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Crimes by Speculation
Part One
by Farrell Till

A reply to:

Crimes by Omission

Is a Bible Writer's Silence Evidence of Ahistoricity?
by Robert Turkel aka James Patrick Holding



In responding to Robert Turkel's article, which was entitled "Can't We All Get Along?" on its webpage but listed on the index page as "Dan Barker's Easter Challenge Eviscerated," I had to forego replying to Turkel's link to his "Crimes by Omission" because the length of my reply had already imposed on the patience of readers. As I promised in that reply, I will now answer point by point the "principles" that Turkel claims will satisfactorily explain why one or more gospel writers sometimes omitted momentously important details that were mentioned in the other gospel accounts. We will see that except for those who are gullible enough to swallow anything that would-be apologists offer as "explanations" of biblical discrepancies, Turkel's speculative "principles" give no sensible explanations for those omissions. I will follow my customary practice of using Turkel and Till as headers to indentify who has said what.

Turkel:
Our focus is a sort of argument quite popular in skeptical circles, one that is best known from Thomas Paine, but oft repeated by numerous others. Broken down it goes like this:

Till:
I did briefly address this point in "Bobby Grabs More Straws," where I pointed out two obvious facts: (1) Many events claimed in the Bible were so extraordinary that anyone who witnessed them would have surely mentioned them if he later left records of the time and circumstances in which they allegedly occurred. (2) Some extraordinary events recorded in the Bible were such that if they had actually occurred, even people far removed from the sites of the events would have been aware that they had happened and, because of the extraordinary nature of the events, would have mentioned them in records that they left.

In responding to Turkel's attempt to rationalize the silence of Mark, Luke, and John in the matter of the "many" resurrected saints in (Matthew 27:52-53), I will be replying in detail to his quibbling attempts to justify the silence of everyone but Matthew in this matter, so at this point, I will confine my comments to point #2 above. The so-called long day of Joshua would be an example of an event that would have been noticed worldwide if it had actually happened. As the event was described in (Joshua 10:12-14, the Hebrew god Yahweh made both the sun and the moon stand still and "hasten not to go down about a whole day." The biblical account of this extraordinary event says that "there was no day like that before it or after it" (v:14), but if such an event as this had actually happened, it would have been noticed worldwide. Those places in the same hemisphere as the land of Canaan would surely have been aware that daylight was being prolonged far beyond its usual length, and those on the other side of the world would have wondered why the night was so long. Why, then, are there no worldwide records of this phenomenal event?

As noted in the January 11, 2001, issue of NASA NEWS, the Chinese, for example, kept records of astronomical events such as supernovas.

New evidence from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory suggests that a known pulsar is the present-day counterpart to a supernova that exploded in 386 AD, a stellar explosion witnessed by ancient Chinese astronomers. If confirmed, this will be only the second known pulsar to be clearly associated with an [sic] historic event.

In roughly the past 2,000 years, less than 10 reports of probable supernovae have been archived, mostly by Asian astronomers. Until now, the Crab Nebula has been the only pulsar whose birth is associated with an [sic] historic event, the supernova of 1054 AD, making it the only neutron star with a firm age.

In "The 1987 A Supernova," Margarita Dimova and Emanuil Kolarov noted that a supernova of AD 1054 in the constellation Taurus formed the Crab Nebula and was reported by both Chinese and Korean astronomers. Rock paintings in Arizona and New Mexico indicate that this same supernova was also observed by American Indians. These reports show that when extraordinary events are visible worldwide, records of them are made. American Indians, for example, had no written languages, but they still left records of their observations through rock paintings. As we will see, however, Turkel expects us to believe that such extraordinary events as a mass resurrection from the dead and three hours of darkness at midday happened but were not reported by writers who were presumably present on the scene when they occurred. One would have to be gullibly credulous to believe that such silence by eyewitnesses would have happened because of "paper shortages," limited literacy, indifference, and such like, which Turkel and and his favorite amateur apologist, Glenn Miller, use as "explanations" for absence of evidence in extrabiblical records.

Turkel:
Applied to the NT, this is often used against Matthew's report of an earthquake and resurrected saints (which we will use as a template for the rest of this article), or John's lack of mention of the darkness at the crucifixion, or expanded, to any event of unusual nature reported by only one writer (like many of John's sign-miracles). The argument is also often extended to secular sources, and lack of a record among other persons, a matter that Glenn Miller has addressed here and which we have also touched upon here.)

Till:
The first "here" is a link to an article by Glenn Miller, who seems to be one of Turkel's favorite "apologists," in which Miller was responding to Robby Berry's "Fivefold Challenge," which was a challenge for Bible believers to produce hard evidence that certain biblical miracles had actually happened. Berry's position was the same as mine: extraordinary events that would have been visible worldwide should have generated numerous reports in records around the world. Berry's fivefold challenge was to produce evidence that the five biblical miracles in Miller's list below had happened.

  1. The parting of the sea by Moses
  2. The stopping of the sun by Joshua
  3. The reversal of the sun's course by Isaiah
  4. The feeding of thousands of people by Jesus using only five loaves of bread and two fishes
  5. The post-crucifixion [sic] resurrection of the saints, and their subsequent appearance to many

I think I should say here that Miller is to be commended for the attitude that he conveys toward his opponents. His articles don't contain the vitriole that usually characterizes the writings of Turkel, who seems to be more interested in scoring points with his high-school and college-aged choir members by hurling insults and sarcasm at his opponents than he is in answering whatever points he disagrees with in the opposition articles that he "replies" to. Miller also links his readers to the articles he is answering, as opposed to the style of Robert "No Links" Turkel, who doesn't provide links to what he is "responding" to and quite often won't even name his opponents. I, for example, am "Skeptic X" on Turkel's website, and most other skeptics are simply referred to as "our opponent."

