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Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
09-16-2017, 04:51 AM
Post: #1
Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
I've been reading the Bible through for the past few weeks now, and have had too many thoughts to count. So many, in fact, that I'm going to have to take notes to keep up. Prior to yesterday, I was planning on documenting it on notebook paper, but I can't see why I shouldn't put it out as a "blog" (I still don't really know what that is). This should be an effective way to back my thoughts up and request input. So that's what this will be, notes and thoughts regarding undigested material. I may churn out a paragraph every now and then, but seeing as how I want to get through reading before the year's over, I probably don't have time for any of that.

For the context by which I'm reading: I'm not a literalist. I don't believe the Bible is an infallible document sent by the divine to give infinite knowledge and wisdom to any who study it. Rather, I believe it's one of the best collection of books which teaches invaluable lessons that many people have forgotten. I believe that, whether directly or indirectly, it contains the most valuable ancient storytelling, wisdom, and historical narratives and archetypes of any compilation available. That said, it's important to establish what the Bible isn't. It isn't a scientific book. It isn't a historical book. It isn't a philosophy book. I won't be examining it through those lenses.

With that out of the way, here's what I've got so far.

I've already read up through Exodus 30, and I don't plan on circling back, so here's what I remember from that:


Genesis

-I wonder why there's an assumption that the world is formed so quickly. It makes sense, given the assumption of an ultimate divine being, but everything in the world screams its age. Maybe not precisely, but surely longer than a few thousand years. I suppose that science hadn't gained ground yet, and writing hadn't been around for too long, so they may not have had a good sense of scale at all.

-The Serpent in the Garden was said to walk on legs, and it possessed the ability to speak. Did this have any roots in older mythologies?*

-People and primates seem to have evolved to be especially afraid of snakes, to
the point where we have a knack for spotting them on the ground. It seems
natural that the deceiver would be a serpent.

-There's no association between the serpent and Satan in Genesis itself. However, the association isn't far-fetched.

-Cain and Abel: Great short story. A man doesn't take responsibility for his own streak of bad luck, and takes his vengeance out on his ideal. Not so fundamentally different from today's brand of nihilism.

-Noah: Another golden nugget. The entire world became so narcissistic that it couldn't see a crisis right in front of it. When the disaster came, only the ones who prepared escaped from drowning. One of the basic lessons regarding wisdom.

-Tower of Babel: A jealous God indeed...

-Abraham: The last man you'd expect, a typical working man is chosen for greatness. Typical hero archetype.

-Lot: Intentionally moves South despite the inevitable consequences. (South=down, someone heading south usually signifies trouble.) Despite being a good man, Lot chose to abide in pits of evil. He survived by sheer luck, Abraham petitioned on his behalf, and he was saved because of it, though his lineage was forever defiled as a result.

-Obligatory note that Sodom's sin was not sodomy, funnily enough. Where did that come from?

-(God seems to be a stand-in for the future, or consequence, or something to that effect. Everything seems to fall into place this way. The flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the flood, were all tragedies wrought by the consequences of the men living there, and God himself is a personification of this reality)

-Issac and Ishmael: A clear allusion to the future tension between Jews/Christians and Muslims.

-(Maybe read the Koran after the Bible*)

-Jacob and Esau: Esau, the fool, sells everything he has for a single meal. r-selected behavior at its finest, no concept of delayed gratification. Jacob doesn't get how genetics work. A much happier ending to a relationship not unlike Cain and Abel, I liked it.

-Joseph: Basically the same narrative as Jacob's, but with a few more details thrown in and on a much larger scale.

Exodus

-I notice that many of the miracles used to attempt to persuade Pharaoh were performed by Aaron. When I was a child in Sunday School, it was all attributed to Moses, so it grabbed my interest.

-The beginning of Exodus is really engaging. I wish I didn't already know what was coming...

-Holy Mother of Mary! Why do I need to know how to fashion priestly robes? Can we just burn this entire section of the Bible at replace it with artist renditions of the alters and the clothes and all of this boring, now-irrelevant nonsense...

...and I haven't ever reached Leviticus yet.


