3 Things I Would Like to See Evangelical Leaders Stop Saying about Biblical Scholarship

On occasion I come across some sweeping public claims made by Evangelical leaders about the state of biblical scholarship. These claims may be genuinely felt, but they are still false, though they persist in the Evangelical subculture.

1. Historical Criticism is either dying or at least losing momentum in academia. Rather than assuming that the Bible is revelatory (revealed by God, inspired) and therefore historically accurate, historical criticism seeks outside verification through various means of historical and textual analysis. Historical Criticism has its roots in Europe and has governed the academic study of the Bible for about 300 years.

I’m not saying anyone has to like it or agree with it. I’m only saying historical criticism isn’t dead or dying. Ask anyone who has taken Bible classes or earned a degree in Bible from a university.

True, many universities also engage in postmodern approaches that are critical of historical criticism (e.g., Feminist studies), but you’d still be hard pressed to find academic programs in Bible that don’t take as their axiomatic starting point a historical critical approach to the Bible. Look at course descriptions on the internet of departments of Religion, Judaism, Near Eastern Studies, Christian Origins, Hebrew Bible, etc.  “The Historical-Critical Method” is what defines these programs.

Claiming that historical criticism is passé may suggest to some that conservative biblical scholarship has won the “battle” against historical criticism and is now finally vindicated. This may sound appealing in popular circles, but it is not true in academia.

2. Source Criticism of the Pentateuch is in a state of chaos.  Rather than accepting the traditional view that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) in the middle of the second millennium BC, source criticism claims that scribes living after the Babylonian exile (after 539 BC) created the Pentateuch out of various pre-existent “sources.”

Source criticism has been a major thorn in the side of conservative Christians since the 19th century. But again, like it or hate it, source criticism is not dead. What is dead is how the earliest source critics theorized about these sources, most notably Julius Wellhausen in the late 19th century. His theories have been criticized from almost the beginning, but a you’d  have a hard time finding a research institution where the basic outlines of source criticism that Wellhausen popularized aren’t a given.

In my experience, the motivation behind this claim is apologetic. Casting doubt on the reigning theory of the Pentateuch supposedly elevates by default the traditional view.  But this does not address the serious problems with the traditional view that gave rise to alternate explanations in the first place.

3. Biblical archaeology basically supports the historical veracity of the Bible. Biblical archaeology has helped us understand a lot about the world of the Bible and clarified a considerable amount of what we find in the Bible. But the archaeological record has not been friendly for one vital issue, Israel’s origins: the period of slavery in Egypt, the mass departure of Israelite slaves from Egypt, and the violent conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites.

The strong consensus is that there is at best sparse indirect evidence for these biblical episodes, and for the conquest there is considerable evidence against it.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to be done and people don’t need to keep an open mind. Who knows that the future will bring? But, my only point is this: at present to say that archaeology is a friend to the historical accuracy of the Bible may be true for some things, but not for the foundational story of Israel’s origins–slavery, exodus, and conquest. This has been and continues to be a big problem, and claiming otherwise just makes the matter worse.

Anyway, I know that across the Evangelical spectrum–especially with Evangelical biblical scholars–you will find various nuances and differences of opinion on these three issues, especially off the record. I’m only talking here about uninformed public claims made by Evangelical leaders. They may be rhetorically effective, but they are false and only lead to more cognitive dissonance.




“We are all heroes of our own stories”: interview with Brandon Withrow on academic freedom in evangelicalism
The Casualty Problem (Hardman, parts 3 of 3)
reviewing two reviews of “Patterns of Evidence: Exodus” (3)
“I was always taught the Bible says X, but I just don’t see it”
  • Caleb G

    Thank you for posting this. I struggle through these issues, in particular, with the Exodus and conquest. I can swallow that Adam may or may not have been a historic figure because the Hebrew Bible never mentions him again after Genesis 5 (with the exception of 1 Chron 1:1). But the events that compose the (as you say) “foundational story of Israel’s origins” are found throughout the Hebrew Bible. If these events did not happen historically, or at least not in a way close to how they presented in Exodus-Judges, I struggle with how I can hold on the Hebrew Bible as authoritatively from God. It’s not that I’m reluctant to look at the evidence. I desire to seek truth wherever it may lead me, even if it involves overturning previously held views. The evidence that I have seen concerning the Exodus and Conquest does not seem to correspond to the understanding I was raised with. The result is major cognitive dissonance.

    What resources would you suggest for helping to understand the Exodus and the Conquest from a historical, literary, and theological perspective? Also, what do you think about the work of archeologists like Israel Finkelstein, Donald B. Redford , and William G. Dever on the one hand, and James K. Hoffmeier, K. Lawson Younger, Kenneth Kitchen on the other. And what about scholars such as John Van Seters and Richard Hess who are interpreting such results? I would be grateful if you would write a few additional posts on these topics.

    • Greg

      Nahum Sarna is a respected scholar whom has written two books for non-experts “Understanding Genesis” and “Exploring Exodus” that will gives a good historical, literary, and theological overview of the books and is richly footnoted if you want to dive into the scholarly literature on any topic.
      Maybe Pete can suggest some more?

    • Paul D.

      “But the events that compose the (as you say) “foundational story of Israel’s origins” are found throughout the Hebrew Bible.”

      Perhaps not as much as you think. It’s true that the Deuteronomistic History (Deuteronomy through 2 Kings) presents a fairly continuous (though rife with contradictions) foundation story, this story and its theological perspective is practically absent from the prophets, who were generally writing earlier. There is nothing of the Exodus or Joshua’s conquest of Canaan in Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, etc. There are hints that many Judeans saw themselves as having originated in Egypt, but there is nothing about slavery, the Exodus, or 40 years in the wilderness until the book of Exodus was written very late in the day (3rd century BCE, some scholars think).

  • http://www.suttersaga.com Samuel Sutter

    are they basically right though? – well, if they’re saying that accademia has a less homogenous case against the divinity of the Bible than say 50 years ago, and that while accademia would think inspiration is a fantasy, it generally spends less energy disproving it than at other times?

    • Wonder

      “academia” is not, in fact, a monolithic, anti-christian entity. It’s not one of the beasts in Revelation.

  • http://hopaulius.wordpress.com hopaulius

    I think the situation could be helped by a healthy dose of self-criticism on the part of academic biblical scholars, who regularly overstate the certainty of their results. Biblical scholarship is a jumble of competing and often contradictory methodologies. The methodology chosen by a scholar often seems to reflect their own personality and political/cultural commitments at least as much as anything that emerges from the biblical text. I thought about this a lot while I was in grad school and the O.J. Simpson trials were happening. Two juries looked at identical evidence and came to contradictory conclusions, and this about events months ago, not millennia ago. Turn to practically any scholarly article, and you will find a statement of near certainty about how the text is in error and exactly how it got that way, or about the meaning of a pot, a shard, an inscription, a “form”, and on and on. Papers and publications are presented as much in the service of promoting one’s own career as in discovery or refinement of historical truth. The Bible, its history, and its meaning lies somewhere outside the mistaken certainty of the Evangelical fundamentalists and the mistaken certainty of academic Bible scholars.

    • Derek

      Well said!

    • peteenns

      But, I would presume there are in fact certain “assured results of criticism” that you agree are pretty assured, right? For example, the composite nature of the Pentateuch and its development over time (rather than authored by Moses in 1500 BC), or the problems of squaring the biblical conquest story against with archaeological remains. That is the level of discourse I am engaged in here.

      My concern with your comment is that some will read it and say, “See, I told you. Biblical criticism is subjective and chaotic. Best to stick with literalism.”

      • Michael Straight

        I’m sorry this must seem like asking you to repeat what you’ve said a million times, but could you give some examples of the kinds of “evidence” you keep talking about for the composite nature of the Pentateuch? Is it anything other than scholars claiming that some bits (in their opinion) don’t seem to fit very well with other bits? We haven’t actually found manuscripts containing the “priestly” sections of Genesis or something like that, have we?

  • Adriel Trott

    As a point of clarification: I would call feminist studies post-historical criticism in the sense that it relies on the strategies of historical criticism and attempts to push these strategies further. That is, it’s more than saying, not even understanding the context can save this text. Often, feminist approaches can say, what we think today in our context this text is saying about women is not borne out in the examination of the historical context in which it is said.

