About three years ago I was serving as a youth ministries leader at a local church in Fishers, Indiana. A student of mine came to me with concerns over some material being taught in his history class at Fishers High School. He told me that the teacher was making a rather deliberate effort to discredit the Bible in his recent lectures on monotheistic religions. I asked to see the material being taught. I found it rather unsettling that this high school instructor was not teaching from a published history text book, but rather from his own supplementary material. And when I actually read the material I was shocked as to how inaccurate, misrepresentative, and outright absurd this material was! Needless to say I immediately began researching for a thorough refutation of such bogus claims in an effort to restore my student’s faith in the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible. The following is my finished refutation of Mr. Chris Edwards’ supplementary history curriculum entitled “Monotheism: and the People of the Book.”…
Mr. Chris Edwards, Social Studies instructor at Fishers High School in Fishers Indiana, has authored a sizable amount of material regarding the history of monotheistic religions, entitled “Religion: Monotheism and the People of the Book.” Mr. Edwards is using his supplementary material as required text reading in his history classes, rather than a traditional published textbook. I have two concerns regarding Mr. Edwards’ work: the first being that large and significant portions of the information presented by Mr. Edwards are historically false. In fact to say that some of the material is historically inaccurate would be a drastic understatement as a significant amount of his material clearly demonstrates only two possibilities – either Mr. Edwards has not conducted sufficient research regarding the topics being presented, or he is intentionally giving false information to his students (and I certainly hope the former, and not the latter). My second concern is that there are portions of his work that seem to have very little or nothing to do with the primary subject, but are instead irrelevant diversions from the facts which seem to be motivated by a certain “passion” Mr. Edwards holds towards religion, and Christianity in particular. His material frequently contains rather anti-Christian remarks (some subliminal and others quite obvious and blatant), the nature of which could be considered slanderous. It appears as though Mr. Edwards is using the public school classroom as a means to propagate his personal opinions regarding religion, rather than teaching history from the facts. My work will address specific issues in order of appearance in Mr. Edwards’ work in a point-by-point outlined format noting each false claim Mr. Edwards makes; and then refute them with historically verifiable, credible, and documented sources. I will also address the apparent anti-Christian bigotry that appears throughout his work.
1. Mr. Edwards writes “Judaism came first and then evolved into Christianity which then evolved into Islam. All three came from the same source.” (p223. ¶3). While it is true that the three religions trace their beginnings back to Abraham, it is absurd to claim that Christianity evolved into Islam! Mr. Edwards offers no citation for this claim, nor does he defend it with any evidence. It is simply presented to the students without question as if it were an established fact.
2. Mr. Edwards claims that the devotional study of scripture does not consider historical facts, but is isolated and confined to matters of doctrine and theology. He says “In most churches, mosques, or temples, these books are read with a devotional approach, meaning that people read them for inspiration or for theological reasons. There is nothingwith this approach but it differs considerably from how an historian looks at the texts.” (p223. ¶4) Mr. Edwards is creating a dividing line between theological studies and historical studies as though Christians or Muslims do not consider the historical validity of the writings they believe to be sacred. This is far from being true – there are many Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike who hold impressive credentials from respected institutions who have devoted their lives to the study of these sacred texts from historical, archeological, and scientific perspectives. It appears as though Mr. Edwards is claiming that religious people are ignorant of the historicity of the texts they believe to be sacred, and those studies are better left to the hands of the “expert historians,” which is a dramatic misrepresentation of the truth.
3. Mr. Edwards says “Exhaustive archaeological searches of the Middle East have not turned up any historical evidence in favor of the claims made in Exodus…” (p224. ¶2). He goes on to claim the same regarding the historicity of the New Testament events (which I shall address in some of the latter items of this response.) Mr. Edwards offers no citation at all for any of these claims, and the reality of the matter is that they couldn’t be further from the truth. As I mentioned, I will address the New Testament issues in a later point, therefore I will specifically address the first claim regarding the historicity of Exodus in this point. Recent studies have discovered vast amounts of historical evidence that support the historicity of the events recorded in the Book of Exodus. Listed below are just a small handful of examples of historical evidence that confirm the historicity of the Exodus account cited from Dr. Lennart Moller, a DNA research scientist out of Stockholm who also specializes in marine biology and Biblical archeology. His book, “The Exodus Case” which is now in its third expanded edition, contains over 450 pages of archeological and historical discoveries which confirm the historical accuracy and credibility of the Book of Exodus.
- A.) Hebrew Population in Egypt Centuries Pre-Exodus: Archeological discoveries have confirmed the presence of ancient Israel in the Nile Delta region prior to the exodus. In 1966 an archeological team led by Dr. Manfred Bietak unearthed an entire community of structures at a location called “Tel Eldaba” that are clearly not of Egyptian design, but were identical to ancient Israelite structures spanning multiple centuries. These ruins, found in Stratum D-2 which dates to the estimated time of Joseph, are now believed to be the earliest Israelite establishment in Egypt.
