It’s amazing how the same thing can look completely different when viewed from a different perspective. Take archaeological evidence for the Bible for example. When I was a Christian, my heart was strengthened by every article I read touting the hard evidence to validate biblical events like the trial of Jesus or the mass exodus of Hebrew slaves from Egypt. I would have reveled in the unassailable confidence of Christian spokespersons like Eric Metaxas, who recently said:
We don’t need the evidence, but it’s nice to have it.
In retrospect, I’m amazed a defender of the faith would openly utter that statement. Is it really a good idea to publicly admit that the evidence isn’t necessary before you will believe something? I suppose the honesty is refreshing, in a way. But that’s not at all what Metaxas intended for his listeners to take away from that statement, is it? On the contrary, he wants you to believe that archaeology has positively supported the biblical record, and he has recently given two examples for your consideration.
Or rather, he gives…what, exactly? I mean besides impeccably-dressed confidence, what is the evidence that he says helps validate the Christian message?
Evidence for the Biblical Exodus Story
One product he is currently promoting is a new documentary released just this week in select theaters. It claims to present evidence that the biblical exodus story has credible archaeological evidence to support it. Contrary to the overwhelming consensus of modern archaeology, this documentary purports to prove that the sudden mass departure of what would have comprised half the Egyptian population really happened exactly the way the Bible says it did, and the only reason we haven’t found any archaeological evidence for this so far is because we haven’t been looking hard enough, or in the right places.
You’d think you wouldn’t have to look hard for something that big. Sometimes people say the absence of evidence isn’t necessarily the evidence of absence. In some cases I suppose that’s true, but not for something like this. For 2-3 million people, even undocumented ones, to suddenly leave a kingdom of roughly the same population leaving no trace of their four-century-long sojourn in that place strains credibility.
But evidence has been found! Great! What is it? Does Metaxas tell us? No, he says you have to go see the movie. I see. Buy your ticket, only then will you learn the truth. Or since this groundbreaking film probably won’t be showing in theaters near you, perhaps you can preorder the DVD. Suddenly we feel like the kid on A Christmas Story who eagerly tore into his new Orphan Annie decoder pin only to discover it contained a commercial for Ovaltine. I haz disappoint.
Evidence for the Trial of Jesus
But wait, there’s more! Metaxas also wants you to know that The Washington Post saw fit to report that remains from an ancient palace have been found which contains “very forceful” evidence for the trial of Jesus. Wow! Really? What did they find? Was there an inscription or something pointing to the presence of the Galilean? Did someone find something archival that listed names of individuals tried within the walls of this newfound structure? A piece of pottery indicating that trials even happened within its walls? No, actually there’s not much there at all. Remains of a structure were found, but nothing which speaks toward the historicity of the gospel accounts of the trial of Jesus.
But the Washington Post reported it! That means something, right? Score one for the Bible! Validation accomplished, right? The Post article itself insinuated that this somehow bolsters the credibility of the biblical account. Well, I noticed something when I looked up the article he’s talking about. It was written by Ruth Eglash, a Jerusalem based reporter who it turns out is married to the president of a marketing firm that caters to the tourism industry of Jerusalem as a major part of its income. Her objectivity in matters pertaining to events in Jerusalem has been called into question before because of this very conflict of interest, but I doubt that will matter much to Metaxas. What matters is that something vaguely points to the existence of a building, which is enough for him. Not that he needs it, of course. He already knew what he believed before he even looked into the matter.
Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of famed evangelist Billy Graham, stated her epistemological commitments clearly, and I think this sums up their position well:
…the thing I love about [the Exodus documentary] is that Tim Mahoney has taken archeology and history and looked at it in terms of Scripture, instead of looking at the Bible through the lens of archeology and history.
Their priorities couldn’t be stated any more clearly. Her interpretive grid for life used to be mine as well, but I’ve since realized that rumors of the Bible’s validation have been greatly exaggerated.