That's about it for now. absolutely dread this part of the Bible, and have only made it past once when I tried to read through as a young teenager. I'll be updating this every time I read and have any thoughts.
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09-16-2017, 03:01 PM
Post: #2
RE: Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
(09-16-2017 04:51 AM)Pool Frog Wrote:  -The Serpent in the Garden was said to walk on legs, and it possessed the ability to speak. Did this have any roots in older mythologies?*

There were serpent cults in Canaan, so this may be imagery showing Yahweh's mastery over them. Tiamat, Leviathan and Behemoth all have history as serpents or dragons as well and all are mentioned in the Bible as having been dominated or defeated by Yahweh.

Interestingly, there are reasons to speculate that the original Levites may have been priests of Leviathan. Note in Genesis 21:4, Moses creates an idol of a "seraph," or "fiery serpent" to protect the people from a plague of seraphim sent by Yahweh.

Finally, note that the text doesn't ever say that the serpent has legs, only that it is later cursed to crawl on its belly. Based on Canaanite idols of winged serpents (the dragon motif again), some authors speculate that the Eden serpent lost wings to the curse, rather than legs.

(09-16-2017 04:51 AM)Pool Frog Wrote:  -Issac and Ishmael: A clear allusion to the future tension between Jews/Christians and Muslims.

-(Maybe read the Koran after the Bible*)

If you do get around to reading it, it's interesting to note that a lot of Islam's view of Christian history parallels Catholic tradition, but also departs from it in equally interesting ways. Some authors have speculated that Islam actually began as a Christian sect with a Jesus that wasn't "begotten" (since orthodox creeds make a point of affirming that He was, it's likely there existed competing sects that affirmed that He wasn't exactly as Islam does).

(09-16-2017 04:51 AM)Pool Frog Wrote:  -Jacob and Esau: Esau, the fool, sells everything he has for a single meal. r-selected behavior at its finest, no concept of delayed gratification. Jacob doesn't get how genetics work. A much happier ending to a relationship not unlike Cain and Abel, I liked it.

A slightly different angle on that is that everything that Jacob acquires is by cunning and avarice. While Esau is indeed portrayed as a bit foolish, Jacob is also willing to take unfair advantage of his family.

If you look past the Jacob and genetics thing, it's a story once again of Jacob taking advantage of his family (father-in-law, in this case). The story assumes that Jacob's trick actually works and so he's using unfair tactics to increase his wealth at the expense of Laban. Note that the claim of Laban's unfair dealing doesn't come from the narrator, but from a speech that Jacob makes to his wives, Laban's daughters. The narrator makes clear Jacob's deception, but Jacob lies and says that it was God's doing.

(09-16-2017 04:51 AM)Pool Frog Wrote:  -I notice that many of the miracles used to attempt to persuade Pharaoh were performed by Aaron. When I was a child in Sunday School, it was all attributed to Moses, so it grabbed my interest.

-The beginning of Exodus is really engaging. I wish I didn't already know what was coming...

-Holy Mother of Mary! Why do I need to know how to fashion priestly robes? Can we just burn this entire section of the Bible at replace it with artist renditions of the alters and the clothes and all of this boring, now-irrelevant nonsense...

Since you're not a literalist anyway, the Documentary Hypothesis (the idea that the early Bible was written by four main authors, each with a different agenda) makes sense of a lot of this. I recommend reading Richard Elliott Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible and (if you're willing to slog through 19th century prose) Julius Wellhausen's Prolegomena to the History of Israel (which is in the public domain and can be read for free).

Reading them before you finish the Bible will help you notice lots of details you otherwise wouldn't. On the other hand, you seem to be enjoying being surprised as you read, and those books are definitely full of spoilers.
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09-16-2017, 11:43 PM
Post: #3
RE: Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
(09-16-2017 03:01 PM)Difflugia Wrote:  A slightly different angle on that is that everything that Jacob acquires is by cunning and avarice. While Esau is indeed portrayed as a bit foolish, Jacob is also willing to take unfair advantage of his family.

