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The Truth of Christianity By William Harry Turton Characters: 30091

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

(A.) The Later Old Testament Books.

(1.) Undesigned agreements; the rebellion of Korah.

(2.) Alleged mistakes; unimportant.

(3.) Modern discoveries; these support their accuracy.

(B.) The Old Testament Miracles.

(1.) Their credibility; this can scarcely be disputed, if miracles at all are credible; the silence of the sun and moon, two other difficulties.

(2.) Their truthfulness; list of eight public miracles, two examples, Elijah's sacrifice on Mount Carmel, and the destruction of the Assyrian army, considered in detail; conclusion.

Having now examined the origin of the Jewish Religion, we have next to consider its history; which also claims to have been confirmed by miracles. So we will first notice (very briefly) the Old Testament Books, from Joshua onwards; and then consider some of the Miracles which they record.

(A.) The Later Old Testament Books.

Now, the arguments for, and against the genuineness of these Books need not be discussed at length, since we have already decided in favour of that of the Pentateuch, and most critics who admit the one, admit the other. But a few remarks may be made on three subjects, those of undesigned agreements, the importance of which is not obvious at first sight; the alleged mistakes in the Old Testament; and the effect of modern discoveries.

(1.) Undesigned agreements.

Now, if we find two statements regarding an event, or series of events, which, though not identical, are yet perfectly consistent, this agreement must be either accidental or not accidental. And supposing it to be too minute in detail to be accidental it shows that the statements are somehow connected together. Of course, if the events are true, each writer may know them independently, and their statements would thus be in perfect, though unintentional agreement. But if the events are not true, then either one writer must have made his account agree with the other, or else both must have derived their information from a common source. In the former case, there would be intentional agreement between the writers; in the latter, between the various parts of the original account. In any case, there would be designed agreement somewhere; for, to put it shortly, the events, being imaginary, would not fit together of necessity, nor by accident, which is excluded, and hence must do so by design.

This has been otherwise expressed by saying that truth is necessarily consistent, but falsehood is not so; therefore, while consistency in truth may be undesigned, consistency in falsehood can only result from design. And from this it follows that an undesigned agreement between two statements-provided of course it is too minute to be accidental-is a sure sign of truthfulness. It shows, moreover, that both writers had independent knowledge of the event, and were both telling the truth. And of course the same argument applies if the two statements are made by the same writer, though in this case there is a greater probability that the agreement is not undesigned.

We will now consider a single example in detail, and select that referring to the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, as it is connected with an important miracle. Korah, we are told,[99] belonged to the family of Kohath and the other two to that of Reuben; and from incidental notices in another part of the book, we learn the position of the tents of these men. The former was to the south of the central Tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting, on an inner line of tents, while the latter were also to the south, though on an outer line of tents.

[99] Num. 16; 2. 10, 17; 3. 29.

This explains how, when Moses was talking to Korah, he had to send for Dathan and Abiram, and how next morning he left the central Tabernacle, where the men had assembled to offer incense, (and where they were afterwards destroyed, probably by lightning) and went unto Dathan and Abiram (vv. 8-25). It explains how, later on, the tents of Dathan and Abiram are twice mentioned, while that of the leading conspirator, Korah, is strangely omitted. It explains how the families of these two were destroyed, though no mention is made of that of Korah; since the destruction was probably limited to the tents of Dathan and Abiram, who were brothers, and the small tabernacle they had erected alongside, and from which alone the people were told to depart (vv. 26, 27). We may therefore conclude that Korah's family was not destroyed, since their tent was at some distance. And this accounts for what some have thought to be a discrepancy in another passage, where we read that the sons of Korah did not die; as well as for Dathan and Abiram, being mentioned alone later on.[100] In fact, the position of these tents is the key to the whole narrative, though we are left to discover it for ourselves.

[100] Num. 26. 11; Deut. 11. 6.

Now if the account is true and written by a contemporary, all is plain; for truth, as said before, is necessarily consistent. But if the story is a late fiction, all this agreement in various places is, to say the least, very remarkable. Can we imagine a writer of fiction accidentally arranging these details in different parts of his book, which fit together so perfectly? Or can we imagine his doing so intentionally, and yet never hinting at the agreement himself, but leaving it so unapparent that not one reader in a thousand ever discovers it? This single instance may be taken as a sample of numerous others which have been noticed all through the Old Testament; and they certainly tend to show its accuracy.

