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'The Prince of Egypt'

By Richard Gunther


With the release of the full-length cartoon 'Prince of Egypt' has come a plethora of criticism as to the authenticity of the Biblical record, on which the cartoon was loosely based.

One such source of these criticisms, Karen Armstrong, author of the book 'A History of God' makes the following points, each of which will be commented on in due course. Her criticisms are similar to most of the other criticisms which have been raised, so the responses which follow should be generally applicable.

1. "Moses may not have existed".

2. "There is not a shred of historical evidence of the exodus . . ."

3. The story of Moses is a "myth", that is, it is a story which has been "liberated from its historical setting".

4. The Law of Moses is self-contradictory.

The first three criticisms fall into the same general camp. They deal with the accuracy and authenticity of the events described in the book of Exodus, while the fourth is a separate issue, aimed at finding fault with the Law of God.

Unfortunately for Christians who believe that the Bible is God's Word, the moment any defence is made, the label 'Fundamentalist' is attached to them. Thus 'pigeon-holed', anything they subsequently try to say is instantly categorised and dropped in the box marked 'Gullible, Naive and Narrow-minded'. It is very difficult to work when one's point of view is treated this way, because the argument is considered 'lost' before it is begun.

On the other hand, the Liberal, (such as Karen Armstrong), who views the Bible as a collection of myths and somewhat tattered religious relics, is usually well-received by the general public, because most people have a natural inclination to treat the Bible this way. But logically, if the Bible is indeed the Word of God, the Liberals and their relatives would be placed in a terrifying position. It is therefore much easier to disbelieve, and (quite understandably) a bewildering amount of work has gone into supporting the Liberal views.

And why stop at Moses? Liberals consider the whole Old Testament suspect. They describe the entire work it mythology, and religion, and they say it is culturally anachronistic and historically inaccurate. They look for faults in the texts, the history, the characters, the dates, the personages, the events, the records, the recording process and the geography. They leave no text unchallenged.

This is not to say that such criticism is unwelcome. It is in fact very welcome, - but only when it is fair and reasonable. Only a bully knocks someone down and then kicks them. The Bible has many learned and highly able champions, who can defend its accuracy and authenticity, but when they are not permitted to speak, or when they are labelled 'Fundamentalist' before their case is heard - that is when Liberalism becomes a bully.

Now, dealing (as a layman) with the 4 criticisms, I would like to say this.

1. "Moses may not have existed".

We, in the 20th century, seem to be labouring under a modern myth. This modern myth is a myth which has come out of Western Materialism - namely, that, because we know a lot about orbiting satellites, space travel, lasers, the InterNet, DNA molecular biology, DNA, cloning, genetic engineering and because we are surrounded by the fruits of a vast range of new branches of Science, we are also, as a whole, a lot wiser when it comes to understanding ancient documents. Another part of this myth is that, because we are so 'modern' and 'informed' we are therefore in a better position to cast doubt on the records of people and events which happened hundreds or thousands of years ago.

This 'modern' scorn comes in the form of denigration of the Biblical record to the level of "myth". Without any solid evidence against the Biblical claim that Moses was a real man, the 'modern' mind considers him unreal - despite the 'modern' mind's complete lack of training in that area of knowledge.

Is this reasonable? No. Knowledge about the universe and the laws of Nature, and the latest in technology does not equip us for correct understanding of ancient documents. The reverse is also true. Bible scholars are not qualified to comment on astronomy for example.

So how do we know whether Moses was a real man or not?

One way is to see if anyone with credibility accepts him as real. Despite the fact that Liberals usually consider the whole Bible suspect and inaccurate, we have the testimony of Jesus and Paul. Both of these New testament men firmly believed in the literal accuracy of the book of Exodus.

However, Karen Armstrong accuses Paul of mythologising the person of Jesus. Having cast this slur at Jesus, and thus discounting (largely) the entire account of His birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension) we are, I suppose, expected to believe that Paul was not a real person either? Nothing, in fact, is to be taken at face-value. The whole Bible - says the Liberal - is myth.

But we must not stop there! If the Bible is myth, then all the people who believe it today to be God's Word must be deluded. And further, the entire history of the true Church (as it is based on Jesus Christ) has been a waste of time. All of the efforts of millions of Christians, to propagate the gospel to all the world has been based on (according to Karen Armstrong) a myth. The Church, although sometimes useful for good works, is not much use for anything else - since all its claims are based on a book of myths. Salvation therefore is more to do with psychology than anything. Sin is a human problem, to be solved by counselling. Death is the end of all consciousness.

You see, when Moses is written off, everything connected with him is either written off too, or considered faulty, or inaccurate, or unbelievable. When Moses is reduced to a myth, the whole Bible starts to side down the hole, and as it goes, it drags everything with it.

2. "There is not a shred of historical evidence of the exodus . . ."

This criticism is backed up, as far as I know, by Biblical scholars too. But there may be a good reason for the lack of evidence. It hardly seems appropriate for the Egyptian kingdom - the mighty, glorious Egyptian kingdom, with its kings ruling under the eye and supposedly with the power of Ra, high-priests on the throne of the sun, sun-gods all - to record a crushing defeat. In fact, we should expect, after seeing the archaeological remains of the Egypt which once was, with its pomp and grandeur, to find that the coming of Moses has been erased from all national records and monuments. It is not the sort thing the Egyptians would have wanted to remember. It was utterly humiliating for them to admit that they, their gods and their massive cities were no match for the God of the Hebrews.