If you look past the Jacob and genetics thing, it's a story once again of Jacob taking advantage of his family (father-in-law, in this case). The story assumes that Jacob's trick actually works and so he's using unfair tactics to increase his wealth at the expense of Laban. Note that the claim of Laban's unfair dealing doesn't come from the narrator, but from a speech that Jacob makes to his wives, Laban's daughters. The narrator makes clear Jacob's deception, but Jacob lies and says that it was God's doing.
Thanks. Like I said, these initial observations are mostly from memory, since I only just decided to take notes as I'm wrapping up Exodus. The genetics comment was just a nitpick/showing that I actually do remember Jacob's life was recorded. I honestly couldn't even remember most of Jacob's story, but I do remember frequently thinking "Really? What a dick move." when Jacob exploited his kin. Granted, it's not as if he was always the instigator. Laban had set ridiculous terms for him to abide by to win the wife he desired, and even deceived him the first time around, essentially making Jacob his slave for a significant portion of his life. He's one of the more fascinating characters in Genesis, in any case. I'll go back and do an analysis on him one day.
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09-17-2017, 01:03 PM
Post: #4
RE: Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
I Love what you're doing.
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09-20-2017, 01:27 PM (This post was last modified: 09-20-2017 11:26 PM by Pool Frog.)
Post: #5
RE: Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
Haven't forgotten about this, just trying to work some things out. Firstly, I might be reading along with others at some points, so I've been trying to work that out. Secondly, I've been trying to work out my own religiosity lately, and have been pretty deep in research regarding it. Thirdly, when I'm not researching or working, at the moment, I want an easy read. I could remedy this by pulling out an easier Bible, but I'd much rather stick to the King James Version, since it's the closest think there is to a universally recognized Bible.

Some decisions I have made:

-I will not be tackling the Koran once I'm done with the Bible. I tried reading through the first few Chapters, and there's nothing to dissect. It's essentially a rule book mixed in with "corrections" to the Bible and other Jewish and Christian traditions. I may read it one day, but it bored me to tears just sampling it, so I doubt I'll document it even if I get around to it.

-I will be reading through the Deuterocanonical books from the Old Testament of the original King James translation. Here's the list of my planned reading of the Bible as of right now: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Prayer of Manasseh (After Manasseh's portion in Chronicles), Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Hermeneia Translation of Enoch, Tobit, Judith, Esther (Including Deuterocanonical Additions), Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel (Including Deuterocanonical Additions), Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Maccabees, The Four Gospels, Acts, Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, Jude, Revelation.

-I've gone out and bought a compilation of works called "The Other Bible", which contains Gnostic works, Infancy Gospels, along with many other Jewish and Christian texts that are long-since abandoned by both cultures (ISBN: 978-0-06-081598-1, if anyone is interested). Once I'm done with the Bible, if my heart's still in it, I'll probably move onto that, and continue writing down my thoughts here. If for some reason, I still feel like doing this even after that, I'm sure I can find even more to cover.

So though my schedule may be erratic, I don't plan on abandoning this any time soon. If anyone has any suggestions for similar reading material to create any even greater backlog, or any suggestions at all really. I'm open to anything.
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09-21-2017, 05:18 PM
Post: #6
RE: Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
It's occurred to me that this may not be the best venue for this sort of thing, so I'll be replicating this blog in other places to see if it gets more attention. If I find a more appropriate place, I'll leave a link to it here.
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09-21-2017, 07:30 PM (This post was last modified: 09-21-2017 07:31 PM by sonofason.)
Post: #7
RE: Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
I am very interested in your thoughts and your perspective as you go through the Bible. I personally have come to believe that every single word of the Bible is true. I also consider myself quite science minded. If the science I think I know comes into conflict with the Bible, I have to resolve the discrepancy. So far, I've had no trouble with that. Anyhow, that is one aspect I'm looking forward to seeing, how you integrate what the Bible says with what you think you know from science.
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09-22-2017, 10:57 AM (This post was last modified: 09-22-2017 11:00 AM by Difflugia.)
Post: #8
RE: Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
After writing the following response, I want to add a bit of a disclaimer: I hope I don't sound too overbearing, but I really like reading various scripture and get really excited when other people do, too. Smile

I tried reading the Bible in the KJV at one point for similar reasons. I found that the KJV was challenging enough for me that I'd get fatigued and start to skim without even realizing it and miss important things. I ended up switching to the NIV and finished that way, but I'd also recommend against that translation as well. The NIV translators have a tendency to smooth over things that are difficult in the original, often by injecting their own theology into the text.

