ANSWERING TARA CHAPMAN #4
by Matt, with a few comments by Keith Hunt
It's really sad that we're brainwashed from childhood to believe one way so that we don't see what's really written there [in the Bible]. If we toss away the lies that we're told we must believe, it becomes clear when we read the bible that there is a lot wrong. – Tara Chapman
My next part was originally going to be a further exposition on Tara’s comments regarding the Tree of Life account, but since then she has made additional posts that warrant immediate attention. Tara makes a big deal about being a free-thinking, rational agent who has shed preconceived notions and social conditioning from her thinking. While seemingly an obvious prerequisite for intellectual thought, this is only true within a specific framework. It’s very understandable as to why her approach is attractive. It has the appearance of taking the text at face value, not interpreting anything so as to construe passages as we’d like. However, as I’ll now explain in detail, there is an art to critical thinking that Tara has missed.
At one extreme, one can adopt Tara’s approach and read the entire Bible within the framework of skepticism. It isn’t wrong to be skeptical of Scripture, or else its readers would not be admonished to prove all things. What is wrong is to use that skepticism as a means on which to base our criticisms and conclusions. Honestly speaking, who ever reads anything without a schema for interpretation? All material is to be read and interpreted within its own conventions, as I’ve explained in detail in a previous post. Nobody reads cooking instructions as poetry, and warning labels on lawnmowers aren’t to be regarded as narrative prose.
The same concept goes for Scripture because the nature of the text demands that certain assumptions be made by its readers. I’ll use the example I provided in an earlier post as it concerns the conventions of ancient biographies and historiographies. Tara insists that there are discrepancies in the New Testament on the basis that some of its accounts are anachronistic in relation to one another. As it turns out, such an understanding is both bad historiography and close-mindedness on her part. Ancient literature wasn’t always written in a linear temporal fashion, but historic events could be mixed as it suited the authors. Why did Tara believe that chronological order was the norm? It’s because of her cultural conditioning that she claims to have dropped.
If one isn’t careful, he can fall into what I call the bias of no bias. This oxymoronic fallacy is committed when we assume that the best way to approach literature is to ignore convention in place of what we might think is the plainest method of interpretation. To give an example, consider a genealogy by today’s standards. Most would probably consider one that is purposefully abridged as dishonest and wrongfully attributing patriarchy. We might look at Matthew’s genealogy and say that he distorted the truth, omitting names and arranging it in a 14, 14, 14 schema to make his own theological point, whatever that may have been. However, this wasn’t quite how it may have been viewed in ancient times. There could have been reasons besides dishonesty to leave out descendants, such as shortening the tables so they could serve as mnemonics. It is simply unwise to assume that a plain reading (pick one) of a text is the only way to understand an author for what he’s really saying.
Reading through Tara’s explanations on various matters demonstrates the adverse effects of her skeptical bent quite clearly. While the attempt was made (I’ll assume honestly) to interpret without external conditioning, she committed revisionism by distorting, rather than properly analyzing, the historical data. Thus, it can be seen that conditioning is absolutely necessary for understanding proper hermeneutics. This is the job of any good teacher. Many times the Bible contains contextual clues that should make it obvious at times how its passages should be interpreted. On the other hand, where the writing style is not immediately apparent it is our job to research.
The reason why I disagree with Tara is not because I approach religion from a devotional perspective while her as a historian, or because I rely on faith while she relies on empirical evidence. The reason is because I disagree with her approach to historiography and also the conclusions that can reasonably be drawn from the data. I cannot speak for others, but my faith has grown through studying and also I have rejected many teachings in popular Christianity. I started as a Presbyterian and now I attend a Seventh Day Adventist church, though I am not part of that denomination. Keep in mind that what Tara has been posting on her blog is not new to me, and I am also a free-thinking, rational agent. Next to programming, the study of Scripture has been the most intensive academic matter of my life. Faith is only blind when it fails to engage the intellect.
