Is the Bible an Historical Document?


I received an interesting comment from this post that started me thinking about whether or not the bible is an historical document. Certainly there are names and places within the book that have been verified by historians and archeologists, but should the bible be considered, overall, history?

Here’s the comment:

Do you believe that Pythagoras existed? Or that Socrates existed? What about Euclid or Hypatia, both of Alexandria? I’m just wondering what your criteria are for establishing that a figure discussed in historical literature was fictional or mythological rather than an actual historical person around whom legendary accounts accrued.

I actually had to read this more than once to try and understand whether this person was saying that the bible is an historical document or not. Although the word bible is never used here, it looked to me as though the answer, at least for this commenter, is yes.

We know of many locations and personalities from the bible as being real. Babylon was an empire, as well as the Assyria, and of course, Egypt. But are all the intertwined stories with these places fact? Some have been verified (e.g., the destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century, BCE), but what about the surrounding narrative? Of course we cannot know.

Were languages created by God because of the construction the the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)?

Was the destruction of Jericho which archaeologists have described as being caused by an earthquake, a natural event or, as described in the bible (Joshua 6:1-27) due to priests marching around the city walls for 7 days blowing horns, causing after that time, the city walls to collapse?

Looking outside the bible, is the story, known as the Iliad, attributed to the Greek poet Homer, accurate? Archeologists now believe that the city, found in modern Turkey, may indeed be the city Homer described. But is the story, concerning Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, true? Was there an historical Achilles and Hector?  Was there a ten year siege of the city that culminated in a trick by the Greeks?

The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is a story of the Great Flood that precedes the story of Noah in the bible by more than 3000 years and has been found on clay tablets. Which narrative is real and which is fable? Or, as might be more reasonable, are both fables? Why would anyone believe one over the other? Was the tale of Noah adapted from Gilgamesh?

So, can we take the bible as an historical document? In some ways yes because of the names and places described in both testaments but the surrounding stories? Are they mythology, legend, or truth? I have my opinion as many others have as well but I, as always, leave it to the evidence.

I still believe in Santa Claus.

One thought on “Is the Bible an Historical Document?

  1. Overall? Certainly not. The Bible is not a single, monolithic work written in a single genre. That said, many of the documents are from historical or biographical genres and should be considered as such


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