- B.) Hebrew Enslavement by Egyptian Empire: The event of the Egyptian enslavement of the nation of Israel is depicted in an 18th Dynasty Egyptian tomb painting which shows foreign slaves making bricks. Inscriptions on this wall translate “the rod is in my hand; be not idle” confirming the account of a likely Israelite enslavement around the time of the 18th Dynasty, which according to scripture, is the most likely time of the exodus.
- C.) Hebrew Presence in Canaan Post-Exodus: At “Tel Amarna” in Egypt, archeologists have uncovered a series of letters in the form of stone tablets which were authored by Canaanite rulers, and date to about the 14th century B.C. The content of the letters reveal desperate pleas to the current Egyptian Pharaoh, Akinatin, for military assistance in defending Canaan from nomadic invaders. One of the tablets suggests that if Pharaoh does not act that “…all of Canaan will be lost.” These nomadic invaders were identified by the name of “Apiru,” which is a generic term for nomads, wanderers, or stateless people. Many scholars believe the term “Apiru” is the origin of the term “Hebrew” which refers to the Israelite people, for they were a nomadic tribe at the time. I pause briefly to note the logical conclusions from points A, B, and C: if archeology demonstrates that Israel was present in Egypt prior to the 18th Dynasty, as well as confirms an Israelite presence in Canaan sometime between 1400 and 1200 B.C., then the obvious conclusion is that Israel did in fact migrate from Egypt to Canaan, and therefore; the exodus did occur.
- D.) Reasons for Lack of Evidential Discovery: Often times rumors are started and eventually become tradition. Unfortunately this rings all too true when it comes to Biblical archeology. The traditional and most well-known site for Mt. Sinai (Mt. Horeb) is located in the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, and is called today by the name of Jabal Musa (Mountain of Moses). Since Mt. Sinai is somewhat of a “checkpoint” destination for Israel before entering Canaan, it acts as a point of reference, and therefore all the exodus events must by nature take place between this location and Goshen. Logically if Mt. Sinai has been misidentified it will affect all of the supposed locations of the other significant events that took place between Israel’s enslavement and their arriving at Mt. Sinai. The primary reason that there has been such a lack of evidence is not because there is no evidence – it is because the majority of archeologists have been using the traditional identification of Mt. Sinai as their reference point rather than the details of the Biblical text, and therefore they are simply looking in the wrong places.
- E.) Clues to the True Location of Mt. Sinai: The Biblical text is quite clear that following the Red Sea crossing, Israel arrived in the land of Midean. Ancient Midean is not located in the Sinai Peninsula, but rather on the western coast of what is now Saudi Arabia. It is here that Israel made their way to the foot of Mt. Sinai. The traditional location of Mt. Sinai in the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt is simply that… tradition. There simply are no evidential reasons to believe that this traditional location may be the real Mt. Sinai, yet there are numerous evidential reasons to believe that Mt. Sinai is actually somewhere in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Many ancient Jewish writings dating long before the times of Christian tradition locate Mt. Sinai in Midianite lands. The Septuagint (250 B.C.) translators concluded that Mt. Sinai was somewhere in the Arabian Peninsula. Paul also located Mt. Sinai in Arabia (Galatians 4:25). The 1st century Jewish historian, Josephus, described Mt. Sinai as “the highest of mountains… in the city of Madian,” which was located on ancient maps in Arabia. This city was excavated by archeologists in 1980 in Saudi Arabia.
- F.) Recent Archeological Discoveries: There is a significant amount of archeological discovery that could lend to a very compelling case to the actual location of Mt. Sinai, and the true location of the Red Sea Crossing, as well as confirming the historical accuracy of the Biblical account.
