What’s the right way to read the Bible?

September 8, 2010 • 10:27 am

Jason Rosenhouse, who’s writing a book on evolution versus creationism, has been doing a lot of reading about Biblical scholarship.  And he’s gotten pretty sick of all those scholars and theologians who assure us that yes, of course the Bible wasn’t meant to be taken as descriptive truth. It’s not a textbook of science, for crying out loud, but a string of nice stories meant to impart eternal truths about humanity!

Anybody with half a brain knows that this is patent nonsense, meant to protect religion’s authority from the advances of science.  Of course the Bible was meant to be taken literally. And it was—for centuries!*  Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason pricks this apologetic balloon:

For centuries we were told the Bible was an inerrant communication from God, chock-full of facts directly relevant to understanding our plight as humans and our proper relationship with God. Now here comes Borg [Marcus Borg, author of Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally] to tell us that modern scholarship has shown us the correct way of reading the text. It’s real intention was to embed a handful of vague platitudes into a collection of entirely fictional stories. Charming.

I agree completely that the lights of modern historical scholarship and textual criticism are the proper lenses through which we should read the text. Moreover, I would argue that this view is the only one that leads to a satisfying understanding of the Bible. Any attempt to treat the Bible as an inerrant communication from God, whether we are talking about YEC, OEC, or more liberal interpretations, runs afoul of its innumerable inconsistencies, tensions and contradictions, and the obvious evidence of redactions and revisions by its human editors. Treated as an anthology of ancient documents reflecting the religion, culture and politics of its times and places the Bible has much to teach us. But if you try to treat God as coauthor then the book is just a mess.

Once you take this view, however, it becomes very difficult to maintain any notion of the Bible’s elevated importance relative to other works of literature. If you want literary depth and moral force, you will do much better with Shakespeare, Hugo or Dostoevsky than you will with the Bible.


*Please don’t bring up St. Augustine the Hippo as representative of all those millions of people.  Besides, he believed in the literal truth of Noah’s Ark and the Flood.

78 thoughts on “What’s the right way to read the Bible?

  1. The bible like the Grimm’s Fairy Tale, a collection of stuff that seemed reasonable in 800BC to 70 AD, but now seems a little gross for standard consumption. By all means I support the theologians trying to tidy up this crap, but if they do, they need to remove the Bible from circulation. Give the people what you think is good to believe, and make it clear and concise, and have that be the first, most important thing people read.

    What they really do is promote the Bible as inerrant and important for the passages that support their viewpoint, and say it must be re-interpreted for those counter to it. But this also dooms that religion to an endless cycle of resurgent fundamentalism, because it seems hard to accept that Jesus could say “Love thy neighbor as thy self” with his Inerrant hat on, and then take it off and say “The end of the world will happen within our generation”. I think the theologians realize that contradiction and horror in the Bible is an unanswerable problem. Its like a broken transmission, sure you could fix it, but after the effort you put into it you may as well just get a whole new car. Likewise, they cannot discard the Bible, or replace it without completely reworking the religion, so they are just going to continue on with it until it breaks in a very permanent fashion.

  2. Why the disqualification of St. Augustine? My understanding is that he thought that when conflicts arose between biblical truth and natural philosophy (i.e. science) the former should give way. In the passage you link he states his belief in a deluge that wiped out mankind. During the 4th and 5th century, when St. Augustine lived, I don’t think there was any argument or evidence from natural philosophy that would conflict with this belief. Just saying.

    1. My understanding is that humans, once dead for 3 days, do not spring back to life. Empirical observation and scientific theory (thermodynamics) agree. Therefore Biblical truth gives way to natural philosophy, and Jesus is still dead. Oops.

      I, also, am just sayin’.

      1. But most people aren’t gods – nor are they named Lazarus.

        @AB Carter: You get Augustine wrong. The Bible is Always True – you just didn’t interpret it correctly if it seems to contradict observations. Augustine also poo-pooed honest quests for empirical truths because they invariably clashed with the bible. He also insinuates that mathematicians are witches. Augustine was a wretched bastard and not at all worthy of any praise.

        1. A quick google seems to indicate that St. Augustine was actually referring to astrologers and that they were not witches, but just deceptive and evil. I’m not an expert on the guy so I’m happy to stand corrected here. More generally, why the animosity towards a figure born more than 1 and a half millenniums ago?

