Rebuttal of Chapter 2: The Bible's Fight to Live
This is a commentary on the Watchtower Society's 1989 book The Bible: God's Word or Man's?, Chapter 2: "The Bible's Fight to Live".
The Bible's Fight to Live
THE Bible is more than just a book. It is a rich library of 66 books, some short and some quite long, containing law, prophecy, history, poetry, counsel, and much more. Centuries before the birth of Christ, the first 39 of these books were written -- mostly in the Hebrew language -- by faithful Jews, or Israelites. This part is often called the Old Testament. The last 27 books were written in Greek by Christians and are widely known as the New Testament. According to internal evidence and the most ancient traditions, these 66 books were written over a period of about 1,600 years, beginning when Egypt was a dominant power and ending when Rome was mistress of the world.
This is correct background information.
Only the Bible Survived
2 More than 3,000 years ago, when the writing of the Bible got started, Israel was just one small nation among many in the Middle East. Jehovah was their God, while the surrounding nations had a bewildering variety of gods and goddesses. During that period of time, the Israelites were not the only ones to produce religious literature. Other nations too produced written works that reflected their religion and their national values. For example, the Akkadian legend of Gilgamesh from Mesopotamia and the Ras Shamra epics, written in Ugaritic (a language spoken in what is now northern Syria), were doubtless very popular. The vast literature of that era also included works such as The Admonitions of Ipu-wer and The Prophecy of Nefer-rohu in the Egyptian language, hymns to different divinities in Sumerian, and prophetic works in Akkadian.
The other nations certainly didn't view their gods and goddesses as 'bewildering'. This is the judgment of outsiders looking in. Probably to them the Israelite practice of worshipping Jehovah seemed odd. By phrasing it this way, a subtle downplaying of other religious traditions is made, and an exalting of Israelite worship.
This paragraph only lists very few of the ancient religious texts dating from that time. There are others, as will be shown below, that share a similar rich history and influence people greatly to this day.
3 All these Middle Eastern works, however, met a common fate. They were forgotten, and even the languages they were written in became extinct. It was only in recent years that archaeologists and philologists learned of their existence and discovered how to read them. On the other hand, the first written books of the Hebrew Bible have survived right up to our own time and are still widely read. Sometimes scholars claim that the Hebrew books in the Bible were derived in some way from those ancient literary works. But the fact that so much of that literature was forgotten while the Hebrew Bible survived marks the Bible as significantly different.
Not really. This is the luck of the draw. If western civilization had decided to follow the legend of Gilgamesh, instead of the legend of Christ, then Akkadian would have survived and Hebrew may have become extinct. By saying whatever religious tradition survived must the right one is to ignore the way history works. Besides, there are many other languages and traditions that have survived to this day, but the Society doesn't comment on them. Instead they pick a few 'safe' examples to compare to the Bible.
We now see why the WTS picked those few examples of ancient religious writings -- they specifically chose examples that are now virtually forgotten and were written in now extinct languages. This allows them to make the statement in the last paragraph that the Bible is marked as significantly different. This is not a fair comparison, however. They are stacking the deck to make their point stand out.
A fairer comparison would be to compare the Bible with the Buddhist writings, or Hindu traditions, both of which survive to this day. Note these examples, and see how they differ from the examples the WTS used in the book:
From the book, Mankind's Search for God, page 102, we find this about the Hindu writings:
"The oldest writings are the Vedas, a collection of prayers and hymns known as the Rig-Veda, the Sama-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda. They were composed during several centuries and were completed about 900 B.C.E. The Vedas were later supplemented by other writings, including the Brahmanas and the Upanishads."
Here we have the longevity argument, so does the fact that people still read the Vedas today mean that God was behind it's survival?
Let's take another example from that region of the earth, Zoroastrianism. This is the ancient religion of Persia and extends to this day in Iran and India. Did you know that the prophet Zarathusthtra lived 3500 years ago, placing him contemporary with the earliest Bible writings? In addition, this was one of the first monotheistic religions.
If the WTS had compared the Bible's background with the religious writings that have survived to our day, they would not have been able to make their superiority claims about the Bible in the way they did. By choosing specific examples of writings that do not influence people today, they created a false impression.
The Guardians of the Word
4 Make no mistake, from a human standpoint the survival of the Bible was not a foregone conclusion. The communities that produced it suffered such difficult trials and bitter oppression that its survival to our day is truly remarkable. In the years before Christ, the Jews who produced the Hebrew Scriptures (the "Old Testament") were a relatively small nation. They dwelt precariously amid powerful political states that were jostling with one another for supremacy. Israel had to fight for its life against a succession of nations, such as the Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Edomites. During a period when the Hebrews were divided into two kingdoms, the cruel Assyrian Empire virtually wiped out the northern kingdom, while the Babylonians destroyed the southern kingdom, taking the people into an exile from which only a remnant returned 70 years later.
