Robert Dick Wilson’s talk “Is the Higher Criticism Scholarly?” (part 4 of transcript)

(Part 5 of 5 film series on archaeology)

For many more archaeological evidences in support of the Bible, see Archaeology and the Bible . (There are some great posts on this too at the bottom of this post.)

Robert Dick Wilson at the Grove City Bible Conference in 1909.

IS THE HIGHER CRITICISM SCHOLARLY?Clearly attested facts showing that thedestructive “assured results of modern scholarship” are indefensible

By Robert Dick Wilson, Ph.D., D.D.

Professor of Semitic Philology in Princeton Theological Seminary[Originally Published in 1922] 

An Argument From Silence Which Proves Nothing

This is an argument from silence which proves nothing absolutely. There is a history of the United States called Scribners by William Cullen Bryant and others. It has 53 pages, double column, of Index. The word Presbyterian does not occur in this Index; the word Christian only in the phrase Christian Commission; the word church only twice. And yet, this is a history of a republic founded by Christians, observing the Sabbath, devoted to foreign missions, and full of Christian churches and activities. Thirty-five hundred pages quarto and no mention of Thanksgiving Day, nor of the days of fasting and prayer during the Civil War, nor of the Bible except in the relation of the Bible Society to slavery!

Nor does it prove that the law did not exist, to show that it was not completely observed, or that things forbidden in it were done. Does the crime wave that has been sweeping the world since the close of the war prove that the Gospel does not exist? In one week of December, 1920, the front page of one of our great New York dailies had scarcely space for anything except reports of murders, burglaries, and other crimes. Are the Ten Commandments unknown in New York City?

But the critics assert that a long period of development was necessary before such a system of laws could have been formulated, accepted, and enforced. I agree readily to this; but I claim that all the development necessary for the formulation may have taken place before the time of Moses and that its hearty acceptance by the people and its enforcement depended upon moral rather than intellectual condition. As far as intellectual requirements are concerned, there is nothing in the law that might not have been written either in Babylon or Egypt centuries before Moses. Then as now it was spiritual power and moral inclination that was wanted rather than intellectual perception in order to do the right and abhor the wrong. In each successive generation of Israelitish men each individual of the nation had to be converted and to submit his soul and conduct to the teachings of the divine law. The ancient Jewish church had its ups and downs, its times of strenuous faith and of declension and decay, just as the Christian church has had.

Ample Time for Revision of Laws

It is claimed by the critics that signs of progress or change are to be observed in some of the laws as given in Exodus 20-24, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. This may be admitted. It is, however, a sufficient answer to this claim that in the forty years from the arrival at Sinai to the final address of Moses at Shittim, there was plenty of time for Moses to apply these laws to suit all probable variety of circumstances awaiting the people of God. Consider the changes in forty years in the fish laws of Pennsylvania, or in the tariff or railroad legislation of the United States! Besides many of these seemingly variant legislations with regard to the same thing are, as Mr. Wiener has so clearly shown in his “Studies in Biblical Law,” really laws affecting different relations of the same thing. Some, also, like the Income Tax Laws upon our yearly declaration sheet, are general laws for the whole people; while others, like the detailed statements of the Income Tax Law that are meant to guide the tax officials, are meant for the Priests and Levites who officiated at the sanctuary.

That there should be repetitions of the laws affecting the Sabbath, festivals, idolatry, and so forth, does not argue against the unity of authorship. The central facts of a new system are frequently emphasized by such repetition, as is manifest in almost every chapter of the Koran, and in almost every epistle of the apostle Paul. Why they thus repeat is not always clear to us; but it is to be supposed that it was clear to the authors of the repetitions. That is a question of motive and not of text or evidence. What the Peace Treaty says is evident; why the treaty-makers said thus and so is not always apparent, and cannot be produced in evidence.