          1. The animosity as far as I can tell is not directed at St Augustine. Rather, at the claim
            that “bible shouldn’t be taken literally because Augustine said so”.
            If an isse is of such critical importance, don’t you think the guidance should have come from, you know, Jesus himself?

            1. Well said. To take that point further, if a “Bible” was so important, why didn’t Jesus create one? The concept of a “Bible” is an afterthought in the development of Christianity – by about 3+ centuries.

          2. Augustine is still highly revered as a champion of the church and a good example of a moral man (why else proclaim him to be a saint). It should be pointed out, contrary to what the church may claim, that he was a horrible evil man and not someone to be revered. On the topic of literal interpretation of the bible, Augustine was in fact a proponent of its literal truth – except where it obviously contradicted reality in which case it was meant to be understood in a deeper fashion. Of course what is obvious to some people was not necessarily obvious to Augustine; I certainly can’t recall his questioning the literal truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Besides, the “well, it says this but really means that” is a kindergarten dialog technique and fundamentally baseless.

            Augustine did condemn astrologers as well, but he did very explicitly condemn mathematicians. If someone says “he wrote mathematicians but really meant only astrologers” that’s simply ridiculous. As for witches – Augustine may not have written “witches” or a transliteration of it, but his description of evil men in cahoots with the devil is a description of witches (well, not female witches though). Anyway, Augustine’s description is the same as the general description of witches throughout Europe’s witch hunting phase.

    2. Augustine claimed that but he wasn’t consistent about it. As the other poster said, Augustine believed in the Resurrection. He cherry-picked just like every other Christian.

      1. Rather sweeping statement that. No doubt, there would be limits to how far St. Augustine would bend to the dictates of modern science, but he was a major theologian, in fact a Church Father, who didn’t believe in the inerrancy of the bible.

        1. I never claimed he did. I just claimed that he believed in superstitious nonsense, which is how he got to be a major theologian and a church father.

          1. Fair enough, I got confused because I thought you were responding to my original point. I am curious though, shouldn’t we be cutting Augustine a bit of slack here when making claims of superstitious nonsense? Under the circumstances monotheism was probably a fairly sensible and more plausible than competing views. This is really the same question I have for Madscientist, why are you seeing St. Augustine as the enemy?

            1. Will you please explain to me why monotheism is more “plausible” than polytheism, its competing idea? Not to mention the doctrine of trinity, which makes the most sense of all.

            2. “I am curious though, shouldn’t we be cutting Augustine a bit of slack here when making claims of superstitious nonsense?”


              Augustine did not proclaim the existence of some kind of abstract monotheist deity like that described by Plato hundreds of years earlier. He described an interventionist God who existed as a Trinity, which included Jesus in human form. There’s no reason that would have been any more plausible than any of the pagan pantheons Augustine would have been familiar with, or of the atheism Diagoras of Melos had advocated in the 5th Century BC.

              “This is really the same question I have for Madscientist, why are you seeing St. Augustine as the enemy?”

              I don’t generally see people who lived hundreds of years ago as my enemies. Madscientist was just saying that Augustine believed in the inerrancy of the Bible. Inerrant is not the same as literal. Augustine may not necessarily have believed in a literal 6 day creation, but he did believe that Genesis was a message from God, transmitted the way God wanted it to be.

  3. “Once you take this view, however, it becomes very difficult to maintain any notion of the Bible’s elevated importance relative to other works of literature.”

    I take the point, but the work done by Robert Alter, Frank Kermode, and Gabriel Josipovici (to name three) might stand as evidence sufficient to alter such a narrow literary viewpoint. In fact, once one stops looking at the Bible as divinely-inspired in any way, and begins to read it critically and sensitively (as one would any work of fiction), one can begin to appreciate a certain sophistication and artistry present in the writers/redactors (especially of the Jewish Bible).

    1. I certainly think that knowledge of the Bible and its stories are important… so much of Western Culture (especially pre 1800s) are derived from it, or at least reference it. But there is a big difference between a critical reading of the Bible (say in a college class) and having it thrust on you at age 5 and told it is the more important thing ever written.

      1. Yes, there is a certain intellectual pleasure in recognising references to other books when reading a book and so on. Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake requires one to understand almost all of culture in order to “get” it. Dawkins, in The God Delusion, gives a long list of phrases derived from the Bible, such as “no rest for the wicked”. On the other hand, what is the point in recognising a reference if one doesn’t share in the culture of the source of that reference? In other words, does it really matter what the source of the title of an album from Iron Maiden is?

