By Helen Fryman Setterfield
Can the Bible be Taken Literally? is a series of challenges posted by Lenny Flank.
Questions concerning this list of questions are frequently asked of Christians who field emails. It is with the very able help of Roger Hutchinson that I have decided to answer these 'challenges' in detail.
In the short form, the answer to Mr. Flank is "The Bible can be taken to mean what it says given a straightforward reading. The concept of 'literal' seems to invite some rather ridiculous criticisms regarding idioms and poetic language.
However, since Hebrew is a living language, tracing idioms and poetry is not nearly as difficult as it would be with a dead language, such as Latin. So yes, Mr. Flank, the Bible is trustworthy."
In the following, Lenny Flank's essay is repeated word for word, but divided into sections to facilitate answering each part individually. Flank's material is in italics and the responses are in plain text...Helen Fryman
Mr. Flank: The entire basis of fundamentalism and scientific creationism, as the creationists themselves have pointed out, is a belief that the description of creation in Genesis is literally true, and is a correct historical description of what happened.
And, as we have also seen, this basis is part of a larger faith that the entire Bible itself is literally true in all that it says, completely free of error or contradiction.
HF: He is already setting up a straw man to knock down. The claim of inerrantists is that the Bible, or Scripture, is inerrant in the original signatures, or the original writings. We all know that there are a number of copyist errors as well as the simple problems dealing with translation from one language to another.
The point about the Bible that should be made, however, is that what it is saying is true. To ignore the message and the narrative in favor of trying to debunk individual words chosen by the translators is to choose the ridiculous to try to fight the sublime.
Mr. Flank: The fundamentalists who would have us take "the Bible" literally are rather unclear about which Bible we should view as inerrant. In addition to the well-known King James version of the Bible, there are also the Scofield Bible, the Anchor Bible, the Revised Standard Bible, and several others. A literal Bible might be easier to accept if all of these versions read the same, but they do not.
HF: Translating and interpreting where idiomatic phrases might be concerned is difficult work. Every translator or group of translators works from their individual skills and knowledge as well as from the culture they are in.
This results in some differences. We might be quick to criticize words chosen by translators who are translating the Bible into a tribal language of Africa or Indonesia.
However we might also be surprised to learn that the recipients of such translations would understand the intended meaning despite our criticisms. Words that have double meaning in the original Hebrew or Greek don't in English. Translating to try to incorporate those double meanings when possible is extremely difficult.
What is interesting, though, is that every translation of the Bible (except for those such as the New World Translation which was done in order to cause the Bible to fit with cultic doctrine, and therefore pays little or no attention to the original languages) conveys the same message and meaning.
What Flank is doing here is what many before him have done. He creates a straw man so that he can have something to knock down. Variety in translations can mean that there is no unique term in one language comparable to a term in another language.
It can also indicate that the meaning of a word has changed over time so that a direct translation is not possible.
Flank's failure to grasp the difficulties one can encounter in translating from one language to another does not affect our ability to understand the Bible.
Mr. Flank: The King James Version, for instance, mentions "unicorns" in several different places: "God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn." (Numbers 23:22)
"Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?" (Job 39:9)
"His glory is like the firstlings of his bullock; and his horns are like the horns of unicorns." (Deuteronomy 33:17) "He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn." (Psalm 29:6)
Unicorns, however, do not and never have existed. The references to "horns" and "strength" make it likely that the original verses probably referred to the auroch or wild ox, which is now extinct but which lived in the Middle East at the time the Old Testament was written. And, indeed, some of the other versions of the Bible translate these verses as referring to "wild oxen" rather than "unicorns".
HF: The KJV translates the Hebrew word, re'em, as unicorn while later versions have wild ox. We do not know exactly what the re'em looked like because it is extinct. It had disappeared from the scene before the KJV was translated.
Archaeology has provided a powerful clue to the likely meaning of re'em. Mesopotamian reliefs have been excavated which show King Assurnasirpal hunting oxen that had one horn. The associated texts show that this animal was called a rimu. It seems likely that this was the re'em of the Bible, a wild ox.
The real re'em or wild ox was also known as the aurochs, the original wild bull depicted in, for example, the famous Lascaux (Cro-magnon) cave paintings. This powerful, formidable beast is now extinct but its genetically impoverished descendants live on as domestic cattle.
The issue, however, is the Biblical translation. Did the KJV translators mislead people by translating re'em as unicorn? It is possible that the KJV translators had no idea what kind of animal a re'em was.
Consequently, their goal, as translators, would have been to ensure that the reader grasped the true meaning of the verse. In this case, the translation worked.
In today's world, a unicorn does not elicit an image of strength and invincibility as it did in the past, so a different word should be used today to translate re'em.
However, for the people who first read the KJV, the image of the unicorn would have conveyed a wonder and amazement about God. It would not matter that the unicorn was a mythical animal.
The translator took advantage of the image he thought would be envisioned as someone read the translation. The translator's concern would be that the word chosen convey the qualities of the true re'em and more importantly, of God, as determined by the context in which the verse appeared.
Today's translators have found unicorn to be a poor translation of re'em, because they know more about the re'em than the KJV translators. The translator today might also let the expression, strong as an ox, influence the translation of re'em.
If the ox had the reputation of the Cowardly Lion, another word would be sought. When the actual meaning of the individual word was probably unknown, the point then became to get the meaning across, which is what the KJV translators certainly did for the people of their time.
Mr. Flank: Perhaps the most famous example of mistranslation is the Biblical assertion that Christ was "born of a virgin". The original Hebrew word here is almah, which means simply "a young woman".
