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Finished How We Got the Bible by Neil R. Lightfoot. I have been on a quest for an easy-to-read introduction to historical and literary analysis of the Bible. My goal is to find something to recommend to to my Christian friends who are lacking what I consider rather fundamental knowledge about a book that they are basing their life on. Christians will (and should) read the Bible primarily from a devotional point of view. However, to not understand the origins of a book you are basing your life on is, in my opinion, rather scary.

However, this book is most certainly not the book I would recommend. First, this book is only about textual criticism which is concerned with recovering the original text of the Bible. This is certainly an important part of understanding the Bible as it exists today, but only a part.

Second, while the book claims to be about how we got the Bible, it's really mostly about how we got the New Testament with a small amount of discussion about the Old Testament.

Third, when the author says that this book is "designed for the average reader", he means middle school reading level. Despite the book's 209 pages, the author gives only a shallow overview of textual criticism. To pad out the space, he spends a fair amount of time on stories about how various manuscripts were discovered. A better author could, perhaps, pull this off without making it seem like a waste of space, but Lightfoot, while a quite competent writer, is not quite up to the demands of the "the adventure of discovery" genre.

I would not say that this is exactly a bad book. It's just not very good. My current candidate book for recommending to others covered the same informational content in less than a chapter.

(The annoying part is that I actually spent money on this book because it was recommended by someone who I have luck listening to in the past, and the library did not have it.)
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In case you feel like learning about beliefs about different methods of Biblical inspiration, I present the following: Methods of Biblical inspriation.
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I do not want to cross link my Bible blog too often, but I do feel like Feb 8th post deserves to be shared. God's fashion sense on display!
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I have a new project! I'm doing that one year Bible thing again because I forgot to take notes when I did it a couple year ago. Since I am taking notes, I figured I might as well blog them. (Note that once I am back at work, I can pretty much guarantee that the notes will not be as detailed as they were today and yesterday.)
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On the comment thread of my earlier post [ profile] includedmiddle claimed that for me to say that whole-Bible interpretation requires tricks to get a coherent (or semi-coherent) whole implied that I must be trying to interpret the Bible in an overly literal manner. However, I mean something far more basic than that.

When I read the Bible last year, I was struck by how much of it is full of violence and hatred (the author of Daylight Atheism has wrote it up much more throughly than I could here and here). The violence is more physical and explicit in the Old Testament, but it exists in the New Testament too. When you get down to it, in quantity, if not in some subjective measure of importance the Bible contains more bad than good. (I would contend it contains more boring than either of those, but that is likely because those parts just felt longer.)

I am not trying to be flippant here (well, except for the previous parenthetical comment). I understand that the Bible is not supposed to be an easy book to understand. I understand that every specific objections in the articles I linked has some interpretation that makes it all okay. I understand that I, as an atheist, am not visited by the Holy Spirit or the Grace of God or whatever is invoked by people who claim to understand the all or part Bible. I understand that Christians struggle with understanding it because it is a difficult book. But from a 10,000 foot level the Bible has the obvious problem that the good is like jewels scattered in a dung covered field, and it seems like this problem is completely ignored by those who believe it to be the word of God.
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Okay, I get the whole general point about cleanliness/uncleanliness in Matthew 15, but did you ever notice how Jesus sidesteps the whole issue of his disciples not washing his hands before eating. Ewww! =)

(And yes, I am reading it again because any work as influential as the Bible ought to be read more than once, even if I do not value it in the same way as Christians do.)
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Finished the Bible. I do not really have any desire to go into a thoughtful post right now, so I will just say that overall I found the Bible to be dull, uninspiring, and not descriptive of much that seems like a religion I could ever believe. The Old Testament, as the stories and history of a particular people, I can see as vaguely interesting, but only rarely touching anything that might be universal. The New Testament tries to be more universal, but depends so much on the Old Testament for its validity that the new cannot be accepted without the old. Goodness in the Bible is a double standard; God and those he compels to act are said to be good by definition, but they performs atrocities that could be called nothing less than evil if done by an individual or a nation of its own will. It just does not ring true; not in the poetic sense of truth and certainly not in the literal sense.
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Even more so than Ezekiel, I have one thing to say about Revelation: drugs. Lots and lots of drugs or similar mind altering something must have been involved.
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Does the Bible really need 12 minor prophets? So far they can all be summarized as "Doom, doom, God is good, doom, doom, the good of Israel will be saved (doom!)".
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Today's amusing Bible quote, from Revelation 8:1 "When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour."

Half an hour? Weird...
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Finished A General Introduction to the Bible. This book has four parts (not the three I previously claimed): inspiration, canonicity, transmission, and translation (my thoughts on the canonicity section previously discussed here and here.