Despite the commendable qualities in Miller's articles, those who read them will usually find a basic weakness that characterizes not just Turkel's articles but "apologetic" works in general: Miller will lean over backwards to find some way to "explain" biblical discrepancies. Like most "apologists," he finds nothing too far-fetched to use in his "solutions" to problem passages in the Bible, and readers will never find him willing to concede that errors may be in the Bible. Errantists, for example, will freely admit that the Bible contains much historically accurate information, but inerrantists like Turkel and Miller won't even grant the possibility that real errors may be in the Bible. They will always refer to them as "alleged discrepancies," and that speaks volumes about their objectivity or rather lack of the same.

That said, I will have to agree with Miller's dismissal of #4 in Berry's challenge, because I can understand how the feeding of thousands with just a few scraps of food would have been a localized event, which would have gone unreported in places like China, India, or even closer counries like Egypt or Greece. Nevertheless, it is rather difficult to understand why local reports of such events as these would not have been left behind by those who saw them. After all, in Jesus's first feeding of a "multitude," there were five thousand men besides women and children (Matt. 14:21). Are we to assume that the thousands who witnessed this miracle just kept silent about it and let word of the miracle die except for those who preserved it in the Jesus cult?

Miller, of course, has a rationalization for the absence of any local records of an event like this. He argued that "(i)f literacy is not very widespread at the time, or in the geography of the miracle, it [the argument] fails." One would think, however, that in a multitude of what had to have been well over 5,000, there would surely have been at least a few who were literate, but if we assume that none of them were literate, we have to wonder about "oral tradition," which Turkel and Miller talk about so much. Oral tradition has become almost a theme song for Turkel, who routinely uses it as an explanation for the variations that some see as discrepancies in the Bible. He resorts to this quibble so often that I hardly need to give readers a link to his quibbling on this subject, but one of Turkel's articles on oral tradition, subtitled "The Effect of Oral Tradition on the Gospel Narratives," will give readers a typical view of how much Turkel uses "oral tradition" to explain problematic passages in the gospels. A theme that runs throughout this article is that much of what was written in the gospels was derived from oral traditions, so if this claim is true, Turkel must believe that the society in which Jesus grew up transmitted orally just about every piddling event in the life of Jesus. One has to wonder, then, why oral transmission was limited primarily to members of a Christ cult. Within the 5,000+ who experienced this feeding miracle, wouldn't there have been some who remained outside the cult but nevertheless transmitted word of the miracle orally so that it would have been picked up by writers like Philo Judaeus, Josephus, Justus of Tiberius, etc.? In other words, Turkel and his cohorts can't have it both ways. If they are going to claim that the gospel writers relied on oral traditions in their biographies of Jesus and that this would account for the variations in their accounts, they need to have a plausible explanation for why none of these oral traditions about the amazing miracles of Jesus were passed along to other writers of that general period.

All that having been said, I will agree that Miller has a possible, even though improbable, explanation for why no records of the feeding of the 5,000 have been found in contemporary records left in other countries. It was just a localized event. I make this concession fully aware that, if the Bible is indeed inerrant, many in these multitudes that followed Jesus came from countries outside of Galilee and Judea. Mark 3:7, for example, claims that there were people in the multitudes who had come from Idumea, Tyre, Sidon, and regions "beyond the Jordan." Matthew 4:24-25 claims that some in the multitudes had come from Syria and Decapolis [a confederation of 10 independent Hellenistic cities that were under the jurisdiction of the governor of Syria]. We have to wonder, then, if oral traditions existed only in cultic circles but not in the general public and, if so, why. How likely is it that of the hundreds of foreigers who visited Galilee to see and hear the miracle-worker Jesus of Nazareth would have returned home and not mentioned a phenomenon as remarkable as the feeding of the 5,000+? After all, if word of the amazing miracles of Jesus was what had drawn people from Tyre, Sidon, Syria, Idumea, etc., to witness these miracles for themselves, common sense would tell us that when they returned home, they would have reported what they had seen. Miller thinks he has an explanation for this, but when we get to it below, we will see that it is just another example of inerrantist straw-grabbing.

Miller went on to offer other rationalizations for the failure of nonbiblical societies to leave records of phenomenal biblical miracles that should have been observable either over wide regions or the entire hemisphere. As I go through them, readers should be able to see why I said above that Miller, like Turkel and other would-be "apologists," will lean over backwards in his articles to try to find some way to "explain" discrepancies. I have yet to see Miller say, "Well, yes, this does appear to be a discrepancy for which there is no sensible explanation." I have yet to see him even grant the possibility that discrepancies may be in the Bible. Instead, he will, well, lean over backwards and offer explanations like the ones below, which he presented as principles that would prove the "failure" of Berry's challenge.

If the circumstances of the miracle retard any "normal" literacy impetus (e.g., polemical contexts, observers perish), it [Berry's argument] fails.

I was tempted just to ask what the hell this means and then pass on, because the statement is even more abstract than the parenthetical comments are grammatically unparallel. Just how would the "circumstances" of the feeding of the 5,000 "retard any 'normal' literacy impetus"? I have no idea what Miller meant by "polemic contexts" that would "retard any 'normal' literacy impetus," but the best that I could tell, he meant that the death or "perishing" of observers could cause phenomenal events to go unreported. That is certainly true, but when there were more than 5,000 observers, how likely is it that all of them would die before the phenomenon could have been recorded or spread around by "oral tradition"? What this quibble expects us to believe is that the ones who didn't "perish" just happened to be those who joined the Jesus cult and passed the tradition along orally until the gospel writers received them and finally put them into written records. It taxes one's credulity to think that such oral traditions could have been completely confined to a cultic group without spreading outside its ranks where noncultic members would have been aware of the same traditions. The unlikeliness that oral traditions about the miracles of Jesus could have been confined to a cultic group makes Miller's rationalization just another example of leaning over backwards to try to defend the absurd belief in biblical inerrancy. After all, how likely is it that a man would change water into wine, walk on water, calm storms, heal the blind, deaf, and lame, raise the dead, etc., etc., etc. without word of such phenomena spreading abroad? If the Bible is indeed inerrant, Turkel and Miller will have to admit that the miracles of Jesus were publicized outside of the circle of his immediate disciples.

Luke 4:13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. 14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.