That there should be alleged contradictions among so many laws was inevitable. Some of them appear contradictory, but really relate to different persons or circumstances. If they were truly contradictory as the critics suppose, why were the contradictions not removed by one of the numerous editors and disakeuasts (revisers), who are unknown to history but assumed by the critics to have existed and to have labored for centuries upon the elaboration of these laws? Surely, these alleged contradictions cannot have escaped their notice. Surely, they cannot have seemed incongruous to the priests of the second temple and to the Scribes and Pharisees who put them into execution. Surely, if real contradictions exist in the laws [and I do not believe they do] it is more likely that they were not in the ancient documents and that they arose in the process of transmission through the vicissitudes of many centuries, than that they should have been inserted in the time of Jeremiah, or of Ezra, that ready scribe in the law of Moses.

Will Objectors Please Answer a Few Questions?

Before leaving the matter of the law, it may be well to propose for the consideration of the objectors to the Biblical account of the origin of the laws of Moses a few questions that, it seems to me, require an answer before we can accept their theory of its origin, unsupported as it is by any direct evidence.

First, if Exodus 20-24 and Deuteronomy were written in the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, how can we account for the fact that the king is referred to but once (Deuteronomy 16), and that in a passage difficult to read and explain and claiming to be anticipatory? And why should this passage make no reference to the house of David, and place its emphasis on a warning against a return to Egypt?

Second, why should the law never mention Zion, or Jerusalem, as the place where men ought to worship, if these laws were written hundreds of years after the temple had been built?

Third, why should the temple itself receive no consideration, but be set aside for a “mythical” tabernacle whose plan to the minutest particular has been elaborated with so much care? And why, if this plan were devised in Babylon in the fifth century B. C., should it in its form and divisions show more resemblance to an Egyptian than to a Babylonian house of God?

Why the Emphasis on the Shedding of Blood?

Fourth, if the laws of the priest-code were made at Babylon, how does it come about that the main emphasis in these laws is upon the shedding of blood and that the principle offerings are bloody offerings; whereas, in the Babylonian religion it is doubtful if any reference is ever made to the importance of the blood and no word corresponding to the Hebrew word for altar (misbeach) has ever yet been found in the Babylonian language? How is it, also, that almost the entire vocabulary bearing upon the ceremonial observances is different in the Babylonian from what it is in the Hebrew? The Hebrew name for the various articles of clothing worn by the priests, for the stones of the breastplate, for the sacrifices, for the altar and the many spoons and other implements used in its service, for the festivals, for the ark and the multifarious articles used in its construction, for sins and removal of sins, and for nearly all the gracious acts of God in redemption, differ almost altogether from the Babylonian. How do we account for all this, if the ceremonies of the second temple were first conceived by the rivers of Babylon under the shadow of the tower of Bel?

Ezra’s Careful Camouflage!

Fifth, if the ceremonial law were written between 500 and 300 B. C., at a time when the Persian power was supreme, how do we account for the entire absence of Persian words and customs from the priestly document? Why should Ezra and his contemporaries have used so many Persian words in their other compositions and have utterly eschewed in the lengthiest of their works? Not one Persian word, forsooth! How careful they must have been in this endeavor to camouflage their attempt to foist their work on Moses! They should have spent more of their time and energy on the removal of alleged incongruities in the subject matter.

Sixth, if the Israelitish religion is a natural development like that of the nations that surrounded them, how does it happen that the Phoenicians who spoke substantially the same language have an almost entirely different nomenclature for their ceremonial acts, for sacrifices and the material of sacrifice; and that the Phoenicians and Carthaginians and their colonies remained polytheistic to the last?

Seventh, if the ceremonial law were written after the exile, when all the Jews, from Elephantine in Egypt on the west to Babylon on the east, were speaking and writing Aramaic, how did it come to pass that the law was written in a Hebrew so different from anything found in any Aramaic dialect that almost every word used in it required to be translated in order to make it understood by the Aramaic speaking Jews? Are we to suppose that the exiled Hebrews invented their religious vocabulary arbitrarily after their language had ceased to be spoken by any great body of living men? Are we to suppose that they invented, or borrowed, the names of the stones of the breastplate, and then forgot so completely their Aramaic equivalents that scarcely any two of the Aramaic targums, or versions, should afterwards be able to agree as to the meaning in Aramaic of more than two or three of them at most? Why, also, should the articles of dress, the names of the sacrifice, the materials of the tabernacle, the verbs to denote the ceremonial acts, and the fact that the general coloring and the particular shades of the coloring of the whole fabric be so different?

