The Bible is boring and insipid

June 22, 2012 • 10:24 am

Yes, I have moved beyond Sophisticated Theology™ to the horses’s mouth: the King James Bible (and believe me, it’s embarrassing to sit on a plane and be observed reading the thing).  I’ve read sections of it over the years, but am now required (by myself) to start at the beginning and plow right though.  I wonder how many visitors here have actually read the damn thing.  And although I dislike it, I feel that in some way I’ll benefit from it, for I’ll get to see how contrived, how man-made, and how truly stifling the book is to the human spirit.  And I hope I’ll better understand the delusions that afflict my countrymen.

The book is not pleasant—at least 150 pages in.  And when I think that I have 950 pages to go, my heart sinks to my metatarsals.

I know that Richard Dawkins and others tout the Bible’s beautiful poetry, and indeed, there is some, but I wonder how much of that poetry was in the original, and how much was value added by King James’s group of translators.  Now I’ve read only 150 pages (to Numbers 23) but there is precious little poetry in there. In fact, almost none.  If you regard the Bible as a book of fiction, one to be treasured for its beauty, you’d put it down before you ever got through Genesis.  No, if one must read the Bible, read it not for the beauty of its prose but as a work of fiction that has deeply influenced our culture: as a way of understanding our enemies.  If someone found this book in a used bookstore and it hadn’t become the basis of a religion, they would not prize it as a wonderful story. I’d love to see it reviewed purely as a work of fiction, without any religious connotations.

Here is my take so far:

  • The early part of the Bible is unbearably tedious.  Besides the long lists of genealogies, heads of clans, and so forth, there are excruciatingly painful descriptions of how God wants the ark of the tabernacle to be built.  Stuff like this, for example (from Exodus 26):

1 Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them.

2 The length of one curtain shall be eight and twenty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and every one of the curtains shall have one measure.

3 The five curtains shall be coupled together one to another; and other five curtains shall be coupled one to another.

4 And thou shalt make loops of blue upon the edge of the one curtain from the selvedge in the coupling; and likewise shalt thou make in the uttermost edge of another curtain, in the coupling of the second.

5 Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the coupling of the second; that the loops may take hold one of another.

6 And thou shalt make fifty taches of gold, and couple the curtains together with the taches: and it shall be one tabernacle.

7 And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair to be a covering upon the tabernacle: eleven curtains shalt thou make.

8 The length of one curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the breadth of one curtain four cubits: and the eleven curtains shall be all of one measure.

9 And thou shalt couple five curtains by themselves, and six curtains by themselves, and shalt double the sixth curtain in the forefront of the tabernacle.

10 And thou shalt make fifty loops on the edge of the one curtain that is outmost in the coupling, and fifty loops in the edge of the curtain which coupleth the second.

11 And thou shalt make fifty taches of brass, and put the taches into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one.

12 And the remnant that remaineth of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remaineth, shall hang over the backside of the tabernacle.

13 And a cubit on the one side, and a cubit on the other side of that which remaineth in the length of the curtains of the tent, it shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle on this side and on that side, to cover it.

14 And thou shalt make a covering for the tent of rams’ skins dyed red, and a covering above of badgers’ skins.

15 And thou shalt make boards for the tabernacle of shittim wood standing up.

16 Ten cubits shall be the length of a board, and a cubit and a half shall be the breadth of one board.

17 Two tenons shall there be in one board, set in order one against another: thus shalt thou make for all the boards of the tabernacle.

18 And thou shalt make the boards for the tabernacle, twenty boards on the south side southward.

And that’s just a sample.  This anal description of how God wants his words encased goes on for pages!  Equally tedious are the many parts where God orders sacrifices to himself, and gives minute instructions about how the various parts of an ox should be disposed of: the head, the fat, the dung, and so on.  It’s not good literature—not at all.

Plus there’s stuff like this (from Numbers, Chapter 13)

1And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them.

3And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel.

4And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur.

5Of the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori.

6Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh.

7Of the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph.

8Of the tribe of Ephraim, Oshea the son of Nun.

9Of the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu.

10Of the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi.

11Of the tribe of Joseph, namely, of the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi.

12Of the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli.

13Of the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael.

14Of the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi.

15Of the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi.

16 These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua.

Yawn.

  • God is a horrible megalomaniac.  I don’t get this at all. He’s GOD, for crying out loud: omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good.  Why the hell does he need people to praise him all the time, and why does he kill those who fail to do so? If he’s perfect, he wouldn’t need that kind of constant reinforcement.  For example, some of the Israelis, wandering in the desert, are getting sick of eating manna all the time, and kvetch about not having meat.  So what does God do? He makes it rain quails—thousands of luscious birds falling from the sky.  And then, when the people bite into those toothsome birds, God smites them with the plague for their lust, killing many of them.  What? They deserve to die because they want some real food? (Numbers 11:31-33).

As well all know, God is a horrible taskmaster, and mandates death for anyone who works on the Sabbath.  This is what happens to some poor schlemiel who wanted wood on Saturday (Numbers, Chapter 15):

32And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.

33And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.

34And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.

35And the LORD said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.

36 And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.

What kind of God is that?  How can anyone derive morality from such a thing?

The most incongruous passage is this (Numbers 14:18):

The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.

Yeah, really great mercy. . .

  • A lot of it makes no sense.  I was amused at Moses’s repeated attempts to get Pharaoh to let the Jews leave Egypt.  He repeatedly asks for the exit visa, Pharaoh repeatedly refuses, and so God sends frogs, or boils, or locusts, to afflict the Egyptians.  Each time Pharaoh says, “Okay, I give in—you can leave.” But then God hardens Pharaoh’s heart and makes him renege on his promise.  The plagues go on, a new and horrible one each time, and each time Pharaoh reneges on his pledge because God has “hardened his heart”.  Eventually, after all the Egyptian firstborn are killed in The Great Passover, he gives in for good, but tons of damage has already been done to the Egyptian people and their land.  My question is this:  why didn’t God soften Pharaoh’s heart so that he’d let the Jews leave? That would have avoided a lot of trouble.  This is not a believable plot.
  • It’s plainly man-made.  For one to take the words literally is unbelievably moronic.  Besides the numerous miracles, the story of Noah’s Ark, which makes no sense, there’s the fact that people live to really old ages then. Moses made it to 120, Noah lived to the ripe old age of 950.  Do Christians really buy that? Remember that the average life span at the time was certainly less than 40 years.

