Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review: The Bible: A Biography

Again with the spiritual questions. Maybe it is a mistake to think I will find the answers in books. I expected that after reading The Bible: A Biography I'd have a much clearer vision of Christianity, but that's really not the case. Karen Armstrong's book is more about the history of the study of the Bible than the actual authorship of the text. So we begin down the road of ambiguity.

In their (the Pharisees') view, there was no single authoritative reading of scripture. As events unfolded on earth, even God had to keep studying his own Torah in order to discover its full significance...The meaning of a text was not self-evident. The exegete had to go in search of it, becuase every time a Jew confronted the Word of God in scripture, it signified something different.
I've never thought a literal reading of the Bible made sense, and I continue to believe that. This is something Armstrong emphasizes over and over again:

In the last years of the nineteenth century, the Bible Conference, where conservatives could read scripture in a literal, no-nonsense manner and purge their minds of the Higher Criticsm, became increasingly popular in the United States. There was a widespread hunger for certainty. People now expected something entirely new from the Bible -- something it had never pretended to offer hitherto.
I can't say I don't hunger for certainty, too. But Armstrong's point in this book is that it is not there.
A single text could be interpreted to serve diametrically opposed interests...At the same time as African Americans drew on the Bible to develop their theology of liberation, the Ku Klux Klan used it to justify their lynching of blacks.
That is truly mind-boggling.

This book really raises more questions than it answers, which for me was both frustrating and challenging. It's not meant as a reference book on who wrote the Bible; for that a study Bible is what you need. Armstrong avoids simplistic literal-minded answers. Instead she advocates studying the Bible for yourself, not as a fact collector but as a spiritual seeker.

1 comment:

Ken said...

How will you incorporate those first and second century writings about Jesus that are not part of the New Testament? Will you include them -- or rely upon the fourth century editors who made the decision to leave them out?