This brings me to the opposite extreme, which is also wrong. Tara bemoans the fact that many regard the Bible as infallible and accept the claims of others built around their interpretations without even questioning these beliefs. This is understandable and in fact the Bible itself does not support such blind faith. Also unhelpful are those who, lacking sufficient knowledge, give weak explanations in their defense of biblical inerrancy. This is why we have the Diatesseron, a fifth account created through the conflation of four Gospels. Fair enough. However, Tara’s reductionist logic isn’t much better than the logic of accepting a belief because of being told it’s true. She still has a very limited view of Christianity, and I am very certain that she hasn’t properly researched before making many of the statements she’s made.
At the same time, it is important regard the claims of any historical document as possible pending further evidence. Scripture makes the claim that its content cannot be broken – that is, disproved or contradicted – and this is the assumption that should be at first adopted. Give the authors the benefit of the doubt and then work backwards. Why? It’s because their beliefs and experiences aren’t transferable to our own, and unless we interpret the data around their claims we end up searching for validation for our own claims. Besides, it is simply academic responsibility that we concede to the fact that those living outside of our perceptions may have been right. This approach to understanding history does not change when it comes to studying the supernatural. Indeed, if we ignore accounts of miracles and the like due to skepticism we omit a lot of history from consideration.
I want to give a story to illustrate what I mean. Years ago, my friend’s son developed a serious condition in which he started urinating blood. Upon examination, a doctor told him that he wouldn’t survive past the age of fourteen. There wasn’t a cure for this condition, and the best that could be done for him was to keep him drinking water at regular intervals of time. The case was brought before his church, and the pastor called the elders together and they prayed around him. Afterwards, the boy told his father that he felt something happen and that he was better. The father was skeptical of his son’s statement, and so he insisted that he continued to drink his water.
However, he noticed that ever since that day his son stopped urinating blood. I know him personally and can attest to the fact that he is now over fourteen and doesn’t have any life-threatening medical conditions. What should I make of this story? The best approach to this account is to take it seriously, and unless there’s any empirical evidence that can convincingly show otherwise, I will say that this may have been a miracle. Any good historian would have to do the same. To rule out possibilities on the basis of lacking empirical evidence is to disregard critical historical analysis. There are several criteria that need to be considered, such as witness testimony, medical records, motivations for giving false testimony, etc.
While it is true that a historian is dealing with probability, it is wrong to say that it isn’t his job to consider the supernatural. History isn’t a science in such a way that events can be reproduced and developed into theories. In other words, the concern lies only partly in what can happen, but lies primarily in what did happen. It is a matter of faith whether or not we choose to believe the eyewitness accounts and professed divine inspiration of the biblical authors. However, the same is true for any historical record. Modern forensics can often discern whether witnesses’ accounts are accurate, but when historical events have taken place thousands of years prior to consideration they can be more difficult to recreate. To a scientific mind like Tara’s, it must be frustrating to have to view the past vicariously. Regardless, historical documents are sometimes among the very few means by which we can reconstruct the past and those found in Scripture are no different.
(The more archaeology is done in the Holy Land, the more they find the Bible to be "historically" correct. Often old things of the Old Testament are down in the ground many feet, sometimes a great many feet. And just because they have not yet found everything mentioned in the Old Testament, on the physical side, does not mean it is not true, or that the Bible is false in what it states. If we believe God is real, that He does exist, did make the universe, brought the universe out of nothing, and governs it with laws; made this earth and created everything that is upon it; then it should not be hard to realize and believe He can write His word, have it recorded, and that it is 100 percent correct, with no contradictions - Keith Hunt)
History is often less a science and more of an art. Let’s consider Tara’s understanding of the biblical records being copies of earlier, similar stories found in neighboring civilizations. First of all, we need to consider that modern dating methods are far from perfect. Different methods can provide different results, and sometimes they fail to properly date materials with known ages. Second, she disregards cultural evidence that can be used to explain the dates. During Josiah’s reign, a book was found within the wall of the Temple, which scholars believe was Deuteronomy. Josiah was anguished when it was found that he and his people did not perform according to the instruction of that book. Would this not seem to indicate that Scripture was not widely reproduced and distributed in Israeli and Judaic culture at that time?
