The Bible describes historical events, among other things. If you don’t also study the secular history of the origins of the books, you are in no position to say whether it’s true even after reading it, in the same way that I’m in no position to say whether a textbook on hematology is factually correct after simply reading it cover-to-cover. Hematology isn’t my field, and aside from a lecture on anemia to which a friend took me once, I don’t know a lick about it. I’m comfortable enough with my lack of knowledge on the subject, and honest enough about my ignorance, to say that.
Why does it matter who wrote the Bible or where it came from?
The Bible makes claims about the existence of a god, who this god is, how many gods there are, where the world came from, where humans, animals, plants, water, etc came from, what we are to do & how we ought to act, what happens to our consciousness after we die, and lots of other things.
Imagine that I offered you a book. In this book, it says that the there is a god, and his name is Omai. He created the universe and humans. The book says that animals were once humans a long time ago, but were made animals because of bad things they did. The universe consists of four parallel layers, or levels. The top layer, called “duku ka misi,” is empty, but at one time was inhabited by ancient beings that now have dropped down into lower levels. The second layer is called “hedu ka mis” or the sky level. It is where the spirits of dead men and women reside. It is a lot like Earth, except the people there are young and beautiful and the food tastes better. “Hei ka misi,” or Earth, is the next layer, as we see it, and the last layer is the “hei ta bebi” or “underworld.” The Amahi-teri, or demons, live in the underworld and bring misfourtune and harm on humans. All evil on the Earth layer comes from the Amahi-teri on the underworld layer.
What would your reaction be to this? You would probably write it off as untrue, mythological and invented at best. Why would you react this way?
I think the obvious answer would be that you have absolutely no reason to believe this book is true. First of all, we don’t know who wrote it, and we have no reason to trust that this person or people is/are experts on the subject or had any real knowledge of where the universe came from. Further, this story clearly disagrees with what we have observed about our world using the tools of modern science, logic, and evidence.
As you may have guessed, this is a real worldview; the Yanomamö Indians of the Amazon in Brazil & Venezuela believe that the universe is, in fact, four layers as described above. Their mythology is oral, so there is no book, only the written versions of this story which come anthropologists who have transcribed it, but no one really believes that this story is true… right?
His name is Davi Kopenawa, and he is considered by many South American governments, NGOs, and other Yanomami to be the official spokesperson of his people. He is a shaman and activist working to protect the Yanomami’s autonomy and keep their land free from loggers and gold miners. In his words (translated from Portuguese, which he learned from Christian missionaries to his village):
I want to speak giving the message from Omai. Omai is the creator of the Yanomami who also has created all the shaboris that are the shamans. The shaboris are the ones that have the knowledge, and they sent two of us to deliver their message.
Oh, okay. So it’s settled then. It doesn’t matter what geologists, astronomers, theoretical physicists, meteorologists, biologists, historians, anthropologists, et al have discovered. He says Omai is the creator, and our work here is done. Scientists, time to dust off the ol’ résumé.
We don’t believe Davi Kopenawa because he has no idea what he’s talking about. As much as I respect him as an activist, he believes these myths are true because that’s what he was told, and he is incorrect.
Now, I want to go back to the picture I posted at the top of this page, the one of the biblical scribe. This is probably what one of the authors of the Bible looked like. I’ll put them side-by-side if it helps:
Reader, I ask you: Do either of these guys qualify as experts on the origins of the universe? They both were born a very, very long time after the universe began. Do either of these guys qualify as experts on whether or not a god exists, how many gods there are, what their names are, or what they want us to do? The guy on the left says Omai exists and the guy on the right says Yahweh exists. They both make claims about how we ought to live our lives, what happens after we die, where humans came from, and the meaning of life, based on ancient mythologies passed down to them over the generations.
Tradition is not an authoritative source for knowledge about the structure, age, or origin of the universe. In logic, this is called an argumentum ad antiquitatem (argument from tradition) – it’s true because we’ve always done it this way. There are many other examples of things we have realized aren’t true, despite centuries or even millennia of oral tradition. The Bible is just as man-made as the Yanomamo creation mythos, just as unbelievable, and just as false.
Don’t believe me? Here is where the Bible came from:
I look forward to reading your comments in the section below.
Until next time,
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, and posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website ishttp://www.DaveMuscato.com.