1. Mt. Sinai: Searches in Saudi Arabia for a mountain matching the Biblical description have turned up a very likely possibility – a mountain called Jabal Al Lawz. It is a jagged peak more than 8,000 feet in elevation and unusually blackened near the peak as though it were burned. Rocks at the peak of this mountain have been cracked open, and what was found is that the color of the rock inside is completely different than the blackened exterior, which suggests that this discoloration is something foreign to the rock itself. Could this be the scorched top of a mountain that was once burned with fire as described in scripture? (Deuteronomy 9:18) At the foot of the mountain was found a large unnatural pile of boulders about 15 feet high, and 60 feet across, and flattened across the top giving the appearance of being intentionally constructed. Etched into the stones were petroglyphs of Egyptian styled cattle and bulls. Saudi Arabian government must suspect this to be something of importance because the site is fenced off as a government-restricted area. Could this be the remnant of an altar built by the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai as recorded in scripture? (Exodus 32:5) Satellite images reveal a large nearby flat plain of more than 10,000 acres. This flatland is located near what is now a dried up riverbed, and also contains acacia trees. Could this be the location of the encampment of Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai? (Exodus 19) Just west of Jabal Al Lawz stands an enormous upright boulder reaching about 60 feet in height, and is split in half from top to bottom. Archeologists have documented evidence of water erosion in the rocks beneath this gigantic split boulder. Could this be the rock that Moses struck at the command of God to provide Israel with water? (Exodus 17:5-6) If Jabal El Lawz in Saudi Arabia is in fact the true Mt. Sinai, it means Israel migrated from the Nile Delta region to Saudi Arabia, and not to the southern area of the Sinai Peninsula as tradition suggests. These locations serve as two reference points for the exodus, which according to the Biblical account must be separated by a vast body of water.
2. The Red Sea: The Red Sea Crossing according to the traditional site of Mt. Sinai must have taken place along the waters west of the Sinai Peninsula. Locations proposed include multiple inland salt water lakes, reed marshes, as well as the northern end of the Gulf of Suez. However none of these small and shallow bodies of water, nor their surrounding geography match the Biblical description of the location where Pharaoh’s army encountered Israel. These locations are considered based on the assumption of the traditional location of Mt. Sinai being in the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. This is a very plausible explanation as to why no archeological evidence has been discovered in these areas. However, if Mt. Sinai is in fact Jabal Al Lawz in northwestern Saudi Arabia, an entirely new set of possibilities become available to consider! The Biblical account describes Israel being commanded of God to detour into a dense wilderness to have Pharaoh believe that they are trapped. The text also says Israel was gathered on a beach head along the coast of the Red Sea and clearly located outside the borders of the Egypt, which contradicts the traditional site of Mt. Sinai being located in the Sinai Peninsula because that area was controlled by the Egyptian empire at the suggested time of the exodus. The text describes the Red Sea as “…a great deep,” “…the mighty waters,” and “…the depths of the sea,” which contradict theories of Israel crossing a shallow reed marsh or inland lake. According to these details from the text, many archeologists now propose that the Red Sea crossed by Israel is in fact the Gulf of Aqaba (the northeastern “arm” of the Red Sea), an incredibly deep body of water separating the Sinai Peninsula from Saudi Arabia. The western coast of the Gulf of Aqaba is a dense wilderness of rugged mountains, canyons, and dry riverbeds, one of which leads to a very distinct beach head extending into the waters called the Nuweiba peninsula. Could this be the location of Israel’s gathering after making their way through the canyons? If this is the true location of the Red Sea Crossing one might expect to find archeological evidence of an 18th Dynasty Egyptian pursuit at the bottom of the Gulf of Aqaba between the coasts of Nuweiba and Saudi Arabia. In the 1970’s, Ron Wyatt observed what appear to be circular shapes of coral on the sea bed of the Gulf of Aqaba between Nuweiba and Saudi Arabia. While these unusual shapes are still unconfirmed, they do seem unnatural and peculiar. Dr. Lennart Moller has returned to the site and captured underwater video footage and photographs of these circular corals. He and his dive team confirmed the presence of metallic substances within these coral formations by the use of metal detectors. Could these be the remains of Egyptian chariot wheels? Also, bone fragments of both horse and human origin have also been discovered at this location at the bottom of the Gulf of Aqaba. Could these be the remnants of an Egyptian pursuit of a fleeing Israel through the dry paths of the bottom of the Red Sea which was drowned by the returning of parted waters? (Exodus 14:21-28).
When each of these evidences are examined together, they form an extremely compelling case for the authenticity and historicity of the Biblical account of the Exodus. Though some may be persuaded and others remain skeptical of the supernatural elements of the Exodus account (such as the actual parting of the Red Sea), it is hard to imagine how anyone, after these discoveries, can claim that there is no evidence for the Exodus at all! There is a difference between being skeptical of the evidence, and denying evidence exists. Mr. Edwards might remain unconvinced by the evidence presented, but to say there is no evidence is simply not true. The only way Mr. Edwards can assert that there is no evidence for the historicity of the Exodus is out of ignorance that such evidence exists. But thanks to the aforementioned points, there is no excuse to remain in denial of evidence – one must render his own verdict of whether or not the evidence is enough to convince.
4. Mr. Edwards is very vague in his terminology which causes confusion to those reading his material. He writes “In exchange for their belief, the Jews were to get things.” (p225 ¶4). One of the marks of good scholarship is to clearly define one’s terms, which Mr. Edwards does not. Instead he uses very imprecise language which struggles to communicate whatever point Mr. Edwards was attempting to make regarding the Jews covenant promise of “getting things.” This kind of arbitrary presentation of history is a primary cause of the vast misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding true nature of religious beliefs, which leads to unnecessary hostility between both sides (being those doing the misrepresenting, and those being misrepresented) engaged in the conflict.
