Israelite Origins: the Sunday School version

Let’s remind ourselves of the story of Israelite Origins we learned in Sunday School. If your experience was anything like mine, it goes a little something like this:

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob multiplied in Egypt. Forced to work as slave labour on Pharaoh’s supply cities the Israelites, now a people, were led on a daring bid for freedom by Moses. Step by step through the waste howling wilderness they found their way to Mt Sinai where they met their God and received his law.

After a few decades Continue reading

Mustard seeds and confirmation bias

The past couple of days have seen an idea floating around twitter that sounds nice; it goes something like this: Jesus didn’t use the mustard seed as his illustration for the kingdom of God because it was small, but because it was illegal to sow, and that it was an “illegal”/”banned substance”.

Vague claims of the idea being “in the Talmud” seem to have satisfied the hundreds of people, some of them well known and pretty influential, who have retweeted this idea into timelines everywhere. The message is being well received by many.

This episode is a fine lesson in confirmation bias and the need to check your sources – especially when something seems to fit your narrative. Continue reading

Israelite Origins: An Introduction

Before we get started on this series on Israelite Origins I want to get one thing absolutely straight:

The origins of the Israelites and the crystallization of their national entity are among the most controversial topics of biblical history.1

Most of us Christians appear to be blissfully unaware that this is a complicated area. Some are willingly ignorant. Others try to come up with cheap apologetics to explain the problems away. Others still try to defy the relevant experts, claiming that they’re looking for evidence of the Israelite conquest in the wrong place, in the wrong time period, or with “atheist assumptions”. These are all hopeless approaches that leave you ignorant, misinformed, or needing to defend the indefensible – none of which are the sort of stance we ought to have. Continue reading

The smallest of all the seeds

I recently listened to someone make a defence of a very high view of biblical inspiration. The claim was that every word in the Bible was written down by authors whose involvement in the process was little more than taking dictation from God. If that’s correct, the presenter explained, it would follow that there are no errors of any kind in the Bible.

After making his case the presenter moved on to dealing with “apparent errors” in the bible, starting with its “scientific claims”. Valiant attempts at explaining away biblical cosmology and human anatomy were made before he moved on to one of Jesus’ parables: the parable of the mustard seed. Continue reading

Joshua 10 and 11: Conclusion

As we’ve made our way through this series on Joshua 10 & 11 we’ve come across a number of extra-biblical texts that look like ancient war reports. But as we’ve looked deeper we’ve found that they contain some pretty odd features: Continue reading

Joshua 10 and 11: Genre and the focus on the leader

Over the course of the last few posts we’ve considered a number of aspects of Joshua 10 and 11 that mark them out as not being ordinary history writing. The final feature we’re going to look at is the chapters’ focus on Joshua, the divinely appointed leader of the conquest of Canaan. Continue reading

Biblical genres – an analogy

Annihilation. In the genre of sports journalism it means a group of short-wearing men kicking a leather bag of air through a wooden frame many more times than the opposite group of short-wearing men kicking the same leather bag of air in the opposite direction: Continue reading

Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites?

In a previous post in the series on Joshua 10 and 11 I pointed out that it’s difficult to reconcile the conquest accounts in Joshua with other parts of scripture. Examples of irreconcilable passages were given, one of them being the first couple of verses of the book of Judges which read:

After the death of Joshua, the Israelites inquired of the LORD, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” The LORD said, “Judah shall go up. I hereby give the land into his hand.” Jdg 1:1–2 (NRSV)

I pointed out that this passage implies that the Israelite conquest of Canaan began only after Joshua died, flatly contradicting most of what we read in the book of Joshua in which he led the campaign.

A few people have taken issue with this interpretation of Judges 1:1. Here’s an example of the sort of pushback I’ve received: Continue reading

Joshua 10 and 11: Genre and the common narrative structure

When we took a closer look at Joshua 10 and 11 one of the things we found was that they follow a similar sequence. It’s as if they’re employ some sort of formula we’re not aware of. In this post we’ll dig into the background to this common narrative structure. Continue reading

Stumbling across the unlabelled Annals of Tiglath-Pileser I

No day out to the British Museum is complete without an aimless wander around the Enlightenment Gallery. Artefacts from antiquity fill the shelves, tourists stoop over treasure-filled display cabinets, and books centuries old bare their fading, waxy spines behind glass. The opulent setting transports the weary tourist to the glory days of empire, exploration, and advancement (/waves hands furiously over horrors perpetuated in this era). Continue reading

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