  • Daniel

    I have to agree with you on these criticisms — and bought into these lines myself once upon a time.
    I’ve also heard similar statements on the science-front as well, more often than I’d like: “Evolution is about to be overturned; more scientists than ever are expressing their doubts about it, etc.” Funny how I’ve never heard these doubts from my fellow biologists, or in the literature. Only in popular Christian circles.
    Shouldn’t honesty be a primary concern for Christians? Even at a pragmatic level, this is devastating to our brightest students when they head off to university, only to realize that they’ve been misinformed — knowingly or otherwise — by evangelical leaders.
    Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…

  • Pete

    This s why I follow your blog and read your stuff. It’s immensely refreshing to read from someone concerned with truth (as opposed to being concerned with proving that their version of truth -must- be correct). I only wish more evangelical scholars had your humility and honest self-criticism.

  • http://www.yeshua21.com Wayne

    Excelent, Peter–keep up the good work and the open heart/mind! :)


  • Jim

    I sometimes wonder what will survive longer, the OT stories themselves or the apologetics approach employed by the Evangelical system. I suppose it is quite natural to try to fight for survival when facts threaten extinction.

  • http://craigvick.wordpress.com Craig Vick

    Thanks for this. I confess as a pastor I’ve passed on similar “developments” only to discover that I didn’t do my homework. I have seen, however, if you’ll forgive some mild passing of the buck, a shift in commentaries that aligns somewhat with 1. When I was in seminary, most of what I considered to be good commentaries spent a lot of time discussing the source or sources of passages. Now, more than a few begin with a claim that they’re doing something different (a little irony in that) – they’re going to focus on the narrative we have and not on how it was put together.

  • http://psionicwave.com.blog David Clark

    Regarding source criticism:

    Source criticism is certainly still the dominant means of understanding the Pentateuch. What in your opinion is the best book covering the current state of source critical analysis of the Pentateuch? Most resources I have read tend to 1) Give the standard JEDP explanation of the sources of the Pentateuch and 2) Say that scholars are reconsidering some or all aspects of JEDP, but never explain what new configurations of sources are being debated.

    I have read Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible,” so I am familiar with the standard account of the sources. I’m looking for a resource to get me up to speed on the current state of debate.

    • Nathan

      For a European perspective that has moved away from JEDP in favor a tradition-historical approach: 20. Dozeman, T. and K. Schmid, eds. A Farewell to the Yahwist?: The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation. SBLSymp 34. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2006. This represents the basic alternative to JEDP that is out there and has any credibility. Ironically, when evangelicals polemicize against JEDP, they fail to recognize that the other academic alternative is far more radical in its view of the fragmentary nature of the text that the JEDP model.

      For a defense of JEDP from a newer perspective, heavily influenced by Israeli scholarship: Baden, Joel. The Composition of the Pentateuch: Renewing the Documentary Hypothesis. Yale, 2012.

      For a collection that includes both practitioners of tradition-historical approaches as well as the JEDP model, including perspectives from Europe, America, and Israel: Dozeman, Thomas B. et. al. The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research. 2011.

      There is no denying that there are serious differences among scholars on the composition of the Pentateuch, but evangelical apologists tend to overlook important areas of consensus. Read through those books and you’ll see that scholars are completely agreed on the composite nature of the text as well as on the division of P vs. non-P (i.e. all agree not only that P is a source but also on the precise limits of that source).

      • peteenns

        Thanks, Nathan. This is right and important for people to see.

    • http://kolhaadam.wordpress.com Joseph Ryan Kelly


      The book you are looking for is Dozeman, Thomas B., Konrad Schmid, and Baruch J. Schwartz (eds.). The Pentatuch: International Perspectives on Current Research. FAT 78. Tübingen: Mohr Seibeck, 2011.

      You might consider, on a more introductory level, Ska, Jean Louis. Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006.

    • http://psionicwave.com.blog David Clark

      Thanks all. I just ILL’d “Farewell to the Yahwist” and Ska’s book.

  • Matteo Masiello

    If you tell a lie long enough people will believe it. When you are losing an argument resorting to lying to make your case is the way to go.

  • James

    Biblical criticism as inductive study on its own will inevitably produce high levels of disagreement. Scientific results require informed yet subjective interpretations expecially in observational sciences, archaeology, and ancient language and literature. Remember the text is 2000 plus years old and the mid-eastern terrain is notoriously unstable. So don’t be too quick to declare specific biblical data erroneous–that’s not even scientific! “Objective” (if such an animal exists) biblical crticism has an essential but limited place in biblical studies, mainly to reveal cultural context–not so much specific events, times and places. Some theologians and scholars are finding narrative approaches in canonical context even more fruitful. Here we get a bird’s eye view of the grand themes and direction of divine revelation including hope for the future and wisdom for the journey of every day. Of course, no narrative study is complete without alignment of our own life stories in concert with others and the Holy Spirit. Scholasticism is not dead but it needs constant refinement.

    • peteenns

      These are very sweeping comments, James. I am always a bit wary of top down generalizing assessments such as this that remain on the level of prolegomena and not details. As for narrative and canonical approaches being morte “fruitful”, the question, of course, is fruitful for what? Not for addressing historical questions.

    • Dale Murphy


      Many have actually found some of the more narrative readings to confirm source divisions. For example, the new edition of Robert Alter’s Art of Biblical Narrative (the 2011 publication) is a case in point: the preface explains his decision to now speak of a J source, etc., as many of the narrative and literary features end up being only part of one or another source. An excellent article here is Joel Baden’s article “The Tower of Babel: A Case Study in the Competing Methods of Historical and Literary Criticism.” He lays out well how literary approaches you seem to advocate in no way render historical criticism dead.

      And no one is forgetting how old the Bible is. That’s precisely what historical criticism is designed to do: place the Bible in historical context. Perhaps us historical critics are too positivistic at times, but no field ever advanced without people arguing vigorously for positions. In fact, any narrative of scholarship that puts your view of the Bible as the inevitable goal sounds extremely positivistic to me. Don’t forget that there are tens of thousands of Protestant denominations and countless Protestant scholars are who doing (in their minds) exactly what you are advocating: trying to read the Bible as a unified narrative. Which results in thousands of Protestant denominations and countless Protestant scholars who disagree with each other. To me, it’s much easier to suppose that the problem is that the text isn’t unified. Sounds to me like Protestantism is in much more of a disarray than critical scholarship!

  • Ted

    Dr Enns,
    If you truly think that the archaeological community is completely objective in how it looks at the material evidence for the Bible then you are either completely ignorant of Near Eastern Archaeology or you don’t care to know.

    To begin with, the claim that the Bible, has little or sparse archaeological support ignores or overlooks literally tons of epigraphic and archaeological evidence to the contrary which reveals that Hebrew Bible and the nation Israel have roots deeply embedded in real history. The first artifact discovered which referred to Israel as a people was in 1896 by the British archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie. The find by Petrie was called the “Merneptah Stele” and is also known as the “Israel Stele.” It got its name from the fact that the main text on the stele commemorates the Egyptian Pharaoh Merneptah’s victory over the Libyans and their allies. In line 27 “Israel” is mentioned by name as one of the people groups who were conquered. What is significant is that in Egyptian hieroglyphics the determinative for “people” is used which indicates that there was a group of people who identified themselves by the name “Israel” in the 13th Century B.C..

    In recent years there have been an increasing number of artifacts and inscriptions which have come to light that indicate that there was indeed a Hebrew people along with their most well known kings such as David & Solomon. During the 1993-1994 excavation season at Tel Dan in Northern Israel, archaeologist Avraham Biran discovered fragment of a stele (fragment A) which clearly mentions the ‘house of David’ in ancient Aramaic providing the very first solid extra-biblical authentication of the existence of King David.

    Most recently – Israeli archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University, who is now excavating a site known as Hirbet Qeiyafa, located in the Judean hills not far from the modern-day city of Beit Shemesh.— has uncovered two model shrines, one of clay and one of stone. This discovery echoes elements of Temple architecture as described in the Bible and strengthens his claim that the city that stood at the site 3,000 years ago was inhabited by Israelites and was part of the kingdom ruled from Jerusalem by the biblical King David. In addition to this, according to the excavation project website, “The city has the most impressive First Temple period fortifications, including casemate city wall and two gates, one in the west and the other in the south. The gates are of identical size, and consist of four chambers. This is the only known city from the First Temple period with two gates.” This evidence certainly doesn’t sound like an “invented” history.

