Category Archives: Reliability

Holy Books of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism & Hinduism: Which are most reliable?

The gilded “Emaciated Buddha statue” in an Ubosoth in Bangkok representing the stage of his asceticism

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I’ve written extensively on this topic. See:

The Bible passes the test of reliability, using the tests any ancient historian uses. Some historians call them indices while others call them criteria.

See my articles that investigate this topic to demonstrate the Bible is a reliable book:

clip_image001[17]Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

clip_image001[17] Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

clip_image001[17] Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

clip_image001[17] Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

clip_image001[18] Secular assaults on the Bible: The inerrant Bible battles

 clip_image001[19]Bible bigotry from an arrogant skeptic

clip_image001[19] The Bible: fairy tale or history?

clip_image002[5] Why Christianity is NOT a religious myth promoted by dim-witted theists

In On Line Opinion this “comment” stated: ‘The Bible is no more reliable than the Muslim Koran, the Buddhist Tripitaka or the Hindu Bhagavad Gita’.[1]

How historically reliable is the Quran?

Matthew Wong, Christian, answers questions on the Bible:

The Quran

?????? al-Qur??n

Quran opened, resting on a stand

Just look at the crucifixion of Jesus and you already see where the evidence leads.

Islam vehemently denies the crucifixion as a historical event while most historians, both secular, Jewish and Christians find it to be an almost indisputable part of Jesus’s life – in fact perhaps the most verifiable event in his life, other than his baptism.

Islam instead proposes that Jesus never died on the cross but that it was made to appear that way, and someone else was put on the cross instead to look like him. According to the Quran, Allah did this to trick the Jews into thinking they killed him:

That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.

Quran, Surah 4:157–158

Of course this already has problems in the very verse. First, why on earth would Jews admit to killing not only Jesus as a person, but to killing the Christ and Messenger of Allah? Those involved would not have made such confession that he was the Messiah and prophet from God, because they didn’t believe him to be such.

Muslims believe this account because it has been written in the Quran but all other historical sources say the crucifixion happened and the resurrection has strong support as well. There are no sources outside the Quran and Islamic works to indicate their version of things (emphasis added). Certainly, one would think if someone else had been switched with Jesus, that person could not possibly say the things on the cross like, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” or “Into your hands I commit my spirit”. Also, who was standing before Pontius Pilate up to the accusations of the Sanhedrin and High Priests? Would not such a person protest. Jesus remained silent for much of the trial before Pilate. And certainly the person who switched with Jesus would certainly have to undergo the scourging that took place BEFORE Jesus was raised onto the cross. Or did Allah allow Jesus to be scourged and then decide to replace him before the cross?

To explain away the following events afterwards, namely the resurrection and teaching of the death, resurrection and deity of Christ, Muslims claim the gospel was then lost and corrupted and that Muhammad had the final revelation of Allah in its perfectly preserved form. This leads to problems though in understanding reliability of Allah’s revelations.

If Jesus is proclaimed by Muslims to have been the Christ, born of a virgin, righteous and having performed so many miracles, how it is that he barely leaves a footnote with his mission and none of his disciples could transmit the gospel (Injeel) that Allah intended to give to the people? The truth is that this Jesus could be none other than a failure as he (and Allah) lead to the start of a false religion. Is Allah not strong enough to preserve past revelations and then suddenly gained powers to preserve these through the Quran after learning from past mistakes? This video presents clearly why Islam shoots itself in the foot through their version of the crucifixion and what the Quran says about Jesus:

https://youtu.be/O2tYAgboOrI

Muslims deal the same way towards the Torah and other writings of the Old Testament. They were revelations from Allah which Muhammad is told to verify the Quran is correct by, and also state Muhammad was promised in these past revelations, yet the revelations were corrupted.

