WELL, WHAT ABOUT THAT!
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
TELL IT LIKE IT IS
It seems that each generation closes the door behind them to shut out the noise and interference coming from their parents and grandparents about how their way of doing things and their way of dealing with situations proves more superior than the way it’s being done now by their children and grandchildren. While this does not represent the reinvention of the wheel, it does lend itself to a lack of understanding and insight so necessary in coping with what’s happening in their world.
Nothing appears more vulnerable in the process of not learning from history, than our cultural, philosophical, social and religious heritage. As such, we tend to see current breakdowns in virtues and corruption of ethical norms as something new, rather than a recurrence of an old virus that’s been around a long time. For instance, little did I know a few years ago that my sudden case of shingles exploded around my waist due to the fact that I contracted chickenpox as a child. In other words, it lay there all the time but chose to evidence itself only after my immune system weakened due to surgery. The same holds true of the fall of man into periods of disbelief, misbelief and unbelief.
The importance of such reasoning derives from the fact that when we become aware of what our ancestors did to cope with these irregularities, it provides us clues and ideas on how to deal with them today. If we knew how it started, then we can better understand why it expresses itself the way it does at our time and place in God’s ongoing plan of redemption and salvation of mankind. Atheist, skeptics, agnostics, doubters, and naysayers represent a long line into the past, and appear to be reproducing at a healthy rate. While Churches appear as sacred structures and Bibles revered as holy scriptures by many, those for who it remains a farce, an illusion, and the opiate of the people, populate our society in abundance.
Back in the mid 1700’s, scholars dug through the treasure troves of ancient Egyptian documents and etchings that spawned further exploration during the mid 1800’s into the area of Mesopotamia that includes modern day Kuwait, Iraq and parts of Syria. European archeologists and historians deciphered ancient languages and translated the tens of thousands of texts and studies for important content to be shared with colleagues back home.
The texts themselves spoke of a time and era when men thought, perceived, and interpreted their world in ways commensurate with their understanding at the time. But this led to a confluence of conflicting ideas. The ancient writers penned their words to explain their comprehension of the world they live in based on knowledge, history, philosophy, religion and cultural norms not too far removed from the time of Noah’s flood. But the ones translating these texts where looking at them through the eyes of their 18th and 19th century knowledge, history, philosophy, religion and cultural norms.
As such, there developed a strange form of apologetics that skeptics today might call identify as cognitive biases. In other words, they looked for ways to debunk those things held as sacred and holy by most religions in their era, especially Judaism and Christianity, while explaining away the veracity of those ancient ideas with scientific reasoning. They did not look for the truth, they looked for ways to encourage and embellish what they saw as the truth in their minds. Not only did religious and philosophical prejudices get woven into the mix, but the added color of politics gave it a special sheen and gloss.
All of this led to various camps of researchers being divided into those who defended Judaism and Christianity and their Bible, and those who sought to show that these borrowed ideas all came from the ancients who told a different story with a unique explanation on how it all happened. So in 1902, under the auspices of the German Oriental Society, a series of scheduled lectures brought together a stream of intellectuals and Bible apologists. Even Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to attend. They planned it to be an historical event designed to lay to rest the argument forever as to where the writings of Moses came from and how they got into the Bible.
While serving as a faculty member at the European Bible Seminary in Wienacht, Switzerland in the 1960’s, I came to appreciate the works and commentaries of Franz Delitzsch, a well-known conservative Lutheran theologian and expert in the Hebrew Language. I used his books for research in my class notes, especially the ten volume commentary he and C. F. Keil wrote on the Old Testament, as well as his commentary on the Psalms.
His son, Friedrich Delitzsch, came cut from the same cloth as his father, but not in the identical pattern or style. He proved to be a product of his day, where instead of intellectuals researching and studying ancient texts in order to validate and corroborate the faith of their fathers, they did the opposite. They drove themselves to find errors and raise questions as to the authenticity of the ancient Jewish and Christian manuscripts.
Friedrich Delitzsch became a noted Assyriologist and lecturer of comparative studies on the relationship between the cuneiform and writings in Syria and Babylon and those writings that purport to be original with Hebrew authors in the Bible. Delitzsch designed on of his lectures entitled “Babel und Bibel,” to focused attention on the impact that Assyriology brought to the formation of Old Testament writings. But one of Delitzsch’s most controversial claims, however, remained that the literature of the Bible depended on, and even borrowed from, the literature of the dominant culture represented in the region of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. He contended that the evidence unearthed in Mesopotamian showed not just parallels to Old Testament customs and ideas, but genuine evidence showing that they in fact existed as the original source of such customs and ideas.
This led to the inevitable conclusion that the inception of the Old Testament text came from human sources, not divine. In other words, that the Jewish and Christian faiths owed their existence to pagan mythology. Young Delitzsch authored two more lectures expounding on this thesis over the next two years. The second one proved even more objectionable than the first. In it Delitzsch questioned the validity of using traditional theological terminology to describe the Bible as a “divine revelation” or authored by “divine inspiration,” in light what had been discovered in these ancient texts.