I know I’m in for some punishment (perhaps by readers as well!), but I’m determined to finish. Perhaps things will get better at Psalms and Proverbs. I’ve already read the four Gospels, so I know what’s to come there (spoiler: Jesus dies), but I’m told that Revelation is insane.

No, you shouldn’t read the Bible because of its poetry. The good bits, I predict, will be far outweighed by the stupid and boring bits. If you want pure good, read Dubliners or Crime and Punishment. You should read the Bible just so you can wonder what all the fuss was about.

Those of you who have read this tome: weigh in with the parts you like or dislike, or your experiences in reading it.

492 thoughts on “The Bible is boring and insipid

  1. I think it’s valuable in finding the original source of some popular sayings, like “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. The biggest fault is that there is not a shred of comedy in it, at least not intentional comedy.

    1. I think it’s valuable in finding the original source of some popular sayings, like “Am I my brother’s keeper?”.

      Indeed, when I first read the Bible as a teenaged convert, I was fascinated to discover the source of so many allusions and figures of speech. I still say things like: “Spackle covers a multitude of drywall sins”.

      I would guess the Bible’s value as *English* literature is at least as much due to the KJV translators, as to the merits of the original text.

      1. I would guess the Bible’s value as *English* literature is at least as much due to the KJV translators, as to the merits of the original text.

        A lot more to the KJV translators, I would guess. The only other translation of comparable impact that I know of being Luther’s: it almost singlehandedly set the standard for the modern German language. Luther’s impact as a translator — creator, rather — is easy to gauge, because of the rival German translation by his contemporary, Huldrych Zwingli, nowadays a mere theological footnote.

        Has anyone read the Geneva Bible, compiled by Protestant refugees in Calvin’s Geneva around 1560? Its popularity is said to have ignited King James’s displeasure, providing the impetus for the KJV. I wonder how it compares to the KJV.

        1. One the one hand, as a linguist, I am grateful that the Summer Institute of Linguistics has recorded and preserved the grammars and vocabularies of many languages that are in danger of extinctintion and might have otherwise been lost forever. On the other, I am profoundly upset and disturbed that SIL’s motivation in that otherwise admirable work is for the translation and dissemination of the bible to people who, until now, have been blissfully unaware of its existence.

          1. Wikipedia has this:
            Criticisms

            SIL’s website states that it “limits its focus of service to language development work [and] does not engage in proselytism, establish churches or publish Scriptures.”[13] The organization has been criticized, however, by linguists including Patience Epps, who accuses SIL of functioning as a missionary organization and exacerbating the problems causing language endangerment and death in Brazil.[14].

            SIL has also been criticized by indigenous groups in South America. At a conference of the Inter-American Indian Institute in Mérida, Yucatán, in November 1980, delegates denounced the Summer Institute of Linguistics, charging that it was using a scientific name to conceal its Protestant agenda and an alleged capitalist view that was alien to indigenous traditions.[15]

            In 1979, SIL’s agreement with the Mexican government was officially terminated, but it continued to be active in that country.[16] The same happened in 1980 in Ecuador,[17] although a token presence remained. In the early 1990s, the newly-formed organisation of indigenous people of Ecuador CONAIE once more demanded the expulsion of SIL from the country.[18] According to Cleary and Steigenga, SIL was expelled from Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Panama, and restricted in Colombia and Peru.[19] However, SIL currently operates in many of those countries.[2]

            And there are reports of more sinister activities, but nothing strong enough to get on Wikipedia’s main page – have a look at the Talk page.

            I once worked on a dictionary long-distance with a SIL missionary, and met her once. Most unimpressed: very narrow-minded.

    2. The intentionally funniest bit is where Jesus calls Peter the rock upon which the church will be built. ‘Peter’ derives from the Greek for rock, so a bit of a pun. Ha ha! Jesus was quite a cut-up!

      1. Equally funny, the pun works in Greek, but not in the Aramaic which an alleged Jesus would have spoke. Another witness to the falsity of the story.

          1. God knows that in the future the hebrew version will be the dominant version? indeed gods move in mysterious ways ..

        1. What kind of deity would Jesus be if He weren’t hyperpolyglot, including in Koine Greek?

          The apostles must have got a big kick out of that word play a couple months later, on Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost came down and gave them the ability to speak in other tongues.

        2. It’s not a pun at all. His name was Simon. Jesus gave him the nickname “Rock” and the nickname was translated into Greek as Peter. Modern English translations, if they were true to their aim, should call him not Peter but “Rock” or “Rocky”.

          1. Hum, “St. Rocky’s Basilica” certainly has an interesting ring to it 🙂

            The Wikipedia article on Peter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Peter#Names_and_etymologies) has a really twisted way of explaining the etymology. It’s done in such a way that makes the naming a pun, but re-reading Matthew 16:18, and imagining the original texts (in Greek I presume) it does look pretty clear that no pun was intended.

      2. Dan Barker on a good Bible pun:

        It seems silly to us today, but to the Jews, circumcision was no laughing matter. Huge sections of the Hebrew scriptures are devoted to that covenant of the “chosen people.” But when Christianity came along, maybe it did become a laughing matter—Paul actually made a crude joke about it. The Greek word for “circumcision” is peritome, which means “to cut around.” The Greek word katatome means “to cut off.” In Galatians 5:11–12, Paul plays on the pun: “And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision (peritome), why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off (katatome) which trouble you.” The more candid New Revised Standard translates it: “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!”

    3. In addition to these common figures of speech, the Bible is also a rich sources of rhetorical devices – and here I’d be shocked if the credit goes to the original authors – such as metonymy and synecdoche, as well as the more arcane ones, all the way from anacoluthon to zeugma. If you look close (and I’m in no way suggesting it’s worth the effort), you can even find a few of them in the ark-of-the-covenant instruction manual Jerry quotes above. (Maybe that’s how King James’s committeemen amused themselves while translating the Bible’s abundant longueurs).

      1. Here in South Africa we get a lot of race-card playing. It’s especially odious since it only fans the flames of the racism that does still exist.

    4. I think it’s valuable in finding the original source of some popular sayings,

      That is in very large degree the work of the “King James Committee” as distinct from the “Bible” per se.
      I always find it just slightly amusing that for most biblical literalists, they only mean after at least two translations from the language it was originally written in (one translation for some of the NT books, perhaps). I mean, if a god can ask a man to cut the throat of his first-born son, is it too much to ask him to also learn to read a language that has been dead for a couple of millennia.

