Monday, June 21, 2010

THE BIBLE AS HISTORY

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As far as I remember, we (my peers) who were raised Roman Catholics did not get much direct exposure to the Bible (as we rely more on our priests); Protestants do. 


With regard to the Bible (Hebrew and Christian Scriptures), the belief system of many religious conservatives, mainstream Protestants, Evangelicals and some Catholics, may be said to fall into four inter-related principles, that: the Bible is inerrant (no errors); the meaning of biblical passages is clear and unambiguous; its authors inspired by God and the bible is the word of God and thus reflects accurately the will of God. Further, many religious conservatives believe that the Bible is to be interpreted literally. 

Many mainline Christians believe that the Bible contains the will of God. Fundamentalist denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Conventionand other conservative evangelical Protestant denominations generally teach a strict view on the inerrancy of the Bible. It is a belief that is tied with their understanding that God directly inspired its authors. The writers largely played the role of a secretary taking dictation.


On the other hand, Many liberal/progressive Christians believe that the Bible was written by individuals to promote their own evolving spiritual beliefs, and that many of the authors were severely limited by their tribal culture and by their lack of scientific knowledge.  Many progressive Christians believe that it is important to recognize that many biblical passages contain factual errors and that many do not reflect the will of God.

Many reject what the Bible's authors have to say on topics such as: genocide, human slavery, oppression of women, transferring sin from the guilty to the innocent, etc. (In Vietnam, some American soldiers "quoted from Joshua to condone the My Lai massacre. They claimed that butchering babies would purge Vietnam of the 'commie stain,' and that they [the soldiers] were on God's side." During the " 'ethnic cleansing' of the Muslims in Bosnia. [some Serbian Orthodox Christian believers]... quoted the book of Joshua to justify slaughter. They saw it as 'god's will' to slay the infidels.")

Below is a short essay by Prof. Anthony C. Grayling about the Bible and its being miscontrued as true/real history.


[Speaking of my perspective on religion, I say that I  have been raised in the Roman Catholic tradition; and spent almost 3 years in a Salesian of Don Bosco seminary. I was a practicing Catholic till I was 18 years where I came of age to gradually question all my so-called religious beliefs, immersing myself in readings about: other Christian denominations, non-Christian religions, writings of Catholic and non-Catholic theologians, philosophers, psychologists, and talking with a few open-minded friends (mostly believers), even attending post-grad philosophy and psychology courses; etc. I estimate I have spent a good 4 years of my early adulthood in pursuit of claimed "truth or truths" (whatever they are as traditionally thought). Of course I do not believe in such now. ]
- Bert


"Every sect is a certificate that God has not plainly revealed his will to man. To each reader the Bible conveys a different meaning." - Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899)


"Moses' law cannot be valid simply and completely in all respects for us. We have to take into consideration the character and ways of our land when we want to make or apply laws or rules, because our rules and laws are based on the character of our land and its ways and not on those of the land of Moses, just as Moses' laws are based on the ways and character of his people and not those of ours." Martin Luther's Works, Volume 46, p. 291. - Martin Luther (1483-1546)


"The Bible has been used for centuries by Christians as a weapon of control. To read it literally is to believe in a three-tiered universe, to condone slavery, to treat women as inferior creatures, to believe that sickness is caused by God's punishment, and that mental disease and epilepsy are caused by demonic possession. When someone tells me that they believe the Bible is the 'literal and inerrant word of God,' I always ask, 'Have you ever read it'?"
- Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong (1931-present)
.
 




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THE BIBLE AS HISTORY

If you conduct a search of the internet on the subject of biblical archaeology, one of the first entries you find welcomes you with the claim that"amazing discoveries are being made daily which prove that the Bible is historically accurate and that the Scriptures are the inspired word of God."  Most people, whether they are religious or not, accept that much of the Bible is historical, even if it is history glossed from the viewpoint of a particular tribe's uneasy relationship with its god. It is precisely this view that Thomas Thompson contests in his controversial analysis of the Bible as a collection of literary, philosophical and apologetical works (The Bible In History: How Writers Create A Past).

Thompson's thesis is that the Old testament is not a record of Israel's origins and early days, but a later attempt to provide Israel with a heritage. To construct a heritage is to construct an identity, such writing of "history" is in large part an attempt to explain and justify not the past but the present.  By examining all  the evidence --literary and philosophical as well as historical and archaeological --Thompson shows how deliberately the Bible texts were aimed at fulfilling that task. The implications are dramatically controversial.

