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Friday, April 20, 2007

Is the Bible Literally True? (Part II)

Last post I talked about the mythology sections of the Bible. Another chunk of the Bible deals with histories. Now, this is tricky, too, because oral histories are not the same thing as what we think of as history. We endeavor to record history exactly like we try to bring out facts in a trial, or facts in a newspaper. I don't believe that was always the case. For example, I think Herodotus had a more thematic set of goals that modern historians. But I honestly don't know.

Histories are intended to be read differently that myths. So, for example, the words on the pages of Exodus indicate that the Red Sea parted. The words in Joshua indicate that the Israelites slaughter thousands, not hundreds of people. Now, Judges and Ruth seem to be more about folk tales so I'm not sure where you put them. Likewise, the Bible declares stories of Jesus healing people of disease. Not making them feel better; not just healing their souls.

I should have saved these for last because they are the most challenging for me. I don't know what to do with miracles. Are they examples of where allegory sort of gets mixed into the oral tradition to point to more of a thematic truth? I think that is what happened with the feeding of the five thousand; I think the miracle was that Jesus convinced the greedy to be generous. But you can't do that with healing stories. I am conflicted.


Luke said...

Sometimes I sit in the church library and read The Biblical Archaeology Review. Last week I read an interesting piece about how, over time, archaeological finds have verified details found in Homer's work that were once thought to have only been creative. Examples were things like the types of armor, metals used for making weapons, and etc. The article was saying that these finds seem to indicate that oral history and tradition were able to pass down very specific details over a very long period of time. The piece doesn't claim that Homer's work make up a history, but it argues that accurate history could be passed down through oral tradition before being set to paper. And, of course, it raises the question about what that means for interpretation of the bible.

JimII said...

Yes, its a sort of "on the third hand" point to make. On the one hand, these are intended to be histories of events (cf. myths). On the other hand, they are from an oral tradition that has a different understanding of "historical fact." On the third hand, societies that rely on oral histories can in fact retain a good deal of detail.

Josh Gentry said...

Where do you put Jesus as literal son of God and sacrificial lamb?

JimII said...

I think those phrases carry with them ideas that transcend this categorization. They are the root of Christianity. For example, that believe that Jesus is the Son of God is one reason I'm Christian and not a secular humanist.

There are two less fundamental tenets of faith associated with the ideas you mention, and they are: virgin birth and bodily resurrection.

I need to address them more thoughtfully than I can in a quick reply. But I will address them soon.