5. Mr. Edwards is apparently misinformed regarding the Jewish sacred texts. He writes “The Old Testament, a faith-based history of the early Jews… is the only “holy” book and is also known as the Torah, or, less often, the Five Books of Moses.” (p226. ¶2). The text called the Old Testament includes not only the Torah (the Law / Books of Moses), but also includes the Nevai’im (The Historical Books) and the Ketuvim (The Prophetic Books). Torah is only a portion of the Old Testament, which is called the Tanakh. Also, his usage of the term “faith-based” in regards to the Torah is only partially true. Though the Torah does record supernatural events that transcend the physical sciences, much of the Old Testament’s records are in fact historically, geographically, and scientifically accurate. The Old Testament is not only a faith-based history, but a fact-based history as well; implying a harmonious balance of faith and reason.
6. Mr. Edwards quotes Christopher Catherwood’s book “A Brief history of the Middle East” in regards to the historicity of Moses. Edwards quotes Catherwood saying, “One expert has said that the dates for Moses vary by a full 300 years either way.” (p227. ¶1). Even if the statement is accurate it would not call into question the historicity of Moses or the Exodus. History is full of estimated dates of events that are questionable in their exact dating, and yet nearly certain in their historicity. Why should Moses be treated any differently?
7. Mr. Edwards appeals to the argument of mythological similarities as a means of criticizing the story of the infant Moses in the basket being rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. He quotes the Oxford Companion to the Bible saying, “Many of the stories are legendary in character and are built on the folktale motifs found in various cultures. The theme of the threatened child who eventually becomes a great figure, for example was employed from Mesopotamia to Rome.” (p227. ¶3). I would simply like to point out the fallacy of the argument in that mythology is generally not based upon real historical human beings who really existed in real historical timelines in real historical locations. Similar comparisons have been made of Jesus Christ to other mythological figures in an attempt to claim that Jesus was in fact a created myth himself. But the truth is that Moses and Jesus Christ were not mythical figures, but real human beings that existed in history, and the fact that mythological figures share similarities with Jesus or Moses does not disprove the historicity of Jesus or Moses. If similarities to mythological figures invalidate the historicity of a person, why then is this logic not applied to all historical figures consistently? The rules of determining the historicity of a non-Biblical figure (such as Socrates, Plato, or even George Washington) for some reason are not considered valid for proving the historicity of Biblical figures. Historical figures, whether religiously significant or not, must all be evaluated on the same basis. If this logic (mythological similarities to historical figures are evidence for exaggerated embellishment) were to be applied to all historical figures, it would mean that every account of any historical figure who overcame threats in their youth to rise to greatness must therefore be an embellishment due to the influence of myth! Of course nobody would rationally believe this logic, which is why it is absurd to discredit the accounts of historical figures, religiously significant or not, on the basis that they bare similarities to mythological stories. Biblical historical figures are often victims of biased double-standard interpretation because many people have an bias against Christianity and desire to do anything they can to discredit the Bible’s claims.
8. Mr. Edwards frequently interjects his personal opinion into the history lessons as though it is part of the facts. He writes “God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and also set down the rules, some very harsh and some very caring, for the Jewish tribe…” (p228. ¶2). Again I stress that Mr. Edwards’ opinion about the harsh or caring nature of God’s laws is irrelevant to the historical facts. The public school history classroom is not the proper place to teach personal opinion. If Mr. Edwards wishes to communicate his personal ideas, I suggest he do the research on his own time and publish a book at his own expense, rather than exploiting the study time of high-school students at the expense of taxpayer dollars.
9. Mr. Edwards becomes quite confusing at the particular point in his work in which he begins to address the Israelite conquest of Canaan (the historicity of which he is also critical, as one might imagine). He gives a rather lengthy and detailed quote (about a half page) from Jonathan Kirsch’s book “God Against the Gods.” It seems as though Mr. Edwards is attempting to draw a significant amount of attention to the graphic nature of the conquest of Canaan (subliminally hinting that God is violent and immoral – a personal opinion that would be irrelevant to the material), but following the lengthy quotation he says, “It doesn’t matter; the Jews were now in Canaan.” (p229. ¶3). If it doesn’t matter, why in the world would Mr. Edwards have wasted over a half page on the matter? Why is Mr. Edwards wasting the time and resources of the school, and the students, teaching about things that even he himself recognizes as irrelevant to the historical value of the lesson? It makes no sense at all! Again, I strongly suggest that Mr. Edwards focus more on presenting the historical facts and less on presenting his personal opinions when teaching in the public school classroom.