The Hebrew word that refers specifically to a virgin is betulah, but this word is not used here. When the Bible was translated into Greek, the Hebrew word almah was translated into the Greek parthenos, which means "virgin". (Spong, 1991, p. 16)
Thus, the original Biblical assertion was that Christ was "born of a young woman", and this indeed is the way it is translated in several versions of the Bible.
HF: Since Christ was born of Mary when she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and had not yet known a man, the clear meaning regarding the birth of Christ is that He was born of a virgin.
This is entirely separate from the argument over the word 'almah.'
The word almah in Isaiah 7:14, which is referred to as a fulfilled prophetic text by Matthew in Matthew 1:23, is translated to the Greek word, parthenos. As noted by Flank, the LXX (Septuagint) also translates Isaiah 7:14 using parthenos.
Characterizing either as a mistranslation is wrong. The problem in translating Isaiah 7:14 into Greek is to find a Greek word that can adequately convey the full meaning of almah.
There does not appear to be any Greek word that will do it. While it is true that parthenos suffers in this respect, it is no less problematic than any other Greek word.
That does not make it a mistranslation. Since Mary is presented in context as a virgin, not yet knowing a man, the translation of almah to the English 'virgin' is consistent with the meaning intended by Matthew.
Considering its use in the Old Testament, an almah would be a young girl who has just reached sexual maturity that a man would want to pursue for marriage. The related term, bethulah, while also conveying the idea of virginity, makes the stronger point that the young girl is not a harlot.
These definitions support two themes that run throughout the Old Testament: Israel was the almah that God desired to make his bride, and God wanted Israel to be a bethulah or one who did not run after foreign gods as a harlot.
Each word strongly conveys the idea that the young girl is a virgin, and virginity appears to be the cultural expectation attached to the words.
It is not surprising that Matthew expected his Jewish readers to be aware of this when he cited the Isaiah passage. If Flank thinks that by the use of one word that has two meanings he can negate the birth narrative, that is a bit much. (It might also be mentioned that Spong is considered a heretic even within his own denomination.)
Mr. Flank: One verse that is never translated correctly in any version of the Bible is the very first, Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
The Hebrew word for "God" here is "elohim", which is actually the plural of the word, and literally means "the gods". Thus, an accurate translation of this would be "In the beginning, the gods created the heavens and the earth."
This verse is only one indication that the monotheistic religion introduced by the Bible was not always monotheistic. Several other Biblical verses imply that there are, or used to be, more than one god.
Genesis 1:26 says, "And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness." In Genesis 3:22, God is depicted as saying, "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil."
During the description of the Tower of Babel, God is described as saying, "Go to, let us go down, and here confound their language." (Genesis 11:17)
HF: If Flank were to read Deuteronomy 6:4, he would see that, clearly, 'elohim' refers to one God.
Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one! "God," there, is elohim.
Flank might also want to explain why it is that 'elohim', when referring to God, is always used with the singular verb. The implication, despite current Jewish protestations, is that of the Trinity.
"Trinity" may be a word we chose to describe God, but the doctrine is present from the beginning of Genesis, as Flank is actually pointing out.
There are also indications within the Bible that, just as in the Greek legends of Hercules, who was half-human and half-god, the Hebrew gods also sometimes mated with humans:
"The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all they chose . . . and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." (Genesis 6:2-4)
If Flank were to spend some time actually reading the Bible instead of mocking it, he would see that 'sons of God' consistently refers to believers in God.
This is pointed out in John 1:12-13. There is a consistent teaching throughout the Bible that believers are not to be yoked to unbelievers.
Thus, the statement that the sons of God were taking wives from the daughters of men is the same error that the Israelites made when they went into the Promised Land and ended up marrying into the pagan cultures around them.
The truth of God and the true worship of God are thus destroyed in the mixing, just as they were before the Flood. Paul issues the same warning to Christians today in 2 Corinthians 6:14.
Mr. Flank: Today, Biblical historians have concluded that Judaism was at one time a polytheistic religion, until the time when the priests of the storm god Yahweh gained enough political and religious power to declare that their god was not only the most powerful god, but was in fact the only one.
HF: Baloney. This idea of writing "today, Biblical historians believe" without any referencing to WHICH 'Biblical historians' he is talking about is hogwash. He clearly is referring to those 'historians' who agree with him, regardless of their background knowledge or education.
In the meantime, the evidence from the ancient Vedas, ancient Chinese script, and a number of other places indicates clearly that not only were the early Israelites monotheistic, but the entire world once was. Some excellent research done which shows this 150 years ago, by Hislop. His major work, Two Babylons (http://philologos.org/__eb-ttb/default.htm), is now on the web.
Reading the first two sections is sufficient for a person to get the referenced material regarding the earliest world beliefs.
Mr. Flank: The translation problems of the Bible are not helped by the fact that often several different versions of Biblical events are present, each of which appears to have come from a different source.
There are two separate versions of the Creation story, for instance, one in Genesis 1:1- 2:3 and the other in Genesis 2:4-25. There are three separate versions of the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20:2-17, Exodus 34:1-27, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
Biblical scholars have concluded that the Pentateuch was not written by a single person (and none of it was written, as tradition held, by Moses).
Instead, the linguistic and archeological evidence (including the famed Dead Sea Scrolls) indicates that the stories of the Bible existed only as oral tradition for hundreds of years before they were written down, and that there are at least four separate sources for the text of the Old Testament, known as the Yahwist source, the Elohist source, the Priestly source, and the Deuteronomist source, with each section written at different times.
All of these varying sources were edited together into their final form by an unknown person or persons known as the Redactor, who probably performed this task in about 400 BC.
