Come on down to Ridgedale

You've still got time — I'm in the Ridgedale public library, and Hector Avalos is getting ready to give his talk on "How archaeology killed biblical history"…come join the crowd if you're somewhere in the Twin Cities area.


You're too late now! I saw several familiar faces at the talk, and there was a huge crowd — Minnesota Atheists has to be growing, because every meeting I go to is larger than the last one. We got a good discussion of the increasingly evident failure of archaeology to back up any of the claims of the Bible. Whereas once upon a time, serious scholars argued that portions of the Bible actually echoed real historical events (and even today, many less informed evangelical/fundamentalist Christians still do), virtually all of it is considered ancient myth-making nowadays. No Exodus. No empire of Israel spanning a big chunk of the Middle East. No Solomonic fortress building. No Solomon. No David. Quite possibly no Jesus, and definitely no primary sources describing his existence. I thought the comparison of Solomon and David to King Arthur quite apt — they were inventions after the fact, legends built up to illustrate beliefs about a past golden age. It was subject matter that is quite different from my usual approach to debunking religion, so it was useful stuff … and I picked up copies of Fighting Words: The Origins Of Religious Violence(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) and his latest, The End of Biblical Studies(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), so I can do a bit more digging into the details.

Hector Avalos gets up into the Twin Cities now and then (his drive from Iowa is about the same length as mine from Morris), and if you get an opportunity to hear him speak, I recommend it!

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That was my favorite library as a kid :) We never had any cool atheists speak at it though (at least, to my knowledge!) Sadly I'm now a few hundred miles away.

Oh, man ... how timely is this?

3. When the screechin' teachers tell you the Bible has been proven false by archaeology, hark back and show them that each year a new archaeological discovery substantiates the existence of people, places and events we once knew solely from biblical sources, including the discovery of the Moabite stone in 1868, which mentions numerous places in the Bible, and the discovery of an inscription in 1961 that proves the existence of the biblical figure Pontius Pilate, just to name a few.

Go wild.

Genesis 1.26 - And god said, Let us (sic) make man in our (sic) image, after our (sic) likeness:...

Why did the gods look like apes? Why were there more than one of these gods? How can Jews, Xians, & Moslems believe such egregious nonsense? I be the archaeologists can't answer those questions, eh? And that's just the first page of the 'wholly babble'.

Have a good time - there should be plenty to laugh at!

By Richard Harris, FCD (not verified) on 21 Oct 2007 #permalink

Thanks to your post I have his book on my wish list.

Actually, the various disciplines that research ancient cultures in Mesopotamia can provide answers to the first two questions that I posed.

The ancient mythopoeic Mesopotamians had a collection of gods & goddesses (e.g. Enlil & Marduc) & the Jewish god (who originally had a wife) evolved out of this menagery.

Yeahhhh for evolution!

By Richard Harris, FCD (not verified) on 21 Oct 2007 #permalink

I'm too far away for this talk, but to anyone who can make it, I'm curious if you can get reading recommendations out of Avalos. I found his book The End of Biblical Studies rather hard to get much out of as a novice in that area, it would be nice if Avalos could recommend something better suited to beginners.

Richard Harris said:

The ancient mythopoeic Mesopotamians had a collection of gods & goddesses (e.g. Enlil & Marduc) & the Jewish god (who originally had a wife) evolved out of this menagery.

I don't doubt it, but can you give a reference that amateurs can understand? My wife can't understand why, since I don't believe these stories, but I believe the stories must have come from somewhere, and I'm very interested in where that is.

BaldApe,

This sort of thing is in the realm of scholarly interpretation. Anyway, check out second-hand bookstores or the web for 'Before Philosophy', Frankfort, Frankfort, Wilson, & Jacbsen, Pelican Books. This gives a lot of information on the mythologies of Egypt & Mesopotamia, with an interpretation of how this fitted with Hebrew & later, Greek thought. The book is quite old, so there may be more up-to-date treatises.

The belief in only one God was a long time coming among the ancient Israelites. Originally God had a wife and her name was Asherah. Take a look at
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/relig/ark/stories/s1095690.htm

I hope this helps.

