Paul Tobin Responds to The Infidel Delusion (Part 1)

When John Loftus informed me that there is a “book length rebuttal” available on the net to The Christian Delusion I was expecting an intellectual challenge but instead what I found amounts to no more than relatively lightweight and easily dismissed assertions.

Embedded within these rebuttals are quotations from “scholars” who still believe Moses wrote the Pentateuch[1], speculations provided with no evidence and a straight-faced reference to arguments of “young earth creationism” as though it is (or ever was) a viable scientific position[2]! But leaving such rebuttals unanswered could give the reader who is currently “sitting on the fence” the impression that they are unanswerable. Hence this article.

Having said that however, I must note, the three gentlemen, Steven Hays, Jason Engwer and Paul Manata, conducted their criticism in a very civil manner, focusing on what they think is wrong with my article with no ad hominem attack. This will allow for a more clear-headed debate and for this I am grateful to them. Of course, I think they are profoundly mistaken, but I hope that my response to their rebuttals will be taken in this spirit of honest exchange.

The main thesis of my original article in the book The Christian Delusion is that the fundamentalist/evangelical position on the Bible is not reflected by modern mainstream Biblical scholarship, historical research and near eastern archaeology.[3] Before proceeding with the detailed response below I would like to make two general observations.

Firstly, given my thesis, it is quite strange to see that the “rebuttals” are based mainly on quotations from evangelical scholars and publications with frequent references to my not “interacting” with “evangelical scholarship.” An important point of my article in the book, and something I will continue to emphasize below, is that evangelical scholarship is not mainstream and not supported by a consensus of scholars who do not hold the same pre-suppositional biases.

Secondly, most of the “rebuttals” amount to no more than suggesting or speculating other possible explanations than the ones I have presented. This is something I have pointed out in my book The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager (pp. 212-214) Evangelicals seems to have difficulty understanding the difference between the concepts of possibility and probability- just because an hypothesis is possible does not mean it is the most probable explanation for something. Let me give a short example that illustrates this point. When the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry in 2003, many hypotheses as to the cause of the accident were suggested. Among the seriously considered possibilities were the failure of navigational system (which may have caused the shuttle to re-enter the atmosphere “belly up”) and the damage to the shuttle heat shield (caused by a piece of foam that peeled off from the fuel tank during the launch). The latter possibility was the one that was finally accepted as it was the one supported by the evidence. Imagine someone coming along saying “Aha, you’re all wrong! You have not considered the possibility that the shuttle was blasted by an alien space ship!” You will see many of such assertions of possibilities made without evidence in the rebuttals by Hays

As Christopher Hitchens so succinctly puts it- “That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

Steven Hays

Hays entitled his section “The Bible and Modern Slipshoddiness”, which actually is quite apt – since his rebuttals are rather slipshod, poorly researched and not well thought out. Any “research” done seems to be based purely on evangelical and fundamentalist works –filled with speculations and guesses for which little or no evidence is provided. My response will be numbered the same way as Mr. Hays’ to enable quick and easy reference.

1. Hays started by defending the contradiction between the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2 by stating that “numerous scholars” say that Genesis 1 is a “global creation account” while Genesis 2 is a “local creation account”. This is shoddy for a few reasons. Firstly, Hays did not provide even a single reference from these “numerous scholars” and secondly, he does not seem to understand that merely providing an alternative possibility does not settle the question.

In response to his, unnamed, “numerous scholars,” I will cite a few modern scholars, among many, who assert that Genesis 1 and 2 are in contradiction to each other – primarily because the stories in those two chapters are woven from two separate (somewhat contradictory) sources. I recommend the reader check these sources for himself or herself.

Richard E. Friedman who was Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California wrote this in his book Who Wrote the Bible? (HarperSanFrancisco 1997) p. 50-51:
[T]he first chapter of the Bible tells one version of how the world came to be created and the second chapter of the Bible starts with a different version of what happened. In many ways they duplicate one another, and on several points they contradict each other. [italics added]
Prof. Friedman went on to point out the discrepancies between those two stories.[4]

Our next quote comes from J. Alberto Soggins Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature in the University of Rome. This is an excerpt from his well known introductory undergraduate textbook on the Old Testament:
Finally we have a series of parallel passages or contradictions in the Pentateuch which rule out a single author….In Genesis 1.1-2.4a and 2.4b-25 we evidently have two different accounts of the creation approaches, different both in their fundamental approaches and in the order in which the elements were created.[5] [emphasis added]
Finally I will give a quote from Oxford historian, Robin Lane Fox, in his book, The Unauthorized Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible (Penguin 1991) pp 15 & 17:
The Bible begins with two distinct creation stories. From Genesis 1 to 2:4…Whether the words in 2:4 look forwards or, more probably, backwards, they cannot conceal that this next stretch of narrative flatly contradicts the first. [emphasis added]
Such references can be multiplied.[6] The main point is this, no serious (i.e. non evangelical) scholar today considers the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 to be anything more than different creation myths “cut and pasted” together by a later scribe to form an uneasy narrative.