Luke 4:31 He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. 32 They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. 33 In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 "Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!" When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. 36 They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, "What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!" 37 And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.

Matthew 9:25 After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl [Jairus's daughter] by the hand, and she got up. 26 News of this spread through all that region. 27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" 28 When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" "Yes, Lord," they replied. 29 Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you"; 30 and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, "See that no one knows about this." 31 But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

Mark 1:40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." 41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. 43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

These are just some of the many gospel passages that claimed that word of Jesus's miracles spread far and wide to such a degree that multitudes thronged around him wherever he went, yet Miller expects us to believe that the publishing abroad of these miracles did not cause any oral traditions or contemporary records to be left except in the circles of those who became disciples of Jesus. We are expected to believe that in all of these cases--and the others I didn't mention--there were some kinds of "circumstances" that retarded "normal literacy impetus" except within the circles of those who became disciples of Jesus. My debating experience with biblical inerrantists has taught me to recognize quibbling when I see it, and we are now looking at rank quibbling.

Here was Miller's third rationalization.

If the culture of the observers is not supportive of 'writing things down', [sic] it fails. If the events are difficult to detect or arise in conscious reflection as extraordinary, it [Berry's argument] fails.

Well, the culture of those who observed the feeding of the 5,000 was certainly "supportive of writing things down"; otherwise, there would have been no NT records of this alleged miracle. Therefore, Miller needs to explain why those who wrote the NT accounts of the miracle of the 5,000 were "supportive of writing things down," but no one else in that same culture, who was outside the Jesus cult, was "supportive of writing things down." Philo Judaeus, Josephus, and Justus of Tiberias all lived within that culture, and they all wrote things down, but none of them said anything about the feeding of the 5,000 or the darkness at midday or the resurrection of the "many" saints, who went into Jerusalem and appeared unto "many." It does seem odd that those who wrote the biblical books just happened to be "supportive of writing things down," but no one else within the same cultures bothered to write records of the many extraordinary claims of the Bible.

As for the difficulty of detecting the extraordinary, one might argue that the 5,000 may not have known that they had been fed with just five loaves of bread and two fish, but only a rank quibbler would argue that the extraordinariness of doubling the length of normal daylight or the falling of three hours of darkness at midday or the rising of "many saints" from their tombs or the parting of the water in a sea would have been hard to detect. However, it is precisely this kind of quibbling that would-be "apologists" like Turkel and Miller specialize in.

As I said above, I have learned over the years to recognize when biblicists are quibbling, and Miller is quibbling at breakneck speed. His quibbling becomes evident when considered in conjunction with a fact that is never preached from the pulpit or taught in Sunday school classes, and that fact is that no extrabiblical corroboration of a biblical miracle has ever been found. The historicity of some persons and events in the Bible has been corroborated by extrabiblical records that have been discovered over the years. We can be reasonably sure that biblical characters like Ahab, Jehu, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus the Great, Baruch, Ahasuerus, Pontius Pilate, Claudius Caesar, and many others were actual historical characters, because their existence has been corroborated by disinterested extrabiblical records. We can likewise be sure of the historicity of several events claimed in the Bible, such as the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, the ensuing Babylonian captivity, the edict of king Cyrus, which allowed the repatriation of Judean captives to return to their homeland, etc., because these events have been corroborated by extrabiblical records. Biblical "apologists" often praise these corroborations as proof of the Bible's inerrancy, and some of them go overboard and make the totally erroneous claim that there has never been an archaeological discovery that contradicted biblical records, but I have yet to see a biblical "apologist" tell readers that there have been no archaeological discoveries that corroborated phenomenal claims like the parting of the Red Sea, the long day of Joshua, the three hours of darkness at midday, the resurrection of the "many saints," and such like. Any objective person should be willing to admit that when phenomenal claims like these are found only in the sacred literature of religious cults, this within itself is reason to suspect that they may not have happened. Otherwise, at least some of them would have been reported in records left by those who were outside the cults. "Apologists" like Turkel and Miller, however, are not willing to grant even the possibility that biblical miracles didn't happen. "If it is in the Bible, by golly, it has to be true," is their bibliolatrous mantra to their leather-bound god.

Even Miller recognized the weakness of his first three rationalizations, because he went on to admit that even the Bible claims a widespread awareness of the Red-Sea miracle.

In two of the three cases in the OT, we have indications that at least 'reports' of the events were generated. In the case of the Red Sea deal, later biblical writers commented that the Canaanites already knew about it before they got there.

As a matter of fact the biblical account claims that somehow word of this miracle was immediately known in Canaan, because right after the Israelites had crossed on dry land, they sang a song of praise to Yahweh in which they referred to those in Canaan who had heard about Yahweh's deliverance of "his people."

Exodus 14:30 Thus Yahweh saved Israel that day [the day of the crossing] from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 And when Israel saw the great power which Yahweh had used against the Egyptians, the people feared Yahweh and they believed in Yahweh and in his servant Moses. 15:1 Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to Yahweh, and said: "I will sing to Yahweh, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea.... 14 The peoples have heard, they tremble; anguish has gripped the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; the leaders of Moab, trembling grips them; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away. 16 Terror and dread fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they are motionless as stone.

Obviously, word of the crossing of the Red Sea could not have spread instantaneously into the land of Canaan as the lyrics of this song claimed, and certainly this news could not have spread to Philistia and gripped its inhabitants with fear, because Philistia didn't even exist at this time. Reasonable people, then, will recognize that this is an example of anachronism in the Bible. That, however, is not my problem, because I am not the one claiming inerrancy in the biblical text, but if Miller is going to claim that the Bible is inerrant, he should have a reasonable explanation for why word of this phenomenal event could have spread so far and wide without some extrabiblical record of it having been left somewhere except in Hebrew society.

Miller, of course, has an explanation. Literacy was so rare at this time that those other cultures were not "supportive of writing things down." His article is one of those that goes on forever, because like Turkel and Everette Hatcher he apparently thinks that if he can string together enough quotations from writers who agree with him, he will be proving whatever position he is arguing, so I can't address everything he said in his article, at least not at this time. I can, however, show that literacy wasn't as uncommon in biblical times as Miller wants us to believe. The website article "Ancient Graffiti on the Walls of Pompeii," for example, indicates that literacy was far more widespread at that time than Miller supposes. The excavation of Pompeii has uncovered graffiti all over the walls of the city, among which were the following "vulgar inscriptions."

