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.