    5. I think the story of Jonah is intentional comedy, a satirical sendup of the prophetic literature. With its ridiculous geography and slapstick misfortunes, it reads like something by Woody Allen. I can’t imagine it was meant to be taken seriously.

  2. Thank you for taking another one for the team. But I begin to worry about what affect reading this much gobbledygook will have on your psyche. It can’t be good for you to read so much utter nonsense over so short a time 😮

  3. I commend you for doing this. As a long time atheist, I read it a couple of times straight through in my 20s and wasn’t very impressed. A person I know who “LIKES” the Bible on FB, and claims to me to be such a great xian, confessed she has never read it. Wow. I’m an atheist and I’ve read it twice. Sheesh.

    1. I have yet to meet a single person who claims to believe that the bible is literally true yet has actually read anything more than some pre-approved passages that their pastor had them open the book to.

      Not once has any self professed Christian I’ve met admitted to having read the whole book in its entirety.

      On the other hand, quite a few formerly Christian atheists I’ve met have read the whole book…

  4. And out emerges a lurker…

    I couldn’t agree more. This frustration is one of the main reasons I started the Holey Books project. My favorite absurdity: God using a miscarriage as a marriage fidelity test in Numbers. Simply: wow.

    1. That Bible verse about the miscarriage ought to make for some cognitive dissonance among the pro-life crowd.

      But then God is the most prolific abortionist, since He terminates so many pregnancies prematurely. I used to think that God just felt so much love for Limbo He kept it packed with the souls of the unborn — but then Limbo went the way of Pluto.

      1. Limbo went the way of Pluto – I love it, and will be tempted to plagiarise…

        But don’t blame the Bible for Limbo. Like a lot of other stuff, it’s not in there.

  5. ‘Tis true, ’tis true-the Bible was meant for its context (the 8th to 1st Cs BC in Judah and, to an extent, Egypt and Babylon)-which started making the OT increasingly obsolete by the time of the Roman conquest of Judea, and, thus, made the OT have less and less sense as it went out of it. The lists are fantastically boring to the modern reader-but they did illustrate many plot points of the partially fictional history of the origin of the Kingdoms of Judah and Hasmonean Judea.

    1. I could easily see the length descriptions of the Temple construction being important to justify a newer, grander temple, or to imply that the Temple, as it was currently, was specifically asked for by God.

      Coyne hasn’t gotten there yet, but I find the funniest part of the Bible the chunk of kings where all the ‘evil’ kings (who were multicultural and not very religious) ruled for decades and decades, and the ‘good’ kings rode off to fight the infidel and were promptly killed.

      1. Josiah was killed by Necho II for reasons unknown, but while the revolt of Hezekiah (the other great worship-centralizing king of Judah) did end up with the devastation of large parts of Judah, Hezekiah was still kept as king by Sennacherib.

    2. If I ever read the OT (or substantial portions of it — srsly, the begats?) again, it will be after/during some historical study to understand when (hint: frequently not in the canonical order) and why (tribal myth-making, political propaganda,…) each bit was written. *That* might make it interesting.

        1. Just skip the genealogies if you don’t like them. The OT is a collection of over three dozen books, and first few are themselves redacted compilations. There are laws, historoes, genealogies, prayers, songs, etc. There is a nice website listing original Charles Darwin material. I see it includes “Student Books” – college records: “the Books reveal Darwin’s accounts not just his College but for the barber, grocer, tailor, laundress, chimney sweep and much more. His College bills amounted to £636.0.9½ (i.e. six hundred and thirty-six pounds, zero shillings and 9½ pence) over three years…” I won’t be ploughing through that particular source anytime soon.

          1. Yea, but nobody claims that his college accounts are the divine word of a supreme being. Divinities ought to have more interesting things to say.

            1. The issue was whether parts of the Bible are boring, or conversely whether there is any value in reading, say, the genealogies. Since the OT is a library, not a book, skip the boring bits. They are not boring to everyone – Abraham is a supposed ancestor of twelve tribes of Jews, but also (through his son Ishmael) or twelve tribes of Arabs, and also of the Edomites (Edom = Esau). You don’t have to believe any of these dozens of “Eponyms” really existed; but it’s still a useful historical fact that the stories preserve real tribal affiliations from the first millennium BCE.

              Note that the Christian sects who believe the Bible is literally true word-for-word are very few, and not mainstream, and that has been true for hundreds of years. Finding some very loony Christians and inferring that all Cristians are as loony is like pointing at Lysenko and assuming all biologists are loony.

              1. Well, Jeepers, I can skip the whole thing. It isn’t a question of whether I can skip this or that bit. Nor is it a question of whether some specialized corner of academia might find something interesting in this or that corner of the volume. And if you insist on using the word “library” instead of “book” it only compounds the scale of the literary fail.

                One would think that an all powerful, divine, (etc.) being would be able to author a book (heck, even a whole library!) in such a way as to make the thing an interesting read. There are thousands of mere-mortal authors who have done far better. The fact that so few believers read the thing is testament to the quality of the authorship.

              2. We’ve already established that there are many authors (actually dozens spanning a whole millennium) each writing in different genres, none of which was “to interest atheists”. In particular, a genealogy is a dry document. If you’ve researched your family tree you’ll know this.

                God, by the way, is not reckoned to be the author. You need to check up on what those Bible-punchers mean by “the Word of the Lord”. They don’t mean “the words composed by God”.

              3. Not reckoned by whom to be the author? And pray, do enlighten us on the true meaning of “the word of the Lord”. Either a divine being is behind this library or not. If you are saying “not” then what is your point? If you are saying “yea”, then how do you explain the miserable literary skills on display?

              4. Well, I don’t believe in divine beings, so I can only comment on what others believe. Orthodox Jews believe God gave Moses the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) word-for-word, and that is supposedly the tradition that Christians follow. None of the other books of the Bible has ever been supposed to have that authority, and personally I have never discussed the Torah with any Christian who believed the direct-word-of-God tradition. I’ve only discussed the Torah with Reform Jews, who also don’t believe in God dictating the text. If you want to go after “fundies”, fine, but they are a tiny minority.

              5. Oh yes – literary skills. The Bible is not a work of fiction, and it wasn’t written by God. Take your own advice and skip the lot if you’re no interested in ancient history, cosmogony, legal systems, social arrangemnts, etc.

