The Old Testament – Fact or Fiction?
The Bible is the most popular book ever written. However, you wonder how many people actually have read it all the way through. For if a person truly read the Bible with a discerning eye, would it be possible for them to believe what has been written on its pages? Jack Miles, an American author who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book God: A Biography, said this about the subject, “Much that the Bible says about him is rarely preached from the pulpit because, examined too closely, it becomes a scandal.”
For example, would readers believe that there was actually someone physically present at the very beginning of creation who would have heard the famous words, “Let there be light”? Then again, would they believe that snakes could talk? Why would they believe in a god that lied (about dying if you ate the apple) whereas the supposed bad guy (the snake) told the truth?
So the enduring question is just how accurate is the information in the Old Testament, is it fact or fiction? After all, archaeologists have not been able to find a worldwide flood in the timeframe provided by the Bible. Perhaps even more telling is the dating given by the Bible for the creation of the first man since science says that homo sapiens has been around for hundreds of thousands of years, if not more. What’s more, the chronology given in the Bible is at odds with the chronology found in ancient Egyptian records. So let’s try and break it down.
The Old Testament
Genesis starts with a creation story which is brief, but somewhat detailed. Then there is no record, other than the family tree, for what takes place in the next three thousand years. So if you don’t know your own history, how would you have any concept about the Creation, unless…
you had borrowed the creation story from older writings.
What older writings would that be, you might ask? Well, the Israelites were a group of Semitic tribes, among many Semitic tribes. But exactly where did they come from? Well, the Bible says that Abraham was a Sumerian who came from the city-state of Ur. Archaeology claims that it has found this ancient city in southern Iraq and that it dates to 3800 B.C. The Sumerians were a very advanced civilization who invented modern writing (as far as we know). Among their writings, is the Eridu Genesis which is the oldest creation and flood story known to man. Since the Israelites forefather (Abraham) was a Sumerian, there is good reason to believe that they may have modeled the biblical Genesis tale after Sumerian writings.
The next detailed story in the Old Testament is the story of Noah and the flood. In the Noah story, we get the first reference to what is, in effect, a Chosen People. Noah and his family have been specifically chosen by god to be the only survivors of the human species. Along with Noah, the ark was said to have contained two of every species of animal.
Aside: Of course, that would have been physically impossible, although it would have been very possible for their DNA to have been stored on such an ark.
The Bible then goes on to say that the planet was peopled from the three sons of Noah. A couple of problems with that story are as follows:
- There’s no explanation as to how we went from eight people (Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives) to seven billion people in such a short period of time. Never mind that the children of the three sons would have had to have married each other as no one else was said to have survived the flood, unless…there were survivors (i.e. rather than a worldwide flood as the Bible states, the flood may actually have been confined to a rather small area of the Middle East).
- Genetically speaking, it’s never been shown how one human skull type can evolve into a different skull type (i.e. the different racial types could not have all evolved from Adam and Eve or from Noah, as the case may be), unless… there was more than one Adam and Eve.
After Noah, there is more genealogy stuff for seven or eight generations, but little, if any, real history. So the Bible story really starts with Abraham and continues with a telling of the history of his descendants. Here’s where it gets murky. You see, there’s no hard evidence in the archaeological record, or other writings, that many of the biblical patriarchs ever existed. Perhaps even worse, the chronology of the Bible doesn’t match the chronology of the archaeological record. What gives?
Origins of the Old Testament
Now the Israelites had been polytheists from the beginning (e.g. see Exodus 20:3). It’s true that they worshipped Yahweh (Jehovah), but only as one god amongst many. As late as the 6th century B.C., the Israelites worshipped the goddess Ashtoreth who was considered as important a god as Yahweh. Chapters 10 and 11 of Genesis give a list of all nations. It’s referred to as the Table of Nations. As for Yahweh, he was allotted Israel (see Deuteronomy 32:8-9). So the Israelites were in fact a Chosen People, chosen for Yahweh that is.
Nothing that Moses did changed the fact that the Israelites were polytheistic. The Israelites eventually rejected Moses and his Ten Commandments and remained polytheistic for the next 1,000 years or so. As for the Ten Commandments, they apparently were lost to history and then miraculously reappeared and were accepted at face value (see 2 Kings 22:8-13).
The Old Testament was compiled in the 6th century B.C. (or later) after the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon and rebuilt the Second Temple. Prior to their exile, the Israelites were still polytheist. However, when they returned they (the scribes/priests) had mysteriously become monotheists.
“So what changed? Simply this: Beginning in the 6th century BCE, the Persians became rulers over most of the ancient world (the Achaemenid Empire it was called). Now the Persians worshipped Ahura Mazda as part of their religion which was called Zoroastrianism. One little known fact about Zoroastrianism is that it was the very first religion based on the concept of monotheism. Ahura Mazda was omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. Creation was accomplished in six days and began with a single couple. God (Ahura Mazda) gave his commandments to the Persian prophet Zoroaster on the top of a holy mountain (like the Moses story on Mt. Sinai). All of this, of course, is eerily similar to the Pentateuch” (The Greatest Story Never Told – The Ethical Warrior).
So the Old Testament was in reality an attempt by the ruling Persian king to convert the Israelites to monotheism, with Yahweh getting a promotion to “the one and only god”. The overarching concept of this monotheism was the dualistic religion of Zoroastrianism which was grafted on top of the ancient Mosaic belief system of the Israelites. In the process, the nature of God was radically altered from an angry, jealous tribal god to the Zoroastrian’s omnipotent, universal God Ahura-Mazda. Only now, he would be known as Yahweh.
Except Yahweh wasn’t the Most High, now was he?
“When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations
When He separated the sons of Adam
He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.
For the Lord’s (Yahweh) portion is His people
Jacob (Israel) is the place of His inheritance.”
– Deuteronomy 32:8-9