The Reliable Bible – The Philistines

I have been a horribly negligent blogger lately in large part because summer lasts a handful of days in Minnesota, and if you are going to enjoy summer you have to head out the door every time the sun makes an appearance. The outdoors is a siren that calls me away from all screens in the summer, and I must obey her call; so the pickings are sparse around here as a result.

That being said, I keep a running list of topics I want to blog about. One subject that has appeared with increasing regularity has been evidence from archeology and linguistic studies that reinforce the historical reliability of the Bible. It has been a topic around here often enough that I decided to assign it its own category – The Reliable Bible.

To that end, a recent article on the MSNBC highlighted the work going on concerning the archeological record of the Philistines, a people group mentioned frequently in the Old Testament that were constantly at odds with the nation of Israel. Such work highlights the degree to which Biblical material was drawn from historical realities. From the article:

The hero Samson, who married a Philistine woman, skirmished with them repeatedly before being betrayed and taken, blinded and bound, to their temple at Gaza. There, the story goes, he broke free and shattered two support pillars, bringing the temple down and killing everyone inside, including himself.

One intriguing find at Gath is the remains of a large structure, possibly a temple, with two pillars.

Maeir has suggested that this might have been a known design element in Philistine temple architecture when it was written into the Samson story.

Diggers at Gath have also found shards preserving names similar to Goliath — an Indo-European name, not a Semitic one of the kind that would have been used by the local Canaanites or Israelites.

These finds show the Philistines indeed used such names and suggest that this detail, too, might be drawn from an accurate picture of their society.

The findings at the site support the idea that the Goliath story faithfully reflects something of the geopolitical reality of the period, Maeir said — the often violent interaction of the powerful Philistines of Gath with the kings of Jerusalem in the frontier zone between them.

Absent the details in Scripture, it is unlikely that archeologist would know anything about the Philistines – certainly not to the degree shown here, and they certainly wouldn’t be able to place them into a detailed historical context. In turn, the discovery of such artifacts supports the Biblical narrative. Each body of knowledge informs and expands on the other.

Many skeptics might consider the fact that Scripture accurately describes names, places, events and people groups accurately to be inconsequential or trivial – this despite the fact that one of the primary criticisms skeptics have of the Bible is that it does not accurately record history

But such details or not at all trivial – instead they portray a consistent record of accuracy and almost painful dedication to getting details right, and this indicates that the record contained in Scripture is trustworthy – a record that was created over the course of millennia, by numerous authors.

The body of proof that the Bible is an apt historical record is growing – the question is, at what point do skeptics acknowledge it?

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5 Responses to The Reliable Bible – The Philistines

  1. justin says:

    “the question is, at what point do skeptics acknowledge it?”

    I’m afraid never. I’d be satisfied with liberal “scholars” ceasing their attempts to rewrite it, however.

  2. The Judge says:

    Negligent blogger myself, lately. That said, if you could spare some of your time to give me your thoughts on my latest entry, I’d be very grateful indeed. At your own pace, as usual: http://theonerantmachine.blogspot.com/2011/08/ethics-limit-of-christian-paradigm.html

    By the way, what I outline in this blog entry is one of my main, most important objections to Christianity, and it’s at the heart of why I cannot completely accept it in my life. So if I’m missing something, it would be very helpful if you could point it out for me.

    Regards!

  3. Many skeptics might consider the fact that Scripture accurately describes names, places, events and people groups accurately to be inconsequential or trivial

    Yes, it is trivial. Raiders of the Lost Ark accurately portrays much of the culture and technology of the 1930s, takes place in locales that actually exist, and involves Nazis – a political and military regime which, amazingly, actually existed. It’s still fiction.

    this despite the fact that one of the primary criticisms skeptics have of the Bible is that it does not accurately record history

    Uh, no. I’ve never seen anyone dispute that many of the people and places described in the Bible really did exist. Skeptics have a problem with the fact that more often than not, there’s no contemporaneous evidence to corroborate the stories. That’s a very good indication that it’s fiction, particularly with events like Herod ordering the execution of all infant boys in Bethlehem. Kinda strange that the only record of that event was written 80 years after it purportedly happened.

    Or, take the Exodus. Sure, Jewish people existed. So did Egypt! Wow. But is there one shred of evidence that a single Jew was ever enslaved in Egypt – much less thousands of them? Nope. No other records anywhere. No archeological evidence whatsoever.

