For me, an important evidence that God chose Israel as his people to bless would be the testimony of miracles. This section examines most of the miracles in the Old Testament for credibility.
The Old Testament claims the following miracles as testament to God's relationship with Israel. Personally, I do allow for the possibility of miracles. Who am I to say that they can't happen? Such a statement would presume more than any human can know. The question is, What do I require to believe that a miracle has occurred? PERSONAL EXPERIENCE would rank high, but it doesn't apply in this case. My criteria for a miracle happening in past history is the following:
1. SCIENTIFIC SUPPORT FAVORING THE MIRACLE OVER EVIDENCE OF ALTERNATIVES EXPLANATIONS. A miracle cannot ever really be subjected to scientific experiment because it by definition defies natural laws. So, 'support' refers to evidence in nature and history that is consistent with the account given. In such a case, I would expect the evidence to support that idea that something 'unusual' happened. A number of the OT accounts have some scientific support, so this will be examined.
2. MULTIPLE WITNESS TESTIMONY. This refers to multiple witness accounts. One account by one person which involves multiple persons does NOT qualify. Only a few OT have multiple witness testimony, which will be examined.
3. TIME PASSED FROM THE TESTIMONY AND/OR EVENT. The more time that passes, the more likelihood that the account is partially or totally untrue. IF the OT was written after 1000 BC as is widely believed a number of accounts were written far after the events claimed. Others were written much closer in time.
4. CREDIBILITY OF WITNESSES. This is tricky due to the passage of time and often lack of information about either the writer or the writing. I reject the claim for credibility by the writer himself. Anyone can claim to be credible. It would seem that this would require relying on the internal evidence of truthfulness, and consistency. I feel fairly unqualified due to my lack of expertise, but will attempt to look for clues regarding credibility in the OT accounts. NOTE: I believe myth can develop out of innocent belief and disregard for careful scrutiny, or through outright deception. Because religion is a powerful influence I believe there can exist a motivation for any of these actions to create myth.
5. ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE FOR MYTHOLOGICAL ORIGINS. If there are such evidences they should be considered.
Is there any point? Given the lack of my personal witness, the passage of time, and the lack of knowledge about the writers, is there anything that would convince me that they are writing about a genuine miracle? I don't really know. I think certain scientific support along with other corroberating writings in history might be persuasive, though there probably would need to be a real lack of reasonable alternative explanations. I think it is worth at least examining to some extent.
Below, I subject OT miracles accounts to the above criteria. I've included the well-known pre-Israel miracles also since they are written to reveal God, by Israel authors.
MIRACLES IN GENESIS: Tradition says Moses wrote Genesis. If true, that would probably have been around 1200-1300 BC. Moses was therefore not an eyewitness to the miracles in Genesis because they are represented as happening thousands of years before Moses lived. Therefore, the most important evidence to me would be the scientific and multiple account evidence.
COMMENT ON SUMERIAN CORROBERATION FOR GENESIS MIRACLES
Of particular note are stories in ancient Sumerian that have enough points--including those of a miraculous nature--in common with the Genesis accounts of Creation, Old Ages, The Flood, and the Tower of Babel to be more than coincidence. However, many details are different--including the names of the people and places involved. This, plus the passage of time between accounts and the lack of eyewitness reporting by the author IMO weaken the evidence. However--difficulties noted--it is still evidence worth considering. What is one to make of these multiple accounts?
1. Both accounts cannot be completely true.
2. One could be true--reflecting the true tradition of what happened--while the other--though having some awareness of the actual events--distorted it over the years.
3. Neither one is completely correct. Both are telling versions of the same myth, which either one of them could have created, or could have come from another place.
Since the stories all concern events in Sumer, and since the Sumerian version precedes that of the Hebrew version, and since there exist some similarities in the Flood, the old king list, and the Tower of Babel in other cultures throughout the world, IMO it think it is most likely that the accounts originated with the Sumerians, was passed on from them to other cultures including the Hebrews, and that the Hebrews distorted them over time in order to more closely match their religious beliefs. This is reasonable since the evidence suggests that the earliest civilizations began in Sumer and people migrated from there.