  4. I do get a little upset with folks, usually fresh out of seminary, who insist that no-one ever took the Bible literally until Christian fundamentalists invented this approach, apparently in the early 20th century.

    Yes, some ancient commentators did sometimes take parts of the Bible as allegory or whatever, but I think this was a fall-back position when they realised that a literal reading just made no sense — like Origen did with the Genesis 1 story. But in general I think the Bible was read and taught with a very naive and literalistic interpretation.

    1. And when those seminarians become pastors, how many of them talk about that non-literal view of the Bible from the pulpit or in Sunday School classes?

      1. As C. S. Lewis (cringe) told a group of Anglican seminarians and their professors: tell the average parishoner what you really believe about the Bible, and you’ll make him either an atheist or a Roman Catholic.

        Yes, more of the former, please.

        1. So the pastors dumb it down for their parishioners, and then complain that atheists attack the dumbed down version. If the dumbed down version isn’t what they meant, then they shouldn’t have said it.

          1. Yeah, the pastors and priests of the mainline churches usually have a pretty good exposure to modern biblical scholarship. They just can’t preach it and keep their jobs, with rare exceptions like John Spong.

            Churchgoers just don’t want to hear all that uncertainty that scholars are used to working with. And so what you get at church is the dumbed-down version, which is all the average churchgoer ever hears.

            In the evangelical and fundie churches, they avoid the conflict by training their preachers to completely ignore modern biblical scholarship.

    2. ..in general I think the Bible was read and taught with a very naive and literalistic interpretation.

      Andrew Dickson White’s The Warfare of Science With Theology is filled with examples supporting this.

      Funnily enough, White was a science-supporting Christian — a faitheist like, say, Kenneth Miller. His book is a happy history of the decline of the Bible’s influence on science.

  5. I can’t believe anybody takes that bloody thing seriously. Or even pretends to.

    Guys, it opens with a story about a magic garden with talking animals and an angry giant.

    As if that weren’t enough, it continues on in exactly that same vein throughout the whole thing.

    One of the most important stories is about a talking plant, fer crissakes! And said plant instructs the reluctant hero in how to wield his magic wand.

    It ends with an utterly bizarre zombie story, complete with the zombie king having one of his thralls fondle his intestines through a gaping wound in his side.

    And, along the way, there are more giants, more talking animals, sea monsters, a dragon or two, lots of magic wands casting magic spells, a stairway to Heaven, levitation, UFOs…you name it, it’s in there.

    The best part? The moral of the whole anthology is that a modern-day shaman can chant a magic spell over stale bread and turn it into the living, reanimated flesh of the ancient zombie — and that anybody who eats the zombie flesh will also become an immortal zombie. And that this is somehow a good thing.

    People. The Bible is pure fantasy of the most obvious kind — and it’s not even good fantasy, either. Stop taking it seriously.




    1. I like the story about why women suffer so much pain in childbirth. It’s because she listened to the snake. It’s got nothing to do with squeezing a relatively large object through a small gap in the pelvic girdle and through an even smaller fleshy duct with nerves all over the periphery.

      1. You are overlooking the “why” that only faith can answer. Yes, the <b}how is about “squeezing a relatively large object through a small gap in the pelvic girdle and through an even smaller fleshy duct with nerves all over the periphery.” This is the domain of science.

        The why is because Eve listened to a talking snake.

        Faith has the real answers, my friend.

  6. Earlier this year, I decided I’d try to read the Bible cover-to-cover, mostly for reasons of “cultural literacy.”

    I got bogged down pretty quickly. As a collection of stories, I find it pretty dull. I might pick up that project again at some point, some boring afternoon, but in the meantime I’m prepared to live with missing out on some of the allusions of Western literature.

    1. I imagine if more Christians actually read the Bible cover-to-cover they’d be a lot less enamored of it. Instead, it’s always the “Sunday sermon approved” parts, over and over.

    2. For me it comes from hearing the stories as a child. They are pretty tame and boring compared to some other cultures (like the celtic tales, or some of India’s myths about the Monkey King – fun to read if just as outrageous). The biblical myths just seem bland and uninteresting.

      When viewed in the context of their relationship to Ugaritic kingship practices, for instance, or what the tales tell us about the Philistines,for example, they are more interesting.

