I have called this a commentary rather than a refutation, because there is nothing to refute as such, save perhaps this:
In accepting the literal truth of stories like these, fundamentalist Christians accord the Bible a privileged status that they deny the literature of other nations contemporary to biblical times.
Beg pardon? Who denies what, where?:
The Jewish historian Josephus, for example, claimed that during the feast of unleaven bread just before the Jewish-Roman wars, a light so bright shined around the temple altar at the ninth hour of the night that it gave the appearance of "bright day time" for the space of half an hour (Wars of the Jews 6:5.3). He reported that a heifer being led to the altar at the same festival gave birth to a lamb in the midst of the temple and that the eastern gate of the temple, which was so "vastly heavy" that 20 men had been needed to close it, was seen to open "of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night" (Ibid.). He went on to report that a few days after the feast, just before sunset "chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds and surrounding the city" (Ibid.).
Of this we are told, "Not even radical fundamentalists believe that these events actually happened, even though the works of Josephus contain some of the same miraculous claims that are in the Old Testament."
Really? So where do I, and R. C. Sproul, fit on that range of radicals? Both RC and I (and others) have no problem believing that these events actually happened. We see them as fulfillments of the Olivet Discourse prophecies against Jerusalem.
Beyond that, how many people have actually been asked about this?
"Fundamentalists, of course, believe that if Josephus recorded stories of miraculous deeds that have their parallels in the Bible, then they should be believed insofar as they agree with the biblical accounts, but if Josephus wrote about miraculous deeds that don't have parallels in the Bible, like those mentioned earlier, then they may be rejected."
Maybe some "fundamentalists" do believe this, but I don't know of any personally. I do not reject pagan miracles out of hand.
"The people of those times, in all nations, believed that miracles happened routinely."
Routinely? What's that mean? Once a day? Once a week?
- "The Roman historian Suetonius, for example, recorded as a fact that while Roman magistrates publicly argued about where to take the body of Julius Caesar to be cremated, two 'divine forms' came down with torches and set fire to the bier on which Caesar's body was lying in state (The Twelve Caesars, Penguin, 1979, p. 52). He reported that Caesar's 'soul' was seen as a comet for seven consecutive days about an hour before sunset (Ibid., p. 53). He reported that some had seen the spirit of Augustus Caesar ascending to heaven in the crematory flames (Ibid., 111). Suetonius told of a woman named Claudia, who to prove 'her perfect chastity' prayed to refloat a boat grounded in a mud-bank on the Tiber river, 'and did so' (Ibid., p. 114)...Bible fundamentalists, therefore, would say that if the boat in this story did actually float free from the mudbank after Claudia's prayer, the pagan prayer had had nothing to do with it."
We would? I have no idea, actually, whether the prayer did the job or not. I have no idea whether Caesar's body got a special escort and became a comet, or whether Augustus did either. I am in these cases a miracle agnostic at worst; but I am willing to take the reports at their value. Is this a problem for me? Not at all, and we'll explain why in a moment. For now let's look at the last example:
The Old Testament often speaks of Yahweh's leading the Israelites to victory over their enemies, but the literature of surrounding nations tells of gods who led their people to victory too. The Moabite Stone, discovered in 1868 east of the Dead Sea, recorded the victories that the god Chemosh had led Mesha, a Moabite king mentioned in 2 Kings 3, to win over his enemies.
The concluding point is, just as King Mesha gave credit to Chemosh for the victory, so the Bible gives credit to Yahweh. So, we are asked, why not believe in Chemosh? And by extension, why not believe in Augustus or Julius? "The Israelites were separated from the Moabites by only the Dead Sea and in some places by just the Jordan River, so reasonable people, living in enlightened times, should have enough common sense to realize that if the Moabite god Chemosh wasn't real, then neither was the Hebrew god Yahweh, who was so much like Chemosh in temperament and character."
If one god is false, they all are? What kind of logic is that?
There are broader issues here, which are neatly summarized by Glenn Miller in his own venue. But for now, here's a simple answer. Why not worship Chemosh, or give due to Julius? Why not also Zeus as well?
Because, quite frankly, if these guys were for real, we'd be hearing about it. Chemosh, Zeus, and the rest wouldn't have stood still and let us ignore them; they were not the types who gave a fig for free will, and Zeus especially tended to make himself conspicuous by having sex with virgins. Tell me that there has been a rash of swans sneaking up on modern Lidas, and maybe we can have a start at giving Zeus some attention again.
A 1998 article offers a tongue-in-cheek commentary stating that belief in Zeus would be rational today; whatever correct prophecies may be found in Homer, whatever the existence of Troy, it is clear that Zeus, if he was real, is now either dead or rendered impotent -- double meaning intended -- and his character was such that he would hardly be satisfied with us merely reading literature about him or featuring him in modern television programs. See also here on Dionysus.
Chemosh has a much tougher row to hoe: By ANE thinking, a god, his people, and the land are all tied together; unless political Moab rises from the dust, there isn't much reason to think Chemosh was anything but a bounder. The main reason I don't care much about the alleged power of Chemosh, Zeus and Augy is that it's clear enough from their own present absence that they either don't care, or aren't what they were cut out to be, or maybe just never existed in the first place. On the other hand, Yahweh at least continues to be active in history and in the lives of men.
The Skeptics, of course, put this off as an accident of history, but that is utterly beside the point. The question asked was, "Why not Chemosh? Why no bumper stickers asking, 'What Would Chemosh Do?' [WWCD?]", except now and then in jest?
The prophets of Baal got their answer before Elijah. To paraphrase that story and mix it with Nietzsche, Chemosh is either dead, or on the toilet. Perhaps Chemosh was of a power we would call demonic. Either way, I have no issue with people attributing miracles to other powers -- what is at issue is far more complex and involves the messages attached to the miracles as well.