Ebla and Biblical Historical Inerrancy -- By: Eugene H. Merrill

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 140:560 (Oct 1983)
Article: Ebla and Biblical Historical Inerrancy
Author: Eugene H. Merrill


Ebla and Biblical Historical Inerrancy

Eugene H. Merrill

[Eugene H. Merrill, Associate Professor of Semitics and Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary]

With the rise of modern post-Renaissance studies in the past 200 years has come the almost universal consensus among liberal Bible scholars and theologians that the Old Testament, while remaining in some sense the Word of God, is almost totally worthless as a source of reliable ancient scientific and historical information. This is particularly true of biblical references to pre-Mosaic times, commonly known as the patriarchal period. Such scholars usually allege that the writing of history, in the modern sense of the term, did not originate in Israel before the monarchy (ca. 1000 B.C.)1 and that the patriarchal stories are only legends or epics created by Hebrew theologians to explain Israel’s election by God and organization into a 12-tribe confederation.2

One cause of this pervasive skepticism is the philosophical presupposition that miracles are not possible now and therefore never have been possible. Any ancient biblical story that contains elements of the miraculous must be suspect and is to that extent disqualified as genuine history.3 A second objection to the historicity of the patriarchal stories is that they are narratives about individuals and do not concern themselves with larger historical themes such as international political and military relationships.4 This arbitrary view of what can and cannot constitute the subject of history-writing is, of course, indefensible since it is up to the historiographer to define what he will or will not include as subject matter. Since God, after all, was obviously

concerned to relate His personal interaction with a few select individuals (the patriarchs), why should one expect the Book of Genesis to recite the details of the epochal events of the ancient Near Eastern world?

This is not to say, however, that the patriarchal narratives are totally unrelated to any larger historical context, for there are hints here and there of the movements of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph within a real world and in touch with other persons and events whose existence can be attested through scholarly historical investigation. Since it is impossible in this article to explore this matter and its ramifications in any complete way, the discussion will be limited to one complex of events, out of many that could be cited.

Ebla and the Patriarchs

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