E-SKEPTIC FOR AUGUST 7, 2002
Copyright 2002 Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine,
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THE SECRET ORIGINS OF THE BIBLE
Millennium Press and Skeptic Magazine are proud to announce the release of our third book title, The Secret Origins of the Bible by Tim Callahan, the religion editor of Skeptic magazine. (Our other two titles are Who Wrote the Gospels? by Randel Helms, and Tim Callahan's first book, Bible Prophecy.)
You can order these titles, including The Secret Origins of the Bible, at www.skeptic.com
Below please find excerpted and descripted material from this new book.
NEWS FROM MILLENNIUM PRESS
Pagan, myth or history? A comprehensive examination of the vast difference between what the Bible meant to the people who wrote it, and how it is understood today.
The Secret Origins of the Bible
By Tim Callahan
It is surprising that a book as widely explained as the Bible can still hold secrets. Many intelligent and otherwise well informed readers will find much of the material in this book new and quite startling, although Bible scholars, and anyone who has even an amateur background in comparative mythology, will be familiar with it.
Bible scholar and religion editor Tim Callahan fills the gap left by many Bible interpreters who examine only those Bible verses which can be made to support their personal or political views. But the world needs a broader understanding of its sacred texts, particularly when selective interpretation of the Bible is used to fuel extremism, and when interpreting Bible verses out of the context in which they were written intrudes on rational solutions for modern problems.
Callahan uses comparative mythology to demonstrate how Bible stories that do not make much sense on the surface can be understood on deeper levels when their mythic content is revealed. He uses literary analysis, history, and archeological comparisons to expand our understanding of the purpose these stories served for those who originally wrote them.
Callahan subjects biblical narratives to each the following questions:
1) Is the narrative literally true based on history, archaeology and science?
Secret Origins Of the Bible covers many issues from both the familiar and the more obscure chapters of the Bible:
Callahan admires the great biblical mythic themes and warns that those who are not sympathetic to religion and trivialize the Bible will fail to understand the power these myths have on people. Callahan respects the mythic material and points out that such myths endure, at least in part, because they resonate with deep psychological needs and have a validity beyond that of literal truth.
PRAISE FOR "THE SECRET ORIGINS OF THE BIBLE"
"Tim Callahan here blends his remarkably diverse
knowledge of ancient history, archaeology, linguistics, mythology, numismatics
and of course the Bible itself to examine scriptural 'truths' long held inviolate
by religious fundamentalists. Secret Origins of the Bible is a must-read for
anyone wishing to understand more completely what the Bible is really
saying — and not saying — to us all."
"There is a vast disconnect between the public's belief
that the Bible is a divinely-produced original work of religious literature,
and the scholar's knowledge that all of the major stories in the Bible have
historical antecedents and can be traced to very non-divinely produced works by
other cultures in earlier times. The Bible may contain "the greatest story
ever told," but as Tim Callahan so brilliantly reveals the greatest secret
of all is that the story is not original. This book is sure to shake
fundamentalist beliefs about the Bible to the core."
Why I wrote this bookby Tim Callahan
When this book was begun the world was still mourning the death of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of an assassin who felt himself to be an instrument of divine wrath. The book goes to press as the world reels from the shock of the World Trade Center attacks by religious zealots who believed they would be rewarded in heaven for carrying out God's will.
The world needs a broader understanding of the background of the mythology that makes up sacred texts. It is often the case that fundamentalists, while maintaining that all of the Bible is true, interpret it in an exclusionary manner favoring their own political views. Dispensing with the myth might make it possible for an Israeli state and a Palestinian Arab state to share the land.
Israel is not the only place or political arena in which fundamentalists have used biblical myths to intrude on the rational solution of modern problems. Here in America they would replace biology with creationism, base sexual morals on Levitical law, have us believe we are all inherently evil and guilty of a sin we did not commit, and tie us in psychological knots with doctrines such as the supposed compatibility of free will and predestination. In the face of potential environmental catastrophe and the imminent extinction of vast numbers of plant and animal species, they claim environmental action is unnecessary because God told them to "subdue [the earth] — and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." Forced to confront brutal dictatorships, the exploitation of immigrant laborers, and the inequality of the sexes, they cite Paul and Peter saying that all governments are instituted by God, telling slaves to obey their masters, and women to submit to their husbands. Everywhere, myth is used as a prop to maintain injustice in the name of God. Is this really that far removed from the acts of assassins murdering in the name of all that is holy?
This book limits itself to those myths which directly influence the American culture — and these are chiefly from the Bible. It is the purpose of this book to examine the biblical stories, and their origins, upon which is based a modern mythology that still drives people at the beginning of the twenty-first century, in the face of often desperate problems, to cherish myths over reason.
