Let’s start with the beginning: Genesis. Moses is the supposed author of Genesis, along with the following four books, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But Moses obviously was not present at the time of creation, nor was he in the Garden of Eden, nor did he ride in the Ark with Noah, Ham, Shem, and Japheth and their wives. So how did he get his information?
The natural explanation is by oral history. Before writing materials were more common (even in Moses’ day these were considered precious and difficult to obtain), stories were passed from one generation to the next by oral repetition. So critics of the Bible will claim that these stories became inflated and convoluted as they passed from mouth to ear, much in the same way phrases are misconstrued in The Telephone Game.
The Telephone Game is an American pastime where a familiar phrase is chosen by someone in a group. He/she then whispers it in the ear of the person next to him, who whispers it to the next, and so on until it reaches the last person in the group. The last person then says out loud what he/she thinks she heard from the one before her. It is usually very funny as simple sayings, such as “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” becomes something crazy like “Dirty pans caused the crash of the Titanic.” So the argument goes that with repeated oral history, each speaker would add details to make the story more interesting until the actual history was lost or so distorted as to be only a myth or legend.
This reflects a modern arrogance that wisdom has somehow become the norm today where ancient cultures were uncivilized, ignorant and easily deceived. If you care to study the history of oral traditions it will become quickly evident that The Telephone Game is NOT how history was conveyed in ancient times.
First, oral traditions were not viewed as amusement, but as the serious business of educating the next generation. This was no light matter when writing materials were not available, but likely considered on the level of a doctor’s or lawyer’s oath of today. And the hearer repeated the history back to his/her teacher to make sure it was correctly learned.
Second, one person was not responsible for the translation of the stories to the next generation, but many sources would report the stories to many students who could compare “notes” on what they were learning. Inaccuracies and inflation would easily be corrected so that the stories told the truth about what had happened. For an example of this, one needs only to read the various Flood stories from different cultures that report from a time when no one was writing. You will find that the stories were relatively consistent over distinct cultures that would not have communicated except by their common oral histories. That the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh along with Hindu, Chinese, and Aztec mythologies all have Flood stories that closely parallel the Bible’s account suggests that the event really happened, and the only distortions came as people who rejected the truth about Yahweh of the Bible replaced Him with false gods.
Third, only an arrogant person would assume he/she lives in the only generation that is not easily fooled. Why would someone automatically assign divine reasons for an event they did not understand simply because they did not understand it? If a man or woman does not have reason to believe in a god, why would he/she “create” a god and proceed to give that deity ultimate power? Unless, of course, something in history taught that such a God existed and interacted with mankind. As C.S.Lewis has said, “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning; just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.” The “creation” of a god who made thunder or earthquakes would not be a reasonable assumption even for a “primitive man” unless he had reason to believe such a being exists.
Finally, the authority of the oral traditions that were recorded by Moses in Genesis are the most consistent with the evidence if one assumes that God exists. And frankly, with apologies to Nietzsche, Dawkins, and Hawkings, only a “fool says in his heart ‘There is no god.'” These are not my words, but one of the greatest philosophers and kings to ever live, David, in Psalm 14. The moral and ethical behavior of Abraham and the ancient Hebrew culture stood starkly apart from the societies around it, and conveyed accurately and adequately the history that predated Moses’ writings.
The first question mentioned in the Bible is from Satan, challenging God’s word to Adam and Eve: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” And the sequel questions of skeptics and atheists continue to mask their choice of unbelief against the evidence that God has spoken clearly through the Bible. This is not a claim to raw authority but a collation of many testimonies of interlocking claims and evidences that include God speaking directly to those who will listen.
This is not to say questions or even questioning God is wrong, but questions must be open to answers that may not agree with what we have believed before. In fact, Steve Elliott said this beautifully, “It’s easy to live with answers, but it takes great faith to live with your questions. Remember, no question intimidates God.” That is conditioned on the idea that the question is honest and open to an answer that might be uncomfortable.
Now, what about transcribing? How did they copy the Bible before Xerox machines? Next Sunday, May 31, 2015. 😉