Suspirium puellarum Celadus thraex. (Celadus the Thracier makes the girls moan!)

Arphocras hic cum Drauca bene futuit denario. (Here Harpocras has had a good fuck with Drauca for a denarius.)

Virgula Tertio suo: indecens es. (Virgula to her Tertius: you are one horny lad!)

Miximus in lecto. Fateor, peccavimus, hospes. Si dices: Quare? Nulla fuit matella. (We have pissed in our beds. Host, I admit that we shouldn't have done this. If you ask: Why? There was no potty.)

Cacator cave malum, aut si contempseris, habeas Iovem iratum. (Watch it, you that shit in this place! May you have Jove's anger if you ignore this.)

Myrtis bene felas. (Myrtis, you do great blow jobs.)

These are only some of the vulgar graffiti discovered in the excavation of Pompeii. There are not just other examples of vulgar graffiti in these ruins but also many nonvulgar examples. The fact that so many of these have been found would indicate a much wider literacy than Miller claims. In Everyday Life in Ancient Rome, Lionel Casson, professor of classics at New York University, also described the widespread presence of graffiti in Pompeii.

In the absence of television, newspapers, magazines, and other such modern media, the Pompeians used their walls for all sorts of public notices. We find announcements of gladiatorial shows... of property for rent... of lost objects... random scribblings of every possible kind, from records of winning bets to the number of steps it took one houseowner to walk the length of his patio.... Pompeians defaced walls with exactly the same kind of obscenities found in public toilets today.... As a matter of fact, graffiti were so ubiquitous that people wrote graffiti about them: in three different public places we find the jingle: "I marvel you don't collapse, O walls,/beneath the burden of so many scrawls"(revised and expanded edition, 1998, Johns Hopkins University Press, p.72).

In Ancient Literacy, W. V. Harris claimed that "(l)evels of literacy were low in classical antiquity by comparison with those prevailing in the most educated countries of the last 200 years," but Literacy in the Roman World, a collection of essays available at The Journal of Roman Archaeology took issue with this premise. In her review of this volume, Callie Williamson of Indiana University noted that J. L. Franklin's contribution to this work took issue with Harris's position.

J. L. Franklin ("Literacy and the parietal inscriptions of Pompeii") searches the surviving scraps of writing on walls in Pompeii for indicators of the levels of literacy in Latin in a town in Roman Italy in the 1st century A.D. Presenting a survey of these scraps, which reveal among other things a remarkable familiarity with literary culture on the part of scribblers, Franklin argues that the ability to read and write, and significantly also the habit of writing, was more widespread among people at the bottom of Pompeian society than Harris believed.

Miller may argue that Pompeii would be an exception to the norm of that time because it was an upperclass city, but examples of ancient graffiti have been found in many other ruins. Dr. Robert Suter has an archive of over 2000 Semitic graffiti that were scratched or carved on pottery and other surfaces, and many other examples have been found on the walls of temples, ampitheaters, Roman catacombs, and sports arenas. The Japan Times (December 1, 1999) reported that specialists in ancient documents Bruce Zuckerman and Marilyn Lundberg of the University of Southern California had photographed graffiti dating to the 19th century BC that had been left on a cliff in Egypt by Semitic soldiers. The inscriptions were discovered in the summer of 1998 by John Darnell of Yale University while he was "studying a gulch in southern Egypt that was once part of an ancient military road between Thebes and Abydos." The same type of alphabetic characters had already been found in the Sinai where tourquois miners had carved graffiti on the walls of the mines around 1500 BC. Would-be apologists like Miller and Turkel facilely dismiss the absence of references to biblical miracles in ancient records with the claim that literacy was rare in those days, so if those who witnessed such events could not write, they couldn't very well leave records of them. However, if one will take the time to research ancient literacy, he will find that most experts don't think it was as rare as Miller and Turkel want their choir members to believe. One of the essays in Literacy in the Roman World, for example, noted that the roster of a corps of camel troops in Egypt contained the signatures of one third of the unit, and this would mean that at least one third of these soldiers were literate enough to sign their names. A. K. Bowman's essay in this volume mentioned the recent discovery of a collection of wooden writing tablets from a Roman military camp at Vindolanda and concluded that such discoveries as this indicate a "pervasiveness of writing in the Roman world from the very beginnings of Roman history."

Citizens of Pompeii and Rome, patrons of theaters, Roman camel soldiers, Semitic soldiers, miners--all left graffiti on walls that they had had contact with. One could very reasonably assume that the number of ancient graffiti so far discovered would represent only a small fraction of that which was inscribed overall, so in order for ancient graffiti to exist on such a scale as these discoveries suggest, literarcy must have been much more widespread than Miller wants his readers to believe. Furthermore, the Roman government even published a daily gazette Acta Diurna ("Daily Events"), whose origin was attributed to Julius Caesar in 59 BC. It was handwritten, of course, and was posted in prominent places in Rome and in the provinces. This publication contained news of gladiatorial events, births, deaths, marriages, trials and executions, and even astrological signs. Its obvious intention was to inform the public, but a basically illiterate public couldn't very well have been informed of much of anything by the posting of a daily gazette.

I could go on to other examples of discoveries that dispute Miller's ancient illiteracy premise, but I have already posted enough to shoot to pieces his quibble that many of the miracles claimed in the Bible were not recorded elsewhere because literacy was so rare. In other words, when a biblical inerrantist needs an "explanation" of a Bible discrepancy, he will make one up without bothering to test its plausibility.

Miller continued to list other principles (most of them abstractly stated) that he thought would make Berry's argument fail. In essence, these other principles were asserting that the miracles that Berry had listed in his fivefold challenge were localized events that would not have been "massively observed."

If the five miracles somehow do not fall into the category of 'massively observed' events, it [Berry's argument] fails.