By Richard Harris, FCD (not verified) on 21 Oct 2007 #permalink

Here's Mom. She seems to have fallen by the wayside long ago. I guess Jehovah doesn't get lonely.

Wikipedia:

The goddess Asherah, whose worship Jeremiah so vehemently opposed, was worshipped in ancient Israel and Judah as the consort of Yahweh and Queen of Heaven (the Hebrews baked small cakes for her festival):[1]

"Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger."
--Jeremiah 7:17-18
"... to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem ..."
--Jeremiah 44:17

Figurines of Asherah are strikingly common in the archaeological record, indicating the popularity of her cult from the earliest times to the Babylonian exile. More rarely, inscriptions linking Yahweh and Asherah have been discovered: an 8th century BCE ostracon inscribed "Berakhti et'khem l'YHVH Shomron ul'Asherato" was discovered at Kuntillet 'Ajrud (Hebrew "Horvat Teman") in the Sinai Desert in 1975; this translates as: "I have blessed you by YHVH of Samaria and His Asherah", or "...by our guardian and his Asherah", if "Shomron" is to be read "shomrenu". Another inscription, from Khirbet el-Qom near Hebron, reads: "Blessed be Uriyahu by Yahweh and by his Asherah; from his enemies he saved him!".[2]

I just don't see why Biblical History should be approached any differently than Herodotian history, Xenophonian history, Livian history, and so forth. Yes, sometimes it's accurate. Sometimes it contains poeticization of historical events. And sometimes it's totally off-base. It's a book, for hell's sake.

Thanks to CC for linking to the screechy Doug Giles. But I doubt that most atheists have anything to fear from those pissy authors he sited. None of those argument are anything that anyone of us have not heard before.

Is there anyone who is not a far right conservative that that seriously anything that Dinesh D'Souza has to say?

On a different note, I asked this in an other post and I will ask again; is this talk being recorded?

Whereas once upon a time, serious scholars argued that portions of the Bible actually echoed real historical events (and even today, many less informed evangelical/fundamentalist Christians still do), virtually all of it is considered ancient myth-making nowadays.

Quibble: I would have put "virtually all of the interesting bits are considered ancient myth-making ...".

I mean, Egypt does exist, so do some of the cities and rivers mentioned, and there really were Pharaohs, right?

But still it is surprising even to me (who gave up christianity as nonsense long ago) that so many major parts are historically disputed: I had no idea that the existence of King Solomon is just a story in the bible -- I guess I always figured there really was a king named Solomon who built some nice buildings and maybe liked poetry and women.

For those of you in the Twin Cities who missed Avalos this time around, he will be back in town on the 1st Day of November courtesy of the Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists. I missed it today, cause I was in Nebraska, or on my way back. Family first.

Anyway, if you would like more about the event on All Souls' Day at the University of Minnesota, click here.

Janine... Yes, the program today was recorded and it will be added to our podcasts and put on GoogleVideo soon. Dr. Avalos will send me the PowerPoint file and I'll mash up that and the video like I did with PZ's recent talk, There Are No Ghosts in Your Brain. When Dr. Avalos speaks at the CASH event on the 1st, it would be nice to add that video as well.

Archaelogists have evidence for David.
The jury is still out on Solomon.
www.claudemariottini.com/blog/2007/05/lost-kings-of-bible_07.html

Much of the evidence cited there--or rather, the wishful interpretation of that evidence--is debunked (by a Christian, if it matters) at Higgaion.

No serious scholar doubts that Jesus existed (see Jesus article in Wikipedia).

Wikipedia's generally not an ideal reflection of scholarly consensus, I think.

And remember, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"!

Why not? Jesus, David and Solomon are supposed to have been real people, not theoretically undetectable supernatural beings.

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 21 Oct 2007 #permalink

Whoops, looks like I screwed up a tag.

By Anton Mates (not verified) on 21 Oct 2007 #permalink

I have probably mentioned it before, but one good study is Silberman and Finkelstein's, "The Bible Unearthed".

You can also get a DVD series made from the book or see it on youtube.

http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/f/finkelstein-bible.html

For another study on where the bible myths came from, see "The Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis" by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai. Patai has also written a book about the myth of Lilith, "The Hebrew Goddess".