    Then you have the stories that we now know could not have happened, like Adam and Eve, the Fall, and the Flood. We know with scientific certainty that they are fiction. What’s the believer do? Some deny reality. The rest just shift their feet a bit… “Oh, no, you see… they were metaphors all along!” No – they were history until science came along and proved otherwise. Science forced religion to change, not vice-versa.

  4. Nate says:

    Do you really think its strange that the only currently known record was made around 80 years later? I’m not attesting to the historical accuracy of anything at this point, but that’s an awful short time period compared to some other works that took several hundred years to be written after the death of their subject. Many times being written from documents than no longer exist, or even from verbal accounts handed down.

    Those writings are taken as having significant historical value, even though we historians under stand that stories have probably been changed to make some point or another or to embellish a certain battle or something.

    I like to use Alexander as an example, there are no surviving contemporary sources. Would you count the latin and greek works that do survive as total fiction? You are trying to set an awful high bar using nothing but the fact that the bible is a holy book as justification for designating it worthless historically.

  5. jackhudson says:

    Yes, it is trivial. Raiders of the Lost Ark accurately portrays much of the culture and technology of the 1930s, takes place in locales that actually exist, and involves Nazis – a political and military regime which, amazingly, actually existed. It’s still fiction.

    What makes it non-trivial is the fact that the writers of the Bible were familiar with the events they are writing about, counter to the skeptical notion that the stories developed as legends over time. Obviously no one thinks the Raiders of the Lost Ark developed as a legend over time – in fact, despite the fact it has been out there for 30yrs, no one has mistaken it for reality or used it as a basis for understanding history, contrary to the fact that many skeptics claim this is how Scriptures came to be seen as history by the Jews.

    In fact we don’t have any examples of intentionally fictional works slowly being adopted as history – Homer’s Odyssey was developed as an oral tradition long before it was written down, and widely translated over centuries, even millennia, but it was never understood to be an ordinary account of Greek sailors. There is simply no evidence that Scriptural accounts were intended to be understood as fiction by either the writers (of which there were dozens writing without collaboration over thousands of years) or the readers at the time when they were written.

    Uh, no. I’ve never seen anyone dispute that many of the people and places described in the Bible really did exist. Skeptics have a problem with the fact that more often than not, there’s no contemporaneous evidence to corroborate the stories. That’s a very good indication that it’s fiction, particularly with events like Herod ordering the execution of all infant boys in Bethlehem. Kinda strange that the only record of that event was written 80 years after it purportedly happened.

    The entire school of Biblical minimalism in archeology is built around the fact that certain Biblical figures like David and Solomon didn’t exist. And you yourself have argued Jesus didn’t exist. So saying you have never seen such claims seems uncharacteristically forgetful.

    Or, take the Exodus. Sure, Jewish people existed. So did Egypt! Wow. But is there one shred of evidence that a single Jew was ever enslaved in Egypt – much less thousands of them? Nope. No other records anywhere. No archeological evidence whatsoever.

    Actually, part of the problem may be the chronology archeologists have been working from. British Egyptologist David Rohl has developed what is referred to as the ‘New Chronology’, which if accurate, gives credence to the Exodus story because shows that large Semetic populations lived in Egypt at an earlier time.

    One other thought on this, which I think is pertinent and interesting (and my Christian readers will appreciate it). In the Book of Joshua, which is understood to chronicle the history of the Israelite conquest of Canaan, God makes this promise to Joshua:

    Josha 1:3 – 5
    Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory. No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.

    It appears from structures found at the time when Joshua lived, that he took this promise quite literally.

    But the problem with the claim that there is ‘no evidence for Jewish slaves’ is the same with previous claims that there is no evidence for the existence of a historical David or Solomon – that there is no evidence until there is evidence. At which point atheists will claim that the fact that there was a Jewish Exodus is ‘trivial’ I suppose and move on to the next text for which there is as yet unfound evidence. 🙂

    Then you have the stories that we now know could not have happened, like Adam and Eve, the Fall, and the Flood. We know with scientific certainty that they are fiction. What’s the believer do? Some deny reality. The rest just shift their feet a bit… “Oh, no, you see… they were metaphors all along!” No – they were history until science came along and proved otherwise. Science forced religion to change, not vice-versa.

    I actually deal with this issue pretty directly (and at some length) here.

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