The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Archaeology, Biblical Literalism, and "Shut Up, That's Why!"

Over the weekend, my fiance was playing about on Facebook, when she came across something that a friend of hers had posted.  It was an image of the Bible accomanied by a brief note explaining that there was no archaeological evidence that the Jewish people had ever been captive in Egypt.

Following the image and note were a series of comments, most of them ill-informed and rather stupid.  This included the people who insisted that the Bible was in all ways accurate, as well as those who used this as an excuse to call religious people idiots.  Then there was the anti-semitism on display (seriously, several people wrote comments stating that "all Jews are liars, so this shouldn't surprise us!" and things to that effect).

But buried amid all of it was one of the more absurd arguments for Biblical literalism I have ever heard.

One commentor wrote "Telling a people that they weren't kept as slaves is like telling a woman who claims she was raped that she wasn't!  Even if you're right, your still an asshole!"

Now, of course, there is a tremendous difference between discussing something that allegedly happened to a culture literally thousands of years ago, something which has literally become the stuff of myths and legends, and something that allegedly has happened to a person still living.  I will leave it to others to explain why accusing someone of lying about rape is counter-productive (hint - it has to do with the way that rape has generally been treated and the context in which accusations, both legitimate and false, occur), but saying "hey, I think you're lying about rape" is so different from saying "you know, there's no evidence to back up this series of mythic events that allegedly occurred 3,000 years ago" that they're not only not in the same ballpark, they're not even on the same planet.

It is what the write Greta Christina calls a "shut up, THAT's why!" line of argument.  It's intended to make the person advancing an argument not want to push it, no matter how much merit the argument may have, to tell them that they will either be wrong, or be an asshole, and either way it's not worth going further.

It's dressed up in such a way that it uses a mis-understanding of how to handle accusations of sexual assault to try to dissuade people from discussing the shortcomings of literally ancient historical claims.  It is essentially saying "you should just ignore all of that evidence from archaeology and history, as well as comparative folklore, that shows that this old story is probably false, because only someone loathesome would even briefly consider the possibility that perhaps a particular religious text isn't exactly the most factually accurate document on the planet...and besides, you're taking the side of the rapists!  You know, 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted, and if you keep questioning the Exodus story, then you're helping the rapists!"  Yeah, when phrased accurately, the accusation comes across as disjointed and silly as it really is.

It's also, frankly, demeaning to victims of sexual assault to compare their trauma to discussions of history.  So, really, it's the person who would make this claim who's the asshole, not the people who doubt the Bible's accuracy.

The irony of this is that it is a "political correctness run amok" line of argument - the notion that you can't question a historical narrative simply because it might hurt someone's feelings, and the fact that it is phrased in such a way as to take generally "lefty" attitudes towards oppression - and yet it is most likely to be embraced by the very people who tend to dismiss complaints from women and minorities as "political correctness run amok" when there's a legitimate grievance.  Somehow, I doubt that very many Evangelical pastors or right-wing congressmen would have a problem with this line of argument.

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