This video reviews many of the top Bible stories from the Old Testament that are used to ridicule or attack Christianity. The ‘new atheists’ are called ‘new’, because the new approach is to view religion as an enemy that needs to be destroyed. Christianity is one of their big targets, and certain stories from the Old Testament in the Bible are used as one of their biggest weapons. Challenges of faith can arise from these attacks, which don’t need to happen with a greater understanding of the text, including where it came from, when and why it was written, and the assumptions we might be bringing to these stories which might need re-evaluating, without giving up any of the messages or doctrine being taught.
So this video I want to talk about challenges that come from the Bible. And really, it’s addressing the new atheists, if you’ve heard of the new atheists, you’ve heard the best selling books such as The God Delusion from Richard Dawkins, or God is Not Great. And the approach and what makes it different than the old atheists, is they’re looking for converts. They’re aggressively pursuing an aggressive campaign against religion. They think religion’s evil. And their prime target? Christians. And their best tool? The Bible.
So that’s why I thought this would be a good video to do. It’s their best ammunition. They target things in the Bible that can be challenged scientifically, or maybe make God look like a moral monster. In fact, here’s a book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, for example, addressing some of these things.
So I want to talk about, in the video, the Creation, Adam and Eve, the flood, the Tower of Babel, the Exodus story, and then Jonah. And at the end I want to talk specifically, finish sharing about some possible ways of really approaching scripture maybe in a way that we haven’t done as much in the past. I’m going to use the six days of Creation as an example, where the Israelites meant a 24 hour day. Now we read that, and the Hebrew word can be interpreted differently, but they you actually, it looks like, were very strategically using in a phraseology of the 24 hour day period, and let’s talk about why. So that’ll be a great way to conclude here as well.
So let’s jump into this. Let’s lead with a quote from Brigham Young, “Do you read the scriptures, my brothers and sisters, as though you were writing them a 1000, 2000, or 5000 years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them? If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation.”
Okay, then he talks about learning line upon line. He says, “We are not capacitated to throw off in one day all our traditions, and our prepossessed feelings and notions, but we have to do it little by little. It is a gradual process, advancing from one step to another. And as we lay off our false traditions and foolish notions, we receive more and more light, and thus we grow in grace. And if we continue to grow we shall be prepared eventually to receive the Son of Man, and that is what we are after.”
We have so much learning and discovery that has taken place, scholarly, that we understand today that wasn’t understood a century ago. We often view the Bible, especially these early books, as the first five books of Moses. They may have been under Moses or traditionally coming from Moses, or authority from Moses in some ways, but it’s not like there was this fax machine to Moses, word for word, and that’s how it went out. And often that’s how it’s been received over the years. That terminology is how we essentially got the Old Testament, specifically the first five books, Genesis being critical.
Authoring the Old Testament, this was the first that was written to a Latter-day Saint audience, by David Bokovoy. A great read there. But just understanding that the Old Testament stories were written, many of these some thousands of years after they occurred, most likely between 6th and 9th century BC, maybe four different accounts. And these were compiled just like Mormon compiled the Book of Mormon, in a sense. We don’t know who these compilers were, but during the Babylonian captivity. And in Babylon, they had a lot of exposure to many of these other traditional stories and things found in Babylon. So there’s just a lot of interesting aspects that can be done from a scholarly thing of why the Israelites may have been wording things the way they were wording them. It’s just very fascinating in our study now that we can do on there.
And it does help also to understand all the confusing parts of the Bible too, like the order of Creation, you read it one way and then you turn the page and the order’s different. There were different sources and when they compiled them together they had great respect for these and a lot of understanding for where they were. Or maybe the animals going onto the ark, two in one account, and then seven of the clean ones in another account there.
So let’s talk about a few more quotes here. Elder Talmage on interpreting Genesis, he said, “The opening chapters of Genesis, and scriptures related thereto, were never intended as a textbook of geology, archeology, earth-science, or man-science. Holy scripture will endure, while the conceptions of men change with new discoveries. We do not show reverence for the scriptures when we misapply them through faulty interpretation.”
Okay. Here’s a quote from John Walton. He’s written just a couple of great books too, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, and The Lost World of the Flood. These are very, very helpful books. He said here, “Respect the text of the Bible by recognizing the sort of text that it is and the nature of the message that it offers. The Bible is not a scientific textbook. We are not compelled to bring the Bible into conformity either with its cultural context or with modern science, but if an interpretation of Genesis, for example, coincides with what seem to be sound scientific conclusions, all the better. Either information from the literature of the ancient world or new insights from scientific investigation may appropriately prompt us to go back to the Bible to reconsider our interpretations. We must always be willing to return to the text and consider it with fresh eyes.”
Now I did do a video on science and religion, Seeing with Both Eyes, and this video is going to really be almost a part two of that in some ways, but I’m going to link that too, at the end screen, to that because I think it’d be a great adjunction to this.
So speaking of that, if we could look at this next slide here. I just want to touch on evolution for a minute. We talked about that a lot in that science and religion video there. The new atheists attack evolution significantly, obviously. It’s a great tool. It can’t be reconciled, they say, with Adam and Eve and the 6,000 year history of people on the earth. And one of the key things is evolution could have been used by God. The Church does not have an official position on it. If you think about it logistically, what’s to stop God from using these natural laws potentially, that we’re learning from the science, and getting to a spot where he was ready to have his first … Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, their first spirit child come into physical body, that they were even part of the physical aspect of helping to create, in a sense, through science?
