Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reading the Old Testament

This week's Bible reading is the heaviest yet. We were asked to read much of the book of 1 Samuel in two days, or around 7-8 chapters a day. I love this story of Samuel and Saul and David. Fascinating characters, and so human. Saul, Israel's first king, shows so much promise, but then he becomes a typical politician, thinking of himself all the time. Then he goes crazy with envy of David, his successor. The story is so much more readable than the rules and regulations we were reading about recently.

I find much of the Old Testament to be so harsh and outdated, particularly the Torah (first five books). These have the strict dietary and worship laws that God set up with his people.

Then, in Judges, there is an instance of actual human sacrifice where Jephthah promises to sacrifice "whatever comes out my door" upon his return home, if the Lord grants him success in battle. The people in my class reasoned that he was trying to get rid of his wife! However, it was his daughter who came out the door, and he did sacrifice her.

Then there are God's problematic instructions to the Jews to wipe out the people of Canaan, to obliterate them and leave not a trace, so that they would not contaminate his people with their religions and ways. So hauntingly like genocide.

And there are the times that God destroys people -- not just the flood, but over and over again when he is angry and they have strayed away. It's such an old-fashioned view of God as the harsh disciplinarian, and that the presence of sin makes killing somehow acceptable. What about thou shalt not murder, when there is divinely ordered killing throughout the Old Testament?

I know that Judaism is a loving religion. I'm having trouble finding evidence of it in their holy scriptures. How could you live following just the law, the prophets, and other writings? Of course, I don't understand Judaism, but I don't see how I could ever practice it.

I am learning that the study of religion, any religion, is incredibly difficult and time-consuming. I am finding I have to do it, though -- I can't just practice or have faith. Faith in what? in whom? I have to dig, dig, dig for the meaning. There are so many layers of meaning, and ritual, and history. It's the work of a lifetime, to be sure.


  1. Hm... Not sure how this will be received, but here goes... The college I attended in Atlanta is the Professional Programs extension of a private college in Rome, Shorter College. They are actually a Georgia Baptist institution, which really didn't mean anything at all to me when I attended, except that A) it was the only college I'd ever heard of that didn't have any foreign language requirements and B) I had to take a single course in World Religion. My instructor in that course, a much loved and wise, and yes, holy man, taught us that the Bible is a book. It is not a traditional book written by a single man, but a compilation of many books written by many men over hundreds of years. I just feel like so much of this has to be taken in with the understanding of the circumstances that this book came into existence, that it was not the word of God with pen to paper, but actual men in varying situations and locations and times drafting out the stories that had been handed down to them over long periods of time. I question the accuracy of the records.

    Can you imagine recording a story today that someone from the Victorian Era (a scant 200 years ago) had passed down by word of mouth? How likely is it that the story would be an exact representation of the original? Let's say that it was someone who was 20 years old in 1820 that had the experience. They have a child at age 25 and tell the child the story. The child has his own child at age 25. It's now 1850. He passes the story along, and so on. You'd go through 8 iterations of this to get to today (maybe slightly fewer, if you're lucky). And what if it wasn't your child that you see every day, but you heard the story from someone in the next town over? I think some of the documents are more like that. I just question the legitimacy of some of the things indicated there.

  2. Why, thank you, Gud, for this thoughtful comment! You make an excellent point. Thank you for reading my blog. It's a bit of a minefield to read a sibling's blog, so if it ever is too difficult, I'll understand.

    I think the holy writings are reflective of how a culture was, and I am troubled that the Jewish culture and those surrounding it reflects so much barbarity. If these horrors are preserved in holy scripture as reflective of God's will, how will they ever be eradicated from human society? Sigh.

  3. It was the digging and studying that led me to where I am today...non-belief. The more I read the more human it all seemed.....and tainted and imperfect....and, quite frankly, dangerous because so many people see it as literal truth and justification for so many horrors. But I have many friends who become more and more spiritual the more they learn....personality differences, maybe? Anyway - Julie - I love reading your blog!


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