Monday, August 12, 2013

Rom 1 reply, 38g: "Yea, hath God said . . . " -- a defense of our confidence in the integrity of the Word of God (An onward response to Patrick White's July 1, 2013 Gleaner article)

Snake in Eden (Michelangelo)
 (NB: Here is the series responding to Patrick White's promotion of atheism, skepticism and homosexualism in Jamaica's Gleaner (July 1, 2013): 1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6: 7: 8: 9: 10. I also note that the general  integrity and authority of scripture, the focus for the post below,  is addressed at basic but wide-ranging level -- 1 -- first things first,  2, 3, 4, and specifically Islamic challenges are addressed here and here. How should we then live is addressed in summary here.)

The Satanic opening stroke, from the Garden of Eden on, has always been -- in the teeth of every good reason to respect its credibility -- to try to undermine the integrity of the Word of God (and so also of God).

In our time, that particularly means trying to discredit the Scriptures through all sorts of skeptical theories in the academy, in the media, all over the Internet and on the streets.

So, it is not surprising, then, to see this onward point in Mr White's article:
Israel Finkelstein, dean of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and his co-author, Neil Silberman, have published a book, The Bible Unearthed, that goes beyond the typical critique of the historicity of the Bible, noting, "... It is now evident that many events of biblical history did not take place in either the particular era or manner described. Some of the most famous events in the Bible clearly never happened at all."

Their conclusion is that the Pentateuch is principally a collection of myths and legends, likely written to support the religious-cleansing policies of the Judahite ruler at the time, King Josiah.
This is of course a version of the all too common skeptical assertion that the recovery of the law and revival after generations of apostasy under Josiah c. 622 BC, was rooted in fraud and intolerance. (Cf. a typical example here.) However, such was premised on the now long since decisively undermined pre-archaeological JEDP hypothesis that pivoted on the notion that Moses was too early for writing of extensive literary productions, and a long cultural evolutionary process was required to get the sort of things we find in the five books traditionally attributed to him. So, on various speculative literary schemes, the text was broken up into a cluster of diverse documents based on the names of God used and the like. 

Edwin Yamauchi's summary in The Stones and the Scriptures, is apt:
“Higher” or literary criticism is the study which attempts to determine the questions of authorship, of the date, and of the composition of any literary texts on the basis of vocabulary, style, and consistency . . . . In biblical studies higher criticism received its classic exposition in 1878 in the work of Julius Wellhausen [through the Documentary/JEDP Hypothesis, which dated elements of the Pentateuch from the 9th to the 6th centuries, BC] . . . on the basis of Wellhausen’s concept of the evolution of Israel’s religion. According to this viewpoint, which was influenced by Darwin and Hegel, the religion of the Hebrews evolved at first into a national henotheism [--> roughly, the notion of a particular ruling god for one's nation or a city, typically recognising that other such would have their own sponsor-gods] . . . and only much later in the time of the literary prophets and the Exile into an ethical monotheism [--> i.e. the Judaeo-Christian belief in one true universal God, the ground and root of being, who has made the world and us in it, which defines an intelligible morally freighted purpose and nature for creation and creatures including us (e.g. we are made male and female for marriage and family, which -- cf. Matt 19:1 - 12 -- frames sexual ethics), so moral principles are built into and evident from our nature as creatures made in God's image] . . . . Wellhausen, who was a great Arabic and Hebrew scholar, reconstructed Israelite life on the basis of Arabic poetry. He refused to believe that either Egyptian or Akkadian had been deciphered . . . . One of the striking characteristics of the scholars who have approached the Bible primarily through literary analysis is the non-use or at best the grudging use they have made of archaeological evidence . . . [Wellhausen] refused to believe that either Egyptian or Akkadian had been deciphered. On the other hand, Assyriologists since the 1890’s and field archaeologists since the 1920’s have discovered that their evidence accorded better with the biblical traditions than they did with Wellhausen’s reconstructions. A few scholars . . . such as A. H. Sayce, reversed their position because of the impact of the early archeological discoveries, but most higher critics chose not to make use of the new data. [pp. 24 - 30]

In New Testament criticism the scholar who corresponds . . . to Julius Wellhausen . . . is F. C. Baur of Tubingen (1792 – 1860). . . . Baur seems to have been influenced by Hegel’s philosophy. The philosophic dialectic of Hegel assumed that history went through a pattern of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. According to Baur, Paul represented Gentile Christianity (thesis) advocating freedom from the law. Peter’s party representing Jewish Christianity (antithesis) and advocating adherence to the law was the group that reacted against Paul’s teaching. From this conflict emerged a synthesis of the second century church (as seen in Acts) . . . .
Baur having established an evolutionary scheme of development believed he could date the New Testament documents according to their place in this pattern. On this basis he accepted only four of the epistles as genuinely Pauline . . . John’s Gospel was dated as late as the second half of the second century. The Acts of the Apostles was also assigned this late date . . . Baur’s views were quite dominant throughout the nineteenth century and have left a lasting legacy for the twentieth century , though many of his assumptions have been disproved . . . . . Johannes Munck . . . argues that the Tubingen concept of a struggle between Jewish-Christian nomism and Gentile-Christian antinomism has now been compressed by scholars into the thirty years between the death of Jesus and the death of Paul. [pp. 92 - 93.] [The Stones and the Scriptures (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1972)]

The discovery of Hammurabi's law code -- dating to centuries before Moses -- exploded the underlying JEDP thesis, and it is reasonable that Moses could well have been literate in three languages  -- Egyptian, Hebrew and Hittite (this last being a diplomatic language). 

Shipwreck at Malta from Ac 27 (Cf. Smith)
With respect to the New Testament, from the days of William Ramsay's archaeological expeditions on, Luke's habitual accuracy -- never mind the remaining difficulties that are to be expected given our inevitably imperfect knowledge of the actual past, and of course the many barking skeptics eager to pounce on any perceived problem in order to dismiss what they so plainly do not want to hear or take seriously -- has made the two-volume work Luke-Acts into the historical backbone of the new Testament. (For just one instance, Acts 27 gives one of the best summaries of C1 navigation we have, and it is possible to reconstruct the voyage, the wind patterns, etc from the text. [Smith's Voyage and Shipwreck of St Paul is a classic by a C19 Yachtsman and scholar, well worth the reading, and it lies behind a great many modern discussions.  It will serve well to give us a feel for the fundamental soundness of the work through how it fits in ever more and more into its environment as we compare it with its setting, on a matter that is open to check in ever so many ways that Luke could never have anticipated. The following quick refs may also help more generally for starters: 1, 2, 3, 4. Also, the story of this voyage is in itself quite a commentary on how governance can go drastically wrong in the community or an organisation if people allow themselves to be manipulated into unwise views and decisions through the  half-truths and rhetorical schemes of interest groups and individuals with hidden agendas. Resemblance to challenges we commonly face today is NOT coincidental. But in the midst of shenanigans, the march of folly and disasters, God through his voices and people, is acting in redemptive ways. We should particularly note how important it was in the longer run that Paul had spoken up, giving prudent but unheeded counsel, once the "typhonic" storm had hit and had lasted so long that all false hopes had been washed away. Sometimes, it seems, people and their leaders will only listen to what is sound (and to the one who refuses to flatteringly tickle itching ears with what they want to hear) after the fact of irretrievable disaster occasioned by collective folly.  Yet another way in which the account has in it the ring of truth and the sort of richly illuminating details and patterns that only well-observed true history can give us. Cf. discussion here.]) 

