For many of the Bible’s critics and defenders, the Bible’s historical content is a hard pill to swallow. Bible detractors want to prosecute the Scriptures, regarding, as suspect, all its factual statements. Bible supporters want to believe those same statements are fully substantiated by archeology and history.
The truth is: The Bible holds up very well when compared to most clear historical evidence, but neither the evidence nor the Bible is always clear. Still Scripture has proven to be a sound historical resource in itself.
The implications are: Even when Scripture disagrees or doesn’t fit well with other historical evidence, scholars must grant that the biblical statements may trump that evidence, especially when facts are incomplete or in need of explanation.
At one time, the ability to write in Moses’ time was questioned. Now we know that vast libraries existed, not only when he lived but in the earlier days of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Documentation of significant events was commonplace back then in the form of treaties, business transactions and religious books of instruction and celebration. Archeology has cleared this up and indicates, not just the fact that people could write, but that what’s written in the Bible fits the cultural contexts.
As examples: (1) the very structure of the law revealed to Moses follows a pattern of treaties of submission written in the millennial era in which he lived, but does not follow the pattern of the same kind of treaties in the centuries before or after (2) unique marital practices and laws of inheritance reflected in Genesis fit the times (3) geographical references in the Bible are generally recognizable and make sense in light of what we know from specific historical periods (4) moving forward to the New Testament, the evidence of historical care in writing and accuracy is obvious in Luke’s statements in the book of Acts.
But everything isn’t so apparent. Historians generally recognize the historical value of the Bible, but have doubts about some things it says.
However in the past, critics’ doubts have been misguided. Not long ago, scholars rejected biblical references to Sargon, the Hittites and Belshazzar’s being in charge in Babylon when it fell. These were thought to be fantasies, because there was no evidence, outside the Bible, that any of these people existed. Now, we know they did.
Furthermore, the Bible stands in stark contrast to literature that tells stories with a lack of historical content. In recent times, such literature is illustrated in the Book of Mormon, which refers to people, places and events that fail the test of clear historical references. The Mongolian-not Semetic-origin of Native Americans, the lack of coinage in this part of the world, the fact that vast earthquakes did not occur and bury entire cities, and numerous other evidences against the Book of Mormon are granted by even some Mormon scholars.
Similarly, ancient literature depicts specific ethnic and national groups as descendants of gods. The stories of these supernatural humans are mythical, in form and content, with the obvious purpose of asserting the superiority of whatever ethnic or national group was telling the story.
But the Bible traces Israel’s beginnings to nomadic tribesman, in accounts written with self-abasing simplicity.
So for many reasons, the historical, as well as spiritual, worth of the Bible is certain.
By BOB GARRINGER