Thursday, August 9, 2012

Avoiding "Semetary" (and reasons to believe)

Over the past few months, I've read several theology books, many of them very technical. My focus has been on the intertestamental literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Mishnah, and anything else I can find that gives more context to the Judaism prevalent during Christ's time on Earth.

Several years ago I visited a church in Charlottesville where the pastor made the remark that he referred to "Seminary" as "Semetary" because of its affect on your faith. After my recent reading, I can more fully understand his reference.

Of course, I had read scholarly theology books before in preparing the manuscript for The Gospel You've Never Heard, but they were mostly written by those on the "Sacred" side of the Theology/Sacred Theology divide. What I have read recently is more on the other side of the fence, where there is no assumption (and even a presumption against) of faith.

For example, one author I read simply dismissed point-blank that Daniel could have been written in the 5th century BC because it tells of events transpiring afterward. Now, there may or may not be solid evidence that parts of Daniel were written later, but to take as one of your reasons that true prophecy cannot occur certainly reveals your hand as someone who doesn't put much stock in the God of Abraham.

Anyway, the prevailing idea in these books is that the entire Old Testament was either written or (at least) edited and assembled around the 6th or 7th centuries BC (while Judah was in exile). That would deal a bit of a blow to a well-read Christian's faith because a much of the credibility of the Bible comes from it being a record of prophecy and prophecy realized. If all the books of the OT were written (or revised/edited/assembled) that late, then one can no longer point to the prophecies in Deuteronomy or the prophets regarding Israel's downfall as proof that there is some supernatural component to Israel's history.

So I began thinking recently of reasons to believe in the historical authenticity of Jesus Christ, which inherently means confirming the authenticity of Judaism, even if it were true that the entire Old Testament was (re)written/edited/compiled at a late date. Here are reasons I thought of:

Jesus' Prooftext for the Resurrection

Jesus' proof of the resurrection of the dead based on the Torah (Matthew 22:31-32) is remarkable. The Pharisees and their progeny would later try to find clear proof of the resurrection of the dead within the Torah for centuries. It would become the foundation for Judaism. I've read other efforts by later Rabbi's to show that the "Books of Moses" prove that God will raise the dead, and they are so wispy that one has a hard time even seeing a connection at all. Jesus' response is not only remarkably powerful but also original. It is far beyond the best minds of contemporaneous Judaism. This strongly suggests Jesus was an actual, gifted Rabbi rather than an imposter that the evangelists later made into something He wasn't.

The Peculiarity of the Old Testament Prophets

If the Old Testament books were edited and assembled in 6th or 7th-century BC, then they had to be assembled by someone. Someone, or a group, had to decide which books should be considered Scripture studied as holy. Some Hebrews never accepted anything beyond Moses' Law, but some large population found the prophets worth diligently recording and studying through the ages. The thing that makes this odd [if you don't have any faith in God] is that the actual text of the prophetic books is not at all what you would expect to be chosen unless there was a VERY good reason for it.

For example, some parts of some prophets appear to contradict some parts of others. Some prophets actually speak of God BREAKING God's covenant with Israel and Judah. In other places, Jeremiah in particular, we hear of the old covenant as being forsaken and a new covenant being given. Given the sacrosanct nature of the Mosaic covenant, it seems unimaginable that Jeremiah would have been included unless Jeremiah was already known to have been a great prophet who was both powerful in his own time and accurate in his prophecies.

Another examples is that the prophets regularly blame the problems of Judah and Israel on their own kings and priests. It is odd enough that a country blames itself for its problems, but it is very strange indeed that the powers that be would allow the veneration of a set of writings that put all the blame for their errors on those in the ruling classes.

I could give more examples, but the basic point is the same: the Old Testament is simply not at all what one would expect to be chosen retrospectively by the Hebrews living in the holy land at that time unless the reliability of their authors (the prophets) was established.

Jeremiah and Daniel

Not to harp on Jeremiah some more, but there is a specific issue with Jeremiah and Daniel. The book of Jeremiah claims that Judah will be saved from the Babylonians after 70 years. [Jeremiah 25:11-12]

It is quite strange to believe that the Jews would come up with this prophecy while in exile because it didn't come true! In Daniel we find that the reason the Jews were not rescued was that they had not repented and cried out to God. One could point to this and say "First, someone wrote Jeremiah to give the Jews hope of freedom, and then when the prophecy failed, they invented Daniel to explain it."

But that is also hard to believe. You would have to believe that Jeremiah was written  AFTER the exile (otherwise he correctly prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem) and had already (within 70 years) gone from an unknown work to an accepted piece of scripture before the 70 years were up...and then you'd have to believe that Daniel was then fabricated to cover up this problem. The problem, then, is Daniel is being written near the same time that the real Daniel supposedly existed. It's hard to see how a fake Daniel gets written within the lifetime of the supposed real Daniel without people realizing it is a fake (either because Daniel never existed or because people knew that the real Daniel never wrote such a thing).  And then you'd have to say that only PART of Daniel was written during this time to avoid all the parts that correctly prophesy later events.

But if that is true, and part of Daniel was written during this time to cover up the problems in Jeremiah, then everyone would have to know Daniel very well. Indeed, it would have to be as important or moreso than Jeremiah because without Daniel, Jeremiah looks like a big lie. But if that happened, then how does all the correct prophesies of Daniel get added in later without people realizing "Hey, this isn't your dad's Daniel?"

I'm not saying that parts were not added to Daniel later on. I'm saying that if one believes that these scriptures were fabricated after the exile, the only way the 70-year prophecy in Jeremiah could be accepted is if Daniel was accepted to, and the early acceptance of Daniel makes it harder to believe that it was massively changed and added on later. [Of course, if Jeremiah was actually a true prophet who had given Judah true prophesies, then his words would be venerated regardless of the need for a "patch." Note that the Hebrews esteemed Jeremiah above Daniel, giving the former the position of a "Prophet" but putting the later into the "Writings" with the psalms, proverbs, etc.]

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