10. Mr. Edwards quotes J.M. Roberts on the nature of Jewish worship. Mr. Roberts says that Judaism was “a form of religion not dependent on temples, shrines, or priesthood for its exercise.” (p231. ¶3). How any historian could make such a claim is shockingly confounding! The traditions of Judaism are very clearly built upon the foundation of the temple/tabernacle, and the ritual sacrifices which were prepared and offered by a sacred priesthood! The entire book of Leviticus acts as an instruction manual for the priestly service regarding temple rituals, including the numerous types of sacrifices conducted in and around the Tabernacle. To deny the significance of the temple or the priesthood in the Jewish tradition is just astounding! This raises tremendous questions in regards to the credibility of J.M. Roberts as a historian, particularly in regards to the history of the Judeo-Christian faith. Any supposed historian, such as J.M. Roberts, who makes such a drastic and ignorant mistake should not be considered or consulted as a valid source of this particular subject in history.
11. Quite possibly the most radical claim proposed in Mr. Edwards’ work is his denial of historical evidence for the life of Jesus Christ outside of the Gospel accounts of Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. Mr. Edwards boldly states without any citation at all, “We have no other evidence for the life of Jesus, or of his words, other than what is written in the ‘gospels.’” (p233. ¶1). He attests to this claim again on p238, ¶2. These claims are either the height of ignorance, or the most blatant of lies – neither of which should be acceptable in the public school setting! The following small handful of citations compiled by Dr. Steve Waldron, many of which are ancient first-hand sources dating to the time of Christ or shortly after, offer tremendous credibility to the historicity of the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth:
- A.) Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 A.D.): Tacitus is considered to have been the greatest historian of Rome. In his recording of the fires of 64 A.D. he writes… “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on the class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate…” (Tacitus. “Annals.” 15.44)
- B.) Gaius Suetonias Tranquillas (69-140 A.D.): Seutonias was a court official under the emperor Hadrian. His most famous work, “Life of the Twelve Caesars,” mentions both Christ and the Christians. He writes, “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.” (Seutonias. “Life of Claudius.” 25.4).
- C.) Pliny the Younger (112 A.D.): Plinius Secondus (Pliny the Younger) in corresponding with Emperor Trajan, wrote of the Christians and their worship of Christ. He writes “…they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn, and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as God and to bind themselves by oath…” (Pliny. “Letters.” 10.96)
- D.) Lucian of Samosta (120-180 A.D.): Lucian was a well known rhetorician of his day and had this to say about Christ and the Christians; “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.” (Lucian of Samosta. “The Death of Peregrine.” 11-13.)
- E.) Mara Bar Serapion (73 A.D.): Mara Bar Serapion was a prisoner from Syria who wrote a letter to his son encouraging him to seek wisdom. In it he mentions the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Jesus. He writes, “What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished… Nor did the wise king die for good; he lives on in the teaching which he had given.”
- F.) Thallus, the Historian (52 A.D.): Thallus was a Samaritan historian. His writing concerning the crucifixion is preserved as being quoted by Julius Africanus in about 221 A.D. Africanus quotes Thallus saying, “Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun – unreasonably as it seems to me.” This is obviously in reference to the three-hour darkness from 12 noon to 3 pm during the crucifixion of Christ. Thallus was apparently attempting to find a natural explanation for the darkness rather than deny the event.
- G.) Phlegon (1st Century): Phlegon, a 1st century historian also mentions the mysterious darkness at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. Julius Africanus, Origen, and Philopon all comment on Phlegon’s account of the darkness. Philopon comments on Phlegon’s work writing, “Phlegon mentioned the eclipse which took place during the crucifixion of the Lord Christ, and no other. It is clear that he did not know from his sources about any eclipse in previous times… and this is shown by the historical account itself of Tiberius Caesar.” (Philopon on Phlegon. “Olympiads.”)
- H.) Hierocles (3rd – 4th Century): Hierocles was a proconsul of Bithynia and Alexandria during the later 3rd and early 4th century A.D. He attempted to discredit Christianity by claiming that Jesus was inferior to the Pythagorean miracle worker Apollonius of Tyana in both power and virtue, however in doing so, he unintentionally gives testimony to Christ’s historicity and the fact that miracles were performed by him. (“Treatise of Eusebius.” chp2.; quoting Hierocles. “Philalethes.” In addition to this, the Encyclopedia Britanica 15th Edition states, “these independent accounts prove that in ancient times even the opponents of Christianity never doubted the historicity of Jesus, which was disputed for the first time and on inadequate grounds by several authors at the end of the 18th, during the 19th, and the beginning of the 20th centuries.”
