When it comes to history and archaeology,
not all evidence holds equal value. For example, what would it take to demonstrably prove that
the Egyptian pharaoh, Rameses II was indeed a real person?
If we have just one written account about his life, written hundreds of years after
he died, even if it’s a full book, that’s not the best evidence. After all, we have
stories about Hercules, Odysseus, Robin Hood, Gilgamesh, King Arthur, and many others who
may or may not have even been real people. A bit better than that are contemporary accounts
– written during the life of the person in question either by them or by a scribe.
First-hand contemporary accounts are obviously more reliable than contemporary second-hand
accounts, and it gets increasingly worse the further down the game of telephone you go. It helps if the stories are based in real
locations, but again, that’s still not quite good enough. After all, while Troy and Athens
were in fact real places, the Iliad and the Odyssey are mythical stories. And the existence
of London doesn’t prove the events of Harry Potter. Statues, coins, pottery or other artifacts
dating to the time of the person in question with the names and faces of that person on
them (like coins featuring Caesar) are pretty good. “How much were you looking to get out of it?” “I need about $3.50” But still not necessarily conclusive. For
example, we have ancient Greek pots featuring the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Which
is obviously myth. Now all of these pieces of evidence can add
up to make a more compelling case for the historicity of a character or event.
But the gold standard, if we wanted to demonstrably prove the existence of someone is to find
the body. That’s not always possible, but in the case of Rameses II, we don’t just
have a tomb or skeleton, we have an entire necropolis, telling the tales of the victories
of his life, marked with his name (or cartouche), containing his preserved mummified corpse,
buried in the style of the pharaohs, dating to the time of his death. And we can even
sequence his DNA and the DNA of his ancestors and descendent’s preserved corpses to see
if they match. And on top of that, there are even contemporary
mentions of him located in foreign countries. Now, this still doesn’t mean that all of
the accounts of Rameses II’s great military campaigns are accurate. And people have a
tendency to brag and stories become embellished into legends over time.
“When he sets up his record of the Battle of Kadesh, Ramessese proves that he’s the
greatest spin-doctor of the ancient world.” “The carvings tell the story, not of an inconclusive
truce, but a clear cut victory. But there’s a reason that no respectable
historian or Egyptologist doubts the existence of Rameses II.
Let’s compare that to the story of Joshua in the Bible – arguably one of the most important
characters in Old Testament history, leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. So
just how good is the evidence for Joshua? Well, we don’t have a mummy, or a skeleton,
or even a tomb. Oh, and uh, don’t be thrown when someone shows you something like this
and says, “Look it’s Joshua’s tomb.” There are many many sites like this proposed
as Joshua’s tomb hundreds, sometimes thousands of years after his death including locations
in Turkey, Israel, the West Bank, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon – all claiming to be Joshua’s
tomb. Truth is, no one knows where he was buried, if he lived at all.
There are no contemporary artifacts mentioning Joshua (foreign or Israeli). And the only
contemporary artifact mentioning Israel itself AT ALL is the Merneptah Stele constructed
in Egypt around 1209 BCE. It is currently the oldest archaeological mention of Israel,
period, and records how Israel was utterly laid waste.
As I mentioned in my first Nothing Fails Like Bible History video, we know that during this
time period, the land of Canaan was under Egyptian control. We know this because of
remnants of Egyptian mines and fortresses in modern-day Israel that date to this time
period, as well as diplomatic correspondences from that time period and numerous contemporary
written records of battle victories in addition to the over 680 archeological objects that
you can see for yourself currently on display at the “Pharaoh in Canaan” exhibit at
the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. So, if the Biblical timeline was true, this
would directly coincide with the time period that Joshua was allegedly growing a massive
Israelite army that was pillaging and conquering the land of Canaan.
Wait, so the only evidence that we have from this time period that the people of Israel
even existed completely contradicts the Biblical narrative?
Uh oh! So there’s no body of Joshua, no tomb, no
contemporary artifacts backing up this story. And what we know about the region from archaeological
evidence runs contrary to the Biblical narrative. Do we at least have a first-person account
written by Joshua? No. Do we have any eye-witness accounts who saw the events first-hand? No.
What about the Bible itself and the Book of Joshua?
Well, we don’t know who the author of the Book of Joshua was, but they very clearly
indicate that it’s not a first-hand account. The anonymous author never says, “this is
what I witnessed or this is what I saw or did.” Instead, they recount stories second-hand,
saying things like these events took place “as it was written in the book of Jashar.”
The book of Jashar? We know absolutely nothing about the book
of Jashar! We don’t know who wrote it, we don’t know when it was written – if it was
even a first-hand account. We don’t even have a copy of it! So we have at best a second,
if not third or fourth-hand account citing a source no longer in existence, written years,
possibly centuries after the fact. The author even tells how Joshua slaughtered
the Amorite kings, threw their bodies in caves, and placed large rocks at the entrance, and
noting that “At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks, which are there to this
day.” “To this day” – implying that a great
deal of time has passed since the story being re-told.
Even most Biblical Christian scholars agree that this story was not written by Joshua
or even by a first-hand witness, but was most likely written down sometime around the reign
of King Josiah, centuries after the fact. Centuries after the fact! Sure, the story of Joshua mentions real locations
that actually existed. But in terms of historicity, that’s about all it has going for it. But
remember, the story of King Arthur also takes place in a real location – England. But whether
or not King Arther was or was not a real person, doesn’t make the magical story of the sword
in the stone any less of an embellishment. In the same way, the Israelites may or may
not have once had a leader named Joshua. The evidence for his existence is extremely shoddy.
But even if the legends are based on a real person, that doesn’t make them true.
When Christians say, “There’s so much evidence for the stories in the Bible,” like the story
of Joshua, I think that what they may be referring to are things like this:
A sculpture made almost 3000 years after the fact.
Or this: A painting made almost 2800 years after the
fact. Yes, there’s a lot of people who talk about
this story, but no matter how many songs, books, or poems are written, movies filmed,
paintings painted, or statues carved – hundreds or even thousands of years later, based on
second or third hand translated accounts, passed down through the generations – the
fact remains the same. This is not evidence. It’s a perpetuation of mythology.
It blows my mind to see Bible-believing Christians doubt things like Sandy Hook or the moon-landing,
or who think that the earth is flat – here, in the information age, with real-time live
streaming of events. And yet without batting an eye, they will swallow whole a three-thousand-year-old
story with no corroborating evidence, written centuries after it allegedly happened by anonymous
authors based on at least second, third, or fourth, or even fifth-hand accounts. They’ll
wash it down with a hymn and call it a Sunday. And mind you, these aren’t just stories
about battles or everyday phenomena. The Book of Joshua is about utterly preposterous pseudoscientific
legends. Magically parting the Jordan river, toppling the walls of Jericho by yelling at
them, and worst of all, making the sun stand still in the sky. Which I’m going to have
to cover in my next video. But you’ve gotta face it Christians, you’ve
got a pretty low standard of evidence when it comes to the historicity of your Bible.
And this is yet another example of how nothing fails like Bible history.
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