There appears some further evidence that the Hebrews adapted the stories, as shown below. Adaptations could have taken place over time, or very quickly. The Hebrew accounts appear to more closely match the Babylonian accounts of about the same time, than the earlier Sumerian account from which the Babylonian accounts presumably came (since Babylon overtook the Sumerian empire), AND the Hebrews were held captive by the Babylonians during a time in which many believe the Hebrew writings were formed or modified. While a careful comparison of accounts, and an examination of name differences may yield valuable information which could change my perspective, the task would be immense and is one I have decided to not undertake at this time.
So, as far as multiple testimony goes, I lean toward believing that the evidence suggests that there may be some basis in fact for the Genesis accounts, but that they most likely were changed by the Hebrews to coincide with their religious beliefs. That being said, I still allow for the possibility that they got it right and that the other accounts became distorted over time.
Now, I'll examine the Genesis miracles for scientific evidence:
The account in Genesis includes the following miraculous events:
1. Creation of something out of nothing by God
Science: Science can't really address this one. It does say that the universe as we know it had a beginning, based on the observation of an expanding universe.
2. Creation of the world, and life in 6 days
Science: The order of appearance of life from simple to complex is similar to that found in the fossil record. The claim that a day was a 24 hour period is clearly contradicted by scientific findings which show great age of the world as well as millions of years passing between different groups life forming. 2:5 seems to imply that no plants preceeded man, which science disagrees with, but that is also contradicted in Genesis 1. Both chapters refer to man being formed from the ground, which science agrees with.
3. Creation of distinct species
Science: The fossil record primarily shows distinct species, but has examples which also seem to show evolution between species including--for example--23 different types of elephants.
4. Eve was created from Adam's rib
Science: Science would disagree with this, as the fossil record doesn't support this. Nor does the theory of evolution, or many scientific concepts. However, I don't if science is able to 'disprove' that it happened.
5. Man and the serpant could talk to each other
Science: As a literal concept this is unsupported.
Other issue: Timing and location of creation of man
Archeology supports the approximate location of Eden--Mesopotamia--as the cradle of civilization. The first multiple cities appeared there in around 3500 BC. This is close to the Biblical timeline which has Adam created around 4,000 BC. This is at first glance highly impressive evidence for the accuracy of the account. However, there is a reason there is a written account of the earliest civilization(s): They themselves wrote about it. Sumeria was the first to invent language and they thrived for some 1500 years or so, with numerous writings surviving also. It is therefore not that unusual that other later countries would have absorbed some of their writings into their culture, including their account of being the first of mankind--perhaps with knowledge that it is true. We know that the Babylonians and Chaldeans did so. What seems unusual is that the account survived in 'live' form to this day.
As close as the account is to what archeologists have found, there are some major differences. Cities existed long before that. Jericho is said to have been a city in 8000 BC. And, archeology has many findings claiming to be evidence of man existing thousands of years earlier and in other locations far away.
Evidence of mythical influence:
1. God is quoted (1:26, 3:22) as saying 'Let us make man..'. This could be seen as evidence of borrowing of this story from another one which had multiple gods in the beginning. However, it is inconclusive as other interpretations consistent with Judaism--Christianity are possible.
2. Talking animals is consistent with mythological accounts.
3. Genesis 3:20 says: "And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living". The Hebrew equivalent to Eve is Havvah. It's meaning is unknown. Howover, it is similar to the Hebrew word hayah, which means 'to live'. This may be evidence of the author inventing an explanation for a name, since it is similar but not exactly the same as a Hebrew word with meaning found in the explanation. Another example is found in 3:1 in Eve naming her son Cain: "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord". Cain is Kayin in Hebrew, which is usually taken to mean 'smith'. However, it resembles the Hebrew word 'kanah' which means 'to get'.
The only miraculous components supported by science is the fact of a 'beginning' to the universe, and perhaps the 'beginning' of life itself. Though there may be some examples to the contrary, the evidence on the whole appears to support the distinctness of the species in most cases, but not in some. The other miraculous details--6 day creation, Eve from Adam, talking with the serpant are contradicted by science.
