Saturday, April 19, 2014

Read the Bible. Or not!

Read the Bible goes the mantra.  I've heard it from my youth.  For whatever is wrong in your life, you can find answers and help in the Bible, they said.  Sometimes, in church services, I heard people describe in graphic detail what horrible persons they were and how they changed into being nice persons after reading the Bible. 

Football players and other athletes write Bible verses on their faces, as if such a godly "tattoo" will give them greater skills or soften the blows they must endure or somehow call the ungodly to repentance and faith. 

Religious people, especially Christian fundamentalists, love to quote specific verses or passages to bolster their beliefs or supercharge their endeavors to convert family and friends.  "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength," [Philippians 4:13] is a favorite!  "You must be born again," [John 3:16] is another. 

But there is a problem.  Reading the Bible can have often have a negative effect.  A lot of it doesn't make sense.  Much of it is untrue.  There are many stories which deal in sex and violence.  Some passages are just plain depressing.  One might come quickly to the conclusion that the Bible is severely overrated and best be left alone.

Furthermore, for the past 300 years, biblical scholars have probed the Bible's depth; they have mined it's innermost secrets.  They have studied not only the text itself, but the environment out of which it came and the authors who gave it life.  Said scholars have concluded, among other things, that for the most part it is not an historical document.  It is a compendium of modified legends and mythologies which were common in the Ancient Near East.  The major characters and their stories as described in the Hebrew Bible are legendary in character and not to be taken literally.

The creation stories are fiction.  The Noah story is fiction, cobbled together from an old Mesopotamian story.  Abraham and Isaac and Jacob - all fiction.  Joseph and the multi-colored coat and the trip to Egypt and all that ensued:  fiction.  Moses is fiction.  The Exodus is fiction.  The conquest of the land of Canaan - fiction.  King Solomon, fiction.  King David, fiction.

None of that is unexpected nor bad in and of itself.  However, if you take seriously many of Yahweh's commands, you can get mired in a bog of misery.  You would have to stone your children to death if they failed to observe the Sabbath.  You must continue to mutilate the penises of little babies.  You can justify keeping slaves and having multiple wives (the latter if you're a man).

But, how can one continue to believe in a God that is so jealous and so filled with wrath that he counsels the destruction of entire civilizations and such atrocities as murdering one's male enemies, raping their women and smashing their children against rocks?

The story of Abraham's almost sacrifice of his son on the mountain indicates that child sacrifice was not unusual in Israel.  The story explains why child sacrifice is no longer practiced and that Yahweh no longer requires such an atrocity to satisfy his blood lust.

Valerie Talerico, in an article at Alternet, describes in further detail, stories of sex and violence in the Hebrew Bible, all of which might discourage the suggestion that you should "read the Bible."  What follows is her retelling of the tale of Abraham's cousin Lot - a gruesome and disgusting person! 
Lot (Tragedy).  Lot lives in the shadow of his cousin Abraham. Lacking Abraham’s fortitude, he makes his home among the soft, degenerate citizens of Sodom until two angelic visitors set off a chain of events that will change history. When a mob of gang bangers demands that he hand over the guests, Lot finds his courage, upholding his duty as a host and offering the mob his young daughters instead. Pleased with Lot, God intervenes, striking the marauders blind and letting Lot know He will destroy the city.  As Lot’s family flees, Sodom explodes in a cataclysmic eruption of sulfur and stone. Lot’s wife looks back—perhaps a sign of misplaced loyalties—and is turned to a pillar of salt. Lot himself ends up a drunk, living in a cave with the two daughters who take turns having sex him while he is passed out.  But even out of the depths of depravity, hope emerges in the form of grandsons, who, we are told, become the fathers of great nations. (Genesis 19). 

The entire article is here.


Bob Poris said...

I am not an expert so but the writer is! This is interesting information. I wonder how many will take it to heart or ignore whatever they are not happy with.

William Kendall said...

Too many of them take it all literally.

Sylvia K said...

Thank you, Lowell, as always. I have felt this way for the larger part of my 80 years. Good to know one is not alone.

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