Sunday, November 28, 2010

Re-reading the Bible

I started to re-read the Bible recently, with a more critical eye than in decades past. I've tried this exercise within the last several years, but always peter out because - honestly, no hurt feelings intended - it just doesn't seem like it was written by very smart people. Now, this is probably due to 1) my extreme skepticism, 2) the wealth of physical knowledge that an average Joe like me has in comparison with the writers and their works, 3) the random nature of the books of the Bible.

Addressing point #2 above - The first few verses of Genesis set the context for the whole schmear, as it were. The description of the six days of creation is unquestionably a primitive attempt to explain the world - absent, as you would expect - of most of the physical knowledge of the universe that mankind has accumulated in the millenia since this was written. That makes the first book of the Bible interesting but unreliable. A harsh interpretation would be that it marks what follows as unreliable as well, but I won't make that claim, because there are some historical tidbits that are worthy, even if the final picture is a mess. I can see where Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy paint a picture of the Israelites that is effective. Where I have a problem is that the God presented here doesn't seem worthy of consideration, let alone worship.

My point #3 is where I'm focused today ... after the first five books of the Bible, my interest is to turn immediately to the New Testament, since, being raised in a nominally Christian family, I want to revisit the foundational text. To this end, I've discovered some valuable resources that are going to get a lot of use.

First, there is the problem of what to read first. The canonical order is: gospels first, followed by Acts, then by the Pauline epistles, general epistles, and finally Revelation. The problem with that is that it doesn't serve my present goal - which is to review them in a (somewhat) historical context. Taken chronologically, some writings attributed to Paul will come first (circa 50 CE), then Mark, followed by Matthew and Luke, then Revelation (c. 90 CE), then John (c. 90-120), with various other epistles sprinkled throughout - from as early as 50 CE (Colossians - which a slight majority of scholars feel is not Pauline) to as late as 160 CE (Peter?). For the moment, I will be using the timeline at Early Christian Writings to help me order the books. For biblical text, I will refer to the Biblos Online Parallel Bible (for example, go directly to Genesis 1:1 here).

Undertaking a chronological reading will be helpful, but a second alternate method could also be employed - parallel reading of the gospels. This is suggested by bible scholars to obtain a sense of the commonality and differences of the four gospels. I won't be doing that immediately, but it's not out of the question down the road.

Lastly, a note of appreciation to Ebon Musings - particularly the Atheism Pages and Dating the Good News for getting me motivated AND organized on a holiday weekend.

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