Until I got to the middle of Miller's article, where he began stringing together quotations from biblical "scholars" who tried to explain the long day of Joshua as only a natural event that had just seemed to the combatants to have been an exceptionally long day, I couldn't understand how Miller thought that making the sun and moon stand still for "about a whole day," making the sun reverse its course in the sky, and causing the sun's light to fail (Luke 23:45) for three hours at midday would have been "localized events that would not have been 'massively observed,'" but, of course, I fail to understand almost all of the quibbling that would-be "apologists" like Turkel and Miller resort to in order to cling to absurd beliefs that are emotionally important to them. This section of Miller's article is a masterpiece of rationalization in which he tried to argue that "stood still" really didn't mean "stood still" and "stopped" didn't mean "stopped." In other words, his "explantion" of this event was just a variation of the old inerrantist quibble that all didn't mean all and dead didn't mean dead and and if I can find the time to do so, I would like to pick it apart some day.

In all of his quibbling and rationalizing, however, Miller overlooked a point that he probably hoped would stay overlooked. Whether or not two of these miracles (the darkness at midday and the resurrection of the many saints) were seen by others who weren't present at Jerusalem, they were allegedly seen by the apostle John, who was presumably present when they happened. Therefore, Miller and his quibbling cohorts have to give a reasonable explanation for why John did not mention either one of these phenomenal events in his alleged eyewitness account of what happened in Jerusalem on crucifixion day. In addition to being the author of the fourth gospel, John is thought to have been the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (Jn. 19:26-27). John is also thought to have been the "other disciple" who was known to the high priest and who entered into the court of the high priest with Jesus (Jn. 18:15). If these popular assumptions are correct, then John was on the scene throughout the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Hence, he would have personally witnessed the three hours of darkness at midday and the earthquake that shook open the tombs of the "many saints." Why then did he mention neither one of these spectacular events in his "eyewitness" account of that day?

Miller:

If we have no reason to believe that the 'preservation of ancient documents' problem is somehow abated in these cases(!), it fails.

Till:
In support of this "failure point," Miller said, "We know that the 'problem of preservation' is huge, for all of ancient literature, and no less so for biblical events." Yes, that is true, even though biblical literature was presumably inspired by an omniscient, omnipotent deity who, one would think, would have put forth at least a little divine effort to ensure its survival, but despite the "huge" survival problems that Miller talked about, just look at the body of ancient literature that did survive: inscriptions on Egyptian temple walls, the Moabite Stone, the pavement stones at the temple of Urta in Nimrud, the gypsum relief from the royal palace at Nimrud, the black obelisk of Shalmaneser III, the Ebla tablets, the Rassam cylinder, the clay prism of Sargon II, Sennacherib’s hexagonal prism, the basalt stele of Nabonidus, the Siloam inscription, the basalt block of Esaraddon, the Babylonian Chronicle, the Cyrus cylinder, etc., etc., etc. Many of these refer to biblical events and characters. King Jehu of Israel, for example, was depicted paying tribute on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser II. The Babylonian siege and fall of Jerusalem are referred to in the Babylonian Chronicle. The capture of Babylon by Cyrus and his religious reforms, which resulted in the right of the Jews to return to their homeland, are related in the Cyrus cylinder. Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem, recorded in 2 Kings 18-19, is described on his hexagonal prism but with entirely different results, of course. A curious thing about these extrabiblical documents and inscriptions that referred to biblical events is that they corroborated only ordinary (nonmiracuous) biblical events, and none of them corroborated any miraculous biblical claims. The Bible, for example, claims that Sennacherib's army was defeated by the intervention of an angel of Yahweh who "went forth" and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (2 Kings 19:35), but Sennacherib's inscription makes no mention of this miracle. It ended with the claim that he withdrew from Judah after receiving tribute from King Hezekiah.

As for Hezekiah, the terrifying splendor of my majesty overcame him, and the Arabs and his mercenary troops which he had brought in to strengthen Jerusalem, his royal city, deserted him. In addition to the thirty talents of gold and eight hundred talents of silver, gems, antimony, jewels, large carnelians, ivory-inlaid couches, ivory-inlaid chairs, elephant hides, elephant tusks, ebony, boxwood, all kinds of valuable treasures, as well as his daughters, his harem, his male and female musicians, which he had brought after me to Nineveh, my royal city. To pay tribute and to accept servitude, he dispatched his messengers.

It seems rather odd that such a body of ancient "literature," written in times contemporary to biblical events, would not have made references to any of the many exceptional events claimed in the Bible. At any rate, if Miller wants to talk about a "failure point," perhaps he should take pause to consider the failure of his claim that Berry's argument fails because there was only a minimal survival of ancient documents that would have had occasion to mention extraordinary biblical events. Although the ancient documents that have survived are no doubt just a small percentage of those that were produced, the number that did survive was in no sense insignificant. Miller's "point" here is therefore nothing but typical "apologetic" excuse-making and rationalization.

Another comment is in order before I leave this point. In this section of part three of my replies to what Turkel sarcastically referred to as "Crimes of Omission," I noted that a history by Justus of Tiberius, who lived in Galilee at the same time that Jesus allegedly did, made no mention at all of Jesus or any of his extraordinary deeds. By some coincidence fortuitous to the Christian cause, Justus's history did not survive beyond the 9th century AD, when the Christian writer Photius summarized its contents and expressed surprise that Justus made no mention of Jesus. What I am going to say now would certainly qualify as a "crime of speculation," but I can't help wondering if Justus's history disappeared because it was an embarrassment to Christianity, which had gained wide religious domination by that time. If this could possibly account for the disappearance of this work, one could only wonder how many other ancient documents were destroyed in order to keep them from reflecting badly on the Christian cause. After all, a larger body of ancient documents contemporary to the time when Jesus allegedly lived, which made no mention of him, would have been hard to explain.