In citing his explanation of “global” and “local” accounts, Hays does not show how such an postulate accounts for the clear contradictions in the two creation stories nor does he explain how his suggestion accounts for the discrepancies better than the theory favored by most modern scholars - that the contradictions betray the multiple sources being used by the redactor of the Pentateuch. Simply providing an alternative hypothesis, without providing any evidence or argument, proves nothing.

2. Similarly his “rebuttal” of my pointing out the discrepancy between the number of animals brought up to Genesis 6:19-20 and Genesis 7:2-3 is to cite one evangelical scholar, Bruce Waltke, who thinks it is due to “the Hebraic literary technique of synoptic/resumption expansion”. He does not explain why this explanation is stronger than that of Friedman[7], Soggin[8], Kugel[9] and the majority of critical scholars who thinks that this discrepancy is real and points to the multiple source origins of the Pentateuch.

3. Here Hays shows shoddiness in reading what is before him. He makes a great effort, subdividing point 4 into three separate paragraphs numbers i, ii and iii asserting how I was wrong in noting that racism makes the Bible untrue. The problem is he was attacking an argument I did not make! In my article[10] I raised the issue of racism in the books of Deuteronomy, Ezra and Nehemiah in contrast against the more racially inclusive book of Ruth to show that the Bible is inconsistent when it comes to this issue. Hays has completely missed the point. This is all the more surprising when one considers the fact that my whole argument is contained only within a single paragraph in my article!

4. In my article, I had noted that the markedly different outlooks of the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs as another example of how the Bible is inconsistent with itself.[11] Hays response that I fail “to take into account the genre of each” does nothing in resolving this problem. Genres may impact the way an idea is being presented (in music, different genres such as rock, or disco or rap can be used to speak of undying love) but not in its message (all these genres can also speak of hate). The messages of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs if they do come from one god, comes from a schizophrenic one.

5. In response to my noting the conflicting messages of the epistles of James and Paul, Hays (as in (2) above) has merely resorted to citing an evangelical scholar who thinks that the epistles of James and Paul were not in conflict. That does not really solve anything though, since I can equally site many critical historical scholars who think differently. Here’s a quote from Richard Pervo, of the world’s experts on Paul and The Acts of the Apostles:
James may have been attacking a radical antinomian form of Paulinism but that cannot be demonstrated from the text, which does not reveal a caricature or other “misunderstanding” of Pauline theology, but opposes what Paul actually wrote. This does not exclude interpretations that Paul may have disowned; it does exclude suggestions that James did not disagree with Paul.[12][emphasis added]
Here’s another one by the conservative scholar James D.G. Dunn:
The most striking passage in James is 2.14-26, his polemic against the doctrine of faith without works. This seems to be directed against the Pauline expression of the gospel, or more precisely, against those who have seized on Paul’s slogan, ‘justification by faith (alone)’. It was Paul who first expressed the gospel in this way (particularly Rom 3.28); so the view which James attacks certainly goes back to Paul. That Paul’s argument is in view is also indicated by the fact that James in effect refutes the Pauline exegesis of Gen. 15.6: ‘Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ This, affirms James, was fulfilled in Abraham’s work, not in his faith – that is not in ‘faith alone’ (contrast Rom. 4.3-22,particularly vv. 3-8; Gal 3.2-7…)[13]
I can continue to quote various scholars ad nauseam,[14] but the point, I think, is made. Scholars who respect the methodology of historical research (which, unfortunately, exclude most evangelical scholars) are generally in agreement about the uneasy contradiction which exists between the epistle of James and the epistles of Paul.

6. In commenting on my section on the impossibility of a worldwide flood, Hays refers me to works by young earth creationists who have “marshaled many arguments to the contrary.” May I point him to the fact that even in their “battle” with evolution in the public sphere, most creationists have retreated into the more nebulous claims of “Intelligent Design” which avoids making claims about the age of the earth, Noah flood and anything which has been soundly refuted by scientists. Perhaps I should respond here by telling Hays that he should “refute” all of modern physics, geology, paleontology, cosmology, astro-physics, biology, biochemistry etc.etc. since all these show young earth creationism to be complete nonsense.

7. In attempting to discredit my claim that the Genesis story of Noah’s flood is dependent on ancient Babylonian flood tales like the Epic of Gilgamesh, Hays quotes a “liberal” blogger Peter Enns as someone who does not take that position. But immediately after the section quoted by Hays, this is what Enns wrote:
The literary evidence from ancient Mesopotamia makes it very likely that Genesis 6-9 is Israel’s version of a common and much older ancient Near Eastern flood story. The similarities are clear…[15]
This expressly contradicts the impression Hays was trying to convey about Enns position!

