Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The bible...in one persons view Huffington post

Kristin M. Swenson, Ph.D.
Author, 'Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time'
Five Things Everyone Should Know About The Bible, Believe It or Not


The Bible is a peculiar book, and it's hard to get straight information about it. If you're one of those people with a nagging feeling that you should know more about the Bible than you do -- or even if you can recite chapter and verse (but don't know that those chapters and verses come from a 13th century archbishop of Canterbury and a 16th century Parisian, respectively) -- then these five basic things will catapult you to a new level of biblical literacy. Though I might be handing you clunky corrective eyewear instead of sexy kitten glasses, I promise that they will change the way you look at the Good Book, clarifying and focusing your understanding.

1. Every Bible is actually a collection of books. The word itself means something like "little library." Many of the Bible's books developed over a long period of time and include the input of a lot of people (ancient Israelites, Babylonian Jews and Greek pastors, to name a few), reflecting particular places (urban Jerusalem, the northern Galilee, rural Judah and ancient Persia, for example) and times (spanning as much as 1,000 years for the Old Testament and a couple of centuries for the New Testament). Plus, the collection as a whole developed over centuries. This helps to explain the tremendous variety of theological perspectives, literary style, and sometimes perplexing preoccupations (which animal parts go to which parties in which categories of sacrifices, e.g.), as well as why some texts disagree with others.

2. Not everyone who believes in it has the same Bible. There are actually different bibles, though they all started with Jews (but before Judaism, per se). The Christian bible includes and depends upon the Jewish bible -- the Protestant Christian Old Testament is composed of the same books as the Jewish Hebrew Bible, arranged in a different order; and non-Protestant Christians include a few more books and parts of books (which also originated in Jewish circles) in their Old Testaments. The books of the Christian New Testament reflect the process of Jesus' followers gradually distinguishing themselves from his religion, Judaism.

3. The Bible came after the literature it comprises. In other words, the material that became biblical wasn't written in order to be part of a Bible. This helps to explain the existence of a book of erotic love poetry (Song of Songs), one that doesn't mention God (Esther), another of intimate personal correspondence (Paul's letter to Philemon) and maybe why none of it was written by Jesus. The biblical texts are not disinterested reporting of objective facts but come from people of faith informed by particular beliefs.

4. If you're reading the Bible in English, you're reading a translation. With the exception of a small minority of Aramaic texts, the books of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible were all written in Hebrew. The books of the New Testament were written in Greek. Every translation is by nature interpretation. If you've ever studied a foreign language, you know that it's impossible to convert exactly and for all time the literature or speech of any given language into another. A translator has to make choices. There are often several ways to render the original text, and changes in English affect the meaning we read as well.

5. Finally, this information about the Bible is compatible with belief in it. A person can simultaneously accept these truths about the Bible and the Bible as the Word of God. Doing so may require recalibrating assumptions, though, to allow for the possibility that God patiently works through people and time, enjoys a good debate and prefers inviting conversation over issuing absolutes. (Even the Ten Commandments, which would seem to be as absolute as anything, show up in two places in the Bible -- and with some differences.)

The Bible's endurance is astonishing. It continues to instruct and to inspire (in all sorts of interpretations and ways) the millions of people for whom it is their sacred and authoritative text. And it continues to ignite the imagination and enrich the speech, literature and art of people outside of the biblical faiths, too. Knowing the few bits of information provided here, as plain and pedantic as they may seem, makes it possible to make sense of the Bible -- its uses and abuses -- for yourself. It's like having the kind of friend who you know will keep you straight, surprise and delight you and encourage you to keep becoming exactly you. This information is more than a starting point. It's also a companion along the way, enabling new insights, providing correctives, and allowing space for the dynamism of your own ideas and learning.
Kristin Swenson is the author of Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time (Harper, 2010; Harper Perennial, 2011) now available in paperback! She is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.
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SkiDon 26 minutes ago (8:20 AM)
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While some believe the Bible is nothing more than the Goatherders Manifesto and others believe it is the inspired word of a sentient being, the operative word is believe. Faith is a component for both points of view. As someone once said, for those who believe no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible. Since I have only been on the planet a short time, I'm still learning and lean toward a creator who has an enormous sense of humor.
Gaz90 29 minutes ago (8:17 AM)
6 Fans
6. It is a work of fiction.
Toddynho 20 minutes ago (8:26 AM)
496 Fans
You read my mind.
DaleR 30 minutes ago (8:16 AM)
83 Fans
#1 -> Its a fictional book of short stories written centuries ago by primitives.
downeastcajun 31 minutes ago (8:15 AM)
7 Fans
the sixth thing to know about the 'bible', and the most important thing, in my view, is that it is written by men, not men guided by some boogeyman 'god', but men, some delusional, some just bent on gaining power over other people ... it's a fairy tale book, people. i'd sooner lead my life guided by the words of aesop or hans christian anderson. grow up!!! santa, the tooth fairy and the easter bunny were created to rule your life, the same as 'god'!

