How does the Bible fare against modern scholarship? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
We continue our look at John somebody or other’s work called The Christian Delusion. This next chapter is about the Bible and modern scholarship by Paul Tobin. So what do I think of his work?
Not very much. For one thing, scholarship is apparently a loose term in his world. He refers to Randal Helms as a scholar (He’s not) which is amusing since Richard Carrier does the same thing in his chapter. This is not to say that Helms is right or wrong, (Even though he is wrong) but it is to say Helms is not a recognized scholar in the field. To say someone is a scholar when they are not is to avoid being honest.
Tobin tells us that in Galatians 3:13 we read the Law is a curse and compared it to dung in Philippians 3:8. Meanwhile, James spoke highly of it in James 1:25 and 2:8. Well, not exactly. In Galatians, Paul speaks about the curse of the law by saying that all who break the law are under a curse and that cursed is anyone who is hung on a tree. In Philippians 3, he says the works that he did compared to the righteousness in Christ that he has are dung. None of these are about the law but effects from the law. Now if only there were some place that we could go to where Paul said what he thinks of the law….oh wait! There is! Let’s go to Romans 7.
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.
So why didn’t Tobin go to this place? This is the clearest statement of Paul on the Law and yet Tobin ignores it, apparently hoping to catch readers off guard who don’t know their Bibles as well. It looks like Tobin didn’t read well the passages that he presented and didn’t present the clearest disagreeing passages.
Tobin later goes to the Genesis flood. He says that the Genesis account depends on Gilgamesh for the following reasons.
Floods are common in the ancient Mesopotamian world while Israel is more arid.
The geographic accounts make Mesopotamia a more likely origin spot.
Gilgamesh was known throughout the ancient world, and a fragment was even found in Israel.
Babylonia was the more dominant and it’s more likely that the greater culture influenced the lesser.
We can forgive Tobin since The Lost World of the Flood was not out for not knowing arguments in there, but even these are not convincing. That floods are common shows that it is quite likely some great flood happened. The story of Adam and Eve does start more in the Mesopotamian area and Abraham came from the area of Babylonia. A fragment of the text of Gilgamesh was found in Israel. So what?
Ignored are all the differences. The craft in Gilgamesh is not seaworthy and ends with the hero gaining immortality and meanwhile, the story of Noah ends with the hero getting drunk and being shamed by his son. Note in all of this, Tobin doesn’t go to any of the text of any of the works itself. It’s enough to just do something like this and say that copying took place.
Tobin also says Moses’s father-in-law had three names. Yes. This was common depending on the context and culture one was speaking to that one could go by multiple names. This isn’t a problem.
He also says that a nation of about a million people wandered for forty years and nothing has been found. The Scythians also wandered for longer and had that many people and the only things we’ve found from them are the things that were built to last, such as tombs from their kings. What does Tobin expect us to find exactly?
Tobin concludes in the end that modern archaeology is no friend of the Bible. What’s interesting about this is not a single thing is said about the New Testament and archaeology. This is something quite serious to leave out. Did Tobin not do this because the case in the New Testament is indeed much better?
He moves on to fairy tales saying that Genesis 2 and Numbers 22 have a talking snake and donkey respectively. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that this was a fully literalistic account, which can be debated. How is this necessarily a problem? This might be a shock to Tobin, but ancient people knew that animals don’t talk just as much as we do. The only way you can say it’s ipso facto nonsense is if there is no extra-material agent that can work miracles of some kind. That’s a huge assumption to make. It’s just atheists saying “This disagrees with my worldview, so it’s nonsense.”
Tobin also claims the virgin birth, which I do affirm, was taken from pagan cultures all around. Go read these accounts and see how similar they are to the New Testament. You’re going to find they’re vastly different and is another reason the copycat hypothesis is losing its appeal.
We naturally have something about the silence of the slaughter in Bethlehem. After all, wouldn’t Josephus have mentioned such a massive event. First off, it was hardly massive. If anything it would have most likely been a dozen or so kids. Second, how could we possibly know we have an exhaustive list from Josephus of every horror that Herod ever did?
There are also claims about forgeries. Tobin is convinced 2 Thessalonians is a forgery that is calling 1 Thessalonians a forgery. I have a much more different view. I do think both letters are Pauline and that Paul doesn’t realize the letter spoken of is 1 Thessalonians and that he was badly misunderstood.
Later on, Tobin also says that if evolution is true, then Genesis is no longer history and humans aren’t in the image of God. No argument is given for this and there is a history of Christians as far back as Darwin who had no problem with evolution. Tobin shows no awareness of them.
We conclude in the end that Tobin’s chapter is, like the others, highly lacking.