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Old 21 April 2009, 06:32 AM
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Fight Fightin' words

Is the Bible the literal word of God, or a historical compilation written by different people in different situations over a period of years? This question has provoked some soul-searching about the very foundation upon which the Christian faith is based.

http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2009/...tin-words.html
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Old 22 April 2009, 03:26 AM
KingDavid8 KingDavid8 is offline
 
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I haven't read the book, myself, but have seen an in-depth review.

From what it sounds like, the problem is that most of Ehrman's objections are things that have already been answered many times by Christians, but he, for the most part, ignores those responses and just raises the objections for the ump-teenth time.

Yes, he makes a great case against the idea that God literally wrote or dictated the Bible or its various translations, but very, very few Christians argue that He did. Almost all (myself included) agree that it was written by people.

David
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Old 22 April 2009, 03:38 AM
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. . . Yes, he makes a great case against the idea that God literally wrote or dictated the Bible or its various translations, but very, very few Christians argue that He did. Almost all (myself included) agree that it was written by people.
I would, with grave regret, have to differ with your quantitative assessments. The literal interpretation of scripture is still very much adhered to by a significant and sizeable number of believers. You can find it defended on AM radio over very large markets, at any hour of the day and any day of the week. In contrast, I have never heard the more moderate interpretation given voice on a Christian radio show.

Yes, the idea that Noah's Ark was not a real, actual, concrete, gopher-wood boat is no threat to any intelligent theological interpretation of the Christian faith -- but that is something that is vigorously disagreed with by a painfully large bloc of literal interpreters. They aren't all as stupid as Jack Chick; some are more akin to Josh McDowell or Hal Lindsey. (Wrong as wrong can be, but not actually stupid.)

Silas
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Old 22 April 2009, 03:56 AM
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I would, with grave regret, have to differ with your quantitative assessments. The literal interpretation of scripture is still very much adhered to by a significant and sizeable number of believers. You can find it defended on AM radio over very large markets, at any hour of the day and any day of the week. In contrast, I have never heard the more moderate interpretation given voice on a Christian radio show.
It's a moot point debating with the folks that believe in such literal interpretation. Their faith to them is such a matter of pride that any attempt to debate with them is akin to denying the existence of God. They won't bite. I would wager that most Catholics don't really care about the authorship of the Bible. They believe that God had some involvement somewhere and they are sticking to it. I seriously doubt that these folks (the literalists - Earth made in 7 24 hour days type) will remove God from Bible unless they are willing to admit that it is pure fiction.
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Old 22 April 2009, 04:08 AM
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I would, with grave regret, have to differ with your quantitative assessments. The literal interpretation of scripture is still very much adhered to by a significant and sizeable number of believers. You can find it defended on AM radio over very large markets, at any hour of the day and any day of the week. In contrast, I have never heard the more moderate interpretation given voice on a Christian radio show.
Yeah, but we're talking radio here. You get the extremes, since they're a lot more entertaining than moderates are. Just like if you listen to political radio shows, you tend to hear people who are either very, very liberal or very, very conservative.

Besides, whether the scripture should be interpreted literally is a different issue than whether God personally wrote or dictated it. Many of those who favor literal interpretation would say that the Bible was written by Moses, Solomon, Luke, Paul, John, etc. and not God.

David
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Old 22 April 2009, 04:18 AM
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... unless they are willing to admit that it is pure fiction.
Come now, that's overstating things greatly, isn't it? There are many historical references from the Bible that have been confirmed through cross-referencing historical and archaeological materials from other realms of the middle east. There is a great grey area between literal truth and pure fiction. Parts of the Bible are at one end, and parts at the other, and most in-between, except of course that a good bit of it is neither, consisting of poems, wisdom, songs, etc.
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Old 22 April 2009, 04:25 AM
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There are many historical references from the Bible that have been confirmed through cross-referencing historical and archaeological materials from other realms of the middle east.
Then "pure fiction" is simply a meaningless phrase, as there are references to facts in nearly all works of fiction.
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Old 22 April 2009, 04:42 AM
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Besides, whether the scripture should be interpreted literally is a different issue than whether God personally wrote or dictated it. Many of those who favor literal interpretation would say that the Bible was written by Moses, Solomon, Luke, Paul, John, etc. and not God.

