At one time, people read the historical accounts in the Tanakh, and presumed them to be literally, factually, and historically true. God created the world in exactly one week, approximately 6000 years ago. People actually lived to be 900 years old.
The Flood consisted of 40 literal days of rain, and the entire world was covered in water. There was a literal Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Ten actual plagues (as described) happened, resulting in 600,000 Hebrew men (plus women, children, livestock and belongings) exiting from Egypt. Joshua’s genocide occurred, followed by the time of the Judges, followed by a Joint Kingdom.
Advances in science have happened. Geology and dating has become more accurate. Archeology has generated vast discoveries. And as the pace of technology increases—these stories are slowly being chipped away.
Oh, there are still stalwarts who hold to a 6000 year old Earth, and a world-wide Flood, and Exodus—despite the evidence. But many have re-evaluated the accounts. Now the “days” in Genesis chapter one are considered “periods of time.” Or the story is allegorical in form only. No longer is it actual, literal or historical. “Adam & Eve” are representations—not actual people.
The Flood? Only a local affair in which some guy probably put his wife and kids with a coupla calves and sheep on a raft for a few weeks. The Ten Plagues? Volcanic Eruption. The Exodus? Well, there weren’t really two million people wandering around for 40 years. Maybe a few thousand (at best) and then only a year or so. Joshua’s genocide? Minor skirmishes.
As we study and learn, the stories of the Tanakh become more and more improbable, even to the person who holds them as inspired, and science is prevailing. The Christian has to modify their position from an actual, literal event to more of a type, or legendary or blown-out-of-proportion event.
But isn’t that saying the stories of the Tanakh are wrong? See, the question presented is: what did the authors of these stories believe? Did they hold them out to be historical events? If so, weren’t they wrong? If they were wrong as to history (which we can confirm); why should I trust they would be right regarding actions on the part of a God—which we can’t confirm?
I realize that Christians of today’s time do not want to appear silly in light of the evidence presented. So they wrangle and force an allegorical meaning into what, even they see, cannot have actually happened.
Yet this undercuts the premise. It recognizes the Bible is wrong. It recognizes the Bible, when written, was factually inaccurate and only recent developments have placed the Christian in this precarious position by which they must read into the text what is not there.
Look at the New Testament authors. Did they think these were historical events? (And, on the Jewish side, it should be noted Josephus, writing in the First Century, treated these as actual, literal, historical events. Not as allegories. Not as mythical developments.)
Matthew and Luke record Jesus as saying Noah was an actual person. (Matt. 24:37-38; Luke 17:26-27) The author of 1 Peter treats Noah as an actual person, with an actual flood. (1 Peter 3:20) So does the author of 2 Peter. (2 Peter 3:20)
The authors of the New Testament treat Moses as an actual person. Not an allegory. (Matt. 8:4, 19:7; Mark 7:10, 12:19; Luke 20:37, 24:27; John 1:45, 3:14, 5:46; Acts 7:20-44; Rom. 9:15; 1 Cor. 10:2; 2 Cor. 3:13; 2 Tim. 3:8; and Jude 9) Adam is considered a real person. (Luke 3:38; 1 Cor. 15:45; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; and Jude 14)
And, most famous of all, the author of Hebrews commends Noah (11:7) and Moses (11:23-29) for the events recorded in their lives in the Tanakh. As well as confirming the historical claim of Joshua’s genocide. (Hebrews 11:30-31)
2000 years ago, those who revered the Tanakh treated the historical accounts as events which happened as literally recorded. What has changed? If greater knowledge has demonstrated these accounts are in error, I understand it is quite convenient to brush it off as “allegorical” or “legend” or “myth,”—but can you understand why the claim this is error goes a long way to proving the Bible is in error on these points?
But it gets worse. And funnier.
See, in the First Century, it was accepted practice to write historiographical documents. When writing a biography, it was not expected, nor anticipated, for the author to write an exact date-by-date, event-by-event actual history.
So the author would write what they anticipate the person would have said—not necessarily what the person actually said. We see this in the speeches Josephus ascribes to individuals in his accounts. We also see this in the speeches the author of Acts puts in the lips of Peter and Paul.
No one reading the documents in the First Century (nor writing them) would have questioned, “A-ha! But did Peter actually say, word-for-word, what is recorded here?” Of course not! They recognized the author’s imputing speech which would have normally been predictable for the individual.
Did Jesus give the word-for-word Sermon on the Mount or was this what Matthew’s audience expected Jesus would have said? At the time—this question would never have been asked!
Further, it was expected to ascribe events to certain people of certain social status. Holy Men heal people. If you were writing about a Holy Man, you would naturally include a story about healing. If they were a person of great honor, you would provide them an honorable birthplace, often with astounding events occurring (earthquakes, darkness, miracles) to accompany the birth.
Again, this was expected in the biography. No one was inspecting this with a 21st Century mindset, questioning whether Mary really gave birth in Bethlehem or Nazareth. Or whether there were angels attending the birth. This was a birth of the Christ—angels would be part of the perceived story. (So would earthquakes and darkness at the death of such a Christ.)
One of the ways in which a philosopher’s position was explained was through challenge-riposte. The story would unfold as the philosopher is asked what is initially seen as a perceptive or difficult question, and then the philosopher would cleverly answer in such a way as to show the philosophical position being promulgated, and to gain in honor as having bested another.
How many times do the Gospels record Jesus being accused by Scribes or Lawyers or Pharisees or Sadducees or Jews? The people reading (or hearing these stories read) understood this was a convention to explain the philosophy of Jesus. They were looking for what Jesus taught, and the authors placed it in the form they were most familiar.
A common writing technique was a chiasm. To frame the story in certain relational sequences. The best example of this is the sandwiching of the curse of the fig tree, followed by the temple ruckus, and then closed with the seeing of the cursed fig tree. Mark is replete with chiastic structures. (Arguably completely infused, although I think some are a stretch.)
Again, this was a method familiar to the audience. An audience uncritical of whether Jesus actually, chronologically cursed the tree, then caused a ruckus, and then saw the results of a cursed tree.
Yet what do we see in today’s culture when it comes to the New Testament writing? The very same people willing to concede the lack of historicity of the Tanakh, grimly hold on to every word claimed to be said by Jesus is actual. Every footstep 100% historical. Every breath literal. Something the authors never intended!
Many Christians have it mixed up. When the authors (Tanakh) intended it to be historical, the Christian claims it is figurative. When the authors (New Testament) intended it to be figurative, the Christian claims it is historical!
Apparently the methodology is to completely abandon (or never study) what the authors intended by looking at similar works or how similar works are treated OR the Christian wants to believe what is most convenient at the moment.