- I.) Flavius Josephus (37-100 A.D.): Josephus was a Jewish historian living favorably to Roman rule. He mentions Jesus quite frequently in his most famous work “The History of the Jews.” While some suspect that later Christians interpolated the references to Christ, the authenticity of the writing is testified by Arabic manuscripts of the passage. It reads, “At this time there was a man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” This same Arabic text also says “We have found in many books of the philosophers that they refer to the day of the crucifixion of Christ.” (Arabic X cent: quoting Josephus. “Antiquities.” 18.33). Josephus also recounts the martyrdom of James, brother of Jesus as he writes, “…so he (the High Priest) assembled a council of the judges and brought before the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered over to be stoned.” (Josephus. “Antiquities.” 9.1).
- J.) Other Ancient Jewish Writings: As early as the 1st century, Jewish writings make reference to Jesus (though usually in a negative perspective). However Jews may have portrayed Jesus, his historicity was never questioned. The Tol’doth Yeshu, the Babylonian Talmud, the Mishnah, and other sources, all make mention of Christ, his genealogical record before the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., and his crucifixion on the eve of Passover. His working of miracles and the fact that he had disciples is also mentioned in these works, indicating that such things were well-known to the populous of the time.
While many refuse to believe the metaphysical claims of the scriptures regarding the deity and incarnation of Jesus Christ, or whether he performed miracles or not, it is quite absurd to think that anybody could possibly deny his historicity as a genuine human being. Even Dr. Bart Ehrman, the leading critical scholar of the New Testament and self-professed happy agnostic, commented on the historicity of Jesus Christ in an interview with David Barrett in 2007 saying: “I think the evidence is just so overwhelming that Jesus existed, that it’s silly to talk about him not existing. I don’t know anyone who is a responsible historian, who is actually trained in the historical method, or anybody who is a biblical scholar who does this for a living, who gives any credence at all to any of this [Christ-myth theory].” As stated before, one can choose to deny the supernatural claims regarding Jesus of Nazareth, but to deny or even question that Jesus existed as a real historical figure, one must be very insufficiently researched in the matter and completely ignorant of the facts, or one must be willing to distort the facts to fit one’s biased agenda toward presuppositions that find Christianity to be hostile.
12. Mr. Edwards, apparently very passionate about this particular subject, reiterates on p238, ¶2, “Outside of the religious writings, we know nothing about Jesus,” and the proceeds to quote A.N. Wilson who says, “…no real evidence can be found for Jesus’ arrest and execution.” I must question; if the above mentioned ancient first-hand sources are not acceptable as “real evidence,” then what is acceptable? By these standards one must conclude that William Shakespeare did not exist, for we have not discovered a single manuscript of any of his literary works! By these standards we must invalidate practically all of antiquity (unless we allow for the application of double-standard validation for the non-religious historical claims.)
13. Mr. Edwards writes, “The Christians were a very divided group without a real core philosophy and they were isolated.” (p240, ¶2). It is quite fascinating that Mr. Edwards refuses to accept the account of the ancient documents, and presents his own version of the history instead – amazingly without any citation of proof of his claim! This particular claim is in significant contrast to the account given in the ancient documents of the Biblical text, as well as the testimony of the early Christians that immediately followed the Disciples. The Book of Acts is clear and emphatic that the early Christians were “of one mind and one accord,” “had all things common,” and “continued diligently in the Apostles’ Doctrine.” (Acts 2). This is hardly the picture of a divided group without a core philosophy. Paul was also emphatic about the importance of the original gospel message which was preached by the Apostles themselves as he writes to various churches saying things like “though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel, let him be condemned.” (Galatians 1:8-9). Whether one believes the spiritual aspects of the Bible or not, it is just not logical to deny the historical first-hand documentation of the texts regarding the nature of the Apostles’ condition in favor of the undocumented opinion of a high-school history teacher of 2000+ years removed.
14. Mr. Edwards misrepresents the Biblical text as he writes, “One follower, John, ran to the desert and wrote the Book of Revelations, now in the Bible.” (p240, ¶3). The Biblical text is clear that John did not “run to the desert,” but was exiled to the Isle of Patmos via the Roman persecution under orders of Domitian in 95 A.D. While the direct orders of John’s exile may not be historically verifiable, one thing is for certain – John was on Patmos when he wrote Revelation, and we have no historical leadings which indicate that John ran to the desert. I admit this particular point is a minor mater of semantics, but it just goes to show that Mr. Edwards is obviously not too concerned about getting the facts correct or fairly representing the Biblical text. This is simply sloppy and lazy scholarship.
