CHAPTER 2: THE STONES CRY OUT

(Argumentum Ad Verecundiam)

In Chapter 2 of Why I Believe, D. James Kennedy continues with his explanation of why he believes in the Bible, this time using evidence from archaeology rather than prophecy. He stands on more solid ground here. Until the 1970s, a strong alliance existed between the relatively new science of archaeology (starting in the 19th century) and the defense of the Bible as history. Archaeology has been quite useful in filling in historical gaps, and confirming or disproving beliefs for which no evidence previously existed.

As with chapter 1, Kennedy's well-thought-out presentation impressed me before I began seeking more knowledge. Now, I find the Fallacy of Composition still looms in the background, as do other problems. In particular, as in Chapter 1, there is a lot Kennedy does not say. He is again quite selective in the evidence he chooses to present, denying the reader a complete picture from which to draw a conclusion; he also refers to questionable sources. In this essay I will cover some of his omissions and comment on his sources afterward.

Questionable evidence

One cannot deny that much evidence exists from archaeology supporting certain events and places described in the Bible. Kennedy identifies numerous examples, but he omits some crucial information.

Let us first consider the Flood, of which Kennedy writes three short paragraphs. Ignore, for now, the non-archaeological fact that a flood as described in the Bible would require an enormous volume of water to be present on the earth, and that the earth does not have a tenth as much water, even if we count the ice at the poles. Many cultures do have ancient flood stories. The fact is, there are no archaeological records supporting the notion of a world-wide deluge.

Judging from genealogies, Noah's Flood would have taken place about 2400 BC. However, Kennedy neglects to mention that continuous written records exist during that time from both Egypt and Mesopotamia (especially the former); scribes kept writing their chronicles through that period as if nothing whatsoever had happened except for the usual annual overflow of the Nile.

It is likely that the Biblical Flood story was based, if not on legend, on some actual but local flood in Sumerian history.[1]

Sumeria was a flat land between two large rivers. As in the case of our own Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, unusual rises bring about floods. A country as flat as Sumeria would not require much flooding before large portions of the entire region are covered. A particularly bad flood would live on in the memories of later generations, and such bad floods definitely occurred. In 1929, English archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley found water-deposited layers at least ten feet thick in his excavations near the Euphrates, indicating that roughly around 3000 BC there were indeed drastic floods of at least a local nature. Such deposits were not found everywhere, however, and records of Sumerian culture showed no overall break.

Inevitably, as the story got told and retold, a flood spreading out over Sumeria and neighboring regions, with a great loss of life, would be said to have covered "all the world," meaning the entire region. And of course, later generations, having a much broader knowledge of geography, would accept the phrase "all the world" literally. The same sort of thing happened with Alexander the Great, who "conquered the world" and then wept for "other worlds to conquer," when he had actually conquered only 4 or 5 percent of the earth's land surface.

Some people suspect rain alone cannot account for the seriousness of the Flood, and suggest that there may have been a sudden rise in the Persian Gulf, leading to a disastrous invasion of water from the sea. Asimov proposes a meteorite splashdown resulting in a huge wave that moved inland catastrophically, sweeping everything in its path. Indeed, Genesis 7:11 supports this concept: ". . . were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened." In other words, a tidal wave plus rain.

In 1872, English archaeologist George Smith deciphered ancient tablets from the remains of a royal Assyrian library and found a tale of Gilgamesh trying to obtain the secret of eternal life from a man claiming to be a former king of a Sumerian city who rode out a flood in a large ship. The tale is based on still older legends dating back to Sumerian times. Because the details of this Sumerian flood tale are so similar to a number of points in the Bible, it seems likely that the Biblical Flood story is a version of this much earlier tale.