The location of Eden is extremely impressive, but not necessarily surprising, as explained above. The literal timing of Adam, is impressive as far as early civilizations go, but is contradicted by science as far as the earliest man is concerned.
The apparant inclination to find Hebrew meaning in words that were not Hebrew appears to me to be a clue that the account was originally not Hebrew, and was purposely changed in places in order to give credibility to the Hebrew theology.
For me since the evidence suggests some possible signs of mythology, and does not have enough multiple witness or scientific support, it is not strong enough to conclude that miracles in the Creation account happened as described.
THE OLD AGES........Genesis 5
This, if true, would be evidence of something quite miraculous having occurred.
Scientifically, there is no support I am aware of for long lives of ancient people. My understanding is that excavations around the world show that people who lived around the time Methusela would have (3000 BC) never lived to be much more than 60 years of age.
Explanation by mythology: Longevity was seen as a blessing by a god. The lists from Sumer ascribe longevity to kings, who were sometimes gods. Thus, the story of longevity, which the Hebrews may have borrowed from Sumer, may have roots in mythology.
CONCLUSION: For me since the evidence suggests some possible signs of mythology, and does not have enough multiple witness or scientific, it is not strong enough to conclude that the miracles of Old Ages happened as described.
THE FLOOD........ Genesis 7
There is scientific evidence of flooding in that region of the world. In recent years, evidence has been found of a massive flooding of the Black Sea which would have been catestrophic. This may provide a historical basis for the story.
There is no scientific evidence of which I am aware of a world-wide flood involving the destruction of all life on earth, as is clearly described in the account. The fossil records simply do not support it. The creationist claim that it does--that light objects died first, the heavier animals later, and smarter man--who ran to higher ground--last, is not found in the fossil record.
The logistics of gathering the animals and caring for them would clearly require multiple miracles. It makes one wonder why God didn't just re-create them.
As for the rainbow, there is no requirement that it appeared for the first time, so I suppose it's use as a covenant need not be seen as a miracle.
Multiple witness: There is a similar account in Sumerian records.
CONCLUSION: For me since the evidence suggests some possible signs of mythology, and does not have enough multiple witness or scientific, it is not strong enough to conclude that the things happened as described.
TOWER OF BABEL AND THE SPREAD OF LANGUAGE.............. Genesis 11
As far as I can tell, historical linguists differ in their opinions, but there is a growing acceptance (I don't know if it is the majority or not) of the idea that all of the major languages of the world sprang from one common language. An example is in the basic words for 'one (finger)' and 'two (fingers)': Table 2. Some Global Roots
of the Words "One" and "Two"
Location Language Tik (one) Pal (two)
Africa Proto-Afro-Asiatic Nimbari *tak bala
Europe Zyrian Votyak tik pal (half)
Asia Proto-Sino-Tibetan Jeh *tyik bal
Oceania Proto-Karonan Proto Australian *dik *-pal
North America Eyak Wintun tikhi palo- South America Aguaruna Colorado tikii palu
This seems to be strong evidence in support of that theory. If this theory is correct, the account of the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel would appear to be mythological because we would expect distinct language differences at that time, while the evidence suggests a gradual change over time.
There are many ziggurats--towers--in that region of the world. There is one in Babylon that was uncompleted for hundreds of years, and finally was completed under King Nebechednezzar. It is reasonable to conclude that this is the tower the writer of Genesis was referring to. However, it's existance doesn't validate the miraculous portion of the account. There is a Chaldean account which I understand most archeologists believe refers to the Tower of Babel which explains that it wasn't completed because of a structural problem.
Unlike the Creation, the Old Ages, and the Flood, which have some basis in fact but can be explained as reflecting the development of myth, I am hard-pressed to find a reasonable alternative to explain the existance of apparant multiple stories like the Tower of Babel throughout the world. One in Mexico is very similar--with the building of a pyramid, and includes the confusion of language by the Gods. Another is found in ancient Sumerian writings with strong similarities. There are reports of a similar story in multiple other cultures--including primitive peoples also, although I don't know how accurate those are. While it is easy to explain why a large Tower would have been built and not completed, It doesn't seem easy to explain why there would exist a widespread belief that the reason was due to a confusion of languages. Perhaps over time dialects became more pronounced--causing greater difficulty in communication. Perhaps this came to a head when there was an attempt to build a Tower by a group which had multiple dialects and arguments/confusion broke out. This could have been the first case of a story to explain the phenomenon of the development of dialects--rather than having a natural cause (isolation), it is attributed to the Gods. I'm not sure I buy this idea, but if it was based on an actual significant incident involving the gods (which Towers may have been built for), it doesn't seem too far out to me.
