Saturday, January 26, 2008

Follow the evidence wherever it leads?

After writing the previous post I thought to add a remark about how one of the only books inerrantists are allowed to read regarding the historicity of the exodus is James Hoffmeier's Israel in Egypt: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Exodus Tradition (Oxford, 1999). There's a JETS review of the book that begins with the following words:

"Hoffmeier's new work is a necessary corrective to the current trend in Biblical scholarship characterized by the heavy use of anthropological and sociological models and by a hypercritical attitude toward the OT. His stated aim is to follow the evidence where it leads, and he concludes that there is no need for skepticism regarding the essential historicity of the rise of Joseph to power in Egypt, the sojourn and bondage of Israel in Egypt, and the accounts of the exodus." (

I can't help but see a problem with the way all this is framed. I don't think inerrantists can ever really say that they will follow evidence wherever it leads. They can only pledge that they will make sure that the available evidence proves the Bible right (or is at least consistent with it). In fact, they are forced to do this; they cannot do otherwise. For inerrantists have been told in advance (by God himself through scripture) that evidence can never do anything negative, it can only show the Bible right.

When I read Hoffmeier a few years ago, I remember taking away from him that although there is not much evidence for the exodus tradition, an exodus cannot be ruled out on the basis of evidence we have. He did not have much constructive to say. I guess there's a fine line between following evidence wherever it leads and using the resources available to show where evidence does not lead: to the falsification of the scriptures. (Contrast Hoffmeier with D. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. [Princeton, 1993].)

If Jesus' bones were found in the Middle East, I mean undeniably traceable to the Jesus Christ of the Bible (say, by DNA or something), what would inerrantists do? Would they concede a point or devise an explanation? I presume the latter because the mindset's very strict: Don't concede a point. Scripture's always right. THE BIBLE NEVER FAILS.