  7. The Bible’s factuality is irrelevant. For example, I find that the book of Job’s attempt to explain why God permits evil to be both infuriating and beautifully poetic at the same time. Go figure.

    Anyhow, as mythology, the bible shaped Western culture in the same way that Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad influenced Greek then Western culture.

    In my opinion, one can’t fathom western literature without being biblically literate.

    1. It is certainly true that one can’t understand literature without being biblically literate. Even Dawkins agrees with that.
      On the other hand the influence of the bible has not been of exactly the same nature as Iliad. Was slavery ever justified on the basis of the Iliad?

  8. What I find most interesting about the allegorical status of the bible is, there is no external structure that works to determine what is allegory and what is historical or prophetic, e.g., word of god.

    So, it’s up to the reader to make these decisions on their own, and cull the wheat from the chaff. They have to make decisions like treating people as brothers is good, but smashing babies against rocks is only a metaphor for, um, something. Omelets, maybe – eat a healthy breakfast.

    The underlying point that never gets addressed is, if you can make these decisions on your own, you don’t need anything that the bible is going to tell you.

  9. “If you want literary depth and moral force, you will do much better with Shakespeare, Hugo or Dostoevsky”
    … and Tolstoj, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Conrad, Goethe, Hemingway, Marquez, Borges, Rushdie, Goethe, Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem, Golding, Pullman, Melville, Follett, McCarthy, Ende… probably even Wilbur Smith and Dan Brown

  10. So we can’t bring up St. Augustine? Well then – Can we bring these up?:
    St. Paul
    St. Matthew
    The Eastern Orthodox Church

    Each of those didn’t taken the bible 100% literal.

    Or are they not the “true Christians”?

    It sounds like your arguing against a strawman version of Christianity and it’s history.

    1. “Each of those didn’t taken the bible 100% literal.”
      Who the hell is arguing that St Augustine or anyone else took the bible as 100% literal?
      I read the point about St Augustine to mean that, despite his widely quoted remark about being careful what you say about bible stories that appear clearly wrong in the light of what we know of the world, to hold quite a lot of highly suspect views himself – many involving literal belief in fantastic tales from the bible (such as the Noah Ark narrative).
      By the way, for future reference, it might be wise to avoid using Origen as an example of someone who didnt take the bible stories too literally – unless of course you think it’s reasonable to cut off your own testicles for a metaphor “there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive [it], let him receive [it].”

    2. What % of the bible did they take literally then? As through all of history, people pick and choose what they want to believe – they even imagine the bible to “reveal truth” which is really not obvious from reading. You have to read passages and twist their meaning – do a Clinton and redefine everything. Or else pick disparate passages from all over the book. We see this sort of thing all the time – for example the nuts who come up with rules like “if you take every 123rd letter starting with Verse XX:XX, and you redefine certain words this way, then you can see that the bible predicted WW2.”

    3. So the southern baptist convention is a “strawman” version of Christianity? With its tens of millions of followers?
      And what about Paul? Didn’t he say Jesus had come for the redemption of the original sin? So in Paul’s view the cock and bull story of Adam and Eve must have happened, don’t you think?

      1. When the church got on Galileo’s case about heliocentrism, I’m sure that was just a strawman version of Christianity that was followed by most of the population of Europe.

        1. It turns out, galileo got into trouble exactly for failing to follow a literal interpretation of the bible.
          According to the book of Joshua, god held sun in midday to give the Israelites time to finish the battle they were winning. So Galileo was asked how exactly he could reconcile that with heliocentricity.
          In response, Galileo tried quoting the church fathers, saying the bible shouldn’t be taken literally…sound familiar?
          And we all know how far that answer took him with-the catholic church, not exactly a denomination known for its literalism.

      2. Pentacostals are another mainstream denomination that espouses Biblical literalism, as are the Missouri and Wisconsin synods of the Lutheran church.

      3. Your reference to Paul prompted me to mention one of the points contemporary religious scholars like Borg–also Funk, Crossan, Geering, Cupitt–point to regarding the question of the virgin birth. It was probably an afterthought added after the destruction of the Temple in 68 CE because there are no references to it in Mark or Paul’s writings which are usually dated prior to then.

        As to when people started citing the Bible as being literal I know it was somewhere other than the small town I grew up in in the forties and fifties. I attended church and Sunday school every week and never heard the Biblical stories cited as true. Of course it was a Methodist Church which all true Christians know is a heresy.

