Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Understanding the Bible

Fundamentalist Christians are noted for their literal interpretation of the Bible. They believe that God "authored" the Bible (both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament) either by dictating to the writers, or filling them with the Holy Spirit to jot down the proper words. Thus, there can be no error of fact or opinion in all of scripture. The world of biblical criticism is rejected out of hand and thus is a foreign world.

Fundamentalist Christians, when reading the Bible, begin with their theology, and strive mightily to make the Bible conform to that theology.

They dismiss the massive amount of study and conclusions made by biblical scholars over the past 300 years.

Thus, the Hagees, Parsleys, Robertsons, Dobsons, et. al., can and do make the Bible say whatever they want it to say.

Consider the following, excerpted from Thomas L. Thompson's Mythic Past -- Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel (MJF Books, New York, 1999). Thompson is a noted biblical scholar, who believes the Bible must be read as literature, not as history.

"The long preoccupation of biblical studies with the question of origins has led to many distortions in our understanding of the tradition. Today we no longer have a history of Israel. Not only have Adam and Eve and the flood story passed over to mythology, but we can no longer talk about a time of the patriarchs. There never was a 'United Monarchy' in history and it is meaningless to speak of pre-exilic prophets and their writings. The history of Iron Age Palestine today knows of Israel only as a small highland patronate lying north of Jerusalem and south of the Jezreel Valley. Nor has Yahweh, the deity dominant in the cult of that Israel's people, much to do with the Bible's understanding of God. Any history we write of this people will hardly resemble the Israel we thought we knew so much about only a few years ago. And even that little will hardly open to us the Bible's origins in history.

"Our history of biblical tradition has come topsy-turvy. It is only a Hellenistic Bible that we know: namely the one that we first begin to read in the texts found among the Dead Sea scrolls near Qumran. I have argued that the quest for origins is not an historical quest but a theological and literary question, a question about meaning. To give it an historical form is to attribute to it our own search for meaning. Biblical scholarship used to believe that we might understand the Bible if we could only get back to its origins. The question about origins, however, is not an answerable one. Not only is the Bible's 'Israel" a literary fiction, but the Bible begins as a tradition already established: a stream of stories, song and philosophical reflection: collected, discussed and debated. Our sources do not begin. ...

"We can say now with considerable confidence that the Bible is not a history of anyone's past. The story of the chosen and rejected Israel that it presents is a philosophical metaphor of a mankind that has lost its way. The tradition itself is a discourse about recognizing that way. In our historicizing of this tradition, we have lost sight of the Bible's intellectual centre, as well as of our own."

Can you imagine the pain the world would have been and would be spared if people began to understand the Bible, not as history, but as literature; as a "philosphical metaphor of a mankind that has lost its way"?

Could we not begin, then, to come together and ask, not what the Bible tells us about human origins, but how to live together in comity and mutual benefit?

Imagine the possibilities!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I do not think established religions can accept changes that threaten their existence. The Dead Sea Scrolls were kept secret for a very long time because it showed some different ideas and versions. If all religions could get down to basics and skip most of the pomp and ceremonies, the world would be better. We have religious leaders willing to see other views destroyed and practioners put to death for their beliefs. The first five books tell a story that cannot be verified by facts. The balance consists of various versions written by people after the fact. It is important to not change anything as that would mean something we accepted is just not so. That would be a disaster for established religions.
Bob Poris

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