How would you describe the Bible?
I'm guessing most of you would not use the words that novelist Jesse Ball used in this GQ story in which various writers describe a famous book they think you should avoid reading. They offer a substitute for the one they trash.
Here's what Ball wrote about the Bible:
"The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned."
Ah, yes. Spoken like a man who doesn't have much of a clue about the Bible. First, it's important to know that the term Bible is used for several different books, and he'd have done well to say which one he meant. The book that Jews call the Bible is made up of 39 separate books, collectively known as the Hebrew scriptures. Sometimes the word Torah is applied to all 39, but more often that word is used to name just the first five books of the Bible, or the Pentateuch.
Then there's the larger Bible used by Christians. It, of course, contains not only the books in the Hebrew scriptures (though in a somewhat different order) but also the 27 books that make up the New Testament. In addition, the Bible used by Catholics contains another dozen and a half books known collectively as the Apocrypha.
Maybe Ball meant his dismissive description of the Bible to include all of those, but he didn't say.
As for the Bible being repetitive, Ball might like to know that some of that is on purpose. For instance, the Psalms are full of Hebrew poetry, and one of the hallmarks of such verse is that it often contains two ways of saying the same thing. The very first psalm, for instance, in the Common English Bible translation, says that "the truly happy person doesn't follow wicked advice, doesn't stand on the road of sinners. . ." The wicked advice phrase is basically another way of saying what the road of sinners phrase says.
In Psalm 2 we read, "The one who rules in heaven laughs; my Lord makes fun of them." Elegant repetition for emphasis.
Psalm 3 begins: "Lord, I have so many enemies! So many are standing against me." Same thought expressed in two ways to note that the author the the psalm is really, really in trouble. (I say "author" and not "David," because many scholars now believe King David wrote none of the psalms attributed to him.)
The Bible is "repetitive," to use Ball's phrase in the same way that a star in the NBA draining three-pointer after three-pointer is repetitive. Purposefully, joyfully, skillfully.
It's not quite clear what Ball means by saying that the Bible is "self-contradictory," but if it's a reference to the ways in which the four gospels in the New Testament don't always agree on facts, that is really one of the Bible's strengths. Which is to say that the gospels were not written the way 21st Century history book are (or should be) written. Rather, they have a theological purpose, and the different ways they tell the story of Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection provide a richness and nuance that would not be present if there were one gospel written by one writer.
And the ways in which Jesus' disciples often look foolish (to use another of Ball's terms) adds to the credibility of the story. Which means that if you were trying to make these early followers of Jesus look smart and dependable you would avoid a lot of the stories the New Testament tells about them, from Peter's denials of Christ to the disciples being unable to stay awake while Jesus prayed in the garden -- not to mention what seems to be the mental denseness of the disciples (they often just don't get what's going on).
Many of you know that I am not a biblical literalist. Which is to say (among many other points) that I don't believe Earth was created in what we think of as six 24-hour days and I don't believe the entire Earth was flooded while Noah packed a boat with animals. Those stories aren't about literal history. They're told for other purposes.
But I do take the Bible seriously. Which means that I understand it was written by dozens of writers over hundreds of years and that it is meant to be an adequate revelation of who God is. Jesse Ball is free to dismiss that as "repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned."
But no other book has had the impact on the world that the Bible has. And it behooves critics of the Bible to know how it came to be and why Christianity and Judaism revere it as sacred (and why Islam considers it essential for Muslims to know so they can understand the Qur'an better) before they cavalierly dismiss it and make themselves seem "sententious, foolish and even ill-intentioned."
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TRUMP'S CHRISTIAN COLLABORATORS
This Politico piece reports that President Trump's most reliable media mouthpiece is Christian-based TV: "As Christian networks have become more comfortable with politics, the Trump administration has turned them into a new pipeline for its message." It's one more piece of evidence to add to the mountain of proof that many evangelical Christians have lost their moral compass by supporting a man whose life has rejected almost everything those evangelicals stand for.