(2.) Alleged mistakes.

We pass on now to the alleged mistakes in the Old Testament, and considering the long period covered, and the variety of subjects dealt with, and often the same subject by various writers, the number of even apparent discrepancies is not very great. And it is beyond dispute that many of these can be explained satisfactorily, and doubtless many others could be so, if our knowledge were more complete. Moreover, they are, as a rule, numerical mistakes, such as the incredibly large numbers in some places,[101] and the rather discordant chronology in Kings and Chronicles. But the former may be due to some error in copying, and the latter to the different ways of counting a king's reign.

[101] Num. 26. 11; Deut. 11. 6.

The only mistake of any real importance refers to the large numbers of the Israelites, who are said to have left Egypt,-some 600,000 men, besides children, or probably over two million altogether. For on two subsequent occasions, when the census of the tribes is given, it totals up to about the same number.[102] This is no doubt a serious difficulty; as anyone can see, who will take the trouble to calculate the space they would require on the march, or in camp. If we assume, for instance, that they crossed the arm of the Red Sea in, say, forty parallel columns, these would still have to be of enormous length to contain 50,000 persons each, with their flocks and herds.

[102] Exod. 12. 37. Num. 1. 26.

Perhaps the best explanation is that suggested by Professor Flinders Petrie, that the word translated thousands should be families,[103] so that the tribe of Reuben, for instance,[104] instead of having forty-six thousand five hundred men, would have forty-six families, (making about) five hundred men. The chief arguments in favour of this are, first, that the same word is used in Judges 6. 15, where it so obviously means family and not thousand, that it is so translated in both the Authorised and Revised Versions.

[103] Egypt and Israel, 1911, p. 43.

[104] Num. 1. 21.

And secondly, it would account for the remarkable fact that though there were twelve tribes, and they were each counted twice, yet the number of the hundreds is never 0, 1, 8 or 9; but always one of the other six digits. It is extremely unlikely (practically incredible)[105] that this would occur in an ordinary census, but the proposed theory explains it at once. For the hundreds could scarcely be 0, or 1, as this would mean too few men in a family; or 8 or 9, which would mean too many; while the other digits always work out to what (allowing for servants) is a reasonable proportion, from 5 to 17. On this theory the number of men would be reduced to 5,600, which is much more intelligible. But some other passages scarcely seem capable of this interpretation, so it must be admitted that the number forms a difficulty, whatever view we adopt.

[105] The chance of its occurring would be only (6/10)24 or less than 1 in 200,000.

(3.) Modern discoveries.

Lastly, as to the effect of modern discoveries on the accuracy of the Old Testament. In the case of the Pentateuch, as we have seen, there is very little direct evidence either way; but it is different in regard to some of the later books.

In the first place, and this is very important, modern discoveries have shown that the period of Jewish history from the time of Moses onwards was distinctly a literary age. In Egypt, Babylonia, Syria, and elsewhere, it was the custom, and had been for centuries, to record all important events, at least all those that were creditable to the people concerned; so it is almost certain that the Jews, like the surrounding nations, had their historians. In every age conquerors have loved to record their conquests, and why should the Jews alone have been an exception?

Yet the historical books of the Old Testament have no competitors. If, then, we deny that these are in the main a contemporary record, we must either assume that the Jews, unlike the surrounding nations, had no contemporary historians, which is most unlikely; as well as being contrary to the Books themselves, where the recorders are frequently mentioned, even by name.[106] Or else we must assume that their works were replaced in later days by other and less reliable accounts, which were universally mistaken for the originals, and this seems equally improbable.

[106] E.g., 2 Sam. 8. 16; 2 Kings 18. 18; 2 Chron. 34. 8.