I mean, there’s ways to reconcile these things, but the important point of this is that the Church does not have a position on evolution. A lot of people don’t, I think, believe that, or they’ve maybe not heard this clearly. In fact, take a look at this. This was in the New Era article, October 2016, no author. It says, “The Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. Though the details of what happened on earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation. We are descendants of Adam and Eve, our first parents, who were created in God’s image. There were no spirit children of Heavenly Father on the earth before Adam and Eve were created.”
Now it’s interesting, this is actually posted on a sign next to a large exhibit at BYU’s Bean Museum on evolution. You can see the picture on the right there of the skeletons, and really the Church making sure it’s clear. And if you watch the video, because there’s a lot on the history of evolution and the Church there and where we’ve come to our current … I’ll give you a couple of quick ones. Here are some.
President Hinckley, “What the church requires is only belief that Adam was the first man of what we would call the human race, scientists can speculate on the rest.” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “The scriptures teach us why man was created, but not how.” The First Presidency statement, the last formal statement, 1925, “Our religion is not hostile to real science. That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy.” The apostle and geologist James Talmage, “We cannot sweep aside all accumulated knowledge in geology, archeology, or any other branch of science, simply because our interpretation of some isolated passages of scripture may seem to be opposed there too.”
Now I love about … In fact I put this in that science and religion video, but D&C 101 tell us that we will not really know this until the Second Coming. So that’s why I love to keep a neutral stance on this and say I’m undecided in a sense, because we’re not going to know, and we’re told that that anyone that says that they know absolutely, you can point to this Doctrine and Covenants, section 101, that we won’t really know and understand until then. But we still are told to study out of the best books. All of these scientific things, we’re still told to learn and study. And science may tell us which way to bet there, but we shouldn’t be dogmatic about it one way or the other, and understand what the Church’s position is, to be neutral.
So now, there was a huge debate back in 1831. Joseph Fielding Smith had given a talk in General Conference stating that there was no death before the Fall and there are no pre-Adamites. B.H. Roberts flipped his lid. These were two apostles that essentially, they had a debate then amongst the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and presented both of their sides there. Afterwards, the Church basically said that they were going to take a neutral position and say that neither side has necessarily proved it, per se. But this was a powerful statement they sent to all the general authorities.
This in the BYU packet, this is the last words, “Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the people of the world. Leave geology, biology, archeology and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church. We can see no advantage to be gained by a continuation of the discussion to which reference is here made, but on the contrary, and certain that it would lead to confusion, division and misunderstanding if carried further. Upon one thing we should be able to agree, namely, that Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John Winder, and Anthon Lund, the First Presidency, were right when they said, ‘Adam is the primal parent of our race.'”
Then interestingly, the Church asked James E. Talmage to speak in the next conference and they published this pamphlet, and it included this phrase here. It says, “The oldest rocks thus far identified in land masses, reveal the fossilized remains of once living organisms, plant and animal. These lived and died, age after age, while the earth was yet unfit for human habitation.”
Here’s a February 2016 article, the New Era. Interesting. It’s in the youth, but about dinosaurs. “Did dinosaurs live and die on this earth long before man came along? There have been no revelations on this question, and the scientific evidence says yes. You can learn more about it studying paleontology if you like, even at Church-owned schools. The details of what happened on this planet before Adam and Eve aren’t a huge doctrinal concern of ours. The account of the Creation in the scriptures are not meant to provide a literal, scientific explanation of the specific process, time periods, or events involved.”
And then this is a fascinating quote from Hugh Nibley on Neanderthals. He says here, “Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God’s affection or even a right to exaltation, for our scriptures allow them such. Nor am I overly concerned as to just when they might have lived, for their world is not our world. They have all gone away long before our people ever appeared. God assigned them their proper times and functions, as he has given me mine– a full-time job that admonishes me to remember His words to the overly eager Moses, ‘For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.’ It is Adam as my own parent who concerns me. When he walks onto the stage, then and only then the play begins.”
Now some point to 2 Nephi 2, Lehi’s statement there about that there was no death before the Fall, that you can look at it on there, the very top verse. “And all things which were created, must remain in the same state in which they were after they were created. And they must remain forever and have no end.” This next quote there from three scholars in the Church says, “What does the term ‘all things’ refer to? Verse 23 appears to refer to Adam and Eve only, and verse 24 uses the term ‘all things’ twice to refer to concepts. Can we be certain that ‘all things’ in verse 22 means Adam, Eve, all the animals and all the plants? Could the term ‘things’ simply mean conditions? If Adam had not transgressed, his condition of immortality in the garden would have continued indefinitely.”
Then I love this from Robert Clayton. He said, “The meaning must be carefully evaluated. The state in which they were after they were created is not defined anywhere in scripture. And, ‘had no end’ does not necessarily mean eternal life, just a continuation of state. It could mean that the creations were mortal and would have continued mortal forever, with no hope of eternal continuance. The word ‘they’ refers to Adam and Eve throughout the chapter, but the meaning of ‘they’ is grammatically unclear in verse 22. Verse 23 picks right back up where ‘they’ referring to Adam and Eve, suggesting it is Adam and Even in verse 22 that would have remained forever and had no end.” Who knows? Maybe the tree of life could have given them this extension for as long as until they partook of the other tree.
