Tag Archives: old testament

That Old, Old, Really Old Time Religion

In my previous post (here), one of my faithful readers, The Word of Me, brought up in the comments that fact that many Old Testament tales—such as Adam and Eve, the Great Flood, and so on—don’t bear up under scientific scrutiny.

And certainly, he’s right. There is no evidence of a global flood. Humanity didn’t begin 7,000 years ago. Language differences didn’t begin at the site of the Tower of Babel. I could go on, but I won’t, because it isn’t necessary.

His point was that is such material is false, then the whole Bible is suspect, and must be assumed to be false. And therefore, taken to the logical extreme, if there was no Adam and Eve and original sin or any of that other stuff, there would be no need for Jesus and therefore Jesus wasn’t the son of God. Not that there is a God, of course, in TWOM’s view.

I don’t fault TWOM’s reasoning. That is, if you begin from the standpoint that the Bible is a pack of myths or lies or both, then it all falls apart.

But why do all the stories in the Old Testament have to be literal? Particularly those appearing in Genesis.

It is a fault of both the atheist/agnostic camps and the fundamentalist/Bible literalism camps that the stories in the Bible must be true in order for God to be true. Both sides are dead wrong.

Look at Jesus. He told parables. He didn’t say, “this is an allegorical story” when he told them. He told them as if they were stories of real people and real situations. And it’s clear that many of those stories, perhaps none of them, had to do with real scenarios of which Jesus was aware. That did not, however, diminish the importance or value of those stories for teaching lessons and revealing truths.

The Son follows the example of the Father. Why can’t the Old Testament stories be parables writ larger, speaking to greater truths? Truths about human failings, broken connections with the divine, the need for redemption, the love of God, and so much more.

Whether there was a literal couple named Adam and Eve doesn’t matter. Whether the global flood really covered the Earth, or flooded a mere nation or valley, or never happened at all, also doesn’t matter. What matters is that God has shown Himself to humanity for millennia, most notably through his son, whose message and legacy endures, against all odds, even to this day.

The Plot Thickens

So, I don’t know how deep today’s message will be, but at least it has a spiritual bent to it.

Thing is, on the way to Little Girl Blue’s daycare today, I was thinking about some of the novels I’ve been reading lately. And, for that matter, thoughout my life. And it struck me that many of the novels I read have a “hero” or a very small number of heroes. That is, there is one person or a couple people who hold the fate of the plot in their hands. It might be the prophesied deliverer in a swords and sorcery epic or the brilliant tactician in a space opera or the detective who puts all the pieces together in a crime novel.

And then there are other novels and series I read, where it is more an ensemble thing, much like I am doing in my own novel. There are key characters, but no single person is the lynchpin and in some cases, critical characters will never meet or have any reason to interact.

I don’t prefer either type of novel, really, though I do appreciate the reality and complexity of an ensemble piece, even as I relish the focused drama of a hero-oriented story.

The Bible, my friends, has both aspects. Now, I’m not calling the Bible a fiction, mind you. While I think some elements are symbolic or metaphorical, overall I think it is an honest account of God’s plans and the history of humans. Yes, you can quibble over whether God really created the Earth in seven days and made Adam from the dust of the Earth, but then you’re just arguing semantics. Some very complex things are couched in simple terms. But the fact is that God created things, God has a plan for us, we have gone astray from that plan, and He made a way for us to get back in line with it.

But getting back to my original observation, the Bible gives us an epic ensemble piece in the Old Testament, and a hero/savior one in the New Testament.

The OT gives us this sweeping account of where we went wrong and all the missteps we took along the way. There are victories and defeats, successes and failures, love and anger, joy and sorrow, and so much more. Many players, some more effective than others, shape the flow and direction of the story.

And yet it is all a set-up. It’s really a prelude to the NT, when Jesus arrives. Because then we have the hero that everyone else has been paving the way for. The story God gives us takes a sudden and dramatic turn, and becomes very focused. What we end up with is Jesus’ story, and even though there are other people in the NT who are movers and shakers, they are all responding to (and uplifting) Jesus and his role in things. It’s all about the Christ and the fallout from his arrival (most of that fallout good, but with its bitter and bittersweet aspects, too).