Passing on now to the evidence in detail, it may be divided into two classes, geographical and historical. In the first place the geography of Palestine has been shown to be minutely accurate. But this does not prove the Old Testament Books to be genuine, but merely that they were written by Jews who knew the country intimately. It helps, however, in some cases to remove apparent difficulties. Thus the discoveries at Jericho, in 1908, have shown that the place was merely a small fortified hill, the length of the surrounding wall being about half a mile, so there was no difficulty in the Israelites walking round it seven times in the day.[107] And much the same may be said of the historical notices. The monumental records of the Kings of Judah and Israel have not at present been discovered, but we can often check the history by the records of other countries. And these are as a rule in perfect agreement, not only as to the actual facts, but as to the society, customs, and state of civilisation, of the period. Indeed, in some cases where this was formerly disputed, as in the importance assigned to the Hittites, it has been fully justified by modern discoveries.[108] But this again does not prove the genuineness of the Books, though it certainly raises a probability in their favour.

[107] Josh. 6. 15.

[108] 1 Kings 10. 29; 2 Kings 7. 6.

Sometimes, however, the evidence is stronger than this, one of the best known instances being Daniel's mention of Belshazzar.[109] He states that the last king of Babylon was Nebuchadnezzar's son, or grandson (margin, A.V.) called Belshazzar, who was slain at night when the city was captured (about B.C. 538). But according to Berosus, who wrote about the third century B.C., all this appears to be wrong. The last king of Babylon was a usurper called Nabonidus, and any such person as Belshazzar is quite unknown. And so matters remained till some cuneiform inscriptions were discovered at Mugheir in 1854.

[109] Dan. 5. 1.

From these it appears that Belshazzar was the eldest son of Nabonidus, and was apparently associated with him in the government. And an inscription recently found at Erech shows that this was the case for several years.[110] There is no proof that he ever had the title of King, unless he is the same as one Mardukshazzar, about this time (not otherwise identified), which is not unlikely, as we know Marduk was sometimes called Bel-i.e., Baal, or Lord. And another inscription, somewhat mutilated, seems to show that he was slain at Babylon in a night assault on the city (or some portion of it) as described by Daniel, some months after Nabonidus had been taken prisoner.[111] As to his relationship with Nebuchadnezzar perhaps his mother (or grandmother) was a royal princess. And there certainly seems to have been some connection between the families, as we know from the inscriptions that he had a brother called Nebuchadnezzar.

[110] Expository Times, April, 1915. Comp. Dan. 8. 1.

[111] Transactions of Victoria Institute, vol. xxxviii., 1906, p. 28; vol. xlvi., 1914, p. 14.

Now, of course, if Daniel himself wrote the book, he would have known all about Belshazzar, however soon afterwards it was forgotten. But, if the book is a late fiction, written by a Jew in Palestine about B.C. 160, which is the rationalistic theory, as the wars between Egypt and Syria up to that date are clearly foretold, how did he know the name of Belshazzar at all, or anything about him, when such a person was unknown to previous historians? Plainly then, this is a distinct argument in favour of the contemporary date of the book.[112]

[112] It is worth noting that this rationalistic theory, which was generally accepted by the so-called Higher Critics, has now become so difficult to maintain in the face of arch?ology that Dr. Pinches, Lecturer in Assyriology at University College, London, said recently 'I am glad to think with regard to the Book of Daniel that the Higher Criticism is in fact buried.' Transactions of Victoria Institute, vol. xlix., 1917, p. 135.

And much the same may be said of Isaiah's mention of Sargon of Assyria, who is stated to have taken Ashdod. Yet the very existence of such a king was unknown to secular history, till the last century; when his palace was discovered at Khorsabad, with inscriptions recording, among other things, his capture of Ashdod.[113]

[113] Isa. 20. 1. Orr's Problem of Old Test., 1906, p. 399.

Two other cases are of special interest, because the monuments seemed at first to show that the Bible was wrong. One of these refers to a so-called Pul, King of Assyria;[114] but when the list of Assyrian monarchs was discovered, no such king could be found. It looked like a serious discrepancy, and was even spoken of as 'almost the only important historical difficulty' between the Bible and the monuments.[115] But it has now been discovered that Pulu was the original name of a usurper, who changed it to Tiglath Pileser III. on

ascending the throne; though he was still sometimes called Pulu.[116] This not only removes the difficulty, but tends to show the early date of the narrative; for a late writer would probably have called him by his better-known name.

