Dealing with Inaccuracy of the Old Testament

But you were asking why she wasn’t recorded in the history of the Persians. She was important in the Jewish narrative. In the Persian narrative she was just another foreign woman in the harem the king preferred for a time. Why would she be mentioned?

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On the first issue with David, evidence has found that the Davidic dynasty was real thus proving a read king David.

This is the Stele of Hazael which talks about a victory over the House of David.
Now Esther and Daniel I would think with the positions they where in we would find documents of them at least but as of now our only recording of them is from the Bible. Don’t take lack of evidence as proof of non-existence, the same could be said for other Biblical figures.


Maybe it hasn’t been proved to occurred but it hasn’t been disproved either. Having a large population of slaves leave Egypt and the army sent to punish them get destroyed is hardly the sort of thing the Egyptians would boast about on steles or other records.


What evidence? Do you mean absence of evidence? Absence of archeological evidence has often been cited to “disprove” parts of the Bible only to have that missing evidence turn up. This won’t always happen but where archeological evidence is available it generally confirms the Biblical narrative.

100 years ago the existence of a Babylonian king named Belshazzar was doubted and many claimed he never existed. Since then archeological evidence has emerged showing that Belshazzar was Nabonidus’s son and the acting regent at the time of the fall of Babylon. As acting regent Belshazzar would have been referred to as king.

This also explains why "the king said to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever can read this writing and tell me its interpretation shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around his neck, and rank third in the kingdom.” Since Nabonidus was the king Belshazzar already held the 2nd rank and 3rd rank was the highest he could offer. A small details which helps confirm the authenticity of the Biblical account.


I just found this YouTube video on 9 Discoveries that Confirm the Bible

Daniel 12:1-2 says the dead would resurrect at the time of Antiochus IV’s death. How do you explain this?

I’m confused as to where you stand on Christianity

Welcome to BioLogos, Joy.

I am no expert on these matters, so I can’t respond authoritatively or at length to your wide-ranging, but brief statement. I will, however, say this much: there is significant archaeological evidence that David was an important leader around the time given in the biblical stories:

As this article also says, “minimalist” archaeologists still try to sidestep this evidence, or at least “minimize” its historical import. From reading some of their work, and from conversations with several archaeologists (I have met those folks through my brother, a former student of the great ANE archaeologist William Dever), I have the strong impression that their objections are often motivated more by modern political concerns (about Israel and its neighbors) than by objective analysis of the evidence.

In looking for extra-biblical evidence to support or round out biblical stories (notice that I did not use the verb “prove,” since that is a standard that is deucedly difficult to meet, even in mathematics), one always needs to keep in mind two crucial facts. (1) Absence of archaeological evidence (concerning a given person or event or place) is not in itself evidence of absence. Here it might be worth keeping in mind Darwin’s view of the fossil record in his day. Using a metaphor I think he borrowed from Charles Lyell, Darwin compared it to a book with most of the pages torn out–that is, so many creatures from the past had not yet been discovered, but that in time more would slowly be uncovered, showing us more of the actual past. Some of the missing pages, as it were, would be found, and more of the story would then become known to us. (2) The Hebrews were minor players in the larger world of the ANE. Sometimes foreign kings would brag about whipping them–as in the Tel Dan inscription–but they usually got their jollies by rapping about victories over much bigger foes, leaving the Hebrews as rare footnotes. And, sometimes references to the Hebrews or their neighbors may have been intentionally obliterated by later rulers, who liked to write their own versions of history while destroying monuments associated with the versions of history written by their predecessors. That was often the modus operandi in Egypt, e.g., just as it was in the former Soviet Union and other parts of the East Bloc (such that Polish school children weren’t told about the Warsaw Uprising until after the Soviet Union fell apart).

As an historian, I am in general suspicious of “minimalists” in any branch of history–i.e., scholars who are strongly biased against assigning any genuine historical truth to accounts that they would rather interpret as purely literary texts, for various reasons. There can be a modernist bias at work here, IMO, as if we really know for sure what did and did not happen in a given culture at a given time, or who did or did not really exist. This is especially evident, perhaps, in the Jesus Seminar, in which modern scholars confidently assert that Yes, Jesus said this, but No, he didn’t say that. They assume that we, somehow, 2000 years later, are in a much better position to know what a first-century Jewish teacher actually taught, than the first-century authors of those books. Astonishing to me, as an historian. Astonishing. But, widely influential nevertheless.


