We don't take all of the Bible as literal but that doesn't mean it's not useful as a historical document, especially in places that we have other information that relates to the stuff discussed in the Bible.
Yes, the bible is useful as a historical document. So is the epic of Gilgamesh. The point is that the bible is not completely historically accurate, so you can't use it as a basis for criticizing other forms of empirical evidence that are known
to be valid. If we had a historical document that went back 12000 years (this is the creationist's number, not mine, I wanted to emphasis this in an edit) to the creation of the universe that agreed with most other historical sources, then it
would serve the purpose that the bible does for creationists now. No such document exists.
Suggesting that the cities mentioned in biblical accounts aren't real, when they have real historical records dating those places going back to times before the common era, is silly.
Your comments here are a gross misrepresentation of what I actually said. My position is this: "We don't even know if Bethlehem or Nazareth actually existed in Jesus' time." Meaning, we do not have sufficient historical evidence to prove that Nazareth and Bethlehem were cities established when Jesus was around
. No where did I say they were not real.
I mean, I'm a religious studies major, and although the common theme in classes is "As a scholar, you can't take the Bible at face value," you also can't dismiss it out of hand.
When a document makes numerous fantastical claims, and many basic factual historical claims which are demonstrably false, then unbiased scholars have a responsibility to reexamine the evidence for each and every claim that it makes against competing and coexisting documents. Western scholars, especially theologians, have a lot of work to do on this front. There are still far too many assumptions in theological studies which are based on a Christian world-view at the university level that pollute our unbiased review of history. I recommend you read "The End of Biblical Studies" by Hector Avalos, or if you want a condensed version, check out this podcast here: http://www.pointofinquiry.org/hector_avalos_the_end_of_biblical_studies/
There were obviously people in places like Bethlehem going back hundreds or thousands of years before the first books of the New Testament were being written: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2009-06-23-tomb-bethlehem_N.htm
The link you gave does indeed show that there were people buried in the region that Bethlehem is believed to have existed in 4,000 years ago. I'm willing to grant you that said people were in fact living there then and that the body did not belong to a person who was part of a migratory society. You are claiming that this is evidence that there were people living there 2,000 years ago during the time of Jesus. There's a bit of a problem of a 2,000 year gap there... Surely you don't think Bethlehem was a 2,000 year old city in Jesus' time?
Again, I have to suggest that you read Frank Zindler's, "The Jesus the Jews Never Knew: Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and the Quest of the Historical Jesus in Jewish Sources." Or you can check out this podcast here on the subject: http://www.pointofinquiry.org/frank_zindler_the_christ_myth/
If you'd like information from more sources to review, let me know.