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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)


C H A P T E R   I X.


      THERE is no line of argument in which the infidel writers of the past century have more thoroughly united their strength than in an effort to prove that most of the books of the New Testament were written in the second century of our era. They assign to these writings a date so early as this because the evidence of their existence thus early is too conclusive to admit of a doubt. And they assign to them so late a date because, if it should be admitted that they were written in the first century, it would be almost impossible to throw serious doubt on their reputed authorship or on their entire credibility. That these writers have chosen the line of argument best adapted to the support of their own cause is demonstrated by nothing more clearly than by the signal failure of Ernest Renan, the most admired and most brilliant of them all. His admission that these books were written in the second half of the first century, and by the authors to whom they are accredited,1 is so fatal to the course of argument which he pursues that his "Life of Jesus," though the most brilliant and entertaining of all the books that have been written in support of the cause of infidelity, is logically the weakest. When the advocate of Christianity obtains this concession from his adversary, an easy victory is before him; and when an enemy of Christianity is constrained to make this concession, his mind, like that of M. Renan, must be more poetical than logical if he remains an infidel.

      Prominent among the many evidences that the historical writers of the New Testament were eye-witnesses of the events which they record, or obtained their information from eye-witnesses, is that derived from their unvarying fidelity to the circumstances of time and place. A fictitious narrative, located in a country with which the writer is not personally familiar, must either avoid local allusions or be found frequently in conflict with the peculiarities of place and of manners and customs. By this conflict the fictitious character of the narrative is exposed. Should such a conflict be found in the Gospels, or in any [375] portion of the Bible, it would be impossible to defend them as genuine documents.

      The grosser blunders of the kind in question may in the main be avoided by a careful study of the geography, the topography, and the manners and customs of the country in which the narrative is located; but, after the most careful study of this kind, blunders must still occur which will betray the writer. Such, for instance, are the geographical blunders often seen in references to our own country published in Europe. An American reader of a London newspaper is scarcely surprised to find his native city located in the wrong State, and his native State in the wrong section of the Union; and, as for the manners and customs of his community, he never expects to see them correctly represented in a European newspaper or book. Only from the pens of Europeans who have traveled in this country, and who carefully confine themselves to what they have seen and heard, do we expect a near approach to fidelity, and we are surprised when in the writings of these we do not detect some offensive or amusing mistakes.

      Even when a writer is an eye-witness of all that he records, if his narrative requires him to enter largely into local details, it is almost impossible for him to avoid some errors, and the more numerous and minute the details the greater the liability to error. This fact is so fully recognized that a few errors of this kind, in matters not essential to the principal features of a narration, are not regarded as detracting from its credibility. But to find, in an extended narration requiring constant dealing with a multitude of local details of the most minute character, a never-failing accuracy, would be so conclusive a proof of the author's entire reliability that a candid mind could scarcely doubt the truth of the narration, however marvelous it might be.

      This liability to error in regard to local details is well known in our courts of justice. There is nearly always some conflict about such details between witnesses of known integrity, and it is no uncommon thing to take the jury to the place where the transaction in dispute occurred, in order that they may settle by their own observation all questions of the kind, and that, in doing so, they may determine what witnesses are most worthy of belief. While a failure in some of these details is expected, even of honest witnesses, the reliability of the witness in regard to the principal transaction is to some extent tested by the number and character of these failures, and the witness who is found to be freest from them is the most implicitly credited by the jury. In applying the same test to the witnesses concerning the life and sayings of Jesus, and concerning all the events recorded in [376] the Bible, we are but acting the part of ordinary prudence, and we should accept the result with the utmost candor.

