The Broken Bible

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is executed on the Day of Preparation for Passover. As lambs went to the slaughter so Jesus went to the Cross. In Mark, he was executed on Passover. Fundamentalists have contorted their minds over this for centuries; all have convinced themselves that no error has been made, and no inconsistency presents itself. Well.

Obviously there is a problem here, but only if you view the Gospels--the entire library of the Bible, really--as history, as recorded moments, verifiable through archaeology, and historical accounts. Something else seems to be going on in the Bible, but here we are in the 21st century and Christians still feel timorous discussing the possibility that the Bible is not history, and that many things contained within it simply did not happen.

These fundamentalists fear that if people knew of the discrepancies held within the pages of the Bible, that people would run hither and yon, away from the preachings of the Good Book. What they fail to grasp is that people are running away due to the anti-intellectualism, the fervent holding on to a truth that is a lie, that this book contains errors and inconsistencies. If you show a child an amphora and tell that child that this is a magical jar which when rubbed will jettison a genie who will then grant three wishes, that child may well believe you, if young enough. But eventually life will show that child that jars do not jettison genies; indeed, life will show the child that genies do not exist. That child will no longer believe in genies. More, that child will no longer believe him or her who told them that genies exist. The child will toss that jar against a rock and smile as it shatters.

Belief in the Bible as God’s letter to mankind, as our little instruction book of life, eventually becomes, as the child’s jar, shattered. It is this way of thinking that makes the Bible fragile; in an of itself it is anything but.

But it need not be.

What if instead of a completely error-free book, a book written by God Himself, we are given a book that artfully shows us what a people believed concerning their world, their God? Of how they saw the universe? What if instead of a diary we are shown a literature?

The writer of the Gospel of John (almost certainly not John the disciple, just to shatter another amphora) wishes for us to share his belief that Jesus is the very Lamb of God gone to the sacrificial slaughter. We don’t expect it to be a literal transcription of events, if we read it correctly. We expect it to be art, and so convey a higher truth, a truth higher than mere journalistic entries might suggest.

Mark too, is written this way. So too Matthew and Luke, Acts, and the letters of Paul, Peter, etc. Genesis, Job, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, and many others even those that almost made it (Shepherd of Hermas, Didache, Apocalypse of Peter) into the canon, are also made in this same artful manner. When read as literature, when read as if written by poets, they can be seen as among the greatest works of art ever created by mankind--a Christian and Jew (as regards the OT, Mishnah, Talmud) would say the greatest.

When read this way people marvel at it all, in the way that they marvel that a genius such as Shakespeare ever existed, or Cervantes, or Chaucer, or Karamazov, or Tolstoi. Where did that genius come from? How can we ever understand it? When read as history, it becomes acidic, even hateful in parts. It is how the Muslim extremists read the Koran. How White Supremacists read the Bible. Fundamentalists of all stripes tear mystical holiness into the shreds of a simple-minded literal correspondence between this and the other; they lack any sense of doubt, uncertainty, mystery.

Put down the Bible of the fundamentalists, the Bible of dates and times and records and gift it to the dustbin of history. But then pick up the Bible of miracles--not the miracles of a magic God, not the miracles of blindness cured, water to wine, dead men brought to life; pick up the Bible of miraculous art, that shows us with an unknowable genius that this world holds a great and terrible beauty, and holds it within a vessel artfully made.


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