Hays sidestepped the reasons given by Cyrus Gordon on why the Noah’s story is dependent on the Babylonian one. The quote he gave mentions nothing about dependence of the various stories – but merely asserts that these stories recall “a common event.” Again there is no attempt to show how such a possibility is stronger than the theory of dependence.

8. In his rebuttal of the obvious anachronism of the reference to “Ur of the Chaldees” that I pointed out in my article, Hays simply quoted the opinion of an evangelical scholar (Duane Garrett) taken from, presumably, a private e-mail correspondence between the two. The suggestion that the Ur referred to in Genesis 11:26-28 may refer to a location different from that accepted by most scholars is just that: a suggestion. This flies against the consensus held by most historians on the matter, a consensus based on firm archaeological findings.[16] Let me provide a quote from archaeologist and historian Eric Cline:
The biblical writers’ reference to Abraham’s father city of Ur of the Chaldees is, therefore clearly anachronistic. This point is accepted by virtually all scholars, without argument.[17] [Emphasis added]
Again note how Hays, and Garrett, are merely presenting another possibility without attempting to show how it is superior to the consensus opinion.

9. In his attempt to defend the anachronism of Genesis 26:1 where reference is made to a city (Gerar) which, as have been shown by modern archaeology, simply did not exist during the time of Abraham, Hays suggested that “scribes sometimes updated archaic terms.” There are a couple of objections to this. First, merely speculating that the anachronism could have been caused by a later scribe does not prove that it actually happened that way. Hays needs to provide evidence why he thinks this is the most likely explanation here. There is no textual evidence that I am aware of that supports his speculation. Second, such a suggestion surely opens a can of worms for a fundamentalist such as Hays. If scribes can “update archaic terms” why can’t he update the archaic stories as well? In other words –how is his suggestion different, in principle, from that of critical historical scholars who see the hands of multiple scribes in the writing of the Pentateuch?

In his attempt to rebut the anachronism of calling Abimalech “king of the Philistines”, Hays actually quoted an evangelical who still believes that Moses wrote the Pentateuch! No serious Biblical scholar today takes such a position. Let me quote this from an actual Biblical scholar, Richard E. Freidman,
At present…there is hardly a biblical scholar who would claim that the Five Books of Moses were written by Moses.[18]
Note also that Hay’s “rebuttal” amounts to nothing more than asserting an evidentially unsupported speculation. Hays quoted his evangelical “scholar” as saying that “perhaps there was an early wave of Aegean invaders…[that] Moses applies the generic name ‘Phlilistines’ to them.” Err…Perhaps not.

Let me quote Christopher Hitchens again - “That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

10. Next Hays turned to my comments about the anachronism of the references to camels in the patriarchal narratives. Outside fundamentalist/evangelical circles, the anachronism of the references to domesticated camels during the time of Abraham and Joseph is, more or less, a settled issue. As evidence of this state of affairs, let me provide three quotes, the first two are archaeologists who specialize in the archaeology of the Levant while the third is an Old Testament scholar.

The first quote about the domestication of camels is from, Lawrence Stager, Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel and Director of the Semitic Museum at Harvard University, who had excavated in Israel, Tunisia and Cyprus, in his article in the recent book Oxford History of the Biblical World (1998):
W.F. Albright’s assessment, based on contemporary texts and limited faunal remains, that dromedary camels became important to the caravan trade only towards the final centuries of the second millennium BCE, is still valid.[19]
The second is from another archaeologist, Wayne T. Pitard of the University of Illinois, has this to say about camels and their uses:
Scholars have also observed a number of anachronisms in the stories, another characteristic of oral literature…Camel caravans are mentioned in Genesis 26 and 37, but camels were probably not used before the beginning of the iron age (1200 BCE) when Israel was already emerging as a nation.[20]
The third, from John van Seters, Professor of Biblical Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:
Most scholars, even those who argue for an early date for the patriarchal traditions, regard the mention of camels as an anachronism.[21]
The Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein calls the evidence supporting of the late domestication of camels in the Near East “conclusive”. This is the evidence he presented:[22]
1. The Broken Obelisk of Tiglathpileser I (ca 1100) is believed by many to be the earliest reference to domesticated camels in ancient Near Eastern texts.

