The Bible Reconsidered: A Second Historical Look at Scripture

abram

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
2,177
oklahoma
#1
When I read the Bible for the first time, I was a child and took it very literally, like reading any other book. I'd like to take a second look at it now in historical context, from the perspective of an adult who has become a Progressive Christian. I've participated in lots of discussions of this or that topic relating to the Bible, but what I want to do here is to take it from the beginning and plod through it book by book, taking up issues and controversies along the way. I'll make every effort to be objective, and will bring in a lot of knowledge I've picked up along the way. It will be a long, hard slog, but I expect it to be worth it. Feel free to join me. I'm planning to use as my main text the Bible, of course (the Revised Standard Version), but also Bart Ehrman's The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford U. Press, 2014). Ehrman is an agnostic, who started out as a conservative evangelical Christian. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute, and also completed his bachelor's degree at Wheaton College, a conservative Christian college. Then he went to Princeton from the Princeton Theological Seminary where he earned a Ph.D. and M.Div. and became a progressive Christian. But 15 years later he lost his faith over the issue of the existence evil. He is currently professor of religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His presentation of the Bible seems to be relatively objective, but conservative Christians may have a hard time with it and with me. This is obviously an insanely ambitious undertaking, and I may well burn myself out, but I thought I'd give it a try, as an alternative to a completely private journey. I welcome your feedback.
 

abram

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
2,177
oklahoma
#2
A little bit about me, so that you know where I'm coming from. I'm a secularist by nature, and take an existentialist approach to reality. Nothing is certain, not even that, and my religious faith is, as Luther put it, a "joyful bet"--but an educated bet based on reason, science, experience, and intuition. I'm persuaded by Hume to be skeptical of miracles, and think that extraordinary occurrances require extraordinarily strong evidence. I tend not to think of God as a supernatural being in the Sky who answers prayer, but instead more as a Great Mystery that I associate with whatever is responsible for the laws of science and the sum of human existence. But I have a mystical side. Several years ago, I had a "moment of clarity" in which the passage in Genesis that humans are created in God's image and likeness took on new meaning to me. Whether this was insight, a mystical religious experience, or a psychotic break is still unclear to me, but it profoundly changed my life, made me a Christian, and gave me a new appreciation of God and my fellow humans. I've been something of a religious junkie ever since. So my perspective going into this is going to be different from that of an evangelical fundamentalist, but also from an atheist who thinks of the Bible as a collection of fallacies.
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,755
#3
Any historical look at the bible needs to take into account any source material (assyrian ?) that certain stories in the Bible were based upon and as well as the relevant oral traditions from various middle eastern communities.

Ehrman is a very biased author and should be kept out of these discussions. His works on Jesus are seriously lacking and he cannot generally be trusted.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,292
Dispargum
#4
Abram, to what extent does your faith allow you to interpret the Bible figuratively as opposed to literally? Can you interpret the first story of Genesis not as a cosmology that rivals Darwin and the Big Bang but as a story about something else? According to this interpretation "In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth..." is not a cosmology. It is instead the literary equivalent to 'Once upon a time...' It's just a way to get the story started. The story is really about something else: free will perhaps, or the nature of good and evil, or whatever else the reader takes away from it.
 
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abram

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
2,177
oklahoma
#5
Any historical look at the bible needs to take into account any source material (assyrian ?) that certain stories in the Bible were based upon and as well as the relevant oral traditions from various middle eastern communities.
I agree that any historical look at the Bible needs to take all source material into account. I'm not aware of any Assyrian sources (other than a battle account contradicting the Bible's accounts) but Mespotamian in general, certainly--although I don't read those languages and will have to rely on secondary sources. ( I'm already beginning to have misgivings about this, because the subject is inherently controversial, because I'm a generalist who wants to learn instead of a know-it-all who wants to teach.)

Ehrman is a very biased author and should be kept out of these discussions. His works on Jesus are seriously lacking and he cannot generally be trusted.
I don't think it would be possible to come up with an unbiased author in this field. I don't share your view of Ehrman; the book seems reasonably objective, but I don't intend to be presenting it as The Truth and will try to draw on other sources.
 
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Corvidius

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,985
Crows nest
#6
If the creation as recounted in Genesis is based on the Memphite creation myth, which I do not doubt, then the story would be cosmogony equal to the "big bang", and predating this modern theory by more than four thousand years.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,292
Dispargum
#7
Post #4 wasn't really about any one story. It's about literal interpretation vs non-literal. To what extent do we know, or think, or can possibly know that the Bible was intended right from the start to be interpreted literally, non-literally, or a mixture of the two?
 
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abram

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
2,177
oklahoma
#8
Abram, to what extent does your faith allow you to interpret the Bible figuratively as opposed to literally? Can you interpret the first story of Genesis not as a cosmology that rivals Darwin and the Big Bang but as a story about something else? According to this interpretation "In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth..." is not a cosmology. It is instead the literary equivalent to 'Once upon a time...' It's just a way to get the story started. The story is really about something else: free will perhaps, or the nature of good and evil, or whatever else the reader takes away from it.
Abram, to what extent does your faith allow you to interpret the Bible figuratively as opposed to literally? Can you interpret the first story of Genesis not as a cosmology that rivals Darwin and the Big Bang but as a story about something else? According to this interpretation "In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth..." is not a cosmology. It is instead the literary equivalent to 'Once upon a time...' It's just a way to get the story started. The story is really about something else: free will perhaps, or the nature of good and evil, or whatever else the reader takes away from it.
I do interpret the passages in question figuratively, and there I'm also persuaded that the Enuma Elish is relevant. That, I'm sure, will get me into trouble with Judeo-Christian fundamentalists.
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,755
#9
If the creation as recounted in Genesis is based on the Memphite creation myth, which I do not doubt, then the story would be cosmogony equal to the "big bang", and predating this modern theory by more than four thousand years.
How is it equal to the big bang ?

It seems more like a simple "everything has a beginning and an end" (a "theory" that humans arrived at through observation). And introduces the concept that this beginning was organized by "God"... The big bang addresse the creation and expansion of the universe but does not cover topics such as trees or human beings as genesis does + it uses a vastly different time scales (obviously not 6 days)... And finally genesis obviously only covers earth (and its vicinity), not any other planes (of which we know now there are thousands upon thousands)





1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God calledthe vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place,and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God createdthe great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,292
Dispargum
#10
Genesis and the Big Bang are only equal in the sense that they are both systems of cosmology. I can't imagine anyone attributing equal weight to both. Most people come down heavily in favor of one or the other, not both equally.
 
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