It’s interesting that the Bible gives us the harder to absorb and more thorny ensemble piece first, and only gives us the more personal and in some ways easier to digest hero tale last.

I don’t know what that means, if anything. I just thought it was interesting to note.

Old school part 3 – Look at them muscles!

Got so many things I’m juggling now topic- and series-wise in this blog I done forgot all about my “Old School” series on the Old Testament. Just a quickie today, and our star this time is Samson. His tale is told in the Book of Judges (chapters 13-16), but you can get a good summary about him at Wikipedia here if you’re not already boned up on the story.

OK, so do I buy this story? Absolutely.

I don’t have any quibbles with this story and I don’t feel any need to qualify it or couch it in “reality” or find a “plausible” explanation of anything in there. Samson was who he was and he did what it was said that he did.

And some of you shout: “But Deacon, c’mon! Magic hair? You mean to tell me you believe that Samson had his strength because of his long hair and lost it because his second wife Delilah cut it off? Jeez you’re a simpleton.”

I don’t have a problem with the Samson tale because he didn’t have magic hair. The hair doesn’t really matter when you get down to it. Not in and of itself, anyway. The issue here was obedience and faith. Samson’s hair had nothing to do with his strength except insofar as God had instructed that he not cut it. Much like in the Garden of Eden, God gave a really simple rule, and like Adam and Eve, Samson messed around and broke faith with God. And that’s why his strength went away.

Samson got cocky, he got involved with a woman who was drop-dead sexy (and married her for pretty much that reason alone it seems), and he ended up thinking with his dick and his pride in the end instead of keeping faith with God. So he told Delilah the secret of his strength and she cut off his hair. You could argue that since he didn’t cut his own hair off God should have let him keep those turbo-boosted muscles, but the point is that Samson didn’t take God’s rule seriously. He gave in to Delilah’s pestering and put himself at risk, and I guess he just figured it wouldn’t matter and God would just protect him.

But that’s the story of the Hebrews and God throughout the Old Testament. He saves them, they get complacent and disobedient, He lets them get enslaved or conquered again, they get to a point where they beg for help, He saves them…and the cycle repeats. Samson was a real person but he also served as a metaphor for the Hebrew people as a whole.

It isn’t until Samson is bound to those pillars at the end of the story, when he reaches out to God in faith and humility and sorrow, that his strength is returned. And it ain’t because his hair had grown back by that time, even though that Wikipedia entry I noted above sort of suggests that.

It’s because he had faith, and God answered that faith because it came from Samson’s heart.

God can be a hard father at times, but He does love us and does listen. But first, we have to listen to Him. 

Click here for Part 1 of the Old School series
Click here for Part 2 of the Old School series

Old school part 1 – You’re aging well

So, today I begin that long-promised series on Old Testament “oddities”—that is, those things in the Old Testament that in many cases make people go Hmmmmm even more so than the miracles in the New Testament do. I had originally figured I might tackle things chronologically but I think instead I’ll bounce around as the mood hits me to tackle one story or topic or another. We’ll be spending most of our time in Genesis and Exodus of course, but given the more “mythological” feel of those two books, I doubt that will surprise you much. I’ll probably do one of these “Old School” posts a week or so; certainly no more than two in a week.

So, what’s on the plate today? Creaky knees, sagging breasts, bent backs and lots of complaining about how things use to be in the old days. Yup. Aging. More specifically, those incredibly long lifespans in the early biblical days.

Adam supposedly lived 930 years, while seven generations later, Methuselah clocked in at 969 and then a couple generations later Noah hit 950. Enoch, supposedly the seventh generation, died young at 365. By and large, after Noah, lifespans took a big dip but still were several centuries long. When we get to one of the next big names of the Bible after Noah, and that would be Moses of course, he lived 120 years, long by today’s standards and certainly by the standards of his day too I’m sure, but certainly a figure that most of us can swallow more easily.

