What Right Do You Have to Read the Bible?

Newsweek has an article about David Plotz, writer for for Slate, that decided to read the entire Hebrew Bible and blog about it. Plotz’s articles were eventually fleshed out and published as a book called Good Book. I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but I’ve heard it’s quite amusing. The article, though, seems to critique, not Plotz’s book, but whether or not he had the right to read the Bible and write about it in the first place.

I’m sorry, but I think the copyright has expired on the bible. It can be read by anyone without a rabbi sitting over your shoulder telling what is important and what isn’t. If the wrong parts jump out at you, it may be the author’s fault. The ability to read the bible does not depend on the conclusion you may come to. It’s funny how quickly the overtly religious turn into totalitarian thought police.

Yes, you do have to keep the culture that wrote the Bible in mind when reading it, but not for the purpose of justifying the stories, but rather just to understand why someone would feel the stories were worth recording in the first place. Hector Avalos sums it up nicely in The End of Biblical Studies. He says, “The Bible is the product of cultures whose values and beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of our world are no longer held to be relevant even by most Christians and Jews”.

So, why the defensiveness over it? And, if they don’t feel it’s ever right to question the Bible, how do they expect to learn anything about it? In 1688, Richard Simons was criticized by the Catholic church simply for noticing that the bible repeats itself. He was discredited and his books were burned. Clarity of Scripture, my ass.

The Bible is not a book for all time; it is not the greatest story ever told; it is not timeless; it is not a guide for morals. It is just a relic. A relic of a culture long since past. Viewed in that way, the Bible is indeed interesting. Interesting like the Iliad, like Egyptian mythology, or like Hammurabi’s Code. It can help to understand the culture that wrote it, that’s it.

And, like it or not, there’s nothing terribly complex about the stories in the Old Testament. There is no complex theology behind Jephthah being willing to murder his daughter and cut her up into pieces. There is nothing complex about Abraham being willing to murder his child. God said so, do it. Blind obedience appeared to be a very cherished value in ancient Israel (see, we’ve learned something). As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not willing to not question a voice you hear in your head, you’re insane.

Read the Bible if you want to, don’t if you don’t. But, don’t ever let some asshat tell you that you don’t have the right to call fowl when you see it. If a man murders his daughter today, it’s a horrible crime. If a man murdered his daughter 3 thousand years ago and it got recorded in a book … it’s still a horrible crime, social differences or not. And I would not like to be alone in a dark alley with anyone that would think otherwise.

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