              6. So what exactly is your point? That this is a collection of oral traditions handed down and modified for centuries by various persons with a number of motives for enhancing / transmitting / filtering the stories? I don’t think you’ll find many here who will argue with that.

                But if you think that it is only a minority of people who think that this book/library is the divine word of God, then you don’t live in the same country that I do. Or on the same planet.

              7. Same planet, but a different country. We don’t have the large evangelical minority in the UK or indeed Europe. To that extent you have a point, but US evangelicals and other fundamentalists are a minority in the big scheme of things. My point stands. The extremism of the few does not contaminate the moderation of the many, however annoying it may seem.

              8. You have any Muslims over there? Ever read about life in Africa? Consider a trip to Turkey. Or maybe a less tolerant land of Islam.

                You are fooling yourself if you think the world isn’t dominated by believers in one form or another of creationism.

              9. Lots of Muslims. My daughter’s best friend at school was a Muslim girl. I don’t think she claimed any divine inspiration for the Christian Bible.

              10. I feel dumber for having read this exchange.

                logicowhatever, why is it that you think that the Christian bible is widely regarded as really important for everyone, not just for a handful of academics interested in the period between 1500 BC and 0 AD?

                You don’t think hundreds of years of claims of divine authorship had anything to do with this? You must be exhausted from working so hard to miss the point.

              11. Dan L – you are free to feel as dumb as you like. My point was very simple: attacking Christianity on the grounds that the English translation of the Bible is not entertaining for atheists and God should be a better author than that is feeble on so many levels that it’s laughable, especially since

                “…the Christian sects who believe the Bible is literally true word-for-word are very few, and not mainstream, and that has been true for hundreds of years. Finding some very loony Christians and inferring that all Cristians are as loony is like pointing at Lysenko and assuming all biologists are loony.”

              12. My point was very simple: attacking Christianity on the grounds that the English translation of the Bible is not entertaining for atheists and God should be a better author than that is feeble on so many levels that it’s laughable

                Perhaps you can answer a question that every Christian I’ve ever put it to has run away from.

                Has Jesus read the Bible? And, by, “Jesus,” I mean the one who art in Heaven at the right hand of the Father who judges the living and the dead.

                If so, then the abysmal literary quality and everything else is absolutely fair game. What, Jesus didn’t get a chance to poorfeed his authorized biography?

                If not…then remind me what the point of the Bible is, again, exactly?

                Cheers,

                b&

              13. If you try to organise your posting logically you’ll find it’s a couple of premisses short of an argument – proving my point (which you quoted).

                However, being an atheist myself, I think the point of the Bible – i.e. the intention of the collectors and redactors (the Deuteronomic historian(s), Ezra, and especially the early Christians in the first to third centuries) was to decide which of the many old documents should be admitted into a canonical compilation. There’s lots of disagreement – the KJV doesn’t include 1 and 2 Maccabees, nor Ecclesiasticus, but the Roman Catholic Bible does.

                If you mean what do they think God intended by the Bible, only those brainwashed fundamentalists would have an answer – everybody else, I guess, would say that God gave humans the free will to compile Bibles if they wished. Either way, the literary quality is evidently more than adequate for the intended audience. It wasn’t written or compiled to entertain a hostile atheist audience.


              14. Either way, the literary quality is evidently more than adequate for the intended audience. It wasn’t written or compiled to entertain a hostile atheist audience.

                This can be said of any book. And saying it of the bible does not invalidate any comments made by hostile (or non-hostile) atheists.

              15. Speaking as a non-hostile atheist, I find the Bible’s style and content very interesting. But I’ll let another atheist have the last word:

                “There is no version of primeval history, preceding be discoveries of modern science, that is as rational and inspiring as that of the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis.” (Isaac Asimov)

      1. Eamon. I do not think it is known when many of the books were written. This is what permits Tom Thompson to theorise that most of the Bible was the creation of the Persian “department of colonies.” Apparently, this was done for other areas of the empire: religious traditions were simply concocted our of whole cloth for the colonies, which distinguished them from indigenous populations — much as Christianity functioned for the British and French and Dutch colonists. It was a force that kept them separate from and superior to the local populations.

  6. I’ve read it all the way through a couple of times, although not the original King James. (If memory serves, I’ve read the Good News (kids) version, the New International Version and the New King James Version, which is closest to the original King James but without all the thees and thous. It always struck me as funny that God could supposedly inspire an inerrant text but then fail so badly to inspire an agreed-upon translation.) You are right that the beginning is very dull. It gets a bit more exciting around Joshua and Judges, though but then gets tedious again once you get into all the prophets. Keep an eye out for the bit in Kings where God causes a she-bear to maul some children to death for calling Elisha bald!

    1. Keep another eye out for the bit where, *after* God calls Moses to go on this big mission to Egypt to free the Israelites there God, for no apparent reason, “sought to kill him” (I would have thought that the instant God seeks to kill you you’d already be dead, but God wasn’t always so omnipotent or omniscient). So, naturally, Moses’s wife cut off the foreskin of her son and rubbed the blood on Moses feet. In some way that isn’t explained, God then decides to let him live.

      1. Uh, those aren’t Moses’ “feet”. Moses wife rubs the kid’s foreskin on Moses’ penis. It’s translated as “feet” to protect the timid.

        Bob Price talks about this verse sometimes, and it’s actually interesting. Since the circumcision was a token, fleshy substitute for human sacrifice, and Moses had never been circumcised because he grew up in Egypt, Moses wife has to do a quick-thinking circumcision-by-proxy. Moses owed Yahweh his life because he hadn’t been circumcised, which is why Yahweh tries to kill him. Price thinks they put that story in that particular place in Exodus because there was no other natural place for it, but it still makes God look bi-polar. Makes no sense as a “holy” book, but I find it interesting as a man-made historical artefact.

          1. Well, that’s what you get when you’re cobbling together, editing, redacting and messing with all these stories over many centuries for political reasons.

            You get an inconsistent, incomprehensible central character and a lot of head-scratching nonsense.

            I think believers ruin the Bible by trying to shoehorn and interpret it in a certain way, and it throws sand in the eyes of real critical scholarship. The minute you treat the Bible as just another man-made thing, you can really try to take it apart and find out how and why it was put together without the theological baggage. It’s only THEN that I find value in it.

