The Bible in Context

Great post at Contextual Criticism about the problems inherent in a literal interpretation of Bible – and the power of applying more literary, historical, and scholarly approaches to these great stories, laws, and myths. He makes some good references to my 1999 book, Nothing Sacred as well.

Here’s a taste from his post:

In other words, Biblical scholarship, along with other discoveries, turned traditional understandings of the Bible upside down. Critical analysis showed that the Bible was not a single chronological tale of God and his people but a series of strands or threads and each Biblical thread “was meant to push a different theological, cultural, or political agenda.”

Yet, in Rushkoff’s view, this shouldn’t have been all that disturbing. He points out that “Spinoza and other scholars had already concluded centuries earlier that the final draft of the Torah was spliced together by Ezra, a head scribe, after the return from exile, around 500 B.C.E.”

People living at that time would have known clearly that “many of the Torah’s stories were culled from other Near Eastern traditions and sometimes quoted verbatim. Some passages, taken from Egyptian documents, were never fully translated into Hebrew. The covenant itself borrows its language from well-known war treaties.”

Then Rushkoff makes this very important point which relates directly to fundamentalist “inerrancy”: “Very few in the educated elite should have believed that the Torah represented the unadulterated word of God, since the Talmudists had already clearly identified many of the errors still remaining in the written text due to inaccuracies in its own transmission.”

Some of us have struggled for years with the question as to how to deal with the Bible. How do we understand it? How do we interpret its less than majestic passages? What do we do with the sections that portray a violent and cruel God? Can we pick and choose what to believe and what commandments to follow?