So I will reference an evolutionary biologist. It’s a professor at Utah Valley University, UVU, Heath Ogden. He actually just did a presentation there. I’m going to link to it. It’s about an hour and 20 minutes, with students, and it’s just fascinating. I love the Q&A, it’s almost half of it, just hearing how he reconciles some of these things.
In fact, I’ll just tell you his criteria for Adam and Eve were essentially Homo sapien, which happened 200,000 years ago. But that would have been one ingredient. Two, spirit children of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. And three, the first to make covenants with God, and then go forward and teach that. So, interesting criteria. He says if you do that, all of a sudden things can really change in the way that you could logistically approach some of these things. Okay, I’ll let him share that with you. He actually did an interview with Terryl Givens in the Faith Matters Foundation, just recently. I’ll link that too, it’s fantastic.
Okay, now about the Garden of Eden, let me share this, and in fact, Jeffrey Bradshaw, talk about a scholar. In fact, I wanted to just show you. The first 11 books of Genesis. Look at the size of this. He and then Dave Larsen did two here. But part one and part two, these are goldmines. These are really recent publications, but look at the thickness of this for 11 chapters of Genesis. That’s pretty amazing. But it’s a lot of great stuff to really get into the meat and the symbolism behind a lot of things. I’ll mention something about that in a minute.
So here, he is actually here quoting frequently asked questions about science in Genesis. I’ll link to this from Interpreter. He says, “While it would be foolish to speak of any final solution to the problem of reconciling science and scripture on specifics relating to the Garden of Eden and the nature of life before the Fall, three groups of general possibilities are briefly considered below.”
Now in the article he goes into great detail on each of these, but I just want to show you what the categories are, “1. Eden located on the earth as a place where special conditions prevailed. 2. Eden situated in a different place or state than the earth as we know it. And 3. Eden as a place whose description includes figurative elements.” Also, remember, Adam and Eve were not created in the Garden of Eden. They were put into the garden after being created, so interesting thoughts there.
Now, Joseph Fielding McConkie says, “What, then, do we conclude of the Eden story? What is figurative or literal? We answer by way of comparison. It, like the temple ceremony, combines a rich blend of both. Our temples are real, the priesthood is real, the covenants we enter into are real, and the blessings we are promised by obedience are real, yet the teaching device may be metaphorical. We are as actors on a stage. We role-play and imagine. We do not actually advance from one world to another in the temple, but rather are taught with figurative representations of what can and will be. In the story of man’s earthly origin, we find a rich blend of figurative and literal that is so typical of the Bible, of the teachings of Christ and of our daily experience. This story might unfold according to the faith and wisdom that we bring to it. Like all scriptural texts, its interpretation becomes a measure of our maturity and our spiritual integrity.”
Now I thought it was really important to share this, a recent quote from Elder Holland regarding the importance of the foundational aspect of Adam and Eve and the Fall. Absolutely foundational. Here it is, April 2015 conference, “In our increasingly secular society, it is as uncommon as it is unfashionable to speak of Adam and Eve or the Garden of Eden or a fortunate fall into mortality. Nevertheless, the simple truth is that we cannot fully comprehend the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ, and we will not adequately appreciate the unique purpose of His birth or His death– in other words, there is no way to truly celebrate Christmas or Easter– without understanding that there was an actual Adam and Eve who fell from an actual Eden, with all the consequences that fall carried with it.”
“I do not know the details of what happened on this planet before that, but I do know that these two were created under the divine hand of God, that for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was no human death nor future family in that setting, and that through a sequence of choices they transgressed a commandment of God, which required that they leave their garden setting, but which allowed them to have children before facing death. To add further sorrow and complexity to their circumstance, their transgression had spiritual consequences as well, cutting them off from the presence of God forever.”
And so, we have the same there as he mentioned at the end, which Heath Ogden points out. In fact, he says this death also could’ve been really focused on spiritual death. That could’ve been what all this was about and that Adam and Eve were the first to be in the presence of God and to actually have that spiritual death. So again, lots of ways to think of this.
Okay, let’s talk about the flood. This is a favorite of the new atheists. There’s no scientific evidence of this worldwide flood, particularly of the size that it would’ve been. In fact, I’m going to show you a number there. It would have taken all of the water on the earth, four and a half times that, to be statistic to the flood, if it was to be the 26 cubits high or whatever, across the entire globe there.
But let’s talk about it. So Elder Widtsoe on the flood, “We should remember that when inspired writers deal with historical incidents, they relate that which they have seen or that which have been told them, unless indeed the past is opened to them by revelation. For example, the details in the story of the flood are undoubtedly drawn from the experiences of the writer. The writer of Genesis made a faithful report of the facts known to him concerning the flood. In other localities, the depth of the water might have been more or less,” which is interesting. It doesn’t necessarily say on there.