2. Their first clear depiction as pack animals is the mid-ninth century bronze reliefs from the gates of Balawat.

3. Finally there is the negative evidence: domesticated camels are not mentioned in second millennium archives.
The last point is not an ‘argument from silence.’ It is not as though we lack evidence from that time about what beast of burden was used during the middle bronze age (around 2000 to 1500 BCE - the purported time of Abraham’s existence). The point is that we know what kind of animals was used the beast of burden during that time - donkeys! In the Mari Tablets dated by archaeologists to around the mid-18th century BCE, mention is made of a caravan consisting of 3,000 donkeys! An Egyptian stela dated to around early second millennium BCE mentions the use of a thousand donkeys to transport semi-precious stones. There is also evidence from archeological records that donkeys were used in Asia Minor to transport goods to northern Mesopotamia.[23] It would indeed be amazing that everyone forgot to mention that they used camels as well! As we have seen from Finkelstein’s list above, it was only in the 11th century BCE that references to camels started to appear in cuneiform texts and reliefs. After the 11th century, references to camels become more and more frequent.[24]

It is interesting to note that the link Hays provide to bolster his case ( has this to say in the article “[M]ost archaeologists hold on to their view that dromedaries were not used in international trade caravans until the 12th century B.C.”

Are archaeologists so ignorant or stubborn that they refuse to accept the evidence presented before them? No, the real reason is simple: the evidence for widespread domestication of the camel prior to the 12th century BCE is simply non-existent!. We read of camel bones or hair being found; but such findings are much more easily explained (especially in conjunction with the lack of mention of camels being used in caravans) as being taken from hunted wild camels.

I leave the final word here to John Van Seters:
There is a great deal of debate over the question of the earliest domestication of the camel. Some evidence shows that a limited domestication was already practiced in Arabia in the third millennium B.C. But there is no evidence for any widespread domestication of camels, for camel nomads in the Near East in contact with the Fertile Crescent, or for camels used by sheep-breeding nomads in the second millennium B.C. The occasional representation of a camel on a monument or the finding of camel bones in an early archaeological context in no way changes this picture. Only with the first millennium B.C. was the camel fully domesticated as a riding and burden carrying animal…[25]
11. Next Hays discussed the issue of Abraham and circumcision. In my article, I pointed out that since circumcision was a widely practiced custom among the various cultures Abraham supposed came into contact with, such as the Egyptians and the Canaanites, it could not have been used as a ‘sign of the covenant.’ In other words, it is useless as a social or cultural “boundary marker.” Such markers are supposed to set the believers apart from those around them.

Hay’s comment was “That‘s rather silly. The same symbol can have a polysemous import depending on the cultural connotations which any given society or subculture assigns to it.”

Perhaps I can make the issue clearer with an hypothetical example. Imagine the founder of a new religion in Iran or Saudi Arabia - where almost everyone is Muslim, and practice circumcision – telling his followers, “To set you apart, God has commanded that you remove the foreskins from your penises.” This would have been met with utter lack of comprehension, since everyone around them was already circumcised!

His example of the swastika, presumably in its use by the Nazi’s, missed this point completely. The Nazi used the swastika precisely because it was a symbol which sets it apart from everyone else – the symbol had “Aryan roots” and it was used by the German nationalists during the 19th century. A perfect symbol to identify them (i.e. set them apart from everyone else) in their socio-politico-cultural milieu!

12. Hays then noted that my identification of Sargon as the precursor to the infancy narrative of Moses “conveniently ignores the major differences.” Since Jason Engwer has a similar kind of critique to my section on the virgin birth, I will deal with this criticism in a little more detail in my section responding to the latter. Here I will merely note one important point.

This important point cannot be stated any more clearly: we would expect differences between the derived and original versions. Whoever was telling the derived story was using the old motif to construct a new story. Using differences to deny derivation of one tale from another is as sally as saying that because the names of the protagonists are different (Sargon vs. Moses) then there can be no dependence.

The point is whether the similarities can be explained with more probable explanations than that of dependence. I gave these similarities in my book The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager, and reproduce them here:

This legend was found on Neo-Babylonian cuneiform tablets dated to the 1st millennium BCE. This is how the tablets sound like, in English:
Sargon, mighty King of Akkad, am I. My mother was of mixed blood; I never knew my father...My city is Azupiranu, on the banks of the Euphrates. My mother conceived and she secretly bore me. She put me into a basket of rushes, and sealed its lid with tar. She cast me into the river which did not drown me. The river swept me to Akiki, the drawer of water. Akiki, the drawer of water scooped me up in his pitcher. Akiki, the drawer of water raised me as his son.[26]
Here, like the stories of the flood, creation and paradise, the parallels between this and story of Moses told in Exodus 2:2-10 are amazing:

· The mother had a baby in secret. (Exodus 2:2)

· Due to dire circumstances, the baby had to be cast away. (Exodus 2:3a)

· This was done by making a basket out of bulrushes and sealing it with tar. (Exodus 2:3b)

· The baby was put into the basket and left adrift on the river.(Exodus 2:3c)

· The baby was discovered by the person who became his foster parent. (Exodus 2:5-6)

