Hector Avalos – The End of Biblical Studies

January 07, 2011

Robert Price interviews fellow Bible Geek and secular Bible scholar Hector Avalos on a wide range of topics, from the increasingly devotional character of the Society of Biblical Literature to law enforcement in the Bible and whether Ezekiel was seeing a flying saucer.

Did Abraham exist? How about Moses? David? Solomon? Jesus? Is there a future for Biblical Studied as we relegate it to the same level as the Iliad and the Odyssey?

Hector Avalos serves as professor of religious studies at Iowa State University. Once upon a time, he was a Pentecostal preacher and a child evangelist. Since then he has earned a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 1982, a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 1985, and a PhD in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University in 1991. His many books include Illness and Healthcare in the Ancient Near East, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, and The End of Biblical Studies.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, January 7th, 2011. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry. I’m Robert Price. Point of Inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reasons, science and secular values and public affairs. And at the grass roots, Hector Arvelo serves as professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University. Once upon a time, he was a Pentecostal preacher and a child evangelist. Since then, he has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Anthropology from the University of Arizona. In 1982, a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 1985 and the P.H. Dean degree in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University 1991. His many books include illness and health care in the ancient Near East. Biblical Crime Fighting Words. The Origins of Religious Violence and the End of Biblical Studies. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry, Hector Avalos. 

Well, thank you very much, Bob, for having me on the show. 

Hector, you’ve generated a storm of controversy with your book, The End of Biblical Studies. It sounds real apocalyptic. In what sense has the end come for biblical studies? 

The title is actually a double entendre meant in two senses. One is biblical studies has ended or it’s a plea to in biblical studies, as we know, the other science is in in the terms of purpose. So the end is the purpose of biblical studies. And so those people don’t understand that double meaning. But the end of biblical studies has come in the sense that there’s really no new data with which to work. And people are simply recycling old arguments and nothing new has come of major areas. 

The Bible is an ancient document. And all of the people that are working on it, or most of them do have a lot of religionist assumptions. 

And so in that sense, also, it’s a plea that this type of biblical city should and that we should move to a completely secular view of the field. 

Would it be like a classical study of the Iliad and The Odyssey? 

That’s right. So we don’t privilege the Iliad and The Odyssey in our modern culture in terms of we don’t use it as an authoritative text to decide on policy or to live our lives. 

We study it as a relic of the ancient world and whatever methods it might have. It really doesn’t carry much weight in terms of trying to enact legal policies on this basis, as we do with sometimes with the Bible. 

Can you imagine devotionals, study use such as we have on the Bible? The for me, Iliad of the Odyssey. I know the Stoics did stuff like that and tried to allegories rise up, but I can just imagine. Yes. Sermon’s like if a goddess appears to you and asks you to host the Miss America contest, for God’s sake, don’t do it. But it’s it’s just amazing the stuff they try to do with the Bible. And I wonder if if any of us saying if classicists would ever think of doing any of that with something like Beowulf for the Iliad, The Odyssey or whatever, like disability’s studies, even in the in the Iliad or parenting in the case of Grendell and in Beowulf or something. It is just unbelievable the ways in which the Bible becomes a ventriloquist’s dummy just to keep the thing alive. I should say yes. 

And if you go to meetings, professional societies of classics, I never see a devotional service, kazoos or prayer to, as we do say, on the side of biblical literature, where some affiliate organizations and even some units may be a little more devotional than anything you would ever see in a meeting of a professional organization of the classics or English literature. 

There are actually opening prayers and the like at some functions of the Society for Biblical Literature. 

Yes, at least some affiliate societies, the Evangelical Theological Society, for example, has it on the program. 

