Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Is the Bible historical?

Modern history as a discipline makes certain demands on the source material although this is also somewhat dependant on the underlying philosophy that one subscribes to. As a word "history" refers to the events that antedate us.

Fundamentally history can be considered as a question of truth concerning the events of the past. Now all narrative is flavoured by the author, even if it is just that way certain events are placed adjacent or separate in the story which may suggest that a correlation is or is not causative. Further, as various histories differ, or change over time, some postmoderns have argued that we cannot know history at all.

Ignoring the epistemological question, the change over time reflects some aspects of history more than others. Consider World War 1. Various histories could debate what they thought were the predominant causes for that war depending on underlying presuppositions, and how they weigh the significance of various events; but all histories would agree that there was a war throughout Europe between 1914 and 1918.

So while historians are interested in the why, the events and dates of history often stand on firmer ground. As often stated, chronology is the backbone of history.

A couple of problems that one could have in analysing Scripture is the lack of corroborating material for some events, and the way that certain events are narrated.

As a question of truth, the narrative portions of the Bible are presented as historical fact. It is history in that sense, and it is unreasonable to ask tho ancients to write in a format that moderns have come to prefer.

As to the way events are narrated and God's involvement in history, many moderns have an anti-supernatural bias which may lead them to minimise or discount biblical narrative.

This brings us to the corroboration question. In many ways this is just a question of certainty: the more (independent) people who discuss an event, the greater our confidence in it. Though true, we can only work with what we have. It is faulty to think that lack of further sources call into question a source. Rather we can hold something tentatively or securely depending on what knowledge is to be had.

That said, there are some considerations with Scripture that speak to its veracity. Firstly, there are some corroborations external to Scripture that confirm what Scripture says; both written sources and archaeological reconstructions. Secondly, when an author is shown to be reliable in one area it is reasonable to think him reliable elsewhere. Thirdly, negative features suggest reliability. It is one thing to diss the foreigners, another to reveal the warts of your own people. The frank honesty of the authors of Scripture with regard to the failures of both the leaders and the citizens of Israel is unusual.

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