        1. This really is a fascinating passage, but it’s meaning is still hotly debated. The references (whose body part is being rubbed with the foreskin and just what part of the body is being rubbed) are ambiguous in the earliest known versions of this passage. A longer version of the story probably existed prior to redactors combining the various earlier accounts. However, part of that was cut, probably since it would have claimed that this incident was the origin of the general practice of circumcision. That would have made it necessary to excise it because it conflicted with the early tale of Abraham and Isaac.

          There are a number of places where parts of stories in the Bible are clearly missing. The positive stories about Eli (which are referenced in the Book of Samuel, but which do not appear) are another good example. I find them extremely interesting.

        2. God must have waited on the whether-to-kill-Moses question because he was kind of busy in Egypt visiting plagues upon the populace and hardening Pharaoh’s heart. For an omnipotent deity, He sure seems inclined to address His tasks seriatim. (Took him six days to create the world, and another to rest up.)

      2. I mention this story in a comment below below, but didn’t get it right. I threw out all my bibles some years ago, and do not read it any more. I do have a computer version which used to work with Windows up to Vista, and even Windows 7 with 32 bit computers. However, all I have now are 64 bit computers and it won’t work with them, unless I use the Windows XP vitual computer, which is often too much trouble. However, I had forgotten that it was Moses’ son who was circucised and “remembered” it as Moses himself. Mad story in any event.

  7. I’m defeated immediately by Genesis. It’s too dumb. I can’t manage it.

    I’ve always wanted to persevere, at least through Ecclesiastes, but so far, no.

    1. This is why the Catholics don’t encourage reading the bible. I have never read it, but heard enough about it (quotes, etc.), and I wouldn’t waste my time with it.

      1. It’s also part of why religious lobbies are trying to undermine American education: they want everybody to be too illiterate to be able to read the Bible or, if they actually manage to do so, to fail to understand just how nonsensical it is.

    2. When I was at university an acquaintance kept urging me to read the Bible. Obviously they were too infatuated with it to realise what a load of turning-off crap it really is (to any non-believer). I was too polite in those days to say ‘piss off and die!’ but I certainly had better things to do with my time.

      One way or another, I read enough bits of it (far too many, actually) to know what it was like. I think in Sunday School we used to ignore the teacher and look for the dirty bits.

  8. A year or two ago I started trying to read it through, and I didn’t make it nearly as far as you did. I’m not sure I got through Genesis. It was just so damned boring.

    1. Even Jerry’s quotations are to painful to read. I just skimmed them.

      And I am the type who actually read all the whaling bits in Moby Dick.

        1. I actually enjoyed Moby Dick (and all of the tangents that are embarked upon), but it’s taken me years to get as far as Sarah in the NIV Old Testament. It is almost completely unreadable as a coherent piece of literature.

  9. My least favorite book is Leviticus. I like many parts of Genesis (the story of Joseph remains a strong favorite), but perhaps not the whole thing. The second half of Isaiah is pretty good. Ezekiel is as crazy, but not at all as hate-filled as Revelation.

    Lots of these stories are better in adaptations!! Arthur Honneger’s oratorio of “King David”, DH Lawrence’s play “King David”, Thomas Mann’s four-volume Joseph (disclosure- only read bits of it) are all much better than the source material.

    D.H. Lawrence found something to like in all of the New Testament except for Revelation which he thought utterly ruined it, like a somewhat engaging novel/movie with a rather terrible cop-out ending. (I wonder if Lawrence ever saw “Fatal Attraction” 🙂 )

    1. If poor Lawrence had to sit through “Fatal Attraction,” let’s hope it was the original director’s cut — the one where the Glenn Close character offs herself — not the test-marketed, jumps-out-of-the-bathtub one that opened wide.

  10. I tried reading the bible when i was 14. A few months later my parents sent me to a shrink because i was so upset and terrified i was going to hell.

    1. And what did your shrink do to help? Did he tell you it was all lies, or try to make it more cuddly?

  11. Love it! We should all be reading it, but you’re right–it’s tough going. I read some of that mind-numbing stuff in Numbers recently after someone at a CFI meeting who knows those passages had me in stitches doing a satirical riff on the lunacy. There’s another part in the quail one, where God says, in essence: “You want meat?? I’ll give you meat! I’ll give you quail until it’s coming out your nostrils!” (Or ears, depending on the version) This is abusive parenting. What happened to the loving ask-and-you-shall-receive father? The hungry people in the desert asked, and their father got pissed. Has a real anger management problem.

    1. Now I’ve got an image of the Israelites askig Moses “Are we there yet?” until he threatens to turn the Exodus around.

      And yeah, the god in the OT is psychotic.

  12. What always puzzled me is why we are always asked to say “Blessed art Thou, oh God …”. Who blessed God? Someone even more powerful than Him? What sort of trouble would God be in if he weren’t blessed?

    1. Well, duh… The Holy Spirit blesses God! (And God blesses Jesus, and Jesus blesses the Holy Spirit. It’s a whole circle-blessing)

        1. Unless the blessings are curved. Maybe they were using NURBS – non uniform rational b-splines…

        1. I recall it being explained as “You, Yahweh, are the source of blessing.”

          Its rather easily explainable if the language goes back to the pre-Ezra religion, when Judaism was henothesitic (basically polytheism but only worshipping one god out of many). The theology had a supreme god (Elohim) and 70 lesser gods (which I think were his children), each of which had a nation. Yahweh’s chosen nation was the Jews. So perhaps the blessing of Yahweh came from Elohim.

          Actually, the whole OT makes a lot more sense if you know about that particular bit of theology.

          1. I’ve never been too interested in Semitic languages but have had a little exposure. Isn’t “-him” the Hebrew plural ending? If so, doesn’t that imply that “Elo-him” is a plurality of entities, not a single being?

            Ov course not every English word that ends in ‘s’ is plural, nor do all plurals end in ‘s’. Maybe someone with more expertise could clarify this.

            1. Elohim – absolutely right. The view of Judeo-Christian theologians is that Elohim is the “plural of majesty” but that’s not really credible. The Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) – supposedly written by Moses – has at least 5 authors. The “Elohist” (E) has plural gods (Elohim) while the “Yahwist” (J)has a singular god. The Redactor(R)did his best to integrate the sometimes contradictory sources.

              It’s also obvious that the Hebrew kings worshipped other gods. The genealogies include lots of names including -baal, for example (sometimes redactors replaced this with -bosheth, meaning “shame”, in disgust at their forbears’ heresy).

              1. Thank you. One of the problems of being in linguistics is that one is exposed to a vast number of examples but seldom has the opportunity to concentrate on more than a very small number of comprehensive studies of individual languages*. I remember being told in Catholic school about the “J-author” but nothing more was explained about who or what that was.