    With reference to the historical Exodus, there is a mountain in Western Saudi Arabia (Jebel al Lawz) that fits the description of Mount Sinai perfectly, yet Western Archaeologists are forbidden to excavate there because it is “off limits” by Saudi officials. Initial surveys around the mountain indicate a very rich source archaeological data and there is even a huge stone altar which contains petroglyphs of Egyptian cattle – incidentally, the same type of cattle which were sacred to the Egytptians and probably worshipped by the Israelites at the base of Sinai.

    I readily admit that Israel’s early history is not easy to reconstruct from archaeological and extra-biblical epigraphic sources alone, but it is there. But there’s something else to keep in mind and it is that a meticulous reconstruction of the ancient past is not just a problem with Israel’s early history, but all of ancient history. The further back in time we go, the more unclear things become. It takes hard work, but we can get at the past. Israel was a small nation, so we wouldn’t expect to find huge urban centers such as we find in Mesopotamia or monumental architecture such as the great pyramids of Egypt. Yet, archaeologists continue sifting through the sands of history, a picture of early Israel is emerging from the artifacts that very closely resembles what we read about on the pages of the Old Testament.

    Absence of evidence – is not evidence of absence.

    • peteenns

      Ted, I am fully aware of the evidence you lay out. If you read my post carefully you will see that I acknowledge, happily, the convergence of some archaeological artifacts with Israel’s later history, including its tribal league. I also know what the Merneptah Stele is (the earliest extra-biblical reference to Israel) and I think it is a fantastic piece of evidence for a self-described entity. You misinterpret, however, the significance of the Egyptian determinative “people.” This indicates “Israel” was not recognized as a settled city-dwelling people but a nomadic people. So, not yet a “nation” but, let’s say a group of people who have some sense of common identity–perhaps what would become a tribal confederation.

      As for Sinai, you refer to Jebel al Lawz as a mountain that “fits the description of Mount Sinai perfectly.” What description would that be? The Bible doesn’t describe the mountain itself in any way that would be a help to us here. Do you mean general location? A location in western S.A. is definitely much preferred to the Sinai peninsula (I agree with others it would need to be nearer to Midian). But, you are also likely aware that this site is hardly without controversy. More importantly, surely you’re not suggesting that this is evidence for the Exodus from Egypt?! Your advice at the end of your post is apropos here. Given the other peoples who had gods with mountains and you would not take that as evidence for anything historical, it is entirely reasonable to say that the Israelites had their own tradition.

      But, as for Israel origins, which is what my post refers to, you still have the problem of Israelite presence in Egypt, mass departure, and a violent conquest of Canaan. These are still problems.

      The end of your post is interesting. “Yet, archaeologists continue sifting through the sands of history, a picture of early Israel is emerging from the artifacts that very closely resembles what we read about on the pages of the Old Testament.” Where did you hear this from? Are you an archaeologist?

    • Dale Murphy


      You should be aware that the data you cite from Kirbet Qeiyafa is extremely debated. Extremely.

      Absence of evidence can actually be evidence of absence. The absence of destruction layers at certain sites, the absence of pottery and campgrounds that could be traced to a moving people group, the absence of record of Egyptian garrisons in the Levant when the Israelites arrived in the Bible (which we know were there archaeologically), the absence of record of Israelites escaping during a time when the eastern delta was heavily guarded after the expulsion of the Hyksos, the absence of any sign of an external culture coming from the outside to conquer and settle in the highlands of Judah, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. If absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, then it sounds like the only evidence you’ll ever consider is evidence that fits your preconceived belief set, which might make it difficult to have a reasoned debate or argument! In other words, people tend to throw that statement around like it is unassailable logic, when in reality sometimes absence of evidence is actually evidence of absence.

      Merneptah, Tell-Dan, etc., are all great. They show us that there was a people group called Israel, that there was a lineage that some attached to a dynasty of David. And I think that’s great! But that doesn’t vindicate a “biblical” anything. It’s external evidence for context, which doesn’t touch the internal problems: how did Israel get there and take possession of the land? Like Joshua says, or Judges says? Or like Leviticus 18:25 says (that God will have already vomited the Canaanites out before Israel gets there)? I could go on with similar problems for texts like the three different law codes, what happened at Sinai, how David became king, etc. In order words, whatever picture archaeology may or may not show about early Israel still doesn’t solve the problem that we don’t know what early Israel looked like biblically given the fact that the Bible doesn’t agree with itself on this issue. So appealing to that external data doesn’t vindicate the Bible or what we read in the pages of the Old Testament since that presupposes that the pages in the Old Testament tell one story, which is the very issue at debate (or, for some of us, isn’t at debate since it’s been proven for centuries that it isn’t one story!).

    • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com Enopoletus Harding

      Ted-I have debunked Qeiyafa on my YouTube channel and Jebel al-Lawz on my website (Against Jebel al-Lawz). My website has the same name as my YT channel.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Maybe we need a short list of very relevant cold hard facts from historical studies, archaeology, anthropology, biology and perhaps physics that are very unlikely to be challenged any time soon. With this list, if is convincing enough, and short enough, we may get general agreement that our interpretation/literal reading of the OT is due for a major overhaul. I feel that sometimes people who are reluctant to budge are overwhelmed by the flood of established facts, near facts, hypotheses and outright speculations. These are busy people with serious responsibilities. What they are facing, should they except the assignment, seems like mission impossible. Those of us who have started down that road do have an obligation to point out what “new” findings are absolutely impossible to avoid.

    I know, Pete, that this is largely what you are doing and I, among many, benefit greatly from it. But, would a really short, essential list be useful? Probably naive to think that it would.

  • Ted

    Dr. Enns,
    Thanks for your response. I have a B.A. in archaeology and a Master of Apologetics with a concentration in philosophy. I also teach undergraduate courses in Old Testament and Biblical Archaeology. I studied archaeology under Joe D. Seger (past president of ASOR) who was also a colleague of William Dever. So I am pretty familiar with the literature and internal debates among Near Eastern archaeologists. In my referral to the Merneptah Stele I didn’t say that Israel was an established nation but a “people.” But you must also remember that according to Judges 1 the Conquest was never fully carried out, so we wouldn’t expect to find much evidence of an Israelite material culture in the archaeological record but Canaanite. But there is archaeological evidence of a Conquest at Jericho. Kathleen Kenyon was simply incorrect in re-dating the site because she didn’t find imported Cypriot bi-chrome pottery. Locally made bi-chrome pottery discovered in other cities date them firmly to around 1401-1406 B.C. – the date of the conquest. In city IV of Jericho there is a destruction and a double wall collapse complete with a brick ramp going up into the city. In addition the city was burned and the grain and storehouses were untouched – exactly like the Bible says (Joshua 6). For a more detailed treatment see Dr. Bryant Wood’s published articles in BAR (Biblical Archaeology Review) and other publications.

    As to the site of Jebel al Lawz and Mount Sinai – the Bible does give some general characteristics of the mountain. 1. It is the location of Moses’ encounter with God (Ex. 3:1-22). 2. It is located “to the back of the desert” in Midian (Ex. 3:1). 3. It was a “sign” to Moses that God was with him (Ex. 3:11-12). 4. It is the location of the giving of the Law [Torah] to the nation of Israel (Ex. 20). 5. It is where Elijah went after escaping from Jezebel (1 Kings 19) and some physical descriptions of what one might discover around it – A mountain with a darkened summit since God appeared in fire on the mountain and it smoked (see Exodus 19:18). Stacks of stones surrounding the base of the the mountain grouping (representing the marking off of the mountain because it was holy – see Exodus 19:12); Twelve stone pillars at the base of the largest peak (with the darkened summit) representing the twelve tribes of Israel (see Exodus 24:4) – An altar (near the columns) which would be the site where Israel worshiped the Golden Calf (see Exodus 32) – and a cave on a mountain adjoining Jebel al-Lawz which is the cave of Elijah (1 Kings 19). Every single one of these physical descriptions is found at the mountain – Jebel al Lawz in S.A.. If this mountain and its environs could be surveyed archaeologically, and if it turns out to be the true Sinai mentioned in the Bible, then it would provide invaluable historical and archaeological information about Israel’s early origins. But, if archaeologists are not allowed to explore then people will continue to believe that the Exodus is just a myth.
    I would also add that this is where I believe Paul of Tarsus went after his Damascus road experience (see Galatians 1:17 & 4:21-25). It would make perfect sense that Paul would want to go to Arabia, where he could think about and perhaps meditate on the meaning of Christ in relation to the Torah (given at Sinai). But this is just my conjecture.

