I started back at uni this week. I’m squeezing in one subject, because that’s all my brain can manage at the moment. This time round I’m doing an Introduction to the Old Testament. The concepts are building on the stuff I learned in last semester’s Intro to the New Testament. Digging down into the way the books were put together and who wrote them and looking at strategies for understanding the way these books were intended to be used.
I’ve only done a week’s worth of reading so far, and my brain is already spinning.
To be honest, I feel as though the rug has been ripped out from under me. I have had questions about the historicity of Old Testament accounts for some time — I never knew if they were actual literal accounts of stuff that really happened or if they were stories to illustrate a point. Were the people real? Or are they merely characters in a story? I grew up in a religious tradition that taught that it if it was in the Bible it was literally true…but is it?
The proverbial rug has been moving for awhile…now it’s well and truly gone. I have to go back to square one, strip away all of these childhood indoctrinations and denominational assertions and try and get an objective view of what these writings were intended to be. Which in reality is not entirely possible all theology is subjective to a degree, but I have to look at these writings at the very least from an academic, theological stand point rather than looking at the Bible through the sanitised and stylised lens of Sunday school stories or through the lens of the church (whereas the church should probably be viewed through the lens of Scripture). I need to find out what these writings were intended for. How are they meant to be used if not to beat me over the head with and have me living in a perpetual state of guilt and angst? How am I to relate to this book?
Discovering that it is accepted scholarship that the accounts in Genesis of the creation, and the flood have been taken and adapted from cultural stories and traditions (some books call them myths) of the region that predate the Israelites and not a unique account of the origins of the earth and the following years was a revelation. The thought that the Hebrew manuscript account of creation indicates that God brought order to chaos rather than creating from nothing in the beginning is an interesting theory that brings more questions about creation versus evolution and the age of the earth. The thought that the creation account is not a statement of fact or scientific description, but a poetic liturgy is a curious twist. The differences in how the two Genesis creation accounts talk about men and women is another curiosity. The possibility that Moses’ brother Aaron might not have been a man at all, but a representation of another competing religious system….mind blowing! I had no idea that there were other theories or explanations for these things! And I’m only just beginning to scratch the surface. What will I find next?
Learning that the Bible is not a book of historical reportage when I thought it was, is mind-blowing. I don’t quite know where to turn now. I feel as though I’m floundering.
I need to learn to understand how these ancient cultures worked and how the Bible came to be and how it has endured as the normative representation of the origins of Judaism and the Christian faith (not to mention the other canons) and about the the adaptive nature of the canon itself through history.
So many questions!
What does the Bible mean when it says to let nothing be added or subtracted from the word of God….and yet the whole development of the Old Testament appears to have been a process of cobbling together multiple accounts and traditions and a continual reimagination of the stories to suit the needs of the audience…when the Bible as we have it today wasn’t “closed” until the 1600s and yet the majority of it was written thousands of years beforehand …or that the same words appear in other canons and yet by virtue of the fact that it’s a different canon, has had material added or subtracted? I don’t yet know how to reconcile this stuff!
It has become startlingly clear to me that I have been idolising the Bible. The Bible has been my anchor all these years…and now that I am digging and relearning a whole bunch of stuff about it that I don’t yet know how to process…I feel as though I might be sucked into a black hole. But for my personal experience of Jesus in my life, I fear I would be lost. I can no longer just “take it on blind faith” I have to dig and test and discover and find my footing again.
I don’t want to do the typical evangelical thing of swinging to the polar opposite view and ditch the Bible altogether!
I have to rediscover how I am to relate to this collection of reminiscences…to this epic story…to this relating of how people interpreted God’s actions through the millennia. How it came to be viewed as the word of God. I need to find out if and why the Bible has authority.
This picture came into my head very vividly as I prayed and journaled about this the other day:
I have a 3000 piece jigsaw in a box in the cupboard. The problem is that the puzzle pieces in the box are not right. They don’t match the picture on the outside of the box. The box represents the Bible and the picture of God that I currently am familiar with. My historical picture. I have opened the box and started to put the pieces together. The puzzle is God. I know there’s a coherent picture there somewhere if I can manage to put some of the pieces together, but the thing I thought would be the greatest aid in putting the pieces together is no help at all. I have to take my view of God and the Bible out of the tightly controlled box it has been in and check it out in a broader context. I need to get the puzzle pieces to click together so that I can see what sort of picture it presents. It’s a challenge of discovery. I am getting the impression that God is not who I thought he/she was. And that’s probably not a bad thing.
I don’t know how to approach the Bible any more. I need a re-jigged interpretive framework. I still believe it is my best bet for understanding the God of the universe…but how to interpret it, understand it, appropriate it in today’s world…I don’t know. If this collection of traditions and stories has sustained life and faith for this long, there’s got to be something to it.
Sorry for the long, brain dump of a post. I know this stuff probably sounds heretical. Maybe it is. I don’t know. For me they’re just questions that need to be answered, and I have a whole semester of study to go yet.
Have you ever thought about this stuff? I’d love to hear your thoughts.