Finally: Proof of God’s Existence

A student informs me on Facebook that National Geographic Channel is offering its annual Easter season woo-fest, as indicated in this almost unendurable article in the Telegraph (“New series…new explanation…Egypt…Exodus blah blah volcanic ash yada yada algae etc”).

No, I am not saying that proof of God’s existence is found in the tendentious quote-mining of scientists by entertainers to sell a reductionist, sensationalist narrative product to gullible yokels rendered nearly helpless by years of substandard science education and the polarizing media invention of false equivalencies.

I am saying that it is found in this: when I wrote the web URL of the Telegraph article into a Facebook comment addressed to a colleague, the “captcha”[footnote] presented to me was this:

by weasels

Top that, Anselm and Aquinas, if you can.

BACK TO POST A “captcha” is when you have to read and copy some scribbly text in order to prove to a web site that you are not a spam robot. You sometimes have to do that when you write a comment on web sites, especially if your comment includes a web link.

[Finally: Proof of God’s Existence was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/03/29. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Mysteries of the Global Flood Revealed!

In a culture where writing on the Bible will always be too secular for some people and too prone to apologetics for others, published works in biblical history might seek to more carefully emulate Caesar’s wife, avoiding even the appearance of (fideistic) impropriety.

Yesterday, I called attention to an infelicitous phrase in King and Stager’s Life in Biblical Israel (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001). Writing about a Pre-Pottery Neolithic olive processing site on the sea floor off modern ʿAtlit (that’s south of Haifa, or south of Mount Carmel), King and Stager had written that the site was

…inundated in the mid-sixth millennium, probably by a world-wide flood.

The paragraph referenced Ehud Galili, “Prehistoric Site on the Sea Floor,” New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 1:120-122. There, I find this ’graph (emphasis mine):

About twenty thousand years ago, the last Ice Age reached its peak. Soon afterward, the melting ice caused a rise in sea level that resulted in a significant reduction of coastal plains throughout the world. By the beginning of the Holocene, however, in about 8000 BCE, the Mediterranean was about 30 m lower than its present self.

In other words:

  1. About 20,000 years ago, the most recent glaciation event (not an “ice age,” which are longer, such that we may well still be between glaciation events in a single Ice Age) peaked, with sea levels rising between then and now (on average, that is, with relatively short term accelerations and decelerations set aside).
  2. By 10,000 years ago (around 8,000 BCE), waters had risen nearly, but not yet, to a then-coastal site settled by folks who press olives.
  3. By about 7500 years ago (ca. 5500 BCE), waters had risen enough that the increasingly-sodden coastal site was abandoned, though not necessarily precipitously (King and Stager will note that no olives are left unprocessed at the site). Today, it is under water.

In King and Stager, this 15,000+ year rising of sea levels, with coastal sites gradually shifting landward, is collapsed into a “world-wide flood” that “inundates” the site “in the mid-sixth millennium.”

This choice of words obviously, and unfortunately, evokes the biblical story of an instantaneous and cataclysmic global flood (Gen 6–8). This evocation is equally damaging for biblical studies, whether the audience is those who read Gen 1–11 as history, or those who suspect with dismay that all biblical historians will do so.

This confusion, about whether the biblical narrative is being uncritically accepted, is compounded by a habit that King and Stager share with other biblical historians, whereby biblical narrative episodes are presented in language that presupposes their historicity. For just one example, (page 109),

The terebinth…gave its name to the Valley of Elah, where David slew Goliath (1 Sam. 17:19).

Not, “where David is said to have slain Goliath,” but “where David slew Goliath.” It is as if a writer on ancient Greece were to say, “Troy archaeological level VIIa is topped with a destruction layer, including burn marks to the walls outside of which Achilles slew Hector.”

This writerly habit could be explored further in another post. Here, I simply offer it as the kind of thing that makes it hard to know what to do with a cursory reference to “a world wide flood” in an academic, peer-reviewed work on the history of ancient Israel.

What would you say, reader? Do I make too big a deal over nothing? Or, in the context of larger conversations about isolating the fideistic from the evidentiary in biblical studies, does every molehill deserve scrutiny?

[Mysteries of the Global Flood Revealed! was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/03/10. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

A Pious Scribal Addition?