{Added, 09:07} Given that this post seems to be an emerging point of reference, it may be helpful to expand a list [HT: TruthNet, the link has much more . . . ] based on the Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics. The list shows both close familiarity with details that would be hard to get at a later time or place and an observant true witness' habitual accuracy in capturing and reporting even "minor" incidental details that a false witness will normally duck or avoid, as they would be the points where cross-checks could easily trip him or her up:
1.  A natural crossing between correctly named ports (13:4-5). Mount Casius, south of Seleucia, stands within sight of Cyprus. The name of the porconsul in 13:7 cannot be confirmed, but the family of Sergii Pauli is attested.
The proper river port, Perga, for a ship crossing from Cyprus (13:13)
The proper location of Lycaonia (14:6)
The unusual but correct declension of the Lystra and the correct language spoken in Lystra. Correct identification of the two gods associated with the city, Zeus and Hermes (14:12).
The proper port, Attalia, for returning travelers (14:25)
The correct route from the Cilician Gates (16:1)
The proper form of the name Troas (16:8)
The proper identification of Philippi as a Roman colony. The right location for the river Gangites near Philippi (16:13)
Association of Thyatira with cloth dyeing (16:14). Correct designations of the titles for the colony magistrates (16:20,35,36,38).
The proper locations where travelers would spend successive nights on this journey (17;1)
The presence of a synagogue in Thessalonica (17:1) and the proper title of politarch for the magistrates (17:6).
The correct explanation that sea travel is the most convenient way to reach Athens in summer with favoring east winds (17:14).
The abundance of images in Athens (17:16), and reference to the synagogue there (17:17).
Depiction of philosophical debate in the agora (17:17). Use in 17:18-19 of the correct Athenian slang epithet for Paul, spermologos, and the correct name of the court (areios pagos).  Accurate depiction of Athenian character (17:21). Correct identification of altar to “An unknown god” (17:23). Logical reaction of philosophers who deny bodily resurrection (17:32). Areopoites, the correct title for a member of the court (17:34).
Correct identification of the Corinthian synagogue (18:4). Correct designation of Gallio as proconsul (18:12). The bema (Judgment seat) can still be seen in Corinth’s forum (18:16).
The cult of Artemis of the Ephesians (19:24,27). The cult is well attested, and the Ephesian theater was the city meeting-place (19:29)
Correct title grammateus for the chief executive magistrate and the proper title of honor, Neokoros (19:35). Correct name to identify the goddess  (19:37). Correct designation for those holding court (19:38).  Use of plural anthupatoi in 19:38 is probably a remarkably exact reference to the fact that two men jointly exercised the functions of proconsul at this time.
Use of precise ethnic designation Beroiaios and the ethnic term Asianos (20:4).
The permanent stationing of a Roman cohort in the Fortress Antonia to suppress disturbances at festival times (21:31). The flight of steps used by guards (21:31,35)
The correct identifications of Ananias as high priest (23:2) and Felix as governor (23:24).
Explanation of the provincial penal procedure (24:1-9)
Agreement with Josephus of the name Porcius Festus (24:27)
Note of the right legal appeal by a Roman citizen (25:11). The legal formula of de quibus cognoscere volebam (25:18). The characteristic form of reference to the emperor (25:26).
Precise name and place given for the island of Cauda (27:16).  Appropriate sailors’ maneuvers at the time of a storm (27:16-19). The fourteenth night judged by experienced Mediterranean navigators to be an appropriate time for this journey in a storm (27:27).  The proper term for this section of the Adriatic Sea at this time (27:27). The precise term, bolisantes, for taking soundings (27:28). The position of probable approach of a ship running aground before an easterly wind (27:39).
The proper title protos (te nesou) for a man in Publius’s position of leadership on the islands (28:7)
It is therefore fair comment to note that Luke speaks like a true and observant witness and as a confident recorder of such witnesses. He speaks as one who confidently knows the facts, has no fear to report what he or his principal witnesses saw, whether or not such would be easily checked. He thus tosses out dozens of incidental names, dates, and places with abandon, even (in the "we" passages in Acts from 16:10 on) implying that he was himself present as a participant in some of the events he records.  So, if he were, say, a second century forger, he would be likely indeed to get the facts wrong.  

At one stage this was commonly felt to be so, "but it is generally admitted by scholars today that the author's historical accuracy has been vindicated." [J. N. Geldenhuys, "Luke, Gospel of," New Bible Dictionary, IVP, 1976, p. 757.]  This, we can see from the points just listed.

F.F. Bruce adds: "The historical trustworthiness of Luke's account has been amply confirmed by archaeological discovery.  While he has apologetic and theological interests [mostly, to commend the Christian faith to the Romans as not being a security threat and as being based on a true understanding of God’s intervention into human history in the person and work of Jesus], these do not detract from this detailed accuracy." ["Acts, Book of the," NBD, p. 11. Parenthetical summary and link added.]  

In short, Luke has established his credentials as a sound historian, and has earned the right to be heard and trusted as an authentic voice. Whether or not, what he has to say sits comfortably with modern skepticism, prejudice against the possibility of the supernatural and miraculous, and the question-begging, self-refuting, amoral ideology of evolutionary materialistic scientism. 

(Added, 09:10} It is worth noting that in a classic test on taking confident trust in the Scriptures and the Christ they teach, Paul writes to Timothy: 
2 Tim 3:10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed [έμαθες -- hemathes, you learned, και -- kai, and επιστώθης -- epistothes, were trustworthy; NIV: "what you have learned and and have become convinced of"] , knowing from whom[a] you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work. [ESV]

Epistothes, of course, is rooted in the key word for "faith" used in the NT, pistis. In effect, we here see an outline description of: reasoned, fact-based argument/ teaching and resulting conviction soundly arrived at in light of trustworthy evidence, reasoning and presentation by credible individuals (here, in light of "from childhood," primarily Timothy's Mother and Grandmother and likely also Synagogue leadership), leading to reliable conviction that one confidently or bravely will act on.

The Christian Post blogger Robin Schumaker [HT: WK] makes an observation:
A common charge atheists make against Christianity . . . is that many or most of those who profess to be Christians are only doing so because they were raised in a Christian household. The thought is, if those same people were raised in a Muslim or atheist home, they’d sport that particular belief system, with the conclusion being that it isn’t the validity of Christianity that’s made so many Christians, but it’s just a cultural thing instead . . . . When atheists say it’s only become of family upbringing that causes people to retain the belief system of their parents, there’s certainly some kernel of truth in the claim [--> beliefs, and skepticism, do run in families after all] . . .  But why think that someone can’t either reject or retain what they were taught via a personal investigation of the facts? . . . .

There are a number of words for “faith” that exist in the Greek language. The Hellenistic and classical Greeks used the term “nomizo” to describe a type of belief that a person held only because of tradition and something that was passed along by parents.

That word is never used in the Greek New Testament to speak of Christian faith.

Instead, the terms “pistis” is used in Scripture. It is a noun that comes from the verb “peitho”, which means “to be persuaded”. If you check the best lexicons (e.g. BDAG) for the meaning of “pistis”, you’ll find the following definitions: (1) state of believing on the basis of reliability; (2) trust, confidence; (3) that which evokes trust; (4) reliability, fidelity; (5) pertaining to being worthy of belief or trust.

The atheistic [--> and skeptical, or post-modern] concept of blind faith or faith held only because of a parent’s instruction is foreign to the New Testament.

Instead, the faith portrayed in Scripture is held out to be one that rests on a bedrock of various philosophical [--> cf. Ac 17 and Rom 1] and empirical [--> cf Ac 2, 1 Cor 15:1 - 11] arguments, as well as historic events that were faithfully recorded by eyewitnesses and passed along to others who were, and still are, able to independently investigate the evidence and make a decision for themselves. ["Are You a Christian Only Because of Family?," The Confident Christian blog, The Christian Post, Jan 29, 2013, acc:13:09:10.]

Further, as will be discussed below, the same basic approach of building a confident, soundly arrived at trust in the Scriptures and so also the God who stands behind them, applies more broadly to authenticating the Bible as a credible source. 

That is, there is a wide pattern of key correspondences to fact in both Testaments that we can use to cross-check, which shows the works as consistently reflecting an accurate knowledge of the contemporary eras that is best explained by their being written by reliable reporters in the relevant time-frames from c. 1500 BC to c 100 AD, using reliable sources. 

For just one instance, the phonetic accuracy of name references, the patterns and statistical distributions of names from c. 2000 BC to c 100 AD and the like should give dismissive skeptics pause, and as another, the accurate reflection of price levels, specific cultural practices and the like, is similarly best explained by close familiarity with the relevant times and places. That, in a time where one could not "Google it" or read it up in a publicly accessible library. Indeed, a time where simply being able to write neatly, accurately and extensively (and, presumably, do related arithmetic) was a decent profession: scribe.