I have also encountered various Muslims responses’ in relation to the Ahadith, collection of writings about Muhammad and expands on some of the Quranic revelations. While Ahadith is considered important to Muslims and certainly they get a lot of their customs including the Five Pillars from there, many accounts Muslims will say are simply fabricated or da’eff (weak). Thus less than kind reporting from various narrators of Muhammad’s life in the Hadith are dismissed as being tales and not to be taken seriously, despite some of these hadiths being from Sahih (verified) sources:

https://youtu.be/UzzLXPTVQFY

https://youtu.be/HaOsB2nlzaY

Islam’s revelations from Allah lack consistency and distort the revelations from Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, i.e. it cannot be trusted as a reliable revelation of the Islamic religion.

Reliability of the Buddhist Tripitaka

The Pali tipitaka was an open canon for several hundred year after the Buddha’s death, so later developments were added to the canon. Even after the cannon (sic) was closed there has been extensive editing. Additionally, many of the oral texts were not in pali, but were in other prakrit languages and had to be translated to pali.

The Abhidhamma is a later development. Some early schools rejected the Abhidhamma system, because they felt it was not the Buddha’s teaching. Additionally, the Theravada Abhidhamma shares very little in common with other existent Abhidhammas.

The Pali Suttas are very similar to the early cannon (sic) preserved in other languages, e.g. Chinese. Some Suttas are though to be older for a number of reasons. One is simplicity of doctrine, e.g. no lists. Another is, it is unlikely the sutta was added to the cannon (sic) at a later date, because it doesn’t fit into Theravada orthodoxy. Signs of editing help date texts or understand what an earlier version looked like. The Sutta Nipata is thought to be some of the of the oldest texts by both academic and religious scholars.

The vinaya is felt to be an early text, because existent versions are very similar.

At this point in time it is very unlikely we can tell what suttas are the original words of the Buddha. The critical textual study of the Suttas is just starting and is immature compared to critical biblical studies.[2]

Since it was ‘an open canon’ where words were added, it cannot be a reliable document related to the original document. Quartz India indicated the atheism of Buddhism:

While Buddhism is a tradition focused on spiritual liberation, it is not a theistic religion.

The Buddha himself rejected the idea of a creator god, and Buddhist philosophers have even argued that belief in an eternal god is nothing but a distraction for humans seeking enlightenment.

While Buddhism does not argue that gods don’t exist, gods are seen as completely irrelevant to those who strive for enlightenment.

A similar form of functional atheism can also be found in the ancient Asian religion of Jainism, a tradition that emphasises non-violence toward all living beings, non-attachment to worldly possessions, and ascetic practice. While Jains believe in an eternal soul, or jiva, that can be reborn, they do not believe in a divine creator.[3]

Reliability of the Hindu Bhagavad Gita

The Bhagavad Gita (“Song of God” or “Song of the Lord”) is among the most important religious texts of Hinduism and easily the best known. It has been quoted by writers, poets, scientists, theologians, and philosophers – among others – for centuries and is often the introductory text to Hinduism for a Western audience.

It is commonly referred to as the Gita and was originally part of the great Indian epic Mahabharata. Its date of composition, therefore, is closely associated with that of the epic – c. 5th-3rd century BCE – but not all scholars agree that the work was originally included in the Mahabharata text and so date it later to c. 2nd century BCE.

The Gita is a dialogue between the warrior-prince Arjuna and the god Krishna who is serving as his charioteer at the Battle of Kurukshetra fought between Arjuna’s family and allies (the Pandavas) and those of the prince Duryodhana and his family (the Kauravas) and their allies. This dialogue is recited by the Kauravan counselor Sanjaya to his blind king Dhritarashtra (both far from the battleground) as Krishna has given Sanjaya mystical sight so he will be able to see and report the battle to the king.[4]. . .