      That there is a general agreement between the Bible and the geography of Palestine is a well-known fact. Its plains, mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, cities, and deserts are in all parts of the Bible correctly named and correctly located. The political divisions known to exist are invariably recognized, as are also all the changes of government through which the country passed in the course of its long and varied history. In not a single known instance, from the beginning to the end of the book, is there a failure in any one of these particulars. This would be beyond precedent, even if the entire Bible had been written at one time by a single author; but when we remember that its various books were composed by more than thirty different authors, who lived in different ages, extending over a period of 1500 years, we can but be astonished at the result. But the ground for astonishment is not fully realized until we remember that all other historical writings that have come down to us from antiquity are notoriously erroneous. As modern research into ancient history has been prosecuted, errors in all the particulars mentioned above have been detected in ancient writers, and even among modern writers themselves the chief task of those of later date is to correct the errors of their predecessors. To such an extent is this true that intelligent readers of history can read only the later works; and the man who would now put into the hands of a youth such a work as Rollins "Ancient History," written only 150 years ago, and a standard work during an entire century, would be regarded as unfit to teach the young, unless he accompanied the work with some other of more recent date to correct its errors. But no one has ever yet found cause to publish a corrected edition of Bible history, nor have the researches of modern antiquaries had any other effect than to confirm and illustrate its local allusions and its historical statements. On this fact alone we might base our argument for the entire credibility of the Bible writers; but this is only the beginning of the story.

      The accuracy of a historian is more thoroughly tested by the minuter matters of geography, such as the relative levels of different portions of the country, the trees which it grows, and the peculiar features of its climate. In these the Bible writers are as unfailingly accurate as in the more general features mentioned above. In all the books, from Genesis to Acts, the invariable expressions for a journey between Egypt and Canaan are "down into Egypt" and "up out of Egypt;" the angel of the Lord who talked with Abraham went "down" from [377] Hebron to Sodom; Jacob was commanded to "go up" from the plain near Shechem to Bethel; Joshua and his army "went up" against Ai; Samson always went "down" when he went among the Philis'tines; the men of Kirjath-jearim were requested to "come down" to Beth'shemesh and take the ark "up" to their city; Adonijah, with his conspirators, went "down" to En-rogel; Ahab and his army "went up to Ramoth-gilead;" the man who fell among thieves "went down from Jerusalem to Jericho;" Peter "came down" to the saints who dwelt at Lydda; the brethren brought Paul "down to Cæsarea;" and everywhere, in both the Old Testament and the New, the people went "up" to Jerusalem, every road leading thither running upward except the one from Bethlehem. In all these and a multitude of other instances, the relative elevation of places is correctly recognized, and in not a single instance of this kind has any of the Bible writers been found at fault. But what writers could be unfailingly accurate in such matters unless they were so thoroughly familiar by personal observation with the localities referred to that they could not make a mistake? Let it be noted, too, that in all these instances the writers speak in the most incidental way, and are not aiming to formally state the relative elevation of places. Who that was not perfectly and habitually familiar with the localities could speak thus incidentally without frequent mistakes? and who would venture to make allusions of this kind at all if he were feigning a knowledge of the country which he did not possess?

      In regard to the trees of a country a writer may so inform himself as to speak with accuracy when formally naming the trees which grow there; but if he locates a narrative in a country with which he is not personally familiar, in his incidental or unstudied allusions to trees he is very likely to betray himself by unconsciously substituting the trees of his own country. Yet nothing of this kind is found among all the Bible writers. Does one of them give a fable of the trees going forth to choose for themselves a king, he represents them as offering the crown first of all to the olive, next to the fig, and next to the vine.2 But in what other country do these three rank thus with one another, and with all the trees? And how many persons are there in other lands, even in our own enlightened age, who know that this is the rank of these three in Palestine? Jacob is represented as burying his mother's nurse under an oak near Bethel, though the oak is rarely found in that section of the country;3 and Absalom is represented [378] as being caught by the head in the "thick boughs of a great oak," though in almost every other country the boughs of a great oak are either too high or not thick enough for a man's head to be caught in them.4 When Zaccheus is represented as climbing a tree, its name is given, "a sycamore-tree;" and the prophet Amos is made to say, "I was a herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit," though the sycamore of other countries bears no fruit at all.5 Who could venture upon these and multitudes of similar allusions to trees by name, and to the strange peculiarities of Palestine trees, if he were writing a fictitious narrative; or who, should he venture upon so hazardous an experiment, would fail to expose himself by some allusion not true to the reality?

