Kamal Salibi Refuted

This is a review of two works of Kamal Salibi, The Bible Came from Arabia and Who Was Jesus? The former is a far more technical book and we can say little about any of Salibi's assertions about the Aramaic language. However, the thesis of this book is that Bible place names have been "consistently mistranslated" and that all OT events actually happened not in Palestine, but on the western shores of Arabia, and to accomplish this thesis, Salibi moves the pieces around as needed.

The impetus for the thesis was quite mundane. Salibi was looking at an atlas of Arabia, and had an epiphany: He recognized many place names from the Bible that were supposed to be in Palestine. On the other hand, he thinks there is not enough evidence to connect these place names to Palestine. Ergo, the OT events took place in Arabia.

Now even on the surface Salibi seems to have concluded prematurely. For one thing, no evidence at all is provided that any of these Arabian locales existed as long as 2400-3500 years ago by their names. Salibi argues that perhaps archaeology will one day verify his conclusions, and we will presumably find vast evidence beneath Arabian soil of the "real" Jewish locale. But isn't that putting the conclusion before the evidence -- evidence which will take quite some time to uncover?

Consider how many place names we have in the USA with duplicate names: Miami. Albany. Columbus. How many places do you know named "Shady Oak"? It does not occur to Salibi as it should that many Biblical names are just the sort of thing we would expect people to come up with elsewhere in the same cultural milieu at any given time.

This, in spite of the fact that he admits that some names are repeated several times even within Arabia (there are, he tells us, five Hebrons in this area [111]); and, he admits that there was a later Jewish population in this area (And would we not expect them to use some of the old homeland names?) Salibi even admits that later "nostalgic immigrants" to Palestine might have renamed sites after the old homeland, so why not the other way around?

Especially of interest is the way in which Salibi explains some major problems for his thesis. What about that Jews clearly lived in Palestine during the Roman era? His answer: After the Exile, everyone returned to Arabia, but didn't like it anymore, so they moved to Palestine and forgot all about their old homeland, with some help from the Hasmonean kings, who were intent on establishing their claim to Palestine [17-18, 22].

Then what about things like the Tunnel of Siloam in Jerusalem which match what the OT reports about Hezekiah? Again, no problem: all kinds of cities build water tunnels for all sorts of reasons, and no inscription connected to the tunnel actually says the city is Jerusalem.

Then what about people like the Moabites who we have clear evidence for in things like the Moabite stone, found right where we would expect? Again, easily explained (too easily): Actually the Moabites used to live down in Arabia too, but the Israelites defeated them badly, so they moved to Palestine to get away from them and then carved the Moabite Stone.

What about features like the Jordan River? We don't have time, Salibi says, to divert into how the present Jordan got that name, we are told, but nothing in the Bible says the Jordan was a river; it was actually an escarpment that water ran down and along. In the meantime, Salibi informs us that OT scholaship as a whole has been careless, dishonest, and have been making up stuff as they go along to explain things away.

Really? I think that's a rather ironic profession.

Telling enough it is, though, how Salibi anticipates criticism. If you don't agree with him, he says, you're probably biased: "...only purblind traditionalists are unlikely to grant me the benefit of the doubt..."

And what about dealing with the vast amount of contrary scholarship? We are assured that he did, but "it seemed unnecessary to burden the reader with point-by-point refutations of previous findings."

I was only a child at the time of Nixon, but this seems to sound like, "I've got a secret plan; elect me President and I'll tell you what it is."

This tactice is continued in his later book on Jesus, which overall merely repeats the same arguments we have refuted on this site, uses the Koran as a preferred and reliable source about Jesus, mirror-reads rivalry into texts (e.g., the Pastoral invective against "endless geneaologies" is a criticism against Matthew and Luke), dismisses the Gospels as "barely coherent" and contradictory, and as not being biographical in nature (not knowing that they are ancient biographies in format); claims that Acts was written by the Jerusalem group to make Paul look like one of them, and that it contradicts Paul's letters (see here), and declares that there were two Jesuses: the one in the first century in Palestine, and one in the fifth century BC who was in Arabia. Paul went to Arabia and discovered that the two were being mixed together by the Jerusalem apostles, but kept quiet about it, and here we are. And Judas was from Arabia too, and that is where he killed himself.

How much trust does Salibi deserve? None at all. He tells us, "I acquainted myself with the available scholarly literature on the New Testament, which is extremely interesting, but I shall bother you with it as little as possible."

Imagine someone else saying: "I want to help you make a nuclear bomb. I acquainted myself with the available scholarly literature on nuclear fission, which is extremely interesting, but I shall bother you with it as little as possible."

From the quality of Salibi's material, I would suspect such a one's "acquaintance" amounted to scanning a bibliography.