In regard to Post #13:
"Archaelogists have evidence for David."

This is probably referring to the Tel Dan inscription which I analyze in detail in my book.

First, the inscription is not from David's time.

Second, the meaning of the crucial passage where the word "David" is though to occur is still debatable.

Third, I also compare this inscription to the Modena (Italy) inscription (ca. 1099-1120) which mentions King Arthur. Yet, I hear few historians say that the Modena inscription is "evidence" for the existence of King Arthur.

So what specific archaeological "evidence" is Mr. Nixon citing from David's time?

By Dr. Hector Avalos (not verified) on 21 Oct 2007 #permalink

I have a friend who spends a lot of time on this stuff, and from what he's told me, it's hard to overstate the scope of the damage to the Biblical story. The gist of what he said is that the Hebrew people was a composite group brought to Israel around 500 BC, where its "history" was constructed from legendary sources of various origins. IIRC, something like the Babylonian Exile really did happen, but nothing before (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon) that is more than myth. (Though the later myths may have been attached to names of actual men who were much less important than claimed).

A loose end he didn't follow up was the resemblance of the Moses story to a lot of historical stories of nations founded by charismatic nomad leaders (including Genghis Khan). Ibn Khaldun (followed by Ernest Gellner) developed a whole theory of the state from this. Hypothetically, the Hebrews were a collection of Levantine exiles who returned to the Levant following of nomad military leaders of different ethnic origin.

Israel was at the contact point of Egyptian, Semitic Middle Eastern (Babylonian, Assyrian, etc.), Persian, and Greco-Roman cultures (and military forces). The Hebrew Old Testament and also the New Testament gain their enormous historical interest from that. It was pretty heterogeneous, but welded into an emergent unity. I agree that it is unlikely to serve as a source of guidance for modern life.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 22 Oct 2007 #permalink

So, it sounds like what's happened is that a bunch of the sitcoms of the ancients have accidentally been mistaken for history?

I wonder if 3,000 years from now there will be people arguing about "Friends" and whether or not Joey was real. Scary thought...

No serious scholar doubts that Jesus existed (see Jesus article in Wikipedia).

And remember, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"!

Posted by: Ross Nixon | October 21, 2007 11:27 PM

Ah yes, the old "no serious scholar" argument. Sorry, but there have been, and are, serious scholars who doubt Jesus existed as portrayed in the bible, and possibly if he even existed at all. Despite your contrary claims and authoritarian labeling.

And while I know the majority of biblical scholars refuse to acknowledge their weak arguments for the historicity of Jesus, I also note when you analyze their "proofs" and "evidences," that if you gave any pagan belief system the same benefit of the doubt, you'd find they all pass muster as well. In short, while belief systems they don't buy into are held to rigorous historical standards, Christianity gets a free pass and they declare the issue "settled."

Even shorter: Jesus Myth Good, Other Myths Bad; because we say so, so there.

As far as your second claim, it falls short and is ludicrous on it's face. Consider Hindu mythologies and one of their beliefs. It is as ludicrous to argue that absence of proof that our universe isn't in the stomach of Vishnu means that it is so located. You would likely think anyone who gave you such a proof ("it's a really BIG stomach, you can't see it") for the argument was an idiot. Yet you have no problem arguing for the actual, literal existence of a figure out of a mythology you endorse.

The only historical, non-biblical, "evidence" we have for Jesus' actual existence was manufactured long after his death. The biblical evidence, besides being contradictory within the bible, has yet to be confirmed by any non-manufactured archaeological/historical evidence. The whole biblical Jesus story, besides lacking actual proof is, frankly, quite dodgy in light of it's quite clear his story appears to be cobbled up from various other myths. Mostly by Paul, but also by other early church figures. And if there was a man behind the myth, he likely wasn't very important or influential in his day and likely only served as a catalyst or rallying point for Paul's religion.

@14 "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

Presence of evidence indicates the presence of science."

David Ratnasabapathy: Robin Lane Fox's The Unauthorized Version is superb.

I agree with your other recommendations, but have serious reservations about Fox's TAV.