      The climate of every country has some features peculiar to itself, especially the character of its winds. In all north of the equator the south wind is warm and the north wind is cold; but in some countries the heavy rains are brought by the south wind, in some by the east wind, and in others by the west wind. The east wind is in some countries, as in our own, a damp and chilling wind; in others it is very dry. Now a writer who would always speak correctly and in definite terms of the winds of a country, must not only live in it, but he must be a close observer. Such were the writers of the Bible. With them the east wind is the one that withers vegetation and threatens man with suffocation. The blasted ears of corn in Pharaoh's dream appear as if "blasted by the east wind;" it was a vehement east wind in Nineveh that withered Jonah's gourd, and was so hot that he fainted; and Israel is threatened with an east wind by the prophets.6 The west wind, on the contrary, is represented as the rain-wind. "When you see a cloud arise out of the west, straightway you say, There cometh a shower, and so it is."7 These results are owing to the situation of Palestine, which, as regards the east wind, is common with that of Egypt and Assyria. There lies to the east of all these countries a desert from which no rain can come, but which sends a dry and parching wind, that is the terror of the people. And Palestine has to the west of it the Mediterranean Sea, the only body of water which can supply her thirsty air with clouds heavy enough for rain.

      In regard to the manners, customs, and arts prevalent in the country the Bible writers are equally exact. Fortunately for our argument the present inhabitants of the country have inherited, to a very considerable extent, the manners, customs, and arts of its ancient Jewish [379] occupants, and the traveler sees them enacted before him. Jesus says, "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish is he that shall betray me," and now, in the continued absence of knives and forks and plates, every man at the table dips his hand into the dish. Jesus also says, "Give, and it shall be given you: good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom."8 How "into your bosom?" The question is unanswered until you observe the dress of the working-classes in Palestine, which is often only a coarse shirt reaching down to the heels, with a girdle around the waist. Into the bosom of this shirt grain may be poured in considerable quantities, the girdle preventing it from slipping below; and there is no easier way of carrying a bushel of wheat or barley. The shepherd also stows away weak lambs which cannot follow the flock in the same capacious pocket, verifying another passage which says, "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom."9 The Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New, alludes to the presence of minstrels in the house where a dead body lies, and their attendance on funeral processions; and, strange as such a custom appears to a person of another country, there it is before the eye of the traveler to the present day. He sees, also, the village women gathering up weeds and coarse grass with which to heat their bake-ovens, and he remembers the remark of Jesus, "If God so clothe the grass (herbage) of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith!" He reads not in the Bible of houses of wood, nor does he find such allusions to pieces of timber about the houses as would indicate its free use in building. True, David speaks of dwelling in a house of cedar.10 but it is mentioned as an exceptional thing, and the cedar had been obtained from the distant Mountains of Lebanon through the kindness of the king of Tyre. It is true, also, that Darius in his decree concerning the re-erection of the temple says, "Whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon;"11 but this language is in the mouth of a king in whose dominion there were many wooded districts. No such language is ever used by a Bible writer concerning the houses of Palestine, for there the houses were built exclusively of sun-dried bricks or of stone, and scarcely any wood at all was used. Instead of joists and rafters for ceilings and roofs, vaults [380] of stone were built, and even the door-shutters in some parts of the country were large slabs of stone. We read constantly in the Scriptures of rock-hewn sepulchres for the burial of the dead; yet for nearly 2000 years no such sepulchres have been used in that or any other country. The traveler, however, as he rides through Palestine, finds the solid masses of exposed rock almost honey-combed with such sepulchres. The skin bottles which, when old, were not safe for new wine, he still finds in constant use for carrying water to considerable distances, and for churning milk. The wine he finds no longer a common drink of the people, for in this particular the modern inhabitants have changed the ancient custom by making it unlawful to drink wine; yet he finds that in regard to the culture of grapes and the manufacture of wine, the Bible writers are true to the country. What reader of the Bible in other lands has not been puzzled by the statement in the parable of the vine-dressers, that a man "planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower and let it out to husbandmen?12 But when the traveler sees in all the rocky portions of the country, and in some where no vines at all are now grown, rock-hewn wine-presses of the kind which we have described in a former chapter of this work,13 and when he sees about Bethlehem still standing some of the small stone towers for the use of watchmen who guarded the vineyards while the grapes were ripening, all is explained, and the Scriptures are found surprisingly true to the peculiarities of the country. This proof is the more striking, too, from the fact that these presses were used only by the ancient Jewish inhabitants of the country; that they have been unused now for 2000 years, and that the modern traveler would not know for what purpose these singular excavations were made had he not the explanations found in the Bible.