David
Agreed, I was raised fundamentalist and taught that the bible was true: 7 day creation, Tower of Babel, Noah and the ark,, parting the Red Sea, sun stopping in the sky, all these were literally true. However the bible itself was physically written by people - God simply guided their hand to ensure it was all recorded faithfully.

Although I don't think we are talking about small numbers here - or extreme groups. The church was hardly rabid or out of touch - it was middle-class, well read and with a range of political viewpoints.

Dropbear
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Old 22 April 2009, 12:27 PM
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Then "pure fiction" is simply a meaningless phrase, as there are references to facts in nearly all works of fiction.
I'd say the difference is that, with the Bible, we know for a fact that many of its characters really existed. Of course that doesn't mean that all details are accurate, but it definitely speaks against it being "pure fiction". Some argue that the Bible is more like "historical fiction", but historical fiction is a relatively modern invention. Ancient fiction rarely, if ever, included known historical characters.

David
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Old 22 April 2009, 08:16 PM
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. . . historical fiction is a relatively modern invention. Ancient fiction rarely, if ever, included known historical characters.
One intriguing example is the Book of Daniel, set in a time prior to when it was actually written (according to many scholars.) If interpreted that way (as opposed to literally) it would be one of the earliest works of "historical fiction" known.

Silas
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Old 22 April 2009, 08:41 PM
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This is so weird, because I didn't read this thread yesterday, or even log on since it was posted, but I dreamed last night that I was engaged to Bart Ehrman, who looked like Ryan Stiles, as was my friend Elaine, but neither of us actually wanted to marry him.

Yes, I realize that was not a helpful contribution to this thread. Carry on.
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Old 23 April 2009, 11:59 PM
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One intriguing example is the Book of Daniel, set in a time prior to when it was actually written (according to many scholars.) If interpreted that way (as opposed to literally) it would be one of the earliest works of "historical fiction" known.
There are many historical texts written long after the events happened. Most of what we know about Alexander the Great comes from texts written about four centuries after he lived, which is the same amount of time difference as the more liberal dating of the Book of Daniel.

Personally, I'd say that the rarity of examples of historical fiction from the time is a check-mark against the idea of Daniel being an example of it. AFAIK, there's only one known example of historical fiction prior to the 4th century A.D. (that one dates to the 11th century B.C.), and it didn't really become a genre unto itself until the 19th century A.D.

David
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Old 24 April 2009, 12:06 AM
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I'd say the difference is that, with the Bible, we know for a fact that many of its characters really existed. Of course that doesn't mean that all details are accurate, but it definitely speaks against it being "pure fiction". Some argue that the Bible is more like "historical fiction", but historical fiction is a relatively modern invention. Ancient fiction rarely, if ever, included known historical characters.

David
I would describe it more as lore. Not so much fiction, in the sense that someone thought "I've got a great idea for a novel!" or a straightforward factual retelling of events, but rather a collection of stories that were passed down among a community as truth, but drifted from the actual facts as time went on.

Regarding the "Bible as literal camp": I think there are quite a few people who will defend the Bible as literally true so they can use it to prop up various beliefs they have and think everyone should share (i.e. condemnation of homosexuality). These people may realize somehow that the Bible isn't 100% fact, but arguing that it is gives the parts of the Bible they like authority.
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Old 24 April 2009, 12:09 AM
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I would wager that most Catholics don't really care about the authorship of the Bible. They believe that God had some involvement somewhere and they are sticking to it.
That is pretty much the Catholic line with everything. Science find out something that contradicts the Bible? That was an allegory then, and this is how God does it. I have to say I love it; it will withstand anything you throw at it, because it just rolls with it and keeps going. Evolution disagrees with Genesis? No problem. Genesis was just meant to illustrate a point, not to be taken literally, and evolution is just finding out exactly how God did it. God was involved in the process somewhere along the line, and that is good enough.
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Old 24 April 2009, 01:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Silas Sparkhammer View Post
One intriguing example is the Book of Daniel, set in a time prior to when it was actually written (according to many scholars.) If interpreted that way (as opposed to literally) it would be one of the earliest works of "historical fiction" known.