Moreover, on the particular book by Finkelstein being cited by Mr White as unquestionably authoritative, we should also note as a preliminary point that the eminent egyptologist and archaeologist, Kenneth Kitchen, had this to say:
“[A] careful critical perusal of this work [i.e. The Bible Unearthed] — which certainly has much to say about both archaeology and the biblical writings — reveals that we are dealing very largely with a work of imaginative fiction, not a serious or reliable account of the subject” . . . . “[Regarding the patriarchal epoch] our two friends are utterly out of their depth, hopelessly misinformed, and totally misleading” . . . . “Their treatment of the exodus is among the most factually ignorant and misleading that this writer has ever read.” [From: On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, pp. 464 - 6. HT: "An Interview With Israel Finkelstein" by Dewayne Bryant of the Church of Christ web site, Apologetics Press. On the Exodus/patriarchal period debate, cf. here, here with part 2 (a Jewish source),  here, and a CT classic article here. (Cf. also cluster of clips, here.)]
So, right off the bat, we should be on alert that Finkelstein et al are at minimum presenting a radically skeptical appraisal of the OT and the Bible, not an unquestionable consensus rooted in indisputable facts. That is, we would be well advised not to take their arguments and conclusions at face value, but rather reflective of one side of a controversy. (Bryant's article, as linked, presents further details on this.)

As just one illustration {u/d, added 08:14}, let us clip the second article, as comments on the story of Joseph and the significance of camels being mentioned in the Genesis text, that of the price he was sold into slavery for, and the description of royal court protocols: 

One of the assumptions [--> notice, assumptions, not "facts"] of Bible criticism is that the Bible was written much later than the time period it occurred. Specifically, the claim is that the Bible was written at least 1,000 years after the Exodus. As a result, the alleged biblical writers, who could not possibly know the minutiae of cultural norms of 1,000 years before, would by default include many details that were anachronistic . . . . One of the main indications of an anachronism in the Bible was thought to be that of the camel. The Book of Genesis reports that camels were mainstay beasts of burden and transportation already at the time of Abraham, in the 18th century BCE. Yet it was originally thought that camels were first domesticated in the Middle East no earlier than the 12th century BCE. This anachronism was a clear indication of the later writing of the Bible. Or so it was thought.
All this changed with the turn of a shovel. Recent archaeological finds have clearly demonstrated that the camel was domesticated by the 18th century BCE. What was previously thought to be a knockout punch against the Bible, is now evidence supporting it.
Prof. Kenneth Kitchen, an Egyptologist at the University of Liverpool (retired) points out that the sale of Joseph to a caravan of Midianites (for 20 silver pieces) could have been an example of anachronism in the Bible, since 1,000 years later the price for a slave was much higher (ancient inflation). However, the price reported in the Bible matches precisely the going price of slaves in the region from Joseph's time period. This is just one example that demonstrates, according to Kitchen, that "it's more reasonable to assume that the biblical data reflect reality."

Furthermore, we find that the detailed descriptions of the court of the Pharaoh and its protocols, as reported in Genesis, are extremely accurate to that time period. Joseph's Egyptian name, clothing, and court orders are all very much in line with what we now understand to have been the norm for that time and place. ["Archaeology and the Bible - Part 2,", acc: Aug. 14, 2013. It is well worth the pause to read this two-part series here with part 2 .]

The best explanation for such surprising accuracy?

Exactly what the minimalist revisionists and skeptics don't want to accept: the account in Genesis is based on credible historical record tracing to truthful eyewitnesses.

Further to this, let us observe something else: White (for a third time) skips over the New Testament, to attack suggested, perceived or imagined flaws in the Old Testament. 

That is significant, as it shows a strong tendency of anti-gospel skeptics to attack secondary matters, oddities and side issues to create a cloud of suspicion and lack of confidence, instead of squarely dealing with the core warranting case of the Judaeo-Christian worldview. Which, as always, is the prophesied, fulfilled Messiah manifest in the life, death, burial and witnessed resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. 

Let us therefore refresh our memory of this foundational matter, through reviewing Strobel's video on Jesus:

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel from Slaves4Christ on Vimeo.

Of course, we do have to address Mr White's talking points and the broader question of the grounds for confidence in the Bible as Holy Scripture, the reliable written Word of God, and we will.

But, before we further take up that response to Mr White's skeptical rhetoric, let us briefly review where we have been so far:
1: Exposed and rebutted the agenda of willful defiance of God, his creation order for sexuality and consequential sound principles of morality under false colours of law and "rights."

2: Corrected the misleading historical myth that Christian sexual ethics are part of an inevitably losing war of irrational religion against science and reason.

3: Addressed the issue of grounding ethics and morality in the teeth of the rise of evolutionary materialist scientism, which cloaks atheism and amorality in the lab coat, demanding genuflection.

4: Raised the question that the gospel naturally leads to reformation of lives, communities and nations.

5: Rebutted the "right wing Christofascist, theocratic tyrants" talking point.

6: Provided some pointers on building capacity for reformation.

7: Addressed the attempt to strawmannise and knock over the empirical evidence in our natural world that points to design as a pivotal cause of the observable universe and the world of life, including ourselves.
Now, in turning to the latest cluster of objections and associated issues, let us bear in mind that there is an old saying that the man with a living experience is never at the mercy of a skeptic with a blindly or angrily dismissive argument.

This is true, and W Clarke Pinnock has therefore presented The Scripture Principle, that we would do well to heed first and foremost:
Why, in the last analysis, do Christian people believe the Bible is God’s Word? Not because they have studied up on Christian evidences and apologetics, however useful these may prove to some. Christians believe the Bible because it has been able to do for them exactly as Paul promised it would [i.e. in 2 Tim 3:13 – 17]: introduce them to a saving and transforming knowledge of Christ. Reasons for faith and answers to perplexing difficulties in the text, therefore, are supportive but not constitutive of faith in God and his Word. Faith rests ultimately, not on in human wisdom, but in a demonstration of the Spirit and power.[The Scripture Principle, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), p. xix.]
 In short, it is entirely legitimate to trust the voice of God in the scriptures, and to take him at his word in light of the manifest and otherwise inexplicable life-transforming miracle-working power of the gospel and the Christ we meet first in prophecy, then walking the dusty streets of Palestine, then betrayed to shameful death, then risen triumphantly, and finally pouring out his promised Spirit in power, even as he counsels us that The Father has reserved a Day of Judgement to come.

A Day, of the which God has given testimony to all men everywhere by raising Jesus up from the dead with over five hundred witnesses who could not be stopped in the face of dungeons, lions, fire, sword and worse.

Witnesses, whose testimony is preserved for us in the New Testament, passed down to us at a price paid in the suffering of Confessors and the blood of the Martyrs.

A New Testament that -- directly relevant to the attitude of doubt or dismissal Mr White and many others would foster --  records the attitude of the prophesied Messiah to the very same Old Testament that such skeptics would scant:
Matt 4:And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then again:
Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And, a third time:
 Jn 10:34b "Scripture cannot be broken . . . "
Not, that men and devils would not try to break the scriptures, but that they will never succeed.

So, it is with confidence that we cite Peter's closing testimony, shortly before his martyrdom at the hands of the demonic, twisted, half-mad Nero trying to shift suspicion for the AD 64 fire in Rome from himself:
2 Peter 1:13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder,
The AD 64 fire at Rome -- unjustly
blamed on Christians (then
a slandered, hated minority)
14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 

19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.  

21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [All, ESV]
Remember, these are the parting words of a man who was staring crucifixion for that testimony (on a patently false accusation of arson) in the face.