      But the best test of a writer's personal familiarity with the events of which he writes is found in his allusions to the minute features of the localities in which the events are said to have transpired. The Bible is truly marvelous in this respect, so that the careful explorer of Palestine finds it his best local guide-book, and he is frequently uncertain whether he has reached a given locality until he compares its features with what is said of it in the Scriptures. As for known localities, he finds them always answering to the book, except where they have been [381] altered by the hand of man. Should he visit the locality of Beer'sheba, where Abraham and Isaac are said to have dug wells, and find no wells nor traces of wells there, he might suppose that they had been filled up; but should he find in that vicinity, where Isaac is said to have sowed wheat and reaped the same year a hundred-fold,14 a soil not at all adapted to the growth of wheat, he might suspect that the writer had here fallen into a blunder or a falsehood. But when we visit the country, and find the broad plain extending eastward for many miles from Beer'sheba yellow with an abundant harvest, and at the site of Beer'sheba three ancient wells,15 two of them in constant use by passers-by, we see again the agreement of the land and the book. We hear, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, that the man who fell among thieves was going from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and on examining the frequented roads which lead away from Jerusalem, we find that all of them except that to Jericho pass among villages and thickly populated districts, while the latter passes through rugged hills and ravines that are now and ever have been uninhabited,--the very road for robbers. We find, too, about half-way, a ruined khân, corresponding to the inn of the parable, built as a place of refuge from this very danger. In a description of a storm on the Lake of Galilee an unprecedented expression is found in the statement that "there came down a storm of wind on the lake." In universal speech storms are represented as arising, instead of coming down, and Matthew and Mark, in speaking of this storm, both say that it arose. But when we sail on the Lake of Galilee, and look for the source of a storm, we look up to the high mountain-tops which overshadow the lake, and it is quite natural to one in that position to say the storm comes down. Here is the evident language of an eye-witness, proving the sincerity of Luke, who uses the language, when he says that he obtained his information from "eye-witnesses and ministers of the word."16 On the eastern shore of that same lake the hogs into which the legion of demons entered are represented as running down a steep place into the lake and being drowned.17 But while there are steep places all along the eastern shore of the lake, they stand back half a mile or more from the water's edge everywhere except at one point. This point had not been observed at all by explorers until a few years ago, because from no part of the lake-shore usually visited by travelers can it be distinguished.18 Here the high hills come close to the shore and descend by "a steep place" to within 40 [382] feet of the water's edge. No stranger nor foreigner could have written such narrations as these.

      The account of David's combat with Goliath furnishes another example equally remarkable. The account represents the army of Saul as being encamped by the Valley of Elah, and the Philis'tine army confronting it on the opposite side of the valley, with one of its wings resting on Sho'choh.19 A brook ran along the valley which David crossed, and from this "he chose him five smooth stones" as he approached the giant.20 Now, the Valley of Elah is identified, and so is the village of Sho'choh. Should the visitor to the spot find no mountains on the sides of the valley in the vicinity of Sho'choh on which the confronting armies could camp, or find no trace of a brook in the valley, or find that the brook was on the Philis'tine side of the valley, where David could not reach it without passing the giant, or find that the valley is too narrow for the recorded movements of the parties, he would be constrained to admit that at least one Bible writer is at fault in a matter of topography. But on descending to the spot from his camp at Bêt Nettîff (thus the author approached it) he sees before him on the opposite side of the valley a sloping mountain-side, recessed almost in the shape of an amphitheatre, with the village of Suwei'keh (Sho'choh) on the left. Here must have been the Philis'tine position, for above Sho'choh the mountain is too precipitous for it. On the other side there are two gradual slopes, separated by a narrow valley, either or both of which might have been covered by the camp of Saul. Starting from the foot of the hill on which Israel was camped, you ride into the valley not more than 50 yards till you descend into a brook and see, as far as the eye can follow it up and down, a continuous bed of smooth water-worn stones, from one inch to six inches in diameter. At a glance, with scarcely an effort at search, you can pick up a handful of stones of the size and shape which David must have chosen. Before you lies much the wider part of the valley, allowing an abundance of room for the combatants to draw near to each other after David had crossed the brook. When you see all this you know that the author of the narrative must have been personally acquainted with the locality, and you feel that he must have been describing a real transaction.

