Well, Evangelical private school.
Living in Oklahoma, one thing I’ve heard over and over again is that the Bible is the literal word of God. (Well, that and little pieces of it cherry-picked for people’s personal uses. Devil quoting scripture, anyone?) It’s not. If you’re reading this, you probably know that. You know it’s a combination of mythology, poetry, and history.
That’s actually not strictly true.
I’m going to come out and say that my knowledge of the New Testament is fairly limited. I was kinda-sorta raised Christian, but never received a welcome from any church (even as a small child), so I just blanked it out. I still get the Gospels confused, and Paul’s letters to the Corinthians seem more like an angry guy blooper reel than actual religious direction. The majority of my study has centered on the good ol’ OT. I keep a hard copy of the Tanakh handy, whereas I rely on the Interwebs for the NT. I highly recommend the Unbound Bible for this. It allows you to compare up to four different translations of whatever passage you’re searching for.
So, back on topic. The Bible is a lot more complicated than simply being mythology, poetry, and history. The mythology is fairly straightforward, though you have to realize that not only has it been edited several times throughout history–poor old Job has had at least two endings to deal with–but it’s also been truncated. Genesis 6, the bit with the Nefilim, got trimmed down from a longer story that you can find in the Book of Enoch. It’s a fun read, and gleefully contradicts the Bible, just like the Bible does to itself.
Yes, the Bible contradicts itself, and how. It’s also deliberately outlandish. That’s because these are not nicely collated, sequentially written, thoroughly edited stories for the modern reader. They’re collected from lots of different groups of Jews and Hebrews and related groups and proto-Hebrews, and are meant to be told, with full pantomime and multiple entertaining voices, around a campfire in the middle of a desert. (Or, before the June, 3123 BCE, asteroid impact over Austria that leveled Sodom and Gomorrah with backsplash and tilted the Earth on its axis enough to turn the Sahara and Middle East into a desert, told around a campfire in the middle of an oasis or grassy field.) Is it any wonder there’s a story about foxes being tied in pairs and sent through fields to set them on fire? Can you imagine the three-legged race Shlomo and Manasseh ran with a torch around the chat circle when they told that one? At least one guy peed himself. Promise.
On the poetry side, well, you kind of have to squint if you’re not reading it in the original language. (I’ll admit that this is one of the few areas where King James got it right. The language in KJV is beautiful.) You also have to understand that a lot of these poems are prayers, especially the Psalms. If you attend a Jewish service, you’ll see a clergy member called a cantor, who sings. The singing is praying. This has long been Jewish tradition, for the same reason people make up songs to remember things. It’s entertaining, and it makes it easier to keep stuff straight.
Mind, not all of the poetry is prayer. Some of it’s poetry. Samuel II, book 1, closes with a poem by King Dovid mourning Jonathan’s death. It’s a cry of pain and a love poem at once, the kind of thing a skilled wordsmith would write upon losing the love of his life (but more on that later–and, yes, there’s more evidence than you might think). Dovid was a prolific poet. The Psalms are pretty much his blog. And then there’s his son’s poetry, aka Some Of The Best Damn Porn You’ll Ever Read. (Fun fact: “feet” means “genitals.” Slang isn’t just for modern folks!) While I’m sure there was some, “Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God–THANK YOU, LORD!” going on behind Song of Songs, it’s not quite the same as the prayer category. Unless you really want it to be.
And then we get to history. This is the iffy one, because it gets tangled up with the stories told around the campfire. Remember, at this time, only a few very educated elders and their apprentices could read. Everything was passed down by oral tradition. (This is one reason things got mistranslated. Whoever repeated something had the chance to change the story a bit.) There are also different kinds of history. There’s personal history, military, history of the women (who had their own subculture separate from the men), religious history, legal history, etc., most of it finally written down centuries after the supposed events took place. Imagine if nothing about the Revolutionary War had been written down until now. What kind of stories would we have? What kind of figure would George Washington be? And how many wives would Ben Franklin, legendary dirty old man, have? Never mind concubines. And other people’s wives.
Hell, even Leviticus is a legal-historical text tied up in religious language (that has radically changed over the millennia, given that the proto-Hebraic people had a ditheistic faith and were also henotheistic). Its original language and the context of its laws points to the proto-Hebraic people fleeing Babylon, not Egypt, and it’s been genetically proven that the Jewish people originated from the Babylonian city of Ur. But that’s another post for another time.
What I’m saying is that the Bible is much more complicated than most people think. This goes for the NT as well. (Revelations, for instant, is an angry rant against Rome, which was a horrible invading force in the Mediterranean world in that era. People were kinda pissed off.) You can’t take it literally, period. Much like me, it’s complicated, confusing, and occasionally melodramatic. Attempting to apply it at face value would be like, well… trying not to laugh at Shlomo and Manasseh and their three-legged race, especially once they hot-foot themselves.
Trust me, once they hot-foot themselves, it’s all over.
The Most Boring Cultist Ever