Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Is it Prideful to Claim the Book of Judith has Historical Errors?
11/17/2008 - James SwanBack in 2004 I attended Dr. White's debate with Catholic apologist Gary Michuta on the Apocrypha. The cross-examination period was the key moment in determining whose position actually made the most sense of the historical facts. One of the questions Dr. White asked Mr. Michuta was about the historical accuracy of the book of Judith. Judith claims Nebuchadnezzar reigned from Nineveh (Judith asserts Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Assyria, ruling from Nineveh). The problem Catholic apologists face is that the historical and Biblical evidence does not bear these claims out. Nebuchadnezzar was actually the king of Babylon, and did not rule from Nineveh.
Here is a brief MP3 clip of the actual question and answer from the 2004 debate. In Mr. Michuta's response, he assumes Judith is scripture, and appeals to problems of Biblical inerrancy as an answer. That is, non-Christian scholars have attempted numerous times to indict the Bible of an historical error, only to eat their words when either archaeology or textual analysis resolve the alleged error or contradiction. Michuta assumes the same is the case with the historical claims of Judith. He concludes that he isn't going to answer the question, because in actuality, it presupposes a non-Christian worldview. He treats Judith as an historical work. Since it is Scripture, any errors must be alleged errors.
In his book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger, Michuta reaffirms this method of response: "The best way out of this dilemma is not to enter it at all. Biblical inerrancy is not based upon our feeble abilities to solve every problem" (p. 322). Michuta further states, "The problem at the heart of this line of argumentation [by Protestants pointing out historical errors in the Apocrypha] is one of pride. It places the intellect in the role of judge, allowing it to sit in judgment upon the Word of God" (p. 323).
But it appears it's not only Protestants who struggle with pridefully using their intellect to judge the Bible. Those in charge of The Jerusalem Bible likewise struggle with this pride. They state, "...[H]istorically he was king of Babylon and was never styled 'king of Assyria,' and Nineveh was not his capital city." I hear the complaint already, "The Jerusalem Bible was produced by liberal Catholics." Okay, well the Thigpen / Armstrong New Catholic Answer Bible likewise seems to have a pride problem. It states, "Any attempt to read the book directly against the backdrop of Jewish history in relation to the empires of the ancient world is bound to fail. The story was written as a pious reflection on the meaning of the yearly Passover observance" (p. 442).
But the most fascinating example of pride comes from a very recent broadcast of Catholic Answers Live. Tim Staples was asked directly about the historical errors in the book of Judith. Tim answers by stating Judith is not strict history, but is rather an extended parable, and he reluctantly uses the phrase "didactic fiction." Here is the brief MP3 clip of the actual question and answer from Catholic Answers Live. I've never done a study on this, but I wonder how many Biblical "extended parables" actually contain seemingly historical facts that are in error, but get passed over because they were not meant to be correct facts. Staples position implies that if Judith is actual history, it is indeed in error.
Tim goes on to further assert that the book of Jonah is not a historical book, but is rather a "timeless story." Ironically, Michuta chastises higher critics in his book for attacking Jonah and the rest of Scripture with charges of historical error (p.323), and by doing so I assume he considers Jonah a historical and prophetic narrative. (As an ironic aside, one of the popular Catholic charges against Luther is that he denied Jonah as history).
Michuta concludes someone with humility would simply accept the canon of Scripture as given to the Roman Catholic Church:
"It takes humility to accept the canon of Scripture as given to the Church. But once we have made such an act all the glories of the Bible open up to us. we may humbly submit our intellect to the text, sitting at the Master's feet like little children, knowing that even if the power to solve all difficulties is beyond us, there is nevertheless a solution. To do otherwise would be not only anti-Protestant (since it violates Sola Scriptura), but anti-Catholic and anti-Christian as well" (p. 323).
Catholic Answers often promotes Mr. Michuta's book as the definitive source for information about the Apocrypha. I wonder if Gary Michuta considers Tim Staples "anti-Catholic" for his position on Judith and Jonah? That would be a "Catholic Answer" I'd like to have. He probably would not. I'd probably get an answer that states since Staples doesn't treat the book as history, he doesn't fall under the condemnation of "pride."
Rome's authoritative statements on issues like this are rare, if not completely absent, so a Catholic apologist is able to affirm what another Catholic apologist denies. Where is Rome's infallible help on this issue? Is the book history or an extended parable? I think before any Catholic apologist ventures into an Apocrypha debate or offers a "Catholic Answer," perhaps they should at least figure out which genre the book is before they decide what is really prideful or humble.