HF: This is a sloppy presentation of 'higher criticism' which was popular at the beginning of the twentieth century and has long since been debunked by scholars (Oswald T. Allis of Princeton and later Westminster Theological Seminary in "The Five Books of Moses" Presbyterian & Reformed, 1964, presents a very good refutation of the JEDP theory presented so badly by Flank).
Genesis itself claims it was written from the beginning, and not oral (Genesis 5:1). By the 1930's work was being done which showed that Genesis had internal evidence of being some of the earliest writing known to man.
There are a number of Biblical scholars who are now agreeing with this, including Dr. Charles V. Taylor (A fellow of the Institute of Linguistics. English language consultant for Australian-Asian Universities Cooperation Scheme; Coordinator of Applied Linguistics courses at the University of Sydney; visiting professor at the University of Michigan; author of several academic books on language), and R. K. Harrison (Professor of Old Testament, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto).
A brief explanation of the theory which is being presented by these true scholars may be found here: http://ldolphin.org/tablethy.html [I have snipped the presentation of the JEPD ideas presented by Flank, as they have no basis in reality at all, as shown by scholars such as the ones above.]
In his claim that the Biblical creation narrative bears resemblance to such stories as the Babylonian epics would be expected if the narrative were true. That should, then, be incorporated into all manner of other cultures which is exactly what we do see.
Now, going on to his New Testament problems
Mr. Flank: Similar problems of authorship also arise in the New Testament. Although it is popularly held that the Gospels were written by the disciples Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in fact none of the four Gospels was authored by anybody who had actually met Christ, or who had seen any of the events he described firsthand.
The earliest of the four Gospels, Mark, was written about 70 AD, nearly forty years after the death of Christ, by a person who, Biblical scholars have concluded, does not appear to have been highly educated and therefore was probably not a priest. From linguistic and historical clues, it appears as though the work was written in Rome.
HF: It's so easy to say things from anonymous sources, isn't it? There is clear evidence that ALL FOUR gospels were written BEFORE 70 A.D. Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.
That happened in 70 A.D. Yet it is not mentioned as being fulfilled in any of the gospels, which means it had not yet happened at the time they were written.
In addition, John's gospel (5:2) mentions the Sheep Gate, which was destroyed then and never rebuilt. Later, in his first epistle, John states definitively:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Mr. Flank: The Gospel of Matthew was written in the mid-80's, by a Jew who was probably a lawyer and who in any case was well-educated. He may have been a Levite.
Exactly where it was written is in some dispute, but the city of Antioch is the favored candidate. Apparently, the author of Matthew was familiar with the written account known as Mark, and many sections of Matthew are lifted almost word for word from the earlier book.
HF: Matthew was one of Christ's disciples. He claims to have been an eyewitness. There is the interesting note, also, that he is the only one who knew what the soldiers experienced at the time of the Resurrection.
This is a quiet bit of internal testimony that he was exactly who he said he was a repentant tax-collector. In his previous work of collecting taxes, he would have known the soldiers and been able to find out matters that the other disciples did not have access to.
To attribute his knowledge of what transpired to someone who lived decades later and copied from another source is an extremely ignorant thing to say.
Matthew wrote to convince the Jews of his time that Jesus was, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah. His book was accepted as gospel from the beginning, which it would not have been had it been anything other than what it claims to be: an eyewitness account of what happened.
Mr. Flank: The Gospel According to Luke was written just a few years after Matthew. Most Biblical scholars agree that the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were both written by the same person, and most of the clues point to the texts having been written by a non-Jew, and most likely by a Greek physician.
Like the author of Matthew, the writer of Luke had access to the earlier book of Mark, and lifted whole sections of it nearly intact.
HF: I doubt Flank has read the gospels if he is willing to say that. Luke was indeed a Greek physician, and an acclaimed historian by modern accounts. He claims to be the author of both the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.
His is the only gospel which presents what Mary went through. He clearly had interviewed her as well as some of the other women. The fact that there are parallel accounts of a number of events and speeches would be expected since all three of the narrative gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are talking about the same Person and the same events!
Mr. Flank: The Gospel of John was finished around 100 AD. Unlike the authors of Matthew and Luke, the author of John does not appear to have had any contact with earlier texts.
The original text of John was written in Greek, and was probably the work of a student of someone who had himself heard the words of John the disciple. Thus, the book of John is at best third-hand, and, as with the other gospels, most of the words it attributes to Christ were probably never actually said by him.
HF: Pure fiction. John's gospel would have been the first to present the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy of the destruction of the Temple, as John wrote for the express purpose of presenting Christ so that others would believe (John 20:31). John claims to be an eyewitness and the truth of his presentation depends on that.
It should also be mentioned that all the gospels as well as most of the letters were written when there were still enough eyewitnesses living that if the accounts were fictionalized at all, there would have been plenty written to point that out and debunk this new Christian 'cult.'
But every evidence available, both internally and externally, points to the gospels as being exactly what they claim to be. Matthew and John are most certainly eyewitness accounts.
Mark may have been the son or nephew of Peter, as tradition holds, so that gospel may be from Peter by way of Mark. Luke was not an eyewitness, as he freely admits, but he researched and interviewed for his material, which is also what he claims.
There is, in short, no evidence at all that any of the claims Flank is repeating so ignorantly has even a shred of truth to them. They are the desires of heretics to try to disprove the Bible. But the Bible is like an anvil which has worn out a good many other critical hammers through the years and still stands firm as God's Word to man.
Mr. Flank: The fundamentalists, of course, reject the idea of a Bible that was pieced together years after the events which it describes, by a succession of people each of whom had their own motives and emphasis, but each of whom had a consistent message to spread.