Therefore, how can we reliably date Deuteronomy, as the evidence suggests that it existed as one copy or one of very few copies? We do not even possess the original material of any books of the Bible, so this makes dating even more difficult. There’s also a theological connection to be made. The Old Covenant was given to God’s chosen people, making it fairly geocentric. In other words, there’s the implication that Scripture wasn’t meant to be reproduced very much at the time, since a limited number of people were to be the light of the world. I won’t go into the theological reasons as to why this was. Suffice it to say, the New Covenant is far more inclusive in its target audience (Jews and Greeks, the latter being a synecdoche for any member of the unconverted world) and as such we have a lot of copies and fragments of the New Testament.
(It would seem God deliberately made sure that most of the books of the Bible have no historical dates attached to them; some do, but certainly the New Testament books have just about nothing to tie them in to exact dates as to even the year they were written. Scholars have done a pretty good job in giving us the "approximate" dates, but not all scholars down through time have agreed 100 percent on the dates of the books of the New Testament. It would seem God is more concerned with the words of teaching, admonition, true stories, encouragement, inspiration, faith building with miracles, and all that makes up the edifying and hence the character of a true Christian. Paul was inspired to tell Timothy not to give very much time to genealogies, wrangling over the law, and things that tend to strife, and not unto holiness. Again the Eternal has put enough genealogies and this and that, in His word, to lead the agnostic and atheist to remain spiritually blinded. They do exactly what Paul told Timothy not to do. So though many may be called few are chosen, as Jesus said. As we see in Romans chapters 9 through 11, only the few at this time are given grace, the rest are blinded, and as Paul said in one verse, it is God who has blinded them; for a plan of salvation is being worked out, all in due time - Keith Hunt)
Tara also fails to give enough attention many of her other claims. For instance, she believes that Matthew is being dishonest when he quotes Hosea 11:1 in 2:15. According to her, “It states: When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. It continues in verse 2, As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images. Very, very dishonest, Matthew. This obviously has nothing to do with prophesying a future messiah.” This issue was addressed in a previous post which she obviously hasn’t read. I’ll now take the time to rebut this claim in more detail.
Once again, prophesy can be read in a dualistic manner. As it concerns this prophesy, the dualism can be represented as two different people referenced by the same pronoun in two different time periods. Other errors can be avoided by possessing an understanding of the Hebrew language, which Tara doesn’t. Her ignorance is apparent when she says that, “he [Matthew] changed the past tense ‘called’ to ‘shall call.’” Actually, it is literally impossible for Matthew to have done any such thing since the language in which Hosea was written lacked tenses. Modern Hebrew has them, but not biblical Hebrew. The latter is what is called an aspectual language, meaning that actions are represented not by their relations to time but whether or not actions are complete or incomplete and also by processes over time. Conceivably, then, somebody could read a prophecy in the Old Testament and not understand its association with time unless contextual clues are present!
Naturally, the way of thinking of a culture influenced by a tense language can be very different from that of an aspectual language. Imagine how history writing, poetry, and the compositions of many other works could differ between peoples of these two cultures! Is it any wonder how the ancients didn’t necessarily prefer to record history in chronological order? When the focus is on whether or not an event is complete or incomplete, it could be very natural to choose to present history in ways that are more convenient. Personally, if I wanted to relate stories by context I’d probably ignore arranging them by date if this wasn’t relevant to the point(s) I’m making. While this structure may seem very haphazard to modern readers, it was perhaps just as natural as it is for people today to arrange history in linear fashion from oldest to most recent. Can we really dictate what the plainest, most obvious method to record history is to those accustomed to an aspectual language?