Aside from the Flood, archeological evidence provides inadequate support for the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites and the genocide that they, according to their own account, allegedly practiced on the previous inhabitants. In particular, for Joshua's conquest of Jericho, Kennedy again omits crucial information:

  • Walls can fall outward without supernatural help, contrary to the chapter's claim. Most likely, while the attention of Jericho's defenders was occupied by the slow procession of Joshua's army about the city, accompanied by an awesome trumpeting, they might not have seen nor heard Joshua's sappers slowly undermining the city's walls.[2]
  • Archaeological evidence does not establish that the destructions of Jericho, Hazor, and Gibeon were the work of invaders, let alone the same invaders (the Israelites).
  • In fact, at site after site, firm negatives face the cities and walls Joshua supposedly stormed. Archaeology reveals that Jericho's walls were flattened centuries before Joshua came along! Biblical historian Robin Fox writes, "After 1320 BC there may have been a fair-sized village, but nothing like a city or an impregnable wall. After 1300 the place was not settled at all; on the usual dating of the Exodus and Conquest (circa 1250 - 1230 BC), the Israelites would not even have needed to blow a trumpet to take the site by storm."[3]

Similarly, a fortunate find in 1973 dated the ruin of Lachish (see Joshua 10:32) conclusively to the reign of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses III (circa 1194 - 1163 BC), far too late for a conquest by Joshua. Several other sites in Palestine, named in the books of Joshua and Judges, either show no signs of walled urban settlement during Joshua's time, or they show no signs of a single wave of common destruction.[4]

So much for the declaration, at the end of the chapter, that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference. Here's a short list of some other historical events in the Bible that should be supported by archaeological evidence, but aren't:[5]

  • There are no Egyptian records of the events of the Exodus, had they happened as described in the Bible. The confrontation with the Israelites, the natural disasters, the pursuit of the Israelites, and the drowning of the Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea are all events that could not have escaped the notice of any Egyptian chronicler.
  • Joshua's telling the Sun to stop moving across the sky (Joshua 10:12-14) should be recorded in numerous existing chronicles; it would have happened around 1240 BC, when there were scribes at work not only in Egypt and Mesopotamia, but also in ancient Turkey and Crete.
  • In the Book of Jonah, we find that Jonah got the people of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh to repent of their sins. This remarkable event is not confirmed anywhere else in the Bible, nor in the chronicles and libraries of Nineveh or any neighboring city.
  • The massacre of baby boys ordered by Herod (Matthew 2) is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible, or by any outside historians, some of whom describe Herod in great detail.
  • The Star of Bethlehem (Matthew 2) is also mentioned nowhere else in the Bible, and historical evidence contradicts the generally accepted birthdate for Jesus as 4 BC. We know from Roman history that Halley's comet appeared over Rome in 12 BC when the famous commander Marcus Agrippa died, and Chinese astronomical records allege a comet appearing at that time, which might explain a moving, not fixed, star guiding the Wise Men to Bethlehem. It's likely that Matthew's story isn't history but rather was constructed from messianic prophecies, and the Wise Men were added as another legend.[6]
  • How could Jesus (according to Luke) be born at a time when a census was ordered by Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius governed Syria and Herod ruled the Jews? Historical evidence says that Herod's rule ended in 4 BC and the census did not occur until 6 AD when Quirinius was governing Syria.[7]

For more information on historical myths in the Bible as they relate to archaeology, try the book Out Of The Desert by William H. Steibing Jr.

This chapter seems like a good place for Kennedy to address the classic argument about the age of human civilization as indicated by the Bible versus evidence from archaeology, but he neglects to do so. This is an interesting topic so I'll examine it here.

By our calendar, the Jews of the Middle Ages calculated the date of creation as October 7, 3761 BC, and this is still used in calculating the Jewish calendar year. The most familiar and accepted Christian calculation for the date of creation is one worked out by James Ussher, an Anglican archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, in 1654. He determined that the creation took place in 4004 BC. This is the date often found at the head of the first pages in King James editions of the Bible.[8]

4004 BC is actually a pretty good date for the establishment of prehistoric times, as humans began to have a proper history only after the invention of writing a bit before 3000 BC. However, ignoring that 4004 BC contradicts geologic evidence for the age of the earth, this date also opposes archaeological evidence of the age of human civilization. The first cities were organized as early as 8,500 BC. In the Far East, 14,000-year old evidence has been found of agriculture and pottery and other expressions of human culture and technology.