      We might make many additional specifications of the agreement in question, but those now given we deem altogether sufficient for our argument. The thoughtful reader of the previous chapters of this [383] book, if he be well acquainted with the Scriptures, will have observed many others. The force of the argument depends on several considerations; first, on the number of the points of agreement; second, on their minuteness; third, on the unstudied manner in which they are introduced; and, finally, on the entire absence of disagreements between the land and the book. If there were only an occasional coincidence of a remarkable character, it might be accounted for as an accident; if there were none except among the general features of the country, these might be accounted for by supposing that the writers had obtained their information by reading; if they were all paraded in some formal way, as if the writers were aiming to secure special attention to them, they might possibly be considered the result of some special local information; or, if the points of agreement were intermixed with an equal number, or even a large number, of disagreements, the argument would be without force. But the reverse of all this is true, and the argument is unassailable at every point.

      Strong as our argument may now appear, its force is intensified when we compare Bible writers with others who have written on the same country. The historian Josephus was a contemporary of the apostles, and he published his work on the "Antiquities of the Jews" in the year 100, the very year in which the Apostle John died. He was a native of Palestine, and spent there his youth and the prime of his manhood, enjoying a personal familiarity with nearly all the places of which he writes. And yet, though equally veracious with other ancient secular historians, it is notorious that his writings abound in gross exaggerations of heights and distances, in superstitious legends, and in multitudes of errors attributable to inaccuracy of memory or of judgment. These are the very errors into which the Bible writers would have fallen, though actual inhabitants of the country and witnesses of the events described, had they enjoyed no other than human guidance. How then, unless thus aided, have they all escaped every one of these errors?

      But it is still more to the point to observe, that in the writings of modern scholars who have visited Palestine with the Bible in hand, for the very purpose of identifying its localities and reporting them to the world, there are many errors, the result of inadvertence or of a treacherous memory. It might appear invidious to make specifications here in the books in which they most abound; I will, therefore, mention only a few in books of the greatest accuracy and reliability. Canon Tristram, author of "The Land of Moab," is deservedly ranked among the safest and most accurate guides to the places of [384] which he writes; yet Professor Payne has proved conclusively that some of the objects which he claims to have seen from the top of Mount Nebo are entirely invisible there. There was no attempt here to deceive, but the learned author was either misled by his imagination and mistook objects which he saw for others that were out of sight, or, as Professor Payne with more probability suggests, "the description must have been written up by the doctor after he had reached his north-country home," and when his memory had become treacherous.21 As we have stated in the Introduction to this work, the most carefully-prepared and accurate guide-book to Palestine that has fallen into the hands of the author is that of Baedeker, the Austrian publisher. He employed a number of learned professors from German universities to visit the country; to traverse it carefully in every direction; to note down all the objects of interest seen on every road, with the time necessary to ride from one to another; to describe every object of unusual interest and give its history; and to make many drawings and maps to illustrate the verbal descriptions. The work is deserving of the highest praise, and it often enabled the present writer to correct the errors of time and distance made by his dragoman, who had passed over the ground with traveling parties many times. Yet in this book the author found a number of errors of the kind which we have discussed above, a few of which are still remembered. In naming the villages between Bethel and Shechem, the order in which we come to two or three of them is reversed; in the description of David's praying-place the outer row of columns is called a pentagon and the inner an endecagon, the reverse of the truth;22 in a few instances the west is put for the east, or vice versa, and in regard to Hasbân' the author was constrained to enter this note in his memorandum: "Baedeker is all at fault in his description of this place." He has the two hills running north and south instead of east and west; and the wâdys east and west of the site instead of north and south; while the large pool he locates on the east instead of the south.23 Now it is very easy to account for all these errors without throwing any doubt at all upon the claim of these editors to have been eye-witnesses of what they describe; and the errors themselves are so few and insignificant as to scarcely detract from the high reputation of their authors for accuracy. But if such writers, visiting the country for the purpose of seeing it leisurely and [385] describing it accurately, fall into errors of detail in spite of the utmost care to be accurate, what shall be thought of the three dozen writers whose compositions make up the Bible, who have not been detected in a single error of the kind, although the great mass of their allusions to distances, directions, manners and customs, and local details, are of a purely incidental character? The fact goes far beyond what we claimed for it in the outset; for it proves that these men not only lived and wrote in the midst of the scenes which they describe, but that they were guided by a wisdom which lifted them above the errors inevitable in the works of mere men of learning. How could they have done what learned and careful men of their own age and of subsequent ages have failed to do, unless they were guided, as they claim to have been, by wisdom from on high?

