Thursday, October 26, 2006

Reader's Diary #176- Holy Bible: Numbers (up to Chapter 13)

No, I'm not slowly becoming the Christian Book Mine Set.

As part of my ongoing struggle to read through the Bible one book at a time, I find myself here, 4 books in, at the appropriately named Numbers.

Numbers deals primarily with a series of censuses that God asked Moses to do of the Israelites.

Again, as a novel, Numbers works and doesn't work. In terms of characters again, we get a little more insight into Moses. He might have been a prophet, but there are plenty of reminders that he is still human afterall. We see him break momentarily under the weight of the challenge of being a leader, and saying to God, "If you are going to treat me like this, have pity on me and kill me" (from the Good News Bible).

Yet, in terms of story-telling, Numbers falls flat. Yes, the basic plot continues on with the travels of the Israelites, but again we get bogged down with details; mostly, figures from Moses' censuses, but also more details of how the Levites were to take care of the worshipping tents, altars and the Ark of the Covenant (which at this point is reminding me of the SNL sketch regarding Al Gore's "Lock Box").

But as a religious text, it's perfect. While many knock the Bible for being hypocritical and too open to interpretation, it's that last point that makes it a great book to build a religion around. As a teacher, I always try to get my students to think critically. I think that's as important for religions as anything else. If the Bible was crystal clear, and people just had to follow the guidelines like sheep, then I'd have an issue with it (just as I have an issue with some churches that take all the thinking out of the equation and interpret for the people). Yes, God comes across as vengeful and even petty in the Old Testament, and through the words of Jesus in the New Testament, He is apparently full of love and forgiving. The Bible isn't always consistent, it's filled with pages upon pages of minute details, and plenty of things which seem contradictory to today's science and values- does that make it a terrible book? Not in my opinion. If people want to use the Bible, they need to work through it themselves, decide what they believe as truth or fiction, literal or figurative, important or insignificant. I'm not saying clergymen can't help people, I'm simply saying they can't do it for people. In the end, if and when people do have faith, it should truly be theirs and actually mean something.

...climbing down from my soapbox...


Barbara Bruederlin said...

You made some good points up there on that soap box though. Do you suppose that was the intent of the authors or did things just get interperated and translated that way over the centuries?

Christina said...

Nice post, John.

Faith is a very personal thing, for sure, and nobody can work it out for anyone else; just like any other relationship. You wouldn't want someone else to interpret and experience your marriage for you.

Kudos, for sure, for tacklingNumbers. Not an easy read, by any stretch of the imagination. Trust me, it gets easier to read! :) Just wait 'til you get to the next couple of books; good stuff!

John Mutford said...

Barbara, no doubt some things dod get lost or altered during translations. Was it all part of the original intent? I have NO idea.

Christina, Thanks! I'll feel better when I get to the end of Deuteronomy though. Just getting through the pentateuch will give me the encouragement to keep going, that I might actually make it to the end.