… as it is written

Recently there has been a move to actually read the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). Not to read what should be written, or might have been written. Not, and this is important, to read the simplest possible interpretation of what is written, but to read the thing intelligently, as though reading Middlemarch. To assume that those writing it, while inspired, were also not fools. To assume that God, in picking them, might actually have had some sense, and picked people who could write.

The results of this are incredible, impressive. I think particularly of Alan J. Hauser, and I am grateful for his From Carmel to Horeb: Elijah in crisis (Sheffield, Almond Press, 1990). In it he argues that the text shows that Elijah is actually told by God to appoint his successor, Elisha. Elijah is, effectively, dismissed. True in due course the blow is softened by his amazing ascent in a fiery chariot. But he has gone fatally wrong somewhere. It set me thinking: where? I have come to believe it is in slaughtering the prophets of Baal. When one reads the story in a continuum with the Elisha narratives, this makes sense. There is much in Elisha about the need to tolerate foreigners and foreign worship. There is much that is gob-smacking, as AKMA points out.

Joep Dubbink, ‘Getting closer to Jeremiah: the Word of YHWH and the Literary-Theological Person of a Prophet’, Readings in the Book of Jeremiah, A Search for Coherence, ed Martin Kessler (Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2004) does something almost equally astonishing with the book of Jeremiah. The pinacle of Jeremiah’s understanding, he says, comes when Jeremiah realises that God’s suffering in pulling down Israel, is so much greater than that of the faithful old man, by now skin and bones, who has been persuced by his countrymen and lived through a horrific seige and seen his countrymen slaughtered and now must live out what is left of his life in a foreign country. That’s right YHWH has it worse.

Or Jacob, coming back from his night-long crippling struggle with God, and seeing God’s face in that of the brother he has wronged. Or …

Look, any one of these might be wrong.

But what I would like to know is why many who allegedly hold the Bible in the greatest respect, refuse to read it as though it was a great complex book ?


2 responses to “… as it is written

  1. But what I would like to know is why many who allegedly hold the Bible in the greatest respect, refuse to read it as though it was a great complex book ?

    Weight of upbringing and familiarity versus lack of knowledge of alternative specific understandings from the culture of its times; it’s truly scary how hard it can be to break out of the mindset.

    I’m still trying to find enough time to take my favoured translation and reorder it without book-names, chapters or verse numbers, and just read it through.

  2. All of that, Tim, plus the assumption that the Bible is a special kind of literature, not susceptible of the kind of analysis that we consider appropriate to apply to literature in general. It was the late 18th century, I think, before people realised that Hebrew was not a mysterious code spoken by God, but a language like any other, spoken by people who ate meals and slept in a bed.

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