One is that there was no United kingdom of David and Solomon. Another is that the story of the early wanderings in exile of God's chosen is the record of a spiritual not an actual journey. Similarly, Nehemiah opens with Jerusalem in ruins as a figurative way of presenting Israel's need for rebirth. And Thompson demonstrates how the biblical texts are woven out of metaphors, as when the waters of the Red Sea part for Moses, of the Jordan for Joshua, of the Jabbok for Jacob, and as when David goes up to pray on the Mount of Olives in desperation of heart, which the New Testament writers represent Jesus as doing so.

When Thompson first advanced these views 30 years before he published his book on the subject, the result was academic ostracism and a stalled career. The standard view then was that because the Bible record is basically sound, archeological and other textual remains can be explained to terms of it. But an increasing weight of evidence calls this premise so far into question that there is now an increasing divergence between biblical studies and theology. Many scholars have come to agree with Thompson, and on good grounds. For if you seek external evidence to corroborate the biblical texts, extremely little exists for the period of the bronze and Iron Ages, in which the history of old Israel falls.  And when what looks like such evidence is found --for example, the Mesha stele referring to "Omri, King of Israel" --research shows that the inscription, once interpreted in the light of the Bible rather than vice versa, is far later than its biblical interpretation says it is.

Even more tellingly, there are great events in the record of Palestine on which the Bible is amazingly silent.  it says nothing about the great droughts that influenced Palestine's history.  It is silent about the immense battles of Megiddo, Kadesh, and Lachish, which determined its course. It says nothing directly about four centuries of Egyptian dominance of the region. And the reason is simple: "The Bible's language is not," says Thompson, "an historical language. It is a language of high literature, of story, of sermon, and of song. It is a tool of philosophy and moral instruction." As such its aim is to offer a spiritual history for a particular people, not the actual history of a time and place.

Secular reinterpretations of the Bible's historicity might now be more accepted in scholarly discussion, but it also remains a standard reflex for archaeologists of the region to speak as if the Bible is still part of their interpretative evidence. The city of Hazor, for example, once the greatest city of the region, has been extensively studied in recent years, and digs yield evidence of its violent destruction. Naturally, archaeologists relate this to Joshua's attack on Hazor --the Bible tells us that he slaughtered all its occupants and burned it to the ground. Solomon is said to have built a gate to the city, Thompson shows that the "Solomonic gates" there and in other cities were not, after all, not built by Solomon.

There should be no regrets over these intelligent reappraisals of the Bible character. The Bible is an extraordinary work of literature: it contains poetry, epic narrative, angry moralizing, celebration of virtue, and a spiritual history of Israel's quest  for a place in the universe. Those who see it as a work of factual history --even if they concede that it is polemical and tendentious in its anxiety to justify God to man, and to coerce the latter into proper observances toward him-- miss its higher metaphysical purpose. And that is: to give Israel an origin, securely rooted in divine ordinances.

Thompson's account shows how biblical texts express the period in which they were written. They come from an age of empire building, which suggested to those who lived through it that God should be an emperor too, and should rule over more than just one tribe.  And they come from an age in which philosophers thought that it is a criterion of what is only truly real that it should be transcendent and eternal, not merely temporary, as things in this world are, and this belief changed the very idea of deity. The result is a collection of writings which, although they are NOT history, made history.

Source: THE MYSTERY OF THINGS by Anthony C. Grayling ( professor of philosophy at Birbeck College, London and a Fellow of St. Anne's, Oxford. he is a Contributing Editor of Prospect Magazine and write a weekly column for THE TIMES Saturday review.)

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bert, this piece of yours is timely and well done.


To add a perspective (wrinkle) to bible history, here is one source you might wish to consult (from the LA Public Library): David M. Eichorn's, CAIN: SON THE THE SERPENT, Whittier Books, NYC, 1957. A perplexing read to say the least.


A Jewish doctor of divinity, author copiously researched and quoted Hebrew sages on their take of the 4th chapter of the book of Genesis (Midrash). True, most Catholics hardly had meaningful exposure to the bible, esp. the Old Testament. The Genesis boring for its kilometric genealogy of the Jewish people. Some priests do not have the confidence handle bible classes, as you probably experienced in the seminary. As you know, Jewish youth are required to recite parts of the Torah when they reach puberty... at their Bar / Bat Mitzvah. Observant Jews live by it.


