Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who Wrote the Bible

I can’t really answer the question that is the title of this blog. This is actually a book review/summary. If you are curious about that question, this is a great source. It summarizes the work that has been done on this question since Joseph ben Eliezer Bonfils first asked, if Moses wrote the torah how did he write of his own death. And if it was written in his time, why would he say, “and so it has been to this day”? That sounds like someone writing about the distant past. And it explains why there are two creation stories. I get so tired of people pointing that out.

You can get most of this information by googling “Documentary Hypothesis” or “J,E,D,P”, those are the letters assigned to the four distinct styles of writing. Most interesting in this book is the introduction of the writer “R”, the redactor. He combined the earlier 4 and did his best to make them a coherent history.

If you want the traditional answers to who wrote what, there are plenty of websites for that too, and of course there is Timothy 3:16 that says the Bible is “god breathed”. Some have taken that to mean the entire Bible, every word, is perfect and inerrant and has survived all of the translations to come to you directly from the Almighty. A little further down the spectrum, some say it means God inspired the writers and imperfect humans since then have introduced some errors.

We will probably never know how people 2,400 years ago responded to the Bible that Ezra brought to Jerusalem from his exile in Babylon. Would they have been comfortable with two creation stories, two sets of the commandments, a God that wreaks vengeance and is merciful, mixed up stories of Noah and Goliath? By time it got that way, the kingdom of Israel had already risen and fallen and been conquered by Assyrians then Babylonians, so whatever records there were, were already lost. Story telling was holding the community together, then this new idea of writing down history came to be accepted.

This book only covers the Old Testament, and not even all of that. The New Testament is barely mentioned and the story of how the Christian Bible was canonized is more about politics than history. What I found most interesting about this book was the tracing of how people related to writing through the ages, including the last few hundred years as we have unraveled this mystery.

I should mention that this is a Christian book. The study known as “textual criticism” has been done by Christian scholars. Friedman does not question the facts of the stories of Moses or Joshua or even Abraham. He starts in the time when scribes already had collections of these stories and were copying them. He does not discuss scientific facts like the age of the earth or whether or not Noah’s flood actually happened. He assumes there was a time when these stories were passed on orally and they eventually came to be written down. On two or three occasions, he mentions in passing that these stories ultimately come from God, but he does not spend any more time on this and it does not detract from the interesting history, regardless of your religious bent.

By the time that we can start to identify who the scribes were, or at least what community they came from, there were already multiple versions of the foundational stories. In the Bible, and in other writings, there are references to existing libraries that have not yet been discovered, and may be gone forever. We can only speculate how people related to these early libraries, and how the stories changed during the time of the oral traditions. According to the scholars of the Documentary Hypothesis, we can find two distinct voices in the early chapters of Genesis, from two kingdoms that resulted from division of the one that David brought together. This tells us these authors were distinguishing their communities by creating unique versions of the stories that came from their shared ancestry.

Ancestry was important to these people. The author who claimed to be a descendant of Moses would highlight him and make commentary on the descendants of Aaron by making Aaron look bad in the story. The Aaronid descendants would do the opposite. When Kings or priests wanted to create new laws that benefited them, they would write new stories, but weave them into the old stories and demonstrate how these new ideas were predicted or anticipated by the ancestors.

This might have unintended consequences, as a promise from God that the sons of David would rule forever seemed to be broken when first the Northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians and later the Southern kingdom fell when King Josiah was killed by the Egyptians. To explain this, new authors returned to old writings and found the conditional promises made to Moses. God’s promise still held, but the people had failed to uphold the law, so they would have to wait for a future descendant to return to the throne, a messiah.

At this point, there is no “Bible”, only a bunch 0f separate scriptures.
With the kingdoms in ruins it gets even more difficult to trace the writings until, under Babylonian rule, Ezra arrives in Jerusalem with all of these stories and more combined into one “book”. With growing influence from Greece, the idea of writing as a way to preserve history had worked its way in and this book was accepted as just that. Copying, adding and translating continued and with the decline of the empires of that time even more was lost. The differences of the 12 tribes were no longer passed on culturally. There was just one version of Jewish history.