Hays one attempt to explain this similarity– by giving the example of medieval Italian mothers leaving their babies in the river Tiber - by suggesting that it is commonplace, is unconvincing. The unwanted babies of medieval Rome were thrown into the Tiber to kill them, they were not placed in baskets and set adrift.[27]

13. Hays takes issue with the fact that the Bible gives three different persons as Moses’ father-in-law - Reuel (Exodus 2:18), Jethro (Exodus 3:1) and Hobab (Numbers 10:29; Judges 4:11). He conveniently forgot to mention that this is not my own critique, but something that has been pointed out by many scholars. In the book I gave citations from two such scholars: Niels Peter Lemche, Professor of Old Testament in the University of Copenhagen and William H. Steibing, Professor of History at the University of New Orleans.[28] Here I will provide another quote, this time from James L. Kugel, who was Professor of Hebrew at Harvard from 1982 to 2003:
Moses’ father-in-law is known principally by the name Jethro (Exod. 3:1, 4:18, etc), but he is also called Reuel (Exod. 2:18; Num 10:29), Jether (Exod. 4:18) and Hobab (Judg. 4:11; in Num. 10:29 Hobab is said to be Jethro’s son.) Here too it would seem that different traditions are simply being combined.[29]
Hays suggestion – which he referenced from yet another evangelical author – that the same word is used for father-in-law or son-in-law - is simply incorrect. Anyone with a good lexicon of Biblical Hebrew[30] can check for themselves that the words are pointed differently. Although these words share the same consonant Het-Tav-Nun (Ch-T-N) the vowels use for the word for ‘father-in-law” are different from the word denoting son-in-law or bridegroom. In its most basic form, father-in-law is pointed with a holem (with an “o” sound) above the Het and a sere (with an “e” sound) below the Tav and can be written as choten. The word for son-in-law is pointed with qames (an “a” sound) below both the Het and Tav giving the word chatan.

14. Here Hays takes me to task for noting Moses’ name was originally Egyptian not Hebrew. He asks rhetorically “how does that cast doubt on the historicity of the account, exactly? Since Moses was adopted by the Egyptian princess, why wouldn‘t his adoptive name be Egyptian rather than Hebrew?“

Not only has he ignored the references from mainstream scholarship that I provided, he has forgotten (or have not read) Exodus 2:10 which erroneously states that the name Moses is derived from the Hebrew word masah which means “to pull out” from water. As Niels Lemche noted:
Obviously this represents “folk etymology” taken from the narrative structure but without any linguistic support. In Egyptian, the name occurs in compounds[31] referring to certain pharaohs, including Kamose, Tuthmosis and Ramesses (Ramose).[32]
15. Hays lack of comprehension of my article continues with his asking how my statement about the uncertainty that plagues attempts to date the Exodus “refute[s] the historicity of the Exodus exactly?”

It seems that he had ignored the whole paragraph in which my statement was but an introduction. The answer to Hays question is simple: there is simply no time in the period where the Exodus may have happened. If we date it according to the biblical chronology – around the mid 15th century BCE – then we have a problem because Exodus 1:8-11 says that the Israelites were forced to build the cities of Pithom and Ramses. But the first Egyptian Pharoah with the name Ramses appeared only in 1320 BCE. There is evidence that a city called Pi-Ramses was built – by Rameses II who ruled Egypt from 1279-1213 BCE.

Throughout the period of the New Kingdom (c1569-1076 BCE), Egyptian armies have been known to march through Canaan as far north as the Euphrates in Syria. From the 15th to the 11th century BCE, Canaan was a province of Egypt!

It is important here to pause and let this evidence sink in and see how it relates to the story of the Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan (see below). If Canaan was under complete control of the Egyptians throughout this period, then the Israelites could not have escaped from Egyptian rule. They would be merely leaving one region and entering another – all under the administrative control of the empire of Ramses II![33]

16. & 17. Here Hays accuses me of not interacting with “standard scholarship” on the issue of the historicity of the Exodus and the Conquest. Yet all the references he sites (notes 47 & 48), with one exception, are from evangelical publishers! How is this “standard scholarship”??

Let me give the reader references to the true state of “standard scholarship”. Let’s start with history:

· Thomas W. Davis, Shifting Sands: The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology Oxford 2004

· P.R.S.Moorey, A Century of Biblical Archaeology, Westminsters/John Knox 1991

The above two books, both written by professional archaeologists, recount the history of “biblical archaeology” and how the whole paradigm collapse in the 1960’s and 1970’s when scholars and archaeologists showed how the old way of doing things were circular – the Bible was used to inform excavations and the excavations then “prove” the historicity of the Bible.

The paradigm shift led to the rejection of the Patriarchal Narratives, the Exodus and Conquest of Canaan as history. Scholars are now even beginning to question the historicity of much of the details about David and Solomon found in the Bible. The first two books below (Marcus and Sturgis) are written by journalists and make the easiest introductory reading for those interested in the current state of affairs in the field of archaeology in the Levant. The rest of the books are written by professional archaeologists and historians.