That steadfast and confidently unwavering witness of not only Peter but five hundred other witnesses, is the context in which, 250 years ago -- warning of a veiled malice -- no less a figure than the mathematical genius of the first rank, Leonhard Euler (yes, that Euler) counselled:
The  apostles  and  a  multitude  of  Christians  [--> 500+ eye witnesses, recorded about 25 years after the event while most of these were still alive with an implied invitation to check them, cf here on] unanimously  agree  not  only  that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but also that they have seen him with their own eyes since the resurrection and that they even communicated with Him.  If one has paid attention to the doctrine and to the constancy with which it been maintained [--> i.e. in the teeth of not only objections but dungeon, fire and sword or worse], one cannot say with any semblance of truth that one has believed nothing of what has been said in this regard and that it is thus an obvious lie.  One would be even less likely to say that the apostles were seduced by false imagination and that their facts were nothing but an illusion.  Either that or we will be forced to state that God had miraculously blinded them all at the same time in order to propagate a false doctrine . . . .
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is . . .  an incontestable fact, and since such a miracle can only be the work of God alone, it is  thus  impossible  to  doubt  the divinity of the Savior’s mission.  Consequently, the doctrine of Christ and his apostles is divine, and since its goal  is  our  true  happiness,  we  can  be  most  assured  of  our  belief  in  all  the  promises  that  the Gospel has made to us, both for this life and the one to come, and we can regard the Christian religion as a work of God who is tied to our salvation.  It is not necessary to expand any further on these reflections, since it is impossible for anyone, once they are convinced of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to retain the slightest doubt about the divinity of the Holy Scripture.
The freethinkers cannot put forward anything plausible against this bedrock on which  the  divinity  of  the  Holy  Scripture  firmly  rests.    When  they  are  forced  to  turn  their attentions to this, they do all they can not to address the root of the question.  They resort to all manner  of  loopholes  to  change  the  subject  and  attack  other  items,  where  they  claim  to  find incomprehensible things and even contradictions . . . .
The freethinkers have yet to produce any objections that have not long been refuted most thoroughly.  But since they are not motivated by the love of truth, and since they have an entirely different point of view, we should not  be  surprised  that  the  best  refutations  count  for  nothing  and  that  the  weakest  and  most ridiculous reasoning, which has so often been shown to be baseless, is continuously repeated.  If these people maintained the slightest rigor, the slightest taste for the truth, it would be quite easy to  steer  them  away  from  their  errors;  but  their  tendency  towards  stubbornness  makes  this completely impossible. [From: A DEFENSE OF  THE REVELATION AGAINST THE OBJECTIONS OF FREETHINKERS, BY MR. EULER FOLLOWED BY THOUGHTS BY THE AUTHOR ON RELIGION, OMITTED FROM THE LAST EDITION OF HIS LETTERS TO A PRINCESS OF GERMANY, 1805, point XXXIV on. (It is well worth the pause to read the printer's remarks on how these things came to be excluded from the generally accessible editions of the work.)]
Sobering words.

Nor, are they alone.

Here are the remarks of the late Eta Linnemann, a former Bultmannian skeptical theologian who studied under Bultmann, Fuchs, Gogarten, and Ebeling, and who literally tossed her own former writings in the garbage (and asked others to do the same) when she finally met the living God in the face of Christ:
Theology as it is taught in universities all over the world . . . is based on the historical-critical method . . . . [which] is not just the foundation for the exegetical disciplines. It also decides what the systematician can say . . . It determines procedure in Christian education, homiletics and ethics . . . . Research is conducted ut si Deus non daretur (“as if there were no God”). That means the reality of God is excluded from consideration from the start . . . Statements in Scripture regarding place, time, sequences of events and persons are accepted only insofar as they fit in with established assumptions and theories . . . . 

Since other religions have their scriptures, one cannot assume the Bible is somehow unique and superior to them . . . . It is taken for granted that the words of the Bible and God’s word are not identical . . . the New Testament is pitted against the Old Testament, assuming that the God of the New Testament is different from that of the Old, since Jesus is said to have introduced a new concept of God . . . .
Since the inspiration of Scripture is not accepted, neither can it be assumed that the individual books of Scripture complement each other. Using this procedure one finds in the Bible only a handful of unrelated literary creations . . . . Since the content of biblical writings is seen as merely the creation of theological writers, any given verse is nothing more than a non-binding, human theological utterance.
For historical-critical theology, critical reason decides what is reality in the Bible and what cannot be reality; and this decision is made on the basis of the everyday experience accessible to every person [i.e. the miraculous aspect of Scripture, and modern reports of miracles -- regardless of claimed attestation -- are dismissed as essentially impossible to verify and/or as merely “popular religious drivel”] . . . . . 
Due to the presuppositions that are adopted, critical reason loses sight of the fact that the Lord, our God, the Almighty, reigns. [ Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), pp. 83 – 88 as excerpted. Emphases in original; parenthetical notes in square brackets: [ ].]
In short, far too much of skeptical academic and popular thought -- not just in Theology but Archaeology, Science, Philosophy, History and so forth -- is in reality a grand exercise in worldview level question-begging and deck stacking skepticism that is then too often presented to the onlooker as unquestionable fact.   Where also, if the academic and popular game is being stacked like that through blatantly selective hyperskepticism, there is no reason whatsoever to play by the rules that are being imposed; rules designed to ahead of evidence, lock out the possibility that we may in fact be dealing with the Word of God and the action of God as Creator and Sustainer of our world, and so also Lord, Saviour and Eternal Judge.

Instead, if we want to have a chance of finding out the real truth, we have to start afresh, from sound "glorified common sense" first principles of evidence and evidence-based reasoning.

So, in steps of thought:

1 --> The very first principle we need, comes from a founding father of the modern theory of evidence, in his Testimony of the Evangelists; namely, the Ancient Documents Rule:
 Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise. [p.16.]
2 --> In short, once a document passes modest, glorified common sense tests that would make it credibly authentic, it is the OBJECTOR who bears a burden to positively show -- not, assert, assume, dismiss or accuse -- it otherwise. 

3 --> And, in the case of the NT, it is a longstanding fact that its historical backbone Luke-Acts has been more than amply shown credible by reflecting a habitual accuracy regarding an overwhelming mass of even fine local details. 

4 --> Moreover, the text we have in hand is credibly authenic, coming from excellent chains of custody and repository. Indeed, from early manuscripts within a few centuries of composition, we can reconstruct the whole.There are some difficulties and matters of academic interest, but -- despite what Dan Brown et al, or the Jesus Seminar and others may say -- there is no good reason to doubt the authenticity of the NT, or to doubt that it is indeed from eyewitness lifetime record in C1. Chain of custody:

 5 --> Similarly, Greenleaf underscores the way in which a true report (despite whatever difficulties we may almost inevitably find) fits into its times and circumstances, by contrast with fiction or fraud, laying out the Double-principle of Coherence and Corroboration:
Every event which actually transpires has its appropriate relation and place in the vast complication of circumstances, of which the affairs of men consist; it owes its origin to the events which have preceded it, it is intimately connected with all others which occur at the same time and place, and often with those of remote regions, and in its turn gives birth to numberless others which succeed. In all this almost inconceivable contexture, and seeming discord, there is perfect harmony; and while the fact, which really happened, tallies exactly with every other contemporaneous incident, related to it in the remotest degree, it is not possible for the wit of man to invent a story, which, if closely compared with the actual occurrences of the same time and place, may not be shown to be false. [p. 39.]
. . . to which, we may add observations on the typical marks of true vs. false testimony, in light of the characteristic pattern that true and accurately observant witnesses will typically be diverse or differing on details but will on closer inspection show a consistency and coherence with one another and with circumstances otherwise known to be accurate, as just seen:
[A] false witness will not willingly detail any circumstances in which his testimony will be open to contradiction, nor multiply them where there is a danger of his being detected by a comparison of them with other accounts, equally circumstantial . . . Therefore, it is, that variety and minuteness of detail are usually regarded as certain test[s] of sincerity, if the story, in the circumstances related, is of a nature capable of easy refutation, if it were false . . . . [False witnesses] are often copious and even profuse in their statements, as far as these may have been previously fabricated, and in relation to the principal matter; but beyond this, all will be reserved and meagre, from fear of detection . . . in the testimony of the true witness there is a visible and striking naturalness of manner, and an unaffected readiness and copiousness in the detail of circumstances, as well in one part of the narrative as another, and evidently without the least regard to the facility or difficulty of verification or detection . . . the increased number of witnesses to circumstances, and the increased number of circumstances themselves, all tend to increase the probability of detection if the witnesses are false . . . Thus the force of circumstantial evidence is found to depend on the number of particulars involved in the narrative; the difficulty of fabricating them all, if false, and the great facility of detection; the nature of the circumstances to be compared, and from which the dates and other facts to are be collected; the intricacy of the comparison; the number of intermediate steps in the process of deduction; and the circuity of the investigation. The more largely the narrative partake[s] of these characteristics, the further it will be found removed from all suspicion of contrivance or design, and the more profoundly the mind will rest in the conviction of its truth. [pp. 39 - 40.]
. . . thus, Greenleaf advises on procedure: "let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances." [p. 42.] This we may expand, courtesy J W Montgomery, who observes of the NT accounts -- following the McCloskey and Schoenberg framework for detecting perjury -- that the modern approach to assessing quality of such testimony focusses on identifying internal and external defects in the testimony and the witness:
(a) Internal defects in the witness himself refer to any personal characteristics or past history tending to show that the "witness is inherently untrustworthy, unreliable, or undependable."
(b) But perhaps the apostolic witnesses suffered from external defects, that is, "motives to falsify"?
(c ) Turning now to the testimony itself, we must ask if the New Testament writings are internally inconsistent or self-contradictory.
(d) Finally, what about external defects in the testimony itself, i.e., inconsistencies between the New Testament accounts and what we know to be the case from archaeology or extra-biblical historical records? 
--> In each case, on fair and well grounded comment, the answer is in favour of the quality of the NT, as can be observed here.