Many centuries later, with the invention of the printing press, the Bible became more widely read and with the Protestant Reformation, asking theological questions became safer. When investigations like this start however, it is not known how they will turn out. What if whole sections of the Bible were found to be forgeries? Could it be shown that the Bible was not “God breathed”? Picking apart scripture was seen as blasphemy by some.

Textual criticism was one of the primary motivations for the fundamentalist movement. Believing in miracles has always been a problem. All of the prophets chided their people for not having faith. Now historians and scientists were creating more reasons for doubt and they might even prove that previous miracles never happened. Christians had to decide what it meant to be Christian. Believing the miracles and believing the stories really happened, no matter what anybody else says, was going to be the definition. Again the consequences of this were unintended. It is doubtful that anyone predicted or wanted a Christianity that focused on one or two issues like abortion or gay rights.

As it turned out, Christianity has survived a tremendous amount of being picked apart. Questioning and discussing scripture has always been a Jewish tradition, so it has also fared well. Many now consider the Bible a mix of history and symbolism, which may be a return to how it was viewed before Ezra. Preachers and writers continue to attempt to use the old stories to legitimate their actions and predict the future, but with peer review and the elite class of scribes being replaced by a legion of bloggers, that is a difficult sell. Although they can find a national stage, those who make truth claims based on the Bible also receive national ridicule.

As Friedman points out, by combining these different authors, we ended up with a book that reflects the world we experience. Sometimes rules must be obeyed and justice is swift, other times they can be bent, authority can be wrestled with, and sometimes transgression is met with mercy. By honoring all of the traditions, even though the story is sometimes confused and contradictory, it came to be accepted as one coherent tradition.

Parents have to decide between justice or mercy every day and as nations we have to continue a similar debate. Religion is declining in some ways and in some places and growing in others. Any predictions of its future are tenuous. The discussion of when or whom we shalt kill, what we should eat and what goods we shall covet is obviously a long way from over.

Note ** Since this book was published, more archaeology has been done and more textual hypotheses have been introduced. As quoted in wikipedia, sorting them out is “not for the faint of heart.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thoughts on being accomodating

This is a great speech, actually 4 speeches. If you really have time on your hands listen to the whole hour. It covers some of the most important issues that any movement should know, or anyone wanting to forward an idea of any kind. Some of you may be familiar with the speakers, or at least one of them and be immediately turned off by it. Richard Dawkins wrote The God Delusion and speaks out often against religion. But here he talks about why it is important to take the tone that he does and why it is important to draw a line of decency.

In the segment preceding this one, Tom Melchiorre, talks about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and how their works complimented each other. How the civil rights movement might have benefitted more from having both of them active rather than just one. Hopefully that intrigues you enough to watch that clip. He may be a little off in his historical analysis, but it still makes a good point.

If you dislike both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X then I don’t know what anybody can offer you. For me each had something to offer, both in what they actually did and through the stories of who they were. I was neither a drug dealer in Harlem nor a seminary student who just wanted a nice quiet ministry in the South so I can’t relate to the youth of either of these men. I can understand how each used those early experiences and took major turns in their life. They both saw the same problems but approached them very differently. Much of the discussion about the civil rights movement at the time was about their approach. Both publicly stated that they didn’t like the other.

If you liked either of those parts of this 5 part series, you might like to dial back to part one and hear Rebecca Watson talk about differences among people in a movement. Rebecca isn’t nearly as famous as Richard Dawkins, but she does merit a lengthy Wikipedia entry. She talks about setting some standards of behavior and ethics when anyone gathers to discuss atheism. Atheism has a bit of a problem in that first the word starts with the prefix “a” meaning “not”, so it isn’t “for” anything. Also, one of the big problems people have with atheism is that they believe it implies you have to no basis for morality.

