Deconstructing the Bible

  For the past few decades, a group of scholars known variously as biblical minimalists or deconstructionists have made a big splash in the field of biblical archaeology.   Minimalists regard biblical narratives as propaganda, not history. In their view, the Bible was written centuries, even millennia, after the events described and written for the purpose of creating a mythical glorious past.   Most reputable scholars disagree. Even those who don't regard the Bible as inerrant believe that the Bible is a reliable source of information about the history and culture of Israel and of the ancient Near East.   By contrast, minimalists believe that there never was a King David, a King Solomon, or a unified kingdom of Israel. And they insist that Jerusalem was never more than a backwater town on the fringes of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.   But biblical archaeologists are proving them wrong. In 1993, a group of archeologists found an Assyrian stone tablet near the city of Dan in northern Israel dating from the ninth century B.C. The inscription lists Assyria's foes. Included on the list are "king of Israel" and "house of David."   Those two inscriptions, dating less than a century after David's reign, are clear proof that the biblical writers didn't invent David.   As for the city of David, archaeological digs in and around Jerusalem have uncovered evidence of what one scholar terms a "major city." The walls of the city at the time of the First Temple extend four times further than was previously believed. And the Jerusalem that emerges from this physical evidence has grandeur and scale commensurate with its reported status.   Evidence such as this led Anson Rainey of the Tel Aviv Institute, writing in Biblical Archaeology Review, to call the minimalist school "a circle of dilettantes." He labeled their ideas a "figment of their vain imaginations" and concluded that findings such as the one at Dan should sound the "death knell to their conceit" about David and other biblical figures.   Deconstructionists replied that the inscriptions in Dan could mean "House of Uncle" or even "House of Kettle." But no reputable scholar agrees with them. It's a case of refusing to look the evidence squarely in its face.   That's because minimalism, like its equivalents in other disciplines, isn't a product of the evidence; it's the product of assumptions about the author's motives. In other words, it's an ideology. Like literary deconstructionists, minimalists look at the text and see a hodgepodge of political motivations and power arrangements.   The problem is that, whereas no amount of digging can ever prove that there was a mayor of Casterbridge, it can prove that there was a king David. And that makes deconstructing the biblical text a completely different thing from deconstructing the work of Thomas Hardy.   Over the next few days, I'll be citing other examples of archaeology helping to confirm the words of Scripture. It's a case of the stones crying out, and their message is: Believe what you see and read, and not the vain imaginings of ideologues.         For further reading:   Jeffrey Sheler, Is the Bible True? (HarperCollins, 1999).   Read more about biblical archaeology at the Biblical Archaeology Review website.   Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out: How Archaeology Confirms the Truth of the Bible (Harvest House  


Chuck Colson



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