The Midrash researched by Eichorn claim that Cain was the fruit of Eve's one-time intimacy with the Devil in Paradise, while Abel was Adam's. Yes, she was a two-timer! Moreover, that there were daughters espoused to Cain and Abel to multiply the human race.


Author tells the story of the first son's life with Adam and Eve, but focused on events leading to Cain killing Abel and thereafter. The extreme passion involved is so vivid, lending human dimension to an otherwise archaic section of the bible.


Found it a worth while read (still on it); you might find it so in the context of this series.


Keep on writing and sharing with your 40,000+ readers, Bert.


Rudy Ordonez

Anonymous said...

Hi Bert,
I usually do not participate in conversations about religion and politics, two topics that intiate passionate and diverse opinions but I
would like to share with you an article by Albert Einstein on "Religion and Science" which puts the origin and evolution of religion in a broader perspective and comes up with some conclusions. Please see attached.

Best,
Ben

Bert M. Drona said...

Hi Rudy,

Thanks for the response and encouragement.

Yes, to me the Bible is full of "entertaining" stories and myths; though to many peoples, past and present, it served/serves as a moral compass. The danger as we know is in the interpretations or spins that were and are being made to justify certain decisions and actions.

Regards,

Bert

Bert M. Drona said...

Hello Ben,

Thanks for the feedback.

I think I have read this Einstein piece years ago and I will check my library when I get home since I believe I have that particular source book; or a book of essays by Albert Eisntein.

Anyways, fast forward I consider myself an agnostic. My issue then boiled down to the very concept of "God." I am much more comfortable now with being one and the real issue for me is that God is irrelevant (which of course is not for many if not the majority in the so-called christian world) and that attention should be focused in changing the here-and-now for satisfying the hierarchy of human needs (for lack of a better/simplified categorization, call those under Maslow's hypothesis). I have touched on religion and society in past postings.

Of course, we are all different in the human spectrum. To discuss politics and religions one has to be enlightened in approach, again much easier said than done. Frankly, that's one reason I blog rather than engage in personal debates; I write and let it go to be taken or not by the reader.

Again, thanks and regards,

Bert

Anonymous said...

I thank the Lord for this Bro. Bert

We ought to get together one of this day if you may permit.

Jesus loves you and so do i, bart

Anonymous said...

I like this. It explains lots of to-date unexplained situations for me. I have a hard time of understanding the concept of emaculate conception. If I had been Joseph I would have been highly suspicious of Mary's explanation of her pregnancy.

I'm happy to see others are questioning the bible not only to its content but also that it has been translated from an old language to newer ones, try translating a joke from one language to another and it usually looses something.
Carlos

Bert M. Drona said...

Carlos,

Thanks for the feedback.

Although the posting was mainly about the Hebrew Scriptures (so-called Old Testament by Christians), there are similarly a number of inconsistencies, incomprehensible stories aka mysteries, etc. in the New Testament.

Most Christians are literally afraid to think and to question their religious beliefs, many of which we learned by rote, sermons/homilies, etc.

Apparently, we who were reared as Christians were conditioned that "to think is to sin". Throw in the fear of God and eternal damnation for questioning...or charged with heresy!

Ad nauseam.

Bert

Anonymous said...

Hi,

kindly treat as a private e-mail pls.

too many issues on the table, yet I can not go past your comment without telling you what is on my mind:

As far as I remember, we (my peers) who were raised Roman Catholics did not get much direct exposure to the Bible (as we rely more on our priests); Protestants do

how true, because when I was in the grades school I sleep over @ my Protestant cousins house & end up attending services in their Metbhodist church.

they read the bible often & their ministers & deaconess have a gentleness in their manners, the priests& nuns in the RC are more matapang & judgmental

I remain a Catholic & mostly likely will die a Catholic, however some sweet memories of childhood were spent w/ the Protestants.

-Anonymous (as requested)

Anonymous said...

Quiet waters run deep.

Was not surprised to know your Catholic background with the stuff you've been sharing.

Seems we have some similarities with our experiences in life.

I also lost my faith in the Catholicism, (as i knew it then) when I was eighteen and studying in a Catholic school.

