My Bible Story
It was time.
After the Dhammapada, Qu’ran, Book of Mormon, Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao te Ching, I figured it was time to take on the big one.
I started reading The Daily Bible on January 1st of this year. It’s a New International Version translation, for those who care to know. I’m an NRSV man, myself.
I actually own several Bibles. My preferred Bible is the New Oxford Annotated Bible. This is mostly due to the fact that it’s made for research. It’s the Bible that I used when I minored in the religion at Appalachian State University.
My mother-in-law was kind enough to buy me the aforementioned Daily Bible for Christmas last year. She actually bought a copy for both my wife and me as we had planned on reading it together but more on that later.
For the sake of transparency, I’m an agnostic/-atheist. I don’t have any religion or spiritual leaning, I don’t believe in a deity or deities but I also don’t run around telling people that there’s no such thing. I try to avoid absolutes.
I was raised as a pretty mainstream Protestant, so I do have a decent foundational knowledge of Christianity, at least in a very narrow, American bourgeois context.
Format: One Day at a Time
It really is a Daily Bible. It’s meant to be read in organized, daily chunks. It’s also chronological, or as close as editor F. LaGard Smith could get to chronological. This means that sometimes, especially in the New Testament, individual books of the Bible are merged together under a specific calendar day.
I’d mentioned that my wife and I were planning on reading this thing together. We managed to stick to that goal for about a week before life butted in and we both began to fall behind.
The daily readings aren’t long. Most are about 3-6 pages, but actually trying to maintain a habit of daily reading isn’t easy. I ended up way ahead of my wife after a while.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament, along with my general doubting nature, played a role in my leaving Christianity. The horrific, sometimes arbitrary violence of both God and his chosen people is no easier to read than it was when I read it for my minor in undergrad.
I also understand that “The Bible” isn’t really a single, cohesive unit like the Qu’ran. It’s a casserole of day-old cheese and questionably old pasta sauce, along with other ingredients that probably were never actually meant for consumption. LaGard Smith actually does a pretty fantastic job of weaving these wildly different things into something semi-lucid.
Unfortunately, this lucidity makes the Old Testament even more chilling. Not only is the outright genocide committed by the Hebrews on full display but LaGard Smith, in his introduction to each daily reading, often works to excuse or rationalize these crimes. I don’t blame him, and I would normally agree with him that these accounts should be read in the context of the time, at least if this were being read only as a historical account. The problem is, of course, that this text is not simply being read that way. It’s sacred to billions of human beings living in the 21st century.
I’ve always been especially disturbed by the Book of Joshua, at least in part because of what my namesake does.
“Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating* them without mercy…” (Chapter 11). *emphasis mine
Horses are hamstrung, nothing that breathes is spared, etc. All this for the sake of taking the promised land from the people who already lived there.
I kept thinking about the movie God on Trial, in which several Jewish men at Auschwitz decide to put God on trial in absentia for the crime of violating the covenant and to determine if God is guilty of their suffering.
It’s an amazing film, and there was one exchange in particular to which I kept returning. A summary of that scene, which isn’t necessarily a spoiler, follows:
The New Testament
The four gospels are all spliced together to attempt to create one single narrative of Christ’s life and ministry. LaGard Smith does, in the margins, note which line came from which gospel.
Still, the epistles are far longer than the gospels and in some ways more interesting, at least as historical documents. The mundane work of holding a religious sect together is on full display in the epistles, and they read almost like office memos.
There’s really little for me to say about the New Testament. Christ is a strange figure, revolutionary in so many ways. His life: begun as a refugee, lived among the rejected, and ended as a criminal, is striking in contrast to American Christianity.
Of course, American Christians are safe both by virtue of the power they wield and simply their numbers. Despite the bizarre and inspiring foundation of their religion they’ve managed to amass vast wealth and political capital, using it often (though not always – looking at you, Quakers) for non-revolutionary ends.
If I were reading this only as text and without any of the context, well, that’s impossible.
Did I enjoy it? Sometimes.
Is it really meant to be enjoyed? Well, maybe sometimes.
This isn’t modern literature and it’s not even truly one book but dozens of books written by dozens of authors over thousands of years.
I certainly annotated the heck out of it: highlighting and writing/reacting in the margins. It was often highly engaging but only because I chose to engage, to argue, to react, much in the Jewish tradition, I suppose.
I feel odd simply using the GoodReads five-star system of rating but, if you asked me what I thought of it, I’d probably be somewhere between “did not like it” and “it was ok.” So that’s like 1.5 stars, I guess.
Round up to two?