25.7.10

The Bible: 5 Things Christians Might Not Know


The Bible has played a significant role to the lives of Christians and other religious communities. It has been used as a basis and guide to ethical and moral way of living. It is also, somehow, used as a proof of God's existence and omnipresence. I remember when I was still a seminarian, I always read the Bible everyday. Each night, before I slept, I opened the Bible to read a verse or two and pondered upon the words, phrases or whichever struck me the most. I also used it during our Bible sharing every Sunday. For more than three years, not a day went by without reading a verse or a book from the Bible. Well, that was 7 years ago. Things have changed...
The Bible is definitely an easy to read "text" but with deep connotations. The great irony of the Bible is that it is at once so familiar and so unknown. In an article from AskMen.com, 5 things were mentioned about the Bible that Christians did not or might not know. These include the multiple versions of creation in the Bible, different accounts of the Gospels and the reason why it is not considered as a book.

1) There are multiple versions of creation in the Bible.

Despite more than a century of creationism-versus-evolution debates, few are aware that there are actually several different accounts of creation scattered throughout the Bible, and they don’t all agree. In the first chapter of Genesis, God starts big, on the cosmic level, then does plants and animals and then culminates with human beings, created in the plural, male and female. In the second chapter of Genesis, which immediately follows, God begins by creating a single human. Then come plants and animals. Then, when no animal fits the bill as lifelong companion (sorry, dogs), God divides the one human into two, male and female.

There are even more creation stories. In Psalm 104 and Job 38, God begins by setting the Earth on foundations in the sea, like a huge oil rig. In Psalm 74, monsters are on the scene: God first slays Leviathan and the sea dragons, monstrous forces of chaos, in order to create the cosmos as a safe, orderly place. In Proverbs 8, God has a divine cohort, Wisdom (Hebrew Hokmah), who says she was there before the work of creation began. These and other biblical visions of beginnings don’t add up to a single, coherent account. The Bible doesn’t seem to have a problem with that.


2) God of Breasts? It's biblical

The Bible uses many different names for God. The most common is the Hebrew Elohim, which is the plural form of the generic word for deity. It’s usually translated “God” but it literally means “gods.” The most common name in the New Testament is the Greek Theos, “God,” from whence we get “theology.” How about “God of Breasts”? You probably haven’t heard that one before, but it’s biblical. The Hebrew is El Shaddai. Translators typically take shaddai, “two breasts,” figuratively as a reference to mountains and translate it “God Almighty.” Interestingly, this name is often used with reference to fertility, as in this blessing from Genesis: “May the God of Breasts bless you, make you fruitful, and multiply your numbers.” (That’s our translation, anyway.)

3) The Bible is not all about God.

In fact, two biblical books never mention God. The first is the book of Esther, a story of Jewish survival in the face of an attempted genocide. The second is the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, which is essentially a collection of erotic love poetry involving a young woman and a young man. Both books were controversial additions to the biblical canon, and one thing that helped them make the cut was reading religion back into them. Thus many interpreters have seen God working behind the scenes and between the lines in the story of Esther, whose name in Hebrew can mean “I am hiding.” And many have interpreted the Song of Songs as an allegory about the loving relationship between God and Israel, or Christ and the church. That said, you can still read them literally if you want.

4) The Gospels beg to differ

There are four gospels in the New Testament, and each offers a unique perspective and interpretation of the story of Jesus. Often, they disagree on important details. Each one names different witnesses to the empty tomb, for example, and there are two very different accounts of the death of Judas.

Now, here’s a New Testament puzzle: Although every gospel is unique, three of them -- Matthew, Mark, and Luke -- also have a lot in common. They share much of the same content, sometimes even word for word. Yet each is also very different from the others. So, how are they related? Because Mark is the shortest of the three, and because Matthew and Luke include most of it (sometimes making corrections along the way), most scholars conclude that Mark must have been the earliest gospel (about 70 A.D.) and that Matthew and Luke both used it as a source. But there’s more to the puzzle: Matthew and Luke also share a good deal of other material that is not part of Mark. Most of that material is sayings of Jesus. Scholars, therefore, hypothesize that Matthew and Mark got that material from a shared source that was a collection of Jesus’ sayings. This hypothetical text is known as Q, for the German Quelle, “source.” And still, there are other possible solutions to the puzzle.

5) The Bible is not a book

True, “the Bible” literally means “the Book,” and your typical Bible sure looks like a book. But the final thing you didn't know about the Bible is that it's not. In fact, the name began as a mistranslation of its earlier Greek name, ta biblia, “the books.” The Bible is a diverse collection of stories, songs, poetry, rituals, and commandments spanning centuries of history. They don’t all come together into a single, book-length story. Moreover there are many different versions of Bibles. Jewish Bibles, Protestant Bibles, Catholic Bibles, and Orthodox Bibles have different contents. And behind each of those translations are hundreds of ancient manuscripts in many different languages. The Bible is not a book, let alone The Book. Saint Jerome, a Latin translator, had another name for it: bibliotheca, or “library.” That just may be the best way to think of it.