Newbie here. Presuming for argument’s sake that some of the accounts in the Bible that Christians commonly view as historic are actually mostly fictional, how do we address what I interpret to be Joy’s primary questions: (1) how do we interpret the Bible, and (2) how does this impact our understanding of Jesus?

My two cents: (1) I interpret it as perhaps the best written guide that we have about understanding God, though it is occasionally errant or at least misinterpreted. Because of the potential for error or misinterpretation, I am cautious as to what I consider to be absolute truth. (2) He’s still my savior and I still aspire to be like Him, even though my understanding of Him may be faulty. I know of none more worthy to follow.

I offer a third primary question: What does it say about the nature of God that He would allow Christians to interpret this book in so many different, frequently incorrect ways? He seems perfectly fine with its equivocality and our resulting confusion. What does this teach us about Him, and about the Bible for that matter? I don’t mean to derail this topic with my new question, but it’s a reasonable next step.


Great question, @IrvingPJolly, Irving. Welcome to our little corner of the internet! It is good to have your voice, and we look forward to learning more about you as time goes on.
Regarding your question, I recently read Enn’s book on How the Bible Actually Works, and he addresses this issue in it, basically saying that the Bible leads us to wisdom rather than being an owner’s manual, and it and the message has managed to evolve with cultures rather than being static. It also evolves with us in life, as few of us have the same understanding of God that we had as a child ( though hopefully the same faith…) While I do not agree with all of Enn’s ideas (I think there was a recent review on Scot McKight’s blog that goes over some of the high and low points), he has a lot of good thoughts on the subject.
Again, welcome!

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I’m currently a neutral philosophical theist, not quite a deist since I believe God continues to interact with the world by upholding it’s existence, perhaps I am closest to a Unitarian Universalist.

Joy, really great questions. I finally had some time to go through this thread and I would offer that the Scriptures are the way God reveals Himself to us. He relates in familiar literary forms. Because He is God, our understanding will always be limited. This lack of understanding is compounded by our sinful nature. The important thing is that we take Scripture as what God says about Himself. The writers He chooses, the historical and non-historical characters he creates and chooses are intentional. Here, in His Word, we meet Him. To that extent, the Scriptures are accurate and infallible.

Where does that leave Christians? Divide by their inevitable struggles with and misunderstandings of God’s Word, committed to finding the truth, and united (in spite of ourselves) in Christ. “For God so loved the world, that…” in the fullness of time “… he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Here, we gain the most vital understanding of all, how God is disposed toward us.

Yes I agree! I don’t think labeling everything we don’t agree with as “propaganda” in relation to the Bible is correct

One also has to deal with the development of the Old Testament text over time:

Conservative Christians often appeal to Qumran as proof that the OT once written was preserved with meticulous accuracy over 2500 years. There’s no doubt that the MT we have closely resembles proto-MT text forms at Qumran, but what Qumran shows is that variant literary forms of books existed.

As Ulrich notes, “variant literary editions for half or more of the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible existed in Jewish circles at the birth of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism.” (p9). Furthermore, some of these variants predate the MT or are more reliable. In fact the MT of Chronicles is based on a non-MT text of Samuel. As Ulrich says, “the Masoretic Chronicles is non Masoretic with respect to its source.” See Eugene Ulrich’s “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Developmental Composition of the Bible”

And the Book of Jeremiah is now one-seventh longer than the one that appears in some of the 2,000-year-old manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some verses, including ones containing a prophecy about the seizure and return of Temple implements by Babylonian soldiers, appear to have been added after the events happened. See the AP article, “In Jerusalem, Scholars Trace Bibleʼs Evolution,” by Matti Friedman, Aug. 12, 2011

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Esther is said to be a famous queen among the Persians. I lived in Iran (Persia) for 13 months and asked many Iranians what they knew about Esther and this book of the Bible. None had ever heard of Esther and when I told them the story, they found it strange. One well-educated individual claimed to have read the story and told me that it was only for Jews. That made me look at the book differently, and I think he was correct. This is a story about an ancient antagonism. Haman was an Agagite (Esther 8:3). King Agag was an Amorite ruler who was defeated by Saul. Saul spared Agag’s life and Samuel later executed Agag (1 Samuel 15:32-33). Mordecai and Saul were both of the tribe of Benjamin. Saul’s hesitation to execute Agag cost him his kingship. In a sense, Mordecai corrects the mistake by arranging the execution of Haman the Agagite.

