The Bible Digest

November 19, 2006 at 1:00 pm 8 comments

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?

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. daravida  |  November 20, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    I had to read the bible for AP Literature in high school. Required reading! No one said anything about seperation of church and state or nuffin at the time. Now that I think about it, they should have made us read the Koran as well…

    Reply
  • 2. veltis  |  November 21, 2006 at 9:30 am

    The entire Bible? Wow. I do wish someone would blog the Koran the way this guy is blogging the Bible–I know way too little about it, and it’s rather intimidating to start reading yourself with NO background whatsoever. I did eventually buy it a few months ago, but haven’t been ready to dig in yet.

    Reply
  • 3. SparkyMoth  |  December 4, 2006 at 4:08 am

    Kind of surprised you’re surprised…general rule has always been old testament=*badass* brimstone and big show/scare the shit out of the rubes version of the product. New Testament – not quite, but towards the lighter softer side of _____….

    Reply
  • 4. veltis  |  December 4, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    I knew the overall reputation of the Old Testament, and the stories from it in their most basic form, but I didn’t know all the specifics…I figured vaguely that OT God was vengeful and angry, possibly easily upset and grumpy, but not basically unfair. It was the unfair part that surprised me. Also the fact that it’s so much about how God is basically ONLY on the side of the Israelites, and every other tribe is crap and can be neatly dispatched, even mass murdered (I mean taking women and children out to a field and killing them where they stand, defenseless) with God’s happy approval, and even decree. It makes you wonder why Christians use the Old Testament at all, since it seems to be in clear conflict with the New Testament.
    I had also heard of all the random rules in the Old Testament (What to do if your clothes get sores, or if your neighbor bumps into your wife and she miscarries) but the sheer number of them was surprising, because generally those rules are the most quoted today by Christian conservatives trying to change real modern laws. Why do they get to pick which rules to follow? It goes way, way beyond “don’t eat pork.” It’s the details I find interesting, because for all those who rely on Bible quotes to change policy, those details have major implications.

    Reply
  • 5. lightcontrast  |  December 15, 2006 at 2:45 am

    Has he written anything on Revelation? I’m curious about it and I notice that in my time with Christianity, it has hardly ever been mentioned, almost as if they’re afraid of it.

    Reply
  • 6. veltis  |  December 15, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    Don’t think he’s QUITE there yet. But he’ll get there, and it’ll be interesting when he does…

    Reply
  • 7. lightcontrast  |  December 15, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    Great…I’m looking forward to it. Let me know when he does get there.

    Reply
  • 8. Vijay Prozak  |  November 23, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    The point of that story is that God is preaching idealism. He is saying: the casualties on earth do not matter, so long as a principle and symbol is upheld. This form of idealism is what we call absolute idealism, as opposed to cosmic idealism, which is from the advanced religion of Hinduism.

    There are Christians who understand this principle, namely Paul Woodruff and Johannes Eckhart. If I could harness all the whining about George Bush and anti-Semitism in the world, and channel it toward making Christianity Woodruffian, I would feel that some of importance had happened.

    Reply

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