Yet, there also is a sign of myth: In Genesis 11:9 it says "Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth." 'Babel' is derived from 'Bab-ilu' in the Babylonian language, which means 'gate of God'. In Hebrew, a similar word--'balal' means mixed or confused or counfounded. Therefore the name of the Tower really appears to have nothing to do with confusing of the languages. This suggests that the writer derived the story of the confusion of languages from the name of the Tower, as opposed to from any real miraculous event.
The last two paragraphs are clearly opposed to each other.
CONCLUSION: The scientific evidence seems fairly convincing to me that the account is untrue.
The Chaldean account and the 'play on words' of 'balal' and 'Babel' lead me to think the story was a clever creation of the writer of Genesis.
However, the apparant multiple similar accounts along with the uncompleted tower in Babylon gives me pause. If it is true though this would likely require 3 things: 1. The original meaning of 'Babel' was 'confuse' 2. The Babylonian meaning for 'Babel' changed over the years to something like 'Gate of God' and 3. The Hebrew word 'balal' was originally 'Babel' I don't know how likely such changes would be.
All things considered, the evidence to me is inconclusive. I cannot easily find alternative explanations for the multiple testimony, but at the same time the other evidence seems to be stacked against the miraculous account.
DESTRUCTION OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH....... Genesis 19:24
This is not attested to in any other testimony. I understand that 2 cities have been found that are thought to be Sodom and Gomorrah, and that conditions in the earth are believed to have enabled a destruction as described in Genesis. If that is true, the account then is of interest historically only, as it would not necessarily be a miracle. There is not enough evidence to indicate that the destruction was warned ahead of time.
LOT's WIFE TURNED INTO A PILLAR OF SALT
BIRTH OF ISAAC TO SARAH AT OLD AGE
These have no corroberation.
BURNING BUSH NOT CONSUMED........ Exodus 3:2
There is no corroberation.
PLAGUES OF EGYPT
1. Boils............ Exodus 9:8-11
2. Darkness.............. Exodus 10:21-23
3. Death of Firstborn......... Exodus 12:29-30
4. Flies............ Exodus 8:20-24
5. Frogs.......... Exodus 8:5-14
6. Lice............ Exodus 8:16-18
7. Locusts....... Exodus 10:12-19
8. Murrain....... Exodus 9:3-6
9. Thunder, Hail,etc........... Exodus 9:22-26
10. Waters Made Blood...... Exodus 7:20-25
My understanding is that none of these miraculous events are corroberated elsewhere, including in Egyptian writings, even though documentation in Egypt around the time they were supposed to be there is considered to have been extensive.
There is some evidence of Israel having been in Egypt. The name Moses is Egyptian, and the historical situation around the time of Joseph through Moses lends itself to support for the accounts of their being there, and being used as slaves, as well as there being opportunities for them to escape Egypt during a time of weakness around 1200 BC.
Egypt may have had motivation to not record the details of the miracles against it, as it was going through difficult times and such a recording may have been humiliating, and an admission of the weakness of their own gods. However, the fact remains that there is no corroberation of the miracles, and such accounts may therefore have been embellished over time by the Israelites.
If Moses were the author, and we knew that additions were not later made, that would be evidence worth considering. Unfortunately, we cannot determine if accounts were 'legendarized' over time or not.
There is some possible evidence of mythology in the accounts of the Exodus:
1. Exodus 2:10 has the Pahaoh's daughter calling the child Moses because 'I drew him out of the water'. The Hebrew word mashah means 'to draw out'. The Hebrew name for Moses is Mosheh. As seen before, a story appears to be created because a name sounds similar to another word.
