|"Did Marco Polo Lie?": A Refutation|
The Bible isn't the only things Skeptics are frequently wrong about. Indeed, in this article we see that it is a common error for Skeptics to simply accept uncritically whatever serves their own purposes -- never mind opposing points of view.
The March 24, 1996, issue of the Peoria (Illinois) Journal Star ran an Associated Press story about recent challenges to the historical accuracy of Marco Polo's tales of his travels in China. In 1295, Marco Polo returned to Venice after 24 years of travels and told of his adventures in China. British historian Frances Wood, however, has recently published a book Did Marco Polo Go to China? in which she seriously questions whether the Venetian explorer's travels ever took him into China proper. "It is a terrific story," she says. "The only trouble is that there is no evidence to support it. Like so many other great historical legends, the story is a myth."
Marco Polo reported that he had spent years exploring China for the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, but Wood found evidence that this is at best an exaggerated claim. Among other flaws that she found in her critical analysis of Marco Polo's tales was his failure to mention the Great Wall of China, the Chinese tea-drinking ceremonies, and the widespread practice of foot-binding. The Associated Press article stated that other historians have also questioned whether Polo actually went to China but that it has been difficult to make inroads against the "prevailing view."
According to this critic, this "illustrates how wrong biblicists are when they assume that scholars accept everything that has been taught as historical facts. True scholars constantly subject history to critical analysis and make intelligent judgments about which claims are credible and which ones aren't."
Ironic? Indeed so. Especially since it is also said, "The authorship of the plays traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare has been challenged by several scholars of English literature." Actually, no -- the serious scholars do not challenge any such thing. The "anti-Stratfordians" -- those who say Shakespeare did not write his plays -- are in fact merely amateurs with no credentials in literature.
Wood's thesis is an extreme of the same sort. Historian John Larner, author of a book on Marco Polo, has responded to those allegedly problematic omissions in Polo, which in fact are nothing new to have been noticed:
No mention of the Great Wall? In Polo's day, "the Great Wall wasn't all that great. First built 300 years before the birth of Christ, much of it had crumbled by the 13th century. 'Almost everything the tourist is normally shown today was built in the 16th century,'...."
Tea drinking? "Tea drinking was popular in southern China in Polo's time, he says, but had yet to catch on in the north and central regions, where Polo resided.
Foot binding, Larner reports, was limited 'to upperclass ladies ... confined to their houses.' Only rarely would anyone see them except kin." Unless Polo was a Peeping Tom, there is no reason he should have seen foot-binding practiced. It is our assumption, based on a misplaced sort of sympathy, that somehow (by osmosis?) Polo would have, first, known of this, and second, that he would have been so wrenched with emotion on the subject that he would have found it worthy of report. That's no more than imposing our reportive values on another removed from us by hundreds of years and by vast cultural differences.
And if so for Polo, likewise for the Bible. The arguments sound impressive, until you think about them a bit and dig into some history. Things like Matthew's resurrected saints and the earthquake, which Skeptics suppose ought to have been mentioned in many places, simply doesn't pass the test -- see here for related material, and here; on Thallus see here; on Gibbon's comments see here.
The critic speaks of "critical scrutiny" -- but that is the sort of thing that critics of Polo like Wood, and frequently Skeptics, fail to use.