A question about the historical truth of the Old Testament

I have a question regarding the existence of some Biblical figures of the Old Testament, especially Moses. Approaching the question from a purely historical perspective, I have seen many historians, including archeologists, claim that Moses did not exist in reality, that he did not write the Pentateuch, that the Exodus never took place, etc.
What proof can be brought to support the claim that the events of the OT did actually happen, and how can we know that for sure?
And, depending on the answer, I also want to ask: how would the fact that Moses, Abraham, Noah, etc, didn’t exist in real life impact the New Testament and the word of Jesus, Who mentions them?
Thank you for considering my question!

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I believe there is a principal that says the historical document is accepted as being true unless there is contrary evidence. Many said that David was a mythical person until the discovery of his palace and other corroborating archeological evidence; and even that’s not enough for those determined to doubt.
The OT is one of the most heavily scrutinised historical documents particularly by skeptics who would like to show that it is false but has withstood this hostile scrutiny very well.

Archaeologist Dr Clifford Wilson said “There have been plenty of claims that things contradict the biblical account, but the Bible has a habit of being proved right after all. I well remember one of the world’s leading archaeologists at Gezer rebuking a younger archaeologist who was ‘rubbishing’ the Bible. He just quietly said, ‘Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t rubbish the Bible.’ When the younger archaeologist asked ‘Why’?, he replied, ‘Well, it just has a habit of proving to be right after all.’ And that’s where I stand.”

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Dear Alexandru,
I think the characters of Abraham, Joseph and Moses are very interesting becuase there historical evidence of their existence. It is not cold, hard fact, but substantial evidence. Here is an excerpt from my paper of the contributions of Moses to our spiritual history.

On Friday, April 27, 1244 BC, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. At this point in history the only form of written communication available was picture based. These types of languages have a vast number of pictures. Egyptian hieroglyphics have had over 10,000 various pictures during their entire history. Those able to learn to read and write hieroglyphics were only the most highly educated. Fortunately, Moses grew up in the house of the Pharaoh and received this type of education. It would prove to be a great asset when it came time for him to learn the new alphabet that God would give him on Mount Sinai.

The 40 days that Moses spent with God on the Mount would be a conceivable length of time in which a person, who could read and write a picture-based language, could learn a 24-character alphabet and write the Ten Commandments onto some flat stones in this new alphabet. If God had just conjured them up out of the rocks, Moses would not have needed to be away from his people for so long. It is most likely that the Ten Commandments were written in the hand of Moses, but since they have not yet been found, we presently cannot prove this theory.

The first signs of an alphabet-based writing discovered by archeologists have been dated to 1231 BC. These were found in the Sinai desert and the dating fits within the 40 years that the Israelites spent there. Since then, many cultures adopted this ingenious, simple form of communication. It has allowed every man, women and child the opportunity to be able to read and correspond, regardless of the house they grew up in. (Reference)

The original 24 characters were pictographs representing the beginning sound of the image, like K = Cow, making it simple for people to pronounce the written words. This brought the Word of God directly to the people, without the need for priests to act as middlemen.

One important thing I’d say here: take what Wikipedia in particular has to say about the subject with a very large pinch of salt.

If you want to see why, compare the Wikipedia entry on Moses with the entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Wikipedia is thoroughly dismissive of the historicity of Exodus, insisting that scholars are pretty much unanimous that it was nothing more than legend. Britannica, on the other hand, paints a much more diverse picture of scholarly opinion, stating that while professional historians have a wide range of views on the subject, most of them do consider it to have at least some historical merit.

Personally, I’d be inclined to go with Britannica on this one. Britannica is written by real, qualified scholars and experts in the subject. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is written by just about everyone, including people with agendas to push, some of whom are very well versed in its arcane rules and policies and who are particularly skilled at gaming the system, but who may or may not actually be experts in the subject.

Given all this, I don’t see any reason to doubt that Abraham, Moses et al were real, historical figures. As far as the authorship of the Pentateuch is concerned, don’t worry about that too much. It doesn’t have to all have been written by Moses for it to be the inspired Word of God. JEDP may question its authorship but it doesn’t question its authority.

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Hey Jimmy,
I just read the German Wikipedia for comparison. The problem with wikipedia is that the loudest voice often wins and the minority research is pushed to the side. In the German wikipedia they provide the various research for a historical Moses and Exodus.
Best Wishes, Shawn

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There is? Does this apply to writings by ancient Greeks, Romans, Hindus, etc.?

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Here’s a more nuanced approach by Richard Elliott Friedman-

Perhaps @Reggie_O_Donoghue could weigh in here?

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According to archaeologist Avi Faust (who cites 20 scholars):

“While there is a consensus among scholars that the Exodus did not take place in the manner described in the Bible, surprisingly most scholars agree that the narrative has a historical core, and that some of the highland settlers came, one way or another, from Egypt.”

