Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Evidence and Reason

Mountain Justice by paynehollow
Mountain Justice, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

In the previous post, the suggestion was made that I incorrectly conflate the parable of the Good Samaritan with the historical account (they say) of the Hebrew people leaving Egypt. The suggestion was made that I erred because I treated the historical text as a fiction, although it was okay to treat the parable as a parable.

Some considerations...

Good Samaritan:

1. The story of the Good Samaritan, told in Luke 10, Jesus answers the question "who is my neighbor?" by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.

2. The text does not identify the story as a parable. It is a story that Jesus tells. If I understand my actual history of the area correctly, the story could very well be based on an actual event - the Jericho Road in the story was known to be plagued by violent robbers.

3. The point of Jesus' story stands whether or not it was based on an actual event. The historical veracity/accuracy of the story is irrelevant to the moral lesson. We have no reason I can think of to worry about whether the story is fiction or not.

Hebrew slaves in Egypt:

1. The story of the Hebrews in Egypt is found in Genesis and Exodus. The story has a feel of a historical story, but not necessarily a strictly factual historical story.

2. In fact, in the time period from which these stories come, there is no historical record or known evidence (that I've heard of) of people telling historically accurate histories in the manner we would tell such stories today.

3. Additionally, there is no/very little in the way of archeological evidence to support the story taken literally. In the Bible story, the Hebrew people are enslaved by Egypt for ~400 years and the Egyptians were very dependent upon these Hebrew slaves.

And yet, there is no archeological evidence to support the claim (or maybe very little - I don't know enough to state definitively, but the general consensus appears to be that there is no serious archeological evidence to back it up).

4. Which is not to say that the story is not based on at least some factual points. Clearly, after all, there was a Hebrew people. Clearly, they came from somewhere and had a beginning in the region somewhere. I'm just saying there is no (little?) hard physical/archeological evidence to support the claim.

I'll stop there for now.

My question (or one of them) is this: On what basis do we feel we need to insist the Exodus story is a literal history, told more or less in modern literal historical style?

It does not identify itself as a literal history. The Samaritan story does not identify itself as a parable. Nowhere in the Bible is there any insistence that these stories must be taken in a specific style.

Why could it not be more of a period-appropriate epic story teaching moral lessons (which would seem to at least some folk to be the obvious style it is written in, given the textual and contextual evidence)? Why must it be considered a literal history?

Don't answer too quickly, please. Just consider: Is the sum total of the reason to take it as a literal history that, this is the way it's traditionally been considered?

And, if that is the sum total of the reasons, do you think that is enough?

Maybe more later, that's all I have time for now.


Craig said...

The you missed my point and this was a waste of your time.

My point was, and is, that the your original post did not treat the Exodus story as a parable. You treated is as history. If you want to make the claim that the good Samaritan story is NOT a parable, feel free, but I suspect you can find no evidence to back up that position. Further, I didn't make the claim that the Exodus is (at least for the purposes of this thread) literal factual history. While, you have offered no evidence that it isn't. But that's not the point.

The point is, it's a bad illustration.

First, it doesn't in any way fit into your 21st century NVDA paradigm.
Second, the story makes clear the God was the one doing the actual freeing, Moses was, at best, an unwilling participant.

So, while you could conjure up some sort allegorical meaning from the Exodus, you have to jettison so much inconvenient baggage that it doesn't really make your case for what you do in your community.

Don't misunderstand me, I have no problem with what you are doing in a general sense. I just don't see any parallel between either of your examples, and your community organizing.

There is no point in rehashing the larger disagreement. You have no independent evidence to back up your supposition, and I don't have the inclination to go back and research (again) the support for the position that the Exodus is historical. I will say that given the fact that when Jesus and Paul established the sacrament of communion, they both seemed to believe that it was based in actual events.

To answer your specific questions.

I see no reason to revisit why I believe the Exodus to be historical. I've done so before at length, and you've not really provided anything to specifically refute anything. So why do that again.

It could be considered an LSD trip, but that doesn't really give your original contention any more support. I fail to see "It could be X" to be any sort of evidence based compelling argument. So feel free to speculate all you want.

Since you've given little n the way of anything but conjecture, on which to evaluate the story, I'd have to say that as a general rule conjecture isn't enough to make any sort of reasonable evaluation of any sort of truth claim.

Alan said...

"Don't answer too quickly, please. Just consider: Is the sum total of the reason to take it as a literal history that, this is the way it's traditionally been considered?"

I didn't read the previous post, but meh. People have considered things to be literal history for far flimsier reasons than that. Exhibit A: Pretty much any US grade school history textbook, cover to cover. :)

Dan Trabue said...


My point was, and is, that the your original post did not treat the Exodus story as a parable. You treated is as history.

I treated it as a story. The literal historic veracity of the story was irrelevant to my post.

I treated both stories AS stories.

IF I was making the case that "God sometimes will swoop in and wipe out the children of our enemies and so we can warn oppressors of that and scare 'em into submission," THEN the literal veracity of the story would matter. In my case, I didn't say that and the point stands regardless if the story referenced was an epic, a parable or literal history.

Where specifically am I mistaken?

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