So, in a kind of inverted logic, the lack of evidence could be seen as confirmation of the Biblical account.

And let us not forget that there have been other great events in history which have not been recorded in any great detail. And objects. The hanging gardens of Babylon, for example, The life and times of great men and women are only known to us through second, third, and fourth-hand accounts - sometimes even flimsier than that. There are many things held today as accurate history which have come to us through a 'silken thread' of material, such as the lives of the Caesars - gathered from fragments of copies. If we were to base an argument of accuracy on the number of copies of an original document, the New Testament would win easily.

So it is not reasonable to say that because there are not sufficient historical records of an event, therefore that event is not believable. If that was the rule, we would have to go through our history books with a pair of scissors.

A third way to approach the criticism is to point at other criticisms. For example, it was said that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) because writing was not in existence . . . but the "black stele" was discovered, which pre-dated Moses, on which wedge-shaped characters containing the laws of Hammurabi were written.

Another criticism was that there were no Hittite at the time of Abraham, because - the critics pointed out - there were no written records of them. They must therefore be a myth. But archaeology has since unearthed hundreds of records, outlining 1,200 years of Hittite civilisation.

Another criticism was aimed at the Bible account of Daniel. Critics said it was written 400 years after the event, but gradually the archaeologists uncovered the ruins of the area where Daniel lived, and found that his descriptions of the rulers, the architecture and the common language or expressions were correct. They also verified many other details which only one who lived at the time could have known.

A fourth view of this criticism is summed up by Millar Burrows of Yale (an archaeologist, who wrote 'What Mean These Stones? New York, Meridian Books, 1956) "The excessive scepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful examination of the available data, but from an enormous disposition against the supernatural."

3. The story of Moses is a "myth", that is, it is a story which has been "liberated from its historical setting".

There are many "myths" in the world. Broadly speaking, they could be placed in the bracket of folk-tales, fairy-tales, sagas, legends and so forth. They are told with poetry or chant. They have beasts and characters which the hearers know are not true - but the stories are enjoyed nonetheless.

But the criticism holds that the Biblical account of Moses and the exodus is a "myth", which Karen Armstrong defines as "an event liberated from its historical setting". In other words she considers the Bible account as "something which did not really happen".

But there are problems with this criticism. The first is the critic's own credibility. If there is no visible (written, painted, carved, etc) proof that something did not occur, then the only other way we can prove it is by hearing an eye-witness account. Mrs Armstrong is certainly not 1200 years old so she is ruled out. So is the rest of the world. The only eye-witness account we do have is the record which Moses himself wrote (as the Bible repeatedly says) but his account has been ruled out. Who by? A critic 1200 years after the event. It is therefore over to us to choose which of these two people we are to believe.

Another point in favour of the Biblical account not being a myth is the way it reads. It certainly does not read like one. If one were to evaluate it simply as a piece of literature, the nearest modern literature it would sit comfortably beside would be a newspaper. The style is succinct, the facts are unemotional, objective and 'neutral', the reporting of the main events is in some places sketchy, the faults and failings of all the participants are recorded without bias. This is hardly the style of a myth. This is more like a non-selective historical narrative.

As to the "liberation from its historical setting" we have several more problems. Are we to believe that someone, (or perhaps several people?) dreamed up the whole story? For what purpose? The leader they dreamed up was hardly a hero. The people he led were hardly grateful. The departure from Egypt was followed by 40 years of wandering, complaining, idolatry and so on. Hardly the great example to relate to one's children. If the book of Exodus was not centred on a God who wanted to free a nation from slavery, it would be a miserable story.

And if the story of Moses was the figment of someone/s imagination, it is strange that the name (or names) of the writers is not recorded anywhere. The only name we have - which was verified by Jesus and Paul - is that of Moses. But of course that is too simple and straight-forward for the critics. They would rather postulate a myriad of other possibilities, for which they have absolutely no evidence, rather than read what it actually says.

Why is is so hard for some people to believe what the Bible says?

4. The Law of Moses is self-contradictory.

This criticism calls for Bible study, and it may be fair to say that it is not within the scope of Karen Armstrong's expertise to deal with it. But even so, she has thrown the gauntlet down and accused the Bible of being self-contradictory. This, when you consider the implications, is a very serious charge. It reflects on the alleged author, and in turn picks at His Character. If God has made a mistake, by giving laws which are paradoxical, then God is not perfect. Imperfection is sin therefore God is not the Almighty One He claims to be.

The laws which Mrs Armstrong quotes are not self-contradictory, when read in context and with an understanding of the situation in which they were given. The reason many people find fault with the Bible is :

1. Because they spend so little time studying it - compared to the enormous amount of time they spend studying everything else, and

2. Current modern philosophies and attitudes are incompatible with the Bible, therefore the Bible is seen to be off-side, not modern Man.

The reality is actually the reverse. Rather than modern Man placing God in the dock and then hurling criticisms at Him, the Bible says that it is Man who is in the dock. Man is the one who must ultimately answer to God, not God to Man. The current spate of articles, all repeating the same criticisms about the authenticity of the Bible, are of the same essence. They are saying, in different words, and with different emphases, the same simple statement : "The Bible is not the Word of God." It is the lie which was first uttered by Satan to the first humans, and it has never changed.

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