Why the bible is not a good historical/scientific source

OK, I’m not intending to offend any religious types here. I’m just a bit worried about the way the bible has been used a few times as a historical and scientific source. As someone who has studied science and history in a largely secular education system, I’ld like to outline why this alarms me! This is a long one… Note that I haven’t referenced everything rigorously, a lot of this was taken from Wikipedia, with large helpings of my own memories of school history lessons and religious debates with friends/family.

Different Versions
Firstly, there are numerous versions of the bible. The Christian Bible is divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament; some versions also have an Apocrypha section. The Old Testament includes all the contents of the Jewish Tanakh. In addition, Old Testaments published by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches contain ‘deuterocanonical’ books not found in the Tanakh, but which are found in the Greek Septuagint. The Catholic Church recognizes seven such books (Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, and Baruch), as well as some passages in Esther and Daniel. Various Orthodox Churches include a few others, typically 3 Maccabees, Psalm 151, 1 Esdras, Odes, Psalms of Solomon, and occasionally 4 Maccabees. Evangelicals, and modern Protestant traditions, reject these books.

The New Testament relates the life and teachings of Jesus, the letters of the Apostle Paul and other disciples to the early church and the Book of Revelation. There are several ancient versions, the most important being Syriac, Ge’ez and Latin. The earliest known complete bible is the Codex Amiatinus, a Latin Vulgate edition produced in eighth century England (i.e. a full 800 years after Christ!). Most modern Protestant bibles are based on the ‘Textus Receptus,’ printed in 1550, which is the earliest edition with readings in variant manuscripts. A number of modern ‘corrected’ bibles incorporate more recently discovered 4th century manuscripts (Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus)

The use of chapters and verses were not introduced until the middle ages and later. Early manuscripts of the letters of Paul and other New Testament writings show no punctuaction whatsoever. The punctuation was added later by other editors, according to their own understanding of the text. (Punctuation can shape and change the meaning of a passage.)

The bible has been translated many times over - it was originally written in Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic. Sometime in the 2nd/3rd century BC the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) was translated into Koine Greek.

From the 800s to the 1400s, Jewish scholars (Karaites Masoretes) compared the text of all known Biblical manuscripts in an effort to create a unified, standardized text. A series of highly similar texts eventually emerged, and any of these texts are known as Masoretic Texts (MT). The Masoretes also added vowel points to the text, since the original text only contained consonant letters. This sometimes required the selection of an interpretation, since some words differ only in their vowels— their meaning can vary in accordance with the vowels chosen. In antiquity, variant Hebrew readings existed, some of which have survived in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Dead Sea scrolls, and other ancient fragments, as well as being attested in ancient versions in other languages.

On top of this, the bible has been translated more recently into most world languages. The first english translation was the King James I bible. The King ordered a team of scholars and the best poets in the land to translate the bible so as to preserve its beauty: it is therefore not a rigorously accurate translation. Furthermore, there are words and concepts that cannot be translated. For example, the Bible talks about “The Word;” this is inaccurate. The literal translation from Greek is “eon” or “age.”

When Christians were being persecuted by the Romans, a level of secrecy was maintained. Portions of the New Testament, such as Paul’s letters, are therefore vague and even coded in places! The references to 666 being the number of the devil, are actually a reference to the Emperor Nero (Christians could not talk openly about their dislike for him at the time)

When Christianity later became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it was ‘altered’ a little to make it more palatable to the Romans and other conquered peoples. For example, the image of Mary holding the infant Jesus was introduced as a replacement for (the egyptian) Isis holding the infant Horus, and Mary took the place of the ‘Mother Goddess’ of the Pagan and Heathan religions, and the female Roman and Greek goddesses.

The Vulgate (that 800BC bible) was compliled at the Pope’s insistence, to be in line with early Synods.

More recently, Roman Catholiscism has been altered again to become Voodoo (not recognised by the Vatican) and the less extreme Mayan versions (which are accepted by the Vatican).

The Gospel of St Thomas is hotly debated - the Coptic version found in 1945 at Nag Hammandi (there are earlier fragments found in 1885, the significance of which were not realised) were dated to around 340AD (and the greek fragments to around 200AD). It is unclear why it was not included in the Bible - it may have belonged to a branch of christianity outside that which compiled the bible, it may have just been superceded by the other New Testamant books, or (quite likely) it may have been deemed heretical. My favourite quote (which has made it to Wikipedia, for my convenience!) is:

There are also quotes condoning equality for Gentiles - what would the KKK have to say about that?!

