satellite distribution systems, its programming reaches the majority of the country. In addition, Faith Under Fire has made a co-op marketing deal with the nationwide Barnes & Noble bookstore chain in which they will have highly visible posters in their stores nationwide that advertise books on topics covered by the show and by Faith Under Fire guests. This would be excellent publicity for any guest who was also an author. For more information about Faith Under Fire, please visit www.FaithUnderFire.com. REPLY TO PRODUCER OF "FAITH UNDER FIRE" By Ed Babinski Please let me remind Mr. Strobel and the show's producers that "Bible Debunking" is not an isolated phenomena practiced only by atheist "Debunkers." Christians have been "debunking" each other's interpretations of the Bible for centuries. And, "Bible Debunking" is relative to what is believed about the Bible in the first place. Exactly what does Mr. Strobel believe about the Bible? That it is inerrant? That it is inspired? Modern historical study of the Bible, like the historical study of all other ancient writings, assumes neither that such writings are inerrant, nor inspired. Therefore, all historical scholarship includes ingesting the "salt of agnosticism." Be that as it may, the names of three eminent scholars come to mind whom Mr. Strobel ought to interview on the topic of "debunking" conservative Christian interpretations of the Bible: 1) Bart D. Ehrman 2) James D. G. Dunn 3) William G. Dever Bart Ehrman would be the easiest of the three to contact, and the most liberal/agnostic as well. Dunn and Dever are both moderate Christians, but, as you will read below, their research and writings give little solace to the kind of conservative Biblical interpretation that Strobel (and the conservatives he interviews in his books) endorse. See below for information on all three scholars: 1) Bart D. Ehrman Dr. Ehrman apparently started out as a conservative Christian, graduating magna cum laude with a B.A. from Wheaton College, Illinois (an Evangelical Christian institution) before attending Princeton Seminary and obtaining his doctorate. His highly successful introduction to the New Testament, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford Univ. Press) is now in its third edition and is described as such: "It approaches the New Testament from a consistently historical and comparative perspective, emphasizing the rich diversity of the earliest Christian literature. Rather than shying away from the critical problems presented by these books, Ehrman addresses the historical and literary challenges they pose and shows why scholars continue to argue over such significant issues as how the books of the New Testament came into being, what they mean, how they relate to contemporary Christian and non-Christian literature, and how they came to be collected into a canon of Scripture." Dr. Ehrman's university lectures are also sold by The Teaching Company that features tapes and CDs by outstanding educators. For some more information on Dr. Ehrman, visit the following website that features articles on textual criticism of the Bible by noted scholars in that field: rosetta.reltech.org/ Some of the more salient passages have been exerpted in the following pages: www.skeptic.com/eskeptic0...4-ex1.htmlw ... 4-ex2.html 2) James D. G. Dunn James D.G. Dunn, in his latest work, Jesus Remembered, argues that The Gospel of John's narrative is not reliable, nor the claims it makes for Jesus' quasi-divine status. (In his earlier work, Evidence for Jesus, Dunn didn't imagine that Jesus spoke even one word reported in John.) Dunn admits there is little to support the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, and little evidence that Jesus supported a mission to the gentiles, and no evidence that Jesus saw himself as any kind of messiah. (The term does not even appear in Q.) Nor is there much left of the "Son of Man," except for a few uncertain eschatological allusions. Dunn argues that Jesus did not claim any title for himself. Jesus may have believed that he was going to die, but he did not believe he was dying to redeem the sins of the world. "If Jesus hoped for resurrection it was presumably to share in the general and final resurrection of the dead." There is astonishingly little support for what Jesus' last words were. Dunn admits that Jesus believed in an imminent eschatological climax that, of course, did not happen. "Putting it bluntly, Jesus was proved wrong by the course of events." Dunn's account of the resurrection notes all of the weaknesses of the tradition: The link of Jesus' resurrection to a falsely imminent general resurrection, confusion as to what sort of Jesus the witnesses were seeing, a persistent theme of failure of the witnesses to recognize Jesus (in Matthew 28:17 the disciples are seeing him in Galilee yet "some doubted," not just Thomas), confusion as to where they were seeing Jesus (in Jerusalem and Galilee? On earth or in heaven?). In "The Authority of Scripture According to Scripture" [which appeared in two parts in The Churchman ( London, England) 96.2 & 96.3, 1982] Dunn argued that the verses in the Bible that spoke of its "inspiration" did not demand that all Scripture be taken as literally as modern day conservatives propose it must. Dunn's article was challenged in that same journal by Roger Nicole (a founder of the Evangelical Theological Society). 3) William G. Dever William G. Dever is the son of a fundamentalist preacher. After starting his education at a small Christian liberal arts college in Tennessee he went to a Protestant theological seminary that exposed him to critical study of the Bible, a study that at first he resisted. In 1960 it was on to Harvard and a doctorate in Biblical theology. For thirty-five years he worked as an archaeologist, excavating in the Near East, and he is now professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona. In his book, What Did the Bible Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, he 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." He adds: "After a century of exhaustive investigation, all respectable archaeologists have given up hope of recovering any context that would make Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob credible 'historical figures.'" He writes of archaeological investigations of Moses and the Exodus as having been "discarded as a fruitless pursuit." He is not saying that the biblical Moses was entirely mythical, though he does admit that "...the overwhelming archaeological evidence today of largely indigenous origins for early Israel leaves no room for an exodus from Egypt or a 40-year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness. A Moses-like figure may have existed somewhere in southern Transjordan in the mid-late13th