In their zeal to take every word of the Bible literally, the fundamentalists completely miss the rich theological symbolism which is found throughout the Bible. Many of the incidents described in the Bible, if taken as literally true, paint a picture of God that would shock many people. In Ezekiel 23, for instance, God is stated to have had children by two prostitutes:
"The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying: Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother. And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth; there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity.
And the names of them were Aholah the elder, and Aholibah her sister; and they were mine, and they bare sons and daughters." (Ezekiel 23:1-4)
HF: It's a shame he chooses not to finish verse 4, which then reads, "Aholah is Samaria, and Aholibah is Jerusalem."
This sort of dishonesty on Flank's part should alert anyone to what he is trying to do here. The following verses explain in much more detail what the Lord is saying through Ezekiel, but it does not seem to be part of Flank's method to approach the subject with the honesty such reading would give.
Mr. Flank: In Psalms 137:9, God apparently suggests that the children of the Edomites should be killed: "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones."
HF: He needs to read more. The passage states, "O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks."
And I would ask why, if the 'daughter of Babylon' is being spoken of (and Babylon is identified as the originator of the great apostasy in Revelation), the idea of human infants is suddenly thrust upon the matter.
The infants are the results of the Babylonian heresies the new cults which were constantly springing up. To take what is clearly poetic language in structure and form in the Hebrew and try to impose upon it a narrative function is to destroy the entire meaning of the passage and the whole purpose of the study of linguistics!
Mr. Flank: When the Midianite cities were taken by Moses, God orders him to kill all the male children and all the women who were not virgins, and to give the virgins to the troops: "Now therefore kill every male along the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the woman children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." (Numbers 31:17-18)
HF: God will destroy all evil. This is not a popular thought, but it is a real one. Again, if Flank were to read the passage in context, he would find that Moses first pointed out that "They [the women] were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD's people."
Mr. Flank: When the Pharaoh refuses to let the Hebrews go, God responds by killing every first-born child of Egypt, even those who had nothing to do with the Pharaoh's decision: "About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt, and all the firstborn of in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon the throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts." (Exodus 11:4-5)
HF: There were nine plagues before that. A number of the Egyptians had gone over to the Israelites and were counted among them (9:20, 12:38). Those who suffered the loss were with Pharaoh in his rebellion, first of all and, secondly, it is a fact that an entire kingdom suffers when the leaders go wrong.
Mr. Flank: Similarly, when God tells Noah that the world is wicked and will be destroyed, God acts not merely by killing off the wicked, but by killing off every living thing on earth--even those animals which could not have been wicked in any way: "And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth." (Genesis 6:13)
HF: Death and destruction of creation itself are a result of man's sin. Peter also explains this in his second epistle.
Mr. Flank: As Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong notes, "The picture of God that began to emerge from the Bible for me was neither a pleasant one nor one to which I was drawn to worship". (Spong, 1991, p. 17)
HF: If Spong wants a deity who fits with his own ideas of what is right and wrong, there are plenty of idols to choose from. As it is, God determines what is right and wrong. He is the Creator. He is furious with evil and apostasy, and He has made very sure we understand that when we read His Word.
Indeed, who would want to worship a God that advocates killing innocent children, or who has sex with prostitutes? The fact that the children would have grown up having no choice regarding their knowledge or belief in God made it imperative for God to take them home before they were destroyed by their cultures without a chance of living any other way.
God is truly not willing that one should perish, and He did rescue, and does rescue, the children who have no chance of knowing Him here on earth.
This will be held against those who have propagated the evil. As far as having sex with prostitutes is concerned, that dishonesty by Flank is covered above.
Mr. Flank: Of course, such a picture of God is understandable when one realizes that it comes by way of a nomadic warrior-tribe which lived by plunder, and which was obliged to fight its way through the world and ruthlessly slaughter all enemies, real or imagined. The Biblical descriptions tell us more about the describers than about the described.
HF: Only to the ignorant, be it accidently or willfully. It should be kept in mind, additionally, that this 'nomadic warrior-tribe' was only nomadic for forty years of its history and was primarily concerned with livestock and agriculture, not war.
Mr. Flank: Those who would take the Bible literally have many things to explain away. The Bible is riddled with accounts that are contradictory and mutually exclusive. Since the books of the Bible were not works of single people, but amalgamations of oral traditions written down hundreds of years apart, it is not surprising that there should be contradictions and errors. These are only a problem for the literalists who wish to take every word of the Bible as inerrant.
HF: These different accounts all present the same God, the same purpose, the same character, the same answer from God. If Flank wants to concentrate on the translators' choices of individual words, that is up to him.
Mr. Flank: Among the problems which a literalist interpretation presents:
In Genesis 35:19, we are told that Rachel's grave is in Bethlehem, in Judah: "And Rachel died, and was buried on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem." But, in First Samuel 10:2, we are told something different. Now, Rachel is said to be buried elsewhere: "Rachel's sepulchre on the border of Benjamin at Zelzhah." So which is it?
HF: One site is probably traditional, and the other probably real. Memorials are not always where the person is buried, as Flank should know from our own time as well. This, however, does not negate the reality of Rachel or her children!
Mr. Flank: In Genesis 37:25, we are told that Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers to a passing Midianite caravan, who in turn sold him to some Ishmeelites, who in turn took him to Egypt:
"And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.
There then passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver, and they brought Joseph into Egypt." (Genesis 37:26-28)
But just eight verses later, we are given a different story: "And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard." (Genesis 37:36)
Wait a minute, what happened to the Ishmeelites? I thought they took Joseph to Egypt and sold him?