So talking about the universal flood, so this is great, Walter Bradley says, “The terminology used in Genesis 6 through 9 seems to favor a global flood. However, the use of such biblical language in other stories may help us to understand the intention here. In Genesis 41:56, we are told the famine was spread over all the face of the earth. We normally interpret this famine as devastating the lands of the ancient Near East around Egypt and do not assume that American Indians and Australian Aborigines came to buy grain from Joseph. 1 Kings 10:24 states that the whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom that God had put into his heart. Surely Inca Indians from South America or Maoris from New Zealand had not heard of Solomon and sought his audience,” even though it made it sound like they did.
Okay, so this is really fascinating. “The Hebrew word ‘eretz’ used in Genesis 7:19, is usually translated ‘earth’ or ‘world’, but does not generally refer to the entire planet.” You can see some of the verses where they differentiate that. Then this is the one that really jumped out at me, “The Hebrew word translated ‘covered’ in Genesis 7:19 is ‘kasah’. It can mean residing upon, running over, or falling upon. Twenty feet of water running over or falling upon the mountains, or hills, is quite different from that amount residing upon them, although either event could destroy human and animal life in its path.” Talk about a difference in the way you can maybe think of that story.
Okay, localized flood. Genesis 8:4. So this is from Bradshaw again, “The ark came to rest on the hills or mountains of Ararat, not specifically Mount Ararat, which is seventeen thousand feet tall. This complex mountain range extends north and east of Mount Ararat down to the foothills skirting the Mesopotamian plain. If the ark had landed near the top of Mount Ararat, it is difficult to imagine how Noah and his family, as well as the animals, would have been able to descend to the base of the mountain, given the considerable difficulty mountain climbers have today in attempting to reach locations where the ark is thought, I believe, incorrectly, to have landed.”
“Genesis 8:5. The water receded until the tenth month when the tops of the mountains, or hills, became visible for the first time. The reference here seems to be what Noah could see, not the entire world.” Important distinction. “The dove returns with an olive leaf. Since olive trees don’t grow at higher elevations, a flood that covered all the mountains would not give this type of evidence of receding. A flood that covered all the mountains on the earth would require 4.5 times the total water resources that exist on planet Earth,” as I mentioned before. Fascinating.
I forgot to put it in here, but there’s also different people that have pointed it out that were before the flood and after the flood there, so the Bible doesn’t seem to point this out clearly, but it is interesting. In fact, one myth, story, says that one of them was hanging onto the outside of the ark. Just trying to make sense of that, why are they still there after the flood with the way that it sounds? Anyway.
Now, I will say this is an interesting thing. If you go to Wikipedia, look at this slide, list of flood myths. To me this is kind of stunning to think about. Just look at the slide here, “Flood myths are common across a wide range of cultures, extending back into Bronze Age and Neolithic prehistory. These accounts depict a flood, sometimes global in scale, usually sent by a deity or deities to destroy civilization as an act of divine retribution.” It’s really fascinating to think about. Maybe there was a global flood, not the size, but that’s why it’s important to understand those words there, but there certainly could’ve been water everywhere at different times. But anyway.
So let’s talk about this for a minute, Peter Enns … In fact, if there’s one book I want to recommend so strongly is Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. This is a phenomenal book. He’s not a Latter-day Saint, he’s an Evangelical Christian. But I’ll tell you, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Absolutely fascinating. I’m going to quote from it in a minute. But he’s also got a great podcast, I think it’s called The Bible For Normal People or something like that. It’s really good.
But he says, “Ancient Israelites, living in a world of already very ancient stories of a catastrophic deluge, likely occurring around 2900 BC, that left ancient peoples scrambling for answers about why the gods would do such a thing, adapted that story to say something of theological significance for them by way of contrast with these other ancient stories.” Now remember when they’re writing this.
“This is not to suggest, however, that the entire earth was actually, geologically, in space and time covered with water, nor does it even suggest that this story gives us a permanent, let alone primary, information about God’s character. But it does suggest that this story had some significant religious value for its writers, and we ought to try to understand what that might be, rather than capturing a story in a misleading slogan that will set our children up for a faith crisis once they get old enough to read the story for themselves, or watch The History Channel and learn about the other ancient flood stories, or NOVA, and learn about geology and the age of the earth.”
Okay, now John Walton says, “Any interpretive solution must take the text seriously, yet be willing to see the text in ways that the original author and audience may have seen it. It likewise needs to take logistical problems seriously. It is a weak interpretation that has to invent all sorts of miracles that the text says nothing about in order to compensate for the logistical problems.”
And then I love this. The Jewish Study Bible says, “The ark symbolizes the tender mercies and protective grace with which God envelops the righteous, even in the harshest circumstances.” And Ben Spackman says one of the best things you can do is get a Jewish Study Bible, it’d be fantastic to help understand these things too, and that what maybe was being meant in the original authors, what they were trying to say.
And then speaking of Ben Spackman, here he said, “My summary position is that the Genesis account is both an adoption of and a reaction against other ancient Near Eastern flood stories, so much as creation in Genesis 1 is both an Israelite adaptation and polemic reaction against other ancient Near Eastern creation accounts. Very briefly, I think there may be a historical kernel, a memory of a flood behind the current text (there are regular river floods both in Mesopotamia and Egypt.) However, as it currently stands in the text, the flood tradition has been pressed into use and expanded (for polemical anti-Mesopotamian purposes maybe) into a universal cosmological flood. It is a reverse creation, undoing Genesis 1 by erasing order and structure, and returning the world to its pre-creation watery, chaotic state. Then the waters recede, and Noah is a new Adam in the new creation.” Lots of symbolism there.
