A friend of mine named David Burnett has a new blog up entitled The Time Has Been Shortened. His most recent post is an interview with Nathan MacDonald about monotheism. It provides a good overview of the issues and challenges associated with discussing monotheism in the Bible. Check it out here.
Tag Archives: Bible
James McGrath shares some reflections on that all-too-common trump card appealed to by fundamentalists: trusting the Bible vs. trusting human reason. He makes two good points, and I think the cartoon he shares is representative of pretty much all of fundamentalism (and not just Christian).
John Hobbins has revised and expanded a collection of posts from 2007 into, bar none, the best blog post I’ve ever seen on the biblical canon. It limits itself, chronologically, to the Greco-Roman period, but that’s really all that’s necessary when it comes to the origins of the notion of a canon. If you’re interested in the development of the Jewish or Christian canons this is absolutely a must-read.
Joel points to a very cool graphic recently developed by the Reason Project which shows contradictions in the Bible (download the graphic as a PDF here). Joel also points to a couple other blogs which comment on it. As Joel and the former of the two blogs I linked to point out, it is a bit overambitious. I’d like to suggest that in that zeal they rather undermine their entire point.
I’ll start off by broadly agreeing with the Reason Project that the Bible is full of contradiction. It is a compilation of heavily edited texts written by numerous human authors from a variety of viewpoints and with a multiplicity of motivations over a very extended period of time. The creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 come from different authors and different traditions, which each align with a different account of the flood and the genealogy of the patriarchs. Jeremiah 7 states that God did not command Israel concerning sacrifices and offerings in the day that Israel was taken out of Egypt. Exodus says otherwise. Any perspective which holds to complete and utter unity from beginning to end is uninformed. Having said that, here are some concerns I have with the Reason Project’s presentation.
#7 is repeated at #9. This is not really a big deal, but it shows the editing was done rather quick and dirty. ##263/264 and 323/324 are also repeats. There are a number of spelling and typographical errors, too, like #404′s “For How much did David by the threshing floor?” These problems are easily remedied, but will the Reason Project remedy them? I’ve pointed out rather simple and clear errors in their presentations before, and the responses were, without exception, antagonistic. No changes were ever implemented. If the past is any indication, “it’s good enough” will be the response. Good enough for what? For communicating their message. The chart is about rhetoric, not about perfect accuracy. Inconsistencies will be overlooked in light of the sufficiency of the chart to get its point across. The Reason Project may prove me wrong here, but we will have to wait and see.
Next, many of the contradictions aren’t really contradictions, but unnecessarily rigid and myopic readings being juxtaposed. For instance, #218 asks “Can God stop iron chariots?” contrasting Judg 4:13–16 and Judg 1:19. The former describes Barak’s defeat of Siserah and his chariots. Judg 1:19 says that Yhwh was with Judah, so that he was able to take possession of the hill country, but Judah was unable to drive out the inhabitants of a region because they had chariots. Did the writer mean to infer that Yhwh was unable to defeat the chariots, or did the writer simply attribute Judah’s victory to Yhwh’s aid without consciously extending the concept of Yhwh’s aid over his defeat? It seems to me the person responsible for including this contradiction knew it was fudging a bit, but decided it was “good enough.”
In #133 the chart suggests Luke’s claim in Acts 1:1–2 to have told Theophilus all that Jesus did and taught is contradicted by John 21:25′s statement that the world could not contain the books which would have to be written to contain all Jesus’ acts. This is an incredibly myopic reading of Luke’s use of the word “all.” The author did not use the term “all” in its narrowest sense, just like he did not use the term “every” in its narrowest sense in Acts 2:5 when he said there were devout Jews from “every nation under heaven” living in Jerusalem. Obviously his use of “all” must be qualified in Acts 2:12 where he states, “all were amazed and perplexed,” but in the next verse states, “but others sneered.” The Reason Project is unwilling to let the biblical text function as it was written, as literature and not strict and unrhetorical history. It may only function within the rhetorical framework of their antagonism. Ironically, the Reason Project is likely to defend the chart as accurate enough to get the point across. It’s rhetoric eclipses its inaccuracy. The same courtesy will not be extended to ancient authors.
#304 asks, “Who owns the earth?” contrasting texts which state God owns the earth with Matt 4:8–9; Luke 4:5–6; and Ps 115:16 (N.B. the chart relies on an old and mistaken reading of Gen 14:19, 22). The two NT texts reference Satan’s proposal to deliver to Christ all the kingdoms of the earth. I don’t find these particularly relevant, since we would have to accept that “earth” refers in each occurrence cited to the geographical, demographic, and political entities within it. Additionally, it presumes that the author is presenting Satan as telling the truth. The verse from the psalm states that Yhwh has given the earth to human beings. The chart must understand this to mean a legal transferal of ownership. If the psalm is speaking of the delivery of a stewardship, the contradiction falls apart. Again, the chart imposes a very restrictive and intentional lens on these texts and blames the text when the carefully determined semantic ranges don’t fully overlap.