This sentence, in King and Stager’s Life in Biblical Israel* (page 96), made me do a double-take (brackets represent my own clarifying additions):

Evidence for a wild olive processing site from the [Pre-Pottery Neolithic period] has been found on the sea floor at Maritime ʿAtlit south of Haifa, inundated in the mid-sixth millennium [B.C.], probably by a world-wide flood, after the olives had been processed.

“…probably by a world-wide flood…”?

The sentence concludes with a footnote (Ehud Galili, “Prehistoric Site on the Sea Floor,” New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 1:120-122), but is not a block quote. We have this resource in our library, so I will check it out, but by their formatting, King and Stager seem to be at least taking ownership of the claim, if not outright producing it.

Did somebody go and demonstrate a mid-sixth-millennium global inundation without telling me? Or is there some other reading of the text that eludes me?

(Perhaps this is a case for the Lenzi Files.)

[Later: See also the follow-up post on this topic.]

(*) Why would Westminster/John Knox choose not to have persistent links to their own books on their web site, instead of out-linking to Cokesbury? Even if sales are through Cokesbury, why not at least keep information about the book in the publisher’s site? Talk about rushing customers out the door.

[A Pious Scribal Addition? was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/03/09. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Darwin’s Eve Mythicism with McGrath

James has been writing onmythicismlately (the conviction that there is no historical figure behind the New Testament depictions of Jesus; the idea is that several contemporary myths coalesced into a single invented figure).

The “-ism” is important, the suffix implying that this perspective is not a matter of reasoned argument but of dogmatic adherence. For this reason, James’s comparison to Creationsm is apt: James means to say that reasoned argument fails both creationists and mythicists, and that they appeal instead to fallacious lines of argument. Notice, in this regard, the epithet that creationists use for the theory of natural selection as the main vehicle for the fact of evolution: “darwinism.” In this way, creationists seek to suggest that there are two equally valid “isms” from which to choose, when in fact the one arises from public reasoned argument, demonstrates extraordinary explanatory power, finds support from evidence in virtually every field of science, and (most importantly) is inherently provisional pending new discoveries…while the other is held not provisionally but absolutely, resting not on an evidentiary foundation but rather the privileging a particular interpretation of a limited number of biblical proof-texts.

Tomorrow is Darwin Day. Celebrate with a trip over to Exploring Our Matrix.

Real Biblical Scholar Makes End-Times Prediction

Although Duane, for his part, offers no proofs, I unhesitatingly entrust my eggs to the basket of his own prediction.

Which means I’ll have to create my summer courses after all, I guess.

We’re All #1 Meme

James McGrath, at Exploring our Matrix, has proposed a new meme: We’re All #1.

See the background at the original post, but the idea is: What Google search term produces your blog as its first/highest hit? The search term cannot be your name or the name of your blog, and the search term cannot use quotation marks.

What am I #1 in?

  • phlebotinum Bible
  • Bible woo

What are you #1 in?

Barack Hussein Obama Anti-Christ Video Debunked. Sigh.

Debunking dishonest Bible-woo is tiresome (but not hard: this post took me less than 75 minutes from conception to Publish), but has to be done. Let’s be clear: the maker of this video starts with the conclusion he wishes to reach (that the President is the “antichrist” [whatever that is, which is a topic for another day]). He then commits whatever sleight-of-hand and misdirection is necessary to work backward from that conclusion to an impressive-sounding biblical basis. We’ll link the video, then take it step by step.

[Update, 2011/01/18: the original poster has removed the video. You can still find a version of it here, with some attempts at bolstering the video’s claims.]

“I will report the facts.” Nearly of these “facts” are false:

“Jesus spoke these words originally in Aramaic…” This is not known. It may be that Jesus preached both in Aramaic and in the Greek of the New Testament. If he did preach in Aramaic, there is no reason to be optimistic about our ability to retrovert the Greek of the gospels into that alleged Aramaic original. Imagine giving an English translation of Don Qixote to twelve English-speaking scholars who had never heard Spanish spoken by a native, and having them all retrovert the English translation to the original Spanish. Know how many completely different “originals” you’d get? That’s right: twelve.

