Original consistency


Lascaux cave paintings in France, estimated to be up to 20,000 years old | photo: Vimeo

Lascaux cave paintings in France, estimated to be up to 20,000 years old | photo: Vimeo

Dr John Peet with some facts which indicate the truth of Genesis 1–11

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: Defending Daniel


Unapologetic ChristianitySome Bible books have a harder time being accepted as historically reliable than others.

Among the Old Testament books, Daniel often takes a beating. The critical reaction frequently reflects a skeptical attitude to miracles (did Daniel really spend a night in a den of lions?) or to predictive prophecy (was Daniel really able to predict the rise and fall of later empires?). As a consequence, many critics date these books late and suggest they are Jewish legends with prophecies of events that had already taken place included to make them sound authentic.

We may be tempted to sidestep these criticisms. But that evasion is short-sighted. If we reject something as spurious because it contains miracles or accurate predictive prophecy then eventually that attitude will undermine the gospel. What is left of the ministry of Jesus if we reject miracles? What is left of the gospel if we reject prophecy of future events?

It is ironic that all the accumulating archaeological and material evidence supports the reliability of Daniel, while nothing has been found to undermine it. S.R. Driver (1846-1914), professor of Hebrew at Oxford, wrote one of the most influential commentaries on Daniel and dated its final form to what is called the Maccabean period (c. 165 BC). This was long after the Babylonian exile (c. 609-536 BC), in which the book claims to be set.

One reason Driver gave is the book’s use of Aramaic which we know would come into fashion closer to the time of the New Testament. However, another reason must surely be the presence of predictive prophecy. Daniel predicts a succession of kingdoms following the Babylonians. If he wrote these around 580 BC then his vision of the future proved remarkably accurate. If they were written in 165 BC then there is no miraculous element!

As a matter of fact, Driver’s redating of Daniel still fails to deny its predictive content. Daniel predicts four empires of which the fourth is clearly a description of Rome. Even placing Daniel in the time of the Maccabees still puts it a century prior to the rise of Rome in the region. To get around this, critics had to include an extra empire between Persia and Greece. The bizarre result is that they denied Daniel the ability to accurately predict the future but attributed to him a very clumsy recording of the past.

However, what do we know since the work of Driver that has helped us to date Daniel? Quite a lot — and nothing that would support Driver’s theory.

Dead Sea Scrolls

Most importantly, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls from 1947 onwards, has provided a vast number of ancient biblical texts that enable us to have much greater confidence in the reliability of the copying of the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls include eight copies of Daniel, along with several related writings that use material from the book. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls the earliest complete text of Daniel in Hebrew dated to the tenth century AD. The earliest Dead Sea texts of Daniel are dated to 125 BC. As these are copies of copies they point to a much earlier date for the original.

Furthermore, the Dead Sea Scrolls have turned the presence of Aramaic in the book from the supposed late dating into additional evidence for the early date of the book.

Aramaic scripts and vocabulary of the Dead Sea copies demonstrate a much earlier form than those of other second century BC examples. In other words, far from indicating a late date, the Aramaic used in Daniel now suggests a much earlier date than critics like Driver could have known. In fact, scholars now suggest that the Aramaic used in Daniel is of a form originating in Babylon rather than Judea. The origins of the book lie in a period much earlier than Driver guessed and a location far from Jerusalem.

Recommendations

The evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls bolsters our continuing confidence in Daniel and consigns more recent commentaries to the dustbins of history! Of course, this brief article only scratches the surface of the value of the Dead Sea Scrolls for apologetics. For much more detail I would recommend Randall Price’s Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls(Harvest House, 1996) or, at a more scholarly level, Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by John J. Collins and Craig A. Evans (Baker Books, 2006).

It is also worth noting that there is a wealth of nonsense written on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Much of this was a result of the air of conspiracy that surrounded the slow publication of scroll translations. Since all the manuscripts are now publically accessible in translation, books making outlandish claims about the Dead Sea Scrolls are gradually disappearing. However, the desert region around the Dead Sea remains a favourable location to preserve ancient manuscripts and so there is a good chance that more will be discovered in the years to come!

 

Chris Sinkinson is pastor of Alderholt Chapel and lectures at Moorlands College

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Unapologetic Christianity from Chris Sinkinson: Hoaxes and hogwash!


Every now and then there is a buzz of excitement.

When teaching Old Testament a student will ask me if I have heard that Pharaoh’s chariot wheels from the exodus have been located in the depths of the Red Sea. It is thrilling stuff, and often based on grainy photographs passed about on the internet and on Christian DVDs. Sadly, however, it is a hoax, which has undermined the credibility of evangelical engagement with archaeology and other disciplines.

Shaky evidence

The problems with the evidence are manifold. We ought to be unsettled by the fact that no academic, objective scrutiny of the claims has ever been made. The central evidence itself is based on the personal testimony of the late Ron Wyatt who took some photographs of what look like coral encrusted ship debris and made lavish claims for their significance without any rigorous testing. On investigation, every element of his evidence looks decidedly shaky! Perhaps we should not be too harsh on Wyatt. He was a busy man. Travelling in his vacations, he also claimed to have discovered Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, and a number of other important biblical relics. I have no hesitation in turning students away from this kind of sensational but unsubstantiated hokum.

Undermining credibility

However, underlying these claims is a more important issue. Our evangelical churches can become an undiscerning haven for fraudulent ideas and untested rumours. Such threadbare evidence is woven into sermons and youth talks. Unlikely proofs become a church equivalent of an urban legend, sounding more plausible for frequent retelling. Does it matter? Yes, because we undermine our credibility and our integrity. If friends discover that we have slipped one hoax into our evangelism then how will they know they can trust any other piece of historical or archaeological information? If photographs of chariot wheels are demonstrably spurious then does that undermine the exodus itself? What about the reliability of the Old Testament? Can we trust the Bible at all?

Solid scholarship

We must double-check our facts in evangelism. A Google search is not enough! There should be a healthy distrust of the first thing we read and a careful weighing up of what evidence we use with our friends. Eternal matters are at stake. With this in mind I have just published an introduction to the Old Testament that draws on some of the latest discoveries as well as more well known finds. My intention in Time Travel to the Old Testament (IVP, 2013) is to affirm the historical reliability of the Bible and show how background information can help bring further light to the meaning of the text. These things really happened, and we can be confident in our faith. While writing it, I have had to tread a careful path to avoid bogus claims and wild speculation. There is plenty of it about! But we do not need the hogwash. There is a wealth of solid scholarship that supports the essential historical credentials of the Bible. It is this kind of scholarship that we should be circulating in our evangelical circles.

Chris Sinkinson is pastor of Alderholt Chapel and lectures at Moorlands College

This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057