    I would fully agree with you that Biblical scholars sometimes make archaeology say more than it does, but at the same time liberal scholars also easily dismiss evidence when it doesn’t fit their agenda. I think it’s good that you are open to look at the evidence. I hope I have given you some to ponder.
    Ted W.

    • peteenns


      You’re aware of the consensus responses to Wood, I assume, and are not convinced? I’m not seeing how those 5 descriptors of Sinai can be matched to anything today.

      Do you work for ABR?

      • Bev Mitchell

        Now I see why my suggestion (above) might not work, at least for archaeology. ID often does the same sort of thing with biology.

        • peteenns

          The style of argumentation between ID and apologists of archaeology and other biblical matters are parallel.

        • Loren Haas

          I was once in a informal men’s group at a church my wife and I had recently started to attend. One of the “brothers” felt it necessary to inform one of the pastors that I had expressed an acceptance of an “Old Earth” and evolutionary theory. This pastor took me into his office one day and explained to me that evolution was a “dying theory” and would soon be consigned to the “dust bin of history”. I did not know about I.D. theory at the time, being new to Evangelical churches, and I attempted to argue from my point of view. It was like talking to a Scientologist. After being subjected to this a few more times, I just learned to avoid the office and eventually moved on to find a church where science was not required to submit to (bad) theology.

  • James

    Narrative and canonical approaches do not necessarily address historical issues and that’s part of my point. There is more than historical study going on in our quest for divine revelation, which may be more important than the date of the Exodus or settlement versus conquest. Having said that, divine revelation does have relevance to the material world because of the incarnation. So, let study continue at all levels. Yes, I’m a generalist who tries to push a nose through the clouds once in a while to have a look around–also a worthy pursuit I think.

    • peteenns

      I’m down with that, James. No problem. But the issue may not be the date of the exodus but whether it happened. Actually, I see these clear historical problems as pushing the church to a place where historical matters at every point are not of central concern.

  • Phil Little

    You points are succinctly made. The one problem is that the persons you would wish to engage in dialogue come to the table with their minds closed, their ears blocked and their interest in true biblical research totally stifled by their indoctrination which has taught them that the bible is factually inerrant, a closed book dictated by God “him”self. Their only interest in dialogue is to convert the other to their way of thinking, which does not allow for anything other than the absolutes that they hold dear. Still, I wish I had access to such clear writing as yours when I was teaching. Hopefully a younger generation also has found your website and can pass on your insights and concerns.

  • Larry S

    Ted and Dr. Enns. What’s with the brick ramp going up the walls into Jericho? I thought it was all done with loud shouts and horn blowing.

    Ted’s post mentions a ramp going up Jericho’s walls. If the biblical account is inerrant – why would we find a ramp.

  • David A Booth


    I am amazed at how much of the Christian world seems to live in theological ghettos. I am not simply referring to evangelicals. Try this experiment: Ask your colleagues who their favorite theologian from the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church is. Since the LCMS is eight times as large as the Presbyterian Church in America this should be easy. The only trouble should be narrowing down the large number of LCMS theologians that jump to mind.

    In a similar vein, I have noticed that seminary students at Harvard Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary are frequently entirely unaware of outstanding evangelical scholars such as Doug Moo, Greg Beale, or Bruce Waltke.

    While some of this is inevitable, given the vast amount of Biblical and theological scholarship that is produced, there really does seem to be a perverse tendency in the theological disciplines to read those authors who we already agree with.

    Best wishes,


  • http://www.blackcoffeereflections.com Tim

    I’m with you so far, give us three more please.

  • http://bigcircumstance.com/ Dave Faulkner

    Dr Enns,

    Thanks for this – it punctures a few silly myths. It makes me curious what you think about Dr John Bimson’s theory of redating the Exodus and Conquest from about 30 years ago. I will declare an interest in that John was my tutor during my first degree, but I am also interested to know what you think, given the ethically troubling nature of the Conquest narratives and the fact that defending them for the sake of historicity potentially puts us in the double bind of then being seen to be arguing in favour of ethnic cleansing.

  • Joe Rutherford

    At the risk of being viewed as out of place in the midst of scholars, I’d like to say that I have seen the land of ancient Egypt. This did not happen by digging through ancient rubble, but by being in the Spirit, in like manner as brother John in Revelation. God showed me that place and time and He also showed me an event involving Pharoah and Moses. Now I’ve always believed the Holy Bible to be true and also being in the Spirit with the fear of God in me so much, I can understand why even Moses trembled and John fainted. Good Bible study is a good thing. Pursue it very carefully. Pursue unity with God. Only He can grant the revealing of the Truth. For us non-scholar Galilean types, please explain in the simplist terms what are you wanting to do concerning the Bible ? I know of no person on Earth who is currently teaching the Holy Bible with completed perfection. I’m asking, what is your goal? Can you help a mere commoner understand your bottom line? I know of no group in the world who has a perfect understanding of the Truth. In what way are you wanting to help us less formally educated folks understand the Bible?

    Archeology can be interesting. I once read a book about artifacts found at Babylon. It blew away the lies taught in public school by the secular education system, which I was taught in the 60′s. They elevated pagan Babylon as being a noble corner stone for modern civilization. However, the archeologist discovered just how grossly evil those pagans really were. A pity the modern government brainwashes little children with nonsense.

  • Andy

    Hi Peter,
    Thank you for engaging in this discussion. However I have some deep questions.
    I’m interested, in previous articles you have compared the exodus account to a painting (rather than a photograph). I get a sense that you are pushing the exodus account more towards mostly ‘mythic’ territory. Is this a correct interpretation of your current position?
    I find it a challenge to reconcile the Jewish passover, celebrated by thousands of Jews across generations to be linked to an event without some decent historical grounding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m open to human perception ‘coloring’ of the event but I find it a challenge to put the exodus in the same kind of category as Adam, Job or Jonah.
    I am sincerely interest in your opinion and in the world of academic evangelicals who open to historical criticism, what is a likely scenario for the Exodus and ten commandments. What did it possibly look like? What is a likely scenario?

    As you embrace the physical resurrection of Christ and his miracles, I am interested – what miraculous Old Testament events do you believe represent reliable historical explanations (that we would accept from a modern perspective) and which events do you hold as pre-scientific ways of explaining identity, purpose theology etc….
    Gideon defeating Midianites,the challenge on mount carmel, Pillar of fire to guide the Israelites, Samson’s super strength, David defeating Goliath, Elisha’s miracles…..
    What can we reliably teach others – this really happened….
    From your perspective, how do we discern this?

    • Joe Rutherford

      Andy—– Well said. To deny the Exodus is to deny certain NT scriptures as well. So much could be said in defence of the purity of the Holy Scriptures. Yes we must be careful in study, search out the original languges, and give careful consideration to honest textual critisim. Another fact is to beware of the common mistake made by those who read modern social and political trends into biblical interpretation. Almost all people in the west have been brainwashed by the teachings of democracy. People in other social/political environments often interpret the Bible with thier own twist. There is no Church today that fully understands even the foundational principals of Christ. Many understand parts. But whether Evangelical or RC, they are all mostly hardheaded and difficult to believe anything except, I/we are right and all others are wrong. In order to “prove” their points some will even start tearing parts of the Holy Text out of the Bible, or just ignore it all together, or come up with an interpretational method based upon science and socially accepted trends. Well, the holy text stated all these things would happen.

    • peteenns


      Good questions. I’ve expressed elsewhere that Exodus is “mythicized history.” The question is the nature of the combination of these ingredients. Your questions that follow re: setting are part of the modern dialogue of biblical scholars and these questions have been answered in various, yet overlapping, ways. Your ending questions about the NT and other OT miracles is interesting but off topic. I say that because I see this type of argument too often: If I begin going down that road where will it stop? In another content that may be the question of the day, but where a thought might lead does not determine how the exodus should be understood.