Wow. Hi. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. Bob Funk always took credit. He and a few others for opening the doors of the SBL so that it would no longer be an exclusive ivory tower. But I do put it this way. But it’s almost like you just opened the gates for the barbarians to plan, Jim. It’s it’s like it’s it’s it’s so open mind that it’s got to be closed for repairs as the as the thing goes deep. Do you notice I mean, this has been my sense, but I couldn’t prove it. Do you notice the demographic shift in terms of who which churches send more people to seminaries in which seminaries are viable with a lot of students and start sending V students to the SBL? And we as a result, we have a demographic shift of conservative evangelicals controlling the TV. The meetings in what is considered relevant and what is considered methodologically legitimate is or is. It’s my imagination is the whole thing go and conservative or nods? 

Yeah, it is impressionistic, Lee. One can say that I don’t have any hard statistical data to tell you which denominations are represented. Which churches, which seminaries are mostly represented here or there. What I can say is that some of what goes on at the side of biblical literature would not be acceptable in any other organization that deems itself to be a professional historical organization. In any sort of feel, logical reasoning would not be acceptable. Any sort of devotional service to the gods would not be acceptable, certainly. And yes, in general, the end of biblical studies. The book argues that despite a biblical literature and most of what it’s called biblical studies today is still part of an ecclesial academic complex. That church and ecclesiastical sorts of agendas still control a lot of what goes on. So even if people are calling themselves followers of a historical critical method, in essence, most of what I see is still a type of apologetics that tries to privilege this book at the expense of many other books in antiquity that have just as much wisdom or more are just as beautiful or more than the Bible. 

And it’s a way to then, in essence, to protect the employment of these scholars in which today in most biblical scholars, if you look at the ads on the website of the American Academy of Religion aside of biblical literature are really in seminaries. There are very few positions open now in what we call public institutions, you know, state universities, that sort of thing. Mostly now the profession is in theological seminary of one sort or another. 

Yet ironically, I’m sure a lot of supporters of those seminaries, once they get wind as some of the things being taught there are thinking, wait a minute, these guys are secularists. They’re not true believers. We had that happen at Drew. Where why doesn’t Professor So-and-so preach in Chapel Hill? But he’s not really a believer. It’s a year you’re really, like, open to. 

You’re in the line of fire on both sides with that. But it’s it’s a funny thing. Like if if you’re a you got one foot in the academy. And so the the church’s suspicious Savea but had one foot in the church. 

So the academy is rightly suspicious. Right. I don’t envy those people. Do you think that. Well, you know, that is something occurs to me that never did before. There’s an odd parallel between this re Spiritualized thing or retrenchment in the SBL. And the same sort of thing in the Jesus seminar, because after they finished the initial eleven years of scrutiny of the gospel tradition, they were trying to decide what to do next. 

And Bob Funk and others were making it explicitly a kind of a liberal theology think tank that they wanted to reform Christianity for the new millennium. And Bishop Spong and Karen Armstrong and others got in and there was a division because a lot of people like Bob Miller said, no, wait a minute, wait, wait a minute. We signed on here to be historians. We’ve always disclaimed any sort of religious agenda here. But now you’re making our critics. Right. And then so they they had enough was because Bob passed, passed away. 

But they they now have kind of, as far as I know, gone back to the pure history. But it’s it’s very odd as secular critics like us feel less at home, should we start as some other alternative organization to pursue our agenda? 

Or is there such a thing somewhere already? 

Yeah, it’s hard to say what the next step should be. 

One of the things we have done is try to see if we can start a unit within the SBL that would be devoted explicitly to secular themes and methods. And we’ve only been mildly successful. And I say that because this year, for example, the SBL highlighted one of our sessions, which was explicitly about secular approaches in its program. So it was called a highlight session. But on the other hand, our unit, we proposed a new unit called secular biblical criticism. And it has been delayed quite a long time now since we proposed it. And so I’m not sure whether it will be approved or not. The problem kind of comes in numbers. How many explicitly secular scholars are there? It’s hard to get those numbers. And could we form a. Sustaining organization with our own conventions and that sort of thing. And so it’s going to be very difficult to know, but one way is to start within the FBI and see how many people you attract within the organization. And if you don’t attract enough within the SBL, it’s hard to know where those people going to come from, since most people that do pivotal studies, whether they’re secular or not, usually belong or have belong to the FBI at some point. 