In view of a facetious comment that Miller made below about Christians destroying documents unfavorable to them, I will head off any attempt by him or Turkel to make my comments above a straw man to beat up, by reminding them to remember that I said that this possibility is only a speculation. In no sense am I presenting it as historical fact, but sensible people will certainly not dismiss it as an absolute impossibility. After all, one would have to be ignorant of history not to know that Christians have at times destroyed literature that they considered detrimental to their cause. The Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum issued in 1559 and published until 1966 was an attempt to keep the wrong kind of literature out of the hands of those who were suposedly the "true Christians." Catholic missionaries burned eight centuries of Mayan literature and thereby destroyed forever what an advanced civilization had discovered over a period of many centuries. In 1650, Puritan authorities in Massachusetts confiscated and burned a heretical pamphlet written by William Pynchon. In our own day, we have seen efforts by fundamentalist groups to destroy Harry Potter books on the grounds that they promote witchcraft. Attempts to suppress "false religions" by destroying their literature is a fact of history, and no amount of hee-hee-heeing, which we will see from Miller below, can remove that fact. That aside, I don't need to argue that Christians destroyed ancient documents that were unfavorable to their religion, because there is sufficient evidence (presented above) to show that enough ancient documents did survive to negate Miller's speculation that mention of biblical miracles is not found in extrabiblical literature because the survival of such was rare. That is obviously not so.

Miller:

If we have no reason to believe that a population base of only 'thousands' of observers would generate such documentation, it fails. [Doesn't apply to worldwide events, of course, unless the actual number of people "watching" is small].

Till:
Miller doesn't think that a "population base" of only "thousands of observers" would have "generate[d]" documentation of sensational events like three hours of midday darkness and the resurrection of "many saints" who appeared to "many"? That's curious. I would like to know his reason for so assuming. In his lengthy article--the length of which I have not seen any complaints about from Turkel, who routinely complains about the length of my replies to him--Miller launched into a long hypothetical example of an ancient Near Eastern peasant named Joe who saw a man "magically change a dozen monkeys into a dozen men." I would much rather see Miller explain why many thousands of people who had surely seen the three hours of midday darkness, if indeed it happened, would not have left any references to this amazing event beyond the dubious references that "apologists" like Miller and Turkel have strained to find in fragmented quotations from Julian Africanus and Phlegon, which I will comment more about below. Why did Miller chose some hypothetical magical trick about monkeys being changed into men instead of one of the many actual miracles claimed in the Bible, such as the resurrections of Lazarus (John 11:38-43), the widow of Nain's son (Luke 7:11-17, or Jairus's daughter (Matt. 9:18-26; Mark 5:35-43; Luke 8:40-56). After all, Luke claimed that a report of the raising of the widow's son "went forth... in the whole region of Judea and all the region round about" (7:17). Wow! It spread that far and wide, yet no one but Luke ever bothered to mention it. For the sake of argument, let's assume that every last person in "Judea and all the region round about" was illiterate, what about "oral tradition" that Miller and Turkel--and especially Turkel--talk so much about? Are they claiming that no oral tradition at all would have developed around this amazing resurrection story? If so, how do they explain that no "oral tradition" about the raising of the widow's son developed, but oral traditions about such ordinary events as Jesus's sitting on a mountain with his disciples (John 6:3) or the woman's washing Jesus's feet with a precious ointment (Matt. 26:13), or the casting of money exchangers out of the temple (Mark 11:15-18), or the story of the widow's mite (Mark 12:41-44) did develop. A widow's son was resurrected from the dead, and although a report of this spread far and wide, no oral traditions of it developed beyond the one that Luke apparently heard about, but a widow threw "two mites" into a collection box, and oral traditions like this apparently spread like wildfire, enough so that both Mark and Luke knew about it (Luke 21:1-4) when the time came to write their gospels. It's amazing what priorities that spawned oral traditions apparently were in those days.

In his lengthy tale about the peasant named Joe, Miller launched into his usual "crimes of speculation" about why Joe wouldn't have reported this amazing miracle. I will italicize the summations of Miller's speculative quibbles and enclose my replies to them in parentheses.

  1. Joe could have been a "rival magician," who wouldn't care to spread notority about a competitor. (I thought that Joe was a peasant, but now the peasant has suddenly become a "rival magician." That is about par for the course in the articles of would-be apologists.)
  2. Joe might have been a member of "the ruling class," who would want to engage the services of this magician to his political advantage, and so Joe kept quite about the amazing feat.

I am not making this stuff up, folks. Click this link and see for yourselves that this is the kind of speculation that Miller resorted to in order to explain why miracles like Joshua's stopping of the sun and the resurrection of the "many saints" were never referred to in any extrabiblical documents, but let's continue through Miller's saga of the peasant named Joe, who suddenly became a member of "the ruling class." Here was Miller's next explanation for why Joe would not have said anything about the miraculous transformation of the monkeys into men.

At this point, Miller talked about how few military pay records (Roman, I assume) have survived despite there having been "a total production of about 225 million in the first three centuries AD." As I read this, I wondered if Miller knows what the fallacy of false analogy is. He is trying to compare a very ordinary matter, i. e., military payment records, to a hypothetical example of a man who saw a very extraordinary event, i. e., the transformation of a dozen monkeys into men. If we could stretch imagination far enough to imagine that the latter ever happened, which would have been the more likely one to survive (at least through "oral tradition"), the miracle of the monkeys or the ordinary payments of men for military service? To ask the question is to answer it, and no facetious remarks about guessing that "the Christians burned all these too, like all those other books and libraries, eh? hee, hee..." can make the two the least bit comparable.

As for Joe's making 1000 to 100,000 copies to ensure that one copy of it would survive, I wonder how Joe could have possibly done that in a time when writing materials were (1) expensive and (2) controlled by the "ruling class." Do these amateur "apologists" ever take notice of their inconsistencies?

Miller's Joe-the-peasant/ruler silliness continued. After taking us through the crimes of speculation summarized and replied to above, he asked readers to assess "the likelihood" of the following.