2. The word for passover is pesach, which has an unknown meaning. Pesach is similar to another Hebrew word that means 'to pass over', yet that other word isn't used. It makes one wonder if pesach referred to an annual event, which the writer of Exodus wanted to re-establish in the minds of Israel as linked to an event of historic importance--the Passover of Exodus. In other words, it is an indication that the Passover was an event that originally was not related to the Exodus account.
For me, I can accept that an exodus occured, but the evidence is insufficient for me to accept the accounts of miracles.
MIRACLES DURING THE 40 YEARS IN THE DESERT
Red Sea divided by east wind.......Exodus 14:21-31
Waters of Mirah sweetened........Exodus 15:23-25
Manna sent daily, except Sabboth... Exodus 16:14-35
Waters from the smitten rock at Rephidim.....Exodus 17:5-7
Destruction of Nadab and Abihu...... Leviticus 10:1-2
Part of Israel burned for discontent.....Numbers 11:1-3
Earth swatllows Korah, etc...... Numbers 16:32-35
Aaron's rod budding............ Numbers 17:1-13
Water from the rock smitten twice at Meribah......... Numbers 20:7-11
The brazen serpent....... Numbers 21:8-9
Ass speaks......... Numbers 22:21-35
River Jordan stopped............ Joshua 3:14-17
Again, there is no corroberation of these accounts. There is a reference to the serpant in 2 Kings, some 400 years later, so it likely existed, but that doesn't provide evidence for it being created for a miraculous purpose. They may have actually been graven images built out of superstition.
A few things which seem to me to be evidence against the credibility of some of these accounts:
1. It is hard for me to believe the people's rebelliousness if they really witnessed these miraculous events. All of these events, those preceding the exodus, and the daily visual reminder of God's presence in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night would seem to me to be overwhelmingly effective at inspiring total devotion, yet they complained a lot. And, just after seeing God's devouring fire on the mountain Moses went up, which made them terribly frightened, and saying in 20:19 to Moses "You speak to us, and we will hear", Moses told them in 24:3 all that God told him. This would have included the 2nd commandment--to not make a graven image. Yet, they made a golden calf and worshipped it. That this was considered disobedience is obvious from the text. These actions don't seem consistent with human nature and suggest to me that some of these things didn't happen.
2. Moses is said to have broken the tablets God wrote on, and having to write the 10 commandments himself during his 2nd visit on the mountain. This suggests possibly that the tablets didn't look like they were written on by God, and that required an explanation.
3. In the account of the ass speaking to Balaam, God appears very inconsistent. First he says for Balaam to not go with Balak's people, then that it is ok. Then God is angry that he went and sends an angel to kill him. Then God has the ass speak to tell Balaam how He feels. Finally, God again says it is ok to go.
ISRAEL HAS A HOME
Walls of Jericho Fall Down............. Joshua 6:6-20
Sun and Moon Stayed............ Joshua 10:11-14
Jericho has been built and rebuilt many times. I have read that the account of the walls falling down however cannot be correct because excavations show that it was no longer a significant city during the time of Joshua.
The sun and moon staying was once considered scientifically proven by researchers at NASA. This it turns out is a hoax. It is interesting that the Sun and Moon miracle is mentioned as being recorded in the book of Jashar, but we have no record of this to my knowledge.
Water Flows from the Hollow Place "in Lehi".... Judges 15:19
Strength of Samson....... Judges 15:7-17
Dagon Falls Twice Before the Ark........... 1 Samuel 5:1-12
Sound in the Mulberry Trees:, i.e., God Goeth Before.......... 2 Samuel 5:23-25
Uzzah Struck Dead for Touching the Ark........... 2 Samuel 6:7
Men of Beth-Shemesh Smitten........ 1 Samuel 6:19
Thunderstorm Causes a Panic in the Philistine's Army.. 1 Samuel 7:10-12
To my knowledge there is no corroberation of these accounts.
There are some elements with some of these accounts, which suggests myth.
1. The names of Samson and Delilah suggest a mythological story about night overcoming the day, as it does every day. In Hebrew 'lilah' means night and 'shimshon' is close to shemesh which means 'sun'
2. Samson's strength was in his unshaved hair. This sounds quite mythological.
3. God struck Uzzah dead for touching the Ark even though he touched it presumably to protect it or as an automatic reaction when an Oxen stumbled.
