Week 1 – Bible and Literature
In the first week we think about the Bible, our Scriptures, the book of God, without which we would know so little about Jesus.
We think about its richness and variety – it is not really one book at all, but 66 documents gathered into sections, with two main sections, what we call the Old and New Testaments.
It is full of stories, narratives, poetry, drama, characters, instructions, challenges, images, but sometimes we make it dull and flat.
Good Christians all rejoice
Friday 1.5 A library of Treasures of different kinds
The Ancient Near East had “myths” – stories, profound stories, which said something about the meaning of the life, or the emergence of evil, or why the world is as it is and how it got like this.
We find stories of how the world was created, in many cultures; many cultures too have a great flood story; we may have learnt the Greek Myths when at school, stories about Narcissus, or Oedipus which say something about human frailty and fate; stories like Persephone in the Underworld which suggests why we have seasons of growth and seasons when there is no fruit.
Genesis begins by telling its own version of some of the great myths of the time – About a God who created the world, orderly and beautiful and good; none of the wrestling with monsters that we find in other Creation myths; stories about God creating humans, made in his image, given a world, different from animals, and then a further story to explain why this beautiful vision is no longer reality; the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent is a fascinating and complex myth – but read it again and you will see it does not mention “sin” once. The story causes an estrangement, it leads to shame and the humans hiding from God and it leads to them being banished from the Garden.
And when we read the Flood story in Genesis we find God undoing Creation almost completely, as the waters rise they obliterate all that was formed in Genesis 1. In the middle of the story there is a line – “God remembered Noah” (8:1), and as the waters recede, God commits to this world he has made despite the sin and wrong-doing on it.
This is so different from the surrounding myths, where the various gods are squabbling or because the noise of humans is disturbing the gods in heaven. The God who is sketched in these opening stories is a holy, transcendent God, who can create by his Word, who is supreme and in control. There is one God not a whole squabbling group of gods.
Today we have competing views about the world – scientism argues that the world is simply the result of a Big Bang- no god needed or involved; some plunder the resources of the planet, some are frustrated by the ethical restrictions on genetic research and modification.
Whether we believe the world was made by God or not matters.
Poetry to be heard
Much of the Bible is written in poetry, and some was clearly written to be sung.
After the Exodus, there is a short song by Miriam, Moses’ sister, and a longer song sung by the people (Ex ch 15). David is famous for his psalms – many sung with musical accompaniment – the lyre, but also, timbrel, drums, trumpets, cymbals etc. Sad tunes for psalms of lament and noisy joyful music for the psalms of praise.
“O be joyful in the Lord, all you lands ..”
“Praise him on the loud cymbals”
Most of the prophets spoke in verse, or at least what they said is recorded in verse, not rhyming but in the rhythms of the day, a bit like Shakespeare wrote in verse.
What would the people have made of these prophets declaiming loudly words of challenge, of hope, or lament or of doom?
The Proverbs are mostly in two line poetic form, though there is a longer poem to Wisdom that takes up much of the first 9 chapters.
If you love poetry why not spend time with the poems of the Bible.
And if you want a real surprise, read the Song of Songs, which is a luxuriant, erotic, suggestive and earthy set of love songs between a young man and a young woman – with an underlying message “do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready”.
We read our Bible but originally it was more heard than read.
At Christmas the shepherds hear the angels; the crowds come out to hear Jesus teach; Paul’s letters were read aloud in the house-churches when the people gathered.
Try listening to a Bible passage, get an audio recording but listen to engage to get involved to feel a part of it – then it will come alive or prompt new thoughts.
Dive into the Creation Stories, dip into the poems, hear the sound of these varied texts, and explore what (else) they mean.