Monday, August 16, 2004

History or Folk Lore

I went out to Best Buy with my son-in-law over the weekend. While he was shopping I was browsing DVDs. A packet of several disks caught my eye called Mysteries of the Bible. I thought it would be something along the history channel series of the same name. But the description of the contents didn’t seem to connect. Basically, it said that the archeological findings have confirmed the events of the Bible. And of course, that’s true. But if I had been reading it as a believer, I would have followed to a conclusion that the archeology also confirmed god. And that ain’t so.

The bible actually has two systems within it. It is the history and the literature/beliefs/folk lore of a people from their foundation as a separate entity in the tribes of Abraham out of Ur. As history it tells of events that were passed through an oral tradition sometimes strong and sometimes weak, as most oral traditions must be. As literature/beliefs/folklore it tells of how a god evolved from a personal spirit into the cultural glue of a people. History and mythology march along side by side in an oral tradition not even preliminarily codified in the written word until after 500 BCE and, more likely, around 200 BCE. It was not really finally codified in the written form it is in now until at least 70 years CE and later.

All archeology has done is confirm that some of the places mentioned in the bible did exist. The ruins have been found of places cited by the books. But the archeology does not confirm the existence of a god as believers would claim. All it says is that those who told the stories were placing them in known places. For instance, Jericho did exist. And it did seem that its wall was destroyed probably in an earthquake. But there is a dispute in the archeological world as to when it fell and if it occurred after the Israelites came into the promised land or much later. And, of course, no one has any real idea of when Moses came out of Egypt or who the Pharaoh was who died in the Red Sea (or the Sea of Reeds). Some people have even suggested that the Hyksos were involved in the story of Moses. Recently I heard a reference to a Ramses as the Pharaoh of the Exodus and I wondered where they got that. He is only called Pharaoh in the book and no one knows who he might have been. They Egyptians never wrote about the Exodus. Of course, they may have expunged that account from their clay bricks, as they were known to do when a government was overthrown.

Now, let us go a step farther. Everyone knows that 19 terrorists flew four planes into U.S. structures (and one pasture) on Sept. 11, 2001. Let us say that someone, maybe Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, teaches his followers that his god was punishing the American people for some alleged fault. And they carry the story on with them, always ended the spoken or written version of the story of the Twin Towers by saying it was god’s punishment, it was the hand of god. (We know there were prophets of doom in the bible who kept warming the Hebrews of the hand of god.)

Our civilization collapses. Books are burned or their acid paper pages dissolve. Our electronic record keeping is lost to deterioration of media. (Is a computer disc liberal?) We have left only an oral tradition which includes the religious impulse we all have within us. Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, the Twin Towers, other events which carved great holes in our psyches are remembered as told by Robertson or Falwell. How many generations would it take for the simple version to become: The towers fell, it was the hand of god?

Archeologists might find traces of the towers. But would the archeological remains be proof of the hand of god? I think not.


Blogger David said...

Actually more than two systems. Did you ever read Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman?

6:11 PM  
Blogger Chuck Rightmire said...

David, are you talking about the four versions of Genesis? Or something else?

11:25 PM  

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