  • Ted

    Dr Enns,
    I don’t work for ABR. I’m not sure how that would be relevant to anything I have said. At best it commits the ‘genetic fallacy,’ at worst it is an underhanded ‘ad-hominem.’ Besides, the people working at ABR reject the Arabian Mt. Sinai hypothesis (i.e. Jebel al Lawz), so they wouldn’t agree with me on that point.

    I don’t put a lot of weight in what the consensus of archaeologists believe who are working today. To suggest or imply that a scholar must agree with what “the consensus of scientists, historians, etc…” hold is academic tyranny. What if you were a scientist or historian working in Nazi Germany in the 1930′s? Would you follow the consensus then? The hallmark of academia and liberal learning is the ability to disagree with ones colleagues. Most archaeologists working today have a very low view of the Biblical text (historically) which wasn’t true 40-50 years ago when William F. Albright and G.E. Wright were luminaries in Biblical archaeology. I wonder what your views would have been during the height of the Albright-Wright era in Biblical studies? Do you think Albright and his students were wrong about Israel?

    Furthermore, I think Bryant Wood’s analysis of Jericho is solid. It doesn’t really matter if his views are contested by other scholars, that is to be expected in academia. His scholarship and analysis of the ceramics is well researched and reasoned. If one looks at the evidence objectively then there is incredible corraborative evidence of a conquest of Jericho in 1401-1406 B.C. – City IV’s walls were collapsed, the city was burned and then abandoned for centuries afterwards just like the Bible says. I’m curious what exactly about Wood’s analysis of the ceramics discovered in Jericho do you disagree with?

    But, to your original post (point 3) in your Blog – Here you make a sweeping generalization (which I noticed you accused someone else in the post of committing)

    In the three things you would like to see Evangelical leaders Stop Saying about Biblical Scholarship – number 3 – is that “Biblical Archaeology Basically Supports the Historical Veracity of the Bible”

    But the very first thing you say is – (and I quote) “Biblical archaeology has helped us understand a lot about the world of the Bible and clarified a considerable amount of what we find in the Bible” But this is the very thing you said that you would like to see evangelical leaders stop saying!

    But then you say – (and again I quote) – “But the archaeological record has not been friendly for one vital issue, Israel’s origins: the period of slavery in Egypt, the mass departure of Israelite slaves from Egypt, and the violent conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites.”

    Perhaps what you should have said in your original blog is that you would like to see Evangelical leaders stop claiming that “Archaeology supports the historicity of early Israel, The Exodus and Conquest.”

    But on this point I have given you possible archaeological & historical evidence that these things indeed have occurred and you contested the evidence. So, I would like to ask you, what WOULD constitute good historical/archaeological evidence in your mind, of an Israelite presence in Egypt, a mass exodus, and a military conquest (from a literal reading of the OT text)?

    As you very well know, artifacts don’t interpret themselves. After they are excavated and cataloged, there is a complex interpretive grid through which they must be sifted. Archaeology is not an exact science – it’s not physics or algebra. It is still advancing (with new methods and procedures and discoveries) and at best yields only probable results. As Thomas W. Davis points out, “an excavation is a dialogue not a monologue – data speaks only in response to a question and the question we seek to answer shapes our field methods”

    Not surprisingly, the climate today towards the general historical trustworthiness of the Bible is cool at best. So, I’m not surprised at how artifacts and sites are interpreted by archaeologists. The Bible is not given the benefit of the doubt in historical matters anymore, but is treated just like any other ancient “myth” or “literature.” But, why this tendency not to trust the literary evidence when it is not confirmed by archaeological discoveries? Archaeologists are human. They are not perfectly objective and can be swayed by prior beliefs and/or metaphysical commitment just like anyone else.

    On a similar note – for many years scholars have seen parallels in the development of Mycenaean archaeology and the Homeric legends. As Mycenaean archaeology has advanced, a new picture is emerging that it was based on a bedrock of historical truth (see John K. Davies, “The Trojan War: Its Historicity and Context,” Bristol, 1984). Our knowledge of the archaeology of Egypt and Syrio-Palestine is far from complete, but what we do have are artifacts and clues that it is grounded in historical reality (that’s my main point).

    And as William Dever points out “The parallels of the early history of Israel and the growth of biblical tradition and literature are clear, even extending to the chronology of events… If Homer can in a sense be ‘historical,’ why not the Hebrew Bible?” (What the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It? pg. 279)

    I am sure you are familiar with the work of these OT scholars (not laymen or those who work for ABR or Answers in Genesis) – all of whom believe that there was a nation called Israel – a historical exodus and conquest (as described in the Bible)
    Egyptologist – Kenneth Kitchen, “On the Reliability of the Old Testament” (Eerdmans)
    Egyptologist – James K. Hoffmeier – “Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition” (Oxford)
    Assyriologist, Alan R. Millard (University of Liverpool) various scholarly journal articles, books, etc…
    See his, “Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives” Co-edited with D.J. Wiseman.
    John Currid, “Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament”
    Daniel I. Block, Editor, “Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention?”
    Edwin Yamauchi (Miami University, Oxford Ohio)

    If you’re truly open to look at the evidence of Israel’s early history then read out these books.
    Ted W

    • Nathan

      I haven’t read all the comments, but would like to respond to this last one.

      Here’s one MAJOR problem with Wood’s analysis. Granting for the sake of argument that there is a 15th cent. destruction of Jericho, there is no demographic or cultural change in the 15th century that this destruction can be correlated with, which means it is completely implausible to attribute the destruction to a some sort of migrating group such as the Israelites in the exodus/conquest story. In answer to your question, “what WOULD constitute good historical/archaeological evidence in your mind, of an Israelite presence in Egypt, a mass exodus, and a military conquest” the answer is simple: destruction layers in various cities, occurring in the same period, and correlated with a change in culture and demography. The Philistines, in fact, provide a perfect example of what a migration/conquest looks like (See Stager’s article “Forging in Identity”), and there is NOTHING in the 15th century that supports any kind of significant demographic or cultural change in the highlands.

      The current consensus traces the origins of the Israelites in the settlers who populated the highlands of Canaan in the Iron I. Why they settled there remains a matter of debate, but what is not debated is that their culture was a rural subset of coastal Canaanite culture. Albright’s idea that the Israelites simply learned how to make houses and pottery from their Canaanite neighbors sounds like special pleading. A simpler explanation is that they were Canaanites who decided for one reason or another to settle the highlands. How and when some of them began to understand themselves as “Israelites” is a matter of historical debate, and is in any case not the kind of question archaeology is equipped to answer (as much as archaeologists sometimes try).

      Most archaeologists and biblicists, by the way, agree that the narratives about Israel’s origins are grounded in some kind of history, although for many all they mean by this is that traces of dim memories of the late bronze/iron age I occasionally show up in the Bible. Pete’s characterization of the state of art of “biblical archaeology” is therefore quite accurate.

    • peteenns

      On Wood, see Nathan’s comment. You also haven’t responded to Dale Murphy’s comment.

      I’ve read these books. And others. On Hoffmeier, note his conclusion re: his own archaeological work is that the idea of an exodus isn’t impossible. He knows very well he hasn’t proven anything.

      You should also know that in virtually any academic discipline there is always a voice of dissent. This is good, but for the few names you list here, many more could be listed voicing the opposite view

      Ted, if you really think that you’ve cracked this nut, why not write a book–preferably one that is peer reviewed, and present your ideas at academic conferences? Or do you some blindness, even conspiracy, on the part of archaeologists who don’t agree with you?

  • Ted

    @Dale Murphy – The historical existence of Israel doesn’t stand or fall on the site of Kirbet Qeiyafa. And you are wrong – the Tel-Dan inscription IS indeed extrabiblical evidence of the existence of David mentioned in the Bible. David was a historical figure and the archaeology is consistent with that fact. You as well as Nathan are also making grand assumptions about what YOU think Israelite material culture would look like and what you would expect to find. Why are you assuming Nathan that there would be a grand cultural shift in the 15th Century? If you actually read the text you will note that throughout Israel’s history there was a major problem with syncretism with the indigenous Canaanite culture – and this is exactly what we find in the archaeological record! Read Dever’s BAR article “Did Yahweh Have a Consort?” It would be almost impossible to discover what Israelite material and cultic culture looked like simply because the differences between them and their neighbors were only slight at best. The high-water mark of Israelite culture where we would expect to see some more marked differences would be in the 9-10th Century B.C. (under David & Solomon). And there is still more work to be done in this area.