It is true that there is no official website of atheism that lists rules of any kind. Many people don’t like to be associated with it as a movement even if they don’t believe in God, or Allah or any other god. There are conventions, blogs, newsletters, books and podcasts, but no official hierarchy and there probably never will be. Like civil rights, gay rights and women’s suffrage, organizing will be ad-hoc and someday it will not be needed at all. Some who are organizing believe it is also important to discuss standards and I agree some standards might help the movement. As Rebecca has noted, it would help if more women came to the atheist meetings or joined the secularist or humanist groups, so if they do, show them some respect.

This probably seems fairly simple but apparently some of the people in the audience didn’t get it. Later that night Rebecca was talking with several people, mostly men, in the bar of the hotel where the convention was and at 3:00 in the morning as she went off to bed, one of the men, who had hardly talked to her at all, followed her into the elevator and while they were alone, invited her to his room “for coffee”. Rebecca commented negatively about this in her blog, Dawkins commented negatively about her and you can now get a ton of Google hits on “Rebecca Watson elevator”. It is part of her Wiki page. I hope that is temporary.

I happen to agree with Rebecca and I wish I had heard her advice when I was 17. However I won’t be joining her in boycotting Richard’s book. I won’t dwell on any of that. The point is, in any organization, movement or when 2 or more are gathered for some purpose, disagreements on violations of basic standards can quickly sabotage the purpose. This YouTube post proves my point. It is a great presentation by some of the best in the movement, and it has not been viewed much. Look at the comments, and you’ll see a lot of them are about the elevator incident.

I’m not advocating taking any particular tone or suggesting any one side or segment of any population needs to be more accommodating than they currently are. For the moment, I’m pointing out that the path is difficult. There is no one set of standards in any book anywhere that will prevent all conflict, so maybe spending time arguing about what those standards might be is not terribly fruitful.

The discussion of religion, atheism, education, indoctrination, creation, evolution, global warming, ethics, birth control, prayer, women’s roles, abortion, money and love is a difficult one. I say “one” because all of those things get mixed up into one conversation. We all need to take responsibility for moving it forward.

There is one rule, known as “The Golden Rule” to Christians, and known to many other traditions under different names that is a good place to start. Some versions of it state more explicitly that understanding what the other person wants is an important part of the rule. There are plenty of other resources about how to be a nice person, so I’ll just leave it at that and hope you enjoy the links.

I will leave you with a quote from someone who has been much more successful at navigating the road or difficult political topics than I have. Dominique de Villepin was Prime Minister of France from 2005-2007.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Deep Space Nine Spirituality

There are ample sites that summarize Star Trek episodes, so I won’t repeat the entire story here, but there is part of one that I see differently than anything I have found out there. The episode I am speaking of is the 2 hour pilot of the Deep Space Nine series. This series was a significant break from other Star Treks. For one, it was a space station instead of a ship. It also focused more on politics and religion.

The opening scene a flashback to an important point in the history of Star Trek. Long time fans will recognize the battle at Wolf 359. But if you aren’t familiar with it, the figure of Locutus of Borg, staring at Benjamin Sisko with his red eye conveys the idea of looking into the face of evil. What we need to know for this story is that this is where Sisko’s wife, Jennifer, died.

When then return to the present time for this series as Sisko is taking his first tour of the Deep Space Nine space station. He encounters a Bajoran priest, the priest says, “Welcome, the prophets await you.” In a bit of foreshadowing, Sisko answers “Another time.” A few hours later, the Bajoran attaché introduces Sisko to her religion and tells Sisko that their spiritual leader, Kai Opaka could help unify their people, but she rarely sees anyone. Just then the priest returns and says, “it is time.” He is taken immediately to meet the Kai.

Sisko learns more of their religion and is told that his destiny is to find the Celestial Temple. This kind of thing is pretty common for commanders in the Star Trek series and they usually don’t like it. Sisko is no different, but in this case he is given a vision. Not just a vision, but he fully experiences being back on a beach when he first met Jennifer. The vision comes via a large crystal they call the Tear of the Prophet. Kai Opaka gives Sisko cryptic advice like “I cannot give you what you deny yourself” and “Look for solutions within.” She sends him back to the station with the crystal.

