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Is the Good Book Bad History?
Re: Cover Story - Maclean's, December 9, 2002
Response by Hart Wiens

I wonder how many of you saw the December 9 issue of Maclean's. Did you see the cover story entitled "Is the Good Book bad history?" When this story appeared Bob Simpson wondered if I could write a response. At the time I was extremely busy and I was not sure exactly what I could say that would not come across as vitriolic or defensive. By now it is probably too late to send a response to Maclean's, but I have come up with a response that some of you might find helpful.

First, the timing of the story in Maclean's was interesting. It appeared right on the heals of the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Toronto. I attended some of the SBL sessions. I was not sure what to expect but I thought the general tone would be highly academic and perhaps not very helpful to those of us who take the Bible seriously as God's word. I'm sure there were many different kinds of presentations and perhaps even some that were very critical of the Bible. However, the sessions I attended were more practical then I expected and the general tone was very respectful of the Scriptures. My general sense is that the kind of scholarship featured in the Maclean's story was more on the fringe than the mainstream of contemporary biblical scholarship. Even the "Jesus Seminar" seems to be losing ground. Interestingly also, most of the letters to the editor in the latest Maclean's were very positive toward the Bible.

More specifically, the best response that I have come up with to the Maclean's story is another question. "Did Neil Armstrong walk on the moon?" What does this question have to do with the question posed by Maclean's?? Most of us are old enough to remember the event and so the question sounds silly, and yet there are people today who maintain that it was all a big hoax, just as there are people who want to consign everything in the Bible to legend.

On Thursday, February 15th 2001 (and replayed on March 19), the Fox TV network aired a program called ``Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon?'', hosted by X-Files actor Mitch Pileggi. The program was an hour long, and featured interviews with a series of people who believe that NASA faked the Apollo Moon landings in the 1960s and 1970s. The biggest voice in this is Bill Kaysing, who claims to have all sorts of hoax evidence, including pictures taken by the astronauts, engineering details, discussions of physics and even some testimony by astronauts themselves. The program's conclusion was that the whole thing was faked in the Nevada desert (in Area 51, of course!). According to them, NASA did not have the technical capability of going to the Moon, but pressure due to the Cold War with the Soviet Union forced them to fake it.

I watched that program and I must confess that by the end of it I was having serious doubts about the credibility of what I saw on TV with my own eyes in 1969. Well, the truth about the moon landings is relatively easy to establish today because of all the people involved who are still alive and the wealth of physical evidence to substantiate it. However the fact that someone can make a very convincing case against this historical event just shows why it is so easy to cast doubt on the biblical record. Even the events of Jesus life on earth occurred too long ago and have too little corroborating evidence from outside sources to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt the reliability of the witnesses. The fact that it is so easy to poke holes in historical events and the fact that the Bible's claims on our lives are so all-encompasing, will ensure that there will always be people who attempt to cast doubt on the historical accuracy of details recorded in the Bible.

The fact that different accounts of the same events recorded in the Bible do not always agree can easily be explained by the fact that there are many factors which can cause two or more individuals to experience the very same historical event in very different ways. I have very good evidence of this phenomenon in my own immediate family. My ancestors were forced to flee Stalin's harsh communist regime in 1930. Both of my parents were part of the same migration on the night that their entire village of 100 familys packed up and went across the Amur River into China. My mother was 10 years old and the youngest in her family. Her oldest brother was at the front of the line as one of the leaders of the exodus and she was nestled snuggly among the blankets and other belongings on her family's horsedrawn sleigh. She came away with memories of warmth, adventure and security about the experience. My dad on the other hand, was one of the eldest in his family. At 12 years of age he was called on to drive one of his family's sleighs. On the Chinese side of the border his family was assigned to the only bus that broke down on the way to safety at their refugee camp in the city of Harbin. He carries memories of fear, anxiety, danger and misfortune about the experience. My parents ended up with their respective families in exactly the same Paraguayan village where they got married and I was born. Iit has always been amazing to us to hear how very different their recollections were of life in the "Green Hell." They experienced the same events in the same place, but one would hardly be able to conclude that from the very different nature of their accounts.

I am content to accept that some details of the biblical record are beyond our knowing with the kind of certainty we desire and that life with Jesus is finally a faith adventure in which Jesus pronounces a particular blessing on those who believe without visual, physical evidence. What I believe is more convincing than any physical evidence for or against the biblical record is the power of the Bible to engage, inspire and empower change for good in people's lives to this day.

It is this power to produce positive change in the live of real people today that continues to make the Bible a book worthy of reference and the best seller of all time. And it is this power that continues to motivate me and convince me that the Bible Cause is a calling worth giving my life for.

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