Okay then, you’ve probably heard about people have talked about this being the baptism of the earth. This was a long historical Protestant thought, and many church people, church leaders, adopted this over time. And then we even started talking about it being an ordinance, because that’s what baptism is, but it’s a circular argument.
Here’s what Ben Spackman … He talks about if there was a worldwide flood, it was the earth’s baptism. And if the earth was baptized, the flood would have immersed the entire earth. He says it’s really the causality backwards and it’s a circular argument. But I love this, look in the middle, he says, “But let’s ask a different question. Why does the planet need baptism? Do dogs? Plants? Can it make decisions, or repent? Did someone lay hands on it? What sins had it committed? Is it now a member of the Church? Again, the ideas of the earth’s baptism grew out of the reading of a global historical flood, not revelation, and consequently it’s not a strong argument for a worldwide flood because of that circularity.”
Then I do love … There was an interesting piece put in BYU Religious Studies. Paul Hoskisson and Stephen Smoot talk a lot about the history of that, those speculative thoughts. But then also, they bring up this really fascinating thing about if there was some symbolism here, maybe this is what it was. He says … They go through this about, “Like Jacob, Benjamin was worried about being soiled with others’ sins. Moroni expressed the same sentiment, that the Book of Mormon was written that we may rid our garments of the blood of our brethren. It is possible that the earth, in like manner and in preparation for eventual celestialization, was physically washed and symbolically cleansed, so that it could become free from the blood and sins of the mortals who polluted its surface.” Kind of interesting too. And again, that could be just water running over, not necessarily 20 feet high kind of thing.
All right, let’s go on to the Tower of Babel. So atheists love to say how crazy it is that that was the genesis of all languages across the world, that that’s where the diversification of language started from, which is very provable that that could not have been back to 2242, which is the date often used for the Tower of Babel.
So here are some quotes in here of ways that you can see this, if we take … This is all from Bradshaw, he says, “If we take ‘one language’ of Genesis 11:1 as being Sumerian, Akkadian, or even as a long shot Aramaic, rather than a supposed universal proto-language, some of the puzzling aspects of the biblical account become more intelligible. In addition to the local language of each nation, there existed one language which made communication possible throughout the world or, perhaps more accurately, throughout the land. Strictly speaking, the biblical text does not refer to a plurality of languages, but to the destruction of language as an instrument of communication.”
“Hamilton presents a reasonable view when he writes that it is unlikely that Genesis 11 can contribute much, if anything to the origin of languages. The diversification of language is a slow process, not something catastrophic as Genesis 11 might indicate. The commonly received interpretation of Genesis 11 provides a most incredible and naive explanation of language diversification. If however the narrative refers to the dissolution of a Babylonian lingua franca, or adopted common language in other words, or something like that, the need to see Genesis 11 as a highly imaginative explanation of language diffusion becomes unnecessary.”
And then Brant Gardner has a great quote here, “The confounding of languages is related to the mixing (confounding) of different peoples in creating the great Tower of Babylon. From such a mixing of people who were attempting to build a temple to the heavens, Yahweh removed some of his believers, the Jaredites, for His own purposes.”
And last, “Like the other stories in the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the story of the Tower of Babel is woven throughout with temple themes. The Tower can be seen as a sort of anti-temple wherein the Babylonians attempt to make a name for themselves.”
Okay, let’s talk about the Exodus. The new atheists love to point out that there is no solid evidence for the Exodus. And wouldn’t there be? 600,000 people, soldiers if you will, men, and with families it would be two million plus. Why wouldn’t there be any evidence of this? And you may say, “Well, the Egyptians are trying to cover it up because they’re embarrassed.” Well, wouldn’t anybody else love to make fun of the Egyptians because of this and it would be in their documentation. So this is the argument that they point to.
Now, there are some huge problems with numbers, I will tell you, in the Old Testament. Scholars today estimate to be measured in the tens of thousands for the Exodus, not in the millions. If you look in our own Bible Dictionary, there’s an Enrichment Section E, and the title of it is The Problems with Large Numbers in the Old Testament. They talk a lot about transmission issues, errors and things that can happen. In fact, they put an Exodus estimate of 72,000 in that, so it’s kind of interesting.
But I want to share this. This is actually from a professor of Jewish studies at the University of Georgia, Richard Elliot Friedman, called The Exodus Is Not Fiction. So look at this, “The claims that the Exodus never happened are not based on evidence, but largely on its absence. They assert that we’ve combed the Sinai and not found any evidence of the mass of millions of people whom the Bible say were there for 40 years. That assertion is just not true. There have not been many major excavations in the Sinai, and we most certainly have not combed it. Moreover, uncovering objects buried 3,200 years ago is a daunting endeavor. An Israeli colleague laughingly told me that a vehicle that had been lost in the 1973 Yom Kippur War was recently uncovered under 16 meters, that’s 52 feet of sand. Fifty-two feet in 40 years!”
“Still, all of us would admit that two million people, 603,550 males and their families, as the Torah describes, should have left some remnants that we would find. But few of us ever thought this number was historical anyway. Someone calculated long ago that if the number of people were marching, say, eight across, then when the first ones arrived in Sinai, half the people would still be in Egypt.”