It’s a funny thing to note. Like, I would think some of the people around Bertan Mac and some working group Berg committee or I can’t keep these things straight. He had this thing about reconceiving Christian origins. I don’t know if it’s still going on, but I cannot imagine that someone like Mac would have any problem being identified as a secular critic and and others who you would think would be are not like Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, great, great feminist biblical scholar who was at our meeting there for ideological criticism. You can you can find her saying astonishing things like she’ll she’ll criticize some chauvinist stic passage in the Bible and say, now, this is not the word of God, implying that some of the rest of it is. And I think I seftel safety. Don’t you get it? There isn’t any work of God out, didn’t you? 

Yes. And also, her defense of miracles was somewhat, somewhat surprising to me. I had never heard her defend miracles as strongly as she hasn’t, at least in the writing time I read. 

So that was kind of surprising. But it again shows you how most of the top biblical scholars in the FBI are still part of this ecclesial academic complex. 

And there are a few of us that are trying to make it again. Very secular. The problem is that a lot of people that are in the AFL think they are secular. 

They actually think they are doing secular biblical studies that when they’re not. So you have to kind of convince them that they’re still religion before they can come over to your side a bit more and maybe they don’t want to. After that, you know, by. 

I got a lot to learn. It’s the biblical studies communities at least as filled with mystery as the Bible itself down there. Do you think the future focus of biblical studies ought to be a kind of A.I. apologetics? Demonstrating the Bible isn’t the word of God and that people don’t need to worry about it anymore? Or is that still too focused, albeit negatively, on the traditional thing? Like what? What sort of thing do you think biblical studies ought to be in in secular hands? What should we be trying to show about it or learn about it? 

I think that, you know, there is two or three tracks that one should follow. 

But one of them certainly is to do the purely historicist kinds of things that any one in a classical studies would do without any interest in whether Soos did this or that for real or whether she still speaks to us. 

It’s purely historical. The other track, which is necessary only because the Bible has been privileged to such an enormous extent, is to undermine biblical authority in the modern world. That is an activist stance towards that. And not all secular scholars would want to do that or think we should do that. 

But I for one, I do believe that the privileging biblical authority, so that it is, at least even with all the other books of antiquity, should be something we should actively be doing. And yes, fighting apologists, fighting those on the other side, for example, in the evangelical theological study should be something we should be championing constantly because they actually have more outlets for their or their ideas and for the information that people get than the secularists. It’s only recently that you have had some bestselling secularist political scholars like Part Irman. 

You’ll go to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. But by and large, we need more. 

We need many more and in some more activist even than Marmon. 

Yeah, there there’s a strange case to me because he’s done one book, I think, very highly of the Orthodox corruption of scripture. But most of his assumptions are still so conditioned by a conservative view. 

He strikes me almost as an apologist for a faith he doesn’t hold. 

And yeah, I pointed out how the in the inevitable studies, how some of this some of this statement about how a manuscript we had and how that speaks well, for somehow that the faithfulness of the biblical record is something I didn’t expect in the newest edition where he’s listed as a coauthor. You know, I tracked that from Metzgar, maybe, but I expected that argument to have gone away and it didn’t. The new edition. So so I’m not so sure what what’s going on there. But I would say that he’s gone farther than any in terms of selling books farther than I thought anyone that had those ideas would go, because he does take on the odyssey. That and biblical justice quite strongly, I thought. 

Yeah, I guess they’re he’s sort of picking up on some of the same vibes as the New Atheists is kind of a marketplace where you can say stuff like that. And I think that the fact that that’s what drove them out of faith in and it wasn’t any kind of skepticism about Christian origins that sort of left him open to continue to hold like to the magic number seven of Pauline epistles. Right. And and all that sort of thing. He sees an interesting case. 