The Gita combines the concepts expressed in the central texts of Hinduism – the Vedas and Upanishads – which are here synthesized into a single, coherent vision of belief in one God and the underlying unity of all existence. The text instructs on how one must elevate the mind and soul to look beyond appearances – which fool one into believing in duality and multiplicity – and recognize these are illusions; all humans and aspects of existence are a unified extension of the Divine which one will recognize once the trappings of illusion have been discarded.[5]

How accurate is the Gita?

P. R. Sivakumar wrote:

All versions of Srimad Bhagavad Gita is (sic) correct. There is nothing like accurate or inaccurate Bhagavad Gita. It is the interpretation that differs. And even if you read the original verses of Srimad Bhagavad Gita, you are not understanding its meaning – instead, you are forming your own interpretation of the Sanskrit verse.

Personally speaking, I would try to understand an acharya’s (like Adi Shankara, Ramanuja or Madhvacharya) interpretation, rather than my own, given my limited knowledge of Sanskrit and spirituality.

My suggestion will be for you to seek a guru, as per your spiritual inclination and try to understand the message through them. As far as Sanskrit verses go, there are many websites. You can also find them here – http://www.bhagavadgita.org/[6]

Therefore, it is impossible to speak of the accuracy of the Gita.

Conclusion

I have confirmed the reliability of both Old and New Testaments. However, Got Questions Ministries summarised it concisely:

The books of the Bible were written at different times by different authors over a period of approximately 1,500 years. But that is not to say that it took 1,500 years to write the Bible, only that it took that long for the complete canon of Scripture to be penned as God progressively revealed His Word. The oldest book of the Bible, according to most scholars, is either Genesis or Job, both thought to have been written by Moses and completed around 1400 BC, about 3,400 years ago. The newest book, Revelation, was written around AD 90 (Got Questions).[1]

There is a 400 year gap between the end of OT revelation and the beginning of the NT. During this time, God was not revealing himself to his people – for his reasons (Got Questions).

Both OT and NT deal with historical facts and spiritual reality.

With Islam, it is based on a ‘revelation’ to Muhammad but includes too many inaccuracies when compared with the Bible (see above).

For Buddhism, the Pali tipitaka was an open canon for several hundred year after the Buddha’s death where writings were added that did not come from Buddha. In addition, Buddhism is an atheistic religion.

For Hinduism, “there is nothing like accurate or inaccurate Bhagavad Gita,” we can’t discuss the reliability of the Gita as it is outside the realm of Gita’s parameters. Interpretation is what matters for Gita.

Works consulted

[1] Got Questions Ministries 2021. “How long did it take to write the Bible?” accessed 15 September 2021.

Notes


[1] Available at: Posted by david f, Friday, 20 September 2019 7:23:54 PM, https://forum.onlineopinion.com.au/thread.asp?article=20505&page=5, accessed 14 September 2021.

[2] Reddit, bucon, “How much of the tipitaka is reliable, and be reliable i mean true to the buddha’s words?” accessed 14 September 2021, https://www.reddit.com/r/Buddhism/comments/28dj7v/how_much_of_the_tipitaka_is_reliable_and_be/.

[3] Quartz India 2019, “The ancient connections between atheism, Buddhism and Hinduism,” 3 April, accessed 14 September 2021, https://qz.com/india/1585631/the-ancient-connections-between-atheism-buddhism-and-hinduism/.

[4] Joshua J Mark 2020, World History Encyclopedia, “Bhagavad Gita,” 15 June, accessed 14 September 2021, https://www.worldhistory.org/Bhagavad_Gita/.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Quora 2016. “Where can I find the most accurate book on Srimad Bhagavad Geeta?” accessed 14 September 2021, https://www.quora.com/Where-can-I-find-the-most-accurate-book-on-Srimad-Bhagavad-Geeta.

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 September 2021.

The Bible as reliable history

The ancient Near East

Relief on the Ishtar Gate, Pergamenmuseum 4.jpg

Regions and states

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Does the Bible pass the test of being a reliable historical document? Can it be trusted as an historical event to be trusted as accurate as history in the Bible?