Along with the tendency to ignore chronological order or time altogether was the tendency of omission. This was not limited to genealogies, as noted earlier, but also to narrative prose. Such an understanding could avoid the error Tara makes in finding a discrepancy in the narratives of Jesus’ early life contained in Matthew and Luke. She says, “This account of going to Egypt, it should be noted, is only found in Matthew's account. In Luke's account, instead of fleeing for Egypt, Mary awaits her forty days of purification and takes Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem, and then they go to Nazareth. There is no mention of a baby slaughter and having to flee to Egypt.” Tara assumes that the Gospel writers were concerned with recording every detail about Jesus’ life and that He couldn’t have been in both places. Certainly He wasn’t in both places at once, but He was in both places at one point or another.
(As one man wrote in a book, not every man recording things about Jesus, wrote everything that took place, some wrote about this others about that. And chronology at times seems to play no important part for some writers. It is also true as another man wrote, the town of Bethlehem was not very large of a population at Jesus birth time; the number of young children under two years of age may not have been any where as large as is often made out by some; then the Romans being the war machines they were, would have paid little attention to some children being killed by one of their "in charge" leaders over this and that relatively small amount of people as the Jews were around Jerusalem. Rome and its leaders at times could be very very blood-thirsty, as history clearly tells us - Keith Hunt)
This brings me to some important points regarding composition in the first century CE. The production of texts involved much labor and expense. Papyrus and ink were both costly. Also, given that only about 10-15% of the population was literate and could read and write, people often needed to hire scribes. Paul and Peter used the help of Silas in the production of their texts. Scribes were another resource that came at a high price. If one story is found in one Gospel and not another, we are not justified in saying that the authors disagree with one another. The length and cost of papyri, as well as the cost of ink and scribes, may help explain the convention of some authors who chose to only record those details relevant to the points they were making.
The codex form, or manuscript books, was just starting in the first century which meant that most writings were composed on papyri sheets and wax tablets. The tendency to ascribe authorship to an individual is a modern way of thinking which I believe was promulgated to some extent by the widespread use of books. Most documents in ancient collectivist cultures were anthological in nature. This fact was true of the collections of traditions, laws, songs, stories, etc. Codices offered advantages over papyri that certainly influenced the changes in authorship since those times. For one, it was possible to write on both sides of the leaf. This allowed for texts to be much longer and thus prompted authors to start recording more details. They could also be opened at any point of the text, so authors knew that being concise wasn't as important a factor for their readers if they wanted to be timely in locating certain information.
Should it really be surprising that, lacking these advantages, that earlier authors relied more upon anthologies? Many scholars, if not most, believe that Matthew and Luke were compiled from various sources. While Matthew is very similar to Mark in that it contains a lot of its material, it is unfair to say that they were collaborators who generally thought alike while Luke was operating apart from them with his own set of ideas. There's no reason for us to believe that they wrote without the understanding that their material would be read alongside others, meaning that the original apostles relied on each other to record points the others weren't making in their own manuscripts. Not only was it not cost-effective for authors to write at length, anthological convention was well-known in their time. Considering these facts, it would be more confusing if the apostles regularly composed manuscripts that were overly similar to one another's. Imagine how long each text would be and the high costs of labor associated with them if that were the case.
(The main reason though is God wanted more than one commentary on the life and words of Jesus the Messiah. And God is not bound by any set of rules by man when it comes to writing and recording events. Just as God is not bound by man's "arithmetic" laws. One plus one for us is always 2. With God it can still be 1. One man and one woman is two persons, but they become ONE to God in marriage. News reporters cover a story; they all give the main event, but they may all give different side events making up the main event, at their disclosure as they see fit. Put it all together and you get the whole scene, with all the details. The Eternal in using different men to record things did not take away their personality and style of writing; they did not become a robotic keyboard. And they were all used to bring out certain teachings, either by stories recorded, parables spoken, inter-action with religious leaders, people in various positions of authority and etc. And God did it this way so you would need to search, study, use your brain to correlate it all. The Bible is deliberately written by the Eternal so many will stumble and fall, only the relatively few of those called, will go on to be chosen. It takes effort on the part of a human once called to move on to be chosen; it takes a hungering for truth and righteousness, as Jesus said, then you will be filled; it takes a love of the truth when called, to be not deceived, but to move on to be one of the chosen. The main truths of the Bible can be understood, if you have the mind of a child, and if you read the whole Bible, and put verse with verse, on any Bible topic - Keith Hunt)
I earlier referred to history as an art. I would also describe it as a sort of abstract puzzle with some of the pieces missing. To understand what pieces are needed, one needs to look at what has already been constructed to have an idea of what the next pieces look like and where they should go. Of course, without all the pieces nobody can confirm whether their suspicions were fully correct. The best approach is to find out what pieces fit, connect them, and then form educated guesses as to where the pieces that don’t fit might go and what the missing pieces might be. Throughout this process, we attempt to solve the puzzle based upon what is present and not absent. No sufficient arguments can be based upon that which doesn’t exist, and therefore arguments from silence are fallacious. Similarly, reduction is not deduction.