Silas
I was reading a book on Biblical interpretation which said that several of the self-contained stories - I believe Esther and perhaps Ruth were among the examples - had information in the introduction that were dead giveaways to the people of the time that they were fables or adventures. They would have obvious anomaolies, akin to a story starting 'when the USA was not yet founded, and basketball was the great new game, ..." - we see right off that the story is untrue because of the inconsistency and the whole point was to signal 'Hey, this is fiction.'
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Old 24 April 2009, 01:42 AM
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. . . obvious anomaolies, akin to a story starting 'when the USA was not yet founded, and basketball was the great new game, ..." - we see right off that the story is untrue because of the inconsistency and the whole point was to signal 'Hey, this is fiction.'
Exactly. One might say that "Abraham Lincoln shook his finger in Thomas Jefferson's face," i.e., Lincoln built a strong Federal Government which replaced the loose confederation that Jefferson believed in. But it's a metaphor, doggonit. And so is Noah's Flood and the Ark: as a metaphor, it has tremendous power, even today. Our zoos, for example, are modern Arks, enabling the survival of animal species which otherwise would be inundated in the flood of human overpopulation. But as literal science? Sheesh!

Silas
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Old 24 April 2009, 02:13 AM
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I used to believe that the Bible was all historically true, including Adam and Eve, the Noahic deluge, Tower of Babel, etc. However, now I believe that only the passages from Genesis 11 through Revelation are historically true, or have some truth to them.

Relating biblical passages as myth in order to tell a moral lesson is OK. For example, the Adam and EVe narrative in Genesis 3 actually tells how sin brought about a change in climate which brought an end to the gathering of fruits, etc., and brought about farming and herding.

I now accept theistic evolution as a form of divine creation. Any thinking person will evitably conclude that if the human race began with just one procreative pair--one man and one woman--then their children would all have to marry, hence sibling incest. The same God who intentionally planned for humankind to spawn through incest later condemns it in Leviticus.

Conclusion: one does not have to take all of the Bible as literal history in order to be a good Christian or Jew.

Barb Rainey
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Old 24 April 2009, 02:27 AM
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Agreed, I was raised fundamentalist and taught that the bible was true: 7 day creation, Tower of Babel, Noah and the ark,, parting the Red Sea, sun stopping in the sky, all these were literally true. However the bible itself was physically written by people - God simply guided their hand to ensure it was all recorded faithfully.

Although I don't think we are talking about small numbers here - or extreme groups. The church was hardly rabid or out of touch - it was middle-class, well read and with a range of political viewpoints.

Dropbear
Yeah, the phrase used in the church I grew up in was "God breathed".
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Old 24 April 2009, 02:52 AM
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I haven't read the book, myself, but have seen an in-depth review.
For a moment I didn't realize you were talking about Ehrman's book and thought you meant the Bible.

Carry on.
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Old 24 April 2009, 03:18 AM
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I think the Bible is mostly "based on truth", in the way that movies are "based on" books. It is a recording of an oral tradition. Oral traditions have a way of changing over time.

I think I watched a documentary that showed evidence for some pretty bad flood in the right area, predating the Bible and previous flood myths, and a merchant who rode through the flood with his stock. That may well be the factual occurance that later grew in the telling into a flood that engulfed the world (and really, without cars and modern transportation, how big is "the whole world"). I can even picture it happening; as people showed interest in the flood it got deeper and bigger, as people showed interest in the animals they became more and more.

And I tend to think most of the Bible is like that. There is truth underneath, but it has been confused and misinterpreted so often along the way that it bears little resemblence to actual happenings. There is evidence of this, in that everything happens in either 40 days or 3 days, which is colloquial in the original language for "a long time" and "a little while" respectively.
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