· Amy Dockser Marcus, The View from Nebo: How Archaeology is Rewriting the Bible and Reshaping the Middle East, LBC 2000

· Matthew Sturgis, It Ain’t Necessarily So Investigating the Truth of the Biblical Past Headline 2001

· Eric Cline, From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible, National Geographic 2007

· William G. Dever, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?, Eerdmans 2003

· William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know & When Did They Know It?, Eerdmans 2001

· Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, Free Press 2001

· John C.H. Laughlin, Archaeology and the Bible, Routledge 2000

· Niels Peter Lemche, Prelude to Israel’s Past: Background and Beginnings of Israelite History and Identity, Hendrickson 1998a

· Niels Peter Lemche, The Israelites in History and Tradition, Westminster John Knox 1998b

· Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, Free Press 2006

· John Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition, Yale University Press 1975

· William H. Steibing Jr., Out of the Desert? Archaeology and the Exodus/Conquest Narratives, Prometheus Books 1989

· Thomas L. Thompson, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel, Random House 1999

· Thomas L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical Abraham, Trinity Press 2002

Of course, as in any field of science, there are disagreements among these scholars[34] as to the details but in general these are all in agreement in the following:
i. The Patriarchal Narratives, the story of Abraham up to the settlement in Egypt by Joseph, is mythological, and Abraham probably never existed. [Cline (2007) pp. 56-58, Dever (2001) p. 98, Finkelstein & Silberman (2001) pp. 27-47, Laughlin (2000) pp. 55-76 esp. p.75, Lemche (1998a) pp. 26-40,Van Seters (1975), Thomas L. Thompson (2002)]

ii. There is no evidence to support the historicity of the Exodus and the details given in the second book of the Pentateuch are largely mythical. [Cline (2007) pp. 61-92, Dever (2003) pp. 7-21, Finkelstein & Silberman (2001) pp. 48-71, Laughlin (2000) pp. 90-92, Lemche (1998a) pp. 44-61 esp. p.57]

iii. The narratives of the Conquest of Canaan, told mainly in the book of Joshua, is fictional. [Cline (2007) pp.93-120, Dever (2003) pp. 37-74 esp. pp.71-72, Finkelstein & Silberman (2001) pp.72-96, Laughlin (2000) pp. 113-118, Thompson (1999) p. 37]
It is also important to note that one cannot simply ignore this consensus by labeling all these scholars “minimalists.” William Dever, for instance, is at loggerheads on many points with Thomas L. Thompson, Israel Finkelstein and Niels P. Lemche – calling them “revisionists.” Yet, as we can see – Dever is in agreement with them on the three points above.

The one non-evangelical work Hays cites is Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt published by Oxford University Press. Archaeologists do not consider the case Hoffmeier is making to be particularly strong. This is what William Dever has to say on Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt:
Hoffmeier only makes a case that the Exodus (or “an exodus”) could have happened, according to the Egyptian evidence, not that it did.[35] [emphases in original]
18. On the issue of the united monarchy under David and Solomon, Hays makes reference to more main line scholarship. I have no problems that scholarship is more divided on this issue that on the other three issues discussed earlier (the patriarchal narratives, the exodus and the conquest) and the jury is still out as to just how much of the accounts of David and Solomon in the books of Samuel and Kings are historical. However, the days are gone when scholars could simply assert that the story of David and Solomon told in the Bible is largely historical. I would like to refer the reader to a few non-evangelical works on this:

· John C.H. Laughlin, Archaeology and the Bible, Routledge 2000

The archaeology of the period of the united monarchy was covered in pages 122-129.

· Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, Free Press 2001

· Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition, Free Press 2006

The issue of the united monarchy is covered in chapter 5 of Finkelstein’s and Silberman’s The Bible Unearthed. Their 2006 collaboration expanded on these findings.

Finally, I’d like to refer the reader to an excellent chapter (“History and Archaeology: Field Full of Holes”) on biblical archaeology in Hector Avalos’s The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus Books, 2007) where he treats the current state of research on David and Solomon.

19. Hays says my statement on the extent of David’s kingdom to be “deceptive” – yet it seem to me that he has been rather disingenuous in his accusation. I never compared the Davidic or Solomonic empire to Rome – merely to what is claimed for it in the biblical narratives.

His ”defense” is based mainly on explaining away the absence of evidence (i.e. destruction and/or rebuilding by the Babylonians, Persians, Romans and Muslims and lack of access to possible archaeological sites). In other words, it is an implicit admission that he has little evidence to support the claims made about the united monarchy in the Bible.