Our religion classes then did not really discuss much about religion but more on philosophical thoughts and was involved in the psychology club that had overnight discussions about what is normal in terms of how people act. Pinpointed this as the discussion topic though we discussed all sorts of subject matters concerning human behavior but always ended up with the question of what is considered normal to human behavior that made most of us confused kids and most threw out religion from their lives as I also did and became agnostic.

Went back though to being a liberal Catholic about three years later after a sort of miracle that got me involved with a Baptist denominated organization.

Was told in the organization to look for a church where our Christian faith can be nurtured so went to all sorts of churches to check out which is the most nurturing and was choosing in the end to either join the Methodist Church or the Presbyterians as found the first really open minded and found solemnity with the Presbyterians.

Remained however with the Catholic Church though was a liberal one when an Opus Dei lay nun who was a professor in the University lent me the banned Dutch Catechism and asked me to read it first before making up my mind to join another Cristian denomination.

For more than ten years, I was a liberal Catholic until accidentally or was it a calling that I had to attend a Catholic Life in the Spirit Seminar as I had to accompany my gf then with a one night seminar in Caloocan. She was recruited to be the lay-out artist of a Catholic Charismatic newspaper and was required to attend a CLSS.

I experienced a miracle that night as I was surprised to feel some sort of electrical tingling from the tip of my toes to the ends of my hair and there was this woman who laid her hand on my left shoulder praying for me for things that I was surprised she knew as they were so personal.

i stuck around with the Biyaya ng Espritu Santo Charismatic Prayer Community as I wanted to know more on what the experience waas all about.

Miracles after miracles I saw and experienced and to cut the story short, I had the strange desire to go deeper into studying the Catholic Faith to the point I almost lost it when I read that the Book of Proverbs in the bible was almost exactluy the same as a pagan book of maxims of some animist pagan religion except for two verses in the book of maxims.

Took a while to reconcile biblical background to the realities of which was taught as the foundation of Catholic beliefs.

Reconciliation came when realizing that God is the Creator of all His creation and that He can use any part of it to reveal Himself to us.

I also discovered that Catholic rites and beliefs have deep foundations and much have been tested in time that Catholic traditions have remain the same as the evidences of their validity and truth abounds though given revelations, Catholic Church doctrines have developed of which gives more light to the timeless teachings in Catholic beliefs.

Sad though that many do not try to research but just make caricatures that often they attack.


Live Jesus in our hearts. Forever.

Kit

Bert M. Drona said...

Hello Kit,

I understand where you are coming from.

But unlike you, I find no need for any established or unestablished religion (Western or Eastern thoughts or what have you), any related organization or cult.

However, I confess that serious writings/thoughts about so-called spiritual/religious matters still interest me; though modesty aside I have been through most, if not all, of them. I still browse and/or read related books to find if there is something new in the air, so to speak.

Also, when I travel I marvel at the genius and dedications of those who created the religious arts and literatures, expressed in cathedrals, stained glasses, paintings, writings, etc. which of course defined much of Western (European) Civilization, i.e. until say the Age of Reformation/Counter Reformation.

I still wonder at the beauty and order we see around us/in the world and the unconditional love of some people(we can simply allude to them as the so-called Good Samaritans) in our utilitarian and selfishly individualistic world; at the same time it is impossible to reconcile the "natural" disasters and man-made horrors (for lack of a better word: evil) in the world. The God-concept we learned by rote is just bullshit to me be they from 1940s Baltimore Cathechism or 1960s Dutch Cathechism; in 1970 I submitted an essay top the Philippine Free press entitled 'GOD - A FARCE" and it was not published. maybe the Locsins (?) were afraid of the Church or its god.

Anyway, I said much about my person which I try not to in most of my postings. Bottomline, I am content and happy being an agnostic (I can not be an atheist nor a believer as I indicated in my blog profile - the basic issue is one's concept of the term God).

I do not dwell much on this topic anymore except when I feel the itch. Religion or the Church or whatever so-called supernatural stuff, etc. become relevant if they really work for the natives, the impoverished majority. Else it is just another personal and institutional impediment to human progress - I have written a lot of posting on this topic).

Regards,

Anonymous said...

TORAH, the first five books of the Old Testament---Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy,
and Numbers---which human authorship is alluded to Moses, is Israel's history book.