Yeah, I think ethics is where apologetics is the most vulnerable right now. And you can see in Christian, opined Gentex, even a shift so that even a few years ago or even ten, fifteen years ago, Christian conservative apologists were defending the historicity of faith. Joshua. And now, because of the. Locations of all the genocide. Joshua. 

And the fact that many new atheists are pointing out that biblical ethics are probably the worst thing about the Bible. 

They’re now shying away from the historicity of Joshua and saying, well, those aren’t really that those events didn’t really happen. And so the genocide is that really, you know, actual it’s it’s more idealized. And so that’s a new way to undermine the historicity which you didn’t expect from conservatives. You know, it’s because of the ethics that they fear the historicity. 

That is interesting to hear. I wasn’t I’m not really tuned into what they’re saying about the Old Testament much, but I have said in class for years that conservative students, if you’re disturbed by the the fact that it appears these things didn’t really happen. Look, you get rid of a major headache here. This is the worst thing about the Bible. You can get rid of it now. And I guess some of them are finally doing that. 


I wonder if you read, for example, the commentary on Joshua by Richard Haass, among others. You can see the shift where Historicity is not as important as defending the ethics of the Bible. 

Ethics is defending the ethics of the Bible as superceding defending the historicity of the Bible. 

Whereas before it was really the historicity of the Bible, the ethics were not so much of a problem. 

You know, you can see where that said, you know, this eventually they’re going to be demythologizing. It’s they’re they’re right when they say use you like the camel’s nose under the tent there, because what can you get? Not Allegre rise or demythologize to get rid of the problems. It’s going to be interesting to see what they do. 

Well, if you look at the Encyclopedia Bible, different, please, by Gleason Archer, a very famous Christian apologist. He had no problem with the genocide, you know, in the Pentateuch or in Joshua and other books. But the more modern apologists do. And so you can see it even in the last 20, 25 years, that shift. 

Well, William Lane, Craig hasn’t got on that train yet because he actually made some unbelievable statements that since the infants being butchered in Joshua are going immediately to heaven and the adults deserved it. The people we really ought to be sorry for the poor Israel white soldiers who had to kill babies. You are insane. 

Yes. And I have written on that. I have an ethical creationist for genocide that I published on a Web site called Poch Origins. And I point out that that’s a great argument for abortion, you know, because if that’s true, then abortion provides a 100 percent salvation rate. So you should be for abortion, not against it, though. 

If if Calvin was right. There’s reprobate babies are going to fry anyway. Right. What do you call them? Little serpents in the crib. Oh. Oh. What do you think? Speaking of all the fascinating Old Testament changes, what do you think of Old Testament minimalism? Do you think Moses exists in or David or Solomon or was there ever a Temple of Solomon, etc.? 

Well, I have to begin with what people mean by minimalism. I define myself as a minimalist in the sense that I would only accept this historical what has some sort of independent corroboration. So by that standard, very few things in the Old Testament can be called historically established. And in that sense, I’m a minimalist. 

So, no, I don’t think there’s any evidence at the moment for a favor of the defense of Abraham or or Solomon or most of them figures mentioned in Genesis. We have no independent evidence for their existence. 

For many of the events, major events, we have no independent evidence for. For their records. So I’m a minimalist in that sense. I think there are very few things even in the New Testament that we can say actually occurred on the basis of independent corroboration. And so I’m a minimalist in that sense. And I think people should be proud of being a minimalist net. It shouldn’t be a bad word. 

Well, about the archeology of it doesn’t fair the lack of evidence of the temple or the exodus or of great royal Jerusalem in David’s time does, in fact, kind of just eliminate the possibility even that these things were historically true. 