4. There are 2 different, seemingly contradictory accounts of how David met Saul.
Jeroboam's Hand Withered,etc....... 1 Kings 13:4-6
Widow of Zarephate's Meal and Oil Increased by Elijah...... 1 Kings 17:14-16
Widow's Son Raised from Death............. 1 Kings 17:17-24
Drought, Fire from Heaven, and Rain at Elijah's Prayers....... 1 Kings 18:17-46
Wall of the Aphek Falls Upon Thousands of Syrians... 1 Kings 20:30
Ahaziah's Captains and Men Consumed by Fire......... 2 Kings 1:10-12
River Jordan Divided by Elijah and Elisha Successively........ 2 Kings 2:7-8,14
Elijah Translated to Heaven............. 2 Kings 2:11
Bears Destoy Forty-two Mocking "Young Men"........ 2 Kings 2:24
Water for Jehoshaphat and the Allied Army....... 2 Kings 3:16-20
Watyers of Jericho Healed with Salt......... 2 Kings 2:21-22
Widow's Oil Multiplied.......... 2 Kings 4:2-7
Cruse of Oil Does Not Fail............. 2 Kings 4:2-7
Shunammite's Son Restored to Life........... 2 Kings 4:14-37
Deadly Pottage Cured with Meal..... 2 Kings 4:38-41
Gift of a Son to the Shunammite,etc.......... 2 Kings 4:14-37
A Hundred Men Fed with Twenty Loaves......... 2Kings 4:42-44
Naaman Cured of Leprosy,etc........ 2 Kings 5:10-27
Syrian Army Smitten with Blindness and Cured.......... 2 Kings 6:18-20
Elisha's Bones Revive the Dead....... 2 Kings 13:21
Sennacherib's Army Destroyed by an Angel....... 2 Kings 19:35
Shadow of the Sun Goes Back Ten Degrees...... 2 Kings 20:9-11
To my knowledge none of these miracles are corroberated. However, there is a record by a Greek hisotrian Herodotus of a plague of mice causing the Assyrian army to retreat.
Several of these suggest myth due to the emphasis on certain numbers. In the account of Rain at Elijah's Prayers he tells his servant to look for rain 7 tims. In 2 Kings 1:10-12 3 times the king sent 50 men with a captain with 50 more men. In 2 Kings 4:14-37 the child sneezed 7 times. In 2 Kings 5:10-27 Naaman had to wash 7 times.
Uzziah Struck with Leprosy............. 2 Chronicles 26:16-21
Aaron's Rod Changed into a Serpent....... Ecclesiastes 7:10-12
Fiery Furnace Harmless......... Daniel 3:19-27
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego Delivered from the Furnace.. Daniel 3:19-27
Daniel Saved in the Lion's Den........ Daniel 6:16-23
Deliverance of Jonah.............. Jonah 2:1-10
Jonah Lives Three Day's in a Whale's Belly....... Jonah 2:1-10
To my knowledge there is no corroberation of any of these miracle accounts either. There are signs of myth in the Jonah account: During the time of Jonah Nineveh was only a small town, yet it is called 'that great city'. It didn't become great until a few hundred years after Jonah lived. Second, there is only 1 known whale that can swallow a man intact. It is the sperm whale, which are not found in the Mediteranean.
Overall, for me none of the miracle accounts here have enough evidence to be believed. In some cases there is contradictory scientific evidence. And there are a quite a few indications of mythological elements. It seems most reasonable to me that the miraculous accounts didn't happen as described in many cases. I conclude that the miracle accounts do not support this concept. Some say that the purpose of the miracle accounts, or some of them, is to convey theological truths. My concern here is simply whether there is evidence of miracles to support the idea that Israel is God's chosen people. I don't see it, and I find evidence of mythological elements in accounts which are presented as though they are factual.
Adding in this evidence to that in the previous section, I conclude that the evidence supports the idea that it is reasonable to conclude that it is a myth that God chose Israel.