Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Objectivity and archaeologists in the Holy Land

My response to a review of the DVD The Bible Unearthed posted on Amazon by R. R. Morris:

I used to be just like you. My faith in God was absolutely unshakable. I even graduated from a Christian university and was thoroughly grounded in conservative Bible doctrine. So I know that you (and I at the time) started with the premise "The Bible is true" because of the verse you referenced in your review "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good work" (KJV, quoted from memory), and everything you have learned about the Bible since then has been judged on the basis of whether it agrees or disagrees with that premise. But if you are honestly interested in learning whether something is true or not, you need to start with no premise and simply see what information is produced by careful research. If you were to look objectively at the doctrine of the inspired inerrancy of the Bible being established by the Bible itself, you'd see that it wasn't a very reliable proof on its own. Any author can claim to be inerrantly inspired of God. You can agree with that. There must be some external, disinterested, objective proof to corroborate that author's claim. With the Bible, all you have for objective proof are tradition and the unquestioning faith of billions of people. Even the scientific evidence used to prove the truth of the Bible isn't entirely reliable because it's produced or interpreted by scientists who start with the premise "The Bible is true." Starting with a premise always skews research results in the direction the scientist wants it to go, and some secular scientists are guilty of that, you're right. But believing that all secular scientists are bad scientists producing skewed data is too broad a generalization.

When you wrote "with no proof and contrary to archaeological finds," you were referring to the interpretations of archaeologists who started with the premise "The Bible is true." Before 1960 or so, all Holy Land archaeologists started with that premise, and they would even tell you that. It was simply a given among those archaeologists. So if recent reinterpretations and new findings disagree with the long history of interpretions in support of the Bible, they should be considered seriously because previous archaeologists were admittedly not very objective.

The review by R. R. Morris:

I didn't know and the cover doesn't say whether the DVD was going to endorse the Bible or present it contrary to its own testimony,"inspired of God" 2 Tim.3:16. The first 52 minutes "argues" there is no archaeological evidence of camels, Philistines during Abraham's time and no evidence of Abraham ever being in Ur, so therefore the Bible is wrong on those issues. (I guess there is nothing left for archaeologists to find, they found it all!) "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." They also say Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were never father, son and grandson with no proof and contrary to archaeological finds! Go figure! Just more Bible-predicted degrading of God's word.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A little perspective on the Torah

My response to a review, posted on Amazon by Ken Tells All, of Who Wrote the Bible? by Richard Elliott Friedman:

Poor Ken. You can't help swimming upstream, can you, while explaining to everyone that "up" is really "down." You said "there are many more who disagree with him [Friedman] than those who think like him." You could be absolutely correct. There are also about a billion people who believe that the number 8 is lucky. That must be true too, because how could a billion people be wrong? Never point to the number of people believing something as proof that the something is true.

You said "a book on the creation of a nation called the children of ISRAEL." You're absolutely right on that too. It's interesting that you aren't bothered by the G-d of the Torah focusing exclusively on Israel, with all other people on Earth being considered "others" whose lands could be taken and "every living thing that breathes" in that land put to the sword. A G-d who created all people for the sole purpose of worshiping him and who killed, or instructed to be killed, anyone who didn't. Don't try to squirm around this one. It's right there in print. How many times were Israelites instructed to take up stones to kill a person who went after other gods? A response like "G-d can do that because he's G-d" doesn't actually explain anything. And "G-d's ways are higher than our ways" is just lame.

You said "he [Friedman] is not an expert." You checked his credentials? Or do you just feel that, if he were an expert, he wouldn't disagree with you?

You said "The individuals in the Torah did exist and that is confirmed by the lines of descent of the Kings of Israel and Judah." Are you sure you want to use the word "confirmed"? That we've determined that Hezekiah and the kings following him were very likely historical figures because of the references to them in the writings of other nations, proves that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were also historical figures? That's stretching a proof a bit too far.

This statement is interesting: "The Hebrew bible is only concerned about the children of Israel and their relationship with the one G-d of the Universe." The entire universe was made for the children of Israel? Is it okay that I'm here? Or am I trespassing on private property?

You wrote "I could go on and on" - I could too. This could easily grow into a book - "but it is foolish to try and convince people, who do not believe in G-d, that there is a G-d." Move the "not" from before "believe" to after "is" and you still have a true statement. Neither of us is going to budge from our position. But I'm fortunate to have been on both sides of the debate. It doesn't matter the flavor of my previous beliefs; for my first thirty years the strength of my faith matched yours. And now I'm able to look back on my absolutely immoveable faith in G-d and see it as the result of the conditioning I was exposed to from very early childhood. You were conditioned from early childhood too. And where you live in New York now you are completely immersed in a Jewish environment, aren't you. You spend as little time as possible with non-Jewish people, don't you. And as a result you can't really look objectively at your construct of the universe: The G-d of Israel created the universe and focuses exclusively on his people. So what does that make all those other people on the sidewalks and streets of New York? Just animals? Props? Projections? Debris? When you subtract the number of Jewish people in the world from the global population of nearly seven billion, that's a lot of debris. You probably argue that, in the Torah, all of the nations around Israel consciously rejected G-d and that all non-Jews today are descended from them, and they can repair their situation now by accepting God and converting to Judaism. But if you honestly look in your heart, you know you feel that it isn't the same when a person converts to Judaism as when a person is born Jewish. Be honest with yourself. You need to confront that aspect of yourself. Connect the concepts: The G-d of Israel created the universe and focuses exclusively on his people, and the other people sharing the universe with them cannot hope to equal those for whom the universe was created. That is not a good perspective from which to view the world.