When this all began, many Assyriologists and researchers identified themselves as people of faith. This resulted in young Delitzsch being vehemently criticized in their written critiques of his lectures. As time when on, however, Assyriology became increasingly influenced by secular ideas, and its scholars began to lose their concerned about the authenticity of the Bible, and instead embraced the secular tenets of critical scholarship. As such, Friedrich Delitzsch’s lectures and writings became accepted as the dividing line that separated the sacred from the secular in comparative studies.
Instead of each side trying to find ways to harmonize their findings, these disagreements only drove them further and further apart. Unfortunately, instead of taking the scientific approach and debating only their differences of opinion, they began to make personal attacks on one another. Those who embraced deeply held Jewish and Christian beliefs in the validity of their faith and the inerrancy of the scriptures, saw these textual discovers as proof of man’s continuing search for meaning and understanding God, which prompted the necessity of Moses’ revelation on Mt. Sinai and the coming of Christ as the final word. On the other hand, those who held secular views argued that the texts contained in the Bible proved mere adaptations of the mythology contained in these earlier manuscripts, and therefore offered nothing new or unique to enhance the dialogue.
Therefore, secular scholars began to label their opponents as naïve traditionalist, while those who held fast to their faith described their adversaries as godless heretics. Not exactly the atmosphere that leads to greater understanding of each other’s points of view. But what established an even more perplexing dilemma, involved the seemingly overwhelming evidence from these ancient Syrian and Babylonian manuscripts that left the traditional scholars scratching their heads for lack of any conclusive explanation on these documented similarities. On the other hand, the secularists found themselves on the defensive when their efforts to uncover the hidden truth about the origin of religious truths as they saw it, received shouts of disdain and ridicule.
When Delitzsch contended that the Jewish Old Testament did not qualify as a valid book to be accepted as part of Christian theology, and ought therefore be excluded and denied having any place in Christian faith, the religious scholars dug in deeper and refused compromise as the arguments drove them further and further apart. As a result, over time Delitzsch’s impact on the religious community began to wane when evidence appeared that showed him to be ardently anti-Christian and anti-Semitic. Instead of being motivated by scientific objectivity, his biases and prejudices fully exposed his gross naiveté in his understanding of Old Testament and New Testament material, and in particular, the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.
This concept of the Old Testament being replete with revised stories taken from ancient myths, and the New Testament made up of wives tales and anecdotes still exists today. Bill O’Reilly in his book entitled “Killing Jesus” makes it clear that most of the Bible contains folk lore borrowed from ancient religions. But as one discovery after another came to light since the 1920’s, the initial excitement by scholars who heralded their arrival as being epic in proportion to our understanding the real story of the Bible, careful study and a contextual approach proved that many of the claims made upon initial exposure of these texts as being exaggerated.
Thus as believers today, two primary points of view stand to be reasoned with. We can either see these ancient manuscripts and parallel accounts of things like the creation of the universe, of earth, of man, of society, Noah’s flood, the commandments, beliefs in God and Angels, heaven and hell as the evolution of religious thought with each succeeding generation building on those ideas of the past, or that what the Bible represents as ultimate truth appears silhouetted against the backdrop of man’s own efforts to explain what God Himself eventually revealed in His Word and through His Son.
Some scholars say there remain two choices. Either we ascribe to what they call parallelomania: the phenomenon where apparent similarities and construct parallels and analogies can be perceived and accepted without historical basis, or parallelophobia, which corresponds to an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another point of view. The writer of Hebrews, in Chapters 8 & 9, gives us the best example of interpretation on this subject. Said the writer, “The work that these priests do is really only a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven. That is why God warned Moses when he was ready to build the Holy Tent: “Be sure to make everything exactly like the pattern I showed you on the mountain” (Heb. 8:5).
To take that one step further, all the laws and codes written after Noah’s flood, as seen in the Law Codes of Ur-Nammu and Hammurabi, for example, simply foreshadowed what God planned to reveal more fully to Moses in the Ten Commandments and Levitical Laws. These in turn prefigured what the Word who was God, and was with God, coming in human flesh to give God’s final say on the subject. As the writer of Hebrews goes on to say in 8:6, “But the work that has been given to Jesus is much greater than the work that was given to those priests. In the same way, the new agreement that Jesus brought from God to His people is much greater than the old one. And the new agreement is based on better promises.”
Such a concept does not harmonize well with secular-humanist logic, and those who try constantly find themselves running into a wall of disbelief in accepting such a construct as being true without passing the test of scientific evidence. Humanist find it hard to accept the fact that there exists a vast difference between the secular worldview and the sacred view of the other world. This gap cannot be bridged by intellect alone, just ask Nicodemus. Faith and belief persist as the only two elements that transcend the world below into the world above. And the only way to come into possession of this ability of a faith that serves as the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, relies on being born anew. Not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.