Saturday, April 17, 2010

Is the Bible allegory or history?

I would like to explore a point I made in my previous post, which is captured in the title to this one. What is the Bible, exactly? Is it history? Is it allegory? Is it both? (I am sorry, but my mind couldn’t help jumping to that old Saturday Night Live Sketch, “Is it a dessert topping, or a floor wax?”) CAN it be both? Is that even possible?

In light of our understanding of the universe in the 21st Century, it is difficult to take Genesis as a literal description of how the universe was created. Yet, a huge number of Christians take the Bible as factual history. It is no secret that a number of archeological discoveries have correlated at least part of what is in the Bible as being a true account of what happened back then.

As the early books of the Bible are concerned, there is little direct evidence for the characters in the Bible. There is, however, a huge amount of indirect or circumstantial evidence—names, places, business contracts, marriage contracts, migratory patterns. An enormous amount of information in the Bible has been borne out by archeology.

That is as far as the early books of the Bible are concerned, but once we get to later books, like the Book of Kings, for example, there is excellent direct evidence, written records of other emperors, etc. But the early events exist more or less in a historical vacuum and, unfortunately also in an archeological vacuum.

Keep in mind that the same thing that applies in a court of law applies to archeology: Lack of evidence is no evidence of lack. The fact that I haven’t found Abraham’s camel saddle doesn’t mean Abraham didn’t have a camel or a saddle. And, indeed, there is a huge amount of circumstantial evidence supporting the basic historicity of the Bible.

Archeology doesn’t definitively prove the Bible, and it certainly doesn’t discredit it. In fact the more we find, the more we see that there’s a tremendous amount of historicity in the text.

In summary, the Bible is not a book of history, yet it contains history and culture, which is more or less borne out by archeology. It’s a book of teachings, and it’s the ideal way to learn the patterns of history. And if we understand that the reason why we’re learning history is to learn lessons, then we have to pay extra special attention to what is going on in the Bible.

Here’s a specific example (from National Geographic News):

Researchers using sophisticated radio-dating techniques have concluded that a tunnel running under ancient Jerusalem was indeed constructed around 700 B.C., during the reign of King Hezekiah, just as it is described in the Bible.

The tunnel, which is about 500 meters (550 yards) long, brings water from the Gihon Springs, located some 300 meters (330 yards) outside the walls of old Jerusalem, to the Siloan Pool inside the ancient city. It was built to protect the city's water supply during an Assyrian siege.

Naturally, Christians and Jews are quite happy when archeological evidence supports Biblical narratives.

The City Of Jerusalem Today

Sept. 11, 2003 ” ”
Modern science has thrown its weight behind Biblical historians, backing their account of an Old Testament king who drove a tunnel under Jerusalem to ensure water supplies for his besieged subjects.

The underwater aqueduct is known as the Siloam Tunnel or “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” in honor of the embattled Hebrew king reputed to have ordered its construction in order to bring water from Gihon Spring, outside the city, to Siloam Pool in Jerusalem’s ancient heart.

Historians have long contended that this event is described in two Old Testament texts, 2 Kings 20:20 and 2 Chronicles 32:3,4.

These recount how Hezekiah (727-698 B.C.) had to grapple with denying water to the besieging Assyrian king Sennacherib, yet also provide water for the besieged:

“When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officers and warriors about stopping the flow of the springs outside the city and they supported him.”

“A large force was assembled to stop up all the springs and the wadi that flowed through the land, for otherwise, they thought, the king of Assyria would come and find water in abundance …”

“It was Hezekiah who stopped up the spring of water of Upper Gihon, leading it downward west of the City of David.”
The historical record, however, was only indirect, and no evidence has ever been found that directly links the tunnel to Hezekiah.

Now, however, science has provided powerful backing, thanks to forensic evidence found buried in the tunnel’s walls and the latest tools in chemical analysis.

Israeli scientists took samples from a layer of ancient lime plaster that the tunnellers used to line the aqueduct to prevent the precious water from draining back into the Earth.

They found the plaster — since covered with other protective smotherings over the years — included tiny pieces of bone, rare charcoal and ash to bind it, as well as chips of wood and “extraordinarily well-preserved” plant fragments. Radiocarbon-dating at a laboratory at Oxford University put the age of the wood sample at between 822-796 B.C., and that of two plant samples at 790-760 B.C. and 690-540 B.C. respectively.

That gave a ballpark date of 700 B.C. which also tallied with a radioisotope estimate of an ancient stalactite found in the tunnel’s ceiling. “Our dating agrees well … with the date commonly assigned to King Hezekiah,” the authors said.