  1. that Joe's culture assigns some value to Joe's recording actions, to prompt him to express his amazement in that specific manner, as opposed to perhaps dancing or sacrificing; (At this point, it became obvious that Miller was scraping the bottom of the barrel of his speculations. If one should ask how likely it was that the culture that the apostle Paul lived in would have "assign[ed] some value" to his epistles, enough so to ensure their survival, I am sure that Miller would consider this shameless quibbling, which is exactly what I think of his quibble above. To borrow a phrase from Turkel, the bottom line is that someone who was presumably present on crucifixion day did not mention three amazing events that allegedly happened then, and no amount of hypothesizing about a peasant named Joe can remove that problem. What is the likelihood that the Akkadian culture would have assigned enough importance to the "Letter from Guli-Adad to Talwashur of Ta'anach," which was nothing more than a 30-line letter in reply to a friend's request for a loan and advice about his daughter, yet here we are 17 centuries after it was written, and it still survives. I could give other examples, but what's the use? Sensible people will see through Miller's quibbling, but if I posted a million examples of ancient documents about routine matters that have survived for thousands of years, Miller and Turkel would still cling to their untenable belief in biblical inerrancy.
  2. that Joe's local culture assigns greater value to written, as opposed to oral, recording of events like this (contradicting all the data we have about ancient civilizations including Greece and Rome); (Very well, but I have addressed the matter of "oral tradition" above. Given the significance that both Miller and Turkel seem to attach to it, all of their talk about the rarity of literacy in biblical times does nothing to help their case, because, as I noted above, if Joe didn't know how to write, he would have known how to talk, so Miller and Turkel have to explain why "oral traditions" about extraordinary events like a midday darkness and the resurrection of "many saints" wouldn't have circulated like wildfire until some literate person came along who could write it down. That is all that I need to say about Miller's speculation that "Joe" may have lived in a culture that assigned greater value to oral tradition than written records. If that is so, Miller can't explain what would have kept "Joe" from starting an oral tradition about the amazing event of monkeys being transformed into men, and he can't explain why anyone would have ever written anything back in the time when "oral tradition" was considered more important than written records. Could it just possibly be that after writing was invented, there just wasn't a time when oral traditions were deemed more important than written ones? Oral traditions were undoubtedly transmitted by those who couldn't write, but the fact that so many biblical and extrabiblical records were written disputes Miller's attempt to claim that amazing events may not have been written down because oral tradition was considered the way to transmit such data.
  3. that the ruling religious/power elite would be non-threatened [sic] enough to let Joe go through with this; (I will bet that Miller doesn't wonder if a "ruling religious/power elite" in the days when New Testament authors were writing their epistles and gospels would have been "nonthreatening enough to let [them] go through with [writing them].)"
  4. that the culture also provides people who can read what Joe writes (as well as situations in which reading will occur). (There is no need to reinvent the wheel here. If this could have been a problem for "Joe," it would have been a problem for Paul, "Peter," "John," Luke, Mark, "Matthew," et al. If not, why not? All that aside, I showed above that literacy was far more widespread than Miller would have his readers think. I will also alert readers to watch for Turkel, who claims to endorse Miller's views on this, to switch horses in midstream and suddenly began to claim that there was widespread literacy in biblical days. Those who want to jump ahead and see it now can click here

After listing the four "likelihoods" just discussed, Miller said, "Hopefully [dangling modifier], the reader can already see the historiographical problem." Well, I hate to disillusion Mr. Miller's hope, but the only historiographical problem that I see is the unlikely premise that "John" was present on the day of crucifixion, but when he wrote about the events of that day, he omitted the three extraordinary events that "Matthew" reported in his account. As I will emphasize and reemphasize further along, the fact that "John" presumably chose to write about "signs" that would make his readers believe that Jesus was "the Christ" (John 20:31) but omitted all references to the very "signs" that had caused the Roman soldiers to declare that Jesus was surely the son of God (Matt. 27:51-54) is a bit hard to believe. Sensible readers will conclude that either these events did not happen as Matthew claimed or "John" wasn't present on that day as he claimed in his gospel.

Miller went on to say that "(i)f Joe is a rural peasant, he may be incredibly impressed, but we aren't gonna know about it--he would probably fail on all of the above counts," but I have replied to every one of the above "counts" to show that they are nothing more than desperate rationalizations by someone who wants to believe that the Bible is "the inspired word of God. If, for example, we have heard about the very ordinary "Letter from Guli-Adad to Talwashur of Ta'anach," written 17 centuries ago in reply to a friend's request for a loan and advice about his daughter, what makes Miller think that, if it had happened, there is no way that we would have known about a peasant named "Joe" seeing a man change 12 monkeys into men? Miller needs to put his head on straight and look at ancient history realistically rather than through his desire for the Bible to be "the word of God." Everything that he has said above about "Joe" could be said by a Hindu or a Muslim to "explain" why there are no secular records of miraculous deeds mentioned in their holy books. Hence, the axiom that says what proves too much proves nothing at all applies here, because there is no value in a line of reasoning that could prove just any holy book to be inerrant.

At this point, Miller launched into a series of speculations about what would have happened if "Joe" had been a merchant instead of a peasant. At a later date, I will try to find time to reply to more of his speculations, a few of which have at least a semblance of merit to them, but if I drag my reply through all of Miller's ramblings--because he does ramble at times--I will never get to Turkel's part of the paper-shortage quibble. I will conclude my reply to Miller's part with something that he said after leading his readers through various speculations about why "Joe" would not have left any record of the amazing miracle that he saw.

Miller:
What this amounts to is the problem of ancient literacy.

Till:
I have shown above that there was no "problem of ancient literacy" at least not to the degree that Miller claims in the time when the biblical gospels were being written. This is just a straw man that Miller is kicking around to distract attention from his inability to explain why "John" would have omitted all references to "signs" that would have help him achieve his purpose of wanting his readers to believe that Jesus was "the Christ."

Miller:
For Robby's argument to work, there must be a large number of actual observers of special phenomena that also have adequate documentary writing skills. His argument loses its force if everyone can see the miracle, but no one can write a record of it (to Robby's criteria)! Thus, to the extent that literacy is limited, to that same extent his argument is weakened.

