Christian “Truth” in Shreds: Epic Takedown 4

“…helping humanity wean itself off of the Bible…”

“Bibliolatry is the worship of a book, idolatrous homage to a book, or the deifying of a book. It is a form of idolatry. The sacred texts of some religions disallow icon worship, but over time the texts themselves are treated as sacred the way idols are, and believers may end up effectively worshipping the book.” So says Wikipedia, and adds that, “Historically, Christianity has never endorsed worship of the Bible, reserving worship for God.” I suspect this is just flat-out wrong.



The Bible is commonly found on the altar in churches—as an object of respect, veneration, but not worship? Maybe. Traditionally, the Bible has been used in U.S. courtrooms: place your hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth. Presidents have done this as well, as a guarantor that their presidential oath will be observed. How does the fanaticism of the Gideons—in giving away more than two billion Bibles—fail to qualify as a form of worship? The fervent affirmation that this book is the Word of God invites worship.



Moreover, this concept has driven an unrelenting focus in academia that has gone largely unnoticed by the folks in the pews. For the last couple of centuries especially, the Bible has been studied intensively by devout scholars because God’s wisdom for the world is supposedly found within its 1,000-plus pages. At thousands of seminaries around the world the Bible, countless scholars have studied every verse and syllable of the text, determined to wring from it every last smidgen of divine meaning.  


But is this any longer necessary? Is there much point in encouraging yet another generation of scholars to write yet more books and doctoral dissertations about these ancient texts? All this erudite output, by the way, is read mainly by academics and theologians who get off on endless fine-tuning. Even most priests and preachers don’t bother to keep up, and it’s off the radar screen of most of the laity. What’s the point? The late Hector Avalos, in his 2007 book, The End of Biblical Studies, stated the reasons why enough is enough. This book is an Epic Takedown. I want to highlight a few of his important points, and then focus on one chapter especially. 


In the Introduction, Avalos mentions the Society of Biblical Literature. 


“Today, the Society of Biblical Literature is larger and more pluralistic in representation. One will find Jews represented, whereas there were none at the first meeting of the SBL. Secular humanists, such as myself, have participated in reading many papers. Although very heavily dominated by men, the SBL has more women than even twenty years ago. The SBL is no longer centered in the northeast, and its members come to its massive annual meetings, usually in the United States, from countries all over the globe.


“But important features have remained constant. The main bond is bibliolatry, which entails the conviction that the Bible is valuable and should remain the subject of academic study. Equally important, the Society of Biblical Literature, while now relatively more free of denominationalist agendas, is still religionist in orientation” (pp. 15-16, Avalos’ emphasis).


Bibliolatry. Religionist. We’re back to the word-of-God-fascination. So this is a field driven by heavy faith bias, and it is a bureaucracy that, ironically, has proven its own irrelevance, as Avalos notes:


“Modern biblical scholarship has demonstrated that the Bible is the product of cultures whose values and beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of our world are no longer held to be relevant, even by most Christians and Jews. 


“Paradoxically, despite the recognition of such irrelevance, the profession of academic biblical studies still centers on maintaining the illusion of relevance by: (A) A variety of scholarly disciplines whose methods and conclusions are often philosophically flawed (e.g., translation, textual criticism, archaeology, history, and biblical theology. (B) An infrastructure that supports biblical studies (e.g., universities, a media-publishing complex, churches, and professional organizations)” (page 16). 


When we dismiss the word-of-God faith bias—or more correctly, superstition—again, what’s the point of this obsession with an ancient text, especially one with so many flaws? The Bible just isn’t worth it, and Avalos nails it:


“The Dead Sea Scrolls and the enormous archaeological treasures found in the ancient Near East in the last one hundred fifty years or so have set the Bible more firmly in its original context. However, it is those very discoveries that show that the Bible is irrelevant, insofar as it is part of a world radically dissimilar to ours in its conception of the cosmos, the supernatural, and the human sense of morality” (pp. 16-17). 


He quotes scholar John Bright’s candid evaluation of rules in Leviticus 25 about sabbatical and jubilee years: “…the regulations described therein are obviously so little applicable to the modern situation that a preacher might be pardoned if he told himself that the passage contains no relevant message for his people whatever” (p. 20 & Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament, 1967, p.152). 


Hence Avalos’ conclusion: “In fact, if we were to go verse by verse, I suspect that 99 percent of the Bible would not even be missed, as it reflects many practices, injunctions, and ideas not much more applicable that Leviticus 25” (p. 20). A lot of laypeople who bother to read the Bible—especially the whole thing—would probably agree…but don’t say it out loud! Nonetheless, those countless scholars at thousands of seminaries won’t abandon study of Bible minutia. That’s what bureaucracies do, as Avalos points out: “Biblical scholars, for example, are almost solely devoted to maintaining the cultural significance of the Bible, not because any knowledge it provides is relevant to our world, but because of the self-serving drive to protect the power position of the biblical studies profession” (p. 23). 


I continue to study and write about the Bible to help realize Avalos’ hope:


“Biblical studies as we know it should end. We should now treat the Bible as the alien document it is, with no more importance that the other works of literature we ignore every day. Biblical studies should be geared toward helping humanity wean itself off of the Bible and toward terminating its authority completely in the modern world…One day, the Bible might even be viewed as one of the curiosities of a tragic bibliolatrous age, when dependence on a text brought untold misery and stood as an obstacle to human progress. We might even study the Bible as a lesson in why human beings should never again privilege any book to this extent” (emphasis added, p. 29).