So, I’m going to call bullshit on those 900+ year lifespans aren’t I?


I believe them. Yup, I’m taking this one on faith mostly, but there are some logical reasons as well (granted, the “fact-based” arguments rely on some faith-based assumptions, but it’s logical nonetheless). When God started off with Adam and Eve, things like illness were not part of the equation. I’m not even sure if death was part of the plan and if it was, I’m sure it was intended to be a much different process than the messy ones we go through on this planet. Hell, childbirth wasn’t supposed to be as messy as we know it.

God told Adam that to eat of the fruit of that Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil meant death. And He spoke truly. When Eve and then Adam bit into that fruit, they brought death into their existence. Not instant death, though. That’s one of the reasons Satan went after Eve first. He knew that the fruit wasn’t going to kill Eve right away or even short-term. And he knew that when she realized that, she was going to tell Adam. And Satan knew that was going to make Adam doubt God, which would otherwise have been pretty tough to do considering how tight Adam and God were. And that was the first step to disobedience and sin. And Adam bit. Literally and figuratively.

What happened was that first off, Adam and Eve killed off a major part of themselves spiritually. God intended us to be spiritual beings, even though we were clothed in bodies. That spiritual death was a major blow to humanity because it meant a fundamental separation from God. We also opened the door to illness and pain and all kinds of suffering, which pleased Satan to no end, since he hated us from the moment God told him He was going to create us.

The reason, I believe, for the initially long lifespans, even with illness and death coming into play, was that despite death entering into Adam’s existence, he was still close enough to his original spiritual self to have a hardy body and a long lifespan. It is the subsequent generations that brought a progressive weakening of that reserve and a steady descent into being almost wholly beings of the flesh, with only the barest smattering of our spiritual selves left. Note also that, the men of the Old Testament who were the more direct descendants of Adam also had their first children at advanced ages, often after they had lived a century or more. The biology of humanity was a very different thing then, clearly, and probably closer to God’s original intentions. After the Great Flood (which may end up being part 2 of this series), lifespans took a major nosedive, but let’s also remember how sinful and degraded that generation was. So even though Noah was righteous, the human gene pool was pretty polluted by sin and what there was to work with wasn’t all that great.

Now, you might say, “Oh, Deke, you must also be one of those folks who thinks the Earth is 7,000 years old and shit.” Nope. I don’t believe that at all. I think Adam was created quite a bit more than 7,000 years ago. I won’t get into all of that too much in this installment, but those folks who lived so long, even in the generations immediately following the flood, were long before the recorded civilizations like the Babylonians or Egyptians or anyone else of the region. From what I understand, Jewish genealogies are sometimes “abbreviated” for the sake of convenience, with the lesser or insignificant generations excluded. And even if that hasn’t been the case in recent millennia, I think it was for the genealogies in the Bible. Quite a few more generations existed that the Bible tells us of in my humble opinion. I suspect Adam goes way back to Homo Erectus or Cro Magnon times or somewhere in that epochal neighborhood. We’ve had a long time for Adam’s blood and Eve’s to help build humanity, and also a long time for the deadly nature of that fruit to worm its way fully into our biology.

The fruit has fallen far from the tree, as it were.

Who picked this stuff out?

So, there were a lot of letters from apostles floating around in the days of the early Christian church, but there wasn’t general agreement as to which ones were the actual canon of Christianity until around the middle of the second century—and it still wasn’t “official” even then. So, based on that alone, why do we accept the current books of the Bible as being the “right” ones? Couldn’t it just have been a bunch of guys in a religious old boy’s network screwing with us to promote their own power and their own ends? Why should we trust that they picked out the right books to put into what would eventually come to be called the Bible?

Well, here are a few reasons that I think are good ones.