“The three independent lines of evidence — radiometric dating, palaeography and the historical record — all converge on about 700 B.C., rendering the Siloam Tunnel the best-dated Iron-Age biblical structure so far.”

There are other examples, such as the finding of Herod’s palace. And, although this story is not contained in the Bible (it is in “The Jewish War” by Josephus), the fortress of Masada is now quite famous and is a destination for many tourists.

Christians and Jews alike are delighted when archeological proof confirms parts of their beliefs. Although no one ever comes out and says this, the implication is that, since parts of the Bible are now obviously true, doesn’t it stand to reason that the rest of the Bible is true as well?

However, as I stated earlier, there are many parts of the Bible that, outside the context of being included in the Bible, would be laughed at if someone were to seriously propose them as true history. It is then that most people recognize that archeology, scientific knowledge and, indeed, logic will be of no help and that the standard response is that the Bible should not be taken as historical fact and that the stories in the Bible are actually allegories from which the Truth must be extracted by the reader.

From Keene Online:

Allegory in the Bible by David E. Teubner

The public has been befuddled for centuries concerning the Bible and its various stories. Today the Genesis story, for example, seems implausible from a scientific perspective. Yet, I suggest (along with others) that the stories in the Old Testament should not be taken literally, but are best understood as allegory. The Ancients (for example, the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, the ancient Americans) knew the allegories very well and embedded their esoteric knowledge into narratives for safekeeping. The written language had yet to be systematized, thus a narrative was an excellent way to communicate to the culture at large the beliefs of the shamans or the priests.

Indeed, many people, including, Mr. Teubner, the author of the writing above, go to great lengths to explain Biblical writings in terms of allegory. Again, from Keene Online:

The ancients believed in a dualistic (two-part) aspect of the divinity. The female was know as the Void, Mother, Matter (mater, in Latin) Water or Mary and was seen as the Cosmos. It was believed that the male part of the divinity could not interact directly with the female because the male was thought to be Eternal and Unchangeable. Thus, many ancient myths, describe the god as "sending his seed" or "sending his breath" to effect the Void (the Mother). Other myths talk about the male aspect of the divinity being cut up or fragmented, in effect, planted like a seed into the Material, feminine Void. (see Genesis Explained for more about the creation story).

For reasons that will not be fully explained here, some ancient people believed that the male divine impulse was shattered into fragments (the Big Bang?). These fragments fell through the seven celestial spheres, each of the seven spheres polluting the soul in some way. As a result of decending through the spheres, the fragments became forgetful of their heavenly home. They became "polluted" as they passed through the spheres and entered human (animal) bodies.

As a result, humans became forgetful of their divine inheritance. This divine inheritance was the spark that made us divine, the mixture of breath (Father) and material (Mother). (The pattern, or papa that was laid on the material, mama.)

The Ancients symbolized our very own human body as EGYPT. Egypt was the metaphor for human life as incarnate in an material body. Our bodies contained something divine, planted in effect, in a material (clay) vessel.

Therefore, allegorically speaking, Egypt became the land of bitterness and slavery, the land of forgetfulness:

[The Egyptians] made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly. Exodus 1:14

The divine sparks were embedded into the female yet lost their memory of their true source. (The result of the deity being "torn asunder" is what Buddhist call Forgetfulness, or Ignorance.) Who will awaken the forgetful, slumbering sparks of the divine male-force that has been hidden in the female? For the Israelites it was Moses.

I am a very literal person, perhaps too literal for my own good. I have a great deal of difficulty when it comes to symbolism in literature or film. I usually take whatever story is being told at face value. So, I suppose it comes as no surprise that I have difficulty with the concept of taking the Bible as allegory. In fact, it appears to me that the author above is bending over backwards to put some logical sense into a story that, on its surface, appears to be very illogical. I maintain that you could take any sort of literature and find a way to make it meaningful and full of wisdom that the reader must take pains to understand.

For example, what would be the allegorical wisdom of the story of Little Red Riding Hood? Wolves are evil? Little girls are often too gullible for their own good? The wolf is a symbol for Satan, that Satan is everywhere and may even be masquerading as your own grandmother and intends to do you great harm?

Again, my reaction is, what a stupid way to teach a lesson. If you want to teach someone, tell him straight out what it is you want him to know. Why give knowledge to someone in a form that will undoubtedly be misunderstood by a great deal of people, each of them arguing that their interpretation is the one and only correct one? That, to me, is really idiotic.

Yet, that is exactly what many people would have us believe of the Bible. It is a collection of allegory that must be interpreted, and interpreted correctly, in order to extract the knowledge that the authors intended. The writer above claims that, “The Ancients (for example, the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, the ancient Americans) knew the allegories very well and embedded their esoteric knowledge into narratives for safekeeping.” How he knows this, he does not say. Perhaps there is literature out there that supports this claim. However, as his main argument rests upon this point, you might think he would provide us information in order that this basic assumption might indeed be a valid one. That would be what scholars would do.