6 --> We have already noted on this in respect of the historical backbone to the NT [cf. here, here & here], the Luke-Acts two volume work that covers the era from c 7 BC to c 62 AD, and cuts off before Paul's appeal before Nero is heard. This is significant for dating the work, as the onward outcome of the appeal, the shortly later deaths of Peter, James and Paul, and the uprising in Judaea of 66 AD leading to the Roman punitive expedition that destroyed the Temple in AD 70 would have been of both historical and spiritual interest, as it is an authenticating  fulfillment of prophecies made by Jesus c. 30 AD.

7 --> That is, a good case can be made that Acts was composed c. 60 - 62 AD, and Luke shortly before that maybe 57 - 59 AD. Which puts Mark -- one of the major sources used [this Gospel seems to be a written summary of Peter's testimony and teaching based on the words of his Master] -- to the period of 50 - 55 or even a bit earlier. All of this is in addition to the pivotal record in 1 Cor 15:1 - 11, which was written c. 55 AD, reflecting preaching c 50 - 52 AD and Paul's report on the official testimony of the early church c 35 - 38 AD, while  most of the 500 witnesses to the resurrection were still alive. And by AD 95 - 96 and 110 - 115, the first circle of writing church fathers had cited or alluded to 25 of 27 of the NT books as Scripture. (A couple of the shortest letters happened not to be cited.)

The Rylands fragment of John 18,
P52, c. 125, found in Egypt
8 --> The Rylands Papyrus fragment, P52, of bits of John 18, c. 125 AD, from Egypt -- 300 miles from where John was written in Asia Minor -- then caps off the NT as definitively a C1 work; never mind the former hyperskeptical theories that proposed an elaborate process of ideological evolution and conflict that suggested dates for some of the documents in it as late as 160 AD.

9 --> It is worth the pause to cite Paul Barnett on the external documentary corroboration provided by early NON-Christian sources on the outline of the Christian message:

On the basis of . . . non-Christian sources [i.e. Tacitus (Annals, on the fire in Rome, AD 64; written ~ AD 115), Rabbi Eliezer (~ 90's AD; cited J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1929), p. 34), Pliny (Letters to Trajan from Bithynia, ~ AD 112), Josephus (Antiquities, ~ 90's)] it is possible to draw the following conclusions:
    1. Jesus Christ was executed (by crucifixion?) in Judaea during the period where Tiberius was Emperor (AD 14 - 37) and Pontius Pilate was Governor (AD 26 - 36). [Tacitus]
    2. The movement spread from Judaea to Rome. [Tacitus]
    3. Jesus claimed to be God and that he would depart and return. [Eliezer]
    4. His followers worshipped him as (a) god. [Pliny]
    5. He was called "the Christ." [Josephus]
    6. His followers were called "Christians." [Tacitus, Pliny]
    7. They were numerous in Bithynia and Rome [Tacitus, Pliny]
    8. It was a world-wide movement. [Eliezer]
    9. His brother was James. [Josephus]
[Is the New Testament History? (London, Hodder, 1987), pp. 30 - 31.]
10 --> In addition, we may note some specific further principles of authentication at particular points, which add to the above, i.e. we already have good reason to respect a document that meets the above criteria, and the below allows us to zoom in on particular details or points as especially reliable:
  1. Multiple sources - If two or more sources attest to the same fact, it is more likely authentic
  2. Enemy attestation - If the writers enemies corroborate a given fact, it is more likely authentic
  3. Principle of embarrassment - If the text embarrasses the writer, it is more likely authentic
  4. Eyewitness testimony - First hand accounts are to be preferred
  5. Early testimony - an early account is more likely accurate than a later one [Source: "Minimal facts" From Apologetics Wiki. Full article: here.]
11 --> It is easy to see that the NT passes reasonable authenticating tests and we are entitled to respect its documents as good history. 
(Note, we are not here treating it as The Word of God, but simply as valid C1 documents that have passed authenticity tests and are entitled to be respected as good historical sources we should give the benefit of the doubt to and should be prepared to learn from. Even, when they cut across our tendencies to suspect or dismiss the supernatural. (Later. For now, just ask yourself, how can you be properly certain -- without question-begging that there is no God or that miracles are impossible or have never happened? [Disclosure: I speak as someone whom, had it not been for a miracle of guidance that led us to the doctor who saved my life, would be in all likelihood dead these 40 years now. This event is pivotal in my own conversion, and I believe that of my mother also. There are a great many others who have had similar life-changing miraculous encounters with God, and we are not about to let specualtions and disputes undermine the reality of God we know by experience. So, for instance, let the very existence of this blog speak as a testimony of the reality of the God who powerfully answers prayer in our time.])
12 --> What then becomes pivotal, is that that record is of the prophesied Messiah who vindicated his claims by rising from the dead with over 500 witnesses "according to the [OT] scriptures" as 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 records c AD 55:
 1 Cor. 15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: 
  • that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  
  • that he was buried
  • that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  
  • and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  
  • Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 
  • Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 
  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me . . .  11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. [ESV, "bullets" added]
13 --> In short, the fulfillment of prophecy in the OT is a pivotal aspect of the gospel, which is in turn directly attested by altogether over five hundred witnesses, some two dozen of which can be specifically identified: Peter and the rest of the remaining eleven disciples, Mary Magdalene [the first, though necessarily unofficial witness given prejudices about women in C1], the other women of the company of disciples, Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus, James, Jude and the rest of Jesus' siblings, his mother, Matthias, and lastly Paul. Remember, none of these witnesses were ever shaken, not in the teeth of dungeons, lions, fire, sword and worse. (And beyond, through their testimony recorded in the NT, millions have met God in the face of the risen Christ in life transforming power, down to today.)

14 --> Of course, there are many skeptical arguments to dismiss such. A key one of which is that the laws of nature do not allow for exceptions and are so established by unalterably firm experience that we may always infer that some mistake, some gullibility, some hallucination or imposture is involved in any claimed miracle.