HF: The Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Syriac all say these people were MEDANITES, not Midianites, which would then make them Ishmaelites. The Medanites were Ishmaelites. It astounds me that Flank somehow thinks the Jewish people so stupid historically that they would blithely ignore what he terms a contradiction. They obviously saw no contradiction. Flank might want to know why.
Mr. Flank: In First Samuel 16:1-23, we are told the story of how David came to be in the court of Saul (and later became King of Israel). According to this account, God tells Samuel that David will be the next King.
Shortly after, King Saul asks for somebody who can play the harp, and somebody mentions David, the son of Jesse. Saul sends for him: "And David came to Saul, and stood before him; and he loved him greatly, and he became his armorbearer.
And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me, for he hath found favor in my sight. And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand, so Saul was refreshed, and the evil spirit departed from him." (I Samuel 16:21-23)
In the very next chapter, however, we are given a totally different story of how David came to become a part of Saul's court--perhaps the most famous story in the Bible, the tale of David and Goliath. Now, we are told that David's three older brothers joined Saul's army to fight the Phillistines, and David went home to watch the sheep (no mention here of David being an "armor-bearer" in Saul's army).
When his father asks him to take some corn and bread to his brothers at Saul's camp, David arrives just in time to hear Goliath challenge the Israeli army, and he asks the people around him why somebody doesn't just kill Goliath.
He is taken before Saul, who, from this account, gives no sign that he already knew David as the guy who played the harp and who he "loved greatly". Instead, Saul tells him he can't fight Goliath because he is just a kid.
David then goes out and kills Goliath, causing King Saul to ask "Whose son is this youth?" (I Samuel 17:55). David is brought before Saul, and Saul, apparently having no idea who David is, asks again, "Whose son art thou, young man?" David answers, "I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite." (I Samuel 17:58)
But this makes no sense. How can Saul not know who David is, or know that he is the son of Jesse, when just a short time before he had been smitten by this same David's harp-playing and begged his father Jesse to let him stay?
Throughout the whole "David and Goliath" story, Saul gives no sign at all that he already knows David as his armor-bearer, yet the earlier verses make it clear that this was how Saul met David. The two accounts are mutually exclusive. Both cannot be right.
HF: The court musicians were not necessarily known by name or face to the king. The court was large and, as the Oriental customs and histories recount, court musicians were often behind screens, or simply out of sight.
There is no reason Saul would have recognized David by sight, despite the fact that David had been back and forth to the court ((1 Samuel 17:15) to play for the king a number of times. It would have not been until after the killing of Goliath that David would have been appointed armor bearer. This is not a position that would have been given to a musician.
Mr. Flank: These differing accounts become understandable when it is realized that they are not historical accounts, but oral traditions which were passed down for hundreds of years before being written into the Bible at different times and by different people.
In such a process of transmission, errors and omissions are inevitable. They only become a problem when one attempts to take these stories as literal historical truth.
HF: And, of course, according to the implications here, the Jews were too stupid to notice the discrepancies for hundreds, if not thousands, of years! The fact is, also, that court historians kept incredibly detailed records of the reigns and times of their respective monarchs.
Mr. Flank: Like the Old Testament, the New Testament also existed as oral tradition for a long period of time before being reduced to writing. It is not surprising, therefore, that the New Testament is also riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies.
HF: It was written from the beginning, within about twenty years after the Resurrection and Ascension. At the end of his second epistle, Peter is already referring to Paul's writings as Scripture.
Mr. Flank: The most glaring inconsistencies (and the ones most difficult for the literalists to explain away) are found between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Since Biblical prophecy stated that Christ would be a descendent of King David, both of these gospels trace Jesus's lineage back to the time of David (and before).
However, these genealogies are not consistent with each other. In Matthew 1:16, we are told that "Jacob begat Joseph, who begat Jesus." But in Luke 3:23, we are told something totally different:
"Heli begat Joseph, who begat Jesus." To make things worse, the lineage given by Matthew 1:2-26, traces Christ's ancestry back to David's son Solomon. But the genealogy given in Luke 3:23-38 makes Christ a descendent of David's son Nathan.
Either the ancestors of Jesus were genetic recombinants, or someone's genealogy is wrong. On top of this, Matthew lists a total of 55 generations from the patriarch Abraham to Jesus, while Luke lists only 40 generations between the two.
HF: This has been dealt with so many times, that only a brief response is necessary here. In order to claim the throne of David, the Messiah had to have both the blood right to it (which had to come through the mother) and the legal right to it (which had to come through the father).
The legal side is covered by Matthew through Joseph's lineage. In keeping with traditional ways of presenting lineage, Matthew truncates the lineage to the most important personages.
Luke covers the blood-right to the throne, through Mary, and gives her lineage. The adoption of Jesus by Joseph, who was not his father (according to both gospel writers), gave Jesus the legal rights of the firstborn of the family of Joseph.
As far as the Luke genealogy is concerned, in Hebrew culture the man left his mother and father and joined his wife's family lineage in terms of the blood line of the children.
Thus Luke, in line with that understanding, begins the lineage stating, "He [Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat.etc." Heli was Joseph's father-in-law.
After Luke specifically stated that Joseph was NOT the father of Jesus, it would have been ridiculous for him to have then given Joseph's lineage as though that was of any worth in the blood line. Therefore it was Mary's lineage Luke gives. This is not only traditional knowledge, but is well-substantiated by knowledge of Hebrew culture.
Mr. Flank: These are not matters of differing interpretations or theological dispensations; they are a simple recounting of what purports to be a historical fact--the ancestry of Christ-- and they do not agree with each other.
HF: Ah yes. And the Christians, like the Jews, were simply too stupid to notice the discrepancy.