                It is also interesting to see how the bible appears in translations other than English. have an Icelandic bible, and the first verse of Genesis reads, “Í upphafi skapaði Guð himin og jörð.”, which, if literally translated into English, becomes, “In the beginning, God shaped the heavens and the earth. To me, this clearly implies that there was stuff there before the creation and this deity just came along and used it for cosmic Play-Doh®.

                I have a good friend who was raised fundie and groomed for the clergy, is now neopagan, and he reads New Testament Greek fluently and is conversant with biblical Aramaic and Hebrew, so any time I want to know something about the older forms of the texts, he’s just a phone call away. Over the years, he’s been able to clarify a number of things for me.

                *I wish I had the proverbial nickel for every time I’ve had to explain that a lingust is not a polyglot but a student of language theory and does not necessarily know a dozen languages.

      1. I bet “circle blessing” reminds many of us of another circle activity, that rhymes with “circ.”

    2. Ha. Right up to the last question which I never thought of, I was puzzled by that as well when I first tried to grasp the religion.

    3. Hmm, never thought of those questions. I was always more on the “if God is omnipotent, why are we supposed to pray for stuff to happen? Shouldn’t he know what we need and do something about it?”

      Or, as one comedian* put it “God doesn’t do anything unless you nag him about it.”

      *I want to attribute this to George Carlin, but can’t actually remember if it was from one of his stand ups or from someone else’s.

  13. Wait for the Leviticus. It’s just about cruelty, bloodshed and homophobia – although my local priest never warned me about killing gay people or beating those who eat locusts.

  14. “(spoiler: Jesus dies)”

    My favorite springtime joke is this one:

    “Did you hear that Easter’s been canceled this year? Yeah, they found the body.”

  15. Tribal lays.
    The epitome of tribal lays, for a tribal deity. What did you expect?

    My favourite bit of the Iliad — forgive me the déformation professionnelle — is the so-called ‘Catalogue of Ships’: deadly boring and repetitive as poetry, but full of information regarding the projection of Homeric human geography. The same, I suspect, goes for the bible: the most informative bits are likely also the most boring ones. Informative? Yes. It’s easy to invent miracles. It takes a little more nous to fake lists, genealogies, territorial claims , etc. As John Le Carré has George Smiley saying, it’s the legends and cover-ups that are most revealing.

    1. I suspect that the long and detailed lists are a cultural artifact of mostly preliterate cultures that had lots of time to tell stories around campfires but essentially no books to read from. So, the stories they did have contain a lot of filler, because you want that story to last several days or weeks.

      Think of it like a modern TV drama, which might have 50% ‘story arc’ stories, but then 50% episodes that are just filler to extend the season. Numbers 13 is a non-story-arc episode. 🙂

      There’s a way to test my hypothesis, though I haven’t done it. If I’m right, other preliterate stories (like the Odyssey, Beowulf, etc..) should also have these components in them.

      IOW its not that the bible is particularly tedious or badly written, so much as it is a product of its time and thus tedious to modern, attention-deficit sensibilities.

      1. Repetition in epic oral poetry has a lot to do with mnemonics.

        Classic comparatistic studies of the kind you are referring to are found in:
        – Parry, M. [1971]. The Making of Homeric Verse: The Collected Papers of Milman Parry (ed. A. Parry);
        – Lord, A. B. [1960 / 2000]. The Singer of Tales. Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature 24. Cambridge MA. 2nd ed.

        Parry and Lord are the pioneers in the field.

        A short recent comparison of Homeric and South Slavic oral poetry, by John Foley, available online:
        http://www.iifl.unam.mx/html-docs/acta-poetica/26-1-2/p51.pdf

        1. Not only there, but also Norse sagas, which are presumed to have originated in oral tradition, typically began with a brief genealogy of the (usually eponymous) protagonist.

          1. Is that a typical element? I would think the mnemonic part is the correct idea as it sets up a rhythm. Which besides helps establishing and maintaining memory also puts the teller and the listeners in a positive mood.

            Maybe it is a bit of a warm-up, plus it shows credentials? After that you can probably more easily be permitted mistakes and impromptu embellishments et cetera.

            1. Nearly every saga* I’ve read, either in translation or in the original Old Norse, begins with some kind of genealogy. Sometimes it is as simple as “There was a man called Mord Fiddle who was the son of Sighvat the Red” (Njal’s Saga). Other sagas, especially those involving kings or well-known chieftains, have more extensive lists, spanning several generations and even including uncles, aunts and other extended family (including foster parents). Even the Norse account of the Trojan War begins with a pseudo-genealogy of the Olympian deities.

              Lineage was very important in early Germanic societies. A newcomer was more likely to be asked, “Whose son are you?” than “Who are you?” You can also see this in the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, where the hero is always “Beowulf son of Ecgtheow”.

              *They also occur in some of the þættir, but not as consistently.

              1. Emphasis on lineage and kinship are anthropological constants.
                Just limiting my scope to the ‘Long Iron Age’ (~ 1200 BCE – 1200 CE) in Europe, the structural parallels are staggering, from Greece and the Caucasus to Ireland and Iceland.
                I’m glad you highlight sagas and þættir: every time one of my colleagues goes too Classical, I present them with a copy of Lotte Hedeager’s work on Nordic myths and materiality. Beowulf should be required reading for every Homeric scholar, etc.

              2. ***
                Lineage was very important in early Germanic societies. A newcomer was more likely to be asked, “Whose son are you?” than “Who are you?”
                ***

                That’s what I am asked whenever I visit my ancestral small town in rural Austria where my ancestors have lived for centuries. They first ask what family I am from though and only then inquire about my father.

                This makes me feel automatically included. But also a little bit uneasy because I’m not in tune with village politics (relations between families) and historical political grievances.

                The habit to ask first about family and paternal background is on the decline. People younger than, say 55, tend to inquire about personal identity first and family relations later.

          2. Yep. In Polynesian society (at least, the few I know of) your family connections were important in entitling you to a share of family land etc, and certain people were charged with remembering the entire genealogy for generations back. And this was all pre-literate, and had much more practical significance than just stories.

            (My wife can do that, I’ll ask ‘is so-and-so a relation?’ and she’ll go back three or four generations and foward again to some third cousin. This is probably why she has a memory for people like a FBI databank – she remembers old friends of mine who she met once, decades ago, and I’ve completely forgotten.)