[114] 2 Kings 15. 19.

[115] Rawlinson, Historical Illustrations of the Old Testament, 1871, p. 121.

[116] Hastings, Dict. of the Bible, vol. iv., p. 761.

The other instance refers to Jehu, who is stated in the Assyrian inscriptions to be the son of Omri; though according to the Bible he was no relation whatever. But it has now been shown that the words translated son of Omri may only mean of the land or house of Omri, which is a common Assyrian name for the kingdom of Israel.[117]

[117] Driver, Schweich Lecture, 1908, p. 17.

As a last example we will take the dates given for the Fall of the two capital cities, Samaria and Jerusalem. These were calculated long ago (margin, A.V.) from a number of statements in the Bible, giving the lengths of different reigns, etc., at B.C. 721 and 588 respectively.[118] And now the inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia fix the former at B.C. 722 and the latter at 586.[119] Everyone must admit that these are remarkable agreements, considering the way in which they have had to be calculated.

[118] 2 Kings 17. 6; 25. 3.

[119] Hastings, Dict. of the Bible, vol. i., p. 401.

We have now briefly considered the Books of the Old Testament, both as to their undesigned agreements, which are very interesting; their alleged mistakes, which are unimportant; and the effect of modern discoveries, which has undoubtedly been to support their accuracy. What, then, is the value of the evidence they afford as to the history of the Jewish Religion having been confirmed by miracles?

(B.) The Old Testament Miracles.

We will include under this term superhuman coincidences as well as miracles in the strict sense; and they occur all through the historical books of the Old Testament. A few of them have been already noticed in the last chapter, but we must now discuss them more fully, first considering whether they are credible, and then whether they are true.

(1.) Their credibility.

Now this can scarcely be disputed, provided miracles at all are credible, which we have already admitted, since scientific difficulties affect all miracles equally; and of course the Superhuman Coincidences have no difficulties of this kind whatever. Among these may be mentioned most of the Ten Plagues, the destruction of Korah, the falling of the walls of Jericho, probably due to an earthquake; the lightning which struck Elijah's sacrifice; and many others.

The Passage of the Red Sea, for instance, almost certainly belongs to this class. The water, we are told, was driven back by a strong east wind, lasting all night; and this was doubtless due to natural forces, though, in common with other natural events (such as the growth of grass[120]), it is in the Bible ascribed to God. And the statement, the waters were a wall unto them, need not be pressed literally, so as to mean that they stood upright. It may only mean here, as it obviously does in some other cases, that the waters were a defence on each side, and secured them from flank attacks.[121] And as they must have advanced in several parallel columns, probably half a mile wide, this certainly seems the more likely view.

[120] Ps. 147. 8-9.

[121] Exod. 14. 21, 22; Nahum 3. 8; 1 Sam. 25. 16.

And what makes it still more probable is that much the same thing occurred in this very neighbourhood in recent times. For in January, 1882, a large expanse of water, about 5 feet deep, near the Suez Canal, was exposed to such a strong gale (also from the east) that next morning it had been entirely driven away, and men were walking about on the mud, where the day before the fishing-boats had been floating.[122] Moreover, on this theory, the miracle would not lose any of its evidential value. For the fact of such a strip of dry land being formed just when and where the Israelites so much wanted it, and then being suddenly covered again, through the wind changing round to the west (which it must have done for the dead Egyptians to have been cast up on the east side)[123], would be a coincidence far too improbable to be accidental.

[122] Transactions of Victoria Institute, vol. xxviii., 1894, p. 268. It is vouched for by Major-General Tulloch, who was there on duty at the time.

[123] Exod. 14. 30.

Another well known miracle, which probably belongs to this class, is the 'silence' (or standing still) of the sun and moon.[124] This is often thought to mean that the earth's rotation was stopped, so that the sun and moon apparently stood still. But a miracle on so vast a scale, was quite needless for the destruction of a few Canaanites, and there is another, and far better explanation.

[124] Josh. 10. 12-14.