An old friend of Sisko’s, Jadzia Dax, joins the team and applying the power of the United Federation of Planets, immediately finds answers about the crystals. In short order, they head into space and a wormhole opens up in front of them. Not just any wormhole, the first ever stable worm hole. They are pulled into it and they “land” in it, which should not be possible. It probes them and sends Dax back to DS9.

This is where it gets interesting. For those of you who don’t read physics books as a hobby, a wormhole is a theoretical structure in space. For most of human history we have thought of the heavens as something above us. Within the last few hundred years, we have seen that as bigger and bigger, but always as basically a straight line away from us. Very recently, we began to understand that space and time are curved. I don’t really know what that means, but it allows for the possibility that there could be pathways that take shortcuts around those curves, a hole that drops out of normal space/time and takes you somewhere very far away. Science fiction writers love to play with this stuff.

Sisko is left standing on a rocky surface that he knows can’t be real so he just starts shouting, looking for answers. He starts to see what look like familiar faces, but they are talking about him amongst themselves, trying to decide if Sisko is worth interacting with. He manages to engage them but they want to be convinced that he is not a threat. They are non-corporeal and any corporeal being destabilizes their existence.

He uses terms like “experiences”, “memories”, “my past” when trying to explain that he is not a threat. They appear to not understand these terms but talk of living only in the present. Sisko tries to explain that, for him, the future doesn’t exist, that his existence is “linear”.

They show him that his wife Jennifer, is part of his current existence and Sisko argues that she “was”. They say this is inconceivable and act suspicious of him. Their actions are also suspicious although Sisko only expresses confusion. They seem aware of so much, even able to read his thoughts, but their first question is, “what is this ‘time’ that you speak of.” They don’t acknowledge that they know of the vision he has already had or what Kai Opaka said so we don’t know for sure what they know. They are no doubt what the Bajorans call the Prophets, but they don’t call themselves that.

In an attempt to explain himself, Sisko realizes how time is required for logic. He tries to explain how one day shapes another. How pleasure and happiness depend on this. They can see his thoughts and keep coming back to the day he lost his wife and refuse to accept that this is in his past. He is unable to explain “loss”.

They show him a pleasant memory of his wife, it is a sweet proposal, they are planning their future together, then return to the chaos and death at Wolf 359 and say “this is your existence”. They ask why this is difficult. He says he doesn’t want to be there, but they keep saying that he exists there. They ask why, if we can understand consequences, why can we not predict them.

Sisko uses the analogy of a baseball game to explain his linear world. He starts to explain the rules, but realizing that won’t help much, focuses on how each player studies the possible moves of every other player but they don’t know what will happen with each pitch. We use our knowledge of the past to predict outcomes but we enjoy not knowing what will happen in the future. Sisko says, “The game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.” And they ask with surprise, “You value your ignorance of what is to come?!” Sisko explains that is what makes us human, we are explorers. He says, "That may be the most important thing to understand about humans. It is the unknown that defines our existence."

They seem to understand this, and are convinced that Sisko and his linear brethren are not a threat, but they still want to know why he exists at Wolf 359. They bring him there again, and Sisko feels the pain again. He asks for the power to take them somewhere else, but they say that it is he who keeps bringing them back there. One of the Prophets appears to him as the Kai, saying again, “we can’t give what you don’t give yourself”.

Sisko finally starts to breakdown as he explains that he was ready to die at that moment. In a sense, part of him did die. He understands that he never really left that ship. His life has been defined by that moment from then on. The physical death of his wife resulted in a death of his spirit, his will for living. He never let go. His past did not prepare him for that moment. He understands his own non-linearity. He looks around at the faces of the beings and they acknowledge that he now understands them. They understood him all along.

