Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
FM 18:2 (Spring 2001) p. 71
Is the Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, by Jeffrey L. Sheler. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999. Pp. 278.
Writing as a journalist rather than as a theologian, Sheler offers the general reader a manual for navigating the often labyrinthine and always thorny landscape of present-day biblical studies by tackling such salient issues as the Dead Sea scrolls, the Bible codes, the Jesus Quest, and recent discoveries in Near-Eastern archaeology. After nearly a decade as a religion writer with the U.S. News and World Report, the author uses his unique perspective to present equitably the major positions on these debates and to allow the reader to decide. While the work is by no means a “fundamentalist manifesto” (p. 3), nor a scandalous, skeptical revisionist text, it does conclude that when the evidence is allowed to speak, it overwhelmingly affirms the testimony of the Bible (pp. 253-56).
In the first section, Sheler develops a common ground with the reader by summarizing the development of written Scripture and the completion of the canon, as well as the advent-and cultural impact-of modern biblical disciplines. In sifting through the ideas about ancient history as recorded in the Bible, the author warns that a major, interpretative hazard is reading the Bible with modern (post-Enlightenment) conventions and expectations. Such an approach, he argues, leads to one of two extremes: either to “a hyper-skepticism that faults the Scriptures for failing to meet the tests of modern historiography, or to a totally uncritical literalism that never looks beyond the ‘plain meaning’ of words on a page” (p. 42).
The second and longest section uncovers recent finds in Near-Eastern archaeology and examines their impact on the veracity of the Bible. Sheler finds that while certain ultra-literalistic interpretations of Biblical stories, such as those often given to the creation account and the Noahic Flood, are historically untenable, and other early, Biblical events such as the Exodus and the lives of the Patriarchs are at present historically unverifiable, the weight of historical data solidly supports the majority of the testimony of the Old Testament. Sheler notes that a stumbling block to many skeptics is inaccurate Biblical interpretations; for example, the “conquest model” of Joshua is frequently used as a “straw man” by skeptics to downplay Biblical accuracy (p. 87). In this instance, the author avers that the extrapolated model is the problem-not the Bible. Furthermore, archaeologists have produced telling evidence of the Israelite civilization
FM 18:2 (Spring 2001) p. 72
from the period of the Monarchy ...
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