One of the crucial chapters in this Avalos book is Number 4: The Unhistorical Jesus. His intent here is not to argue for Jesus mythicism, but to demonstrate the feeble natural of the evidence for Jesus. He carefully analyses the arguments of super apologist William Lane Craig in defense of the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, Craig has an impossible task because of the very nature of the gospel accounts, and he stumbles in his comments about that infamous text, Matthew 27:50-54, in which the gospel writer reported that lots of dead people emerged from their tombs on Easter morning to walk around Jerusalem. 


“One would think,” Avalos points out, “that this account would be regarded as historical by Craig because he generally deems the Bible to be historically reliable” (p. 194). Weirdly enough Craig agrees with scholar Robert J. Miller who, Craig points out, “argued that the passage should not be taken literally precisely because of the apocalyptic language coloring the story.” (p. 195)  


Avalos has no patience: “Matthew 27:52-53 exposes Craig’s inconsistent definition of a ‘fact.’ Aside from not defining clearly why that passage is ‘apocalyptic’ in genre, Craig leaves unexplained why he does not regard claims reported in an apocalyptic genre as ‘facts.’ Nor does Craig explain why all of Matthew or Mark cannot be seen as apocalyptic, thereby also rendering the story of Christ’s resurrection no more a ‘fact’ that what is found in Matthew 27:52-53. A more likely reason that Craig does not regard that story as a ‘fact’ is simply that scores of resurrected people walking all over Jerusalem should have left some notice in non-Christian records. Craig is dolorously aware that there are no such records” (p.195).


Christian apologists specialize in sleight of hand: they calmly maintain that if there is a powerful God monitoring humanity, then miracles cannot be ruled out…unless, of course, the miracles are claimed by other religions, even other brands of Christianity. Then it’s not God at all, but human imagination, delusion. Avalos argues that appearances of Mary “…form the closest parallel to the Jesus apparition stories. The mother of Jesus, Mary, is dead. Yet she reportedly has appeared alive for at least a thousand years. One of the most recent and dramatic series of apparitions occurred at Medjugorje in old Yugoslavia.


“The first reported apparitions at Medjugorje began on June 24, 1981, when some Croatian-speaking children claimed that the Virgin Mary had appeared to them on a hill…the children emphatically affirm that they saw Mary as a fully physical and real person” (p. 190-191). The local bishop wasn’t taken in: “In my opinion Medjugorje is the greatest deceit and swindle in the history of the church.” Go figure. Avalos points out that the bishop’s statement “would be the equivalent to the skepticism expressed by Jewish priests in the case of Jesus” (p. 191). But nobody listened to the bishop: “…the number of pilgrims who have gone to Medjugorje by 1988 was placed by some at over fifteen million, which far surpasses the rate of growth of the Jesus apparition stories” (p. 191). 


So are Protestant apologists ready to accept this miracle—yes, once-dead Mary showing up is as real as once-dead Jesus showing up—and embrace Catholicism? Or merge with it? Are they even torn between the two Christian brands because God can do any miracles he wants, right? 


Avalos also addresses the attempt of the Jesus Seminar, which was launched in 1985, to identify authentic words of Jesus. Eventually about two hundred scholars were involved. “The seminar members met to discuss the Gospels verse by verse (or saying by saying) and they developed a color-coded voting system, which one member described as follows: red = That’s Jesus; pink = sure sounds like Jesus; gray = well, maybe; black = There’s been some mistake” (p. 199). But how in the world does anyone make those decisions? It seems like an elaborate adventure in wishful thinking. 


“…the entire exercise is premised on having a very clear psychological and personality profile of Jesus. But how do we know what Jesus might have been thinking in the first place except through the texts that the Jesus Seminar has predetermined to derive from Jesus? After all, one reason given is that it is ‘inconceivable’ that the primitive church would have made these sayings up. But we have no information on what the early Church members, who might have penned these words, could conceive or not. So what data is being used to judge the ‘conceivability’ of any idea for these church members?” (p. 202). 


“…the members of the Jesus Seminar are no different from fundamentalists who pick and choose proof texts to bolster their image of Jesus. All they have done is create a Jesus in their own image…” (p. 203). Avalos incudes the famous quote of John Dominic Crossan: “It is impossible to avoid the suspicion that historical Jesus research is a very safe place to do theology and call it history, to do autobiography and call it biography” (p. 198; Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, 1992, p. xxviii).  


The holy hero at the heart of the Christian faith is beyond our reach. Hector Avalos concludes his epic takedown: “Intellectual honesty should compel at least the liberal scholars to announce aggressively to the world that Jesus cannot be found, and that any notion of following actual words and deeds of Jesus is vacuous. Scholars should be helping end human dependence on the words and deeds of a man who cannot be shown to be any more special, wise, or ethical than many other people we can name” (p. 212).


Christian “Truth” in Shrews: Epic Takedown One is here. Two is here. Three is here. 



David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). He has written for the Debunking Christian Blog since 2016.


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