            I’d say that’s the origin of that stuff in the Bible. But personally, as an Englishman, I’d rather read the Domesday Book. It’d have more relevance to me.

            1. Fascinating. Walking genealogies. I wonder, was Ray Bradbury aware of them?
              Re Domesday Book: since it’s become available online, I’ve been consulting it regularly. Again, amazing how far back so many structures can be traced. And folks fitting into the pattern, generation after generation, unwitting.

            2. I’ve just checked a translation of Volume I of Kramer’s 1905 book “Die Inseln Samoan” and that contains a genealogy going back 33 generations for the Tuianna line and lengthy genealogies for the other four main chiefly titles of Samoa.

              Genealogies need to be remembered by the tulafale or orator for ceremonial purposes and are incorporated into the fa’alupega, an oratorical device for formal greeting which acknowledges the accomplishments of a family or village. A very brief explanation of fa’alupega can be found at
              http://ezinearticles.com/?Faalupega-Explained—Properly&id=1320984

              On a somewhat related note, I highly recommend the film The Orator – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEmx3SuyRpc

    2. Occam, you just made my morning by mentioning the Catalogue of Ships and John le Carre in the same post.

    3. The OT certainly makes a heck of a lot more sense as a mythological history of that particular people. Probably started as an oral history and transcribed at a later date.

      I’m always reminded of the (more sophisticated, maybe) contemporary Roman or Greek historians and their mixing of what we see as myth and harder history. I also can’t work out why anyone who has read both – or Herodotus at a minimum – can look at the Old Testament in any other way.

  16. OK, OK…I feel challenged. I’ll read the damn thing. Never had the masochistic urge. But there is an element of hypocrisy I suppose, having been a lifelong xian antagonist without ever read through the whole thing.

  17. Yeah, the bible is pretty pathetic once you read it without blinders on. The miracles read like any tribal myth you could find in a library, and the narrative just drones on and on. And, the genocide in the OT and the justifications given for it read like something you’d find on a Neo-Nazi website arguing for the extermination of Jews and gays.

    1. The worst genocide in the OT has to be of the Moabites. Killed all the males, all the non-virgin women, and kept what was left as sex slaves. Moses actually gets angry that they didn’t slaughter the women immediately, and after ordering the deaths of all the males and non-virgins, and telling the soldiers to take the virgins as slaves, immediately starts talking about ritual purity. Death cooties were of greater concern than basic human decency.

  18. I’m grateful to those who have read more than I have and report on it (although I have read a bunch), but especially to those who pull together passages that highlight the absurdity of it all. A great example: “Those Amazing Biblical Numbers” (http://www.theskepticalreview.com/tsrmag/1num95.html) which reviews passages that give numbers for the armies in various periods and battles on the old testament. It’s easy to miss these connections reading straight through the bible.

    1. Really intetesting point… The link you give includes the descriptopn of Zerah’s army of “a million”. 2 Chronicles 14.9 actually reads “a thousand thousand”. The difference is that ancient written Hebrew had no vowels. A typical Hebrew word has three consonants, and you can generally make out the sense from context. The word for “thousand” is aleph-lamed-phe (which, coincidentally, is the same spelling as the name of the guttural consonant “aleph”). The word also means “head of household” and was a standard way of numbering populations in many cultures up until the nineteenth century at least. So when King Asa calls up an army of 300 “thousand” men from the tribe of Judah and 280 “thousand” from Benjamin, you need to picture a feudal levy of 580 tribesmen armed witn bows and arrows, not an army of 580 legions. Of course later readers wanted to magnify the family feuds of sheikhs and shepherds into glorious wars, but it wasn’t so.

      The point, though, is that you can’t just read the Old Testament. You need at least a really good Bible Encyclopaedia to help you make sense of it; and, when you do, it is an interesting history book – as accurate as any from the same period.

      1. I remember two little tidbits (which, unfortunately, I cannot attest, so it’ll have to remain hearsay unless someone here can verify) about translating biblical metaphors. The first is that “to strike rock” is an old Hebrew phrase meaning, roughly, “to hit the jackpot”, giving a new meaning to what happened when Moses “struck [the] rock” with his staff and found water. The other is the notion that the Aramaic words for “camel” ard “rope” are homophones or near-homophones, meaning that the needle metaphor should be, “It is easier for a rope to pass through the eye of a needle…” , which, from the viewpoint of just the imagery, seems much more appropriate.

  19. … and believe me, it’s embarrassing to sit on a plane and be observed reading the thing

    Perhaps you should slip it inside a copy of Playboy.

    1. No, put it inside of the book “Fifty Shades of Gray”. Badly written, boring. Still better than the Bible.

  20. Don’t torture yourself any further. Dump the flabby original and instead get “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible” http://tinyurl.com/8a8q5cp

    Much more entertaining, hits all the points you need know, and it’s ISAAC ASIMOV! A standard guide for Old Atheists for many years and still unsurpassed. You won’t want to leave home without it.

    1. Yes, I agree with that! It makes a lot more sense and is generally more tolerable with Asimov as a companion volume. More amusing yet is Ken’s Guide to the Bible by “Ken Smith, B.A.”

      1. Might I offer my own contribution, too? I slogged through the whole thing a couple of years back in an effort to understand and somehow come to terms with my fundamentalist Christian faith. As has been noted, it had the opposite effect. What a conflicted, brutal, ugly mess.

        Here are my notes on the Old Testament and New Testament.

  21. I’ve read the bible cover to cover when I wasn’t an atheist yet. If you are an atheist now, what is the point of reading it? It’s a waste of energy. And you’re not even entertained. What’s next, read the Quran, Bahai scripture, The Book of Mormons, and Dianetics?

    1. If one must read Revelations, I would recommend at least read it with suspension of disbelief. At least you may get an apocalyptic entertainment that way.

    2. I tried reading the Quran last year some time (available on-line, of course) and I couldn’t get through it. At. All. Maybe I chose a couple of particularly dreadful Suras, but it was all like the very worst of the Pentateuch — moral commandments enforced by pious blessings and threats, all strung together with no perceptible continuity or theme, and no narrative whatever. Seriously, it makes Leviticus look like a page-turner.

      1. The Koran was assembled without any idea in which order Mohammed dictated the parts, so they simply arranged it starting with the longest suras. These typically dealt with more complicated political matters and are generally really bad.

