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The Exodus (book review)

December 29th, 2018

What should we make of the story of the Exodus in the Old Testament?

Two million people escape slavery in Egypt after a series of savage plagues, with God leading the way. They escape the pursuing Egyptian army by walking through the waters of the Red Sea, which God miraculously parts, then closes on the army drowning them all while the Israelites gloat.

God miraculously provides them with food and water in the desert, gives them his laws including the Ten Commandments engraved on stone, but only after killing 3,000 of them for worshiping an idol. God also sends other punishments for disobedience – fire, an earthquake and venomous snakes, but also helps the Israelites kill their enemies.

All in all it is a violent and supernatural story, but eventually the Israelites reach their destination, the Promised Land of Canaan.

The story is foundational for the Jews and important for christians. But many find it unbelievable. Some disbelieve in the supernatural, some have problems with the violence of a supposedly loving God, some cannot believe that 2 million people were involved. Some sceptics use the difficulties in the story to argue that the Bible is unhistoric and christian belief baseless.

These sceptics are supported by most historians and archaeologists, who say there is no evidence for the events portrayed.

A new book by Richard Friedman takes a fresh look at the Exodus and charts a course between the extremes of scepticism and faith.

I was given this book as a Christmas present, and I have finished it already, so that gives you an idea that I found it absorbing and easy to read.

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Is God genocidal?

June 4th, 2018

I remember being concerned about it more than 40 years ago. How could God command his people to murder everyone living in each Canaanite city that they captured?

And I am not the only one to feel revolted by these commands in the book of Deuteronomy and the accounts in the book of Joshua. Critics of christianity commonly point to these episodes as evidence that the Bible, and God, should not be believed or respected.

They obviously have a point. How can anyone worship a God who commands genocide?

But did God give these commands? Did the bloody warfare described in Joshua actually happen?

I have read what some of the best historians have to say about the period, investigated the Bible beyond the Joshua account (Did God really order the slaughter of the Canaanites?), and found that (unsurprisingly) this is a complex matter much argued over.

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Troy, archaeology and the Old Testament

March 7th, 2017

Recently I came across a magazine article about the discovery of the remains of a 3,500 year old burial in Greece, dating to the time of the Mycenaean civilisation (about 1650-1200 BCE).

I knew little about the Mycenaeans, so I read on, looked at a few other online sources, and made some interesting discoveries. Interesting in themselves, but also throwing light on how we might assess the Old Testament.

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The historical evidence for Jesus seems to be getting stronger

March 2nd, 2017

The Pool of Bethesda – model in the Israel Museum Picture taken by deror avi on 18th August 2006 (Wikipedia)

Fifty years ago, when I was a young christian, there was a clear division in New Testament studies between scholars who defended historic christianity and more secular scholars who took an extremely critical view of the New Testament and saw little of historical value in the gospels.

Half a century later, and things are very different, and secular scholarship is much more confident of historical facts about the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospels. Much of the change has occurred this century. Here is a brief summary.

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Bart Ehrman on Nazareth

March 6th, 2015

Bart Ehrman

I don’t think he read my recent post 🙂 but Bart Ehrman has also posted on the evidence for Nazareth existing at the time of Jesus.

Bart has several advantages over me. Not only is he a professional working full time in this field, but he is able, because of his position, to have personal communication with some of the key players, as he reports on in this blog post.

Ehrman points out that Rene Salm’s arguments, even if they were well based in the archaeology, don’t prove that Nazareth didn’t exist in Jesus’ day. They would just show that there is limited evidence for this – not surprising since it was a small village and the area is now overlain by a city.

But he also points out that the archaeological evidence does indeed point to habitation in Nazareth at the time of Jesus – probably a small and rather poor village.

Worth reading.

Nazareth – the evidence mounts

February 23rd, 2015

Excavated tomb in Nazareth

I have written before about archaeological excavations in Nazareth and sceptics who claim Nazareth didn’t exist as a village at the time of Jesus (and hence the gospels must be wrong) – see Did Bethlehem and Nazareth exist in Jesus’ day? and Nazareth re-visited.

I have just come across some new information that was first published more than two years ago in an academic journal, but has now been written up in a more widely-read magazine.

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Science and religion

May 10th, 2013

Church in test tube

Conventional ‘wisdom’ says that religion and science are at war, or at least opposed. Certainly you’ll find many atheists and many believers saying that. But there is another side to the story.

Some scientific discoveries seem (to some) to support belief, and many scientists are believers. And in recent times, the scientific study of religion as a social and biological phenomenon has become an active area of research.

Let’s explore.

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The evidence for Jesus: a case study

November 14th, 2012

Books about Jesus

I think this deserves a separate post.

A few weeks back I posted on the historical evidence for Jesus and how some sceptics refuse to accept the conclusions of the best scholars that Jesus existed and the gospels present some reliable historical information about him (Jesus – assessing the evidence). Akhenaten has been discussing the question with me, taking the sceptical view.

I want to wrap up that discussion, summarise it, and invite him (if he wishes) to comment whether I have fairly presented his views.

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Nazareth re-visited

August 25th, 2012

Nazareth house

A few months ago, I wrote about finds that establish, contrary to the views of some sceptics, that Nazareth did indeed exist in Jesus’ day – as a small agricultural village of (probably) just a few hundred inhabitants (Did Bethlehem and Nazareth exist in Jesus’ day?).

I obtained the information for that blog from searching the internet and reading news reports. I do not have good access to more academic libraries. So it seems that I understated the evidence.

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