Bill Cummings? Bless his heart …

Capernaum synagogue ruins

When it comes to debating the reliability of the Bible’s historical record the geographical and archeological evidence is impossible to ignore. These are the ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus first met many of his disciples.

People in the South have a saying that sounds innocent enough on the surface, but those of us who’ve used it know it’s just a nice way of writing off someone who hasn’t a clue about reality.

“Bless her heart,” we might say of the woman who sings off key, but still insists on singing solos in church. Shake your head and offer a “Bless his heart” to the high school senior who simply can’t pass his required English exam. He’s trying, but it’s obvious. It’ll take a miracle before he can earn a high school degree.

The (Macon) Telegraph insists on publishing the weekly musings of Bill Cummings, a self-proclaimed expert on all things biblical. After reading yet another groundless claim that the writers of the New Testament made stuff up in this morning’s Sunday newspaper, I had to shake my head and utter, “Well .. bless his heart.”

Actually, I also muttered something else, but it’s not suitable to print those words in a Sunday-morning reflection.

Maybe you never read the local newspaper. A lot of people used to, and there’s still an older population in Middle Georgia that assumes whatever The Telegraph publishes is by and large true.

Cummings made it up

The editorial page from the Feb. 12, 2017 Macon Telegraph.

Not in this case.

If you’re interested, research all of Bill Cummings’ columns. There are no footnotes. There are no references to scholarly journals that back up his claims. There are only repeated claims that the Bible is full of fables, myths and outright lies. If you object, he’s going to call you a fundamentalist and write you off as an ignorant member of the clueless faithful.

This particularly infuriates me from an academic side of things.

I’ve traveled in the lands of the Bible extensively. I’ve interviewed archeologists underneath the streets of Jerusalem. I’ve spent the last 30 years reading hundreds of books and articles on the Jewish environment of the New Testament era. I understand redaction criticism and oral tradition, I’ve studied the languages and the community that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The one thing I’m more confident of than ever is that the eyewitnesses of the Jesus story didn’t make things up.

All of the archeological evidence supports the biblical narrative. All of the geographic evidence supports the biblical narrative. And though it is circumstantial evidence, the very fact that people kept telling this story in the face of persecution supports the biblical narrative.

Most of the eyewitnesses to New Testament events would eventually be killed for their insistence that the Jesus story was literally true. There were myths and fables circulating about Jesus, but the eyewitnesses fought fiercely to keep those stories from circulating. Only the trustworthy record survived the vetting process of writings that became our “New Testament.”

Peter’s second letter to his churches has this line: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)

John’s very first sentence in a late letter to his church said this: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1)

By the time both of these men wrote those words, they were already fighting to keep the myths separated from the truth. Peter would be crucified for his testimony. The execution attempt on John failed, so he was exiled to a rocky, barren island to live out the rest of his painful days.

Listen. No one has or ever will suffer for saying that the Harry Potter story is real history. Who would? Fiction isn’t worth imprisonment or pain. But if you’ve seen something you know to be true, would you ever be swayed from telling the truth about that event?

Could an eyewitness ever be convinced that the World Trade Center towers weren’t attacked on 9/11? Have any of the Pearl Harbor survivors ever recanted their stories of the attack that took so many lives? Can you imagine an Apollo astronaut announcing that the conspiracy nuts are right and that all of the moon landings were staged?

If something is important to you, you don’t stretch the truth. You preserve it. You defend it.

I’ve asked the editors of The Telegraph why they insist on publishing Cummings’ ramblings. They have no good answer. I was told that Cummings was hired to write about leadership principles, not biblical commentary. I’ve offered to write a Sunday column that would espouse an opposite point of view. They turned me down.

While I don’t expect my Sunday paper to be a Sunday School commentary, I do expect integrity in journalism.

And Bill Cummings is just making stuff up.

So bless his heart. Bless the hearts of The Telegraph editorial team that keeps publishing this garbage.