I see absolutely no evidence that the writers of the Biblical texts had any sense of allegory. In fact, I believe it to be exactly the opposite. They intended for these stories to be taken as fact, as the true history of the Jewish people. Their very early readers certainly took them as fact. Current readers take the Bible as fact. For example, arguments today continue whether or not Mary, the mother of Jesus, was really a virgin when she bore Jesus, the baby. This text, for example, is a scholarly examination of whether or not Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus. However, why is this story also not considered to be allegory as something of higher meaning? A virgin girl bearing a child is certainly something modern science would look upon with great skepticism. But yet, that is taken as a fact.

To me, it appears that Christians and Jews would like to have it both ways. When historical evidence backs up their beliefs, they take great pleasure in announcing this to the world. “See, my beliefs are validated! The Bible (Christian or Jewish) is true!” On the other hand, when scientific evidence can be used to refute parts of the Bible, the standard response is “Oh, the Bible isn’t meant to be taken literally. It is allegory and it is a great mistake to take it as anything but allegory.”

My question is, how are readers and students supposed to decide? My answer is that they can’t. And this is exactly why we have so much trouble with fundamentalists of all sorts (not just Christians, but also Jews and Muslims) who get to decide for themselves what their particular religious screed actually means. If it is God’s Truth that He hates gays and lesbians, then viola! Their hatred of gay people is validated. If God’s Truth is that the Earth is 6000 years old, then most, if not all, science is pure bunk and dinosaurs lived during the same time period as man, because their views don’t allow for anything different.

The biggest problem, in my view, is that people of all persuasions do not want to look at their belief system using logic and rational thinking. Their beliefs are spiritual and would be somehow be demeaned if any logical introspection were to be used.

I do not understand this. I really don’t. If there is a God and He created mankind in His own image, I can’t imagine that He would give us the ability to think and reason and not want us to use it. Modern Christianity, for example, seems to want to suppress logic and curiosity. They would have us believe that modern science is no more than alchemy or astrology. If their belief is fervent enough, then that is enough to overcome any obstacle, even when it is scientific proof. That is what occurred when the Church made Galileo recant his view that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. That identical approach is being used today.

Believers should make up their minds. Either the Bible is true history or it is allegory. Either way, there needs to be some additional explanation or guidance given, because right now, how mankind views religion is a huge mixed up mess and yet, no one except a few people really want to take that one on. This is to mankind’s detriment.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

God certainly hates Moloch, doesn’t He?

According to Liviticus 20:

20:1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

20:2 Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones.

20:3 And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name.

20:4 And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not:

20:5 Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.

20:6 And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.

20:7 Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.

20:8 And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctify you.

And who is this Molech, you might ask? According to the All Knowing, All Seeing Wiki:

Moloch, Molech, Molekh, Molek, or Moloc, representing Semitic מולך m-l-k, (a root which occurs in various Hebrew and Arabic words related to kings) is either the name of a god or the name of a particular kind of sacrifice associated with fire. Moloch was historically affiliated with cultures throughout the Middle East, including the Ammonite, Hebrew, Canaanite,[1] Phoenician and related cultures in North Africa and the Levant.

O.K., false god and all that. Got it. Yahweh detests false gods, as we well know.

It appears that, back in Biblical times, “knowing” believers in any god(s) or goddess(es) other than the One True God and getting them pregnant was a big time problem. The One True God really had a distinct problem with this, as He commands His followers to stone to death any of His followers or any non-believers that just happened to be wandering around in Israel if they had the presumptuousness to get a lady pregnant who also worshipped Moloch. Stoning to death seems very harsh for a Compassionate and Forgiving God. That sounds neither compassionate nor forgiving. That particular sentence seems very harsh and unforgiving. Throwing stones at someone, bashing them in the head and body, until their bodily functions stop, presumably due to loss of blood and traumatic injuries, would constitute cruel and unusual punishment in my book.

These verses in the Bible are emblematic of a very thorny problem for me. They are not relevant, and they are ancient anachronisms that have zero relevance to today’s complex and law-based society. First off, how many worshippers of Moloch does anyone know? I have never come across any, although I will be the first to admit that I run in pretty small circles of society these days. I did once know a practicing Wiccan with whom I spent a very interesting All Hallow’s Eve back in my college days. But that’s about it. Nope, I know of no followers of Moloch, certainly none who I would consider getting pregnant. But then, if I am not in the current country of Israel, then maybe God’s commandment is not in force? It’s difficult to tell.