Are these stories true? And if they are, when were they written?
How are we to know if a story in the Bible is historically true? Can these tales be either verified or falsified? And if they can, by what means? Secret Origins Of the Bible answers these questions with specific examples.
To test the historical validity of biblical narratives then, we must compare each of them with historical and archaeological records, and check the language of the verses for signs of anachronisms. I deliberately choose narratives that can be corroborated by history and archaeology to demonstrate the neutrality of these two disciplines. While the believer may rejoice in the corroboration of 2 Kings 24 and 25, there is no historical support for certain other famous biblical stories, such as the Exodus. Likewise every attempt to validate Joshua's conquest of Canaan is frustrated by the archaeological record. It is, in fact, doubtful that any of the conquest narrative related in Joshua is true.
The dating of these stories is important. If we find that a story purporting to relate events in the life of Abraham contains gross anachronisms in it, such as referring to the city of his father as "Ur of the Chaldees," or saying that Abraham lived in the "land of the Philistines" (Gen. 21:34) — people who did not come to Canaan until several centuries later — we know that the story was written down hundreds of years after the events were purported to have taken place. This means that the "Chistory" being related may well have been tailored to the time of its writing. In certain cases supposed prophecies can be shown by examination of these anachronisms to have been written after the events they were supposedly predicting.
Anachronisms are not the only internal clues which reflect on the historical validity of a given biblical narrative. The literary forms used that indicate changes in authorship in a work attributed to one man, as in Isaiah, and the use of words or even a language from a later period, as in the Aramaic laced with Greek words in parts of Daniel, are other clues. So too are internal inconsistencies in the Bible, such as where there are two or more accounts of how something happened within the same book. The two creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 are an obvious example. Both the historical validity and the supposed divine inspiration of the Bible are called into doubt when one book contradicts another. Many Bible stories have two or even three different versions which all contradict each other. They cannot all be right.
Even if a biblical narrative is deemed historically true, can we base our ethics on such narratives and their moral injunctions?
Fundamentalists frequently use the codes of sexual ethics from Leviticus and Deuteronomy as a club with which to beat others. Since these codes include prohibitions against adultery (Lev. 18:20, 20:10; Deut. 22:22), incest (Lev. 18:6-18, 20:11, 12, 14, 17, 19-21; Deut. 22:30), rape (Deut. 22:25), prostitution (Deut. 23:17), and bestiality (Lev. 18:23, 20:15, 16), the codes seem to relate to acts universally condemned by all societies, which gives them a certain validity. Of course, the main prohibition stressed by fundamentalists is that against homosexuality (Lev. 18:22, 20:13). Assuming that the penalties are moderated a bit — most of these offenses carried the death penalty — many people might be swayed by their seeming reasonableness.
However, this same code also prohibits a couple from having sex during the wife's menstrual period, with the penalty that the offenders will be "cut off from among their people." The Hebrew word word translated as "cut off" is karath, which also means to destroy. That the Levitical sexual prohibitions were based on a psychology far different from our own can be seen not only in the exaggerated fear of menstrual blood, but in a verse just preceding the list of penalties for sexual offenses. Leviticus 20:9 says: "For every one who curses his father or his mother shall be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his blood is upon him." Are we to read this to mean that if, in a fit of rage, your teenage son or daughter yells, "God damn you!" it's curtains for them? To understand the harshness of this penalty we must remember that in ancient times words were thought to have power. To curse someone was to literally call down a supernatural force on the cursed, hence the injunction in the Ten Commandments not to take the Lord's name in vain. Cursing one's parents was tantamount to physically assaulting them. It was also thought that such curses could likely result in the victim's death unless that person had a protective counter charm. That the prohibition against swearing is based on magical thinking has not blunted its force among some believers.
However, fundamentalists are adamant that we cannot pick and choose which biblical prohibitions we will and will not obey. We cannot, for example, say that rape, adultery, incest, prostitution, and bestiality are wrong and should be made illegal, then turn and say that premarital sex and homosexuality are private matters which should be legal. Yet, if their reasoning is that such acts are condemned by God based on the Levitical and Deuteronomic codes, then they too are prohibited from picking and choosing, and they must, according to their own doctrine, give equal weight to the prohibitions against various other sexual behaviors and those against wearing linen and wool together. Fundamentalists are as selective as the rest of us in even what New Testament teachings they follow. Specifically, Jesus was quite plain both in prohibiting divorce except in cases of adultery (Mk. 10:11,12; Lk. 16:18; Mt. 5:31.32) and in his condemnation of wealth and the accumulation of material goods. Yet the divorce rate does not vary greatly between seculars and evengelicals, and fundamentalists are among the most avid of capitalists.