My favorite translation for just reading the Bible is now the New Jerusalem Bible. Aside from being quite readable prose, it renders the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) as "Yahweh," instead of "the LORD," which I think gives a different feel to much of the Old Testament ("I am Yahweh" is a bit more personal and forceful than "I am the LORD"). The New Jerusalem Bible also includes the Deuterocanon.

If you do stick with the KJV, see if you can find an edition that includes the original translators' notes. They're actually really interesting and helpful, even though most KJV Bibles skip them. Genesis 1:4 should have a note reading "Heb. between the light and between the darkenss." Most of Zondervan's editions seem to have them, but other publishers generally don't.

A minor suggestion that I might make is that if you start getting bored slogging through Leviticus or Numbers, take a break and read 2 Kings. Most scholars think that much of the Old Testament was written or redacted during this time and was (spoiler) "found" by the priests in 2 Kings 22:8. Whereas most of the Old Testament is written by people looking back on history, the description of Josiah's reign seems to have been written either while he was still king or shortly thereafter. That also makes 1 Kings somewhat more interesting, since 1 Kings 13 is one of only two prophecies in the Bible that gets a "future" name correct (the other being the Persian King Cyrus, another interesting coincidence). If you understand some of the things that Josiah was doing during his reign, it can help make sense of why certain stories are told the way they are once you reach Judges and 1 Samuel.

As far a the Koran goes, I'm not trying to talk you into something that you don't want to do, but you might try reading it in reverse order. The Surahs aren't ordered chronologically or by subject, but by length. After the first Surah ("The Opening"), the rest are longest first. The second Surah, "The Cow" is the longest, "The Family of 'Imran" is the second longest, and so on. Reading them back-to-front gives you shorter bites of text and may help you get into the flow a little better. As an aside, if you read paper books (as opposed to digital), you can get a really nice copy for $10 from The Council on American-Islamic Relations.

If you're looking for something a little different, you might also try reading The Book of Mormon. At the risk of disappointing any Mormons that may be reading this, I'll say up front that it's pretty much crap as inspired history. That said, read as fiction, it is interesting enough (once you get past Joseph Smith's attempt at King James-sounding English) to hold my attention and it has a surprisingly coherent and sophisticated theology. In my opinion, though, its greatest value is in giving an idea of what a single undereducated, but creative guy can do if he puts his mind to it. If anyone asks the rhetorical question of whether this or that holy book could be "just made up," the answer is The Book of Mormon.
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09-23-2017, 04:51 PM (This post was last modified: 09-23-2017 05:00 PM by Pool Frog.)
Post: #9
RE: Reading Through the Bible: My Immediate Observations and Thoughts
(09-22-2017 10:57 AM)Difflugia Wrote:  After writing the following response, I want to add a bit of a disclaimer: I hope I don't sound too overbearing, but I really like reading various scripture and get really excited when other people do, too. Smile
I don't mind overbearing. Too many people abridge themselves far too much to be interesting, and it's a shame. Just say whatever you want.
(09-22-2017 10:57 AM)Difflugia Wrote:  I tried reading the Bible in the KJV at one point for similar reasons. I found that the KJV was challenging enough for me that I'd get fatigued and start to skim without even realizing it and miss important things. I ended up switching to the NIV and finished that way, but I'd also recommend against that translation as well. The NIV translators have a tendency to smooth over things that are difficult in the original, often by injecting their own theology into the text.

My favorite translation for just reading the Bible is now the New Jerusalem Bible. Aside from being quite readable prose, it renders the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) as "Yahweh," instead of "the LORD," which I think gives a different feel to much of the Old Testament ("I am Yahweh" is a bit more personal and forceful than "I am the LORD"). The New Jerusalem Bible also includes the Deuterocanon.

