The historical accuracy of the Bible.

Poll forthcoming.

To what degree do you regard the Bible as historically accurate? Does it truthfully describe real events as they occurred? For example, did Methusaleh, in fact, live to the ripe old age of 969 years?

For this purpose, let’s assume we’re using the Bible in the translation you prefer. We’re also using both the Old and New Testaments.

Choose the answer that most closely reflects your opinion, and feel free to enlighten the SDMB with any further details you care to share.

It’s as accurate as you can expect from a bunch of compiled legends originating in bronze-age Palestine and its locales, written by Paul, Q et al, then edited and further compiled down the centuries. A lot of what is in it has no corroborating evidence from any other source. Israel’s archaeologists have tried in vain to find evidence for Exodus in Sinai, and ancient sources are surprisingly quiet about zombies in Jerusalem.

That said, it is useful for historical ‘feel’ if not any specific facts. It isn’t supposed to be a compendium of history.

I am not a Creationist or a fan of Biblical inerrancy in general. In fact, I am agnostic but I am a huge but amateur fan of Biblical history, Biblical archeology in particular.

I don’t take many of the stories at face value in a religious way but I have learned that a surprising number of them were based on real events. Examples of those are the city of Ur (discovered), the crumbing of Jericho’s walls (discovered and confirmed). Even the story of Noah and the Ark is likely to have been based on a real event. Most cultures around the world have a Great Flood myth that is likely based on oral history passed down through thousands of years based on events that happened at the end of the last Ice Age. The Black Sea region in particular probably did have an incredible and rapid rise in sea level due to some natural dams being breached by the rising waters. Descendents of the people that experienced that went on to populate much of the world.

I could go on but there are a number of reputable books and National Geographic specials that cover what is known and confirmed and I find that more interesting than the religious interpretations. There are some notable events that have no evidence such as the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt but that could change at any time with a breakthrough finding. I don’t know why anyone would make that up and make such an effort to write it down if it wasn’t based on something.

The Bible itself is a very dry text in most parts and most churches, even the ones that preach biblical inerrancy, are completely inconsistent in what they emphasize or leave out. Few people have actually read it as a whole book or series of books. Instead, it is almost always presented as a series of carefully selected verses or chapters taken out of context.

In general, I believe the Bible as it is compiled in various forms today is a mix of different stories based on events, sometimes thousands of years apart, that generally have some historical grounding but the problem arises when churches try to force their doctrine on those stories.

Most churches selectively choose only a few stories and versus to focus on and, even then, they misconstrue those. For example, the story of Job is a very famous and well-referenced story but the typical church depiction stops well short of the end of it and edits it so heavily that the projected message is quite different than the supposed inerrant words written (read the story of Job yourself and see if it matches up with the way it is typically presented if you don’t believe me).

Once we get into the New Testament, the theme of churches misrepresenting what was actually written still holds equally true if not more-so. Any educated person knows that Jesus wasn’t some Aryan looking person born on December 25th. However, none of that stuff in in the Bible itself so I can’t hold that against the authors. There probably really was a person that people call Jesus today (even that wasn’t his real name, if you invented a time machine and called out “Hey, Jesus!” he wouldn’t even turn his head because his real name was Joshua bar Joseph or Josh, Joe’s son).

Jesus was from Galilee which was basically nothing more than a primitive ghetto community for very poor Jews and it was more similar to a primitive campground than an actual town. The Bible says remarkably little about the time between when he was born (only recorded in Matthew and Luke) and the time when he started his ministry at about age 30. There were a number of mystical religious prophets in that area at the time and Jesus was only one of those. Christianity didn’t even really begin until well after his execution and even then, it was Paul and not then dead Jesus who founded it.

The gospels weren’t written until many decades after his death. It would be similar to you or I trying to write a biography about someone who died in 1960 but without any photographs or written records. You would have to reply on oral histories and even most of those would be second of third hand.

The Bible itself is mostly open about all of this stuff however. It is clear that Paul founded Christianity well after Jesus died and never met him himself. The Bible itself isn’t a model for a historical text but it does surprisingly well if you just read what it actually says and strip off all the layers of doctrine and interpretation that have been piled onto it over the past few thousand years.

many inaccuracies

Gen. 26, Ahimelech of Gerar is said to be a Philistine, but the story is set in the time of Abraham, several hundred years before the Philistines.

In Genesis 14:14, reference is made to an exploit of Abraham to the northern city of Dan. This city, named after Abraham’s great grandson, was not conquered and renamed by Israelite’s until hundreds of years later (Judges 18:29).

King David is mentioned as collecting ten thousand darics for the construction of the temple in Jerusalem (1 Chron. 29:7). The daric is a coin named after king Darius of Persia, who lived some five hundred years after David.

do you really want this forum plastered with similar inaccuracies ?

here are 472 more inaccuracies

here is a fast paced youtube video that uses humor to cover the many contradictions in the bible, in the form of a quiz show

def worth the watch

Correct. There are plenty of those and I am not disagreeing with that. There are two different creation stories in Genesis itself for Christ sake.

However, I don’t think the approach taken in any those is that interesting from a historical perspective. It is basically breaking down the Bible into individual verses and pointing out the contradictions. Any moron who can read can do that.

It is a whole lot harder to look at it as a whole and map the context to actual historical events. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t and it is often inconclusive but it is a much better approach to me at least than getting into verse ‘sword fights’ that most churches like to engage in.