Commander Sisko returns to the station with a renewed sense of life. The wormhole will make this distant outpost one of the most important in the galaxy. He reconciles with Picard and starts planning for the future with his new team.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Banned Questions II

A few more of the questions from the new book, "Banned Questions about the Bible"

What does the Bible really say about homosexuality?

They cover the basics, that the passages that do exist are most likely about rape as a humiliating tool used by militaries, or about ritual acts by other religions. Most important, that Jesus never directly addressed the issue. They note that the word arsenkoitai has disputed translations. All the references that I know of are included. That there are other laws near those references that are not followed today is also mentioned.

Several authors answer this question, giving it the attention it deserves, and they pretty well agree. I give them an A+ for this question.

What are the Apocrypha, the Gnostic Gospels, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, and why are they considered holy or sacred by some and not by others?

An important, but fairly academic question, and it is handled as such. The second answer ends with “we know so little about their theological context and much of their meaning is so obscure, even to knowledgeable scholars, that their introduction into a religious community would be a complicated venture.” I would love to hear a knowledgeable scholar’s response to that. It has a hint of avoiding the question to me.

Doesn’t the Bible condone slavery?

The first two answers are more avoidance behavior, using the “it reflects an era” excuse. And of course it gets better with Jesus and Paul, who says to treat your slaves with dignity. Then Rebecca Bowman Woods does a nice job of first explaining how the interpretation of Ham changed over time and concludes with a reference to Tavis Smiley who has written and spoke extensively about how the Bible does not condone slavery based on skin color. Exodus 21 is not referenced which is a suspicious oversight. That includes a verse that says if you beat a slave and he doesn’t die right away, there is no penalty, since you have already lost some property. I don’t know what Tavis Smiley has to say about that chapter.

Rebecca also says, “The more familiar we are with the Bible and other religious texts, the more difficult it is for cultures and institutions to use Holy Scripture for unholy purposes.” The last one really brings it home when he asks you to look at what you are wearing and think about the conditions of the workers who made your clothes. “Slavery” is a term that includes the broader issue of “oppression”. If you are reading this, you are most likely benefitting from the oppression of others. Jarrod asks why we read scripture, “Do we read to justify the status quo that we benefit from? Or do we read the Bible through the story of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s liberating purposes through [ancient] Israel for all creation?”

I would have added a third choice, do we read it to hear the voices of oppressor and oppressed across time and listen to what those voices say about us? I can no longer read scripture as the fulfillment of a purpose. There are too many definitions of that and many of them are not a purpose I can support. Jarrod at least offers an interpretation I can partner with, although without the “God” part. He says of his second option, “If we choose the latter, we will find ourselves feeding, not killing; liberating, not enslaving. We will become God’s nonviolent army of abolitionists for all who suffer, for all of creation.”

In the suggestions for discussion for this one, there is a good example of how this book teaches without providing a right answer. The question is “Do you think God cares about the equivalent amount of four jumbo jets of people (predominately women and children) that are kidnapped and “trafficked” each day?” That is the type of question that has caused many people to turn away from organized religion or completely away from God. It is difficult to determine the intentions of a book that praises God, but then asks that question. The answers they provide do not qualify as open debate or full disclosure but to ask that question and not follow it up with a lame statement about how we can’t know God or that he is slowly revealing his plan is commendable.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Banned Questions

I came across this book recently. It came out earlier this year. It presents many of the liberal interpretations that I have discussed in an easy to digest Q & A format. A free preview is available. I link to that and then review those questions.

Can I be a Christian if I don’t believe the Bible is perfect, handed down directly from God to humanity without error?

Craig Detweiler begins the book with the first answer to this first question with a series of non sequiturs about science, ending with “Surely the Bible operates on an entirely different plane and claim to authority.” I could discuss how we make claims to authority, but I would be wasting my breath because Craig, and I suspect most of the other answers in this book will always try to slip out of that discussion and simply state the Bible is different. Instead of “surely” in the above answer, I hear, “I really want there to be answers to things that science has not yet provided, so I hope the Bible might have them.”