If you do stick with the KJV, see if you can find an edition that includes the original translators' notes. They're actually really interesting and helpful, even though most KJV Bibles skip them. Genesis 1:4 should have a note reading "Heb. between the light and between the darkenss." Most of Zondervan's editions seem to have them, but other publishers generally don't.
Thanks, but I've decided to stick with the KJV for two reasons: Firstly, I like the flow of the language. I can glide through 10 chapters a day if I'm really in the swing of things. Secondly, the main people who are going to be interested in this are Protestant Christians, many of whom are remarkably anal toward any Bible Translations newer than 400 years old. If this were a more scholarly effort, I'd be better off using the NRSV nine times out of ten. It's more literal, more efficient, more accurate, and of better physical quality than any other Bible on the market that I'm aware of (It also includes 3 & 4 Maccabees and the 151st Psalm in addition to the traditional 15 books of the Protestant Apocrypha section, which certainly doesn't hurt). You can get it here or here. It's the one I recommend for everyone except the zealous KJV fans.

I actually do own a Jerusalem Bible, which is probably the predecessor to the one you mentioned, but I think it's in a box somewhere. If I remember, it also renders the Tetragrammaton as "Yaweh". I have a special love for Catholic translations, don't think I've ever read one that I didn't find helpful in some way.

The KJV Bible I use doesn't have the original notes, but given that the thing weighs a ton because of the extensive essays and maps and artist renditions and theological and historical notes, I think I'm safe. There's not a question you could have that it won't give some kind of answer to (though needless to say, there's a strong protestant bias to them, but since I come from that background, I can pretty easily separate the wheat from the chaff), and on top of that, it's just a beautiful book. Thanks for the advice though!
(09-22-2017 10:57 AM)Difflugia Wrote:  A minor suggestion that I might make is that if you start getting bored slogging through Leviticus or Numbers, take a break and read 2 Kings. Most scholars think that much of the Old Testament was written or redacted during this time and was (spoiler) "found" by the priests in 2 Kings 22:8. Whereas most of the Old Testament is written by people looking back on history, the description of Josiah's reign seems to have been written either while he was still king or shortly thereafter. That also makes 1 Kings somewhat more interesting, since 1 Kings 13 is one of only two prophecies in the Bible that gets a "future" name correct (the other being the Persian King Cyrus, another interesting coincidence). If you understand some of the things that Josiah was doing during his reign, it can help make sense of why certain stories are told the way they are once you reach Judges and 1 Samuel.

As far a the Koran goes, I'm not trying to talk you into something that you don't want to do, but you might try reading it in reverse order. The Surahs aren't ordered chronologically or by subject, but by length. After the first Surah ("The Opening"), the rest are longest first. The second Surah, "The Cow" is the longest, "The Family of 'Imran" is the second longest, and so on. Reading them back-to-front gives you shorter bites of text and may help you get into the flow a little better. As an aside, if you read paper books (as opposed to digital), you can get a really nice copy for $10 from The Council on American-Islamic Relations.

If you're looking for something a little different, you might also try reading The Book of Mormon. At the risk of disappointing any Mormons that may be reading this, I'll say up front that it's pretty much crap as inspired history. That said, read as fiction, it is interesting enough (once you get past Joseph Smith's attempt at King James-sounding English) to hold my attention and it has a surprisingly coherent and sophisticated theology. In my opinion, though, its greatest value is in giving an idea of what a single undereducated, but creative guy can do if he puts his mind to it. If anyone asks the rhetorical question of whether this or that holy book could be "just made up," the answer is The Book of Mormon.
Good suggestions. I've made up my mind to go in the traditional order (more or less) for the Bible, since that's the way the original church compilers of these works meant it to be read, and it's very well organized as-is. I've read a little more of the Koran (though I probably should've spent that time finishing Exodus, tbh), and I just don't think I can make myself do it. Maybe it's better in Arabic, but what I'm reading is just... really dull, and even more unbelievable. I actually did read the Book of Mormon a year or two ago, don't think I have any interest in ever reading that again. It's better than the Koran, and it actually isn't that bad at imitating the language of the King James Bible, but the content just isn't worth going over again for me.
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