I’ve decided to read through the Bible. I have, since childhood, read various parts of the Bible many times, but I have never read through it, beginning to end. So I thought it was time that I did. I don’t have ‘a system’ – I’m not that sort of person. I’m just going to read, in order, from beginning to end, as time/enthusiasm allows.
I will try to post each Sunday a short update about how I’m getting on. Partly to motivate myself, and partly because you might be interested. (If you’re not, you can just skip the blogs headed Bible Blog each week – I will still continue to post my newsy, family, travel blogs every Monday.) I’ll be honest about what I read and think, I won’t just regurgitate churchy views.
I started at the beginning (which is actually, NOT a good place to start if reading the Bible for the first time! Better to begin in the New Testament, with Mark’s book.) Here are my thoughts/ramblings thus far:
There are two different stories about creation. I have studied these before, when teaching RS, so could really write a whole blog on them alone. However, my only comment here is I think it’s important to remember what question they are answering – they are not explaining HOW God made the world, they are explaining WHO and WHY. I think they are pictures, illustrating ideas, clearly showing that God was the creator. They were told at a time when there were lots of stories from the Babylonians, about dragons using things to create the world, so the point about God creating it from nothing, using just his word, is important. Personally, I don’t think it’s meant to be taken literally. Things like plants being created before light just seem too illogical.
Having said that, the first bit of Genesis is still weird. It is full of pictures and giants and strangeness. It is, on first glance, every bit as unbelievable as the myths that other cultures and religions have about how the world began. I think to understand it properly, you need to do further reading. One excellent book (I think) is Creation or Evolution, do we have to choose?
After creation comes the flood. Most old cultures have a flood story, which is interesting – who knows, perhaps it really did happen. Certainly the instructions for building the ark (about the size of a multi-storey carpark) are detailed, if not especially interesting. After the flood, there’s a story about Noah getting drunk and his son having sex with him (they didn’t cover that little gem in Sunday School when I was a kid!)
There are many lists of genealogies. No idea why, they don’t make for an interesting read. However, recently I watched “The Good Lie”, about children being rescued in Sudan. One clip showed the children reciting all their ancestors. Perhaps in some cultures it’s important.
Next are the stories about Abram, Lot, Isaac. These seem more historically factual, they read like real events about actual people. One part that interested me was when Abraham plants a tamarisk tree. I did some research into what this was. It’s a tree that’s very unusual because it puts down very deep roots, and so can reach deep water tables. It uses a lot of water, so starves the surrounding soil of moisture, so other plants cannot grow near it. It also is able to take up salt, which it expels as a salty layer on its leaves. When they fall, this makes the soil salty, which again means no other plants can grow near it. So, it is a lonely tree, very different to other plants and not able to mix with them. It was introduced to the western states of America, where it flourished and is now seen as a pest, but hard to kill due to its deep roots. Now, Abraham is seen as ‘the father of the Jews’. It seems to me that the tamarisk tree makes a good metaphor for how the world views the Jewish race.
Another story I found interesting was the one where Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for his son. He feels that he wants his son to marry from his own people, so makes a plan. However, he also has a backup plan, he tells the servant to come home without a woman if she isn’t willing to go with him. So, he was doing what he thought God wanted, but if he was wrong, he had made a decision about what to do instead. He hoped he was right, that he was following God’s plan, but he didn’t assume it. Of course, when the servant did find the wife, Rebekah, it all proved to be what God wanted. But I found it interesting that Abraham didn’t know that for sure, he was just doing his best, doing what he thought was right. Which sometimes, is all that we can do.
Thanks for reading. I’ll let you know how I get on in the next week.
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What translation of the Bible are you using? I thought Ham just went into the tent, saw his father naked and made a misguided joke about it to his brothers! Interesting stuff about the tamarisk tree. Leviticus may test your resolve.
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Yes, I’m sure a few sections will be heavy going. I’m reading a translation from the original texts, English Standard Version and 中文和合本(which I believe has been translated from an English text). I might be wrong about the Ham story – my understanding was that ‘saw’ in Biblical language meant sex (as ‘to know’ does in later passages). Otherwise it seems a very strong reaction for just just accidentally seeing someone naked (which presumably happened all the time).
I’m working through the Old Testament too, though not in any order, so I look forward to following your observations, Anne. Thank you.
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Tamarisk Tree was very interesting