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
Monday 1.1 The Book that bursts open
How dull is a book which has too many pages and words – and, let’s be honest, our Bibles look dull. They sit on a shelf.
But what if – within the covers – we were to be told there is a rich adventure – like a diver discovering treasures, new things, openings to go through.
Or what if we were allowed to read it in “colour”.
There are 66 books in our Bible. There are 39 books in the Old Testament Section and 27 in the New Testament.
And they are very different.
First up, we need to remember that the Hebrew way of thinking is with story more than with logic. The Greeks got into philosophy and argument and logic and we find St Paul sometimes using this approach, but the Jews explored truth or what is true in narrative or story.
And second up therefore we need to let go of our modern way of doing history as a factual investigation. The Hebrew “histories” were written to inform the readers about God; they are selective and written to challenge us now more than to educate us about the past. The past is important in as much as it teaches us about God’s faithfulness or holiness or justice
And third up therefore we should expect to engage with the stories not just plough through them. We should think and feel with the main characters and not always take things too seriously.
There are short vivid stories, like Ruth and Jonah and Esther.
There is love-poetry in what we call the “Song of Songs” and it is very raunchy when you look at the language and metaphor.
There are instructions on living, both the “Law” like the 10 Commandments or Leviticus, and the “Proverbs” which have a very different feel.
We don’t know a whole lot about the prophets but we have long works which are under the names of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and then shorter books like Habakkuk or Amos, or Zephaniah.
We have the stories of Abraham, his children and grandchildren through much of Genesis, which take 40 chapters after 10 chapters exploring why the world is how it is in big powerful stories.
And then there is a time-gap and we move to Moses and the Hebrews escaping from Egypt, and this story is uninterrupted until the end of the Books of Kings when everything has gone wrong.
Some characters get a lot of chapters like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel or David. Most of the books are by men and about men – that was the culture then, and they are written into and from their cultures, but there are some remarkable women, the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, Miriam, Deborah, Abigail, Huldah, possibly women we haven’t heard of.
If you start scuba-diving, go diving on a reef, it is helpful to have a guide who can both show you things and also show you how to find things. When we visit a new place, it is great to have someone to show us things which we might otherwise miss and help us understand things which we might otherwise get confused about or even get wrong.
Sometimes we are not sure who to ask, or whether we should ask, and we muddle along, not really understanding what we have heard or seen, missing out on so much.
As children we were brought up – possibly – to see people as goodies or baddies, but most of the main characters in our Bible are more nuanced. They are sketched as complex, with faults and strengths. The writers do not hide the failings; these are no plaster saints, but complex people, sketched carefully, but we get to know them mostly by their actions; we are not let into their thoughts as we would be in a modern novel.
In Genesis the “soap opera” of Abraham’s family includes struggles between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers against brothers. Mostly the writer does not actually make judgement but leaves us to assess what has happened; and often we will find there is a deeper level or several levels of meaning each rather different.
Pick it up and read a story and remind yourself what it is like!