Sources lacking credibility

Dr. Kennedy commits another logical fallacy throughout Chapter 2: argumentum ad verecundiam, otherwise known as Appeal To Authority, which uses the admiration of the famous to try and win support for an assertion unrelated to the field of expertise for that authority. It proves nothing to say that "Newton believed in God" (Newton's achievements in physics have little to do with his personal beliefs), or "Roger Penrose concluded that intelligent computers are impossible" (Penrose is a famous mathematician, not necessarily well-qualified to speak about machine intelligence). Kennedy quotes archaeologist William F. Albright (who is neither linguist nor historian) to support his assertion that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, when current knowledge about ancient religious traditions, language analysis, and internal inconsistencies in Genesis point to the fact that the Pentateuch had several authors.[9] Most Biblical scholars agree on this point,[10] even without pondering the fact that the end of Deuteronomy contains an account of Moses's own death.

I noticed also, that to give his claims an appearance of authority, Kennedy uses superlatives like "most outstanding archaeologist of the twentieth century," "one of the great scholars of our time," "renowned," etc. to describe his sources (Albright, Kenyon, and Glueck, respectively). Possibly some are true, at least in Kennedy's intellectual circle, although I think those qualifications are debatable.

In chapter 2, Kennedy cites Josh McDowell's book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, five times. I am not familiar with most of the other references in this chapter, but I am acquainted with McDowell's books, which even many Christians cannot take seriously. One reviewer, James Meritt, in the introduction to his meticulous 50+ page commentary on this book, describes its intellectual dishonesty:

The entire text is rife with circular reasoning, attempts at incremental confirmation, pleading to authority, and insufficient set definition, but there are many other logical errors. . . . Since his title seems to indicate some judicial standpoint, using "verdict," I believe that this will show that it is either wrong, unconfirmed, debatable, or biased. Thus, it "demands" no such thing. Given the wide press this book gets, I expected better.[11]

See The Jury Is In: The Ruling on McDowell's "Evidence" for more information. Similar charges of intellectual dishonesty have been leveled, in scrupulous detail, against Henry Morris and Duane Gish, whom Kennedy cites later in chapter 4.

Conclusion

Dr. Kennedy states that Biblical skepticism has been "discredited by discovery after discovery." He misunderstands the evidence. New discoveries discredit some skeptics, confirm others, pose new questions, and lead to newer, more accurate descriptions of history. Instead of contesting or force-fitting the evidence, is it not better to accept that the evidence helps us to read the Bible correctly? Archaeology can aid in teaching us which passages are meant as allegory or legend, and which ones represent real historical accounts.


NOTES

[1] The following discussion of the Flood story is summarized from Isaac Asimov, Asimov's Guide to the Bible (1981), pp. 38-40.

[2] Asimov, p. 213.

[3] J. R. Bartlett, Jericho (1982) pp. 83-107, summarized by Robin Layne Fox, The Unauthorized Version (1993), pp. 226-227.

[4] Fox, p. 228.

[5] Many of these examples of historical inaccuracy come from "Biblical Satanic Verses" by Loren Petrich (email removed). Much of the material in that article is taken from The Born-Again Skeptic's Guide to the Bible by Ruth Hurmence Green, available from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, PO Box 750, Madison, WI 53711.

[6] Fox, p. 35.

[7] Lloyd J. Averill, Religious Right, Religious Wrong (1989), p. 59.

[8] Asimov, p. 36.

[9] Biblical scholars identify in the Pentateuch various documents, or strands of tradition, such as J, E, and P. Those portions of the first few books that were put into final form by priestly hands soon after the Exile are known as the Priestly document, or P, which is characterized by impersonality and a heavy reliance on statistics and genealogies. The J document, which begins the second creation account at Genesis 2:4, is a strand of early tradition characterized by its use of "Jehovah" ("Yahveh Elohim," translated as "Lord God") in connection with God. The E document simply uses "Elohim" for God. Both J and E are much more informal and personal than P, and tell stories with circumstantial detail. In the eighth century BC, the priests of Judah incorporated the century-old E into their own J tradition. During and after the Babylonian Exile, the priesthood took this JE version and added P material of their own, producing Genesis as we have it now. For more information, see the Anchor Bible, which attempts to identify the source of each verse.

[10] The Anchor Bible, published by Doubleday. These volumes represent some of the latest and most profound thinking on the Bible.

[11] James Meritt, "Evidence That Demands a Verdict: A Commentary," 24 July 1992.

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