Tara makes the claim that the city of Nazareth did not exist in Jesus’ time based upon omission. She says, “Matthew 2:23 says that Jesus came to live in a town called Nazareth so that it would be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, that he shall be called a Nazarene. First of all, there is absolutely nothing said in the prophets of this nature. Not a word. Furthermore there is no mention of any such town as Nazareth in any of the OT bible books. This is because the town of Nazareth did not even exist in the first century.” This is poor logic.
There’s a difference between the prophets recording that Jesus would live in Nazareth and the consensus among them being that he would. This may be a similar case to Matthew’s statement in 27:9-10, where it appears that he quoted the wrong prophet. Reading it carefully, what is stated is that Jeremiah spoke about this event rather than he wrote about it. Oral tradition is passed on through generations, and thus a quote found in Zechariah may originally have been made by Jeremiah. Similarly, the prophets may have all agreed that Jesus was to be from Nazareth but didn’t record it. The prophets did, however, write about how Jesus would be despised, and Nazareth was apparently unpopular in Jesus’ time. In John 1:46 it is stated, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It may have been necessary for Jesus to come from there as a fulfillment of His character.
Again, to judge whether or not the Bible is in error one needs to take into account what the authors are referencing and what conventions are being employed. Being that prophecy is highly idiosyncratic in nature, it is misleading to suggest that any mention of Nazareth need be explicit in order for it to exist. Not only does the Old Testament lack any mention of the city, neither do the Targums or Josephus. So what? Nazareth was insignificant in comparison to other cities, so it would very likely be overlooked. The word used for ‘city’ is the Greek ‘polis,’ and there are no specifications I’ve read for how populous they needed to be in order for them to be considered as such. God’s chosen people were also insignificant, but from a nation that was lesser than others they became the most significant people on Earth. It is consonant with biblical theology that the future King of this world would, similarly, be lesser than other people having been from a city that was lesser than other cities.
Even aside from theological reasoning, it is a fallacy to say that Nazareth didn’t exist at the time it was mentioned in Scripture due to a lack of extra-biblical evidence. One cannot argue from silence to prove what he wants, no matter how poignant his case may seem. Instead, historians need to apply tests to get the most reliable view possible. Among those tests is to find the earliest manuscripts to see whether or not Jesus was mentioned as having been from Nazareth. Passing this test, they might apply the criterion of dissimilarity. If mentioning that Jesus was from Nazareth didn’t advance the agenda of later scribes who supposedly added that information, then by this test He likely was from there. If they did so because they wanted to answer a discrepancy made by Matthew, then we should be less willing to believe it. Personally, I think that it’s strange that a forger would want to add information to confirm a prophecy that is implicit at best.
Historians would also need to discover whether or not the claim fits the context. As Nazareth was seemingly obscure and disliked, this would fit in with Jesus’ character. Others may disagree that the context is satisfied, but the point is that explanations should be sought and weighed rather than ignored. Besides these criteria, historians would need to ask other questions of plausibility. If Nazareth didn’t exist at the time Matthew lived, then from where did he get the name “Nazareth” and why would he use a fictitious city? Why would later scribes who took the time to add references to Nazareth neglect to do so aside from once in Paul’s writings? If references to Nazareth were added by scribes to protect Matthew, wouldn’t we have some manuscripts without these references while others with them? The more questions I ask, the more the idea Tara presents seems implausible.