I am just pointing out that prohibitions against getting a follower of Moloch pregnant have very little relevance in today’s society.

However, the bigger problem is, of course, what God commands his followers to do to anyone they find has violated said commandment. God, the One True God, the Kind and Benevolent God, really desires people who go to church on Sundays, who dress up in their best Easter outfits on Easter, who probably belong to the Kiwanis Club or Elks Club, who take their kids to the baseball games, to go stone people to death? Getting someone pregnant isn’t even a crime these days. And perhaps this guy is married to a nice lady who also happens to worship Moloch, and they have a child while they are married. Does this still apply? The husband gets stoned to death while the wife and kid get off scot free?

No doubt these aspects of the Bible made sense back in 150 B.C. There was no legal system; no courts, no lawyers, no presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Law was whatever the current social mores were at that time. Someone back then, no doubt a follower of early Judaism, thought this was a really good thing to have lying around, especially if it had the weight of the One True God behind it. This person might have had a grudge against someone who worshipped Moloch, maybe someone got his daughter pregnant. “I’ll fix them!” Whatever. It really doesn’t matter where this came from. These kinds of bloodthirsty and unthinking commandments attributed to God have absolutely no place in today’s society. None.

And here’s the crux of the matter. When pressed on issues like this, most Christians will resort to the standard reply, “Oh, the Bible isn’t meant to be taken literally. Much of it is a parable, and you have to read it in that way to find the wisdom it contains.” To which I say, bull pucky. I believe it is terribly, terribly obvious that the authors of the Bible (including all the later revisions, Canonization and collations) fully intended for the entire thing to be taken as fact. There are no literary interpretations to be made, no symbolism, allegory or parables included. The story of Genesis was written to be read as factual history. This is true of all religions. Most every religion contains the story of creation. They also have a very detailed history of the people/tribe who believes that particular religion. That is what binds them together, that sets them off from the rabble. Everyone has their own, true history. The Bible is no different. The Old Testament was to be taken as the literal history of the Jewish people.

The “Good Book” commands you, as a follower of the Christian God, to stone to death anyone who gets a follower of a false god pregnant. That’s what it says to do. End of story.

So, the question then becomes, why does anything that the Bible says about anything have any inherent meaning in today’s society? Why should I believe anything written in the Bible? Because we are now into the realm of picking and choosing whatever passages out of the Bible that you think are applicable. "That one there, that’s good. 'Thou shalt not kill.' I like that one. Wait, doesn’t this one over here say that I should do exactly that, kill someone? This one over here says I should kill my own child if he curses at me. (Exodus 21:17) Wow, that’s pretty severe. God must not really mean that. But I shouldn’t kill anyone, except homosexuals, people who have sex with animals, men who lie with their mothers, and kids who curse at their parents… Wow, that’s really confusing."

See the dilemma here? You can go on forever picking and choosing what you think is and is not “the Word of God” in the Bible. That’s what leads to this insanity in today’s society about homosexuals. People cherry pick whatever “knowledge” they desire out of the Bible, usually something that supports their already formulated position. “See, I believe exactly the same thing that God does!” Isn’t that amazing?

And yet, modern Christianity expects us to exhibit unwavering faith regarding God and Jesus Christ, all based on a book that has been edited multiple times, contains multiple contradictions and ridiculous commandments that have zero relevance in today’s society.

I just don’t understand the need for belief and faith, especially as something as ridiculous and archaic as the Bible. No, I am not saying there aren’t any lessons to be gleaned from the Bible. There are, certainly. But that can be said of the Bhagavad Gita. Or of the Koran. Or the teachings of a Native American shaman. When you apply logic and reason to a reading of the Bible, it becomes nothing more than a collection of ancient beliefs, ancient history and ancient myths and legends that were handed down from generation to generation. That is what the Bible is.

I would be happy to listen to and debate anyone who would like to discuss this subject further. Because, in all truth, I do not understand.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter thoughts....

Heretical thoughts, as it turns out.

I remember hearing about the resurrection of Jesus I was very young, maybe 5 or 6, I suppose. And I also remember, at the time, thinking, "How does everyone know that Jesus came back alive and got out of the cave himself? Why can't someone have just gone in and stolen his body?"

And I think that is still a valid question. That is, if the entire thing of resurrection is to believed anyway. There are some biblical scholars who believe that entire episode might have been added into the Bible at a later date. However, that aside, my first reaction to finding something missing after it was there the day before is, "Hey, someone stole it!" I am not sure why everyone just seemed to leap on the entire resurrection story immediately. That is, of course, unless those same people were the ones who had a stake in selling the idea that Jesus was the Son of God.

Happy Easter.