Here is an alternate view, which uses similar evidence to Friedman:

I don’t find all of Friedman’s evidence to be convincing however, since he is too reliant on the JEDP hypothesis. I personally think there are many more than four sources behind the Torah (I’m a supplementarian). I’d go as far to suggest (but I’m only floating it as a possibility), that Genesis 2-3 has a different author to Genesis 4. Genesis 2-3 has an Israelite focus, with parallels to the apostasy and exile of Israel, whilst Genesis 4 has a Qenite focus, with Cain (whose name is cognate to the Qenites) receiving divine protection through his forehead mark.

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A piece of evidence that I find interesting is that some of the earliest cities such as Eridu, Shuruppak and Memphis were associated with metallurgy, exactly like what we read in Genesis 4.

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I would recommend the book “The Meaning of the Pentateuch” by John Sailhamer as a guide to how the Bible was assembled and what role the individuals had in its assembly. It is a good contrast to the previously accepted JEPD source criticism which had only speculation at it root.

In Luke 16:31 Jesus stated ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ I do not believe Jesus would reference a fictional character in this way. Moses himself appeared to 3 apostles in the transfiguration. I think it becomes a slippery slope to fictionalize Moses or others mentioned in the Old Testament.

Jesus took the opportunity of His incarnation to inform us of the errors of the Jewish traditions that glorified men instead of God. He never stated any error in the Old Testament, but quoted from in, especially during challenging times.

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Good points Tom. I could rationalize Jesus speaking of Moses as his being limited with human knowledge and accepting as fact those things commonly accepted as fact in his time, but the same cannot be said of Moses being seen at the transfiguration.
My humble opinion is that Moses may well have written a rudimentary form of the law, the it was pretty obviously edited and rewritten later.
Your question is a good one, how does the historical aspects of the Old Testament affect Christianity if not accurate? It is actually something I struggle a bit with, though ultimately rely on faith in Jesus, no matter what. I have no real problem with Job, and Jonah being literary characters rather than historical, but feel Moses and Abraham were. Noah probably not historical, but there may be a kernel of history there in a local flood scenario.

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While its hard to confirm the existence of a historical Adam, Noah and Moses via no real third party sources, this is a issue in my opinion that be taken by faith until the evidence for it shows up. People doubted that David was a real historical figure but we found a lot of ancient text that speak of the House of David as a real historical dynasty in the ancient Middle East. While I doubt that we will find anything detailing about the historical Adam outside of the Bible we may find something telling about the historical Moses, but I doubt that as well.

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Our proof and authority is the bible.

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Hi Wookin,

Just a question that’s puzzling me here. I’ve frequently seen you (and other young-earth creationists) writing “the bible” with a lower case “b” rather than “the Bible” with a capital “B”. Is there some particular line of thinking behind this? Besides the fact that it’s grammatically incorrect, it seems a tad disrespectful to me. Or am I missing something here?

Yes I’ve wondered about the whole JEDP thing from time to time. Academic theologians always sound so confident in their ability to assign J, E, D or P to different verses of the Pentateuch, but is there any kind of formal methodology in how they do so, and if so, what evidence do they have that their methodology actually works? I’d have thought that they’d need to test it out on bodies of literature of known provenance as a control first.

It all reminds me of what C S Lewis wrote in his essay Fern Seeds and Elephants, in which he described how he had seen his own work being dissected and analysed by literary critics in his own lifetime and could confidently say that the conclusions they came to were completely off-base, and how, as evidence of their ability to read between the lines, they demonstrated an inability to read the lines themselves. Or about this article by a poet who said she was unable to answer English Literature questions about her own poetry. Or then there was John Lennon who actually went on record admitting that he wrote the words to the song I am the Walrus specifically to troll the literary critics. As the poet said:

My final reflection is this : any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead. I protest.

I am probably guilty of that at times just out out laziness/typing on ipad or phone. Like you say, the Bible should be capitalized as it is a proper title or name when referring to …The Bible, but not when it is used as a general term, as in " Wikipedia is the bible of the lazy google generation"
Now, we are all guilty of not capitalizing the L in BioLogos at times, and perhaps that is capitalized as it refers to Jesus, though I really do not know.

Sure, that’s understandable.

The difference though is that I’ve seen some people do it consistently – or at least, far too often for mere typos or laziness to be a plausible explanation. For some reason it seems to be particularly common amongst YECs. So much so that it makes me wonder if there’s someone who’s popular in YEC circles in particular actively promoting it. Unfortunately, the googles have failed me on this one.

I have to admit that I was a little taken back by your question. I took a day to ponder on it before I responded.

I find it interesting that you find that disrespectful, but have no problem with thinking that Genesis is not a literal historical record of the bible? Again, not being mean spirited, just a curiosity on my part. Anyway, we are off topic. God bless

Of course Wookin, one can still believe it is the inspired word of God, but not believe it is historical. You can also believe it is inerrant and not believe it is historical. I was reading somewhere that there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of denominations that believe the Bible is the inerrant inspired word of God, yet disagree about what it says. Such is the lot of human interpretation.

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God bless you too Wookin. I think @jpm has adequately answered your question there: I don’t have anything to add to what he says. We could end up discussing the subject round and round in circles again but that I don’t think that would get us anywhere. Besides which, it wouldn’t answer my question. Why do you write “the bible” rather than “the Bible”?