15. Mr. Edwards, yet again, misrepresents the Biblical text as he writes, “According to the Book of Acts, one of the Christians, Stephen,… was lynched and killed by a group of Pharisees.” (p240, ¶4). The Biblical text is clear that Stephen was stoned to death, not lynched (Acts 7:59). Again – a minor issue, but demonstrates Mr. Edwards lack of concern for accuracy and thorough scholarship.
16. Mr. Edwards quoting A.N. Wilson: “If Paul was ‘converted’ ‘from’ something ‘to’ something else, it certainly was not ‘from’ Judaism ‘to’ Christianity. Paul continued to be a Jew to his dying day.” (p242, ¶2). This point is completely irrelevant. Of course Paul continued to be a Jew – all of the early Christians were Jews! All of Jesus’ disciples were Jews. All of the 120 believers who were together in Jerusalem on Pentecost following Jesus’ crucifixion were Jews. The 3,000 plus who were baptized following Peter’s Pentecost sermon were Jews. There were no non-Jewish Christians until Peter went to the house of Cornelius in Acts chapter 10. The idea that Paul continued to be a Jew presents no conflict with his conversion on the Damascus Road because Christianity at the time was not referred to as “Christianity” but rather it was viewed and treated as a sect of Judaism. The term “Christian” was first implied at Antioch, and not by Christians themselves, but by others, and was originally used as a degrading remark or insult. Christianity is a faith that transcends culture – it knows no ethnic, racial, economic, gender, or age boundaries. The Bible is clear that Christianity is a faith made up of all kinds of people from all different ethnicities, races, tribes, or lineages (Galatians 3:28). Within the universal church can be Arabic Christians, Japanese Christians, Slavic Christians, German Christians, Brazilian Christians, American Christians, etc. Yes, Paul was a Jew and never stopped being a Jew – but he was also a Christian. He was a Jew by nationality and a Christian by faith. There is no contradiction here.
17. Again quoting A.N. Wilson, “In the course of the next thirty years he [Paul] would mythologize it and try to come to terms with its meaning. The most hideous form of torture became the cause of sublime, blood-curdling boasting.” Mr. Wilson’s claim that Paul “mythologized” the crucifixion is presented in total lack of detailed support – how exactly was the crucifixion “mythologized” by Paul? Paul’s obsession with the crucifixion is obviously due to the theological significance of the sacrificial atoning death of Jesus, whom he clearly believed to be the Messiah, for the sins of mankind perpetrated against God! Mr. Wilson may claim credentials in studies of history, but he clearly demonstrates ignorance in matters of theology, and therefore his opinions regarding the theological significance of the crucifixion are of no value at all. Just as those who are not educated in the field of biology should not be so arrogant as to make bold assertions regarding biology, so those who are not educated in the field of theology should not be so arrogant as to make ignorant assertions regarding matters of theology.
18. Mr. Edwards claims that Paul defended slavery (presumably conjectured from the letter Paul wrote to Philemon). I want to address this issue in two ways. The first is by examining the historical context. Sadly, this is a common objection to Christianity in America today, and is one made in ignorance. When we in 21st century America hear the word “slave” or “slavery” we immediately think of the African slave trade of the 18th and early 19th centuries. But the slavery mentioned in the Bible is not at all the same kind of slavery of the American Colonial and Civil War eras. Slavery in the Bible was not based upon racial prejudices or motivated by racism, nor did it involve the kidnapping and selling of people as property (something the Bible actually condemns in numerous places, such as Exodus 21:16 and 1st Timothy 1:8-10), nor was it a permanent situation. Slavery in the Bible was much more like what we would call indentured servitude. Men often sold themselves into slavery when they could not pay their debts, and sometimes people would willingly become slaves so they would have their needs provided by their masters. In 1st century Greco-Roman slavery, slaves were not viewed as property, but as persons with rights – rights that could be violated, in which case a slave could appeal to civil government for justice. The instructions of Paul to Philemon regarding Onesimus, and other passages about how Christian slave owners are to treat their slaves (Colossians 3:22) are to be understood from the perspective of first-century Greco-Roman slavery – not 18th and 19th century Colonial American racial slavery (which the Bible clearly condemns). It should also be noted that nowhere do Paul or any of the New Testament writers actually condone or condemn slavery. What we find is simply instruction for Christians who happen to find their lives being lived in the context of either a slave or a master. This is an example when one must carefully examine the difference between “prescriptive” and “descriptive” natures of the text. A “prescriptive” nature means that the text actually endorses said activity, idea, proposal, etc. A “descriptive” nature means that the text is merely describing something (situation, context, etc) but not necessarily endorsing or condemning it. Just because the Bible describes in detail situations involving immorality, murder, and drunkenness, does not mean the Bible is condoning such activity – it is merely being descriptive, not prescriptive. Such is the case with Paul’s references to the situation of slavery. In the case of Philemon, Paul was writing in regards to a runaway slave named Onesimus who had converted to Christianity under Paul’s ministry. Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon along with his letter instructing Philemon to receive Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. The nature of this writing is quite clear that Paul was not a proponent of slavery at all, but rather just the opposite. He instructs Philemon to receive Onesimus back not as a slave, but as a brother. Paul’s instruction “servants, obey your masters (Colossians 3:22)” was not prescriptive of slavery, but merely addressing descriptively the issue of Christian slaves who were still bound by their masters. The principle of Paul’s teaching is not so much about the issue of slavery as it is about rebellion, and the Bible’s theological focus for Christian believers is not social reform, but personal transformation. Rebellion against even unjust powers was very much against the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. Regarding Paul’s instruction to masters; again, Paul was being descriptive of a situation (recognizing the existence of slavery in the current culture) and not prescriptive of slavery. To paraphrase, Paul teaches that “If you have slaves, treat them fairly and justly remembering you are also servants a master in heaven.” This was not an endorsement of the system of slavery, but rather simply addressing how those already involved within the slavery system established by the culture should conduct themselves within the context of those situations.