What indices would ancient historians use to check the trustworthiness of any historical document – especially that from ancient history?

This is the type of analysis I encountered on a Christian forum by an atheist who challenged the historical accuracy of the Bible:

The Bible doesn’t pass the modern tests for historicity. Using those tests, the Bible is an unreliable witness at best. Faith is required to accept quite a few historical accounts in the Bible, for instance. The Bible’s focus is on the reason behind God’s actions far more than in the chronological accuracy of the raw narrative. It’s why God does certain things that lies in the message contained in the Bible. Biblical scholars know, for instance, that the synoptic gospels are not always chronologically accurate – that the order of certain events has been altered to more clearly express the message contained in that narrative. Little serious argument exists that such events didn’t happen at all, only that they don’t always occur in the order presented, and that is just one way the Bible fails to meet modern historicity standards. It’s much more about faith and God’s message, and how best to present that message with the greatest clarity and continuity. Absolute historical accuracy takes a back seat to that.[1]

When asked about the kinds of events to which he was referring, he clarified:

No, I wasn’t referring to miraculous events, only strictly historical nuts and bolt events like when the Israelites left Egypt, or the existence of Abraham and all the other characters in the Biblical narrative, as well as Jesus, being real individuals and not must (sic) myths, etc..

Things such as the walled city of David actually were built and were destroyed. In other words, the basic stuff of history that any good history book would cover. With regard to events such as the mass murder of the Canaanites by the forces under Joshua, those glorified stories are more embellished stories to make a point.  The chronology isn’t faithful to actual events, since recently unearthed archeological evidence in Israel tells a somewhat different story (the Israelites were originally Canaanites themselves, for instance).[2]

Assertions are not evidence

Bible open vector image(Bible, public domain vectors)

My response was:[3]

Those are your assertions and you do not provide sourced historical evidence to support your allegations.

Dr K A Kitchen, Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics, and Oriental Studies, University of Liverpool, England, refutes your perspective BIG TIME in his carefully documented 662pp publication, On the Reliability of the Old Testament 2003. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

What was Kitchen’s assessment of the Bible’s dependability, based on his discipline as an Egyptologist and archaeologist? After examining the evidence from the Hebrew Bible in the light of historical information available from Near Eastern antiquity, he concluded his investigation with this summary:

It is time to return to the questions posed at the beginning of this book: whether or not the existing Old Testament writings were composed (and their contents originated) entirely within the brief and late period of circa 400-200 B.C., or whether or not their contents are pure fiction, unrelated to the world of the Near East in circa 2000-400 B.C.

To pursue such questions, the only practical method of inquiry was to go back to those ancient times and compare the data in the Hebrew Bible with what we have from its putative world. Merely theorizing in one’s head can achieve nothing. Looking back, we do have some definite results. On the independent evidence from antiquity itself, we may safely deliver a firm “No” to both questions posed above. Namely, the Old Testament books and their contents did not exclusively originate as late as 400-200 B.C.; and they are by no means pure fiction – in fact, there is very little proven fiction in them overall.

What can be said of historical reliability? Here our answer – on the evidence available – is more positive. The periods most in the glare of contemporary documents – the divided monarchy and the exile and return – show a very high level of direct correlation (where adequate data exist) and of reliability. That fact should be graciously accepted by all, regardless of personal starting point, and with the firm exclusion of alien, hence irrelevant, modern “agendas.” When we go back (before ca. 1000) to periods when inscriptional mentions of a then-obscure tribal community and its antecedent families (and founding family) simply cannot be expected a priori, then chronologically typological comparisons of the biblical and external phenomena show clearly that the Hebrew founders bear the marks of reality and of a definite period. The same applies to the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt and appearance in Canaan, with one clear mention, of course (Israel on the stela of Merenptah). The Sinai covenant (all three versions, Deuteronomy included) has to have originated within a close-set period (1400-1200) – likewise other features. The phenomena of the united monarchy fit well into what we know of the period and of ancient royal usages. The primeval protohistory embodies early popular tradition going very far back, and is set in an early format. Thus we have consistent level of good, fact-based correlations right through from circa 2000 B.C. (with earlier roots) down to 400 B.C. In terms of general reliability – and much more could have been instanced than there was room for here – the Old Testament comes out remarkably well, so long as its writings and writers are treated fairly and evenhandedly, in line with independent data, open to all (Kitchen 2003:499-500).