Israel was so small and insignificant that the world powers consistently gave them little notice. Yes, they eventually would fall to one power or another, but they were hardly the prime target each time.
This, however, is really beside the point. The argument being made here is that since the Jews survived as a small nation under great odds, this means God was behind them. What about the other nations or religious group, under great odds, which also survived? For example, Hinduism survived wave after wave of invasions. Was God behind them too? If not, this argument becomes meaningless.
Just a side point, it is interesting that this argument (the nation is small, threatened by more powerful neighbours, and its survival can only be attributed by divine intervention) is used for the nation of Israel prior to Jesus. But the exact same arguments can be used for modern day Israel. It continues to be a small nation, threatened by powerful neighbours, and modern day Jews continue to attribute their survival as a manifestation of divine approval.
Interestingly the WTS only uses this line of reasoning to support their argument above, but would dismiss the exact same reasoning as faulty when talking to a Jewish person today.
5 There are even reports of attempted genocide against the Israelites. Back in the days of Moses, Pharaoh ordered the murder of all their newborn baby boys. If his order had been observed, the Hebrew people would have been annihilated. (Exodus 1:15-22) Much later, when the Jews came under Persian rule, their enemies plotted to get a law passed intended to exterminate them. (Esther 3:1-15) The failure of this scheme is still celebrated in the Jewish Festival of Purim.
This is a similar point, but still not very relevant to the main idea.
6 Later still, when the Jews were subject to Syria, King Antiochus IV tried very hard to Hellenize the nation, forcing it to follow Greek customs and worship Greek gods. He too failed. Instead of being wiped out or assimilated, the Jews survived while, one after the other, most of the national groups around them disappeared from the world scene. And the Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible survived with them.
This is a common theme throughout history, and nothing unique to the Jews of that time.
7 The Christians, who produced the second part of the Bible (the "New Testament"), were also an oppressed group. Their leader, Jesus, was killed like a common criminal. In the early days after his death, Jewish authorities in Palestine tried to suppress them. When Christianity spread to other lands, the Jews hounded them, trying to hinder their missionary work. -- Acts 5:27, 28; 7:58-60; 11:19-21; 13:45; 14:19; 18:5, 6.
Nothing new here either. Struggles are endemic to history. All religious groups were oppressed at one time or another. This oppression does not, in itself, prove anything other than that people don't like people who think differently from them.
8 In the time of Nero, the initially tolerant attitude of the Roman authorities changed. Tacitus boasted of the "exquisite tortures" inflicted on Christians by that vicious emperor, and from his time on, being a Christian was a capital offense. In 303 C.E., Emperor Diocletian acted directly against the Bible. In an effort to stamp out Christianity, he ordered that all Christian Bibles should be burned.
It was too late by then. People had decided that Christianity was the way to go, and thus would hang on with their very lives. Hitler couldn't wipe out the Jews during World War II, and Diocletian couldn't wipe out all the Christian bibles. As long as people think something is worth preserving, they will do whatever it takes to keep it alive. Thus the remarkable survival of the Bible, the Koran, the Hindu writings, the Buddhist writings...
9 These campaigns of oppression and genocide were a real threat to the Bible's survival. If the Jews had gone the way of the Philistines and the Moabites or if the efforts of first the Jewish and then the Roman authorities to stamp out Christianity had succeeded, who would have written and preserved the Bible? Happily, the guardians of the Bible -- first the Jews and then the Christians -- were not wiped out, and the Bible survived. There was, however, another serious threat if not to the survival at least to the integrity of the Bible.
This whole paragraph could have been re-written to say "Happily, the guardians of Gilgamesh..." if the Akkadian traditions had remained triumphant. Again, whoever made it had bragging rights, but it proves nothing.
This subheading was just one example after another of oppression, but if one example doesn't prove the point, a dozen won't either. This is a common tactic used by the Society: resort to anecdotal evidence to bury the audience with 'facts', irregardless of their relevance to the argument at hand.
In summary, this subheading demonstrates that the nation of Israel and the Christians (the keepers of the Bible) survived wars, persecution, and attempted assimilation. And of course, in surviving, the Bible was preserved. All of this is true and factual.
Now the leap of logic occurs. Because of the above, this somehow proves the Bible is God's book. If we were to follow this logic, then this would be true of any holy writings, claiming divine inspiration, that survived wars, persecution and attempted assimilation. As already shown, the Hindu religious writings fall into this same category, and yet the WTS does not apply this same argument to these Hindu writings.