The danger of religion
Being a good little… atheist… I shall stick the metaphorical fox amoung the pidgeons by referencing some of the ideas from my own upbringing: Religion is one method of reinforcing the concept of a patriarchal / heirarchical society to people. When we learn our place in society as inferior to God, and the all-knowing preachers and clergy (who have more than a little influence on world politics), we learn not to argue with our superiors in all walks of life. We allow ourselves to be exploited in low-end jobs, because we believe we do not deserve better. We do not debate with our teachers, and in many sad cases, we do not always believe we need or deserve a good education. We lead our lives according to societies’ norms, and we allow ourselves to be discriminated against - how many women, even now, take traditionally feminine jobs or play house-wife because it’s expected of them? (And how many end up on anti-depressants?!) We glibly believe leaders who tell us that homosexuality, contraception, abortion, drinking alcohol and political subversion are condemned in the Bible (when, in fact, the Bible does not specifically comment on these things, and even supports some of them!) We do not question when our politicians pass immoral legislation (the holocaust, aparteid,…) and we do not question when we are sent to fight another man’s war in God’s name.

Now, I know that’s an exteme view - and I know many religious people who are very intelligent and socially-conscious. But religion can be (especially historically) used as a tool, and it’s writings are therefore inherently biased.

Testing Historical sources
When we assess any historical or scientific source, we ask a standard set of questions. In their most simple form, the four W’s and a H: What? Who? Where? When? and How?
What? A collection of ancient texts, the oldest of which are fragments written on papyrus scrolls and similar, in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. Many of the storys in the old testament are similar to ancient Babylonian legends (for example, the story of Noah). Large portions of the bible were handed down in an oral tradition, before anything was written - they may easily have changed in the telling. The original scriptures did not contain vowels, and were not punctuated, and were therefore open to interpretation from the start.
Who? In the case of the old testament, we simply don’t know. Some books are attributed to biblical figures, but this is often debated by scholars. It is known who wrote large parts of the New Testament, but we don’t know a lot about them! There are also some misnomers about the authors - for example, many people mistkenly think that the four gospels were written by the four disciples of the same names. The scholars compiling the original bibles would have had their own agendas.
Where? The bible was written in the Middle East. References to the ‘Great Flood’ are thought to refer to an immense flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates in ancient times - to someone living in that area, it would indeed have looked as though God had flooded the whole earth! The laws in Levitcus on what you are allowed to eat make perfect sense when you consider the dangers of eating old sea-food in a hot environment, or the fact that wild pigs would have been riddled with tape-worm. Biblical references must therefore be taken in context.
When? The earliest consolidated versions of the bible date from 800AD - that’s 800 years after Jesus walked the earth, and significantly later than any of the occurences in the Old Testament. In that time, the spirit of Christian teachings probably changed quite radically.
How? Due to the time elapsed in consolidating the Bible, there are probably untold volumes of scripture that just got lost or forgotton about, or edited out because it was not in keeping with what the authors wanted to portray.

In conclusion, the bible (or bibles!) really doesn’t stand up as a historical source. Granted, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence from old testament times, and some parts can be cross referenced with other ancient legends and archaeological finds to deduce something. But I wouldn’t take it literally.

That’s not to say it isn’t a beautiful piece of writing, inspired by God and providing valuable insight into Judao-Christian religions :slight_smile:

Hehe :slight_smile: Nice one…
imho the only bad thing about most of the religions are the imposed restriction… By it’s definition one have to blindly believe it… so it kind of kills curiosity and doubt in people, which are very important in many circumstances…

But from another point of view no one can tell that there is no God.
It’s a fact… It’s just impossible to tell that something doesn’t exist without restricting the space of it’s existence to a small explorable region.

Whatever. You don’t get it that you can’t just use your stupid “rescoures” and “info” and "evidence to disprove something that’s undeniably true. You don’t now whether the stuff you say is true or not, and even if it is it doesn’t matter how many times it was translated and edited, God wouldn’t allow his Word to be changed like that so there.

Don’t act so chub.

God? you mean Allah, Buddha or Krishna? Christ? Yehovah may be?
Which one?

God has allowed his word to be changed: that’s why there’s different versions of the bible, and conflict between different denominations of Christianity (not to mention the other religions!) They can’t all be God’s word, unless He’s playing everyone off against each other!

Besides, the interpretations of the Bible are a result of men, who are fallible. The Bible states quite clearly that you must not eat Pork or Seafood, but how many Christians adhere to this? You must also celebrate Passover, but Christians don’t. Have you actually read the Bible? :wink:

Now I need to go and look up “chub” :smiley:

I said God, didn’t I AndyBa?

BigBecka, I said God wouldn’t allow his word to be changed like that, meaning in the ways you specified. I mant God wouldn’t allowed his word to be corrupted. The changes in the New Testament are things that were changed when Jesus came. That doesn’t mean the other books of the Bible will be deleted. You may have read parts of the Bible, but since you are a non-Christian, you don’t get the proper teaching behind it at church, and make your own interpretation of it, or don’t learn what’s in effect and what isn’t. It’s not like a fiction book that you read, some things you don’t just read through like an essay. The Bible requires teaching, and all you see is what you read.

So, MomoPeach, the bible is interpreted for you, by preachers and clergy in church? I sure hope you don’t go to one of those churches where they tell you to have group sex and set fire to yourselves! (sorry, just kidding… but people do!)