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bbriani3842 25 minutes ago (8:21 AM)
488 Fans
Then his daughters raped him ... ironic.
European1919 17 minutes ago (8:29 AM)
150 Fans
A great randy goat god.

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Julia_Bailey 39 minutes ago (8:07 AM)
163 Fans
I still like the Lot story where he gives his virgin daughters to be raped by the villagers all night in the name of his god. What a great god is that!
darter22 43 minutes ago (8:03 AM)
128 Fans
6. The BuyBull is a work of poorly written fiction by men who weren't even there and then translated by another bunch of angry old white men. No wonder that women and minorities are treated so poorly in it.
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Brant_Kelsey 44 minutes ago (8:02 AM)
87 Fans
I can't even begin to understand what you are asking. If you are asking me do I believe in the infallible Word of God? That's Easy. No. If you are asking me if my life is a Miracle and if I am a Spiritual Being. My Answer is Yes. If you are asking that bastardized renditions of Spirituality handed down as Text and eventuated as Dogma is essential to Peace. No don't buy it. Am i better of for not having erected a belief system that I have adopted and submitted to as some crazy counter intuitive Absolute. Yes I am Better Off. There is much Wisdom in the Bible. There is much Wisdom in Thoreau. Render unto Ceaser that which is Ceaser. Rubs me the wrong Way. Just from a historical perspective and the legacy of Organized Religion.........no not for me. Inquisitions Suck. Crusades Suck. And yet: Thou Shalt not enter the kingdom of Heaven lest ye be as a small child....is wondrously spiritual, and evokes meaning and thought. Implicit in it's understanding is to never relinquish the innocence, the acceptance and the Wonder found in the mind of the Child. This works for me. This I understand. The retribution, the Fear, the Vengeful God, the Wrath of God......Shame coupled with this ethic having been incorporated as a tool of demagoguery, exploitation, conquest, enslavement and robbery. Bad Legacy. Simply anachronistic Superstition. Harm far outweighs the Good

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elijah24 44 minutes ago (8:02 AM)
348 Fans
I'm not sure what was the point of this piece. All of her "facts" seem fairly accurate, but if she wants to teach people things about the Bible that will color their understanding about it, how about the origin of the book itself, and the reason for its compilation? Caesar Constantine, saw his nation about to go into a civil war, as Christians had come to outnumber Pagans for the first time ever. To avoid a civil, holy war; he commissioned the Council of Nicaea; where religious and political leaders, sifted through all the holy books and scrolles and chose the ones which were most conducive to keeping good order and discipline among the citizens of Rome. Then, they announced that Christianity would be the new state religion. They also kept around many of the pagan traditions and incorporated them into Chrisianity. For example, they moved the holy day of worship from the Sabbath (Saturday) to Sunday, because Pagans were accustomed to worshiping the Sun god every week. They also incorporated the celebration of a roman goddes of fertility (Eostre) who's symbols were eggs and rabbits. Maybe if we realize that the reason we even have a Bible had nothing to do with faith, and everything to do with political pragmatism, it would show just how credible (or not) that the Bible really is.
Toddynho 16 minutes ago (8:30 AM)
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