“There is no archaeological evidence against the historicity of an exodus if it was a smaller group who left Egypt. Indeed, significantly, the first biblical mention of the Exodus, the Song of Miriam …” That’s the oldest text in the Bible. That’s Exodus 15, “… never mentions how many people were involved in the Exodus, and it never speaks of the whole nation of Israel. It just refers to a people leaving Egypt. It wasn’t until a much later source of the Exodus, the so-called priestly source, some 400 years later, that the number 603,550 was added to the story.” So very interesting.
Ben Spackman says … I always love to get his take … he says, “Without going into deep and long arguments, the likely source of the Exodus text is oral tradition, which preserves the past while also shaping and expanding it. Like Genesis, Exodus is largely written in good Hebrew of the 9th to 6th centuries BC, after the events it depicts. Exodus 15, a poem recounting the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the sea, is actually older and written in archaic Hebrew. My take is that something like the Exodus happened, but probably in much much smaller numbers than depicted, and not as dramatic. This is not because I reject miracles or lack faith, but because of my understanding of the nature of the text, historical context, and close reading.”
Okay now, for one of the most viscous punches that are thrown by the new atheists is framing God as a moral monster, and their favorite is to show the order of genocide against the Canaanites. The Israelites were to go and to destroy every man, woman, and child, and even the animals. They say this is a moral monster, as I said. So this book, I am so glad I bought this book for this one quote I’m going to read to you. It was just gold. I just love it.
So Enns says, “If the Bible is God’s Holy Word, and if we too are to meet God in its pages, why would God allow himself to be cast in the role of a majorly hacked off tribal deity if he wasn’t? He’s God after all. Why does he even work with a script written from a violent and tribal mindset? Why didn’t God stop the story tellers? No, sorry. Listen, I get the whole tribal thing, it’s how you roll, but we’re not going to do it that way. You have no idea how much trouble Richard Dawkins is going to cause with all this. Plus, Jesus is going to dismantle this ‘kill your enemies and take their land’ business. Best to avoid the problem altogether.”
“Instead of working within the system God could have disallowed it. Then the Israelites could have written a wholly different kind of story altogether, a story no one had ever seen before and knock their own socks off. That’s the kind of ancient story telling I would have signed off on, if I were God. But I’m not and I’ve given up trying to get into God’s head and I wish others would too.”
Still, here is something that makes sense to me, a mystery that keeps staring me in the face every time I open my Bible and read it. The Bible from back to front is the story of God told from the limited point of view of real people living at a certain place and time. It’s not like the Israelites were debating whether or not to go ahead and describe God as a mighty warrior. They had no choice. That’s just how it was done. That was their cultural language. And if the writers had somehow been able to step outside of their culture and invent a new way of talking, their story would have made no sense to anyone else.”
“The Bible looks the way it does because God let’s His children tell the story, so to speak. Children see the world from their limited gaze, filtered unconsciously and in an-age appropriate manner. Think of how young boys in the school yard talk about their fathers. There are ways of telling the story of your father that gets the point across, to make sure everyone knows you have the best dad around. I think at least parts of the Bible work something like that.”
“It may be hard, sometimes impossible, to see the history in Israel’s stories, but we do get a good picture of how these ancient Israelites experienced God. These ancient writers had an adequate understanding of God for them in their time, but not for all time. And if we take that to heart, we will actually be in a better position to respect these ancient voices and see what they have to say, rather than whitewashing the details and making up explanations to ease our stress.”
Oh man, I just absolutely love it. I think it’s gold. Now, to hear this from a Latter-day Saint is great too, same kind of theme. This is Michael R. Ash the scholar. I love what he said, “All people see patterns– in things we actually see visually, in things we hear, and in experiences in our environment. We unavoidably and instinctively create arrangements for those patterns to try to explain to ourselves what we are seeing or hearing, or why something happens. In the Old Testament times people often attributed things to God, even if God never claimed to be the author of those events. When we combine this with storytelling embellishments, exaggerations, assumptions, metaphors, symbolism, and artistic freedom, all of which were normal for story-telling of the day, (we have to remember that objective history is a very modern approach to storytelling), we can appreciate that the loving God of the New Testament is the same God of the Old Testament, but that the Old Testament people understood God in the language of their day.”
Okay, now another new favorite of the atheists is to point out Jonah and the whale. It really was a great fish or a sea creature essentially. So they point out that a man cannot live in a fish for three days. So this is a made up story, so the Bible’s made up, kind of thing. Boy, I’ll tell you, there’s many Christian defenders actually that double down on this. I’ve heard many of these on YouTube. They say, “Hey Jesus quoted Jonah, remember? ‘I won’t give you any sign except the sign of Jonah,'” which is a perfect sign, right? The three days of darkness, death and resurrection.” But they say, “So obviously Jonah’s real if Jesus is quoting him. That doesn’t mean necessarily that this wasn’t a parable per se, or a story.”
Now I do like … I want to share this from the First Presidency actually. They said this in response to a question being asked about Jonah. This was written in a history of the Church, that was actually commissioned by the Church. So this BYU professor, Thomas Alexander said, “While they [the First Presidency] thought Jonah was a real person, they said it was possible that the stories told in the Bible was a parable common at the time. The purpose was to teach a lesson, and it is of little significance as to whether Jonah was a real individual or one chosen by the writer of the book to illustrate what is set forth therein. They took a similar position on Job. What is important, Penrose and Ivins insisted, was not whether the books were historically accurate, but whether the doctrines were correct.”