    I don’t completely disagree with Pete’s main point about the archaeological record being incomplete about Israel’s origins – but I don’t think it follows that therefore it never happened the way the Bible says it did. There is some archaeological evidence. Do most archaeologists believe it? No. Does more work need to be done in this area? Definitely!

    In the meantime – I am going to trust in the integrity of the literary evidence – i.e. the biblical text (by faith) and continue to to try understand its relationship to the archaeological record and history.

    • Nathan

      “Why are you assuming Nathan that there would be a grand cultural shift in the 15th Century?” Because some kind of change in the demographics and culture is a sine qua non of a mass migration. No shift in the material culture and no demographic change = no migration. Based on the biblical account, one expects archaeological evidence akin to what one sees with the Philistines. If there are examples of large scale migrations that are archaeologically “invisible,” which is what you are claiming for the Israelite migration, that evidence should be presented (and an argument made for why it is more pertinent than the Philistine example). If there are no such examples, then you have to admit that the archaeological evidence suggests something quite different than what is described in the narrative.

    • peteenns


      I would ask that you tone down the apologetic rhetoric, like “if you actually read the text.” Both of these gentlemen are highly trained, utterly comptent, with degrees in these fields more advanced than yours. That may not mean convince you of their points of view, but they are not in need of a reprimand or lecturing.

      You cite Dever approvingly, yet he does not follow you to your conclusions. Why? Is he just not catching on as quickly as you or are you running too far ahead of yourself?

      The literary evidence, as you call it, needs to be read in its ancient context–just like the material evidence. The ancient literary context of Genesis and Exodus (Israel’s origins) does not support your assertion that these writings constitute historical evidence in the way you presume.

      I also think you misread DM’s assessment of Tel-Dan. I heard him saying that it indicates David’s existence, but that does not mean that the David stories are historical.

  • Ted

    Disagreeing with someone is not apologetic rhetoric. Pointing out whether or not someone has read the text is not calling into question one’s credentials or competence. I am sure they are competent, well trained, and well read. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are right.

    Yes I cite Dever. There are certain things that he says that I agree with, but still others I don’t. Surely you don’t think that if I cite a scholar, that I have to agree with their conclusions? Do you agree with every scholar you quote? I’m guessing, probably not.

    “The ancient literary context of Genesis and Exodus (Israel’s origins) does not support your assertion that these writings constitute historical evidence in the way you presume.” Begs the question. This is what we are debating.

    Besides the Tel-Dan inscription (and many other sites and artifacts I cited and you rejected) – there is other corraborating evidence of the history of Old Testament Israel in the writers of the New Testament – and even Jesus Himself. Jesus attested and assumed Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch (as well as the historicity of Moses, Exodus, etc…) and David’s history (see, Matthew 19:8; John 5:46-47; John 7:19; Acts 3:22; Mark 12:26). If Jesus was a prophet and He rose from the dead as most Christians believe – then His words are true – God cannot lie. If Jesus affirms these things, why would you deny them?

    I have never claimed that I have everything figured out. My views are perfectly consistent with scholars (with just as much education as yourself) who are evangelical and committed to Biblical inerrancy (Dr. Eugene Merril of DTS for example). But surely you know this.

    • peteenns


      I see from your website you are an “apologist” of some sort. You’ll forgive me, but this isn’t my first rodeo. By definition, you must read the evidence to your liking and counter-evidence must be hit early and often. There is no middle ground: you must be right, I and others here must be shown the errors of our ways.

      You can certainly continue to believe as you do, and I will lose no sleep. I am sure you feel you have compelling reasons for your position and you likely cannot see how others cannot simply see it your way, so I understand your persistence. But in addition to your arguments you also need to cultivate some type of respect for your “opponents,” for example, by assuming they may very well know the data and what is needed is not you pointing them to verses in the Bible. We all know what the Bible says. We all know what Jesus says. Believe me. The problem as I see it is that you have a doctrine of Scripture you are determined to defend, and the evidence must be read for that purpose. Add to that occasional condescending rhetoric and a simple misreading of what others are saying to you (each twice above), and we have what is like a discussion that is going nowhere.

  • Some Dude

    Dr. Enns,

    Greetings. I have followed you for years since the situation with WTS back in ’08 and I have read many of your blog articles on the subject of inerrancy/inspiration and other associated articles re: the historicity of Adam, evolutionary theory, etc. I have also read all of John Walton’s and Paul Seely’s materials re: ancient Hebrew cosmology and all of the relevant articles on the Biologos website. I am a seminary graduate and former pastor with several years of biblical Greek and Hebrew training and can read the Greek NT pretty well and can plod my way through the Hebrew text. I say this to give you an idea where I’m coming from academically. In light of this, I have a simple question:

    **If the Bible makes erroneous assertions about the cosmos/history, why should we believe that its theological assertions are infallible? In other words, what prevents us from concluding that the whole thing is just a bunch of BS and out of intellectual honesty we might as well become deists or agnostics?**

    I have yet to receive a satisfying response to that question other than “Well, we just have to believe that God’s inerrant message of faith was preserved for us through the fallible ancient worldview of the biblical writers” or some other kind of pat answer. In other words, I, a graduate-level educated adult am expected to take nearly all of this on blind faith. I asked a scholar friend about this the other day who has academic training in the relevant fields and they said something like this (I’m paraphrasing their response for sake of privacy),

    “Its possible that the theology in Scripture is merely ancient theology just like the ancient science. However, the reality is that it is a living theology that continues to change the lives of people. That can’t be said of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Assyrians, etc. Hope this helps.”

    The fact is, that response does *not* help. There’s plenty of “old theologies” still lurking around (i.e., Hinduism, Buddhism) that are still “changing people’s lives” and all of them are nothing more than philosophical and scientific malarkey (IMHO).

    Please understand, I have no desire whatsoever to walk away from the faith. I really want the death and bodily resurrection of Christ to be *historically* true because it satisfies my deepest spiritual needs as a sinful, human being and gives great hope to not only my loved ones, but to the entire world. However, I’m an intelligent, graduate level educated adult and pat answers didn’t earn my graduate degree nor are they going to be what alleviates the cognitive dissonance when I’m laying awake at night wondering whether or not this whole thing is just a load of crap.

    I’m not asking for an inerrant Bible. I never really believed in that anyways as I’ve never been convinced that the Bible itself teaches its own “inerrancy” as defined by modern, conservative evangelicals. I just want to know what criteria prevents me from sliding down the slippery slope into unbelief because I recognized that since part of the Bible was historically false, what prevents me from concluding that the core tenets of the Christian faith are too since they are based in that selfsame text?

    Sustained by the Holy Spirit (for now),

    Some Dude

    • peteenns

      Some Dude,

      I appreciate the question. Been there. Sometimes still am. Others no doubt appreciate your question, too.

      Not to get Zen on you, but the answer is paradoxically in your sign off, your very last sentence. And I mean that.

      Consider that you may need to go deeper down the slippery slope to be truly stripped of the type of certainty you are seeking.

      Trusting God and trusting Scripture are not the same thing. That may not everyone, but that is what I have found.

      I will end on a less Zen note: not everything in the Bible is created equal re: historicity. Some of this is more a question of genre recognition.

      Thanks for putting this out there, S.D.

    • David G

      @Some Dude-

      I think about this question quite a lot as well. In my graduate work in early Christianity, I’ve concluded that the earliest generations of Christians believed the scriptures (Old Testament) to be true because they believed that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that therefore all of his promises were

    • arty

      Have you considered the possibility that your graduate education might just as well be part of the problem rather than forming the proper context to which solutions must measure up? I possess two graduate history degrees, and I don’t lay awake at night wondering if its all a bunch of malarkey, because I never assumed that Christianity was something that had to be justified in light of academic historical research. That sounds pretty pompous, now that I’ve typed it, so I’ll hasten to add that there are in fact other things that keep me awake at night (theodicy springs to mind), but man has been God at least since Nietzsche and Feuerbach, and even if we don’t actually articulate this, our culture generally and tacitly assumes it to be true. So why would we expect much in the way of confirmation in the faith, from academic training? God doesn’t owe historians any explanations, it’s us who have to do the answering.