Well. I don’t like to say eliminate the possibility, but I would say definitely there is no evidence where you’d expect it to be. After all, the Solomont kingdom is described as spanning from Egypt all the way to Iraq in today’s geography. Yet we find no letters going to and from Solomon. We find no economic relations being reported with this great kingdom. So that’s that’s something we usually see with kingdoms of that size elsewhere in the Near East. Know there’s some trace of them. So I’d be prepared to say it’s not likely that at least the Solomonic empire of this size described it as as glorious as it is described in the Bible. Probably did not exist. It’s probably a fiction. Whether there was a Solomon individual named Solomon or not. I am an agnostic. 

It’s amazing to me. I used to be a fundamentalist and went along with the old time religion of Val Howson and Kuhnen. And now I find that these guys were just almost hopelessly optimistic in terms of what they thought happened. Like Val Howson says, that there was no tabernacle, that that’s a retro ejection of Solomon’s Temple into the wilderness, period. But now looks like there wasn’t any Solomon’s temple. That must have been a retro rejection of Rózsa probables temple and the holy mackerel. I got a headache. 

Yeah, it it’s hard to say, you know, some of the work going on right now. The other by Mizar thinks they might find something, but it’s hard to say. So I remain and agnostic on that. 

Is it ever gonna be possible to get past these scandals of fake relics and evidence? It’s almost impossible to tell whether there’s any evidence of David A.. 

Yeah. What are the pomegranates that was used as? Evidence for the existence of Solomon’s temple has been declared a forgery, at least by some. And so it is very difficult to say what should be taken, this is an authentic piece of evidence now because of so many scandals and so many things that come from the black market. I try to whenever I tried it, we could construct a history of ancient Israel. I try to just restrict myself to things that had been excavated and enforced, very difficult. 

You know, most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are a lot of them came know from the Bedouins. 

And so it is hard to say what is authentic and what is. And sometimes it’s true. And so people have to be cautious all the time, specially of things that were not extracted from actual excavations and archeological supervision. 

Mm hmm. 

Are you familiar with Rene Sound? If I’m announcing that right. His work suggesting there just wasn’t an inhabited Nazareth during the ostensible time of Jesus. What do you think of that? 

It’s hard to say. I I’m an agnostic about that, too. The problem still is that most of our actual sources don’t date to the 1st century, even even New Testament sources, because I start with actual hard copies. If you look at the earliest source in the New Testament, SB 52, which is just a little bit of text from the second century, we don’t get anything really until the third and fourth centuries. So we have no way to know what what was changed or not changed between the first century and the time the extent manuscripts we have were were were copied. And sometimes people will point to Josephus and Tacitus in all that. But the truth is, the work of those people, the earliest is because we have our family from the Middle Ages. 

So it’s hard to know. You know what Christians have interpolating or not into those manuscripts. So when it comes to sources from the 1st century, we actually have a poverty source this week. 

I can’t tell you much of anything about the first century and archeologically. It’s very difficult to to determine anything about Jesus. There are no documents from his time. So there’s a lot of people, of course, trying to say, well, the gospels were composed of the first century and but the actual manuscripts of those gospels don’t come from the 1st century. We don’t know what has been changed at all. 

John Bavis loss put this well in a manuscript. I don’t think I’ve seen publication yet where he says all of this stuff, like you mentioned before, the huge number of manuscript copies of the gospels. We can weed out the errors and we’ve got just ninety seven percent certainty that it’s just like the original. And he says, look, this is like claiming I got a million pictures of my ads, but I have never seen my ad so short of that. How can I possibly be sure these these things are accurate? 

I mean, they might be, but it’s all circular. That’s right. 

I mean, unless you have the originals, you don’t know how much any manuscript agrees with the originals. So it’s saying that, you know, any manuscript is 98 percent certain is impossible without the original deal. You wouldn’t know. 

But of course, the hidden assumption is God wouldn’t have allowed it to change much. The only person I ever heard say that I know there’s an extreme group of apologists of the preservationists that say that you can find the original of every reading somewhere in the tradition, but God’s plan, that kind of game of hide and seek. But with a similar thing about the Jesus tradition, it must be accurate. 