    4. But they took some of the miracle stories as literal. Believing Jesus came back to life is just as stupid as believing Adam and Eve were real people or that there really was a global flood.

  11. We should keep in mind more than half the Bibke comes from Hebrew documents. The Christians brought the strictly literal interpretation. Ancient Hebraic thought was more interested in the “truth” of a story than whether it was literally true. Not defending, just sayin’.

    1. For that matter, all four Gospels and much of the rest of the New Testament were written in educated literary Greek by people who studied in Greek schools and were almost certainly themselves Greek. And were addressed to Greeks (“Dear Theophilus…”). And were re-tellings of universally-known Greek stories about Greek heroes that Greek parents told their Greek children around Greek campfires while eating Greek mutton with Greek bread and Greek olive oil.

      I’m not sure, but I think I might grok a Greek pattern somewhere in there….



      1. If that were so, why are some of the earliest written bits Arameic rather than Greek? Or did some move to that region and write in the local language just to give the impression that the whole movement did begin in what is now the Middle East?

        1. I wasn’t aware of any Aramaic sources of any Gospel text that predate the Greek ones. There certainly is a tradition of apologists assuming that the originals simply must have been written in Aramaic, for obvious reasons, but I’m not aware that there’s any more substance to such assumptions than to the similar assumptions that the texts have any bearing on reality.

          Perhaps you could point out some references to ancient Aramaic Gospel texts?



          1. Seconded. I don’t know of any version of any of the Gospels being in Aramaic. In fact, I just did a quick Google search and I can’t find a reference to ANY of the New Testament being written in Aramaic.

            That said, I do think that Christianity began in the Middle East – which had been colonized by Greek-speaking people for centuries. Remember, that part of the Roman Empire was predominantly Greek-speaking, not Latin-speaking.

            Even some people of Jewish heritage would have spoken Greek as a second language, or even a first.

            1. > Remember, that part of the Roman Empire was predominantly Greek-speaking, not Latin-speaking.

              I saw on the TV program QI (which usually gets this stuff right) that even the ordinary person on the streets of Rome tended to speak Greek rather than Latin.

          2. Ah, OK. My mistake – I must have fallen for some bullshit somewhere along the way. 🙂 Now I’ve got to go wipe off my feet – or was it “shake the bullcrap from your sandals”?

            1. There’s a hypothesis that gMatthew was originally written in Aramaic (or alterately Hebrew), but I don’t think there’s any evidence to support it. For one thing, gMatthew copies nearly 90% of gMark (Greek) nearly verbatim.

    2. Mr. Michael The Boot raises an important point that Professor Rosenhouse does not address. Literalism seems to be a Christian development exclusively. I’d be interested in knowing if there is any evidence that literalism has ever, even in ancient times, been the norm in Judaism. The scholarship of which I am aware says no. See, e.g., Benjamin D. Sommer, “Inner-biblical Interpretation,” and Hindy Najman, “Early Nonrabbinic Interpretation” in The Jewish Study Bible at pp. 1829-44 (Oxford University Press 2004).

        1. For purposes of trying to determine how the Bible was understood in ancient times and how it was intended to be understood in ancient times (the focus of the Rosenhouse piece), later Islamic interpretation does not shed much light.

          1. The Hebrew calender dates from ancient times and it certainly seems to be based on a literal reading of the dates of the bible – coming up with a timing of creation very similar to that described by Archbishop Ussher.

  12. This is nothing new though.

    “Obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally – it refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.”

  13. I agree with many of the negative things that are said about the Bible. It’s obviously a collection of early religious writings. In fact, there are non-religious writings in the Bible. The book of Esther, for example, does not mention god, and I think that this is true of the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs, as well, which is simply an early erotic poem, some of it quite good, even in English. Some of the writings are deadly dull, but some are literary masterpieces. The poetic parts of Job, for example, certainly are. Ecclesiastes is a great piece of sceptical writing. The wisdom writings, such as Proverbs, contain a compedium of wise sayings, many of which are only tangentially related to the more religious texts. The New Testament was composed almost entirely in Greek, but much of the Greek is not a literary form of the language, but very ordinary Greek. Mark, apparently, to those who know, is very rough hewn indeed.