(The Old Testament does not mention MANY things; it does not mention what Jesus' hair color, eyes color was, how tall he would be [very short or very tall]; it does not mention how He would be educated, at home or in some type Jewish school. The Bible does not mention anything about Jesus' years from age 12 to 30. There are many things the Bible does not tell us; just because it does not, does not prove the Bible is false, and not the word of God. The Eternal is not bound by our wishes, or set of rules. He can write about what He wants and how He wants, when He wants, in the way He wants, without us being taken into consideration. He is not bound by our biding or the way we think things should be done. We need to read how God finally answered Job, and apply it to ourselves - Keith Hunt)
Tara made the same mistake in discounting the census of Herod the Great. First, she notes that history doesn’t record Herod’s mass slaughter of children. If this is true, this is simply another matter of arguing from silence. Also, though we have relatively good records of Caesar Augustus’ reign, the fact that we lack an extra-biblical record of the census during his rule should not call for a conclusion. Another claim Tara makes is that, “the census was taken in 6 CE, when Qurinius [sic] was governor of Syria, whereas the other gospel account says it was during Herod the Great's reign, but he died in 4 B.C.” What Luke may really be saying is that the census under Herod was the census before the well-known census of Quirinius in 6 CE. This is because the adjective ‘protos’ could refer to a time ‘first’ or ‘earlier.’ Thus, Luke 2:2 could be rendered as, “This census was before the census which Quirinius, governor of Syria, made.”
(Oh yes as one man brought out in a book, there were two Quirinius' - before finding fault with God, we need to just ask a few simple questions; like was it possible there were two men of the same name living at the same time, and working for Rome? Keith Hunt)
In fact, in Acts 5:37 Gamaliel mentions how Judas the Galilean was killed during the revolt that occurred as a result of Quirinius’ second census. Scripture does not contradict itself on the number of censuses nor is it anachronistic concerning them. The first census could very well have taken place during the reign of Herod the Great, which was at a time where there was one central authority over Palestine. Joseph and Mary had to flee Galilee (Antipas) to enroll for the census in Judea, which would have been problematic in 6 CE since it was directly under Roman control following the deposition of Archelaus. Tara says that “Rome didn't send people to the towns of their fathers to register in a census, and could you imagine the chaotic mess it would be if that is how it was done?” Actually, papyri collected from Egypt have shown that Rome did take such censuses in that province for the purpose of taxation. It has also been believed that Augustus originated this system in Egypt.
Moreover, there would not have been a “chaotic mess” as Tara assumes, since Luke is not referring to a census of the entire oikomene but to the part of the empire outside of Rome itself. He may have used rhetorical hyperbole, which was common in Hellenistic historiography and would have been immediately understood by his audience. Augustus did not order a census of the entire provincial empire at once, but rather he wished for them to be taken in different provinces over time. Luke uses the present tense, not the past tense, which indicates that these censuses were being ordered and were continuing to be conducted. Indeed, at least in Roman Egypt, these censuses were taken every 14 years for over two centuries without causing a catastrophic disruption of life. What evidence do we have that a similar census was never taken in the province of Judea? Its absence from the writings of Tacitus and Josephus may seem surprising, but lack of evidence does not constitute proof.
In this section, we have covered a lot of ground. First, we looked at how a skeptical view of history is not the unbiased, blank slate for interpreting history that it may seem. It has been shown that Scripture needs to be interpreted in different ways and that there is no “face value” that can be taken without first understanding the conventions used. We also, through a rudimentary sketch of the considerations historians are required to make, looked at some of the questions that should be asked concerning the authenticity of historical documents. The fallacy of arguing from silence was discussed, as was the error of not performing sufficient research. My hope is that Tara has read this section and understands that she is not qualified to make the claims she has made, thus opening her mind to the beliefs she once held.