It is that the miracle, instead of being one of prolonged light, the sun remaining visible after it should have set, was really one of prolonged darkness. The sun, which had been hidden by thick clouds, was just about to shine forth, when Joshua prayed to the Lord that it might be silent, i.e., remain obscured behind the clouds, which it did during the rest of the day. The Hebrew seems capable of either meaning. For the important word translated stand still is literally be silent (see margin), both in verses 12 and 13; and while this would be most suitable to the sun's remaining obscured by clouds during the day, it could scarcely be used of its continuing to shine at night.

On the other hand, the rest of the passage seems to favour the ordinary view. But if we admit that this is what Joshua prayed for, that the sun and moon should remain silent or obscured, the rest of the passage can only mean that this is what took place. And it may be mentioned that, as early as the fourteenth century, a Jewish writer Levi ben Gershon maintained that the words did not mean that the sun and moon literally stood still, or in any way altered their motion; though it is only fair to add that this was not the general view.[125]

[125] Numerous quotations are given in 'A Misunderstood Miracle,' by Rev. A. S. Palmer, 1887, pp. 103-107.

Moreover, even if the word did mean stand still, Joshua would only be likely to have asked for the sun and moon to stand still, if they were apparently moving. And they only move fast enough to be apparent when they are just coming out from behind a dense bank of clouds, due, of course, to the clouds really moving. And to stand still in such a case, would mean to stay behind the clouds, and remain obscured, the same sense as before. And the words could then have had an immediate effect; visible at once to all the people, which certainly seems implied in the narrative, and which would not have been the case on the ordinary view.

Assuming, then, that either meaning is possible, a prolonged darkness is much the more probable for three reasons. To begin with, the miracle must have occurred in the early morning, Gibeon, where the sun was, being to the south east of Beth-horon, the scene of the incident. And it is most unlikely that Joshua, with the enemy already defeated, and nearly all the day before him, should have wished to have it prolonged. Secondly, just before the miracle there had been a very heavy thunderstorm, involving (as here required) thick clouds and a dark sky; and this is stated to have been the chief cause of the enemy's defeat. So Joshua is more likely to have asked for a continuance of this storm, i.e., for prolonged darkness, than for light. Thirdly, the moon is mentioned as well as the sun, and, if Joshua wanted darkness, both would have to be silent; but if he wanted light, the mention of the moon was quite unnecessary.

On the whole, then, the miracle seems to have been a superhuman coincidence between a prayer of Joshua and an extraordinary and unique thunderstorm, which caused the sun to remain silent or invisible all day. And if the Canaanites were sun-worshippers (as many think probable), it was most suitable that at the time of their great battle with the Israelites, the sun should have been obscured the whole day, and it naturally led to their utter confusion.

Before passing on, we may notice two objections of a more general character, that are often made to the Jewish miracles. The first is that some of them were very trivial, such as Elisha's purifying the waters of Jericho, increasing the widow's oil, and making the iron axe-head to float;[126] and hence it is urged they are most improbable. And no doubt they would be so, if we regard them as mere acts of kindness to individual persons. But if we regard them as so many signs to the Israelites (and through them to the rest of the world), that Elisha was God's prophet; and that God was not a far-off God, but One Who knew about and cared about the every-day troubles of His people, they were certainly not inappropriate. Indeed, if this was the end in view, they were just the kind of miracles most likely to attain it.

[126] 2 Kings 2. 22; 4. 6; 6. 6.

The second and more important objection would destroy, or at least lessen, the value of all the miracles. They could not, it is urged, have really confirmed a revelation from God, since the same writers who describe them, also describe other miracles, which, they say, were worked in opposition to God's agents. But if we exclude some doubtful cases, we have only one instance to judge by. It is that of the magicians of Egypt, who imitated some of the earlier miracles of Moses and Aaron; and here the inference is uncertain. For we are told that this was due to their enchantments (or secret arts, margin R.V.), a term which might very possibly cover some feat of jugglery; as they knew beforehand what was wanted, and had time to prepare. While the fact that they tried and failed to imitate the next plague, which they frankly confessed was a Divine miracle, makes this a very probable solution.[127]

[127] Exod. 7. 11, 22; 8. 7, 18, 19.

