Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Bible blogged

I could have titled this Blogging the Bible but that is the name of David Plotz's contribution to blogdom. The Bible is a great work of Literature, it is the foundation of several religions, it is the history (with all its biases and myths) of a people. It is worth reading. But not many of us read it. As Plotz says we tend to be lazy in the west about our religion and even lazier about reading what we perhaps see as a boring document that we already know a lot about. If we go to church on a regular basis we get excerpts -chosen for us by the powers that be. But what about the rest - the dark corners of the book that we never pull out into the light of our reading lamp? Plotz decided it was time he took a look. His goal, he says

... is pretty simple. I want to find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based. I think I'm in the same position as many other lazy but faithful people (Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus). I love Judaism; I love (most of) the lessons it has taught me about how to live in the world; and yet I realized I am fundamentally ignorant about its foundation, its essential document. So, what will happen if I approach my Bible empty, unmediated by teachers or rabbis or parents? What will delight and horrify me? How will the Bible relate to the religion I practice, and the lessons I thought I learned in synagogue and Hebrew School?

Don't expect academic commentary, only fresh eyes on the old text, some humour and often some original insight. Here's a sample from his look at Genesis:

First murder—that didn't take long. I never realized there was a vegetarian angle to Cain and Abel. Cain offers God the fruit of the soil as an offering, while Abel brings the choicest meat. God scorns Cain's vegetarian platter, so Cain jealously slays his brother.

Here is a more charitable reading of what kind of father God is. He's not indulgent or lax. He's laissez faire. His job is to push the children in the right direction, but in the end, He understands they must be free to make mistakes. When He rejects the vegan special, God chastises Cain with this advice. "Sin couches at the door; Its urge is toward you, Yet you can be its master." This is just about the best advice you can give anyone. It is conservative idealism, compressed into a sentence: We must decide for ourselves to do right. Not that Cain pays attention: He kills his brother in the very next verse.

Later, Plotz considers the story of Noah:

6:13-7:5: God's specific commands to Noah about how to build his ark and what to bring on it. As an inveterate reader of owner's manuals, I find this passage compelling in its specificity and precision. Now I know why people are always building replicas of Noah's ark—it's perfectly clear what it looked like.

Chapter 7
The grimmest verse so far: "All in whose nostrils was the merest breath of life, all that was on dry land, died. All existence on earth was blotted out—man, cattle, creeping things, birds of the sky; they were blotted from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark."

What a chilling account of the flood, and of the loneliness of Noah. Even the good man, even the righteous man, is alone in the world, and always subject to God's awesome power. This is pretty raw. It also seems to me to offer at least a clue about why God destroyed the earth. It seems clear that the Pre-Deluge evils were not crimes of men against other men, but crimes of men against God. As men mastered agriculture and metalwork and built cities, which earlier verses suggest they did, they felt they didn't need God. They came to see their laws, achievements, and prosperity as their own, accomplished independently of God. So, perhaps the point of the flood was not to restore ordinary moral behavior—day-to-day decency, law, etc.—but to restore faith, or at least fear. We thought we didn't need God, and that was what angered Him. The Flood—this verse in particular—reminds us (or at least the one righteous man who is permitted to live) that we are never independent of God, but always floating alone, vulnerable, at His mercy.

There is some interesting discussion about Plotz's posts too.

I haven't read the whole series yet but I would like to. I should, of course, also get out my bible and read along with him.

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Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)