Mr. Flank: What could be more simple than telling us the name of Christ's grandfather? Or which former prince of Israel he can trace his ancestry to? Or how many generations have passed between Christ and his ancestors?
No other conclusion can be reached than that one of these two writers is wrong. Both of these lineages cannot be correct. This, of course, is not a problem when one realizes that neither of these writers ever met Jesus, and neither had access to any first-hand information--one (or perhaps both) of them simply passed on mistaken information.
This is, however, a major problem for those who want to take the Bible as literally inerrant and historically accurate.
HF: The Temple genealogical records were not destroyed until the Temple was, and both Matthew and Luke had access to them. Thus both lineages are correct.
Mr. Flank: Other inconsistencies between the four gospels abound. Since the gospel of John was the last book to be written, and was apparently written independently of the other three, it is not surprising that it should contradict the others on numerous points.
In John 2:13-17, for instance, the driving out of the money-changers from the temple by Christ is placed at the beginning of his ministry, just after his picking of the Apostles. In all of the other gospels, this incident is described as happening just before the crucifixion (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-48).
HF: It happened twice. Surprise.
Mr. Flank: John's account places the miracle of the catch of fish as a post-resurrection event: "This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead." (John 21:14) But Luke describes this as the incident which caused Peter, James and John to join the disciples at the beginning of Christ's ministry (Luke 5:4-7).
HF: Different events. In repeating the miracle after the Resurrection, Christ was giving Peter the evidence he needed for his faith.
Mr. Flank: Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:17 all describe the Last Supper as being the Passover meal--but John 13:1-9 describes it as taking place the week before Passover.
HF: The Last Supper took place the evening before Passover. John states, "It was just before the Passover Feast" Matthew and Mark identify the day as the same one the day before: "On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread."
This is the day of preparation for the Passover. The reference to Luke above is simply a reference to the sharing of the wine and the bread by Christ. Earlier, in verse 13, it is written of the disciples, "So they prepared the Passover." This is what one did on Preparation Day. Flank has obviously not read the Bible.
Mr. Flank: There are also inconsistencies between the other gospels. Matthew, for instance, is the only one of the gospels to mention the miraculous star over Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:1-2)
HF: The poor Gospel writers can't win for losing, can they? If they all report an event, it is because they copied from each other; but if they don't all report the same thing, then they must be disagreeing.
In the meantime, Matthew is dealing with events that happened about a year to two years after the birth of Jesus when he recounts the story of the magoi and their approach to Jerusalem.
A very good analysis of this event may be found here: Ldolphin's Site
Mr. Flank: In Mark 10:35-37, we read: "And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in glory."
But in Matthew 20:20-21, there is a different version of this story: "Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, the other on the left, in thy kingdom." Here, it is James and John's mother which makes this request, not the disciples themselves.
HF: Gee, and I thought Flank said one writer copied from another. Matthew didn't copy very well, did he? Did the request originate with the mother? The fact of the actual presentation of the request is rather minor compared to the request itself and what Jesus answered. And both of the accounts agree on that.
Mr. Flank: Again, none of these discrepancies are disturbing if we remember that these were oral traditions that were passed down for decades before being written. But for the Biblical literalists, they present embarrassing problems of consistency.
HF: There is nothing embarrassing about eyewitnesses remembering the story from different points of view. This happens in courts all the time. The witnesses are not discounted because of that, nor are their presentations of what they remember considered the results of long years of oral transmission.
Mr. Flank: Even more disturbing to the literalist fundamentalists (as well as the creationists) are those passages of the Bible which deal directly with verifiable history. The Bible is rife with passages which are simply not historically accurate. In Daniel 1:1, we read: "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakin . . . came Nebuchadnezzer . . . unto Jerusalem, and besieged it."
From archeological data, we know that Jehoiakin began his reign in the year 609 BC, thus this Biblical siege must have taken place in 606 BC. But Nebuchadnezzer wasn't even the King of Babylon in 606 BC, and he didn't attack Jerusalem for the first time until 597 BC (Asimov, 1968, p. 599)
HF: Asimov is anything BUT a biblical scholar or historian! First of all, the Babylonian and the Judahite systems of counting years were different. Secondly, he needs to check his history again.
Mr. Flank: Another passage in Daniel 5:1-2 states: "Belshazzar the King . . . commanded to bring forth the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzer had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem." Belshazzar was indeed a historical figure, but he was not Nebuchadnezzer's son and he was not the King--he was a viceroy to Nebuchadnezzer's son King Amel-Murduk. (Asimov, 1968, p. 605)
HF: "Belshazzar" means "Bel, protect the king!" The Aramaic term indicating Nebuchadnezzar was his father was the same term used for ancestor or predecessor. Asimov needed to do a little more work before presenting this as a problem.
Mr. Flank: The prophet Ezekiel predicted that Nebuchadnezzer would take the city of Tyrus (Tyre) and sack it: "For thus saith the Lord thy God; Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadnezzer king of Babylon . . . and he shall set engines of war against thy walls, and with his axes he shall break down thy towers." (Ezekiel 26:7-9) Nebuchadnezzer, however, never conquered Tyre--he was forced to lift his siege after fifteen years of fighting. (Asimov, 1968, p. 588)
HF: One has to wonder why Flank is depending on Asimov instead of actual biblical or Middle East historians?
That aside, Nebuchadnezzar's fifteen year siege began what Alexander would finish. It was Nebuchadnezzar's fifteen year siege and the devastation that brought that gave Alexander the needed edge to finish the job a couple of hundred years later. Tyre never did recover from the initial siege and its downfall was begun with Nebuchadnezzar.
