Christian Imagination

During my research for my book “Challenged: Living Our Faith in a Postmodern Age” I have come to the conviction that

  • the modern approach to Biblical interpretation (the historical-critical method),
  • the unreserved acceptance into the language of an evolutionary process describing progress, and
  • the general disinterest in a divine role in the affairs of men as not germane to science

is not incidental nor is it accidental in a general quest for knowledge.  It is a focused assault on the Christian faith. The three fold revelation of God as

  1. Creator – vs. evolutionary thought,
  2. Judge – vs. an absolute moral code, and
  3. Savior – vs. the concept of sin

is discredited as mythological.  For starters: part of the postmodern argument contends that the Story of the Exodus is pure folklore, a popular myth. “Christian” scholarship is having to address such faith-damaging conclusions that cannot be easily disclaimed by honest minds.  No “exodus” would mean: no Moses and no Passover, which erodes the foundation of our beliefs.

I have been enjoying Profs. Walter Brueggmann’s and Tod Linafelt’s “An Introduction to the Old Testament, The Canon and Christian Imagination” (Westminster John Knox Press Louisville KY. 2nd edition, 2012). The subtitle uses the words “Christian Imagination” which is a reference to the prophetic mind in Old Testament tradition that credits the course of ancient near east history to a providential oversight.  German theologians coined the phrase: Heil Geschichte, a holy history, a “salvation history [which] seeks to understand the personal redemptive activity of God within human history to affect his eternal saving intentions.” [WIKI]

But how realistic is this explanation of the writings of our Old Testament?

On the historicity of the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, I read on page 142:

“A view …now popular among interpreters … is that the conquest narrative reflects an internal struggle in the land of Canaan (without an invasion from the outside) [bold print added] between conflicting elements of the Canaanite population.”

On 1 & 2 Kings, [Brueggmann, 185]  which reaches all the way back in the modern imagination to Joshua, and therefore, the early history (the Pentateuch), Professor Brueggmann confesses,

It is conventional to view these stories as folk legends, that is, as stories rooted in some unrecoverable happening now greatly exaggerated through constant retelling in the most imaginative ways.

Some christian scholarship accepts this approach as well as the conflict it suggests with our devotion to the Biblical text and the fundamentals of our faith. The conclusion here is that the conquest of Canaan by Israel never happened.  There is an absence of archeological data to prove that there ever was an exodus.  Most likely, therefore, there was no Moses and no Egyptian bondage—which many biblical scholars now conclude.

This converts the Christian narrative of the Passover, a key element of our faith, into “folk legend” retold with the “most exaggerated imagination” and leaves christianity dependent on an evolution of an ancient mythological religion (Mithraism) for its roots.

The Passover is thought to be merely a festive occasion around the wheat harvest (there would have been no wheat harvest in the wilderness!) and not the historical event that spoke to our need of a Savior. In short, this interpretation disowns any need of a Calvary or the Resurrection.  Jesus’ resurrection does not follow any known science and is explained away as part of the lore.

Dr. Dever, an archeology well respected, regrettably informed us, “To everyone’s frustration, new [archeological] data brought more questions than answers. In fact, no one has ever found any archeological evidence for the Exodus…” [William Dever. Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids MI. :Wm Eerdmans Press, 2001. ), p. 5]

Additionally, no Egyptian text ever found contains any reference to the “Hebrews” much less the Exodus. [ibid. p. 13.]

But Dr. Dever also pointed out, if Israel “wandered” forty years in the wilderness, “There never was any archeological evidence … of peaceful migrations [ancient encampments of desert nomads because ] ...movements of people leave far less physical evidence than catastrophic destructions—usually none at all.” [ibid.]

(Joshua 14:10 “… Israel moved about in the wilderness.” The Hebrew ְַהָלַ֥ךְ means ‘to walk’ or ‘traverse’ How nomadic were the Israelites in the wilderness? If they stayed any length of time in any one place during the forty years, one might expect to see evidence of their habitation. But Joshua implies life was nomadic, which is not unusual for desert dwelling.) As for Egypt regaling in cuneiform Israel’s victory over their own army after plundering their wealth, Exodus 12:36, …Not likely!

I find it relevant to mention U.S. history and the revolutionary war as a simple example of how—somehow—what makes it into print tends to support a patriotism that puts the national narrative in a favorable light. Ray Raphael  in “Founding Myths Stories that Hide our Patriotic Past” (MJF books NY, NY. 2004. pp. 248 & 250) alerted us to the need to filter the narrative (the historical record) to make sure it was celebratory and not an embarrassing legacy:

“The past needed time to become a past before it could be selectively recalled in a more positive light and form the basis for national traditions. .. A “past” was invented to serve the interests of nation building.”

Should we expect to find a cuneiform record praising the slaves for outfoxing the mightiest nation at the time!?

It is also interesting to note that the work of the father of biblical archeology, William Foxwell Albright (whose work, “From the Stone Age to Christianity” shows that our Judeo-Christian beginnings trace back to Moses on Mount Sinai) was so completely discredited just a few generations later by his protégés.

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