Additionally, the book of Esther is inextricably linked to the uniquely Jewish holiday Purim in which Haman is vilified. While in Iran (Persia) I lived in the upstairs apartment of a Jewish family. I was living there in February 1976 on the Feast of Purim and I have no recollection of the family holding a celebration. If they did, it was quietly observed.

Jews do not regard the book of Esther as historical. In the Hebrew Bible Esther is grouped with the other books (ketuvim). The Jewish Study Bible has this to say by way of introduction to the book: "Esther is best read as a comedy. Rabbinic midrashim seem to have intuited this, and they add in the most unsubtle ways the farce or burlesque inherent in the book, with its bawdiness and slap-stick humor. The voyeurism of chapter 1 - drunken nobles hoping to ogle the queen - is made more explicit in the midrash (e.g., Esth. Rab.) on 1:11 that says that Vashti was bidden to appear “wearing a royal diadem and nothing else, that is, naked. Chapter 2, with its inside view of the harem, where the girls apply their cosmetics for a year in preparation for a night in the king’s bed, is no less sexually suggestive. The lavishness of the Persian court and the ten drinking banquets in the story add to the aura of comic excess.” Written by Adele Berlin.

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There is no hard forensic evidence against the existences of Abraham and the biblical patriarchs

and more is known about them, and their era than any of the then contemporary ancestors of anyone doubting their existence today.

So if someone asks for hard forensic evidence proving the existence of Abraham ask them for hard forensic evidence proving the existence is of their own ancestors, who lived elsewhere on Earth at the time.

If, they say that the fact that they are standing. There is evidence supporting the existence of their ancestors. Then you can point to the Bible and thousands of years of Biblical tradition. Ensuing from the lives of Abraham and the patriarchs as proof of at least a kernel of truth behind these stories.

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This is a great question. I have just been reading books and watching lectures from Biblical scholars (historical-critical method) who have demonstrated how the book of Daniel, for example, is dated. Most scholars today date the book at 164 BCE even though you may read that many date it much earlier. This is because the author gets the history correct about very specific rulers and events until the author doesn’t. And at that point he gets it wrong and starts talking apocalypticly is when he doesn’t know the history - why? Maybe because he writes just before that. And maybe like everyone else we know, the author cannot predict the future, but he can relay the past - accurately.

So what is it and how do you interpret it? It is a book that provides hope to an otherwise hopeless situation. When everything looks lost or hopeless, God swoops in and saves the day. An apocalyptic story. Not one to take literally. Yet, we modern Westerners do. The same can be said about the earliest gospel - Mark. Mark gets the history correct until he doesn’t. Why doesn’t Mark (not the actual author of course), although alluding to the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, as he sees the lead up to it from several years prior, talk about the details of the destruction? Could it be because he wrote the account just prior?

Once you understand when the books were actually written, much of which can be inferred by the material contained within it, you can begin to determine what the author knew and what he might be trying to convey. The history at the time of writing and the audience to whom it was given become critical pieces to begin to understand the presentation of the material. This requires reading not as scripture, but as literature.

There are numerous sources that are helpful here. I won’t list them, but it does require some in depth study from sources that use publicly available historical data and who do not hem themselves in with artificial constraints (i.e. presuppositions of mystical or supernatural origins of the subject material).

That is not to say that you cannot take the Bible as scripture and then devise a theology based upon your predispositions. You just will never be able to come to any conclusions about the intersection of a particular book or the whole with actual history if you do.

I like Blaise Pascal’s answer:

This is what Scripture points out to us, when it says in so many places that those who seek God find Him. It is not of that light, “like the noonday sun,” that this is said. We do not say that those who seek the noonday sun, or water in the sea, shall find them; and hence the evidence of God must not be of this nature. So it tells us elsewhere: Vere tu es Deus absconditus . (Isaiah 45:15 - Yes, you are a God who keeps hidden, O God of Israel, deliverer!)

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I agree with Pascal’s/Isaiah’s “hidden” descriptor. Why God is hidden is another question, but I agree with the descriptor.

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I am not defending the Jesus Seminar folks, neither am I disparaging them, but you are assuming with your comment that the authors, at least one of which is probably second century, did not have their own agendas and were merely communicating the facts of Jesus (even though removed by several generations). Also, using your own logic about Darwin and the missing pages, being further removed in time can actually be a benefit by the increased accumulated data and combined knowledge and study.

So, methinks you protest a bit much as to your level of astonishment.