In fact, Ben Spackman often will say, “Well, is the good Samaritan true? Just because it’s not necessarily historical, doesn’t stop us from applying the story and understanding it there.” But the key is understanding … Spackman points this out a lot … the genre, the genre of scripture. This was really set up as a parable, a satirical parable, with a ton of irony in it to make a very clear point.
In fact, look at this last quote here, “The humor and exaggeration in the book of Jonah helped the ancient Jewish audience to perceive their own racist and bigoted attitudes and the ridiculous lengths to which arrogance and prejudice can lead them.” So it’s very interesting.
Okay, now, to finish, some key things I want to talk about. So we’ve talked about combining science with scripture, but also to focus on what the authors were actually really maybe trying to intend with their meaning. And with the advancements in scholarship today, we can do this in a way that has not been done in the past if you think about … That’s what Brigham Young told us to do, right? Read it as you were in their shoes and try and understand it from that perspective. There’s still lots of modern day lessons we can learn from that, but let’s not get confused and try and make up things because we might not maybe be understanding what they were getting at.
And the way I want to demonstrate this perfectly is with the days of Creation being 24-hour days. So let’s look at this from Spackman. This is the best example I’ve seen to illustrate this. He says, “Genesis 1 is arranged very carefully by days, culminating in the seventh day. Even though nothing happens on that day, it’s the most important day of Creation. Genesis 1 has strong parallels with the account of the construction of the temple/tabernacle. Deities rest in temples and only in temples. For God to rest on the seventh day indicated that God’s creation temple was finished, that he had taken up residence there, and therefore life, the universe, and everything, would function as it should.”
“Recall that the Babylonians destroyed Israel’s scared space, defiling the Holy Land and destroying the Jerusalem temple. When this account of Creation was written down, what did it emphasize? It minimized the recent destruction of the temple by emphasizing that the universe itself is God’s temple. They can still keep sacred time, the Sabbath, the seventh day. And that is why I think the priestly authors intended the days in Genesis 1 to be 24-hour days, resting on the seventh day, keeping that sacred time because they couldn’t keep the sacred space. But this innovation of creation in the seven day period was added for very specific intent.”
The Israelites were in Babylon, and the purpose of the account was to counter the Babylonian creation theology and emphasize what the Israelites could do while in a strange land, not provide some context free, scientific revelation about how long material creation took or how it was done. The important thing there is not the creation per se, but the resting on the seventh day.”
“The days of Genesis 1 are literal 24-hour days, but don’t have anything to do with the age of the earth. Indeed Genesis 1 probably isn’t even about physical, material origins. Genesis is not trying to present any kind of natural history of the world, and attempts to turn it into one are far off base. Any argument about interpretation of days as anything other than 24-hour periods must first provide validity of the assumption. Our contemporary scientific preoccupations could hardly have been the preoccupations of ancient Israel.”
“It is quite doubtful that these texts have waited in obscurity through the millennia for their hidden meanings to be revealed by modern science. It is at least a good possibility that the real meaning was understood by the authors themselves. The central issue is whether the biblical materials are being offered as a history of the earth in a sense comparable to the modern meaning of natural history. If they are not, then both the attempts at demonstrating their scientific falsity and the attempts at demonstrating their scientific truth are inappropriate and misleading.”
The argument that the Hebrew word ‘yom’, ‘day’, can mean an indefinite period of time is true, but only in idioms, which we do not find in Genesis 1, where the 24-hour meaning is supported contextually by things such as the morning/evening refrain and the modeling of ceasing all work on the seventh day, which loses all force if day doesn’t actually mean ‘day’ here. So the days of Genesis are literal, but also literary, not actual, historical days.” I thought that was very helpful to demonstrate that point.
Okay, a couple of last quick things. Important clarification I want to share. I thought this was very important, again Ben Spackman here. Go to his website, very helpful. He’s coming out with a book, watch for this, on early Genesis 1. Will be his first book, going deep on a lot of these things. And his background by the way, if you look at his bio, it’s phenomenal, very interesting, complex mix that’s very unique in the Church from a scholarly view point I think, the combination is. So, “After hearing my view that the Old Testament includes non-historical stories, for example, I see Jonah as a satirical parable, not as a historical account, his immediate question was, ‘So, do you think the Book of Mormon isn’t historical?'”
“Many LDS and non-LDS make incorrect and potentially harmful categorical assumptions about both scripture and history. For one, ‘true’ is commonly equated with ‘historical’. Obvious scriptural examples to the contrary such as Jesus’ parables, I think most LDS approach scripture assuming that it is all historical in nature, and the historical narrative is the primary way God speaks to us. The reality is that scripture is not all homogeneous, or all the same kind of thing. Our scriptures are a collection, an anthology, a library.”
