The Bible Digest
I’ve been reading David Plotz’ Blogging the Bible series on Slate. He’s a Jewish guy reading the Bible from cover to cover for the first time, writing down his own synopsis with comments, analysis, and personal associations. Fascinating stuff, and lots of details that I missed when I was a kid reading the kiddie versions. For example, those of us who grew up explicitly Christian or Jewish (or watched Charleton Heston in the Ten Commandments) all learned that Pharaoh gets punished with plagues and deaths of all firstborns in Egypt, etc, for refusing to let the Israelites go. What I didn’t know was this:
“The 10 plagues basically go like this: Moses and Aaron unleash a plague. Pharaoh begs for relief and concedes that the Lord is right. He asks Moses to plead with God to release the plague and vows to let the Israelites go. The plague is lifted, and Pharaoh immediately reneges, because God “stiffened his heart.”
The key question: Why does God prolong the Egyptians’ suffering? Why would God keep hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that He can inflict yet another monstrous plague? God tells us why. Listen carefully:
For I have hardened his heart … in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know I am the Lord.
What an appalling reason! He’s causing the plagues so that we can tell stories about the plagues. He’s torturing the Egyptians so that we will worship Him. What kind of insecure and cruel God murders—murders first-born children—so that His followers will obey Him, and will tell stories about Him? (Also, how about that euphemism, “displayed My signs”—You call them “signs,” I call them “plagues.”)”
I would have to agree. There are enough detailed quotes from the Bible itself in this blog that you get weird little facts like this in addition to it being a very entertaining read. So far, the old Testament God seems entirely concerned with helping the Israelites kill or conquer all other tribes, and horrible atrocities are already being committed in God’s name all over the place, with His implicit and sometimes explicit approval. What exactly do those people mean who say the Bible should be followed literally? We’ll see what happens when we get to the New Testament…
I find this synopsis process interesting because these days so much time is spent digging into the details of tiny passages to justify political opinions, so many quotes are thrown around, so much assumed knowledge based on shaky ground (the most convenient stories dumbed down for Sunday school or convenient TV drama metaphors), that few people these days(including me) have an overall concept of the entire Good Book as a whole. After reading this, you could easily go back and check out in detail the parts that really made you think without getting lost in long litanies of tribal census names, exact size, dimensions and building instructions of the Ark, etc.
Call it Cliff’s Notes if you want, but if it gives people a starting point to have a closer look at this thing that people swear on in courts, etc, what’s the problem?