20. I make the comparison between the talking animals told in Genesis 2 and Numbers 22 and contemporaneous myths and fairy tales of conversing beasts in the section on myths, legends and fairy tales in the Bible. Hays defense seems to be that he accepts talking animals as real and that my equating them with fairy tales and myths is due to my “dogmatic rejection of the supernatural”. Unfortunately this commonly made accusation against any reasonable person who demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claim is misplaced. I have written in detail the historical method and how it relates to the treatment of miracles in my book, The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager.[36] Anyone who has read that will know that I do not reject reports of the supernatural out of hand.

Continued in Part 2 here.


[1] See page 79, para9 section 2 (79:9:ii) of the Infidel Delusion (henceforth ID)

[2] ID p. 69:6:i

[3] I made the reference to the problem with the presuppositions of evangelicals in the first section of my article in The Christian Delusion.

[4] These discrepancies are given in The Christian Delusion p.149 and in more detail in my book The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager pp. 56-59.

[5] J. Alberto Soggins, Introduction to the Old Testament (Third Edition) Westminster/JohnKnox 1989 p.94,

[6] G.W. Anderson, A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament, Duckworth 1979 p.23

Donald H. Akenson Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds, University of Chicago Press 1998 p.53

James L. Kugel, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now, Free Press p.52

[7] Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? pp. 52-59

[8] Soggin, Introduction to the OT p.94

[9] Kugel, How To Read theBible pp. 77-79

[10] Christian Delusion, p. 150

[11] Christian Delusion, pp.150-151

[12] Richard Pervo, The Making of Paul: Construction of the Apostle in Early Christianity, Fortress Press 2010, p.124

[13] James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament, Trinity Press International 1990, p.251

[14] That some scholars think that the target of James’ critique are “hyper Pauline” disciples does not detract from the point that what is being attacked by the epistle of James is what is being presented in the Pauline epistles in the New Testament. Here’s a few more critical historical scholars who think the epistles of James and Paul are in opposition to one another:

John Painter, Just James: The Brother of James in History and Tradition, Fortress Press 199 pp.265-269

Gerd L├╝demann, Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity, p.145

Udo Schnelle, The History and Theology of the New Testament Writings, Fortress Press 1998 p.395


[16] Eric Cline, From Eden to Exile: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Bible, National Geographic 2007,pp.56-57

Niels Peter Lemche, Prelude to Israel’s Past: Background and Beginnings of Israelite History and Identity,Hendrickson 1998, pp. 39, 62

[17] Cline, From Eden to Exile, p.57

[18] Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible: p. 28

[19] Michael D. Coogan (ed), Oxford History of the Biblical World, Oxford University Press: p109

[20] Coogan (ed), Oxford History of the Biblical World : p28

[21] John Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition, Yale University Press 1975

[22] Israel Finkelstein, “Arabian Trade and Socio-Political Conditions in the Negev in the Twelfth-Eleventh Centuries B.C.E.”, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume 47, October 1988, No.4 pp.241-252

[23] William F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, Doubleday Anchor, 1969 p. 70-73

[24] Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: p37

Werner Keller, The Bible As History, Hodder & Stoughton 1956: p168

[25] Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition, p.17

[26] Eunice Riedel, The Book of the Bible, Bantam Books 1981 p27-28


Nick Frost (ed), Child Welfare: Historical Perspectives, Routledge 2005 p.48

[28] Lemche, Prelude to Israel’s Past, p. 50, n49;

William H. Stiebing, Out of the Desert: Archaeology and the Exodus/Conquest Narratives, Prometheus 1989p. 20

[29] Kugel, How to Read the Bible: p. 159

[30] I used Brown, Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon and Holladay’s A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament.

[31] Moses comes from the Egyptian word which means “begotten” or ”child of.” [Stiebing, Out of the Desert p.198]

[32] Lemche, Prelude to Israel’s Past, p. 52, n50

[33] Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: p60-61

Amy Dockser Marcus, The View from Nebo: How Archaeology is Rewriting the Bible and Reshaping the Middle East,Little, Brown and Company 2000, p76

Matthew Sturgis, It Ain’t Necessarily So Investigating the Truth of the Biblical Past Headline 2001: p69-70

[34] Dever, for instance, is at loggerheads on many points with Thompson and Lemche. Thompson and Lemche do not always see eye to eye with Finkelstein.

[35] William G. Dever, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From?, Eerdmans 2003 p.49

[36] Paul Tobin, The Rejection of Pascal’s Wager: A Skeptics Guide to the Bible and the Historical Jesus, Authors online 2009 pp.207-217, 376-383


Dr. Hector Avalos said...

"Hays suggestion – which he referenced from yet another evangelical author – that the same word is used for father-in-law or son-in-law - is simply incorrect."

Tobin is correct, and he speaks to the fact of how often Triabloggers don't have enough expertise in biblical languages to form sound exegetical and historical conclusions.