Elsewhere the chart determines contradictions based on an exclusively fundamentalist view of scripture. #359 asks, “Is all scripture inspired by God?” and then cites 2 Tim 3:16 against 1 Cor 7:12, 25. The contradictions rests upon the identification of 1 Cor 7:12, 25 as scripture, but did the author identify it as such? No, he did not. Paul was not talking about his epistles in 2 Timothy 3. The chart thus finds the contradiction not in the Bible, but in its modern interpretive framework. What then is the chart criticizing?
In the end, the point of creating this chart is to provide an overwhelming and visually striking number of contradictions, whether or not each contradiction can be adequately defended. It is the confluence of contradictions that is the message, not the individual ones. This rhetoric sounds an awful lot like traditional Christian description of the single message which arises from the confluence of ideologies in the Bible. The Reason Project wants to paint a picture, and the problematic minutiae of its composition will be overlooked as long as the final product communicates the message effectively. It obviously succeeds, as pointed out by one of the blog posts Joel linked to:
Some of the contradictions are less “contradictions” and more or less a misunderstanding of the biblical text. But of course, when you’re trying to inspire skepticism, “understanding the text” as well as the point of the biblical literature isn’t what’s important. Pointing out apparent “fallacies” works if you’re simply trying to… 1) Preach to the “choir” (albeit an atheist choir) or 2) Discredit scripture.
The authors of this chart and many of those who read it are aware of the rhetorical nature of the chart, but ignore the rhetorical nature of the biblical texts. Why? Because modern fundamentalists present the Bible as literature which cannot be evaluated as rhetoric. This chart fails to evaluate the Bible on its own terms, and instead evaluates it on the terms it’s set for its battle against Christian fundamentalism, which is its real target.
Nick Norelli responds to a Bible Movie meme that seems interesting. I wasn’t tagged, but I love movies and I think it’s an interesting meme. I’d also like to find out about more Bible-related movies, so I’m crashing the party. My movies:
The Passion of the Christ – Mel Gibson has a proclivity for overly gory epics, but I thought it was a provocative take on an old tradition about Jesus. Even though Gibson seems to be quite anti-Semitic, I found this movie to be more anti-Sanhedrin than anti-Semitic.
The Prince of Egypt – I saw this movie long before I ever read the Bible or had a religious thought enter my head, and I loved it. There are quite a few liberties taken, but I loved Jeff Goldblum as Aaron and Danny Glover as Jethro.
The Ten Commandments – Although I find myself criticizing every little aspect of this movie today, it was a huge deal when it first came out. I respect movies that make such a big impact, even if the costumes and artistic license do make me cringe.
The Nativity Story – A very earthy take on the nativity story. It wasn’t the best movie ever made, but I enjoyed seeing a movie trying real hard to get the historical context right.
Life of Brian – While not technically focused on the Bible, it focuses on a character living in Judea during the time of Christ, and he even attends the Sermon on the Mount. I think it’s one of the most brilliant biblical satires ever made. A couple of the funniest scenes ever recorded on video:
UPDATE: Michael Kok would like to see an epic on the Maccabean revolt. Now that would be cool.
DALLAS — Some northern Texas school districts are scrambling to interpret a state law that requires public schools to incorporate Bible literacy into the curriculum.
The Legislature provided little guidance, no funding for materials or teacher training when it passed the law in 2007.
The law allows for Bible courses to be offered as an elective starting in the 2009-2010 school year and directed the State Board of Education to adopt curriculum standards that do not run afoul of the constitutional separation of church and state.
I discuss teaching the Bible in public school here, following Douglas Mangum‘s highlight of a USAToday op-ed. The Bible is a part of the foundation of English literature, and as such belongs in any curriculum that aims to provide a solid introduction to that field. Apparently we see the issue differently than most of the people reading the Chronicle:
I also wonder if this will open the door to other religious beliefs to be taught as literature like the koran, torah, wicca, buddhist belief, satanism, etc. People should think before they pass a law like this. I can just imagine the type of lawsuits for equal access there will be now.
What bunch of nonsense! No peep from the know nothings on this kind of indoctrination.
I thought this nation was founded on the basis of freedom of religion or more appropriately freedom from religion. It was a single religion, Church of England, that was being forced down the throats but now it is Christianity in total that is being forced down our throats. Get religion back to the churches and homes and out of schools, government, and the workplace for those of us who choose not to partake.
here is only one religion that uses the Bible (in whatever form you choose) as the basis of their religious text. Much the same way that it can be assumed that a Koranic Literacy class will be studying the religion of Islam. In either case– no other source of religious or theological viewpoints are being offered.