“…which is the oldest form of Hebrew.” No, it isn’t. Aramaic doesn’t precede Hebrew. They are sibling languages, with significant differences in vocabulary, morphology, and grammar. So, speaking in Hebrew is not “much the same way” as the way Jesus would have spoken Aramaic.

“…from the heights, or from the heavens.” Nice try: the speaker has substituted “heights” (in order to get to bamah, the word he wants to use) for “heavens” (shamayim, a word he wants to get away from because shamayim sounds nothing like “Barack Obama”). The argument from this point is not based on Jesus’ words (in any language), but on a paraphrase that the speaker finds convenient.

(We could stop here: Now that we see that the groundwork comprises crippling falsehoods, it is clear that anything built on it is pointless. We’ll continue anyway, just for the exercise.)

“…from Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary.” As Bryan mentioned on Facebook, When someone grounds their argument in the use of Strong’s concordance/dictionary, they are saying, “I do not know any Hebrew. Do not trust anything I say on the topic.” Strong’s is a tool designed for people who do not know Hebrew.

Baraq is the Hebrew word for lightning: this is a fact. It has nothing to do with the name of our President, but baraq does mean “lightning.” Barack, our President’s name, is Swahili, and related to Hebrew Berekh, “to bless.” (Think of the better known form, Barukh, “blessed.”) In other words, why would a speaker of Hebrew (or Aramaic, or Greek) would use the word “lightning” to evoke the Swahili (or Arabic) name, Barak = “blessed/blessing”?

Isaiah 14: No mention of Satan here: Isaiah is plainly talking about the king of Babylon, whom he compares to the mythic “Daystar, son of Dawn.” He says so [ref. added: Isa 14:4]. But, the Jesus of the gospel Luke may be evoking Isaiah when he says that he “saw Satan falling as lightning from the heavens,” so I’ll give this a pass.

Isa 14:14: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds.” That’s right: the word “heights” (which, you’ll recall, Jesus does not use anyway) is not associated with the falling of the Daystar, but with his (planned but not certainly achieved) ascent. Also, the “heights” are plural: the phrase is bamotê-ʿab, “the heights of the cloud.” Hear it? Not bamah, but bamotê.

“Some scholars use the O [to transliterate the conjunction waw].” No, they don’t, because it is never, never pronounced “O.” The prefixed conjunction we- or wa- becomes u- in biblical Hebrew when it precedes a bilabial consonant (b, m, p) or any consonant followed by the shewa, or half vowel (Cĕ-; think of the first vowel in a casual pronunciation of “America” or “aloof”). It is never o-. Sorry, but never.

“…or, ‘lightning from the heights.’” Okay, in the second place, the conjunction never means “from.” Hebrew (or Aramaic) has a preposition for that. The phrase baraq u-bamah (not o-bamah) will mean, “lightning and a height” (whatever the heck that is; also remember that baraq has nothing to do with “Barack”). The phrase will never, never mean “lightning from the heights.” Sorry, but never. (And in the first place, remember, Jesus never even said, “lightning from the heights.” He said, “lightning from the heavens,” which is why all this stuff about “heights” is pointless.)

Conclusion: if a Jewish rabbi today, influenced by Isaiah, were to say the words of Jesus in Luke 10:18 (seriously: why would our rabbi do this?), he would not say, “Barakh Obama.” He would not even say, baraq u-bama. Or baraq u-bamoth (lightning and heights). If he means to use Jesus’ words, he would not even say, baraq min-habbamoth (lightning from the heights). I suppose he might (might) say, baraq min-hashamayim (lightning from the heavens). So now you know why our secret Muslim president’s Arabic Kenyan birth certificate remains hidden in a clandestine madrassah in the Lincoln Bedroom: because on it, you will indeed find the true name of the antichrist…

(oh, wait, neither Isaiah, Luke, or even Revelation [or Daniel, if you care] use the word “antichrist”: it is used in the letters of John as a generic term for “unbelievers”)

…Baraq MinHashamayim.

If you want to see some other debunking, go see Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math Bad Math, Michael Heiser at PaleoBabble, Bryan at Hevel, and James McGrath at Exploring Our Matrix. Each of them adds some additional arguments that I don’t make here.