Eighth, how is it to be explained that the Aramaic of the Targum and Talmud has taken over so many roots and vocables from the Hebrew of the Old Testament? For a comparison of the Old Testament Hebrew with the Aramaic of the Targums and of both of these with the Syriac shows that about six hundred roots and words found in the two former do not appear in Syriac, nor in any other Aramaic dialect not written by the Jews. The critics are in the habit of charging that such words are Aramaisms in Hebrew; but it is manifest that, while it is possible for the Jews who wrote Aramaic two hundred years after Christ to have taken over Hebrew words from the Old Testament into their translations and commentaries, it would have been impossible for Hebrew authors living from two hundred to five hundred years before Christ to have taken over into their vocabulary Aramaic words not in use until A. D. 200, or later. All of the “Introductions” to the Old Testament need to be revised along this line.

“To the Text and to the Testimony”

That a word occurs in the Old Testament but once and then reappears five hundred or a thousand years later in an Aramaic document written by Jews is to be expected. To say that such a word may have been in the spoken Aramaic before ever the Hebrew document was written, but it did not appear in writing till A. D. 200, may be met by affirming that it may have existed in the spoken Hebrew for a thousand years before it was written. When we once attempt to argue on the basis of what is not contained in documents, one man’s conjecture is just about as good as another’s. I am willing to leave all such cases to the written testimony found in the documents we possess, and I demand that the assailants of the Scriptures confine themselves in like manner to that which has been written. To the text and to the testimony! By these let us stand or fall.


Is the Bible historically accurate? Here are some of the posts I have done in the past on the subject:

The Babylonian Chronicle
of Nebuchadnezzars Siege of Jerusalem

This clay tablet is a Babylonian chronicle recording events from 605-594BC. It was first translated in 1956 and is now in the British Museum. The cuneiform text on this clay tablet tells, among other things, 3 main events: 1. The Battle of Carchemish (famous battle for world supremacy where Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated Pharoah Necho of Egypt, 605 BC.), 2. The accession to the throne of Nebuchadnezzar II, the Chaldean, and 3. The capture of Jerusalem on the 16th of March, 598 BC.

2. Hezekiah’s Siloam Tunnel Inscription.

King Hezekiah of Judah ruled from 721 to 686 BC. Fearing a siege by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, Hezekiah preserved Jerusalem’s water supply by cutting a tunnel through 1,750 feet of solid rock from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city walls (2 Kings 20; 2 Chron. 32). At the Siloam end of the tunnel, an inscription, presently in the archaeological museum at Istanbul, Turkey, celebrates this remarkable accomplishment.

3. Taylor Prism (Sennacherib Hexagonal Prism)

It contains the victories of Sennacherib himself, the Assyrian king who had besieged Jerusalem in 701 BC during the reign of king Hezekiah, it never mentions any defeats. On the prism Sennacherib boasts that he shut up “Hezekiah the Judahite” within Jerusalem his own royal city “like a caged bird.” This prism is among the three accounts discovered so far which have been left by the Assyrian king Sennacherib of his campaign against Israel and Judah.

4. Biblical Cities Attested Archaeologically.

In addition to Jericho, places such as Haran, Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Shechem, Samaria, Shiloh, Gezer, Gibeah, Beth Shemesh, Beth Shean, Beersheba, Lachish, and many other urban sites have been excavated, quite apart from such larger and obvious locations as Jerusalem or Babylon. Such geographical markers are extremely significant in demonstrating that fact, not fantasy, is intended in the Old Testament historical narratives;

5. The Discovery of the Hittites

Most doubting scholars back then said that the Hittites were just a “mythical people that are only mentioned in the Bible.” Some skeptics pointed to the fact that the Bible pictures the Hittites as a very big nation that was worthy of being coalition partners with Egypt (II Kings 7:6), and these bible critics would assert that surely we would have found records of this great nation of Hittites.  The ironic thing is that when the Hittite nation was discovered, a vast amount of Hittite documents were found. Among those documents was the treaty between Ramesses II and the Hittite King.