19. Mr. Edwards, yet again, misrepresents the theological principles of the text. He writes, “The Christians, remember, considered themselves still linked to the Jewish tradition of the Old Testament, and they had to abide by the rules of the Old Testament unless Jesus himself had overturned those rules as he did with the dietary laws and the laws of working on the Sabbath.” (p244, ¶4). First of all, Jesus never “overturned” any of the Old Covenant stipulations, but fulfilled them with his perfect obedience to them (Mathew 5:17). The reason the Mosaic Law has become obsolete is not because it was “overturned” but because it was fulfilled by Christ. Therefore, the idea of Christians remaining under the bondage of the Old Testament law is absurd. The issue was a frequent controversy with the Jewish believers, but was clearly condemned by Paul in a majority of his writing. In fact, the whole purpose of his letter to the Galatians was to refute those Jewish Christians who claimed Christians must abide by the Old Testament law! Paul says on several occasions that Christians are not under the [Old Testament] law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). He rebukes the church in Galatia for attempting to re-assimilate the traditions of the Old Testament into their new Christian faith! He says, “If righteousness comes by keeping the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:21)”. He reiterates the point again saying, “You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! (Galatians 5:4)”. These are very strong words from Paul that clearly indicate that if Christians revert back to the Old Law, then their Christian faith is worthless.
Conclusion: According to the sources I have compiled it is quite clear that Mr. Edwards’ work “Religion: Monotheism and the People of the Book” is jam packed full of errors, inaccuracies, un-cited claims, misrepresentations, and sloppy scholarship, all interwoven with his rather blatant personal opinions which are clearly manifest as being hostile to Biblical Christianity. I have no problem with Mr. Edwards having a personal opinion. I have no problem with Mr. Edwards making any claim he wishes to make – cited or un-cited, accurate or inaccurate, opinionated or factual. What I do have a problem with is Mr. Edwards making such claims in the public school history classroom, and proselytizing his personal opinions of the matters to impressionable students who will grow into adulthood having been influenced by his errors, inaccuracies, and misrepresentations, believing them to be historical facts. I am not at all attempting to censor Mr. Edwards’ right to free speech. Mr. Edwards has the right to say whatever he wants to say, and believe whatever he wants to believe – this is America and we should uphold those constitutional rights for all people whether we agree with them or not. However, I believe Mr. Edwards should exercise his free speech in a manner and environment that does not exploit or hinder the education of the students he teaches. Mr. Edwards as an American can say whatever he wants, but Mr. Edwards as a high school history teacher should be responsible for educating our students in the field of history; and on those grounds I again reiterate my suggestion that if Mr. Edwards has an opinion regarding religion or Christianity, he should take his own time and do his own research at his own expense and publish a book to share his opinions with the world. The high school classroom, and the students of our schools, should not be used as a platform for factual errors, inaccuracies, or personal opinions to be arrogantly and ignorantly presented as facts of history.
I suggest that if Mr. Edwards wishes to be a respectable atheist or agnostic or whatever kind of Biblical skeptic he wishes to classify himself as, he should actually study what the Bible actually says so he can at least reject it intelligently rather than out of ignorance.
P.S. – OPEN CHALLENGE TO MR. EDWARDS: In the infinitesimally rare event that Mr. Edwards actually reads my little refutation of his work, – I am issuing an open challenge to you, Mr. Edwards, to engage me in public debate over any of the issues addressed in this work, at a time and place of your choosing. I eagerly await my opportunity to defend the authenticity, consistency, reliability, and authority of the Bible against any challenge you can come up with in the arena of public discourse. My only stipulation is that your students at Fishers High be in attendance for the event. The ball is in your court.