Thursday, July 7, 2016

About Time: Chronology and Bible skeptics

Before we got distracted by the controversy surrounding the measles vaccination, we were looking at the argument for re-dating a biblical event. Timothy Mahoney, the filmmaker behind Patterns of Evidence – Exodus, made a strong case that the main reason so many biblical scholars are skeptical about the Exodus is their understanding of the timing.
As we discussed in the previous column on the subject, the GAD (Generally Accepted Date) of the Exodus is approximately 1250 B.C.E. Since “serious” scholars consider the entire story of the Israelites living as slaves in Egypt – and their having been miraculously freed and then conquering Canaan – to be a myth on a par with Robin Hood, it is hard to imagine how they arrived at any date, Generally Accepted or otherwise. Nevertheless, “Accepted” means that, if you are a “serious” bible scholar, and you want to talk about the Exodus or the conquest of Canaan, you’d better accept their date.

There’s a glaring problem with that: one would think that scholars shouldn't be about accepting things without questioning, right? Most of us define their job as digging up facts and proposing theories that conform to those facts, not simply toeing the party line. Unfortunately, the politics, and the money, dictate what “theories” are to be “accepted,” just as in so many other fields of scholarship.

Chronology is an extremely important question for Bible students. Date arguments swirl around many of the Bible’s key points. Chronology also forms the crux of many of the objections to the Bible’s message.

Taken literally, the Bible seems to claim:
  • Creation took six days.
  • Adam and Eve, the first humans, were created about 6,000 years ago.
  • Adam lived 930 years.
  • Methuselah lived 969 years.
  • The earth, mountains and all, was covered by a Flood about 4,400 years ago.
  • All present species have developed from the narrow sample of creatures aboard the ark.
  • All 6,500 languages can be traced back to a miraculous linguistic split about 4,100 years ago.
  • The Israelites were in exile in Egypt for 430 years.
  • The Israelites left Egypt about 3,500 years ago.
  • Jericho was destroyed 40 years later, in the late 1400s B.C.E.
  • The Davidic dynasty began in the eleventh century B.C.E
  • The Israelites were in exile in Babylon for 70 years.
For centuries, the above statements were accepted as bedrock fact by most historians. Biblical scholars were, first of all, biblical. Giants such as William F. Albright, William Mitchell Ramsay and G. Ernest Wright are still looked up to in the field of biblical archaeology. In the 1800s, a middle eastern scholar was said to work with 'a Bible in one hand and a spade in the other.'

That all began to change in the twentieth century. Scholars, for the most part, were no longer independently wealthy adventurers; they needed to support themselves. And they discovered that they could sell more books, and make more of a name for themselves, if they attacked, questioned, or completely contradicted, a biblical account. After all, a modern-day authority who can dispute an account written by a Bible character (who actually witnessed the events in question) must be very smart! A scholar whose research does nothing more than prove the truth of a Bible account is branded a religious fanatic.
This created the scenario Mahoney described in Patterns of Evidence in which we, unlettered sincere Bible students, are having to try to defend the Bible not only from atheists, but also from so-called “Bible Experts.”

Before wading into the controversy surrounding biblical chronology:
  • Does the Bible say the earth was created in six literal 24 hour days?
  • Does the Bible say or imply that the universe came into existence about 6,000 years ago?
  • Is the Bible account of an earth-wide Flood 4,300 years ago dis-proven by the “millions of years” that archaeologists, geologists, paleontologists, and zoologists speak of in their various fields of study?
  • Have archaeologists actually dis-proven the biblical accounts of the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan?
Over the coming few columns we’ll take an in-depth look at each of those. But to start with, let’s dig into the Exodus. Does the Bible give us a precise date for that event?
Actually, it does.

Of course, our current calendar was not in use back in Bible times. But if you are willing to do some math, the date is there. 1 Kings 6:1 tells us very precisely that the fourth year of Solomon’s kingship was the start of year 480 (that is, 479 full years plus a month or two) after the Exodus.

Do we know when Solomon’s reign was? We can work it out, as follows:
If you had a lot of patience, you could read the history recorded in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles, and just add up all the reigns of the various kings of the southern kingdom of Judah that continued from Solomon’s dynasty.
But there’s a much simpler way to get there.

In Ezekiel 4:1-7 God commands Ezekiel to act out a drama about Israel’s apostasy from Jehovah, for 390 days. Then He gives the rule “a day for a year.” According to the Soncino Books of the Bible that apostasy began with the split of the northern and southern kingdoms at the end of Solomon’s reign, and ran until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
  • So: 390 years before the destruction of Jerusalem was the end of Solomon’s reign.
  • 37 years and a couple months before that (the 4th year of Solomon’s 40-year-reign) was the year the temple was built;
  • Which was 479 years and some months after the Exodus.

390 + 37 + 479 = 906
There you have it: The Bible says the Exodus happened about 906 years before Jerusalem was destroyed.

When was Jerusalem destroyed? The Generally Accepted Date of the destruction of Jerusalem is 586 B.C.E. If true, it would put the Exodus around 1492 B.C.E., (586 + 906) and the destruction of Jericho, the beginning of the conquest of Canaan, 40 years later in 1452 B.C.E.

But we know about Generally Accepted Dates, now, don’t we? Is that date for the destruction of Jerusalem reliable? We’ll look at that next.

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