      Here we rest our argument, in the confident belief that the candid and thoughtful reader of this book will acknowledge its conclusiveness and realize an increase of his faith in the absolute truthfulness of all Bible history. The impression which an actual observance of part of the facts on which the argument is based made on Ernest Renan is acknowledged by him in the following eloquent passage: "The scientific commission for the exploration of ancient Phœnicia, of which I was the director in 1860 and 1861, led me to reside on the frontiers of Galilee, and to traverse it frequently. I have traveled through the evangelical province in every direction; I have visited Jerusalem, Hebron, and Samaria; scarcely any locality important in the history of Jesus has escaped me. All this history which, at a distance, seems floating in the clouds of an unreal world, thus assumed a body, a solidity, which astonished me. The striking accord of the texts and the places, the wonderful harmony of the evangelical ideal with the landscape which served as its setting, were to me as a revelation. I had before my eyes a fifth gospel, torn but legible, and thenceforth through the narratives of Matthew and Mark, instead of an abstract being which one should say had never existed, I saw a wonderful human form live and move."24 In these beautiful sentences is revealed the secret of the admission which they contain in favor of Jesus and the Gospels; and if such was the effect on the learned French infidel, shall I not humbly indulge the hope that some who read this book will be led to see my Saviour and the records concerning him in their true light? If so, I shall have accomplished the chief purpose for which I have written, and for which I made the toilsome journey that has enabled me to write. [386]

      1 Introduction to Life of Jesus, pp. 17-25. [375]
      2 Judges ix. 7-14. [378]
      3 Gen. xxxv. 8. [378]
      4 2 Sam. xviii. 9. [379]
      5 Luke xix. 4; Amos vii. 14; and see page 53. [379]
      6 Gen. xli. 23; Jonah iv. 8; Ezek. xvii. 10; xix. 12. [379]
      7 Luke xii. 54. [379]
      8 Luke vi. 38. [380]
      9 Isaiah xl. 11. [380]
      10 2 Sam. vii. 2. [380]
      11 Ezra vi. 11. [380]
      12 Matt. xxi. 33. Compare also Isaiah v. 2, where the true rendering is, "hewed a wine-press." [381]
      13 See page 59. [381]
      14 Gen. xxvi. 12. [382]
      15 See page 257 of this work. [382]
      16 Luke viii. 23; i. 1, 2. [382]
      17 Matt. viii. 32. [382]
      18 It was first observed by Captain Wilson, in 1866. [382]
      19 1 Sam. xvii. 1-3. [383]
      20 Ibid. 40. [383]
      21 See Fourth Statement of Palestine Exploration Society, pp. 11-16. [385]
      22 See our description, p. 185. [385]
      23 See description of Hasbân, p. 369. [385]
      24 Introduction to Life of Jesus, pp. 45, 46. [386]


[LOB 375-386]

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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)

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