Another Old Testament scholar, Dr Walter C. Kaiser Jr, has provided a lesser summary of the evidence to positively answer the title of his book: The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable and Relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois/Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press 2001.

The atheist seemed to be pushing an anti-biblical reliability agenda. Here I have provided samples of evidence, from the writings of Kitchen and Kaiser, that contradict the view the atheist promoted.

George, the atheist, did come back with more responses at #135, #136, #137 which I did not answer. Here his replies are. They deserve a comprehensive response, for which I did not have the time to respond when he made the posts.

>>Who said? Which historical scholars are promoting that perspective?<<

I would think, probably most do.   A few points here would be illustrative:

1.  The stories about the promise given to the patriarchs in Genesis, for example, are not historical, nor do they intend to be historical; they are rather historically determined expressions about Israel and Israel’s relationship to its God, given in forms legitimate to their time, and their truth lies not in their facticity, nor in the historicity, but their ability to express the reality that Israel experienced.” Thompson, Thomas (2002) [1974]. The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives: The Quest for the Historical Abraham. Valley Forge, Pa: Trinity Press International.

2.  The historicity of Genesis as the ultimate authority on primeval earth and prehistory, to mention another example, has been thoroughly “dethroned” by modern Geology. No single flood ever simultaneously covered the entire earth. If one did, there would be ample evidence of it in the buried strata, and the is exactly nothing in the geological record to support a world wide flood event.  One would have to dismiss science in it’s entirety to believe the Biblical account, and no responsible scientist accepts the diluvian theory today. Gillispie, Charles Coulston (1996) [1951]. Genesis and geology: a study in the relations of scientific thought, natural theology, and social opinion in Great Britain, 1790–1850. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

3.  The earth is billions of years old, not around 6,000.  Human beings have existed in our present form for over 25,000 years alone.

[That’s a straw man argument as I have never stated that is my position.]

4.  Modern archeology overturns the book of Joshua in its account of a rapid, destructive conquest of the Canaanite cities, since “by the 1960s it had become clear that the archaeological record did not, in fact, support the account of the conquest given in Joshua: the cities which the Bible records as having been destroyed by the Israelites were either uninhabited at the time, or, if destroyed, were destroyed at widely different times, not in one brief period.”

The most high profile example, in fact, would be the “fall of Jericho.”  Thomas A. Holland (1997). “Jericho”. In Eric M. Meyers. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East. Oxford University Press. pp. 220–224.

[NOTE: This view about the conquest of Jericho not being factual is refuted in Geisler & Howe, When Critics Ask, pp 136-137]

5.  Finally, we can determine more about the accuracy of the Bible in terms of its historicity by examining other sources and analytical tools made available starting less than 2 centuries ago, including but not limited to:

  • Other Near Eastern texts, documents and inscriptions
  • The material remains recovered throughout the Near East by archaeological excavation, analysed by ever more sophisticated technical and statistical apparatus
  • Historical geography, demography, soil science, technology studies, and comparative linguistics

George wrote: In historical geography, the preeminent book in English is Anson F. Rainey and R. Steven Notley, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006).

