The German Higher Critics: How Rational Were They?

German Rational Criticism of Genesis Ch.14: Jewish Fiction or History?

In Genesis chapter 14, we read an account of a series of alliances and infighting among various kings, including four kings who captured Abrams nephew, Lot, while taking spoil in Sodom and Gomorrah. These four kings had been raiding through out the land and we are given a list of all the peoples and areas they had raided. Abram, with his 318 armed retainers pursued these kings, attacked them at night and rescued Lot as well as the spoil.

Now for centuries Christians throughout Christendom, no matter what their sect, had taken this part of the book of Genesis to be an accurate portrayal of history, after all, they considered the Bible to be Gods word and entirely reliable, even if not with out difficulties. But in 1899 a new way of looking at Scripture was beginning to appear on the scene, a view called German higher criticism, or German rationalistic criticism. Take note of the descriptive words, “higher” and, “rationalistic”. These words lent a kind of lofty and sophisticated aura to these new critics, after all, they were claiming to be taking a rational approach to the study of the Bible. No longer would they approach the bible from a believers stand point, one of trusting to the authority of scripture, no, they were going to put the bible under the microscope of a rational, or skeptical point of view.  That this point of view was biased heavily by an a priori faith in atheism was rarely openly admitted, but would have a telling effect on the way they viewed the evidence and the ultimate results.Their approach was going to become very popular and well accepted, to the point that its findings were called, “the assured results of higher criticism”. The published results of these studies were to be devastating to the age old beliefs of all the Christian nations but particularly to Northern Europe. And probably no other set of teachings (other than Darwin’s theory) did more to set the table for Stalin, Hitler and Marx, than rational criticism.

However now, being able to look back after over a hundred years at higher criticism, we are able get a first hand look at how “rational” these critics really were. We can answer the question as to whether an atheistic approach to anything can ever really be called rational.

Probably the first scholar to apply German rationalism was Theodore Noldeke, who wrote a pamphlet about Gen.14 calling it a forgery and describing Abrahams rescue as fictitious. Julius Wellhausen was next, who said the entire story with; “all its superficial characteristics” was written many years later and just, “projected backward into hoary antiquity”. Never happened. Albright chipped in by assuring us that the story was simply borrowed or, ‘invented by use of haggadic processes.” Soon the air was filled with the baying of dozens of scholars who blathered on endlessly, filling books and journals with tales of the “impossibilities” of this story even approaching a faint echo of historical value. The cities didn’t exist, and there was no such route at that time, they said. The kings didn’t exist and besides they didn’t travel that much, and on and on.  Other scholars of higher criticism would attack other parts of the Old Testament and almost no part of it would escape their withering attacks. And who could stand against them? These were the men of the day. Great scholars who could read any number of languages both dead and extant, to whom those of academic circles bowed in awe.  But those great scholars would in time look more like buffoons than sophisticates, though the story of their folly isn’t told often enough. Their problem wasn’t their academic credentials. The problem was their worldview.

Within thirty years, the route would be authenticated by archeologists, as well as the exact towns. The names of the kings would be identified and associated with several Bronze Age burial mounds of that exact period of history. Other long buried tablets would be dug up that indicated that extensive travel like that of the kings in Gen. 14 was quite common place at that time.

Eventually Calger, Vos and even Albright would admit, “There seems to be no reason to question the factual basis of Genesis chapter 14.” However, this admission didn’t make into the tabloids, magazines or newspapers of the day, it just wasn’t considered news. Or at least, not the type of news that a world newly awash in Darwinism wanted to hear.

If you think this particular case is unusual, don’t. I could go on for pages explaining how the “rationalists” assured us the Hittites never existed, writing before Moses was an impossibility, a law as complex as the Mosaic was totally out of place for that time period, the list is endless. As Mendenhall would later admit, “Wellhausens theory of the history of Israelite religion was very largely based on a Hegelian philosophy of history, not upon his literary analysis. It was an a priori evolutionary scheme which guided him in the utilization of his sources.”

No matter how pragmatic an atheistic argument may appear and no matter how rational it may sound, an argument based on an atheistic philosophy is always doomed to fail, in a created world.

*The source for this post was Josh McDowells Evidence that Demands a Verdict, vol.2, one of Josh’s many excellent source works along with Vol.1, The Resurrection Factor, He Walked Among Us, and many more.

Wellhausen, Julius, Die Composition des Hexateuchs, 1899, p13

Albright. William, Historical and Mythical Elements in the Story of Joseph,  Journal of Biblical Literature, 1918, Vol.37, p.136

Mendenhall, George, Biblical History in Transition, The Bible and the Ancient Near East, 1961, p.36


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