First, let’s handle the Old Testament. Aside from some reordering of certain books and the addition of a couple in the Catholic version of the Bible, the Old Testament is pretty much the Jewish Bible, or Tanakh. Now, there are some things in there that I don’t take 100% literally (I’ll get around to starting my Old Testament series soon), but as far as being the inspired Word of God, I have to accept those books because that’s what Jesus taught from. If it was good enough for Christ, it’s good enough for me, and for the most part early Church leaders didn’t muck around with it, so as far as I’m concerned, it stands strong.

But what about the New Testament? Folks point out rightly that the epistles in there (the letters written to various cities and groups by apostles and others who were setting the foundation for the church) certainly weren’t the only letters out there by church leaders. How can we know that they ones that were picked were the right ones? Folks say it was inspiration from God, but anyone can say that. In general, I think that with opinions flowing and changing, the fact that certain letters stood out and were widely accepted by the mid-second century is probably a pretty good indicator of their resonance and staying power, and thus their inspired nature.

As for the gospels, why only the four “synoptic” gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and none of the others, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Mary? or the Gospel of Binky the Elder, for that matter?

Well, Judas didn’t write the Gospel of Judas—so there’s a big ding right there—and the document seems to be no older than the second century, which puts it well after Jesus’ death, unlike the synoptic ones that have origins much closer to Jesus’ lifetime, written by people who knew Jesus. Basically, it’s a work of fiction in the Gnostic tradition to recast Judas and his role. It might be interesting, but it’s ultimately no different than historical fiction that authors write today. It cannot be trusted.

As for the Gospel of Mary, it isn’t even clear which Mary (Mary Magdalene or Jesus’ mother) is the supposed author. Also, even if it is accurate (and the oldest surviving copy is missing several pages, so there’s no way to figure out what it was supposed to say in its entirety, unlike the synoptic gospels, which have hundreds of copies in multiples languages that can be compared and contrasted to ensure the whole story is there). Besides, this “gospel” isn’t focused on the teachings and life of the adult Jesus, and thus really isn’t a gospel at all. Again, interesting reading, and perhaps not fiction, but also not suitable for advancing the great commission.

As for the Gospel of Thomas, it’s not clear enough whether it was written anywhere near as close to Jesus’ lifetime as were the synoptic gospels, nor whether it was actually penned by the apostle Thomas. The stark ways in which is departs from the synoptic gospels in terms of philosophy and theology make it too likely to have been a heretical work and not something truly in the spirit of God’s new covenant with humans.

In general, though, looking at the whole Bible, what strikes me is this: In at least three gatherings of big muckity-mucks of the church in the years 393, 397 and 419, they all agreed to keep the books in the Bible as they were, which mirrored an Easter letter in 367 by the Bishop of Alexandria that listed the books of the Bible that should be considered canon. So, why don’t I hold to the old boy’s network conspiracy theory, even though it was an old boy’s network meeting each time? Because if I were among a bunch of guys and we were trying to figure out how to control people through religion, I would probably be trying to slip in some newer stuff (Hell, it worked for John Smith when he invented what would become the Mormon church and bilked everyone into believing his ridiculous new gospel of Jesus).

I mean, really. The general population way back then, the rank-and-file believers—they weren’t educated, and they don’t know how to read. So, if you’re the church leaders, why not declare that some of your writings, or those of earlier church leaders whom you agree with, are divinely inspired? Who’s going to challenge you on this? No one. And presto!…the Bible becomes your tool of control and propaganda. All you have to do is find some good stuff that someone else had already written, or write your own stuff (sufficiently in line with established doctrine so as to not be suspect, but spun to suit your needs) and make it canon.

The fact that they didn’t suggests to me that they were trying very hard to make sure they chose writings that were from divinely inspired people who lived during the time that Jesus was alive. Yes, a lot of these bishops and popes and shit from those old days were bastards. A lot of them were power-hungry, greedy, deviant freaks. But not all of them. And clearly, even those that did have personal agendas drew the line at messing with God’s word, which at least says their religious and spiritual aims were on target (in this case, at least), if not their worldly activities and goals.