  • Anthropological and sociological modelling
  • Non-canonical texts

Let me make things simple here.   I know you don’t believe the above, and I’d be wasting my breath trying to convince you of it, which is why I’m not making any effort to do that here.  All I did was try to answer your question as briefly as possible. The number of scholars “advancing” this kind of Biblical historicity analysis are too many to list here, I’m sure, but I really don’t want to get into an argument with you about this, that, or the above, OK?[4]

And again:

>>George, you do seem to be pushing an anti-biblical reliability agenda. Here I have provided samples of evidence, from the writings of Kitchen and Kaiser, that contradict the view you are promoting. <<

I’m not “pushing” anything, so I would appreciate it if you would quit trying to mischaracterize my intentions as some “anti-biblical agenda,” which you seem to have a rather presumptive way of doing.  I provided references for the sources of my most recent response to you, with considerable effort, so you can go ahead and dismiss them if you think you can, and politely quit trying to call them “my assertions.”  I accept them, of course, and I also know, as a Biblical literalist, that you do not.  Let’s leave it at that, OK?[5]

And finally, George makes another attempt to debunk Christianity, while giving it a nod of the hat, saying of the OT that ‘a great deal of it is true’; it was not ‘a work of pure fiction’, but it does not immediately pass ‘the modern test for historicity’.

>>Dr K A Kitchen, Professor  Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archeology, Classics, and Oriental Studies, University of Liverpool, England, refutes your perspective BIG TIME<<

Not even close.  You might want to consider reading my responses more carefully, instead of scanning them dismissively as if they don’t “rate” your undivided attention.  That’s because the article you quoted from agrees completely with the line of reasoning I’m representing in my posts.  I never said the OT was a work of pure fiction.  That’s preposterous.  A great deal of it is true.  In fact, I’d say, as a single body of work, it bears a very high correlation with actual events that occurred over it’s (sic) historical time span (even if minor errors appear concerning exact chronology, of course). 

That doesn’t mean the Bible suddenly passes the modern test for historicity though. It contains, however few or relatively minor, errors – a few of them glaring., and here’s the thing:  There’s no real argument among scholars concerning Biblical inaccuracies about certain events and physical facts so easily checked against contemporary  archaeological evidence from that period we now have at our disposal which we didn’t have before. Furthermore, there are a determinate number of interpolations in certain scriptures which no modern technically accurate historical document should have.

Please refer to my recent post for a more detailed analysis.[6]

Note his generalities, without specific examples, of:

  • Biblical inaccuracies about certain events and physical facts;
  • A determinate number of interpolations in some Scriptures which no accurate historical document should have.

This is a pathetic attempt to debunk Scripture without being explicit.

The Bible passes the test of reliability, using the tests any ancient historian uses. Some historians call them indices while others call them criteria.

See my articles that investigate this topic:

clip_image002 Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

clip_image002[1] Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

clip_image002[2] Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

clip_image002[3] Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

clip_image002[4] Secular assaults on the Bible: The inerrant Bible battles

clip_image002[5] Bible bigotry from an arrogant skeptic

clip_image002[6] The Bible: fairy tale or history?

Conclusion

George pushed his non-reliability of the Bible while I provided links to evidence of its reliability. I discuss some of the indices for historical reliability in my article, Evidence for the afterlife.

For those with open minds to the evidence, the Bible can be put to the test of any historical document and found to be reliable in what it states in both Old and New Testaments. That reliability applies to all that is in the Bible, not just to historical narratives.

Notes:


[1] George#87, Christian Fellowship Forum, ‘The decline in the Gospel’, August 19 2015. Available at: http://christianfellowshipforum.com/ (Accessed 12 September 2015). When I checked this link on 5 August 2019 the forum had been closed.

[2] Ibid., George#89.

[3] Ibid., ozspen#131.

[4] Ibid., George#135, 12 September 2015.

[5] Ibid., George#136, 12 September 2015.

[6] Ibid., George#137,12 September 2015.

Works consulted:

Geisler, N & Howe, T 1992. When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Kaiser Jr., W C 2001. The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Kitchen, K A 2003. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan/Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Copyright © 2021 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 07 September 2021.