century B.C., where many scholars think the biblical traditions concerning the god Yahweh arose. But archaeology can do nothing to confirm such a figure as a historical personage, much less prove that he was the founder of later Israelite region." About Leviticus and Numbers he writes that 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 that most modern readers will scarcely find edifying much less historical." Dever writes that "the whole 'Exodus-Conquest' cycle of stories must now be set aside as largely mythical, but in the proper sense of the term 'myth': perhaps 'historical fiction,' but tales told primarily to validate religious beliefs." Dever's conclusions about what archaeology tells us about the Bible are not very pleasing to fundamentalists or conservative Evangelicals, and I gather that Dever and his colleagues of high standing likewise dismiss fundamentalists and hard-core conservative Evangelicals who want to consider themselves scholars without accepting that which good scholars must do: engage in extensive critical analysis. Those testifying for Dever's book (on the back cover) are: Paul D. Hanson, Professor of Divinity and Old Testament at Harvard University; David Noel Freedman, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of Michigan; Philip M. King, Professor at Boston College and author of Jeremiah; William W. Hallo, Professor of Assyriology and Babylonian Literature at Yale University; and Bernhard W. Anderson, Professor of Old Testament, Boston University and Professor Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. Like Dever, these are not a bunch of radical revisionists, but moderates in the field of Christian archeology. Dever's latest book is, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? Conservative and fundamentalist Christians who interpret the Bible literally will gain no encouragement after reading it. Allow me to say that I congratulate Mr. Strobel for seeking to interview someone other than conservative orthodox Christian scholars for a change. His books were growing predictable, interviewing nothing but conservative orthodox Christian professors, and of course reaching nothing but conservative orthodox Christian conclusions regarding the origins of the Bible's books and teachings. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out to Mr. Strobel how heavily he relies in his books on interviews with scholars who teach at relatively young institutions of higher learning, mere cradles of scholarship. All of the older, adult, and far more prestigious institutions of higher learning have grown more moderate and liberal, including all of the colleges originally founded as highly conservative seminaries in past centuries, like Calvin's college at Geneva, or Harvard, Yale and Princeton. In contrast, the most heavily "pro-inerrantist" institutions are all relatively young institutions, and you will find that even they evolve in a more moderate direction over time as their faculty and students interact with the wealth of knowledge in the field of biblical studies. For instance, the college that Calvin founded as a strictly conservative institution, grew within 200 years, into an institution in which many of its professors agreed with many of the teachings of Deism rather than Calvinism. Yale was founded in reaction to the move toward moderation at Harvard. Westminster Theological Seminary was founded by Machen in reaction to the move toward moderation/liberalism at Princeton. Wheaton College (with which Billy Graham has been associated) eventually voted to no longer require professors to sign a statement of faith that insists they believe that Adam and Eve were created "directly from clay." (In fact, a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton has recently agreed [see the NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY ON GENESIS] that the biblical authors viewed the firmament as a solid dome, and that the "serpent" in the story of "the garden of Eden" was not "Satan" at all, and in fact, the word "satan" and its meanings evolved over time in the Old Testament.) Fuller Seminary also was founded as an Evangelical institution, but grew more moderate, even liberal. And a Dallas Theological Seminary student recently denied in his graduate paper the reality of the huge numbers in the Bible of the number of Hebrews who allegedly took part in the Exodus. Thus the most heavily "pro-conservative orthodox Christian and pro-inerrancy" institutions have continued to grow more moderate-liberal over time via interacting with the past 250 years of unfettered Biblical research. (It was about 250 years ago when Christian churches lost the political clout they previously employed to ban ideas that rationally questioned Christian doctrines and dogmas.) In short, the current depth of biblical knowledge being shared at universities round the world, and the recognition of historical uncertainties, naturally erodes belief in "inerrancy." So debating "Bible Debunkers" on national TV is not going to do much to slow the advance of agnoticism in the world of Biblical studies. Furthermore, as I pointed out earlier, even Evangelical Christians continue to "debunk" each other's preferred interpretations of various teachings of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Evangelical Christian publishers have even produced whole series of books along those lines, the "viewpoints" series. Books by InterVarsity Press: Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialog Four Views on Divine sovereignty and Human Freedom Four Christian Views of Economics Four Theologians Debate the Major Millennial Views Women in Ministry: Four Views Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views Theologians and Philosophers Examine Four Approaches to War Books by Zondervan Press, part of their Counterpoints Series: Two Views on Women in Ministry Three Views on the Rapture Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond Three Views on Creation and Evolution Are Miraculous Gifts for Today: Four Views Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World Four Views on the Book of Revelation Four Views on Eternal Security Four Views on Hell Five Views of Law and Gospel Five Views on Sanctification Five Views on Apologetics The Society of Christian Philosophers has also published a debate book: Contemporary Debate in the Philosophy of Religion. Section III features debates between Christian/theistic philosophers on questions such as "Can Only One Religion Be True?" "Does God Take Risks in Governing the World?" "Does God Respond to Petitionary Prayer?" "Is Eternal Damnation Compatible with the Christian Concept of God?" "Is Morality Based on God's Commands?" "Should a Christian Be a Mind
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