E.g.: Fox completely misses the boat about the book of Esther, never showing any awareness that the story of Esther & Mordecai is derived directly from the Babylonian myth of Ishtar & Marduk.

Similarly, he claims that the Gospel of John is the most reliable of the gospel accounts, whereas every other scholar I've read on this considers it the least.

The most detailed refutation of the historicity of Jesus can be found in the six books by G.A. Wells with "Jesus" in their titles (which do have to be read together for a complete case). Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle is a decent one-volume summary of this argument (which I find worthwhile but not conclusive, ftr). Burton Mack's Who Wrote the New Testament? dodges that issue, but does offer strong evidence which could be used in support of the no-historical-Jesus position.

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 22 Oct 2007 #permalink

Some parts of the Bible are legitimate history, like the Dual Monarchy period, but much of the "interesting" stuff is as legendary as anything in Homer.

And although we can feel confident that Pythagoras, Plato, Alexander the Great, and Augustus Caesar all existed, we reject something that reputable historians report about them, that their biological fathers were gods.

As to all those scholars who believe that Jesus Christ had been historical, what do they believe to be historical about the Gospels? And perhaps more importantly, unhistorical?

By Loren Petrich (not verified) on 22 Oct 2007 #permalink

Skepticism about the facts in the scriptures probably reinforces skepticism about the religious and ethical truth of scripture (since holy men shouldn't present fiction or myth as fact), but it isn't necessary for it. In other words, even if the Kingdom of David and Solomon actually existed,no one would have take that fact as a serious reason to believe in Judaism or Christianity.

To me the arguments against the existence of Jesus are much weaker than the arguments against David and Solomon's kingdom. If you look seriously at the records for such historical characters as Charlemagne and Alexander (much more prominent than Jesus in their times) you will be astonished at how late, poor, and/or sketchy our information is (Specifically Einhard and Balbulus Notker for the former, and Arrian for the latter.) Individuals leave marks in history very erratically, but kingdoms shouldn't disappear.

My guess is that Jesus was a real, very powerful prophet or political leader of the early Christian era whose surviving story has been patched together from conflicting, mystified accounts from various incompatible tendencies who traced their tradition to him.

I don't think that the effort to describe the historical Jesus is necessarily a futile one, but it's pretty much irrelevant to the question of whether he's the only begotten Son of God who can give us eternal life.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 22 Oct 2007 #permalink

Cat's Staff, thank you. I am looking forward to this.

Fox completely misses the boat about the book of Esther, never showing any awareness that the story of Esther & Mordecai is derived directly from the Babylonian myth of Ishtar & Marduk.

Only now do I notice that the consonants are the same!

It's Huxley-citing time. "How stupid of me not to have thought of this before!"

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 22 Oct 2007 #permalink

I'm going to play the part of the Devil's advocate here and state that while the bible might not be "true", it is one of the more in-depth accounts we have of the ancient world by an ancient people. It's about as true as the Epic of Gilgamesh, or the Battle of Qadesh. Many of the places which it discusses did actually exist - On is the Egyptian city of Iwnw. The Elamites really did inhabit ancient Iran. Nebuchadnezzar was really an assyrian king, and Pontius Pilate was a Roman official. The stories therein are an Ancient peoples colorful tradition and understanding of the world.
When put in the context of other ancient writings, it's pretty obvious that a good part of the bible is propaganda and embellishment.
But, though it isn't the literal truth so much as a legacy of the Ancient and Jewish, it is valuable to archaeology as one of the few sources from the perspective of an ancient person.

Prophet magicians were probably a dime a dozen in the Mid East around the year One. The fictional figure of Jesus is probably based on a conflation of various ones.

One notable one was Apollonius of Tyana.

If there is so much documentation of Apollonius, why is there no documentation about Jesus? More indication that Jesus is pure fiction.

Fox completely misses the boat about the book of Esther, never showing any awareness that the story of Esther & Mordecai is derived directly from the Babylonian myth of Ishtar & Marduk.

Only now do I notice that the consonants are the same!

It's Huxley-citing time. "How stupid of me not to have thought of this before!"

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 22 Oct 2007 #permalink