10 Many of the aforementioned ancient works that were subsequently forgotten had been engraved in stone or stamped on durable clay tablets. Not so the Bible. This was originally written on papyrus or on parchment -- much more perishable materials. Thus, the manuscripts produced by the original writers disappeared long, long ago. How, then, was the Bible preserved? Countless thousands of copies were laboriously written out by hand. This was the normal way to reproduce a book before the advent of printing.
Of course, there are literally thousands of extant Babylonian records from the brief time-period of the Jewish captivity, yet that doesn't seem to count. So far, they are making it seem that only the Bible survived, when in fact there are many writings that survived. The Society merely ignores all of the others. For examples of these Babylonian records, see the appendix to the book Let Your Kingdom Come.
11 There is, however, a danger in copying by hand. Sir Frederic Kenyon, the famous archaeologist and librarian of the British Museum, explained: "The human hand and brain have not yet been created which could copy the whole of a long work absolutely without error.... Mistakes were certain to creep in." When a mistake crept into a manuscript, it was repeated when that manuscript became the basis for future copies. When many copies were made over a long period of time, numerous human errors crept in.
Of course, it helps if people think they are copying God's word. People will do strange things if they think it is for God. Look at the Catholics who will crawl on their knees for miles in order to 'please God'. Remarkable behaviour, but when God comes into the picture, people will go to extremes that produce amazing results. Let's see how that comes into play in this subheading.
12 In view of the many thousands of copies of the Bible that were made, how do we know that this reproduction process did not change it beyond all recognition? Well, take the case of the Hebrew Bible, the "Old Testament." In the second half of the sixth century B.C.E., when the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile, a group of Hebrew scholars known as Sopherim, "scribes," became the custodians of the Hebrew Bible text, and it was their responsibility to copy those Scriptures for use in public and private worship. They were highly motivated, professional men, and their work was of the highest quality.
Again, they think they are doing it for God, so naturally they were highly motivated. All those medieval monks who produced those amazing tapestries and manuscripts thought they were serving God by doing so. It was the very belief that they were doing so that made it significant. Yet the WTS would not argue that those medieval monks were serving God accurately.
13 From the seventh century to the tenth century of our Common Era, the heirs of the Sopherim were the Masoretes. Their name comes from a Hebrew word meaning "tradition," and essentially they too were scribes charged with the task of preserving the traditional Hebrew text. The Masoretes were meticulous. For example, the scribe had to use a properly authenticated copy as his master text, and he was not allowed to write anything from memory. He had to check each letter before writing it. Professor Norman K. Gottwald reports: "Something of the care with which they discharged their duties is indicated in the rabbinic requirement that all new manuscripts were to be proofread and defective copies discarded at once."
Indeed, these scribes were highly skilled and produced excellent work. They had the highest motivation, after all, since they believed they were doing it for God.
14 How accurate was the transmission of the text by the Sopherim and the Masoretes? Until 1947 it was difficult to answer that question, since the earliest available complete Hebrew manuscripts were from the tenth century of our Common Era. In 1947, however, some very ancient manuscript fragments were found in caves in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, including parts of books of the Hebrew Bible. A number of fragments dated to before the time of Christ. Scholars compared these with existing Hebrew manuscripts to confirm the accuracy of the transmission of the text. What was the result of this comparison?
Note that only a tiny comparison can be made today, because only a few manuscript 'fragments' have been found, not the entire Hebrew scriptures. So a complete picture of the Bible's accuracy remains closed for now. Still, what they have found is fairly good. Notice:
15 One of the oldest works discovered was the complete book of Isaiah, and the closeness of its text to that of the Masoretic Bible we have today is amazing. Professor Millar Burrows writes: "Many of the differences between the [recently discovered] St. Mark's Isaiah scroll and the Masoretic text can be explained as mistakes in copying. Apart from these, there is a remarkable agreement, on the whole, with the text found in the medieval manuscripts. Such agreement in a manuscript so much older gives reassuring testimony to the general accuracy of the traditional text." Burrows adds: "It is a matter for wonder that through something like a thousand years the text underwent so little alteration."
It is amazing how accurate these copies turned out to be. But what is the argument? That God preserved His word? If so, then why weren't the copies perfect, instead of containing some minor differences? Is the argument that these copyists were only human and thus subject to error? Then how does the argument hold up at all that their accuracy implies God's intervention? Are we to assume that any amazingly preserved work of antiquity had God as its backer? We have the Hindu Vedas to this day, almost 3000 years of preservation and survival. Is God the author of the Vedas too?