      • peteenns

        So, did the conquest of Canaan happen?

        • arty

          How should I know? Depends on what counts as “conquest,” depends what counts as “Canaan,” depends on how you define what constituted “Israelites” at the time, all of which are matters of academic interest and none of which cause me or anyone else I know the least bit of existential insomnia. Defining and parsing all of the above, is an academic affair, and there is of course a place for that sort of thing, on the argument that if the Christian God exists then we ought to see some evidence of it on the world. My point is that you either start from a position of faith and recognition that we are finite and God is infinite, or you don’t. A God whose legitimacy depends on academic research is a pretty poor excuse for God. It’s a fine line between looking for tangible evidence of of God’s work in the world, and between interrogating God or the Bible for failing to follow Chicago Style citation in leaving a clear evidential trail. Feels a bit like a modern version of Dostoevskii’s “Grand Inquisitor” reprimanding God for his endowment of free will, where instead the Bible is reprimanded for failing to live up to the fact that some school or other of historiography or archaeology is so passe. So in a sense, I’m agreeing with you, that I too wish I didn’t have to read headlines that purport to show that faith is justified or unjustified because there’s some sort of underwater ledge in the Red Sea. Where I think I’m disagreeing with Some Dude though, is in my general sensibility that many of the epistemological and ontological assumptions that ground the intellectual foundations of the modern university are inimical to the practices of faith. It is thus a bit odd to expect that possession of a graduate degree as symbolic of what our society considers to be intelligence and education should somehow make living a Christian life any easier. It doesn’t, and that’s not a problem with God or with the Bible.

          • peteenns

            Was Canaan taken as the Bible describes it? This is the kind of question that occupies biblical historians and archaeologists. They’re doing pretty good work, by the way. The question many (not me) lose sleep over is how or if the Bible can be worth anything if its narrative runs up against good historical research.

          • Some Dude

            With all due respect, your response doesn’t push the ball forward. Praying, going to church, reading confessions doesn’t make these historical problems go away nor does it get rid of things like a dome covering the sky or a three-tiered universe in Paul’s thought smack dab in the middle of the Carmen Christi (Phil. 2:10).

            Let me put flesh and bones on the problems created by evangelicalism: I read Philippians 2:10 as part of our devotional time with our family last week (i.e., “of things in heaven, and on earth, and *under the earth*) and my sharp 8 year old daughter immediately asked, “There’s people under the earth? WHAT? (!)” to which I responded, “Um no. It’s the way Paul understood the world” and she then nodded her head and I kept reading and she forgot about it. The problem is, there’s going to come a time when she’s going to want to know more and in order to keep her from giving ear to hacks like the New Atheists, not only will I pray for her, but I also want to teach her the *truth* about ancient science in the Bible and how that relates to modern science today. In other words, she’s going to have to face this issue sooner or later, and I’d rather it come from me than from an atheistic college prof who uses something like ancient Hebrew cosmology in the Bible to undermine her faith in God/Jesus.

            BTW, I’m not interested in putting God on trial, I’m simply trying to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” as it were. If I’m commanded to love God with all of my being (i.e., Matthew 22:37-40), that would include my intellect, and I’m sorry, but I can’t and won’t leave my God-given brains aside when I read the Scriptures. I think God would agree that I don’t do that, especially since He commanded as much.

            Sustained by the Spirit (for now),

            Some Dude

          • arty

            Yes, and my answer to those folks, including Some Dude, is that “In the Beginning was the Word”, not “In the Beginning was Kate Turabian” (so to speak). I’ve no doubts, as you said, that biblical historians and archaeologists are doing good, respectable work these days. What I do suggest is that faith shaken by something as cosmically puny as what modern academics consider to be legitimate historical evidence is pretty thin gruel, and I’m saying that as a PhD in history, in order to illustrate the point that modern academic training may be good for many things but it is the rare soul who finds that academic training to practically conducive to living a Christian life. In my experience folks like Stephen Barr are pretty rare, as most academics I know are knowing or unknowing vulgar empiricists to make Moleschott, Buchner, and Feuerbach look like nuanced sophisticates. To hold God and the Bible to the intellectual standards of the modern west is to create a God that can occasion no fear and trembling, which is what most of us need more of. We’ve no shortage of critical analysis these days. Rather, all of us could use a serious shot of fear at the power of the interdicts a la Philip Rieff. Put another way, I’ll count myself justified in critiquing the historicity of the Bible, only after careful removal of my sandals. Frankly, I doubt my (probably typical) intellectual upbringing has left me with sufficient humility to even know when I have shed my sandals, and so I’ll leave that task to those courageous modern Levites of biblical scholarship, God help them.

          • arty

            Some Dude:

            I hadn’t yet read your last comment, when I posted mine. How timely that you, too, used that phrase “fear and trembling.” There is, of course, no “pushing the ball forward” when “historical” problems are taken to be some sine qua non of faith, as I trust my previous comments elaborates. Besides, what we now take to be “legitimate” history certainly was not what Herodotus or Thucydides took to be “legitimate” history, and now doubt our descendants will be just as condescending towards our pretensions to historical understanding as we are towards Yeats’ theory of spirals. To create an “historical” litmus test for biblical validity is to place far too great a burden on what currently counts as historical validity. Put differently, what counts as “history” has changed quite a bit over time, and to subject the bible to those standards is to subject the eternal to evaluation by the ephemeral. To fail to recognize this is, itself, to be unhistorical.

          • peteenns

            Arty, are you a trained historian or a trained philosopher of history? Where did you do your work? I’m genuinely curious.

            You may also be underestimating the challenges of “history” (which includes science) for the Christian faith that has always claimed by its adherents to be a historically rooted faith. At the end of the day, I agree that true faith is on a different plane, but I would not get there the way you do, which seems to me entirely dismissive of the problems. There are most certainly deeply problematic challenges to the biblical narrative that have come from historical study.

          • arty

            Dr. Enns:
            Well, for what it is worth (which maybe isn’t much), I did formal, PhD-level graduate work in both history and philosophy of history, so the answer to your question is both, really. Re-reading the points made back and forth yesterday, you’ve probably got a case for pinning me with an excessively dismissive attitude regarding historical problems with the biblical narrative. That said, I still think it is a mistake to talk about [the discipline of] “history” as though it is this settled thing, that creates true knowledge of the sort that the Bible or God is somehow obligated to accommodate. This smacks of a kind of historiographical Whiggishness (as in Herbert Butterfield) to me, where understanding at the present time is superior to all those previous understandings, as though the telos of history is somehow a matter of producing me and my particular problem that I regard to be of particular poignancy for Christians. Everyone is looking for a “place to stand,” from which to proceed from the known to the unknown, and to a large extent, the presuppositions of modern historical research are beholden to a God-free ontology/epistemology. It should therefore surprise no one that said historical investigations uncover problems in the biblical narrative. My claim is that this shouldn’t be of too much concern, since there’s only one rock one can plant one’s feet on, and the conclusions of historians aren’t it. “History” in the “what actually happened” sense of the word may not be ephemeral. Our interpretation and knowledge of what actually happened are pretty ephemeral though.

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  • David

    Thanks, Pete. I enjoy following your posts. I comment by way of reply to @Some Dude. I’ve thought a lot about this question too. In my graduate work in NT and patristics, I’ve found it helpful to appreciate why the earliest Christians believed that God spoke through the Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament). Namely, because they believed the apostolic preaching that God raised Christ from the dead, and therefore all the promises he made in the Law and the Prophets are yes and amen in Christ. Thus, Christians believe in the Bible because we first believe in the resurrection, not the other way around. For me, anyway, that takes a lot of the pressure off the OT needing to be “historical” in the ways evangelicals have said it needs to be, and has got me through a lot of OT grad work too. It doesn’t solve all the challenges historical study poses to faith, but it puts them into perspective.

    • peteenns

      I definitely think patristics is a big help. Gets us out of our modern western ways. And with you, I agree it doesn’t do it all, since we have unique intellectual challenges today.