You said "Oh by the way, there is today a nation called Israel that was gathered from the nations of the world after nearly 2 thousand years." And, by the way, it's an occupation. After eighteen hundred and sixteen years, from the Bar Kokhva Revolt in 132 to the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, the land was no longer the Jews' to retrieve like a lost hat. The Jews' claim to the land ended in the second century. If it were any other people invading any other land, it would have provoked a war to protect the rights of the invaded (cf. World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War). An occupation isn't something to be proud of.

Poor Ken. I wish I could help. If you were an Anglo-American I would describe you as superhyperpatriotic. Your identity is so tangled up in your heritage-ethnicity-religion (like mine was) that you've forgotten that you are a complete individual on your own and able to think independently. I hope someday you'll be able to untangle your identity and to free yourself from the need to conform to the expectations of the people around you.

Following is the review of "Who Wrote the Bible?" by Richard Elliott Friedman posted on Amazon by Ken Tells All:

Friedman talks a lot but proves nothing. He "OBVIOUSLY" believes that the events in the Hebrew bible are for the most part fiction and written by different people for nation building & political propaganda. Bottom line, there are many more who disagree with him than those who think like him. He is not an expert in the field of religious study or is he able to understand that the Torah is not a world history book but a book on the creation of a nation called the children of ISRAEL. Its main purpose was to serve as a moral teaching for them to live by. The individuals in the Torah did exist and that is confirmed by the lines of descent of the Kings of Israel and Judah. Foreign nations of the time have acknowledged that these kings existed back to Hezekiah at least. Hezekiah is just another link to the ones before him back to David & Solomon. The people of Israel & the House of David have also been acknowledged by other ancient sources. Also, other nations date their histories by their royal lines, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Roman, etc., why not accept the same when looking at Hebrew/Israelite royal documents. The Hebrew bible is only concerned about the children of Israel and their relationship with the one G-d of the Universe. Other stories that involved foreign nations were only necessary to show the people that when they sinned against their fellow man G-d would punish them by foreign nations attacking them. I could go on and on but it is foolish to try and convince people, who do not believe in G-d, that there is a G-d who does communicate with humans and does act in this world. Let them write their misconceptions because in the end they will be proven wrong! Oh by the way, there is today a nation called Israel that was gathered from the nations of the world after nearly 2 thousand years. This proves that the Hebrew bible and its prophets told the truth and that those who doubt the truth of the Torah are wrong!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Evangelicals praying for Obama's death??

Is this for real? It's a little early for an April Fool's prank. And this one is in especially bad taste.
(Newser) – While a handful of Americans might have taken a few minutes to reflect favorably on George Washington and Abe Lincoln on Presidents Day, some evangelical leaders devoted their time to praying for Barack Obama's death. The "Imprecatory Prayer" is a favorite of Arizona’s Baptist preacher Steven L. Anderson and Orange County's Wiley Drake, who told supporters in an email over the weekend that the supplication is "now your DUTY."

If "you have an evil leader above you, you pray that Satan will stand by his side and you ask God to make his children fatherless and his wife a widow and that his time in office be short," Drake told Daily Beast columnist John Avlon. Anderson has said he hopes Obama dies of brain cancer "today." To those offended by the sentiments, Wiley responds: "I’m praying the word of God. I didn’t write it. Don’t get mad at me.”

It's unfortunate that any ruckus this story causes will only bring Anderson and Wiley more attention which will result in higher praise from evangelicals and a surge in tithes and offerings. And to think I used to be part of that population. One can't choose one's family background, but one can choose to crawl out of his early conditioning if he works hard enough at it.

Obama is evil in what ways?? Because he wants insurance and pharmaceutical companies to be competitive? Because he's an African-American? Because he's not Republican? Once again I'm extremely embarrassed by the country in which I live. Yes this is the ranting of the far-right fringe but, knowing the evangelical perspective like I do, this is the thinking, to at least some degree, of far more conservatives than just the fringe.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

GE's Olympics ad sounds suspiciously familiar

Did my arrangement of Ode to Joy inspire GE's Olympics ad? (Patients saying "ah" building into a chorus ah-ing Ode to Joy.) When's the last time you heard a choir ah-ing Ode? (A sample is at but the full choir begins after the sample ends.) The track is available at several of the music-licensing sites, and an adman, while browsing, could have become curious about Ode to Joy in the "experimental" category. And when s/he listened to it, s/he got the idea for the ad. (Public domain, their arrangement. I have no claim.) Stranger things have happened.