6.Shishak Smiting His Captives

The Bible mentions that Shishak marched his troops into the land of Judah and plundered a host of cities including Jerusalem,  this has been confirmed by archaeologists. Shishak’s own record of his campaign is inscribed on the south wall of the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak in Egypt. In his campaign he presents 156 cities of Judea to his god Amon. 

7. Moabite Stone

The Moabite Stone also known as the Mesha Stele is an interesting story. The Bible says in 2 Kings 3:5 that Mesha the king of Moab stopped paying tribute to Israel and rebelled and fought against Israel and later he recorded this event. This record from Mesha has been discovered.

8Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri, silver, gold, bowls of gold, chalices of gold, cups of gold, vases of gold, lead, a sceptre for the king, and spear-shafts, I have received.”

View from the dome of the Capitol!9A Verification of places in Gospel of John and Book of Acts.

Sir William Ramsay, famed archaeologist, began a study of Asia Minor with little regard for the book of Acts. He later wrote:

I found myself brought into contact with the Book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.

9B Discovery of Ebla TabletsWhen I think of discoveries like the Ebla Tablets that verify  names like Adam, Eve, Ishmael, David and Saul were in common usage when the Bible said they were, it makes me think of what amazing confirmation that is of the historical accuracy of the Bible.

10. Cyrus Cylinder

There is a well preserved cylinder seal in the Yale University Library from Cyrus which contains his commands to resettle the captive nations.

11. Puru “The lot of Yahali” 9th Century B.C.E.

This cube is inscribed with the name and titles of Yahali and a prayer: “In his year assigned to him by lot (puru) may the harvest of the land of Assyria prosper and thrive, in front of the gods Assur and Adad may his lot (puru) fall.”  It provides a prototype (the only one ever recovered) for the lots (purim) cast by Haman to fix a date for the destruction of the Jews of the Persian Empire, ostensibly in the fifth century B.C.E. (Esther 3:7; cf. 9:26).

12. The Uzziah Tablet Inscription

The Bible mentions Uzziah or Azariah as the king of the southern kingdom of Judah in 2 Kings 15. The Uzziah Tablet Inscription is a stone tablet (35 cm high x 34 cm wide x 6 cm deep) with letters inscribed in ancient Hebrew text with an Aramaic style of writing, which dates to around 30-70 AD. The text reveals the burial site of Uzziah of Judah, who died in 747 BC.

13. The Pilate Inscription

The Pilate Inscription is the only known occurrence of the name Pontius Pilate in any ancient inscription. Visitors to the Caesarea theater today see a replica, the original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. There have been a few bronze coins found that were struck form 29-32 AD by Pontius Pilate

14. Caiaphas Ossuary

This beautifully decorated ossuary found in the ruins of Jerusalem, contained the bones of Caiaphas, the first century AD. high priest during the time of Jesus.

14 B Pontius Pilate Part 2      

In June 1961 Italian archaeologists led by Dr. Frova were excavating an ancient Roman amphitheatre near Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima) and uncovered this interesting limestone block. On the face is a monumental inscription which is part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar which clearly says that it was from “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.”

14c. Three greatest American Archaeologists moved to accept Bible’s accuracy through archaeology.

Despite their liberal training, it was archaeological research that bolstered their confidence in the biblical text:Albright said of himself, “I must admit that I tried to be rational and empirical in my approach [but] we all have presuppositions of a philosophical order.” The same statement could be applied as easily to Gleuck and Wright, for all three were deeply imbued with the theological perceptions which infused their work.

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