We decide, then, that none of the Jewish miracles can be pronounced incredible; though some of them no doubt seem, at first sight, very improbable.

(2.) Their truthfulness.

Now, of course, the miracles vary greatly in evidential value, the following being eight of the most important:

The destruction of Korah, Num. 16.

The passage of the Jordan, Josh. 3. 14-17.

The capture of Jericho, Josh. 6. 6-20.

Elijah's sacrifice on Mount Carmel, 1 Kings 18. 17-40.

The cure of Naaman's leprosy, 2 Kings 5. 10-27.

The destruction of the Assyrian army, 2 Kings 19. 35.

The shadow on the dial, 2 Kings 20. 8-11.

The three men in the furnace, Dan. 3. 20-27.

We will examine a couple of instances in detail and select first Elijah's sacrifice on Mount Carmel. This is said to have occurred on the most public occasion possible, before the King of Israel and thousands of spectators. And as a miracle, or rather superhuman coincidence, it presents no difficulty whatever. The lightning which struck the sacrifice was doubtless due to natural causes; yet, as before explained (Chapter VII.), this would not interfere with its evidential value.

Moreover, it was avowedly a test case to definitely settle whether Jehovah was the true God or not. The nation, we learn, had long been in an undecided state. Some were worshippers of Jehovah, others of Baal; and these rival sacrifices were suggested for the express purpose of settling the point. So, if miracles at all are credible, there could not have been a more suitable occasion for one; while it was, for the time at least, thoroughly successful. All present were convinced that Jehovah was the true God, and, in accordance with the national law, the false prophets of Baal were immediately put to death.

Now could any writer have described all this, even a century afterwards, if nothing of the kind had occurred? The event, if true, must have been well known, and remembered; and if untrue, no one living near the time and place would have thought of inventing it. And (what renders the argument still stronger) all this is stated to have occurred, not among savages, but among a fairly civilised nation and in a literary age.

Next as to the destruction of the Assyrian army. Here it will be remembered that when Sennacherib came to attack Jerusalem, he publicly, and in the most insulting manner, defied the God of Israel to deliver the city out of his hand (probably about B.C. 701).[128] We then read how Isaiah declared that God accepted the challenge, and would defend Jerusalem, and would not allow it to be destroyed. 'I will defend this city to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.' And the sacredness of the city is very strongly insisted on.

[128] 2 Kings 18. 28-35; 19. 10, 34.

Now it is inconceivable that this could have been written after Jerusalem had been captured by Nebuchadnezzar in B.C. 598; though there is no real inconsistency in God's preserving the city in the one case, and not in the other. For Nebuchadnezzar is always represented as being, though unconsciously, God's servant in punishing the Jews; while Sennacherib openly defied Jehovah.

Then comes the sudden destruction of the Assyrian army, probably by pestilence;[129] and the extreme fitness of this, after Sennacherib's challenge, must be obvious to everyone. Moreover, such a very public event, if untrue, could not have been recorded till long afterwards; yet, as we have seen, the narrative could not have been written long afterwards. Sennacherib does not of course allude to it himself in his inscriptions, for kings never like to record their own defeats; but this is no reason for doubting that it occurred, especially as it is confirmed by the Babylonian historian Berosus.[130] And even Sennacherib himself, though he mentions the campaign, and says that he shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem, never claims to have taken the city.

[129] Comp. 2 Kings 19. 35; 1 Chron. 21. 12.

[130] Quoted by Josephus, Antiq. x. 1.

We need not examine the other miracles in detail, since the argument is much the same in every case. They are all said to have occurred on important and critical occasions when, if we admit miracles at all, they would be most suitable. They are all said to have been public miracles, either actually worked before crowds of persons, or else so affecting public men that their truth or otherwise must have been well-known at the time. And they were all of such a kind that any mistake or fraud as to their occurrence was out of the question. It is, then, on the face of it, most unlikely that miracles, such as these, should have been recorded unless they were true. Indeed, if the Old Testament books were written by contemporaries, or even within a century of the events they relate, it is very difficult to deny their occurrence. We decide, therefore, that the history of the Jewish Religion was confirmed by miracles.

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