15 --> The problem here, is that first, we have many witnesses under a wide variety of circumstances, and dealing with a person whom they were and had been closely familiar with for years. That is not compatible with mass hallucinations [which are psychologically dubious], and given that by all accounts Jesus' body was indeed missing from the tomb, the issue is to account for that. The idea of a raid and cunning fraud perpetrated by disciples scattered by the arrest party and disheartened and terrified by the fate of their Master is preposterous.  {Added, 09:06} We can illustrate the point by using some "minimal facts" accepted using principles of authentication, by 75 - 90+% of professional scholarship across the past generation -- as documented by Habermas et al using a growing database of now some 3,000 publications -- and compare the historic Christian view with that of various skeptical views:

Match to four major credible facts regarding Jesus of Nazareth & his Passion
Overall score/20
Died by crucifixion
(under Pontius Pilate) at Jerusalem c 30 AD
Was buried, tomb was found empty
Appeared to multiple disciples,
many of whom proclaimed
& suffered for their
Appeared to key objectors who then became church leaders: James & Paul
Bodily Resurrection
Visions/ hallucinations
Wrong tomb
Stolen body/fraud
Quran 4:155 -6: "They did not slay him, neither crucified him." 1 1 1 1 4
 "Jesus never existed" 1 1 1 1 4
 "Christianity as we know it was cooked up by Constantine and  others at Nicea, who censored/ distorted the original record" 1 1 1 1 4
"What we have today is 'Paulianity,' not the original teachings of Jesus and his disciples" 2 1 1 2 6
Christianity -- including the resurrection --  is a gradually emerging legend based on a real figure
Complete legend/pagan copycat (Greek, Persian, Egyptian, etc)
   (NB: I have given my scores above, based on reasoning that should be fairly obvious. As an exercise you may want to come up with your own scores on a 5 - 1 scale: 5 = v. good/ 4 = good/ 3 = fair/ 2 = poor/ 1 = v. poor, with explanations. Try out blends of the common skeptical theories to see how they would fare.)

. . . the balance on the merits is patent.

16 --> Worse, it is a commonplace of our experience to be able to accurately report which of events A, B, C etc. happened first, second, third and so on. Similarly, eating dinner with a friend, conversing with him, watching him betrayed, arrested and on trial for his life, then cruelly and unjustly executed are not at all extraordinary events, especially in that time. 

17 --> The miracle lies in none of these very ordinary things. It lies in the implications of the timeline: dinner Thursday, betrayal and arrest that night. Unjust trial and execution the next day. Then, when the women went to finish hasty burial rites, the tomb was found empty. Then, disciples met with, conversed with, had another supper with, had breakfast made by, the risen Jesus. One, being dubious, was even permitted to put his hands into the fearsome but now utterly powerless wounds.

18 --> Astonishingly, these things and related events in Jesus' life also fulfilled hundreds of specific OT prophecies that are foundational to the Christian doctrine of the gospel; notably scriptural prophecies dating to 700 BC, translated into Greek in the Septuagint c. 300 - 150 BC, recovered in two C2 BC manuscripts at Qumran in the 1940s:
Isa 53:1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.
 19 --> According to the scriptures indeed. Christians therefore have excellent reason to respect the OT or Tanakh that Jesus and his apostles received as authentic Holy Scripture and indeed the reliable, authoritative record of the Word of God, teaching us:
2 Tim 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth . . . . 

3:12 . . . all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom [--> NB: plural] you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings [--> i.e. the OT], which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. [ESV]
20 --> So, the first and principal validation of the OT as Holy God-breathed Scripture is that the one who fulfilled its prophecies by rising from the dead with 500 unshakable witnesses held it so. That is, "whose report will you believe?" To which the answer is, him who is risen from death as the first-fruits, in fulfillment of the prophecies of Scripture regarding Messiah, i.e. Christ.

21 --> However, that is not our only answer. 

22 --> For instance, we can see that the OT comes from proper repository and chain of custody, being fair on its face -- all sorts of skeptical accusations of fraud and imposture notwithstanding. Prior to the 1940's, our oldest manuscripts were Masoretic codices [in effect a hand-written book similar to the books we are familiar with] and scrolls from Genizas [depositories in Synagogues for worn out texts]. The Masoretic MSS dated to about 900 - 1,000 AD, and were backed up by the witness of the Septuagint translation into Greek from c. 300 - 150 BC. Then, from 1947, the Dead Sea scrolls allowed us to suddenly leap back 1,000 years to c. 100 - 200 BC. And, they strongly substantiated the fidelity with which the manuscripts have been transmitted.

23 --> Similarly, we can see that there is no serious question but that ancient Israel was indeed the homeland of the Jews, with the Temple and Levitical system of sacrifices etc being a day to day feature of life as we can see from the NT and other documents. Rock inscriptions of pagan kings carry us back to the era of Ahab, corroborating the general outlines of the relevant history. We even have a sad image from the palaces of Assyria of defeated defenders of Lachish naked and executed by the victorious Assyrians -- by being impaled on sharpened stakes standing out of the ground. The king of the Assyrians boasted of how he caged up Hezekiah in a cage like a bird, by his silence implying that the OT record that he was prevented from taking the city of Jerusalem itself was true. But also, this incident decisively undermines the minimalist insinuation that the kings of ancient Israel were of little or no account, because the Assyrian king, to impress visiting dignitaries with is military prowess, put an 8 ft x 80 ft panel on the successful siege of Judah's SECOND city, his consolation prize. Notice, what Tim Kimberley of Reclaiming the Mind has to say:
In 1847 Sennacherib’s palace was discovered by the British diplomat and amateur archaeologist Austin Henry Layard . . . The main focus of the excitement came from a room archaeologists labeled, “Room XXVI.” 
Captives of Lachish: some led away, some
executed right there. (A mass grave of 1,500
mostly of women and children was
found by archaeologists, implying a
massacre of captives or refugees (HT: BYUI)
Layard found the walls of this room covered with limestone 8 feet tall and 80 feet long wrapping around all four walls.  Every inch of the room’s walls powerfully depicted only one scene in history, Sennacherib’s defeat of the southern kingdom city of Lachish.  Remember in 2 Kings 18:17, “The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.” We see what the women of Lachish were wearing the day of the battle; we see the type of facial hair worn by the men.  We see the type of military equipment and military techniques the Assyrians used to defeat Lachish and threaten Jerusalem.  The relief gives us stunning play-by-play detail of the destruction of Lachish . . . . 

Why would Sennacherib cover a room in his palace with scenes from this one battle?  That’s where it gets really interesting.  Archaeologists have been able to determine this room was a waiting room for people getting ready to see Sennacherib.  Many of the people getting ready to see the emperor were kings or dignitaries in their own land.  These powerful people, as they waited to meet with Sennacherib, would be able to see the power of the king and the fate of those who would resist his rule.
The discovery is significant on many levels, here are but a few:
1] The discovery confirms Israel as a powerful/important nation in the 8th century BC.  If you want to show yourself as powerful to other kings/dignitaries you will mention someone powerful whom you defeated. . . . .

2] The piece of art identifies itself as the battle of Lachish and provides detailed chronological information about the battle.  Some women are seen walking down siege ramps; while possibly their husbands are being impaled by the Assyrians.

3] Sennacherib uses 8 feet-by-80 feet of wall space to brag about destroying Lachish.  Why didn’t he instead use that prime real estate to brag about destroying Jerusalem?  Jerusalem would have been the ultimate prize to brag about, Lachish is generally regarded as the second most important city of Judah behind Jerusalem.  Destroying Jerusalem would have meant destroying the temple of the God of Israel.  A message would be sent throughout the world telling people the god of Assyria is greater than the God of Israel.  Since the relief depicts Lachish instead of Jerusalem it is obvious Sennacherib did not destroy Jerusalem.  The biblical account is accurate; Lachish was destroyed not Jerusalem.

4] The destruction of Lachish is the most widely documented event from the Old Testament.  The story is explained in four independent sources from the same era: 1) In the Bible; 2) In Assyrian cuneiform prisms (another discovery shown in picture at left) accounting the same events, 3) In archaeological excavations at the site of Lachish; and 4) In the monumental reliefs discovered in Nineveh.