Rather longer than I intended )
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You know how there will sometimes be posters with nice pictures and nice Bible verses? Sometimes I want to give those things a sort of treatment. Today I found a gem for that: "Woe to you who long / for the day of the LORD! / Why do you long for the day of the LORD? / That day will be darkness, not light. (Amos 5:18)"
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I will try to limit my post about annoyances with this book to one a day...

Today's annoyance: The authors declare that one reason to reject the Apocrypha is because of the numerous historical and chronological errors. They give as an example
It is claimed that Tobit was alive when the Assyrians conquered Israel (722 B.C.) as well as when Jeroboam revolted against Judah (931 B.C.), yet his total life-span was only 158 years (Tobit 14:11; cf. 1:3-5).
If the authors can take that as a reason to reject the Apocryphal Tobit, how can they creatively reason away such as

  • The number of fighting men of Isreal was 800,000; and of Judah 500,000 [2 Sam 24:9] verses The number of fighting men of Isreal was 1,100,000; and of Judah 470,000 [1 Chron 21:5]

  • There died of the plague twenty-four thousand [Num 25:9] verses There died of the plague but twenty-three thousand [1 Cor 10:8]

  • Ahaziah began to reign in the twelfth year of Joram [2 Kings 8:25] verses Ahaziah began to reign in the eleventh year of Joram [2 Kings 9:29]

  • David took seven hundred horsemen [2 Sam 8:4] verses David took seven thousand horsemen [1 Chron 18:4]

  • David bought a threshing floor for fifty sheckels of silver [2 Sam 24:24] verses David bought the threshing floor for six hundred shekels of gold [1 Chron 21:25]

(All contradictions taken from and "refuted" here.) If the authors accept that these seeming contradictions can be reasoned away, then the apparent contradiction of Tobit's age cannot alone be taken as evidence against its canonicity.
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I am reading A General Introduction to the Bible by Normal L. Geisler and William E Nix. The book has three parts. The first discusses inspiration of the Bible, the second canonicity of the Bible, and the third translation of the Bible. I just started part two. I have plenty to say about part one, but that will save until I have finished reading the book.

Today I just want to point out one sadly typical abuse of logic that this book contains. The section on canonicity starts by distinguishing canonicity from inspiration (presumably they are going to claim an "if and only if" between the two later). They say the following
Inspiration indicates how the Bible received its authority, whereas canonization tells how the Bible received its acceptance. It is one thing for God to give the Scriptures their authority, and quite another for men to recognize that authority.

Well and good. Later in the same chapter, the authors discuss inadequate views on Old Testament canonicity. One of the inadequate views is "the religious community determines canonicity". I fully agree that this is inadequate. If the canonical books are those books whose God given authority has been recognized, then, by definition, canonicity is determined by the religious community. That is a tautological and useless claim. However, that is not why the authors say this view is inadequate. The authors say this view is inadequate because
according to this view, a book would not posess canonical authority, even if it came from God, until the people of God gave it divine authority. But this is obviously false. For if God spoke the words of a book by means of a prophet, then it had immediate authority, even if the people of God did not acknowledge it immediately.

What now? I thought the authority was given by the inspiration, not the canonicity. I thought canonicity was the recognition of authority, not the authority itself. I do hope the rest of their argument showing that being canonical is a necessary and sufficient condition for judging inspiration does not rest on this premature equating of the two.

ETA: It is, in fact, worse than I thought. They do more or less make canonicity a useless term by equating it with inspiration:
Actually, a canonical book is valuable and true because God inspired it. That is, canonicity is determined or fixed conclusively by authority, and authority was given to the individual books by God through inspiration.
Even worse, they more or less take as assumptions that the canon is both closed and complete. I am fine with them concluding that; it is no more than I expect of this book. But taking those as barely justified givens is worse than I expect even of this book.
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The Bible seems most compelling when parts of it are taken out of context. Throw a few quotes and pictures up with some music and you can have a lovely case for peace or love or decreasing poverty or any number of good things. However, the Bible does not just contain these pleasant things. It contains difficult things, which I can accept, but it also contains things that are downright ridiculous, terrible, or irrelevant. It is well and good to say that the Bible has to be considered in the right context, as a whole, or as sometimes literal, sometimes mythological, and sometimes symbolic, but when it comes down to it, people are willing to build their case with random verses, whether their case is good, bad or ridiculous.

This rant was inspired by the one year Bible blog I get my daily links from and the blogger's annoying habit of choosing to focus on an extremely small and generally pleasant subset of the daily Bible reading.


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Erika RS

May 2012

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