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The Bible is not a Historical Text, it is a Hagiography

Updated on January 27, 2012

I have to laugh at how many people still refer to the bible as a historically accurate document. It is far from accurate, historically or in any other way. There is a term, however, for ancient texts that, while containing historical information, are more of a mythological story. That term is hagiography. A hagiography is a writing on the subject of holy people. I think even Christians will agree that the purpose of the bible was not to recount historical information but to recount the life of god and his son, Jesus--a very holy person. So, while the bible does contain information that can be historically confirmed, it also contains myths like the one of Noah and the Great Flood, which have not been confirmed, and most likely never will be. At least not how the bible tells it. There may have been a flood, but it was not a world wide disaster like the bible tells it. And Noah is another one of those holy characters that hagiographies serve so well.

So, rather than point out all the myths in the bible that serve to classify it as a hagiography I will list some other popular hagiographies from other cultures, and we'll see how different they are from the bible.

Izanagi and Izanami creating the Japanese archipelago.
Izanagi and Izanami creating the Japanese archipelago. | Source

The Kojiki and the Nihonshoki

Here are two ancient texts--the earliest written documents in Japan. The Kojiki was written around the year 711 CE and is basically a collection of myths on how the Yamato Plain and the Japanese archipelago came into existence. The Nihonshoki was written less than a decade later in 720 CE, and also relates the origin myths of Japan. These myths include the story of Izanagi and Izanami, the divine beings from which the Imperial line has descended from--according to them.

While these texts start with very mythological characters and legends, they go on to recount "history" up until the 33rd emperor of Japan. This mixture of myth and history is very valuable to historians to try to piece together the history of Japan. However, a distinction is made between the parts that are myths, like the story of how Prince Shotoku flew on a winged horse to China to bring Buddhism to Japan, and accurate history. Therefore, these texts, while still invaluable as historical references, are hagiographies, not historically accurate documents. Cross referencing these texts with other reliable sources and artifacts are how historians proceed with caution when researching them.

So, I am confused when the bible's accuracy is questioned and Christians get all up in arms. The bible, just like any other hagiography, has to be scrutinized and cross referenced, too. It is not special just because your beliefs dictate that it must be so, and as historians, it is our moral duty to cross reference it with other historically accurate texts.

The Immortal Kim Jong Il?


Modern Day Hagiography

Kim Jong Il is a perfect modern day example of a hagiography in the making. Just like his father before him, the official biography of Kim states that he was born on a mythical mountain under a double rainbow and that his birth was foretold. There are claims of his immortal exploits and his divine right to rule. According to this, Kim is just shy of a god. These are obvious fabrications, but along with these, there are some, and I reiterate some, historically accurate dates and such. Does this make it a historically valid document? Well, yes, but it does not make it historically accurate. There is a huge different. I imagine it will be very hard to cross reference his mythical birth with anything that actually happened here on earth, so, sorry Kim, your biography does not serve as history. At least not for historical purposes.

This is no different than the fabrications in the bible of virgin births and arcs carrying two of every animal. While there may have been a town called Bethlehem, there is not any record of a birth in a manger. None. In fact, theologists can't even agree on a year for his birth. That's because no records exist for it outside of the bible, and the bible, as I have already established, is highly unreliable as a source for historical accuracy. All historical records indicate that no one by the name of Jesus of Nazareth ever existed. There is not even one record outside of the unreliable bible that can be cross referenced to confirm his birth because he is glaringly absent from history. Sorry, Christians.


Sima Qian, a True Historian

To contrast the hagiography I will give an example of a truly accurate ancient historical text. Sima Qian, also known as the "Grand Historian," lived in the second century B.C. He was the father of historiography in China and his life's work culminated in the history of China starting from the Yellow Emperor, some two thousand years before him, to the Emperor Wu of Han. When historians want to research ancient Chinese history they reach for the annals, chronicles, and treatises written by Sima Qian because of their accuracy. A true historian in his time, Sima Qian didn't just write about high ranking people, he also wrote about the lower classes. He started writing Shiji in 109 B.C. and it remains as a veritable record of Chinese history.


The only conclusion an honest person can come to is that, if the bible is less than reliable as a source for history, how much of it can we really trust? How much of it can be trusted if there is not even one confirmation on so many things it claims? If you were reading an important document, let's say the deed to your house, and there was some mistake in it, you would want that mistake fixed immediately, wouldn't you? Why? Because you know that with as little as one mistake, your document loses credibility and it will be harder to correct if time is allowed to pass by. It might even hurt you in the long run when you want to sell your house. So, why, Christians, do you turn off all reason and logic when it comes to the bible? Don't you owe it to yourselves to be forthcoming? A historically accurate document it is not, and believing that is is simply because doing so confirms your beliefs is not only dishonest, it is utterly stupid.


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