Hint: The stories were not originally written with chapter and verse numbers as they exist today to be taken out of context. Those are simply reference points so that people can find the point they are interested in much like an index or a bookmark. They in no way change the fact that they are part of more complete stories that have their own context.

Would you pick up any other book and read only the paragraphs or sentences that you are interested in at the moment and ignore everything else surrounding it? That is what people and whole churches do with the Bible and it isn’t a good approach for any understanding.

Isaac Asimov, in Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: Volume 1 (Old Testament) he remarks (referring to the Books of Chronicles, or thereabouts), something to the effect: “From here on, we get into increasingly reliable history”. Implication: The stuff older than that is too much legend, fable, and myth, too little good history; from here on, it gets better.

Here’s another blow to Biblical reliability: Just like varying accounts of World War II, the telling varies according to the political needs of the teller. The book of Leviticus was, according to Asimov, heavily re-edited during the Babylonian Exile to address the Jews’ political needs of the time. It was important to the Jewish rabbis and leaders to discourage Jews in Babylon from mixing in with the locals, lest they become assimilated and lose their identity (as had already happened with those other ten tribes in Assyria). So they invented all those elaborate dietary rules, the result of which made it nigh-impossible for Jews to socialize with Babylonians.

Asimov remarks: If that was, in fact, the intended effect, it succeeded marvelously.

Correct. The entire Bible is a compilation of history and stories for an intended audience but it is not the only set of documents that exist. The Council of Nicea in 325 AD was like a huge party of editors (some with a very heavy hand) that played the major role in shaping the current version of the Bible. I would argue that they did a terrible job by modern editing standards but that is what we are left with. Well almost…

There are versions of other works that didn’t make it past the editing or only survived in partial form. The most important Biblical archeology discovery in the last 500 years was the Dead Sea scrolls and those are only starting to be released in full form now. They focus on the Jewish tribe called the Essenes that eventually gave rise to Jesus and how they came about. Those would have been lost forever if a goat tending child didn’t discover them by accident in a cave in the 1940’s. They are in fragments but have been meticulously reconstructed over the past 70 years and you can see parts of them online.

The most surprising thing to me at least is how well some references match up with the current Bible. It isn’t like the game of ‘telephone’ in which every communication leads to more and more corruption but closer to a game of Xerox where people kept copying the exact same thing over and over for a few thousand years.

There are other sources as well that didn’t make it into the mainstream Bible but still exist today and some that have only been discovered rather recently. The Book of Judas was only recently rediscovered as well. It was preserved by accident by the Gnostic church (the earliest branch of Christians who still exist).

I don’t imagine any of the few people so far who say they believe in the historical accuracy of the Bible are likely to post here, but it would be potentially interesting to hear from them.

As for me, I staked out the “very few, if any” response. Of course I agree with the point that when these stories were being told, and eventually written down, the idea of historical accuracy in the modern sense simply wasn’t applicable. Treating the stories as historically accurate information is simply folly.

Anything that believes the whole world is an area of around 500 square miles is not to be taken seriously as a historical record.

I once watched some lame Christian-oriented documentary (hosted by William Devane) where they were trying to determine if some vague lumps in the ground were in fact the Walls of Jericho. After much investigation, which may have been archaeologically sound, I couldn’t say, they concluded that they were. William Devane then follows this up with the line “Now that we’ve proven the Bible is true…” and that’s when my brain imploded and everything went white.


I’d have actually preferred an option between 2 and 3, but I decided that 2 was slightly closer. Now if you’d asked about the Torah, then I could have went with option 3. But the historical books after that are pretty good, and the nonhistorical books don’t tend to contain contradictions with fact.

The New Testament is a bit different, as the Gospels really aren’t told so much as pure history. Acts is trying to be historical, though, and I think it’s mostly right.

I voted for the “I believe the Bible is historically accurate in very few, if any details” option, but that was only because there wasn’t a “I believe every single word of any alleged Holy Book is pure and unadulterated bullshit” option.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe a word of the equally implausible Harry Potter books either. I also don’t believe in Zeus, Thor, Ra, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

I’ve always said there’s more evidence for the existence of Robin Hood or King Arthur than there is for Jesus, let alone for any miracles he may have performed.

My understanding is that the Bible was not intended to be “historically accurate” in the way we understand that concept today. It is a collection of chronicles and myths intended to give definition and validation to the culture of the Jewish people. With an appendix about the adventures of one travelling rabbi and his band of merry men.

I said “I believe the Bible is historically accurate in very few, if any details.” with the understanding that this gets a little, tiny bit better in the NT. Until the very end book, of course, that’s as historically accurate as Naked Lunch is.

But everything pre-Exile, at least, bears no relation to the actual people who lived in the area at that time.

I quite agree with this; it’s been baffling to me for years why so many Christians (in America, especially) insist the Bible is a historical document, and get quite hung up on this idea. The church I grew up in was very much this way, leading to disbelieving evolution, astronomy, geology and all kinds of science because it doesn’t agree with the Bible. A shame, really.

This viewpoint doesn’t to me seem all that different than those who believe the Bible is unerringly true. There are large numbers of kings and events in the Bible that can be corroborated to various extents by extra-biblical sources. As others have said, pretty much everything through about the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel is very questionable (though I am sure there are several things based on historical events), but as you move forward, there are more and more things that are more or less accurate (leaving aside the religious claims). There are still anachronisms, additions, and questionable content all the way through, but there is a lot of stuff that is historically accurate.