Monday, August 15, 2011

Thoughts While Reading

I'm further along now in my books.  Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction is, at best, problematic.  Here are some reviews I found to be accurate from Amazon:
In what has become typical of modern study of the Bible, Lawrence Boadt has written a book that is filled with a wealth of information that will help a reader understand the Old Testament while constantly undermining the very reason that a person would seek to read it. Boadt assumes that God has had little or nothing to do with the writing of the Scripture, and apparently the cultures that surrounded Israel were the true source of inspiration. While there is much in this book that is useful (and thus it is a two star book and not worthy of a mere single star) there is a great deal of theological garbage through which one must wade to find it.
The book is scholarly but draws questionable conclusions. Although the author "acknowledges" the Bible is divinely inspired, in fact many of his assertions tend toward undermining that very statement. The book takes positions based on supposed historical facts that are theories only but cited as facts. I think anyone who reads this book should do so with a questioning mind and seious doubts as to the conclusions.
The idea that a story from the Bible is a myth because it couldn't happen is rather illogical, when we consider the source.  It is true that we do not currently have talking donkeys or large fish capable of containing a live adult male.  However, we are talking about God.  God, who created the universe.  God created Heaven.   God created you and me and every baby ever born.  God sent His only Son to die on a cross so we could enter the Heaven He created.  A talking donkey is probably pretty easy.  To simply assume that it isn't possible because we're not not familiar with it is arrogant and more than a bit insulting.

Furthermore, how far does one take this logic?  I do not understand how God could take human form - does that mean Jesus is a myth?  I do not understand how one would multiply bread.  Is that miracle a myth?  No man has ever risen from the dead - must that also be a myth?  If so, what is the point of studying the Bible at all?

Some will assume a Biblical book had to be written later, as it references something that happens, in history, after the presumed time of the author.  For instance, some will say that the Gospels which foretold the fall of Jerusalem must have been written after the fall of Jerusalem.  Otherwise, how would the author know that Jerusalem fell?  It is true that you and I cannot predict the future.  But you and I are not God.  Jesus had been present for all eternity (eternity being a concept that neither you nor I can actually even wrap our heads around).  He has known who we are, individually, forever.  Literally.  Certainly seeing the destruction of a city would not have been out of His grasp.  Yet since it is outside the reach of our grasp, we assume it is impossible.  The book identifies the time the Israelites would be in Egypt as a sign that portion of Genesis was written after the Exodus.  Would God not have known?  Is it not possible that the Creator of the Universe could see these things in advance?

That theory cannot be taken too far though, as many prophecies known to be written prior to Christ foretell His coming.  How did God manage to pull that off?

This book in particular likes to identify the cultures around Israel that prompted the Old Testament stories.  There is apparently a Babylonian story of creation which shares certain elements of the creation story in Genesis.  "While the Priestly authors obviously knew the Babylonian story, or one similar, and used its outline, they did not accept its theology."  Let's say for a moment that the Babylonian story was indeed written down first.  Does this prove for certain the Bible story of Creation is false?
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: (Rom 1:20)
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
God's presence has been known simply through the world He created.  The Catechism refers to certain "elements of truth" found in other religions.  Just because they are not aware of the full truth of Christianity does not mean they have escaped the Truth entirely.  Elements may be present, which might include the creation story.  In other words, perhaps the Babylonians knew of the creation story and just got it wrong but written down ahead of the Israelites.

The book does acknowledge the fact that while lots of elements of the Genesis creation account can be found in other cultures, no parallel to the tree of knowledge of good and evil has been found.  Perhaps something has been found since its publishing, but I think this a fine example of trusting ourselves a bit too much.

This book, like many others, presents a four author theory for the writing of the Pentateuch an an accepted fact.  From Wikipedia:
The documentary hypothesis (DH) (sometimes called the Wellhausen hypothesis), holds that the Pentateuch (the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses) was derived from originally independent, parallel and complete narratives, which were subsequently combined into the current form by a series of redactors (editors). The number of these is usually set at four, but this is not an essential part of the hypothesis.

The documentary hypothesis assumes that the text of the Torah as preserved can be divided into identifiable sources that predate its compilations by centuries, the Jahwist (J) source being the oldest, dating to as early as the 10th century BCE, along with the Elohist (E), the Deuteronomist (D), and the Priestly source (P), dating to the 8th to 6th centuries. The final compilation of the extant text is dated to either the 6th or 5th century BCE.
It is interesting to note not all scholars agree with this assessment.  I am also reading Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Book of Genesis which spends at least an entire page identifying reasons why Moses could actually be the author and this documentary hypothesis is wrong.  Like many "facts" presented by some as unquestionable, this one also has some interesting debates going on.

The Study Bible further references two instances of the Pontifical Biblical Commission speaking on the origin of the Pentateuch.  "Although its pronouncements are not per se considered binding teachings of the Church today, they illustrate the wisdom of the Church in cautioning scholars against a premature and uncritical rejection of longstanding traditions associated with the Bible.  At its first intervention, the Commission judged the modern arguments used to support the Documentary Hypothesis were insufficiently strong to overturn the tradition of Mosaic authorship."  Guess that means I don't have to believe the introduction book then... 

If the Bible is interesting and amazing because humans have done such a good job combining myths and oral stories and a wide array of sources to describe the God we know, then it is barely more than a well published paperweight.  Why in the world would we base our beliefs on such a human tale?  Oh sure, plenty of people will change their lives based on books from the Oprah book club, but really, thousands of years?  Billions of people?

But if the Bible is interesting and amazing because God has used humans to write down what He wants us to know about Himself, it is a totally different story. 

Which is more likely?  Is the Bible nothing more than a collection of amazingly organized and well crafted edited stories from the cultures around Israel?  Is it nothing more than the same accidental happenstance that supposedly created the universe?  If it is, why are we reading it?  If it isn't, why do we doubt?

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