George Alden Ladd, the dean of evangelical New Testament scholars. He was the only one I know of. Whoever admitted look form criticism could go any way, either way, any time. But we believe the Holy Spirit could have kept it accurate. So that’s our working assumption. Well, at least he admitted it. He is not doing rigorous methodological criticism. The others have the same assumption. They just don’t admit it. But are you agnostic about whether Jesus existed? 

Yes, I am. I don’t know anything really about Jesus. All I have are reports from second, third and fourth century manuscripts about this person, this figure. 

I don’t know much about him. At all that I can say is established by independent evidence of some sort, which is my test of historicity. At least one of them. So, yes, I think Gnostic as to the historical Jesus. I don’t know much about them. 

Yes. If there was, I like to say, if there ever was a historical Jesus, there isn’t anymore and there’s just no way to know. You’ve also written on biblical crime. Fascinating topic. Can we use the lists of what was prohibited in the in various parts of the Bible to reconstruct what the prevalent crimes were? Or are they have to start official lists? 

Well, it’s it’s hard to know. I said, you know, if you if you go I think a man is certainly we expect murder and killing to have existed. We expect robbery to have existed. Those are things that exist in most cultures anyway. So prohibition against that would not be surprising. Some of the other things, bestiality. And, you know, we haven’t really evidence as to the extent of it or maybe the incidence of it in those ancient cultures. So it’s hard to know some. Some people have done studies of actual lawsuit documents and noted that very seldom are David of Robbie quoted or in. We have a lot of divorce decrees and proceedings from Elefante, a Jewish colony. Very seldom are, you know, I think commandments or even the Bible quoted for any particular action. So it’s hard to know. And plus, having a temple at Elefante near a Jewish temple would violate the great central tenet of Deuteronomy. 

And so, you know, we know we know that either they didn’t know about this or they didn’t care. 

This thing in Joshua where vé the tribes. What is it is not Ephraim. And I can’t figure out which ones they were not. They they stayed outside of the Holy Land proper because they like their territory there and built a temple of their own. And then nearly got destroyed for it when everybody else mobilized and they said, oh, this is just a museum piece. 

It’s not the real thing. Does that reflect something like these colonies, these temples and in Egypt and so on? Or are the stories we’ve add light? 

It’s hard to know because a lot of scholars think that this idea of centralization, that is that they usually have one temple came about maybe at the time of has a kayak and the crisis surrounding the impending attack in Jerusalem by the Assyrians. And so the idea is to try to consolidate everything in that one city so that it wouldn’t be attacked. You know, the outlying areas would be attacked. And so the idea was bring everything into Jerusalem, including all of the treasures of any temples outside of Jerusalem. And we can protect them better here. And so but but but it’s hard to say what the idea was in centralization other than the keepers of the main temple. Wanted to talk all the resources for themselves, you know. And so it’s kind of a power grab in some constructions of what happened there. 

Wow. Were the Ten Commandments ever an actual code of laws like I gather the Sharia would be in Islamic societies, or is it more like an ideal world utopia sort of a thing, or Plato’s Republic? Where would they ever actually enforce? 

Well, like I said, we do have a lot of divorce proceedings and that sort of thing from some Jewish community saying that already, maybe by the second half of the first millennium BCE and very few cite anything that say, well, I’m doing this because, you know, Deuteronomy says so or because Leviticus says so. We do have some indication that the Dead Sea Scrolls, where in that community, which we think we can date better a second century or two, about just before 70, see that they were applying a lot of those laws. I mean, they had biblical manuscripts, for example, the laws about who can come into the temple and come into the city if you. At some sort of skin disease, you you’re not let in. So we know that the Dead Sea Scrolls community was was applying that. But but outside of that, the more general populace, we don’t know. We have very little evidence. 