16 In the case of the part of the Bible written in Greek by Christians, the so-called New Testament, the copyists were more like gifted amateurs than like the highly trained professional Sopherim. But working as they did under the threat of punishment by the authorities, they took their work seriously. And two things assure us that we today have a text essentially the same as that penned by the original writers. First, we have manuscripts dated much closer to the time of writing than is the case with the Hebrew part of the Bible. Indeed, one fragment of the Gospel of John is from the first half of the second century, less than 50 years from the date when John probably wrote his Gospel. Second, the sheer number of manuscripts that have survived provides a formidable demonstration of the soundness of the text.
This is factual, insofar as I know. It does seem that we have the Bible in accurate form to this day.
17 On this point, Sir Frederic Kenyon testified: "It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain. Especially is this the case with the New Testament. The number of manuscripts of the New Testament, of early translations from it, and of quotations from it in the oldest writers of the Church, is so large that it is practically certain that the true reading of every doubtful passage is preserved in some one or other of these ancient authorities. This can be said of no other ancient book in the world."
This subheading comes down to this argument: The Bible manuscripts were preserved and copied with amazing accuracy. This is correct. Then the leap of logic comes in to claim that this proves God was behind the effort. Once again, however, the key is for people to think the Bible was God's word for this to have occurred.
The People and Their Languages
18 The original languages in which the Bible was written were also, in the long run, an obstacle to its survival. The first 39 books were mostly written in Hebrew, the tongue of the Israelites. But Hebrew has never been widely known. If the Bible had stayed in that language, it would never have had any influence beyond the Jewish nation and the few foreigners who could read it. However, in the third century B.C.E., for the benefit of Hebrews living in Alexandria, Egypt, translation of the Hebrew part of the Bible into Greek began. Greek was then an international language. Thus, the Hebrew Bible became easily accessible to non-Jews.
This is correct and factual.
19 When the time came for the second part of the Bible to be written, Greek was still very widely spoken, so the final 27 books of the Bible were written in that tongue. But not everybody could understand Greek. Hence, translations of both the Hebrew and the Greek parts of the Bible soon began to appear in the everyday languages of those early centuries, such as Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Gothic, and Ethiopic. The official language of the Roman Empire was Latin, and Latin translations were made in such numbers that an "authorized version" had to be commissioned. This was completed about 405 C.E. and came to be known as the Vulgate (meaning "popular" or "common").
And today the Bible is translated into many more languages, and this proves only that people think it is important to do so.
So the thrust of this section is that the Bible, although originally written in languages that are no longer commonly used today, was translated throughout history into the languages common of the time. What does this prove? That it is inspired? Following this logic, any book that was originally written in an obscure language and is then translated into more commonly used languages must be divinely inspired. Such as the Hindu Vedas.
20 Thus, it was in spite of many obstacles that the Bible survived down to the early centuries of our Common Era. Those who produced it were despised and persecuted minorities living a difficult existence in a hostile world. It could easily have been badly distorted in the process of copying, but it was not. Moreover, it escaped the danger of being available only to people who spoke certain languages.
This is true, but it also applies to other religious thought as well. The Bible is not the only religious writing to have survived this process.
You could replace the words 'the Bible' in this paragraph with the words 'the Hindu Vedas' and it would read the same.
21 Why was it so difficult for the Bible to survive? The Bible itself says: "The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one." (1 John 5:19) In view of this, we would expect the world to be hostile to published truth, and this has proved to be the case. Why, then, did the Bible survive when so many other pieces of literature that did not face the same difficulties were forgotten? The Bible answers this too. It says: "The saying of Jehovah endures forever." (1 Peter 1:25) If the Bible really is the Word of God, no human power can destroy it. And right up into this 20th century, this has been true.
What about all those other pieces of ancient literature that did survive? Is that an indication that God was behind them? As for using Satan as a scapegoat for the persecution against Christians, that's an easy out. Every religious group thinks the evil one is out to get them.
22 However, in the fourth century of our Common Era, something happened that eventually resulted in new attacks on the Bible and profoundly affected the course of European history. Just ten years after Diocletian tried to destroy all copies of the Bible, imperial policy changed and "Christianity" was legalized. Twelve years later, in 325 C.E., a Roman emperor presided over the "Christian" Council of Nicaea. Why would such a seemingly favorable development prove to be hazardous for the Bible? We will see the answer in the following chapter.
The three lines of reasoning to prove inspiration that were used in this chapter were: a) survived hostility; b) survived centuries of copying; c) became available in commonly used languages.
When you remove all the superfluous information and reduce it to those three simple points, it becomes apparent that the WTS is making a leap of logic to prove its point. As stated, all of these arguments can be applied to the Hindu Vedas, so does that mean we have just proved they are inspired? If not, how can these arguments not apply to the Vedas, but do apply to the Bible?