|Harmonization Procedures: A Non-Biblical Example|
Skeptical critics are fond of referring to Biblical harmonization efforts derisively as "how it could have been scenarios" and the like. In response we have noted that such efforts are really no different than what secular historians often attempt to do when they reconcile divergent accounts.
We will now provide an example of such efforts by Gabrile Boccaccini in his book Beyond the Essene Hypothesis [22-49].
In Chapter 2 Boccaccini surveys the relevant secular historical literature for references to the Essenes. He finds material in the works of Josephus, Philo, and Pliny the Elder to be of the most use and relevance, though a comment is also noted from the secular writer Dio of Prusa, whose work is lost on this subject other than a comment preserved by another writer.
These sources are often consistent, but they are also at times "contradictory". For our example of harmonization we will highlight something upon which Pliny (and Dio) seems to be at odds with Philo and Josephus: the location and extent of the Essene movement.
On the one hand, Pliny and Dio "speak of the Essenes as a single isolated community and connect them with a single well-defined area near the Dead Sea. Both give precise geographical coordinates." Dio speaks of the settlement as a "prosperous city" (polis).
There is now of course little doubt, based on the geography and archaeological evidence, that they refer to the settlement at Qumran.
On the other hand, Philo and Josephus "present Essenism as a much more widespread phenomenon in Palestine." Both refer to membership as being around 4,000. These writers "also witness that the Essenes did not live all together on one place but had many communities in Palestine," dwelling in cities and villages "in great and populous groups." Essenes did, however, separate themselves within their settlements, somewhat after the manner of, for example, New Orleans' "French Quarter."
The problem any zealous Skeptic, applying their own arguments as they do against the Bible, would see is obvious: "Who is right? Did the Essenes live only in one place (Pliny, Dio) or all over Palestine (Josephus, Philo)?" Boccaccini even notes an open terminological contradiction, for while Josephus says "there is not one town (polis) of them only, Dio "clearly" says that Qurman was a polis.
But does Boccaccini throw up his hands and decide that these sources "hopelessly contradict" one another? Not at all. He does exactly what we would do -- suggest harmonizing solutions.
He first suggests, and completely rejects, the idea that the Gentile authors report of a different stage in the community's development than the Jewish authors: i.e., there was a time when Qumran was the only community, earlier, and later they spread to other places. Instead, he opts for the solution that "Essenism was a widespread movement of communities in Palestine, whose complexity was well known by Jewish authors, such as Philo and Josephus.
Near the Dead Sea, however, there must have been an Essene settlement with such peculiar characteristics as to draw the attention and curiosity of non-Jewish authors, such as Pliny and Dio." Pliny and Dio were also "in search of sensational elements" for their readers. "Whether they were unaware of the existence of other Essene communities, or simply more interested in captivating their readers with an exotic story, as outsiders they found the community of the Dead Sea more intriguing and selected it as the only representative of the Essene movement. Philo and Josephus were interested in a presentation of Jewish thought. Whether they were unaware of the existence of the Dead Sea community, or consciously avoided any references to it, as insiders they chose the Palestinian communities as the best representatives of the Essene movement. Non-Jewish authors chose what modern archaeology confirms was peculiar and distinctive. Jewish authors chose what they believed was theologically and sociologically more important and representative."
Note how Bocaccini makes his case here: by working with ideas of authorial interest and perspective; by using the data as it stands; and not by hypothesizing psychological motives for the differences (i.e., "Josephus and Philo were embarrassed by these cave-hiding fanatics and sought to make their movement seem more cosmopolitan, so they invented the Palestinian communities"). Boccaccini notes that perhaps these writers were ill-informed or biased, but he does not conclude that they were in error or making things up for some obscure psychological purpose.
It should be clear, then, that there is nothing radical or unusual in the Harmonization methods used on the Bible. Of course, there are some Harmonizations that are more reasonable than others; but these must be graded on their level of "reasonability" -- not merely dismissed as "how it could have been" scenarios.