Variations in vowels can yield different semantic results for the same Hebrew root. That is just basic.

Anonymous said...

This is great. I plan to get your book and also Dr. Avalos's book.

I appreciate all the references listed. I think I'm like many people who hear "most scholars say"-and we have no way of knowing if that's true or not.

Very educational. Thank you.

Papalinton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Papalinton said...

John , John Tobin, Dr Hector
The threads on DC over the past recent weeks have been illuminating and very much appreciated, especially since the advent of TCD. There is no place left for those [such as the Triablogue crowd] apologists to hide in the grey closeted recesses of unfounded belief. The beacon of reasoned, freethinking and critical examination, be it from science, neurobiology, sociology etc is exposing the unsubstantiated premise on what much of religiosity relies.

Their central tenets do not advance one jot the notion of the existence of a god, as an uncaused cause. Theological [and even perhaps philosophical] arguments are that, arguments, not proof. The verity of christian certainty is still only underpinned by the Nicene Creed, an oath wrung without basis in fact or evidence, a theological necessity to provide some element of substance and uniformity between believers.

It has been an enjoyable read

GearHedEd said...

Here's one for the "moses wrote the Torah" crowd:

"Biblical dating commences with Creation or the creation of Adam, depending on the source. In Seder Olam, Adam's creation is considered year 0, and his death 930 years later is considered year 930. The Jewish calendar currently in use calls the 5 days prior to Adam's creation year 1, and has Adam created on the first day of year 2. The period to the Flood is derived using the genealogical table of the ten patriarchs listed in Genesis 5, and 7:6, called the generations of Adam. According to the Masoretic Text, this period consists of 1656 years, and this dating is also followed by Western Christian Bibles derived from the Latin Vulgate. J. Ussher agrees with the dating until the birth of Abraham, which he argues took place when Terah was 130, and not 70 as is direct reading of Genesis 11:26, thus adding 60 years to his chronology until the Egyptian experience.[2] However, according to the Samaritan texts the period is 1307 years, and according to the Septuagint it is 2242 years.[3] There are no non-biblical sources which can assist in the dating."

"Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:40) 2666 AM (Anno Mundi)"

I like this:

"As Christopher Hitchens so succinctly puts it- “That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”"

Kingasaurus said...

Just to delve into one point-

Let me get this straight: Egypt was supposedly in a terrible situation where it was cowed and laid waste by plague after plague, then were shamed and embarrassed by vomiting approximately two million of their slaves into the desert (loaded with pilfered spoils and riches), then had one of their armies wiped out trying to return these slaves to captivity, right?

So, we're supposed to believ that not a SINGLE one of Egypt's rivals or neighbors, who might have either been happy to see them defeated in such a manner, or alarmed that such things might happen to them next, bothered to even mention this unprecedented series of events? Not a peep at all about it?

Claiming the shamed Egyptians wiped out all records ever made of the Hebrews in their lands (which fundamentalists sometimes do) to explain the lack of Exodus evidence, is a ridiculous and nearly impossible thing to accomplish anyway, but to also not see as significant the fact that nobody outside Egypt even mentions such a thing happening at all, is truly beyond the pale.

The most obvious explanation is that the darned thing is legendary and never happened, or it was an exaggeration of a much smaller event very different in character and details from what was eventually recorded in Exodus. The evidence is THAT weak.

Faith seems to make some people incredibly unparsimonious.

ptet said...

Thank you for this marvellous post!

As to this line...

"Evangelicals seems to have difficulty understanding the difference between the concepts of possibility and probability- just because an hypothesis is possible does not mean it is the most probable explanation for something."

...You have hit the nail on the head. This seems to be the basis of all christian apologetics - if it could have happened as jesus/god/the bible/their pastor says, it did.

See also any defence of Christianity by William Lane Craig. Is it possible, given a free and fair choice, that billions of people would rather burn in hell eternally with no chance of reprieve than go to the christian heaven? Sure, Craig can conceive of that. Bingo! Problem solved... Praise jeebus!

Anyway. Again - thanks!

eheffa said...

Thanks to Paul Tobin for such a polite, well-reasoned & devastating rebuttal to the contortions of the Triablogger apologists.

In the end, the Evangelical response to these serious deficiencies in the Biblical account amounts to little more than the adult equivalent of slamming ones hands over the ears & shouting "La-La-La-La...." as loudly & long as necessary; until the offending critic gives up & moves away.

The truth is no respecter of these futile defenses.


Arizona Atheist said...

I have to agree. The alleged "rebuttal" was anything but. I read through a quarter of it and I did not see a single logical, factual answer to anything in The Christian Delusion. Some of their counter-arguments were downright ridiculous! After reading that, I must say that I haven’t a shred of respect for the amateurs at Triablogue.