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As an orthodox Jew I have seen quite a stir lately regarding the topic of biblical criticism, specifically towards the Old Testament (Torah).

I have perused several questions in this stack which seem to address this topic in general, and learned a lot about apologetics, but I have not seen answers that address some of the major claims of biblical criticism, especially as it pertains to the Old Testament.

For example:

  1. The story of Noah and the flood seems to be contradicted by archaeological evidence as well as having been 'borrowed' from earlier flood narratives such as the Gilgamesh story
  2. Many of the portions of the Old Testament seem to be borrowed from earlier near eastern texts such as the Hammurabi code
  3. The notion that there are multiple authors (documentary hypothesis) of the Old Testament.

In short, how does Christianity deal with some of the major contentions of biblical criticism towards the Old Testament?

I apologize if any parts of my question offend any sensibilities to which I am unaware.

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Welcome to Christianity SE! This will probably need to be broken up into three distinct questions. Having three questions in one will lead to very long answers. You would also have to deal with the dilemma of an answer being good for one of your questions but not another. There are good answers for each of your questions, to be sure, but these really should be dealt with separately. –  Narnian Sep 17 '13 at 13:54
I would suggest, though, that just because there exists multiple accounts of a flood does not mean that they necessarily borrowed from each other. If the OT were the only account of the flood, the allegation would be made that it is not supported by any other accounts. So, skeptics are going to find fault either way. If there were a global flood, we would expect that to be common to the history of people all over the world, and that is certainly what we find. –  Narnian Sep 17 '13 at 13:57
Perhaps a start from a Catholic angle... –  Charles Alsobrook Sep 17 '13 at 14:11
@Narnian if you feel it would be better served as three I'm happy to do so but I didn't really want to get bogged down in the answers. I was hoping for a more holistic approach to what I see as biblical criticism's major tenets: 1. refutation of events via archaeology 2. the notion that portions of the text are borrowed from earlier sources and 3. literary analysis which seems to indicate multiple authors –  user5796 Sep 17 '13 at 14:20
You might also find good answers at Biblical Hermeneutics –  crownjewel82 Sep 17 '13 at 14:38

4 Answers 4

Christians are very diverse on how they handle this type of criticism. Probably the most visible school of thought in today's media are the literalists. These Christians accept that the Bible was fully authored by God and is complete and infallible. For them, Gilgamesh is either fiction or a pagan account of the Genesis story. Hammurabi's code is a set of inferior pagan laws.

The most liberal Christians treat the Bible as one of many worthwhile ancient writings and as a product of the sharing of knowledge across cultures. The Genesis account was inspired by Gilgamesh. Mosaic Law and Hammurabi's Code may have been derived from the same source.

Most Christians fall somewhere in between the two. The Bible wasn't written in a vacuum and it's just a matter of course that there are similarities to other writings from other cultures. It doesn't change the Bible's supremacy and it doesn't impact their faith. An explanation I heard from a conservative reform Jew fits nicely. God spoke to lots of people. The Jews were just the ones who heard and obeyed.

That there were multiple authors of the Bible is just a given. Even the most conservative literalists believe that God used many people to write His word. Different groups might disagree on how many authors there were, but there was definitely more than one.

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  1. Archaeology does not contradict a worldwide flood. There are different opinions on the matter. For more in-depth information watch these presentations as they present an alternate view. Especially presentations 2 (A Universal Flood) and 3 (Bones in Stones). The complete presentation can be seen here, they are by a Researcher and Professor in Zoology.

  2. This is also a matter of opinion. Many different people could write about a different event and that does not necessarily mean they borrowed from one another. They merely wrote about the event. The Epic of Gilgamesh could just easily be a story "based on true events." Just like today's movies, much of it could've been made up just for entertainment value, or to fit into a certain belief system. One more thing about this. Just because they were written first, does not necessarily mean they are more truthful. The reason we believe that the Genesis account is truthful is because we believe that the whole Bible is inspired. Jesus spoke about Noah, Lot, Adam, and other Old Testament characters as historical figures, not simply characters from a fable.

  3. Also along with what Narnian said about literary analysis that suggests that there were multiple authors, in the New Testament some of the writings are attributed to the people that we believe today. For example, Luke attributes the quotation from Isaiah to Isaiah; Luke 4:16-18.

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In short, how does Christianity deal with some of the major contentions of biblical criticism towards the Old Testament?

The literalists contend the academic assertions are false (intentionally or otherwise). The accommodationists attempt to find a way to build a compromise usually at the expense of what is written in the Bible.

This is similar to what passes for science these days in regard to evolution. However with literary criticism the flaws are more apparent.

For example, the assertion of multiple authors is often based on the declaration of someone that they have detected a stylistic difference that "proves" that the same person could not have written a document attributed to him.

Using an example from evolutionary "science", the measurement of something like ice cores is hindered by the fact that the weight of the ice causes anything more than a few centuries old to be fused together. A person attempting to discover something beyond the point of differentiation has to make assumptions and interpret his measurements using "fudge factors".

Most people are bored by the details of both literary criticism and evolutionary science. They usually take at face value whatever the media tells them which is usually a distillation of what is popular or sensational.

As a literalist, I expect there to be accusations and declarations from a variety of sources against the Bible and God.

John 15:19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

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The question does not ask whether biblical criticism is true, but merely how some Christians deal with biblical criticism. Most Christians are largely unaware of biblical Higher Criticism or simply choose to ignore it as being of little concern to them. Christians in this latter group is unlikely to change their strongly held faith just because some biblical traditions are being questioned.

Others look for evidence to support the Bible as they read and interpret it, and seek to undermine the conclusions of critical scholars. Sometimes, unqualified 'biblical archaeologists' have set out to use their limited skills to prove the historicity of the Battle of Jericho or the biblical Flood. As an example several 'biblical archaeologists' have visited Mount Ararat, in Turkey, and claimed to have found evidence of Noah's Ark, although in each case, no evidence was available for the general public. Some of these expeditions involved a large boat-shaped geological feature to be seen at Akyayla, a few kilometres from Mt Ararat. According to 'biblical archaeologist' Ron Wyatt, he arranged 'chemical analysis' tests of the feature that “positively prove it to be composed of very ancient wood and metal.” Ian Wilson says, in Before the Flood, page 37, the carbon percentages quoted by Wyatt fall within the normal bounds of soil and show no evidence of wood. He says that instead of the 'metal brackets' for ships' fittings, as claimed by Wyatt, the true explanation is that the Akyayla site is rich in naturally occurring manganese nodules that are high in iron. There no geological or archaeological evidence for the Flood itself, but this does not stop some Christians from claiming that professional scientists have misinterpreted the evidence.

Although the message of the Pentateuch would remain the same whether or not this was written by Moses, some Christians are adamant that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch, including the report of his own death (Deuteronomy 34:7). For them, the proofs of multiple authorship are irrelevant, because if they learnt as children that Moses was the sole author of the Pentateuch, then this is undeniably true.

A Catholic view, expressed by Pope Leo XIII, is that the sacred writers "did not seek to penetrate the secrets of nature, but rather described and dealt with things in more or less figurative language, or in terms which were commonly used at the time and which in many instances are in daily use at this day, even by the most eminent men of science" (Proventissimus Deus, 18).

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