From time to time the Bible makes some interesting claims about how the cosmos works. There are the creation stories, the great flood, and frogs falling from the sky, but the one that I find truly amusing is found in Joshua. In chapter 10, Joshua and his army go to battle against the Amorites, and something quite special happens: Continue reading
A previous post on this site criticized a post by Rachel Held Evans, who didn’t apply much rigor to her thinking about the variance of Biblical interpretations. Interestingly enough, perhaps she was too busy following many pointless details—Evans decided to “live a year Biblically”—to put much into context.
She covered her head when praying, kept silent in church, took up baking and knitting, and even sat on her roof as penance when she got cranky.
As much of an “interesting” story as this is, it is also—on its face—absurd, even if she was taking a satirical approach. (It shouldn’t require a year of this to prove the pointlessness of doing so.)Instead of “living” the Bible, we at Holey Books have been carefully “reading” it for more than a year now. We might be biased, but we definitely recommend the latter.
The fact that the Bible lends itself to competing interpretations should be cause for celebration rather than dismay, for these competing interpretations among people of faith who love and value Scripture help bring us into relationship with one another and with God.
What is perhaps most frustrating about engaging in such conversations within the evangelical community in particular, however, is that differences regarding things like Calvinism and Arminianism, baptism, heaven and hell, gender roles, homosexuality, and atonement theories often disintegrate into harsh accusations in which we question one another’s commitment to Scripture.
We’ve covered what the Bible says about marriage, women, and sex several times here on Holey Books (here’s the most recent post in the series). A common theme throughout this series is that women are not considered the equals of men in the Bible, nor are they by God. The Friendly Atheist has annotated an article by Morgan Reinhart from The Humanist that tackles many of the same themes and is definitely worth checking out. So… go check it out!
I’m going to get straight to the point of this post: there were never any walls around Jericho. The Bible was most likely wrong. The story in Josh. 6—of the walls of Jericho falling down after the Israelites marched around the city with the Ark of the Covenant—is likely totally fictional. Let’s find out why.
Continuing on Greg’s response to “Reasons for Believing the Bible is God’s Word” I’d like to examine two other points that Roger E. Olson makes that I have encountered several times when discussing the validity of faith and the Bible with believers.
At Holey Books, we’ve come across our share of scriptural commentary, and usually prefer to read what reasonable scholars (such as James Kugel) have to say about the various bits of scripture we talk about. But occasionally—as recently in a post about Rev. Billy Graham’s misguided views on the Dead Sea Scrolls—we have taken a look at what individual commentators on the blessed Interwebs are saying. And often it’s not pretty, regardless of their viewpoint.
Take Roger Olsen, who at the website Patheos, discusses the “inerrancy” (or lack thereof) of scripture. We don’t want to draw too much attention to this post, because there are many, many like it all across the Interwebs, and because it features some salient themes that find we keep coming back to on the site, I offer a partial commentary. Ryan will also be following up with another post on this topic.
Broadly speaking, Olsen’s post defends belief in the Bible regardless of errors in the Bible. He says faith in Jesus should be put in Jesus, not in the Bible itself:
The Bible is simply the Christmas-wrapped box that delivers [Jesus] to us. I believe in the Bible’s truth and authority because of him. But that in no way requires belief in absolute, technical, detailed accuracy of every statement of Scripture.
His suggestion that belief in “absolute, detailed accuracy” is not a requirement for faith is a good one. But ultimately his reasoning here is circular. The only evidence we have of Jesus’ existence comes entirely from the Bible. So it would be difficult, then, to express some sort of belief in him in any religious away that did not logically derive from what the scriptures say. I think the essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan put this kind of thing very elegantly in his essay/magazine piece Upon This Rock: “faith is a logical door which locks behind you,” he writes about discussing religion with evangelical Christians. “What looks like a line of thought is steadily warping into a circle, one that close with you inside.” That is the kind of circular reasoning Olsen seems to be making here.
When the Israelite spies come to Jericho, they’re housed and protected by a prostitute (not sure why that’s relevant–seriously, there’s no context for it in Joshua) named Rahab. She promises to protect the spies in exchange for amnesty during the attack. The spies then return safely to Joshua and report that
24 They said to Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (Josh. 2:24)
After the “battle” of Jericho (which Greg recently reviewed) the Israelites hold to their oath and spare Rahab and her family. Thus, as the sermon goes, because of her willingness to recognize the power of God and submit to him, she escaped judgment (at least for the time being). A quick Google search reveals the popularity of Rahab’s story in sermons about redemption (she was a prostitute who chose the Lord after all) and the necessity of choosing salvation in light of life’s uncertainties.
At best, that message is a stretch.
Over in his daily “My Answer” column, Billy Graham addresses the question of a reader: Do the Dead Sea Scrolls contradict the Bible? Sadly, while Rev. Graham does get some of the history right, his ultimate analysis is lacking—and borderline disingenuous.
Graham is correct in much of his history:
Scholars have concluded that most of the scrolls date from a century or so before Christ, and they include portions of almost all of the books of the Old Testament. One of the most important scrolls contains the complete book of Isaiah (one of the longest books in the Old Testament); others contain major parts of the Psalms.
Why the scrolls were hidden away isn’t known, but their owners probably feared that they were about to be destroyed by an invading enemy.
This is all good history. The problem, however, is with his conclusion: “No, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not contradict the Bible; in fact, the opposite is the case.” He is right in that the scrolls generally don’t contradict scripture; but he is wrong to suggest that they support it. All the scrolls contains are various copies and versions of a few books—additional copies that don’t speak to the veracity of the books at all, except to provide the world with slightly older copies of already known works (which in some way would support the accuracy of scripture, but not in a very significant manner). The scrolls were most certainly the possession of the Essenes, a sect of Judaism that held some striking views (which didn’t find their way into modern Judaism or Christianity).
The other benefit the scrolls provide is some insight into the historical times of Jesus; Graham correctly notes that they date from near the time of Christ. But, as they are dated before Jesus was ever born, they don’t provide any insight whatosever into the veracity of the New Testament. It’s nice to see a prominent religious figure actually turning to religius scholars, since there has long been quite a disconnect—but Rev. Graham should really do his homework a bit better. While the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t “contradict” scripture, it is quite wrong to say they actually support anything in Christianity.
We all know the Jericho story pretty well—at least, if we’ve had much in the way of Bible schools, religious studies, or scriptural readings, we are familiar with how the walls of the city came tumbling down. We also know that Joshua, the leader of the Israelites, takes his people on a conquest of Canaan. There he fights the Battle of Jericho, his spies aided by the prostitute Rahab (who in turn deals with the spies to ensure safe passage for her family). The city is fortified, so God tells Joshua to march around the city once each day for six days, making sure to include seven priests with ram’s horns and the Ark of the Covenant to lead the way (Josh. 6:7). (Sounds like a totally reasonable battle strategy, right?). They do so, and the wall of Jericho coming falling down. The Israelites win the day; Rahab is rescued.
All is well.