Mr. Flank: Ezekiel also predicted that Egypt would be conquered and made a subordinate kingdom: "And I will bring again the captivity of Egypt, and will cause them to return into the land of Pathros, into the land of their habitation; and they shall be there a base kingdom". (Ezekiel 29:14) This never happened.
HF: Pathros is Upper Egypt. It happened. Here is the prophecy from the full passage:
"Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the nations where they were scattered. I will bring them back from captivity and return them to Upper Egypt, the land of their ancestry. There they will be a lowly kingdom. It will be the lowliest of kingdoms and will never again exalt itself above the other nations.
I will make it so weak that it will never again rule over the nations. Egypt will no longer be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign LORD."
The first part, reducing Upper Egypt to nothing politically, remains accomplished. The fact that Israel has yet to know their God is still to come.
Mr. Flank: There are also many incidents described in the Bible which have no extra-Biblical confirmation--and some of these are the most famous stories of the Bible.
In Daniel 4:33, we are told that Nebuchadnezzer was afflicted by God when he didn't repent his sinful ways: "He was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagle's feathers, and his nails like bird's claws."
Had such an affliction suddenly struck the king of Babylon, the most powerful man on earth at the time, someone would certainly have noticed, but there is no mention of such an incident in any Babylonian, Sumerian or any other Middle Eastern records.
HF: Court historians who reported such things would not have been fond of their heads.
Mr. Flank: Similarly, when the sun stood still at God's command so that Joshua's Israeli army could finish slaughtering the Amorites (Joshua 10:12-14), such an extraordinary event would have been noticed by people all over the globe, yet there is no written record of such an event outside of the Bible--not a word from Mayan astronomers or Chinese astrologers or anybody else.
HF: Those are exactly the people who did leave records, as a matter of fact. There was the time when the sun started to rise and then went back down for a full night as reported in Mayan records. The Chinese also tell of a time when the night was two nights long. This event was noticed and recorded.
Mr. Flank: Likewise, there are no records anywhere in the voluminous Egyptian hieroglyphic records of any Biblical Plagues (surely the Egyptians would have noticed if all of their first-born children died--it would have decimated the country and left Egypt a shattered state ripe for conquest).
There are no extra-Biblical records of a non-Egyptian aide to the Pharaoh named Joseph, and no Sumerian, Babylonian or Assyrian records of the sudden destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
HF: Court records of the Plagues would be non-existent as the Pharaoh was killed shortly afterwards and Egypt thrown into turmoil. Since historians were employed by the courts, it would not be expected to find the recording of these events.
Nor would we expect to find the reign of a Pharaoh who brought such devastation to his country remembered even in terms of his first-in-command, Joseph (who would not have been allowed to keep his Hebrew name, by the way).
Nevertheless, the papyrus of Ipuwer does refer to the Plagues according to some historians. Manetho, the Egyptian historian, also mentions the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
If the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the Plains were local events, there is no reason why they should be recorded by other court historians as the cities were small city-states.
If the events were not local, the different cultures would have been more than busy with their own problems.
Mr. Flank: In the New Testament, Matthew describes the "slaughter of the innocents", in which Herod tries to eliminate the Christ child by killing every male under three years old. There are no records of such an incident in any Jewish, Roman or Greek historical records of the period, and this slaughter is not even mentioned in any of the other books of the Bible.
It does, however, have remarkable parallels with the earlier Biblical story of the birth of Moses (where another leader tries to have a prophesied rival eliminated by killing children--and which also has no extra-Biblical references).
Most Biblical scholars believe that Matthew cribbed the Herod story and based it on the account of Moses.
HF: MOST Biblical scholars???? Hardly!
First of all, if Matthew had not been telling the truth, his gospel would have been tossed out early on. Those people remembered what had happened in their families, and not one word of contradiction is ever heard by contemporaries.
We also know from what Josephus wrote about Herod, that the killing of the children was entirely typical of the man typical enough not to be reported as something out of the ordinary.
We tend to look at yesterday's events with today's eyes. That does not always give us an accurate view of them. Life was cheap then. It was not until the advent of Christianity that each life was given value and meaning. This is often forgotten.
Mr. Flank: To the creation "scientists", of course, the crux of the matter is the Bible's reliability as it applies to scientific matters, particularly to the events described in Genesis. But here, too, the Bible demonstrates itself to be no more sophisticated than were the simple goat-herders who wrote it.
HF: Simple goat herders? Moses was trained in the Egyptian court. Aside from that, the Jewish people have been known historically for their level of education, literacy, and scholarship. I am amazed that Flank is being allowed to get away with this kind of racial insult and poor history.
Mr. Flank: In First Kings 7:23, we are told of a large vessel that was made for King Solomon: "And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other . . . and a line of thirty cubits did encompass it round about." (I Kings 7:23)
The ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference is known as "pi", and pi has a numeric value of approximately 3.15 . Thus, a circular vessel of diameter ten cubits would have measured about 31.5 cubits round, not 30 as described here (and if the vessel were not circular, the circumference would have been even larger).
Either the measurements cited here are incorrect, or the Bible is claiming that the value of pi is 3.0 . This, of course, is a trivial matter to most of us--the unsophisticated Biblical writers, who had no idea what "pi" even represented, simply gave the wrong measurements.
But to the Biblical literalists, who view the Bible as historically and scientifically inerrant, it is inexplicable. They prefer not to talk about the fact that the Bible gives the wrong value for pi.
HF: How convenient he missed verse 26, which refers to it as being a handbreadth, or about four inches, in thickness. This solves his mathematical problem for him.