He makes an analogy to love. Love is real and profound, but not definable. Being able to define love is not as important as practicing it. The Bible talks about love and gives us examples of practicing it. Beautiful. I wouldn’t argue with that. It does nothing to answer the implied question of this book; Why follow Jesus? I expect that will be a theme throughout this book.

Skimming through the rest of it, I see something else I expect to be recurring, a very brief mention of some scripture that is worth exploring in depth. That is not a criticism. The book is intended to be taken in short bits and used as a study guide, ideally in a group. The better the facilitator or student, the more they will get out of it. In this answer, Craig says, Jesus “gave little time or attention to those who tried to trap him into semantic arguments about obscure interpretations of the Torah.” That little statement has a lot of interesting scripture behind it. Mark 1:21-28 is listed in scriptural references that come at the end of each set of answers, but I’m not sure it is referring to this. Mark 2:27 would be a better choice. The point is, as with any Bible study, it is best done in a group. With the right people, you could spend many fascinating hours working through each of these answers.

The next answer draws the line that will keep this book out of many churches, “inerrancy… is not a requirement for salvation.” Amen Jason Boyett! He puts the Bible in historical context, a time when they wouldn’t have thought much about chronological or scientific errors. And points out that the discussion of inerrancy didn’t begin until the Enlightenment era (another one of those sentences worth hours of study). Then he slips in that the Bible is “inspired”. This means almost nothing, in that it still leaves you, the reader, free to interpret as you wish. Since it is a book written by mortal men, that is exactly what you should do anyway.

Next up, Jose F. Morales Jr. lays another wonderfully slippery, meaningless statement on us, “the awesomeness of the Bible is that it points beyond itself.” So, it isn’t the authority, it just points to God, who is the authority. He then gives a brief intro to “salvation”. There are lots of things to read about that, some of them are given in the notes that come after each question. I’ll give you a hint, the Bible is not clear on just how salvation works.

The editor, Christian Piatt, makes his first entry with an important piece of history about Martin Luther. Luther believed that people should not be beholden to the church. Piatt also makes an important point about psychology, “we humans aren’t big fans of letting go of control.” The next answer, by John Toulouse finally touches on where all the fuss comes from, and it is referenced later (Timothy 3:15-16). He then promptly dismisses it. The recommendations for further reading are excellent, and will be helpful if you are looking for an approach to Christianity that is comforting and semi-compatible to the modern mind. They will do very little to comfort or convince someone who does believe in inerrancy.

John Toulouse goes on to talk about how the Bible can still inspire us today, that it is a living text. This is a theological way of saying that you can read this book and apply its meaning to the world you know today. Theologically, this means God is inspiring us today. In modern terms, it’s a book, some books are inspiring. The next answer, by Becky Garrison, says it a little better. The Bible uses metaphors, symbols, poetry and literary devices. You need to be able to recognize those and sometimes know what a symbol meant 2,000 years ago to even get started with an interpretation of it.

The last entry, by Jim L. Robinson, opens up many more questions, some of them addressed later. Jim explains how the so-called “errors” could be in our “presuppositions about the texts”. Throughout history, some people “got” God and some of those writings were preserved. Scriptures contain truth, but God didn’t dictate it. My questions are, how do we know that the right words were preserved? What about all the translations? We have found books from that time that didn’t get in the Bible, was this a purposeful omission, or should we be doing the same evaluating that our ancestors did, and add these to the canon? Is it just a really old book and have we lost some its meaning to history? Given things were said by Presidents, Prime Ministers, Priests, Gurus, Kings and CEO’s just yesterday that we aren’t sure how to interpret, I think the answer to that last question is obvious.

My Answer: Yes. You can call yourself a Christian for many reasons.

If you want to join a church, they will ask you to participate in a ceremony that probably involves you saying that you give your heart, mind and/or soul to Christ. There also might be some statements about what you believe. There are a few churches that won’t do this. It doesn’t really matter. No matter what you believe, most people who call themselves “Christian” will say you are not a “true Christian”. If you are reading this book or this blog with an open mind, you are probably a “liberal Christian”, which indisputably puts you in a minority. If you are reading and sure it is blasphemy, you are probably a “conservative Christian”, a much louder minority, but still a minority. The middle ground is not that big either and very difficult to define. It is populated with a variety of denominations that don’t agree.