5] The discovery supports the construction of another archaeological marvel: Hezekiah’s Tunnel.  Sennacherib’s army thought they had cut off all sources of water to Jerusalem.  It would be a matter of a couple weeks until the people fled Jerusalem in need of water.  The joke was on them.  Hezekiah, without modern tools, had constructed a tunnel inside Jerusalem through 1750 feet of solid rock in order to reach an underground water supply.  The tunnel wasn’t discovered in modern times until 1837 . . . . 
 The Assyrian Lachish Relief is the 8th century BC’s equivalent of finding an HD video taken during a war that occurred during the Old Testament.  The HD video completely supports the biblical account . . .
24 --> From another angle, the famed Semitic Linguist Robert Dick Wilson (who knew some 45 languages) notes how:
The Hebrew Scriptures contain the names of 26 or more foreign kings [--> of course including the very same Sennacherib] whose names have been found on documents contemporary with the kings. The names of most of these kings are found to be spelled on their own monuments, or in documents from the time in which they reigned in the same manner that they are spelled in the documents of the Old Testament. The changes in spelling of others are in accordance with the laws of phonetic change . . . in operation at the time when the Hebrew documents claim to have been written  . . . . In 144 cases of transliteration from Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Moabite into Hebrew and in 40 cases of the opposite, or 184 in all, the evidence shows that for 2300 to 3900 years the text of the proper names in the Hebrew Bible has been transmitted with the most minute accuracy . . . . Neither the assailants nor the defenders of the Biblical text should assume for one moment that either this accurate rendition or this correct transmission of proper names an easy or usual thing.  [Wilson then gives Manetho as a contrast, with a much, much higher incidence of garbling.] [Scientific Old Testament Criticism, pp. 71 - 72. HT: McDowell, TNETDAV, pp. 70 - 71.]
25 --> This already shows both habitual accurate contemporary familiarity with key, hard- to- get- right facts all the way back to the book of Genesis in the days of the Patriarchs, and also equally habitual close fidelity in transmission from that time.

26 --> McDowell et al then note how Wilson wrings a further drop or two out of the hard-squeezed orange:
Wilson adds that there are about forty of these kings living from 2000 BC to 400 BC. Each appears in chronological order: "With reference to the kings of the same country and with respect to the kings of other countries . . . no stronger evidence for the substantial accuracy of the Old Testament records could possibly be imagined, than this collection of kings"  . . . "Mathematically, it is one chance in 750, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000,000, 000 [= 1 in 7.5 * 10^23]that this accuracy is mere circumstance." [Wilson, pp. 74 - 75, cited, McDowell, p. 71.]
The Tel Dan inscription, with the reference to the
House of David highlighted. (HT:BA)
27 --> In 1993, at Tel Dan, an inscription by an Armaean ["Syrian"] king dating c. 850 BC was found, in which he boasted of defeating the kings of Israel and of "the house of David." This is the first extra-biblical attestation to the Divided Kingdoms, and to the existence of David as founder of his Dynasty. remarks: "the recovered fragments of the “House of David” inscription do not preserve the names of the specific kings involved in this brutal encounter, but most scholars believe the stela recounts a campaign of Hazael of Damascus in which he defeated both Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah."

28 --> The web page then highlights the skeptical response of the so-called "minimalists" (which arguably includes Finkelstein as a somewhat fringe member):
What made the Tel Dan inscription one of the most exciting Biblical archaeology discoveries for scholars and the broader public was its unprecedented reference to the “House of David.” The stela’s fragmented inscription, first read and translated by the renowned epigrapher Joseph Naveh, proved that King David from the Bible was a genuine historical figure and not simply the fantastic literary creation of later Biblical writers and editors. Perhaps more important, the stela, set up by one of ancient Israel’s fiercest enemies more than a century after David’s death, still recognized David as the founder of the kingdom of Judah.
The “House of David” inscription had its skeptics, however, especially the so-called Biblical minimalists, who attempted to dismiss the “House of David” reading as implausible and even sensationalistic. In a famous BAR article, Philip Davies argued that the Hebrew term bytdwd referred to a specific place (akin to bytlhm for Bethlehem) rather than the ancestral dynasty of David. Such skepticism aside, however, most Biblical scholars and archaeologists readily accepted that the Tel Dan stela had supplied the first concrete proof of a historical King David from the Bible, making it one of the top Biblical archaeology discoveries reported in BAR.
 29 --> In short, corroborative enemy attestation that also is embarrassing to the Israelite point of view. No wonder, the debate in the twenty years since has by and large moved on to the question of the extent and significance of David's kingdom, not its brute fact reality.

30 --> It is therefore highly relevant to note how Rachel Ginsberg observes, regarding the onward debate, in light of the discovery c. 2005 - 6 of what seems to be the palace of David and his successors on the North side of the original Jebusite citadel:
For a growing number of academics and intellectuals, King David and his united kingdom of Judah and Israel, which has served for 3,000 years as an integral symbol of the Jewish nation, is simply a piece of fiction . . . The most outspoken of these is Keith Whitelam of the Copenhagen School which promotes an agenda of "biblical minimalism," whose best-known work is The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History.

Even in Israel, this new school has found its voice. Israel Finkelstein, chairman of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology, began championing a theory several years ago that the biblical accounts of Jerusalem as the seat of a powerful, unified monarchy under the rule of David and Solomon are essentially false. The scientific methods for his assumptions, called a "lower dating" which essentially pushes archaeological evidence into a later century and thus erases all evidence of a Davidic monarchy, were laughed off by traditional archaeologists. But his book, The Bible Unearthed, wound up on the New York Times' best-seller list and he became the darling of a sympathetic media. He concluded that David and Solomon, if they existed at all, were merely "hill-country chieftains" and Jerusalem a poor, small tribal village. He claims that the myth of King David was the creation of a cult of priests trying to create for themselves a glorious history . . . . 

But the debunkers of Jewish biblical history got some bad news recently, when a spunky, dedicated archaeologist began her latest dig. Dr. Eilat Mazar, world authority on Jerusalem's past, has taken King David out of the pages of the Bible and put him back into living history. Mazar's latest excavation in the City of David, in the southern shadow of the Temple Mount, has shaken up the archaeological world. For lying undisturbed for over 3,000 years is a massive building which Mazar believes is King David's palace . . . . 

What she discovered was a section of massive wall running about 100 feet from west to east along the length of the excavation (underneath what until this summer was the Ir David Visitors Center), and ending with a right-angle corner that turns south and implies a very large building . . . . Within the dirt fill between the stones were found pottery shards dating to the 11th century BCE, the time when David established his monarchy. Based on biblical text and historic evidence, Mazar assumed that David would have built his palace outside the walls of the fortified but cramped Jebusite city which existed up to 2,000 years before; and in fact, the structure is built on the summit of the mountain, directly on bedrock along the city's northern edge, with no archaeological layers beneath it -- a sign that the structure constituted a new, northward expansion of the city's northern limit.

What most amazed Mazar was how close the building is to the surface -- just one to two meters underground. "The cynics kept saying, 'there will be so many layers, so many remnants of other cultures, it's not worth digging, it's too far down.' I was shocked at how easy it was to uncover it, and how well-preserved it was, as if it were just waiting 3,000 years for us to find it" [Reclaiming Biblical Jerusalem, by Rachel Ginsberg,]
31 --> But there is more, evidence that the site continued in use as a Royal facility down to the time of Jeremiah and the Babylonian conquest, and direct evidence of one of Zedekiah's ministers, Jehucal:
Mazar believes that the palace was used for Jewish monarchs until the destruction of the First Temple 450 years later. To indicate this, she speaks excitedly about a tiny clay item she found at the site . . .  a "bulla," a clay disc, inscribed in ancient Hebrew script with the name of the sender as a "return address," used to seal papyrus scroll "mail." The bulla bears the name of Yehuchal [="Jehucal," NIV] Ben Shelemiah [cf. Jer. 37:3]  . . . . The bulla found on the site of the palace indicates that the building was used by the king, or at least by his ministers, until the destruction of Jerusalem soon afterwards. (In fact, a nearby cistern uncovered in what might have been a king's courtyard is speculated to perhaps be the pit Jeremiah was lowered into, as recorded in Jeremiah 38:6).

