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Literal truth or religious allegories?

Many Bad Archaeologists believe that religious writings are actually technical or scientific treatises that have been misunderstood; or they are the infallible word of the god of choice; or they are collections of half-remembered history. Take your pick, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket by choosing just one option if you want to be a really Bad Archaeologist.

Religious texts

Open any Bad Archaeology book or website and you are almost certain to be confronted with pieces of ancient literature, especially those of Judaism, Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Islam. We also see the use of texts less familiar to western readers, such as the Mahabharata, more often than not in nineteenth-century translations.

The Bible

The Torah (the first five books of the Jewish and Christian Bible) is an especially fruitful ground for Bad Archaeologists, whether they want to use it to construct an alternative chronology for the universe of less than ten thousand years or want to use it as a source of information to prop up their hypotheses.

Pseudepigrapha and ‘lost gospels’

In many ways, these are preferred by Bad Archaeologists because they have the added cachet of being little known and it is possible to suggest that they have been suppressed by The Establishment because they contain dangerous information.

Other religious books

The books of religions other than those familiar in the west – whether of living religions or those long dead – are a further source of inspiration.

5 Responses to Religious texts

  • Jeff Jencks says:

    I happen to be a Christian and believe the Bible to be true but I will concede to you that the Bible is not a good source for archeological research for two primary reasons.

    First, the majority of the Bible was not written as a scientific treatise to begin with. The Bible contains poetry, biographies, wise teachings and other kinds of literature and only portions even come close to being of historical or archeological value. Although the Bible is true, the writer’s were only interested in including those details that were significant to the poetry, wisdom and else that they were writing. Therefore, the Bible is not thorough and exhaustive. The Bible leaves many details unmentioned which means that it is very difficult to be specific about the details, especially the dates and times. As an example, can we really be certain that Noah’s flood happened 4-5 thousand years ago. I and many Christians are okay with the notion of an older Earth. I don’t know that I would say millions of years but I find no problem accepting that Noah’s flood occurred much earlier than a mere 4-5 thousand years ago. Pinpointing any detail in the Bible for archeological research is highly unreliable.

    Second, as you said elsewhere, almost all of that evidence would have been destroyed by now. And how does one find evidence of a specific person living at a specific time. Archeology may be able to trace civilizations but individuals can disappear from the records. (Unless they are kings or of significance far beyond their local culture and even then, the records of some kings have been lost.) There is evidence that supports the Bible but this evidence is very scarce and unspecific. The only thing that can be said is that there is more evidence supporting the Bible than there is supporting other beliefs but I do concede that there is insufficient conclusive evidence.

    There are many Christians like me and I would like to apologize for those few radicals that give Christianity a bad name by practicing bad archeology. They are vocal but they are not representative of Christianity. They are just bad archeologists using the veneer of Christianity to deceive. Of course I could also say that they are bad Christians using the veneer of Archeology to deceive. Either way, they are a blight to both Archeology and Christianity. You keep up the good work. I love this site.

    • richard-rafael says:

      As a translator, epigrapher and linguist – a ‘Semitic’ languages specialist and author of ‘Complete Biblical Hebrew Root and Significant word Dictionary’ [Amazon, 2012] I find it extraordinary that persons who cannot even read the account of such legends in their original languages, build a schema on a ‘very poor’ translation. The ‘Noah’s Ak’ story has nothing to do with a physical ship – it is mystical text where every word and the structure of the text gives meaning far beyond the ‘physical’ – it has never been taken as a literal account by Jews, but then ‘Christians’ do not bother to consult those who can actually read the texts properly. I have not come across a single English or other translation of the Hebrew texts that is accurate as they all carry a theological bias and deliberate mistranslations.

      • David Hartley says:

        To pick up your point on not only Noah’s Ark not being a physical ship and the claims of it being somehow mystical may I instead of mystical could I claim political science. Someone else may correct me on this but because of ancient dried watercourses and other such evidence did not at least some of the indigenous of what is now the USA consider that the earth had many ages. I am suggesting that Noah’s Ark is a form of cultural Genocide to eradicate these anomalies and later cultural and tribal traditions giving the ability to claim a singular lineage from Noah and his little band. Very useful when you are ameliorating earlier traditions and cultures in already patriarchal societies. So instead of mystical may I suggest social engineering. Also as a student of these languages does not the lack vowels mean the ability in any translation or transliteration into modern language allow them to say whatever the translator wishes?

    • Kritter says:

      Its a dire need to prove a myth that falls flat on its face under scrutiny by those that know better.

    • McWaffle says:

      “I’m not one of those nutjobs that believes the entire world flooded 5,000 years ago. I believe it’s perfectly likely that it happened at the very beginning of Earth’s geological history, around 100,000 years ago.”

      You’re not any less wrong than a YEC, and you’re wrong for exactly the same reasons. You’re just being self-serving by believing otherwise.

Agree or disagree? Please comment!