Till:
I devoted a lot of space above to showing that literacy in biblical times was not nearly as rare as Miller wants his readers to believe, so that part of my rebuttal speaks for itself. That he is shamelessly quibbling can be seen in his statement that Berry's argument loses its force if everyone saw a miracle but no one could write a record of it, because we are trying to get him or Turkel to give us a rational explanation for why "John," who was allegedly present on crucifixion day and apparently literate enough to write the fourth gospel, would not have even mentioned a three-hour period of darkness at midday and an earthquake which shook open the tombs of "many saints," who later went into the city and appeared to many. As I am trying to drive home to Miller and Turkel--an admittedly futile task--both here and further along, if "John's" purpose in writing his gospel was to report "signs" that would make people believe that Jesus was "the Christ" (John 20:31), why would he have omitted all references to miraculous events that "Matthew" said had caused the Roman soldiers to declare that Jesus was the son of God? Besides claiming to have been present on that day, "John" had the added advantage of having been inspired by the Holy Spirit when he was writing, so Turkel and Miller need to stop talking about hypothetical characters like "Joe the peasant" and exaggerated claims about widespread illiteracy and try to address the real issue. I have seen neither of them do that yet.

As for their claim of widespread illiteracy, let's just suppose that every person present on that day, except for "Matthew" and "John," were totally illiterate, how would that explain the failure of "John," who was writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to mention the astounding events that happened then? Furthermore, even if everyone but "Matthew" and "John" was indeed illiterate, they had eyes, didn't they? Wouldn't they have seen what happened? And they could speak, couldn't they? So why wouldn't they have told and retold and retold the events of that day so that oral traditions about the midday darkness and the resurrection of the "many saints" would have become established firmly enough for Mark and Luke, who presumably were not present that day, to know about these miraculous events, if by chance the omniscient, omnipotent Holy Spirit should have forgotten to inspire them to know of these events? These are serious problems that neither Miller nor Turkel are addressing, and I suspect the reason why they aren't addressing them is that they know that they have no satisfactory explanation for this silence.

Miller:
(And, once we clear the general literacy hurdles, we have the preservation problem, of course.)

Till:
What preservation problem? Would the problem of the preservation of "Joe's" account of the monkey miracles have been any greater than the survival of the Letter from Guli-Adad to Talwashur of Ta'anach (mentioned above) or of the graffiti on the walls of Pompeii or on the walls of tourquoise mines in the Sinai (also mentioned above)? All kinds of writing samples from the distant past have been discovered, and there is no way to know how many others have survived but not yet been discovered. This is another straw man that Miller is beating on.

Turkel, of course, will parrot Miller's paper-shortage quibble, but he will also quibble that the extraordinary events on crucifixion day mentioned by "Matthew" didn't fit into John's scheme of things, but it is difficult to understand how such remarkable events as these would not have fit into the scheme of a person who was writing his gospel in order that his readers might believe that "Jesus is the Christ, the son of God," and that in believing, they might "have life in his name" (John. 20:31). What better way could "John" have increased his chances of achieving this goal than by telling his readers that when the man Jesus was on the cross, the sun failed to give its light for three hours at midday and that when he died, an earthquake shook open the tombs of "many saints" who later rose from their graves and went into the city and appeared to many? From his silly palaver about imperceptible earthquakes, postresurrection and preascension bodies, etc., etc., etc. later on in Part Two, we know what Turkel will quibble, but I would like to hear what Miller has to say. He can't say that "John" was illiterate, because the existence of the gospel that he wrote [snicker, snicker] is evidence that he could write. He can't say that "John" didn't witness these things, because "John's" inerrant gospel clearly says that he was there (John 19:35), or else John wasn't the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 19:26-27).

Turkel linked us to Miller's quibbles above, so I will leave Turkel with the problem of explaining to us why in the world an eyewitness to these two remarkable events would not have even mentioned them, if indeed his goal was to give his readers cause to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the son of God, who could give them "life" if they would believe in his name. One has to stretch imagination to think that of all of the people in Jerusalem that day, no one but one lone member of the Jesus cult [Matthew] bothered to leave a record of these two astounding miracles, but one has to stretch imagination to the absolute limits to think that there was also a second member of the Jesus cult [John] who witnessed both events and did leave a record but didn't think that these two events were worth mentioning.

In addition to linking readers to Miller's article, Turkel also linked them to his article "Thallus: Darkness Rules," in which he, through more links to Glenn Miller, resorted to the discredited attempt to find an extrabiblical reference to the three hours of darkness in a surviving fragment from a third-century AD Christian writer named Julian Africanus. Miller's article, entitled "Extrabiblical Witnesses to Jesus before 200 A. D.," quoted a secondhand reference that "Thallus" made to "an eclipse of the sun," which desperate apologists have tried to make into extrabiblical corroboration of the three hours of midday darkness claimed in the synoptic gospels. Rather than rehash previous refutations of this claim, I am just going to link readers to my article "The Absence of Evidence," the last part of which refuted the absurdity of seeing the fragment from Africanus's History of the World as extrabiblical corroboration of the midday darkness and also includes a refutation of apologetic attempts to make Eusebius and Phlegon (both of whom Miller quoted in his article) as other extrabiblical "witnesses" to the midday darkness. Even more detailed rebuttals of atttempts to make Thallus, Eusebius, and Phlegon "witnesses" to this event can be found in articles by Richard Carrier: "Thallus: An Analysis" and "Jacoby and Müller on 'Thallus.'" Carrier did his usual splendid job of exposing flaws in the "apologetics" of those who seek to find evidence of historical accuracy in the Bible where none exists. Anyone who takes the time to absorb the material in these articles will have no problem seeing that Turkel's and Miller's attempts to find extrabiblical corroboration of the midday darkness claimed in the synoptic gospels is nothing more than desperation apologetics. When, if ever, they reply point by point to Carrier's detailed refutation of these dubious apologetic efforts to find the midday darkness in the writings of Africanus and Phlegon, I will be happy to reply to whatever rebuttal points they may dream up. If they don't reply to all of Carrier's details, then his refutations will stand unimpeached.

Go to Part Two



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