“Most libraries contain different kinds of books, divided into general sections, such as fiction and non-fiction. We can further break these down into broader or narrower categories of like: reference books, cook books, history, science, culture, as well as mystery, sci-fi, historical fiction, fantasy, et cetera. If I check out several books and put them together on my bookshelf, they do not lose their individual nature. Each book and section within that book may be a different genre, and each needs to be examined with an eye for differences that help us understand the book’s genre. For example, Leviticus is analogous to the Church Handbook of Instructions in a way, Psalms the Israelite hymnbook. Jonah may well be an Old Testament parable. But just as our home bookshelves contain various kinds of books, non-historical parables can sit on our scriptural shelf, next to the hymnbook and the Church Handbook of Instructions, all bound within one distinct cover.”
“When I share my views on Jonah, I tend to see the assumption manifested by my ward members, that one’s view of the historicity of Jonah, or the Book of Mormon, is primarily a function of liberalism or disbelief. If you disbelieve in one, you disbelieve in them all. There’s an imagined domino effect, that if I allow Jonah to be a satirical parable instead of a documentary history, then obviously I must also reject the historicity of every book of scripture, including the Book of Mormon,” which is just bunk.
And then he says about genre, “If you think about genre markers, how they work in a modern context, no one ever sits you down and explains this is what indicates you’re reading a fairytale, this is what indicates you’re watching a documentary. We learn those by cultural osmosis, just by growing up in a society and being saturated by seeing so many of these. When you open a newspaper, you instinctively understand that a Doonesbury comic about the Iraq War is different than an article about the Iraq War, which is different than an opinion piece about the Iraq War. We are attuned to these different genre markers.”
I’m just doing the underlined parts here. “When it comes to reading the Bible, there are explicit genre markers in there, but none of us is a native Israelite anymore, there aren’t any. Even native Israelis today are not living in a biblical culture from two thousand years ago. Generally, you have to rely on scholars who have tried to immerse themselves in the ancient Near Eastern cultures and read and read and re-read both in the Bible and in the non-biblical literature, Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, so on. In reading all of these, these genre markers start coming out. You start being able to say this is a lot like this. Genre isn’t for pigeon-holing things as much as being able to identify like with like.”
Then Elder Widtsoe makes a comment about this, “Our operating assumption with scripture, with rare occasions (like parables), is to simply assume that everything is history, and moreover we kind of assume that everything is modern history.” Those are just really helpful.
Okay my last slide here, I do want to emphasize Jeffrey Bradshaw, these books. Like I said, there’s a bunch of stuff about the temple, temple themes, especially in these early Genesis things. In fact, the three decks of the ark, are the exact height of the tabernacle. Do you think that’s just a coincidence they were both given the exact specifics from God on the dimensions? So there’s all these fascinating temple themes that go on in here.
He says, “In short, I’d suggest that the kind of knowledge that will help us best understand the first chapter of Genesis and the book of Moses is not scientific or historic knowledge, but rather knowledge of ancient and modern temples. Without a firm grasp on the architecture, teachings, and the ordinances of the temple, we will miss the gist of primal history.”
Then he says, “The characters and events of the stories of Adam, Eve, Noah, Enoch, and the Tower of Babel are incorporated in the sacred world of rites and ordinances and must be understood accordingly. Does abandoning the primacy of the historical and scientific world in the interpretation of these scriptures mean that we are left with only fantasy in its place? Not according to Elder Douglas L. Callister who said, ‘When you enter the temple, you leave the world of make-believe.'”
I just thought that was a great way to end the video. That was a lot of stuff to cover in one video. I hope you enjoyed it. Subscribe for more.
In God’s Image and Likeness, Volumes 1 & 2 by Jeffrey Bradshaw
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It by Peter Enns
Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan
Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis – Deuteronomy by David Bokovoy
John Walton – The Lost World of Genesis 1, The Lost World of Adam & Eve, The Lost World of the Flood, The Lost World of the Israelite Conquests
Watch for coming book from Ben Spackman on Genesis 1!
Ben Spackman sites:
Jeffrey Bradshaw – Science and Mormonism 1: Cosmos, Earth and Man; FAQ about Science & Genesis http://www.templethemes.net/publicati…
LDS Perspectives – Episode #45 Misunderstanding the Bible with Ben Spackman https://ldsperspectives.com/2017/07/1…
LDS Perspectives – Eposide #71 Genesis 1 with Ben Spackman https://ldsperspectives.com/2017/12/2…
LDS Perspectives – Episode #84 Violence in the Bible with George Pierce https://ldsperspectives.com/2018/06/1…
LDS Perspectives – Episode #70 The Documentary Hypothesis with Cory Crawford https://ldsperspectives.com/2017/12/13/documentary-hypothesis/
Transcript of Ben Spackman at 2019 Fairmormon Conference presentation: A Paradoxical Preservation of Faith: LDS Creation Accounts and the Composite Nature of Revelation https://www.fairmormon.org/conference…
Heath Ogden: Evolution & Faith: Perspectives from an Evolutionary Biologist (who is also currently a Latter-day Saint Bishop) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNk6F…
Heath Ogden interviewed by Terryl Givens at Faith Matters Foundation: Can Our Faith Embrace Evolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw3-k…
Does Evolution Enrich Our Theology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLo6X…
Jeffrey Bradshaw: Science & Genesis, A Personal View (from the Science & Mormonism Conference in 2013) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2hQG…
Anything from any of the Science & Mormonism Conferences
See also all of the resources listed under this other video from Latter-day Saints’ Q&A –: Science & Religion: Seeing With Both Eyes
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.