  • Andy

    Thanks for your reply and clarification. Over the years I find myself really struggling with a theological idea that you put forward. Later to embrace it, e.g. I can’t imagine reading the OT without an incarnational mindset.

    Regarding the latter question about OT miracles/ NT miracles etc. I understand that it takes it off topic. I also understand that the question leads to the slippery slope argument. However this is THE key argument against some of your perspectives of the OT. I actually believe it would be really beneficial for the church to sketch out how to discern how to navigate these around their cultural understandings and generic considerations …to take the question even further out – why did God allow himself to be portrayed performing miraculous events that he didn’t actually perform as described and allow this to be believed by generations of Christians (given the research available it was the most probable explanation for hundreds of years)….

    Anyway I understand that you don’t want to explore these questions at this time….but I would love for you to explore this in the future.

  • Some Dude


    I appreciate your responses, but I’ve read some refutations of those as well; though I’ll admit, what I’ve read seemed to be somewhat weak.

    I just need a place where I can anonymously air out my concerns, doubts, struggles, etc. without being labeled as an apostate and become the next apologetic target for my evangelical friends.

  • Fr. John W. Morris

    Before I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and went to seminary, I earned a PhD in history. Purely from the point of view of a professionally trained historian, I find most of the work of the followers of the so called historical critical method of Biblical studies does not meet the standards expected of a secular historian dealing with a secular subject. I say this because most of the conclusions of those who claim to use the historical critical method of Biblical studies are not based on serious historical scholarship, but on pure speculation based on a set of post-Enlightenment anti-supernatural presuppositions. Real historians support their conclusions with citations of source materials that other historians can also study. Mostly those who follow the historical critical method of Biblical study provide no citations or any materials that others can study. Instead, they base their work on nothing but speculation. Such work is not scholarly and is certainly not the proper use of the historical method of inquiry.

    • peteenns

      “Real” historians don’t have anti-supernaturalist biases?

      • Fr. John W. Morris

        That is not the point. Real historians base their conclusions on source materials not speculation. The entire house of cards of the so called historical critical method is based on speculation not the scholarly study of source materials. The religious beliefs of an historian are irrelevant. What matters is whether or not they can provide documentation to support their conclusions. The so called historical critical method is based on pure speculation. From a purely secular historical point of view all that can be stated about the Bible is that it represents the beliefs of certain religious communities, the ancient Jews for the Old Testament and the early Christians for the New Testament. As an historian I do not hesitate to state that we lack the source materials to prove or disprove the historical validity of the events described in the Bible. As a believer, I make no claim to be able to prove the historical accuracy of the Bible, but do not recognize as valid those who claim to disprove the historical accuracy of the Biblical accounts. We lack the source materials to support either conclusion.

        • peteenns

          There is no “the” historical critical method in biblical studies. And, heavens, it is not based on “pure speculation.” All reconstructions of the past have a speculative element, if anything with respect to the interpretation of the data at least.

          Can you give us an example of a biblical historical critical conclusion that is “based purely on speculation”?

        • Nathan

          It’s a little hubristic to write off an entire academic discipline of which you are not an expert as “not scholarly” since it uses different methods than your own discipline. I’m guessing your PhD was not in ANCIENT history, correct? Different periods bring with them different data sets and different problems. The sources available to a historian of 18th century France, for example, are vastly different than to a historian of 18th Cent BCE Upper Mesopotamia (as they are to a historian of Iron age Palestine). There are many questions of a historical nature about the ancient world that we are capable of answering with a degree of probability on the basis of the evidence we have. Does historical inquiry make higher claims than that?

          • Charles

            Interesting.. Read.. Thanks.

    • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com Enopoletus Harding

      If you replaced ‘anti-supernatural’ with ‘supernaturalist’ or ‘biblicist’, you might have a small fragment of a legitimate point.

    • Solon Athens

      χαίρετε Ὁ ανθρῶπε

  • http://saintmarkslutheran.org Mark Brown

    Dr. Enns, Lutherans aren’t generally included in the evangelical camp, but at least on the first two points, when I’ve heard them used, what you are saying isn’t what I’ve heard the speaker to be saying. Usually I’ve heard them as an amalgam of: a) historical-critical has run its course and we now know what it has produced, anything further is marginal variations, b) compared to the claims especially of the earlier years (19th Century) the results are rather hum-drum and incredibly subjective and c) after the initial shock of going from written-by-God-himself-on-stone-tablets to a more true to those scriptures themselves idea of inspiration the H-C results aren’t so near shocking.

    And under those tend to be a two things held in conflict: a hopeful statement that academia might eventually see some of its barrenness, and a wistful admission that the church and the high academy are probably drifting beyond recognition of each other which forces a choice.

  • cken

    You all have very nicely demonstrated the biggest problem with organized Christian religions. You take the bible and nitpick it to death, and in the process overlook the basic truths contained in the allegory. In my opinion it doesn’t matter if the Bible is revelatory or if it was written by Joe Blow. The Bible is a book containing great wisdom. It contains truths about human nature and it contains great spiritual truths. Many of these truths are in the form of an allegory wrapped in an enigma. We should spend our efforts in ferreting out these truths and promulgating them, not arguing about who wrote what and when.

  • Joe Rutherford

    So this is based upon the ideal that archeologist have not found evidence about the conquest of Canaan? If that is true, then good. Thanks be to God that He has hidden some things from the eyes of man, so that only those who hear His voice and believe His Word will know the Truth. Hey since NASA has robots like the ones they send to Mars looking for life, maybe they could send one to Isreal in search for evidence? Maybe the modern Isrealites and Canaanites would stop fighting long enough for the nasa rover to take a few core samples and do a couple infra red analysis? Then academia could write a few more books, and who knows maybe even the price of gasoline would go down, and academia could say, “ahhhh….this is proof,shazaameoso, and elementary mr watson… indeed the length of the turtles necks speaks volumes about reality.

    • peteenns

      Joe, I don’t think you represent the issue accurately. It’s not the there is no evidence for the conquest but that there is considerable, some would say irrefutable, evidence against the notion of a violent takeover of Canaan. It is a well known and genuine historical problem. So, the issue is not that God has hidden evidence (to test our faith) but the evidence we have does not line up with the biblical story.

      • Charles

        But in time things change.. Lands change and things are hidden or a land that the bible is talking about may move… because of conditions like earth quakes… and natural causes..

  • plutosdad

    There is a very important reason they should stop saying those things: when someone – like me – finally stops reading apologetics only, and starts reading the “other” side in an attempt to be well rounded and intellectually honest with themselves, they become furious at being lied to for so long by apologetics authors.

    And I do consider it lying when authors misrepresent research or play fast and loose with data.

    That is why you read quotes sometimes from the likes of Josh McDowell saying that the internet is a bad influence because it allows people to look up information on their own. I suppose he thinks we should have blinders on and be spoon-fed information by apologetics authors. Someone whose faith depends on believing the Bible is literal, evolution never happened, and the earth is young, will fall away completely when they learn they are wrong, or just dig deeper and refuse to interact truthfully with the world around them.

    • peteenns

      Ah yes, information control. The ploy of fascist regimes.

  • Joe Rutherford

    Peteenns, So the issue is the Holy Bible vs someones evidence. I’m still going with the Bible, which represents an unreconcilable circumstance. Thanks for allowing me to be a guest at your site.

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  • Ron

    What I find interesting i)n the Pentateuch is that God does not claim to be the only god, just Israel’s god. In particular, the use of the word elohim for the creator(s) is fascinating, although some claim this word can be used in the singular in some circumstances. Anyway, for me, I see no evidence of enough truth or divine inspiration in the Bible to base my beliefs on it. On the other hand it and its sources are a fascinating topic.

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  • D Hunter Sanchez

    I am looking for an answer to the assertion made by some scholars that 1. Jesus believed that Adam and Eve were of special creation i.e. first humans. 2. Moses wrote the Torah. My rejoinder is that Jesus was also human who taught the stories or traditions popular in his day and among his people without a concern for historical accuracy. He was conveying spiritual truth in order to “resurrect the spiritually dead.” To be clear, I believe Jesus is God and rose physically from the dead. Any help or a sign post to sources? I am new to this site.

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