"For me, finding the bulla was tremendous," says Mazar. "Yehuchal was no longer just some name in a biblical account that I might not even have been sure was true. He was a real person. We now have his business card. The account is a real account. It is very rare to find such precise evidence for a narrative in the Bible" . . . .
Mazar is heady, not with personal glory or the fame that has followed her since the discovery, but with what she considers validation of the Bible she so loves and respects. "Today the scholarly approach to Tanach [the Bible] is that it's not true unless you can prove it true. Maybe we should do a little reverse. Why don't we say it's true unless we can prove otherwise?"
32 --> A telling point. For, the reasonable standard is that once a document has shown itself fair on the face and coming from good custody or repository, it should be respected as likely to be substantially truthful. But, the anti-supernaturalistic prejudices of our day, multiplied by the unfortunate politics of the debates over Jewish resettlement in their historic homeland, have overshadowed objective history. 
(And BTW, it is patent that a sufficient number of witnesses of ordinary reliability can overcome the objection that we could be mistaken about miracles. Following Dr Torley of UD blog, we can see that if say 1 in 1,000 of our experiences is materially in error, then what happens if there are two dozen witnesses of the usual range of capabilities and inclinations? That makes independence a reasonable probabilistic assumption. In that case the odds of all 24 witnesses being in error on the same basic observation -- say, of Jesus alive and eating with the disciples at that never to be forgotten first Easter evening super -- would be like [10^-3]^24, or 1 in 10^72.  Practically speaking, zero. That is, Hume's objection boils down to question-begging prejudice that in effect demands someone of his circles of education and skeptical inclination in at least his time. If you assume that miracles cannot credibly happen then why of course you will find some way to reject any cases, no matter how well attested, in short. But that has little to do with whether such could actually be credible or well warranted. Similarly, Lord Russell's story of the scientific, inductive turkey shows an inherent limitation of inductive generalisation.  As the tale goes, a certain turkey on a farm in England was a bit of a scientist, and on long observation, formed the conclusion that there was a law of nature that every morning at 9:00 am, turkey feed would be on the ground near the Kitchen door. But then, one fine morning, it was Christmas Eve. That is, while we may be able to generalise from observations that we have an empirically reliable law-like pattern in our world, we have no basis to assume onward that it may not be a part of a yet wider pattern that allows "exceptions." So, going where Lord Russell (a well known atheist) would not, we can point out that the reason why there is an orderly world is that its Author holds it in order as the God of Order. However, he reserves the right to act in ways that are out of that usual order for good reasons of his own; not least to highlight that the order we see is not self-contained but a Creation made and sustained by God. Therefore, it is improper to try to infer that the law-like orderliness of nature rules out miracles and the supernatural realm. Indeed, if we pause a moment, it should be evident that law suggests lawgiver.)

33 --> Notwithstanding the dismissiveness of skeptics, Mazar's discovery is clearly a corroboration of a span of four hundred and more years of biblical history across the span of the Davidic kingdom, history located in Jerusalem, essentially next door to where the Temple would have stood from Solomon's day on. 

34 --> However, we must also note the fate of a similar discovery that carries us back to the days of Joshua, on Mt Ebal [now Nablus] at the hands of the skeptics. As Ginsberg continues:
. . . even mainstream archaeologists are inclined to play down finds which might be considered too highly charged with biblical or historical accuracy.

An example is Adam Zertal, who in 1983 discovered an enormous sacrificial altar on Mount Eval [=Ebal], on the very mountain where Joshua was described in the Bible as having built an altar after the Jews crossed the Jordan River. The altar he found contained tools dating to the 12th century BCE, the time the Jewish people entered the Land, and its construction matched the descriptions of Joshua's altar in both biblical and rabbinic texts. [--> I add, from memory: it contained remains of sacrificed clean animals, and not unclean ones, also . . . ] But instead of the expected excitement accompanying such a monumental find, Zertal's academic colleagues ignored him and his discovery. The more vocal accused Zertal, a secular Jew raised on a kibbutz, of being politically motivated to support Jewish settlements in the area around Shechem (Nablus), where Mount Eval is located.
35 --> That is, here we find on-the-spot corroboration of the Israelite invasion, conquest and settlement under Joshua. But, it is a political hot potato, so it is put to one side and sidelined then in effect forgotten. For shame. As Lichtman adds {u/d, 08:14}:
Rarely can an archaeologist claim that "this is the very item the Bible spoke about." Yet Dr. Adam Zartal, chairman of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, may have done it. Joshua 8:30-35 tells of the fulfillment of Moses' command to build an altar on Mount Eval [= "Ebal"] (Deut. 27). Zartal reports that his excavation team found this very altar. The place is right, the time is right, and the animal bones are consistent with the biblical offerings. Even the style of the altar is right, in such detail, says Zartal, that it looks nearly identical to the description of the Temple's altar as described in the Talmud ― a uniquely Israelite design that no Canaanite temples used then or later.
Zartal laments the response of the revisionist archaeological community. "What happened regarding the new accumulation of facts I have cited? Almost nothing. Since the appearance of the detailed report and the many articles I have published on the excavation . . . silence has descended on the scholarly world."

Regarding Zartal's find, Dr. Lawrence Stager said: "If a sacrificial altar stood on Mount Eval, its impact on our research is revolutionary. All of us [biblical archaeologists] have to go back to kindergarten."
36 --> The same skeptical pattern continues. For instance, Dewayne Bryant remarks concerning an interview with Finkelstein:
Modern critics assume they are more advanced than the ancient authors, and approach Scripture with an air of chronological arrogance. In reality, those archaeologists and scholars who read the Bible “very literally” are in many ways interpreting Scripture just as the ancient authors intended. They are also interpreting the Bible just as scholars would interpret texts from other cultures. The biblical authors intended their work to be read so that the reader understands that their work is presenting facts that took place in real time. Few scholars in other areas of ancient history would read ancient texts with the same skepticism as Finkelstein and others view the Bible.

It has long been the case that those who read the Bible hold it to a much higher standard—it would not be unfair to call it a double standard—than other sources of information. [--> In short, selective hyperskepticism, driven by a patent underlying hostility to the message in the Bible and its relevance . . . ] For instance, when [--> after a considerable effort needed to get funding to touch such a hot potato] archaeologist Eilat Mazar discovered and identified what she considered to be the palace of David in Jerusalem based partially on her reading of the Bible (Mazar, 2006), Finkelstein and several colleagues disputed her findings (Finkelstein, et al., 2007). When the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription [--> a C10 - 11 BC inscription that is perhaps the oldest current inscription from Israel] was discovered, Finkelstein warned against the “revival in the belief that what’s written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper” (Friedman, 2008). In other words, he argues that we cannot expect the Bible to report factual details with any great degree of certainty. For the last two hundred years scholars have mined ancient texts, including mythological texts, for details that might help with locating ancient sites. Finkelstein apparently believes that this cannot be done with the Bible.
37 --> We can go on, citing some other illustrative cases (here, snipped from a useful presentation on the historicity of the Bible):
  • Haran, hometown of Abraham was a major commercial centre in his youth, but from 1800 - 700 BC, was out of use
  • Name patterns in Genesis fit with that time
  • Camels [mentioned in the Patriarchal era], formerly thought not to have been domesticated until c. 1100 BC, seem to have been domesticated by at least 1800 BC
  • Biblical prices for slaves match the time as inflation happened across the centuries
  • An Ark similar to the one the Israelites were to have built was discovered in King Tut's tomb
  •  OT covenant forms (legal documents) match the era the Bible places them in, not that of the late date composition that skeptics have proposed
  • There is evidence that arguably can be matched to the Israelite invasion period for the destruction of Jericho, Ai and Hazor
  • And of course we have Mernepthah's monument celebrating victories over Israel, c 1220 BC
  • Nor, should we ever forget how confidently skeptics of C19 declared that the Hittites did not exist, long since exploded.
38 --> In short, we have every good reason to respect the basic historicity of the OT, as well as the NT. And, there is no good reason to either dismiss the possibilities of miracles out of hand, nor of prophecy showing the power of the God who is Lord of history.

39 --> Where the chief such prophecy is of Messiah, the Suffering Servant of God who would come, be despised and rejected, suffer, make his soul an offering for the sin-guilt of the people, and who after he was cut off, would prolong his days and have the will of the Lord prosper in his hands. Precisely what happened with Jesus of Nazareth, c. 30 AD, with over 500 eyewitnesses.

Therefore, we may freely conclude that the attempt to dismiss the scriptures by citing the opinions of Israel Finkelstein (and by extension those of other skeptical scholars) fails.

Next time, DV, we need to pick up on the question of the account of Creation and implications for the foundations of morality in general and the types of behaviour Mr White is advocating for in particular. END