And they might not because the Camron people are like Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg or something that’s saying they’re they’re an intentional, pious community that has withdrawn because the larger society is not good enough right now. So it’s hard to say they were representative of all the Jews that lived at that time, even in ancient Israel is saying, I guess it’s even harder to know. 

Yet we have really nothing. 

You know, before before that death, because we really don’t have any very much independent evidence of what’s going on in Israel in terms of the application of the Ten Commandments. There are very few inscriptions that we do have. 

And those that we do have don’t talk very much about those subjects who, if anyone, enforce the law in ancient Israel and Judah and similar societies. 

Did they have police forces or was it the army? I just suddenly realized this fundamental thing I know nothing about. Yeah. 

It seems as though, from what we can tell from ancient Near East through practice, either there were local elders who would do that, sort of like we know what goes on in Afghanistan, you know, where the village has elders and they they do the enforcing of the laws. So they get together and say a woman has committed some act of sexual impropriety in their eyes. The elders would would handle that. And it says that often Deuteronomy in many parts, you know, the elders are to do this or that. Sometimes the king would enact justice. So there are a number of people mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the executer of justice, but by a large at the village level and most people I live in small villages, not in Jerusalem or something of that size. 

We’re probably the elders. 

Mm hmm. Fascinating. Wow. Oh, now I think you’re you’re beginning to put your end to biblical studies thesis in real danger here because you’re showing how you can find out. Interesting new stuff from the same old evidence. I mean, you really got an eagle eye there. 

Well, yes, but but only in other words. 

What I’m saying is, if you in the religion this way, you study you can. So my plea to a biblical studies is it’s to end the. As we know it, which is as a religious enterprise. And I’m saying if you so it’s not a call to ban the local studies itself, but the way it’s that a lot of people sometimes misunderstanding, they think I’m trying to ban the Bible or try to ban the study of though I don’t know. I’m trying to end the way it starts. And you can see there’s no new data. You can you can post your questions, though, once you get away from this religion mindset. But if they’re going to uncover new new history without new data, it’s just that you asked me a question of the day that you have. 

Well, I got to finish up with something really out of left field. But I know you’ve dealt with things like this. And I just. Because this has come up on my Batbold Geek podcast recently, I want to ask somebody more authoritative than me. 

You know, there’s this whole alternate interpretation of the Bible from the quarter of a UFO people and the flying saucer groups and all that. And you’ve done some really terrific things showing up of the strange irony. You, Savala, use the Bible, this one book. I read this. Oh, decades ago. But I remember this book, The Space Ship Sivi Zeal. This guy was a NASA engineer with no interest in this, was asked to look at this thing where the where is Zeke Eola in the first couple of chapters, Seize the Throne, Chariot of God and all these weird things of rotating wings and all that. He said, son of a gun. This does look like a primitive description of a viable flying vehicle. And so he wound up saying, I don’t know what to make of it, but what do you think of that? What is the best explanation you know of for this strange thing described by Zeke Hill? Does it fit Babylonian iconography or what do we know about that? 

Yes, it does. That’s exactly what many scholars think it is, that we find it in detail. For example, the composite creatures. Those are not odd. If you look around, say, any Mesopotamian city, all cities, the great ones would be filled with creatures that were. 

Posit and at the same time, they had many stories of or the ideas of a throne of God. That was that could do all sorts of things and your way. 

The Hebrew God was probably a storm God. That’s one of his main characteristics. And storm guys ride the clouds. 