The different churches interpret the bible in different ways - that’s my point (or part of it) :slight_smile: . And I’m not just talking about changes to the bible that happened with the inclusion of the New Testament after Christ: I’m also talking about the different christian versions which incorporate differing old and new testament books, and apocrypha (and translations thereof).

But, point taken, the Bible should not be taken literally without the correct teaching. Now, why are there Christians who claim to take the Bible literally and periodically throw quotes at me?! :wink:

Yay, AndyBa! I can’t actually say there is no God - my upbringing was atheist at home, but this was more to do with my family’s objection to organised religion. I’ve noticed that it’s quite popular amoung the scientific community to accept God, but I also think it’s natural to want to find a limit: the smallest particle, the furthest reach of the universe, and a start and end to time. I have to admit I like the idea of a being or order, and I find religion fascinating. I’ve been reading some of the old folklore and ideas of ancient european paganism and heathenism, and they’re absoloutely beautiful. :smiley:

I thought it might be interesting :slight_smile:

In the Hebrew Bible, the name of God represents the Jewish conception of the divine nature. The various Jewish names of God represent God, and His divine attributes. The most important name of God is the tetragrammaton (Hebrew:יהוה‎, English: YHVH or YHWH—vowels are not written in the Hebrew spelling), and Elohim. The correct pronunciation of the tetragrammaton has been lost completely.

Yahweh or Jehovah are common vocalizations of God’s personal name based on the Hebrew tetragrammaton. Most modern Christian Bibles have removed this name in nearly all of the 7000 places it appears in the Hebrew Scriptures, usually replacing it with ‘LORD’ or a similar alternative. The name does appear at four places in the King James Bible (e.g. Exodus 6:3), but is only used with prominence by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nearly all Christian traditions recognize the name in some form, even if it has largely fallen out of use.

Jesus (Iesus, Yeshua, Joshua, or Yehoshûa)
is a Hebraic personal name meaning “Jehovah saves/helps/is salvation”

Allah is the most frequently used name of God in Islam when speaking Arabic. It refers to the God without any other beside Him. It originally simply meant “the God” in Arabic, and was used in pre-Islamic times to refer to a divinity worshipped in Mecca. It is properly translated as “God” in English, and seen by Muslims as the same God as of Christianity and Judaism

The Arabic word Allah is a linguistic cognate of the Hebrew word Eloah and the English word “god”, although there are some Christian sects which claim that there is a distinction between their deity and the deity or deities worshipped in either Judaism or Islam. Nevertheless, Allah is the same word in Arabic used by Arab, Jews and Christians when speaking of God.

source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_God


You were brought up to be atheist? I’m sorry to hear that, and its very unfortunate. So that means your parents are atheists…what happened to the world?

Why is it unfortunate? I enjoy tremendous freedom, and have been supported in all (well, most :wink: ) of my life choices. Not everyone in my community has had that luxury!

I learnt folklore, parables and ideas from most world religions as a child, so that I could make my own choices and mix with a range of people as an adult. I feel very privileged. :smiley:

I feel very sick. You actually enjoy being lost.

Lost?! Sick?! Well, I don’t know what to say! It’s not like I’m a pervert or criminal! Don’t you have any atheists in your community? But I think that’s getting off topic :smiley:

Here is something from faithandfood.com

"There has always been a minority of Christians who have adopted vegetarian practices, including John Wesley, Leo Tolstoy, and William and Catherine Booth. The inspiration for the modern vegetarian movement came from the Bible Christian Church in the nineteenth century - which, in obedience to Genesis 1.29-30, made vegetarianism compulsory among its members. The Genesis text reveals that God’s original will was for a peaceful, vegetarian world. Meat eating was only allowed in the Hebrew Bible after the fall and the flood, i.e. the human descent into violence. Post-modern Christian vegetarians argue that humans should seek to approximate God’s will by living as free as possible from violence to sentient creatures.  

Christian vegetarians believe meat eating is unjustifiable because we now know that we can live healthy lives without recourse to flesh foods. Some Christians also adopt vegetarianism, or demi-vegetarianism, as a protest against the suffering inflicted on animals in intensive farming, especially veal crates, sow stalls and battery cages. Christianity has generally opposed animal cruelty, but the recent upsurge in Christian vegetarianism is testimony to a renewed sense that respect for animal life is a duty in itself, and especially that inflicting suffering cannot be reconciled with a Christ-like life."

Which Tolstoy? The russian writer?

WarChild, yes Leo Tolstoy the Russian writer, didn’t you know that he was a vegetarian?

I didn’t know that :unamused: that’s really interesting! :smiley:

I also know he was a hunter.

He was hunting when he was young before he became vegetarian.
When he became vegetarian he also stopped smoking and drinking wine and he was using vegetarian soap.

Got a link?

warChild, just look for his biography in google.
Here are some trivia from his biography
tv.com/leo-tolstoy/person/18 … raphy.html

Regarding the vegetarian soap here is a link to a russian site: