To those that know me, it is common knowledge that I do not reject the possibility of their being a god. However, I do reject the Judeo-Christian God. I reject God based on the Bible, which may seem odd because the Bible is most Christian’s evidence for God. The main reason I reject the Bible is because I understand the context of it. This write-up will explain my views and reasoning on this topic. I will add that all of the professors, that I know of, that helped me understand this topic, are religious. Knowing the actual facts and contexts of things does not have to destroy faith unless the person chooses.
There is one thing that we must do to start. We must assume that there is nothing significant about the Bible. We must assume that it is not any different than any other historical document. We must do this because this is how historians and scientists do work. It is called inductive reasoning. We look at the evidence and then draw a conclusion based on the evidence, rather than assuming a conclusion and looking for evidence to support it. No one should have a problem with this, because if the Bible is what Christians and Jews believe it to be, the Bible should have no problem validating itself through this method.
Because we will be looking at the Bible in a historical aspect, I should explain what that means. To save time, here is a link about thinking historically.
This will give you a brief introduction to what exactly historians do.
The most important part, in my opinion, is context. I wrote a short blog explaining why context is so critical. Please read it before continuing on, for it is the most important point.
This demonstrates why it is crucial to understand the context of the Bible. Without the context, they are simply words open to interpretation. Now the question is where do we start?
I think the most obvious place to start is with the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible (HB) because if the God of the HB is not valid, in whatever sense, whatever follows is irrelevant, since Jesus is the son of this Hebrew God. To understand the context of the HB, we must be familiar with the history it came out of.
One should familiarize themselves with the history of the Ancient Near East, specifically what we now call the Middle East and Egypt. Getting a grasp of thousands of years of history is not easy and there is a lot of dry material. I will recommend a few books depending on your interests…
My personal favorite is The Oxford History of the Biblical World edited by Michael Coogan. This is not an easy read and is over 400 pages, much of it being very dry, but it is a great guide to the history we are looking at.
A shorter read is A History of the Ancient Near East by Van De Mieroop.
One should also be familiar with Egyptian history of the same period due to their influence and interactions in the Middle East. Our long, detailed, dry, book is The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt by Ian Shaw. However I am sure there are dozens of good books on Egypt that are an easier read.
More specifically to this topic, I would suggest How to Read the Bible by Marc Z. Brettler for the serious reader.
To everyone, I would suggest A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible by John J. Collins. This is a book that anyone could read in a day or 2.
If you would prefer to watch something, there is a great bit on NOVA.
But to the point…I will briefly hit on the major points since I doubt most people reading this have the time or energy to read the books on their own…
Other cultures/people’s and their writings/beliefs.
The origin of the ancient Israelites and Judahites.
Major events and politics of the time.
The “Hebrew” people themselves.
To make this short, when comparing the texts of the Torah (first 5 books of the HB) to other texts of that area, they are a disappointment. Nothing in the Torah is new or original and is dependent on older stories. The Epic of Gilgamesh has a clearer version of the Flood Story, nearly word for word, yet the Epic of Gilgamesh was written nearly 1000 years earlier. Other texts such as Hammurabi’s Law Codes are found word for word in the Torah, and predate it. There is also a striking resemblance between the Torah and the Assyrian Vassal Treaties. The examples are so numerous, that I will leave it at that for the purpose of this blog. Like I said, nothing is the Torah is new or original.
If you think I am exaggerating, look at these 2 portions of the texts…
7 and he sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth.
8 Then he sent out a dove from him, to see if the water was abated from the face of the land;
9 but the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him into the ark, for the water was on the surface of all the earth. Then he put out his hand and took her, and brought her into the ark to himself.
10 So he waited yet another seven days; and again he sent out the dove from the ark.
11 The dove came to him toward evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the water was abated from the earth.
12 Then he waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; but she did not return to him again.
Gilgamesh (Full text here http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/tab11.htm)
When a seventh day arrived
I sent forth a dove and released it.
The dove went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a swallow and released it.
The swallow went off, but came back to me;
no perch was visible so it circled back to me.
I sent forth a raven and released it.
The raven went off, and saw the waters slither back.
It eats, it scratches, it bobs, but does not circle back to me.
What are the chances that two different peoples, writing over 1,000 years apart, both have a Raven and a dove? Gilgamesh is actually a clearer story and does not have the contradictions that Genesis does. The contradictions bring up another issue, which I will not go into much detail about, but will briefly mention. The Genesis story is actually 2 stories, by 2 different authors, that were blended together. We know that the Torah had 4 different authors, which had different political affiliations and ways of writing things. We know this by examining the text. There is an interactive program that shows this more perfectly than I could ever explain.
This shows that the Flood story is two separate stories that were combined. We see this in many stories, including the creation story. The creation story for example says God created man and woman at the same time, but it also says God created man and then woman from Adam’s rib. Over the years people have speculated that this meant Adam had two wives. This is where the Lilith myth comes into play. However, the idea of Lilith is unfounded. Like the flood story, the differences are simply because there were multiple sources and multiple authors.
So the Torah was compiled by different authors and is made up of a number of different texts. I know some of you may be thinking that these other texts may be copies of the Bible and that the Bible is the original. Besides the fact we can already see the version of the Bible we have is not the primary text, it is still plausible that there is an older version, a perfect version, which the stories were taken from. However, this is only wishful thinking. We have methods that are used to date things but if you are one of those that believe they are made up, I will explain another issue…The origin of the ancient Israelites and Judahites.
If one is going to argue that the Bible is the primary source, we should investigate when the people actually came into existence. To do this, we need to look at the records of other people to see if they are mentioned. The very first instance in which “Israel” is mentioned, outside of the Bible, is the Merneptah Stele. This Stele is Egyptian and can be very specifically dated to right around 1,200 BCE. When compared with the HB and archeological evidence, we get a clear picture. 1,200 BCE was right around the time we would expect Israel would to start drawing attention. The height of Israel’s power in the region, is around 1,000 BCE, the time of David and Solomon. This is also the point at which the HB starts to match up with, on many but not all, accounts outside of the HB. The HB can now be used as a historical text and used as evidence to evaluate other historical claims.
We know the ancient Israelites were in existence by 1,200 BCE but how long did they exist before that? Well luckily we have a record of peoples living in that area dating back thousands of years. We know when the Canaanites lived in that area and when other peoples invaded them. The conclusion on the date is shortly before our 1,200 BCE date. The big question is HOW they got there. There are four debated theories in the scholarly world. One of these theories is the Out of Egypt theory, or the Exodus story. This is actually the least plausible of the four. There is not a shred of evidence, outside of the Bible, that matches up with the Exodus account. There is no account of these types of people ever being in Egypt, let alone an event such as the Exodus. The Egyptians kept amazing records, even of losses. They kept records of border crossings and still, nothing. They simply did not come from Egypt. So where did they come from? I find a combination of the other three to be the most likely result. The main point in the other 3 are quite simple…they are Canaanites.
They were most likely outcasts, living in the hills, banning together and raiding cities in the area. When we take this idea and look for evidence of it in the HB, we find a figure that seems to match what we are looking for…David. Oddly enough this is right around the point in the HB when history starts matching up. Also when we look at early Israelite settlements, we find the remains of the Canaanite culture. We find idols such as Yahweh and his wife Asherah. But we also find evidence of a new culture, the Israelite culture, trying to establish a new identity, trying to distance itself from the Canaanite culture. This would be the time the HB started being compiled and/or written.
So our date is around 1,200 BCE for the earliest possible dates of the Biblical texts. Unfortunately for our theory (of the Biblical texts being older,) civilizations, the ones that wrote the other texts, have been around for thousands of years. The Great Pyramids were already ancient at this time. But we have a larger issue I have yet to address. Gods…
As I mentioned above, in case you missed it, I said idols such as Yahweh and his wife Asherah were found in Israelite settlements. For you that are not familiar, Yahweh is the name of God. In the Bible Yahweh is translated to LORD and God is translated from Elohim. Not only does Yahweh take on the identity of the Canaanite god Baal in the Song of the Sea (once again comparing texts) but he has a wife. Israelites were not monotheistic at this point. No one was monotheistic at this point. All of the surrounding cultures were polytheistic and that includes the Canaanites. If one reads the Old Testament carefully, there is not a monotheistic claim until the book of Isaiah. For example, one you have probably heard, “You shall have no other gods…” Does that sound like a monotheistic claim? It does not read “I am the only god.” It means you will not worship the other gods…There is no denial of other Gods. But back to the first monotheistic claim…Isaiah is the first point in which a clearly monotheistic statement is made. Isaiah is also around the time when the Jews were exposed to the Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism was the religion of nation of Persia. We know this because Isaiah tells us the name of Cyrus of Persia by name. Isaiah explains that God’s Messiah (God’s anointed) Cyrus, liberates the Jews from Babylon. This is also confirmed by the Persian records and the Cyrus Cylinder (though the Jews altered what it said in the Bible to suit their needs.)
So monotheism in the Bible actually first appeared when they were introduced to Zoroastrianism. They were also freed from Babylon and allowed to return to their homelands by Cyrus the Great, God’s Messiah. Other concepts found in Zoroastrianism would be the figure of the Devil, Hell, the idea behind the Holy Trinity, and many more things found in Christianity that are not found in the early part of the Bible. It is not more than obvious that the Jews acquired features of Zoroastrianism AFTER they were liberated and allowed to return to Judah? Cyrus the Great was God’s Messiah, after all, as stated by the book of Isaiah.
Do you see how context is starting to work? Do you see historical events affected what was written? We see the same types of things when looking at the Assyrian Exile and the Babylonian Exile. We see the political conflicts between Judah and Israel in the Bible. What was being written was directly related to the events of the time.
On that note, I will address the prophecies for Jesus. Ironically, Isaiah is often cited as a prophecy for Jesus…Isaiah 7:14
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
When one understands the context of Isaiah and the situation of the Hebrew people of that time, you would know they are in exile in Babylon and are then allowed to return to Judah to rebuild the temple and make it a great nation, once again. The prophecy refers to someone during that time, not someone to come 700 years in the future. We know this because we also study Rabbis and Jewish literature.
By studying Midrashic literature and writings such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can get an idea how and what these people thought of their writings. We cannot look at the Bible as people look at things today. We cannot assume they were writing “history.” We cannot assume their writings were to be taken as literal. We cannot assume they were opposed to altering the text. We cannot even assume they actually believed the stories because they may have simply been a teaching tool or part of their tradition. When we actually study the language and things such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, we find that the scribes were not opposed to editing and altering the writings. They do it plain as day and do not appear to have an issue with it. They clearly did not think of this stuff as “the word of God” because they constantly changed it. This was acceptable and not a problem to them. We have evidence that the “final text” found in the OT today had already been edited and changed.
The HB was written during a specific time, by specific people, for a specific reason. This is not speculation class where we decide what the Bible is or means. We study the context of it. We study the history of it. We study the linguistics of it.
The HB is nothing unique or special when compared to other writings from the same time. It is not monotheistic. It is polytheistic (or Henotheistic) at the start and is based on stories from other polytheistic religions. How do these facts equate to the existence of God, the one supreme creator of the universe? How did we start with a bunch of gods, that nearly everyone living today would reject and turn it into the Christian God? I have yet to even take the New Testament into consideration and its legitimacy is already destroyed. It has crumbled at the base. The next step is to examine the claim made by Jesus, that he is the son of the one God, Yahweh…One would imagine that Jesus would have known of the other gods in existence, the ones subordinate to his father. Or was he basing his claims on the popular opinion of the time, which was monotheism? Jesus and the NT are a discussion for another time, which we can have if one so desires, if you feel I have yet to invalidate the Bible.
Of course, you do not have to believe me on any of this stuff. You can spend years reading book after book on your own and come to your own conclusion.