How can you make Bible literacy a requirement in PUBLIC school!! What happened to “seperation of church and state”??!!!!
Are they going to teach that Jesus was black or at least very tanned? I know one thing for sure, he sure wasn’t Anglo.
συνεσταυρωμαι points to Philip Davies’ highlighting of an often overlooked aspect of teaching a course introducing the Old Testament. A question asked, what textbooks would be good for an Intro to OT class? Davies replies:
Personally, I recommend getting the students to just read the Bible: the best introduction they can have. And it will put them ahead of many of their teachers.
Zing! He expounds here (pointed out by Peter Kirk). It reminded me of a comment made by a friend who studied at UPenn under Jeff Tigay. My friend explained that Tigay often lamented that grad students knew so little about the Bible. When he was a student, apparently, they were expected to pretty much be able to finish the Hebrew of almost any verse after being given the first few words. I was 20 before I ever read the Bible, and when I decided to major in ancient Near Eastern studies I was told to be ready to be competing with kids who had been studying the Hebrew Bible since they were ten. That’s encouraging. Then I would be told there were no jobs (but only by people who had jobs). I guess the lesson is to read your Bible.
I think this site provides an entertaining and thorough (for its brevity) introduction to the discipline of biblical archaeology. The section near the bottom about the most important Bible-related archaeological finds provides good introductory info for students. The little trowel interactive stratigraphy game is also pretty cool. Check it out.
I was read a Michael V. Fox SBL Forum article (via Jim West), entitled “Bible Scholarship and Faith Based Study: My View,” that I think makes a very important point. The thesis of the article is basically that Bible scholarship needs to operate independent of faith-based study:
Faith-based study of the Bible certainly has its place—in synagogues, churches, and religious schools, where the Bible (and whatever other religious material one gives allegiance to) serves as a normative basis of moral inspiration or spiritual guidance. This kind of study is certainly important, but it is not scholarship—by which I mean Wissenschaft, a term lacking in English that can apply to the humanities as well as the hard sciences, even if the modes and possibilities of verification in each are very different. (It would be strange, I think, to speak of a “faith-based Wissenschaft.”)
My opinion on this topic has always been that biblical scholarship is going to be most efficient and effective if scholars are all operating under the same methodological standards, and if everyone has access to the same unprivileged evidence. Faith-based research often relies upon a number of presupposed axioms that are not shared by the academy at large, and this is whence a large number of conflicts derive. Dr. Fox states,
evidence must be accessible and meaningful apart from the unexaminable axioms, and it must not be merely generated by its own premises. (It is not evidence in favor of the Quran’s divine origin that millions of people believe it deeply, nor is it evidence of its inerrancy that the it proclaims itself to be “the Scripture whereof there is no doubt.”) To be sure, everyone has presuppositions and premises, but these are not inviolable. Indeed, it is the role of education to teach students how to recognize and test their premises and, when necessary, to reject them.
A post at Debunking Christianity quotes Harvard’s Jon Levenson (in The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son) as defining critical scholars as those who “are prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and tradition, in the interest of intellectual honesty.”
A great many Bible scholars are adherents to religious faiths and yet their scholarship remains free from dogmatic axioms. I like to think that I am one of them, but an experience at a regional SBL in Denver in 2008 has me convinced that it will often be doubted, especially among other believing scholars. A friend and I (both undergrads at BYU) were presenting on the textual history of Hermas and the dating of 2 Maccabees, respectively (my friend’s paper won the Best Student Paper award, by the way). Another scholar who sat through both our papers asked questions after each that amounted to “so what does this have to do with Mormonism?” I didn’t know how to respond to that, but it seems to me that suspicion is carried around by many academics.
Decoupling faith-based research from biblical scholarship might overcome some of these ideosyncracies, but I sure would miss the exposure to so many different religious traditions at SBL every year. I’m not yet integrated enough into this animal that is biblical scholarship to make absolute statements about what needs to happen in the field, but I appreciate Michael’s comments and hope to see further discussion in the future.
Douglas Mangum comments at Biblia Hebraica on a USA Today op-ed piece about the inclusion of Bible related curriculum in public schools. (Thanks for the heads up.) The discussion in the section quoted by Mangum deals primarily with allusions to the biblical text, which indeed are lost on the biblically illiterate. No academic exposure to English literature can at all claim to be thorough without the inclusion of one of the fundamental ideological and literary backdrops of “Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth.”
In addition, however, early American literacy, and the language itself, was sustained and influenced laregley by the King James Version of the Bible. It is a shame that such a fundamental element of America’s literary and linguistic identity must, in the minds of many, be offered up upon the altar of “freedom of from religion.”