    However, having said all this, it is important to note that, until very recently — since the Reformation — the Bible was the church’s book. The church defined the canon, and, by keeping the Bible in the original languages, or in Latin translation, kept it, to a large extent, out of the hands of the laity. So the Bible was what the church said it was. To a large extent it was used selectively, and very often it was read allegorically.

    Whether read literally or allegorically depended upon the doctrinal needs of the church. The first centuries of the church’s life were spent defining itself, ruling certain beliefs to be heretical, and expelling them from the church’s canon of interpretation, which came to reside in books written by the so-called ‘fathers’ of the church. All other works were deemed to be heretical, and were often destroyed. Many heretics were exiled, and Arabian and Persian Christianity tended to be heretical, Monophysite or Nestorian. But the main point is that the church maintained tight control over the Bible and its interpretation.

    Of course, all this changed with the Reformation. Many Reformation theologians believed that the Catholic Church (which had become very corrupt and oppressive) had misinterpreted the Bible, and so a plethora of different and distinct strands of Christianity began to flourish. This process is still underway. Of course, an earlier division had taken place when the Eastern and Western Churches condemned each other in 1054 at the time of the Great Schism. But the Protestant Reformation replaced the church’s canon of interpretation of the Bible with the Bible itself, with the added belief that the Bible spoke clearly to the individual believer.

    So there is at least some truth to the idea that fundamentalist literalism is a relatively recent development, although there were signs of it throughout the Middle Ages, often brutally suppressed. But the idea of completely literal interpretation is a fairly late development, the church reserving to itself the judgement as to which portions should be read literally, and which should be read allegorically and figuratively. Some things, like the flood, the sacrifice of Isaac, the temptation in the garden and the fall of man, the exodus from Egypt, the exile and return, since they pertained directly to the redemption myth of Jesus’ death and resurrection, tended to be read literally, but many other things could be given more figurative interpretations. But, of course, the whole Bible was held to be revelatory of God’s nature and purposes for mankind.

    Once, however, the Bible was allowed to break free from the church’s hold, so that interpretation could no longer be controlled, and the cat was really out of the bag, the Bible could be held to mean practically anything, and hermeneutic became the dominant form of theology. Everything had to be traced to the Bible. Those who wish to use the Bible in ways that are reasonably consistent with the modern world, and its science, will, like Marcus Borg, read the Bible in ways entirely at odds with those who want to read it literally.

    The one thing that they all agree on is that the Bible is at the centre of the Christian mystery, however interpreted. Disagreement is accordingly widespread. Only the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches — and to a lesser degree the Anglican Church, and possibly parts of the Church of Sweden — have tried to maintain some continuity of interpretation. The Roman Catholic Church retains the greatest degree of control, at least of authoritative voices. But the belief of Catholics is probably as diverse as that of Protestants.

    It’s a lost cause, but the attempt is made. It is probably important, historically, to recognise how the church originally dealt with scripture and its use. The old slogan had it: “The Church to teach and the Bible to prove.” But the church used it in the church’s way, and so there was at least a semblance of consistency and reason in its use. Once you see that that use and the hermeneutic that governed it was as arbitrary as practically all the many interpretations in play today (although, like any work of literature, there are limits to what can be taken as a legitimate reading, and often probably not the interpretation given to it by the church), and it is clear that the Bible no longer has a legitimate role in guiding understanding or underwriting claims to knowledge.

    My point in writing this rather long post is simply that making fun of the Bible misses the point of how the Bible has been used, and of the reasons why it was thought to have some kind of consistent and reasonable sense. It was the illusion created by the church’s power to control interpretation. Once hermeneutic had escaped that control, the point of retaining the Bible as an authoritative word is lost, as Hector Avalos points out in his book The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus Books, 2007).

  14. This post seems a valid place to blogwhore. I’ve decided to blog the Bible, for atheists. I’m not a great writer and I don’t have any great insights, but I figured since I’m reading the Bible I may as well make the most of it. I started on Joshua (got the idea to blog while on Deuteronomy, so I’ll go back and do the torah later) and I’m just about to start Judges.


  15. “Of course the Bible was meant to be taken literally.”

    So the stuff about goats and sheep was meant to be taken literally about actual goats and actual sheep?

    1. More to the point, there are bits in the Bible that even literalists don’t take literally.

      You can’t seriously believe that stuff like “thou hast doves’ eyes. ” from the Song of Solomon has been read literally for hundreds of years, and people have traditionally believed the line meant a literal pile of bird sclera.

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