Book Review: The Bible Is History

The Bible Is History, by Ian Wilson

There are times when the identity of an author makes little or no difference. This is not the case. The author claims to be a liberal sort of Roman Catholic convert, and in this particular case, this identity makes a big difference as to the sort of book this is, in that it is written without the respect and regard for full biblical historicity that a genuine believer would possess, and a certain jesuitical rationalism that seeks to present the strongest case possible for biblical truth, and Catholic tradition, that can be made from the evidence alone without any sort of faith. The author, also unsurprisingly, seeks comfort in ritual and in the heart as opposed to obedience to God’s ways, and outright claims that the Sabbath and Holy Days were created by Ezra from whole cloth long after the times of Moses, as a way of subtly denigrating those who point to the Catholic corruption of the biblical Sabbath. The author’s identity is particularly notable towards the end of the book, where he seeks to defend the importance of various apocryphal works and makes arguments about the controversial shroud of Turn and for the death of Simon Peter in Rome, a city which Peter likely never visited.

In terms of its contents and structure, this book is a chronological account of biblical history, rich in pictures and dry understatement and at least the desire for objectivity, in the sense that it compromises between biblical truth and the minimally verifiable claims of archaeology and extrabiblical textual analysis to present a case for the Bible being valuable as a work of history despite the author’s rather dim view of its divine origin. Clearly this is an author who is behaving as a critical scholar with bogus ideas like the documentary hypothesis and a disbelief in the full claims of scripture. Even so, the author does manage to present plausible reasons and explanations that demonstrate that it does not require faith, but merely rationality, to accept the Bible as being a work of historical veracity, both in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures, once the Bible is properly understood in its subtlety. The author starts in ancient history with a look at the shores of the Black Sea, moves to Canaan and Egypt, examines the various empires that dominated Israel and Judah, and closes with a couple of chapters on the New Testament world. Throughout the book, the author shows himself very critical of popular biblical archaeologists, while entirely ignorant of the work of others, like Kitchen [1] and Longman whose work is both textually sound and based on a firm grounding of biblical archaeology and history, and of far greater biblical and archaeological fidelity than the author himself can muster up, perhaps the underlying reason for ignoring such sources.

So, who is this book written for, and does it meet its goals? Let me state clearly and unambiguously that this book is not written for a believer in the Bible and in what it says, as such a person is likely to be extremely offended by the author’s cavalier view of the biblical corpus of law and the fact that He views the dubious shroud of Turin and theories of the Ark of the Covenant being moved first to Elephantine and then to Ethiopia with more respect than he views the biblical Sabbath and Holy Days. Nor is the book likely to please Jewish audiences, as it speaks authoritatively about the historical veracity of Jesus Christ and the apostles in a reasoned argument that many apologists would be proud of [2]. When considered as a whole, this book may be viewed as an attempt to bridge the gap to an acceptance of a specifically Catholic view of tradition and history for an audience which is already prone to accept the claims of critical scholars of the Bible and secular-minded biblical archaeologists who are only willing to accept the Word of God where it can be supported by external evidence, but who are not so opposed to the Bible as to consider it without value. It is in that light that the title of the book takes on a great deal of importance: to the author, the Bible is not the inspired word of God, but the Bible is history. And somehow that is supposed to be good enough for the author, and those he writes to.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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