Mr. Flank: In Leviticus 11:13-19, as part of the dietary restrictions imposed on the Jews, we see another example of the unsophisticated view which the Biblical authors took towards the natural world: "And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the osprey, and the vulture, and the kite after his kind; every raven after his kind; And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, and the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl, and the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat."
Bats, of course, are not birds, but to the unsophisticated Hebrew tribesmen, anything with two wings that flew was "a fowl".
HF: Flank's cultural-centrism does nothing to commend him to historians or Bible students. Western taxonomy classification is only a few hundred years old.
Classifying animals by their means of locomotion is a much more ancient and universal method. Thus the whales and dolphins are classified with fish in the Bible and in most older cultures.
Bats are classified with birds. It is evidently Flank's lack of understanding and sophistication which leads him to believe the way he was taught in school is the only possible way of classification.
Mr. Flank: Further in these dietary laws, the Bible makes the surprising assertion that some insects have only four legs: "Even of these may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goes upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap withal upon the earth; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind.
But all other flying creeping things which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you." (Leviticus 13:22-23) Grasshoppers and beetles certainly are "flying creeping things", but they have never had only four feet.
HF: Here we have proof that Flank is not reading the Bible himself. Leviticus 13:22-23 has to do with infectious skin diseases. He is referring to Leviticus 11. But here again we see Flank's inability to deal with what is being said.
These "flying creeping things" are not two-legged like birds and are to be classified separately as a result. The idiom of 'four legs' is still used today.
If a baby is crawling, we say she is on all fours. We know the baby only has two legs. The ancient classification simply was differentiating from two-legged flying things.
Thus millipedes, centipedes, spiders, and the rest would simply fit the classification of 'more than two legs' or 'fours.'
Mr. Flank: Another place where the Bible makes a mish-mash of science is Genesis 30:31-43. In this story, we are told that Jacob is given the opportunity to take all of the livestock from Laban which are spotted or striped and keep them.
To insure a better take, we are told, Jacob cleverly took willow sticks and carved them into a striped and spotted pattern, "And he set the rods which he had piled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled and spotted." (Genesis 30:38-39)
In other words, Jacob, by allowing cattle to view spotted sticks during the act of mating, was able to induce them to produce spotted cattle, which is just as impossible as producing striped human babies by having sex in front of a barber pole.
Today, with our knowledge of genetics, we know this Biblical story to be scientific nonsense, but to the ancient Hebrew herders, such "magic" was widely accepted and was not questioned.
HF: First of all, there was no such thing as "Hebrew herders" at the time, for the nation of Israel's genealogy starts with Jacob's sons. Secondly, the Bible relates what happened. It does not declare it right. There is no evidence that God or an angel told Jacob to do this.
Therefore he might have been following some sort of pagan belief about breeding, and God honored him anyway not because of it. The Bible and all of history and life are full of sinners used by God anyway.
That does not make their customs or acts right in and of themselves. It simply means that we don't get in God's way.
Mr. Flank: In fact, the Bible accepts completely the primitive view of these ancient pastoral societies. The earth was assumed to be flat, with the sun revolving around it and the stars embedded in the "firmament," a hard dome that covered the earth.
HF: This idea of the Bible declaring the earth flat is pure hoax. This view of the cosmos was not Hebrew, but Greek. The Israelites lived at the crossroads of several major trade routes of ancient times. They knew as well as anyone that the earth was not flat.
There is no indication in Scripture that they thought it was. As far as the sun revolving around the earth, our weathermen must think the same after all, they speak of the sun rising and setting.
And the idea of the firmament being some kind of flat dome is pure nonsense derived from a descriptive word ('raqia') used indicating God stretched out the firmament (which the birds flew in, so it couldn't have been considered solid). We know today that the cosmos itself has been expanded. The Bible knew ahead of time.
Mr. Flank: Above the firmament was Heaven.
HF: Flank is evidently so poorly versed in Bible that he does not realize there are three heavens in Hebrew terminology the same way there are in English. There is the first heaven, where the birds fly and the rain comes from: the atmosphere.
There is the second heaven where the stars are: the universe. And then there is the third heaven, or God's Throne. This is the theological reference to heaven as we understand it. This much is easily seen by a simple reading of the Old Testament. I am assuming Flank has not bothered doing this.
Mr. Flank: It was because of this world-view that the ancient Hebrews saw no problems with the story of Joshua commanding the sun to stop in the sky (the sun, of course, doesn't move around the earth). Similarly, those Biblical verses which indicated that the earth was immovable and flat were not questioned until the time of Galileo
HF: Flank seems to fall for anything which is against Bible without questioning its accuracy! The Christian Church, even in the Dark Ages did not teach that the earth was flat. As Tom Willis reports here Flat Earth? the facts are documented history, source material is available.
The most thorough work is "Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians" by Jeffrey Burton Russell (a University of California professor of history), 1991.
Russell's research is so thoroughly documented that the notion of the "Flat Earth" is now totally discredited.
Even before Russell, several scholars had uncovered the hoax. It is documented in The New Encyclopedia Britannica (1985), Colliers Encyclopedia (1984), The Encyclopedia Americana (1987) and The World Book for Children (1989), and even in a number of textbooks.
The story simply was never true. In fact, Russell was able to find only five obscure clerics in the entire history of the Church who supported the flat earth, and virtually all of them had philosophical, non-Christian reasons for doing so.
Mr. Flank: In Daniel 4:10-11, we are told of a vision in which Daniel sees "a tree in the midst of the earth, and the height thereof was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth."
On a sphere such as the planet Earth, it is impossible to see "to the end of all" from any one spot, no matter how high. But, since the writers of the Bible believed the world to be flat, this presented no problems.
Similarly, in Psalms 104:5, the poet writes that God "laid the foundations of the ea