This goes for everybody, even if you are the Pope. The Pope is taking a lot of heat right now for his part in the child abuse scandals. Even many Catholics don’t think of him as a “true Christian”. If he can’t get the respect of the majority of Christians, who can?

If Adam and Eve were the first (and only) people on Earth, where did their kids’ spouses come from? Did they marry each other? And if everyone on Earth but Noah’s family was killed in a great flood, did Noah’s kids sleep with each other? Isn’t that a sin?

This is some more detail on the inerrancy thing and parts of the answers are similar to that first question. Christian Piatt does some interesting elaborating by discussing the roots of the name “Adam”, being “man” and “earth”, and a common translation for “Eve” being “life”. He also notes that there are many flood myths throughout history. A good thing to know, and something that should lead to more questions.

Then he says, these stories, “address the age-old questions of why bad things happen in the world and how we continue to endure them.” I would like to know what he is talking about. They do not address “why”, only subsequent interpretations say they do that. They say nothing about how to endure bad things, Adam, Eve, Noah and his family are simply commanded to do so. The second answerer seems to agree with me on this, although he doesn’t say much beyond, “don’t take them literally.” I suppose this could be seen as a positive, that the book provides multiple perspectives.

The creation story is a foundation for other stories in the Bible. It is crucial to the cycle of man’s fall from grace that is reconciled through Jesus. It is used to support creationism and anti-homosexuality. A critical examination of this story is important to healing the current conservative/liberal divide in the world of Abrahamic religions. Piatt takes a pass on that. Joseph Campbell, John Shelby Spong and Michael Pollan have all written about it, as well as many others, so there is no excuse for saying so little.

Aren’t women treated poorly throughout the Bible? Why would any intelligent modern woman today even want to read the Bible?

Rebecca Bowman Woods responds by first reiterating the questions she had since when she was eleven about women in the Old Testament. She then doesn’t answer those questions, but says it got better in the New Testament and that there are good stories about women in the Old Testament, although they are sparse. That’s it. That’s her thesis. Becky Garrison doesn’t do much better. Craig Detweiler again exposes some of the worst examples and again says, Jesus made it better. This despite the fact that he just quoted Paul saying women should remain silent. Note, Paul did not start his ministry until after the crucifixion.

Marcia Ford somewhat corrects Craig by noting that women did play important roles in the early church. The scriptural references and notes will help anyone digging for these hard to find passages. Marcia glosses over a couple millennia of history when she says, “While some see the Bible as condoning masculine control, others interpret the biblical perpetuation of patriarchy as a way of working within existing cultural norms.” Studies of the Minoans, Mycenaeans, Sumerians and other early Ancient Near Eastern cultures show women frequently playing more equal roles. One theory is that as war between Mediterranean cultures grew, men asserted their physical power and cultural norms changed. It was about this time that the Torah was written. Another opportunity for exploration that this book misses.

How can a God be all-loving yet allow people to be thrown into hell?

There are two answers given to this question. Jarrod McKenna uses “hell” metaphorically. He says it’s separation from God. God is love, and choosing to separate from that is hell. Jim L. Robinson answers by saying God doesn’t throw anybody anywhere. He gives the best explanation of grace that one could in just one page, then says, “I’m relatively confident that present-day teachings about hell will one day be revealed as human misinterpretation of scripture – either in the writing, the reading, or in both.” I would love to be a fly on the wall in a study group where some of the people are confronting that idea for the first time.

What does “apocalypse” mean, and does the Bible predict one?

Not much to say about this section, except I’m glad that Becky Garrison puts in here that the Left Behind series does not agree with scholars throughout history. All but one of them leave it way too open that Revelations might predict something that could happen. They at least mention other possible interpretations.

More questions