Why Most Apologists Cannot Be Honest Historians.
by A. D. Wayman
“A one sentence definition of mythology? “Mythology” is what we call someone else’s religion”. Joseph Campbell
I have spent the last year collecting videos on religion. I was interested in how people of belief systems viewed the world from a historical perspective. Here is a list of challenges that face those defending their history within their belief systems. Many people end up confusing apologetics with history. At what point to we need to turn off the theological ideas impressed on the literature and history? The goal of this essay and examples are to show that believers and apologists at times have a romanticized view history within their belief system and will minimize the influence of cultural diffusion, while anti religious will maximize it. Here are just a few of the issues I have seen when apologists pose as historians.
“Historical reality is always more complex and fascinating than the orthodox of any tradition would like us to believe. The winners rewrite history, and the rewrite is almost always a simplification. Simplifications are helpful to give us an initial grasp, but we should never content ourselves with them.”
-David Noel Freedman, What are the Dead Sea Scrolls and Why They Matter (p. 69).
Every belief system has a romanticized history of its origins and influence in the world. At times these belief systems attribute and embellish certain contributions they believe they made to society. The apologists need to stay within the framework of this romanticized theological view of history in order to be true to the tenants of the belief system. If he strays he is seen as no longer part of the group and may be labeled heretical in some cases.
Eisegesis is another issue that I have come across. This term means when one places ones own ideas of interpretation, or bias rather then the meaning of the text. However this can also be applied to historical interpretation as well. It is most humorous that many groups charge each other with such claims, and some, while doing it themselves. Below are a few examples on the topic. The first link is to a video where the produce of the video point out the issue using the Hebrew texts of the creations story and the controversy surrounding the plural name of the Hebrew deity “Elohim”
Also, here is an example of a believer of evangelical Christian using eisegesis to interpret the Hebrew text of Job.
In another example we see how some in religion may interpret ancient texts from their own belief system. Here we see a response to the ancient near eastern text of “The Descent of Inanna”:
Theological World View.
Many in belief system hold a theological world view. The reader may have heard of such views such as the Biblical world view or Islamic world view due to the topics in the media within the last decade. How ever such theological views have shaped how we think about the world and views history. One of the popular debates is the creation verses evolution debate. Also debates on the historical Jesus.
While there are many more example listed here are just three main issues that I personally find when reading and listening to apologists in belief systems. So we might ask are who can be honest?. One example that I found was in an article Contrasting Insights of Biblical Giants ( BAR 30:04, Jul/Aug 2004), Cross states: “ I think that there is a certain schizophrenic aspect to my own relation to the bible. In my work I attempt to deal with the bible as I would deal with any work of literature. And to treat the history of Israel as I would treat the History of England or Russia or China; that is, an attempt at scientific, historical approach.”
It is equally important for scholars to be able to change their minds. From my point of view apologist have a bigger challenge due to the fact that research may go against the theological view points of the belief system. At which point one either has to reconcile the issue or leave. While leaving is more painful, the reconciliation is more damaging because the research then takes on a certain amount of deception and the end ends up justifying the means. So when reading history or commentary on religious literature and translations of texts, be sure to ask questions about the backgrounds of the scholars because it may show in their work (for better or worse) and one may not even know it. Lastly below is an example of a student of biblical literature admitting he made a mistake, one sign of an honest scholar and historian.