And in fact, we know that one of these specific epithets of the way the cloud rider is found in at a place called Garet in which is dawn of modern Israel. And there we found these tablets that describe a lot of the things that are said about the biblical God or said about the gods there so that the writer of that clouds storm gods, ride chariots, you know, in the air. And you can see it even in Teutonic myth where where Thor, you know, rides a cherry. So so it was a characteristic of storm gods to ride these flying either chariots or were you call them thrown. That’s maybe another way to visualize. But but those flying objects were characteristics of storm gods whose main appearance was basically clouds and storm clouds. So, yes, they’re going to be in the air. They’re going to be up. They come at you in a way that’s conceptualized very differently than what we do today. You know, today when we see a thunderstorm coming, we say there’s a thunderstorm coming in the ancient world, any ancient Israel. When the issue I thought thunderstorm coming, they said, here’s Yolly coming and he’s in the air. You know, all the lightning, the thunder, his voice. The light is him in the clouds. So that’s why they they would visualize a thundercloud with a bright lightning. And sometimes if you look at night, you know, they the strobe effect of those is what I think is being visualized as Ziko. So they’re basically visualizing a thunderstorm and then injecting more imaginative explanations for that thunderstorm as Yahweh being in the cloud, you know. 

Fascinating. Well, speaking of weird questions, I’ve read books where people say that there’s a lot of hallucinogenic drug use in the Bible and that the manna. What do you make of that whole shebang? 

I don’t find very much independent evidence for that. I mean, there is a scholar named John Alliegro, who was an original member of the Dead Sea Scrolls that, you know, popularized the idea of mushrooms as one of the main things of early Christianity. That’s why they follow these things. But by large, I don’t see much independent evidence. I think it’s the work of the imagination. That’s all you need. And I said if you were living at that time, these kinds of creatures and beings would not be odd at all. It’s what they were seeing all the time. 

You know, look at the Sphinx in Egypt. Look at the creatures they have in Mesopotamia. It’s just normal. 

It wasn’t odd. It and it’s part of the artistic imagination to me. You know, when we look at that Dali painting, they’ll say, well, look at those. Do those ever exist, Shinto, those those compositor creatures? He has those watches that are melting ice and tree branches. Where did that come from? Well, it’s from the imagination. They don’t exist in real time in space, though. 

I did see one in a catalog the other day, but I think that’s probably get the cart before the horse. 


So I think those like, you know, who is the real Superman? You know what is kryptonite, you know. Well, those are just those are the products of the alleged. 

There is no no referent, no real reference behind that. Know you’re going to find Superman or traces of Superman in the real world because he you know. 

You know, what a disappointment. I would agree. 

Well, I. You’re really a Superman among Bible scholars, I’m telling you. I mean, just all sorts of interesting information about a wide range of things. I’ve learned something here and I know our listeners have to. Hector, I really appreciate your being on the show, and I hope I can have you back again sometime. 

Well, thank you very much, Bob. And I appreciate all the work you have done in trying to advance the cause of secular biblical studies. 

Well, there’s got to be Yok fellows a great cause. Oh, thanks again. See you again soon. Thank you. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to get involved with an online conversation about today’s show. Join the online discussion forum at point of inquiry dot org. 

Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York, and our music is composed, forced by Emmy Award winner Michael Playlet. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Robert Price. 

Robert M. Price

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1954, Robert Price moved to New Jersey in 1965. At Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary he took an MTS degree in New Testament (1978), then, at Drew University, a PhD in Systematic Theology (1981) and a second PhD in New Testament (1993). He has served as Professor of Religion at Mount Olive College, North Carolina, pastor of First Baptist Church, Montclair, NJ, and Director of the Metro NY Center for Inquiry. He founded and edited the Journal of Higher Criticism and has authored scores of articles on the Bible and religion. His books include Beyond Born AgainThe Widow Traditions in Luke-ActsDeconstructing JesusThe Incredible Shrinking Son of ManThe Da Vinci FraudThe Reason-Driven LifeThe Pre-Nicene New TestamentJesus Is Dead, and The Paperback Apocalypse. Price is a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. He served as Professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies at Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary and Professor of Biblical Criticism for the Center for Inquiry Institute in Amherst, NY. He and his wife Carol and daughters Victoria and Veronica live in Selma, NC.