  22. I’ve read the whole thing, the RSV which is like the KJV with most of the errors corrected.

    You overlooked the parts in the Exodus where livestock that is already dead is afflicted with boils and then killed all over again. Pharoah’s magicians also turned water into blood when every drop of water in the land had already been turned into blood. The Egyptian army then persued the Isrealites into the desert with chariots. All their livestock was dead, what did they pull the chariots with? Thinking about it, they probably made their women pull them.

    There is also the gem where God tells Moses that he will erase all memory of Amalek from under Heaven, make sure that you write that down!

    The proverbs are unbelievably trite. Lamentations is IMO the worst book, Ecclesiates the best. Watch out for the passage in Eccles that says that when you are dead you are dead, you only get one life so live it to the full.

    In the NT the Epistles should be read before the Gospels and Acts because they are older.

    1. Job isn’t half bad once you ignore the pious interpretations and see what it says. Job is like a skeptics book inserted into the Bible. It’s basically an anti-theodicy book. The pious through the ages have had to scramble to reinterpret it as somehow being about Job’s patience or some nonsense. Job isn’t patient at all. He’s right and won’t back down. In the book of Job, though, God actually admits he’s not a just or good God. Only powerful, and so not to be messed with. He demonstrates this with his actions in the Bible all the time, of course, but in Job he also admits that he is unjust.

      Roughly, the book goes like this:

      * God (God!) says Job is blameless (contra Christian doctrine).

      * God allows Job to be tortured on a simple dare.

      * Jobs friends come to see him sick and suffering and try to defend God’s actions to Job, saying pious things like “You must have done something wrong”, or “God is the God of justice so he wouldn’t torture you for no reason”.

      * Job insists that, no, he’s done nothing to deserve his fate. That god is a fiend, and that if there were a higher judge than God he could go to, that judge would find in Job’s favor. Job says of God,

      “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’ When a scourge brings sudden death,
      he mocks the despair of the innocent. When a land falls into the hands of the wicked,
      he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it?”

      * The friends are shocked by this impertinence and continue to insist that God is good and Job must be being punished or corrected for his sins. The friends say what the pious always say. They are very tiring, but very familiar.

      * In the end, God shows up, impresses one and all with his power. Might makes right he seems to say. No one has the guts to address him face to face.

      * Then God rebukes Job’s friends, saying that they did not speak the truth about him (God)! Who did speak the truth about God, according to God? Job! That’s remarkable when you think about what Job said and what the friends say. The friends sound like any Christian you’ve ever heard trying to defend God’s goodness against all the pain and suffering of the world. It’s all classic theodicy from Job’s friends. Job, on the other hand, says God is guilty for the bad stuff. God, in this story at least, agrees.

      1. I am wondering, are you replying to the wrong comment? I forgot to mention the book of Job. The most interesting aspect of this book is the dialogue between God and Job where God reveals that he has less knowledge about the universe than a modern day primary school graduate.

  23. It always impressed me how impotent the supposed god was. He needs all this fancy stuff to get some people out of Egypt, then he needs THEM to kill off the Canaanites. Why can’t god just kill the evil ones himself, rather than teach his chosen people to butcher children and animals?

    Once you slog through it, you’ll never want to go back.

    1. I recently pointed out to someone who made reference to “witch burning” that it was hanging that was the preferred method of execution for witches, and that burning alive was reserved for heretics. I mentioned that the confusion probably arose because the witches were cremated after execution to prevent their resurrection on the last day.

      It always struck me as incongruous that the deity of the bible could make Adam out of dirt and reanimate a sack of bones on judgement day but that a pile of ashes was apparently beyond his ability. The Catholic church, in fact, maintained a prohibition against cremation until the 1960s, and still only permits it if the deceased had stipulated, while still alive, that the cremation is not a refutation of the doctrine of resurrection.

    1. “Excuse me but it says quite clearly in the book of Exodus that my pizza was supposed to have fifty pepperonis per qubit… have you even read the Bible??”

      1. I seem to remember a pizza place advertisement here in Ottawa (can’t remember for where) that said their meatball pie had some fixed number of meatballs. Or was it a meatball sub? In any case …

  24. I read the KJV of the bible in my 20’s, just to confirm my agnosticism, which I had been aware of since my teens. In my 40’s I read it again to confirm my atheism, which had crept up on me since my first reading. I am now in my mid-80’s and I’ve been a firm atheist for so long that it seems perfectly natural, just like my own skin.

    1. Actually, I don’t think there can be anything on this page that is any better than the reviews on Amazon. Thanks for the pointer. Nice to have some Friday afternoon laughs.

    2. Some of the “Customers don’t think this post adds to the discussion” comments were priceless, for example:

      Z Espinal, Mass says:

      Mormonism is a pagan religion, and Islam was created by the Vatican.

      Could this be true ?

      It would explain a lot.

    3. Those reviews are absolutely screaming hilarious! I’ve bookmarked it for when I need a good laugh. Thank you!

      Even Amazon (unwittingly) contributed – “42 used from $0.01”

    1. Indeed, and hope you’re able to find compensation for your effort expended in the form of a book contract and/or lecture honoraria and great eats afterward.

  25. Why is it important to read the Bible to discover the sources of common figures of speech? I guess I can see that it’s important to know that the Bible is the source. But beyond that, getting to the specifics, who cares? (Oh! The “brother’s keeper” line comes from Genesis 4:9! So what?)

  26. I enjoyed learning about textual analysis in the New Testament… I spent a lot of time pondering the “intents” of each gospel writer as evidenced by verse exclusions etc (as compared to the other gospels).

    But that was back when I thought there was something meaningful underneath.

    Now I struggle to think of a single book or even verse that I would recommend or want to re-read.

  27. (and believe me, it’s embarrassing to sit on a plane and be observed reading the thing)

    A point in favor of the Kindle KJV, which sells for $4.99.
    Mike Aus, a former pastor here discusses the fact that it was the Bible that was largely responsible for his recent decision to come out as a nonbeliever. He says that if the Bible were the word of God, it ought to be so good that one could hardly put it down. Instead, he thinks that most people who set out to read the Bible quit somewhere around the middle of Leviticus.

    1. Agreed. However, I think that being difficult and obscure works in it’s favor as a holy book. The Bible, by it’s very opacity, encourages people not to read it or consider it carefully. It isn’t even obvious most of the time what the point of most of it is. If the text were clear and easy to understand it’d engage the logical, skeptical, part of one’s mind more readily. As a tangle of serious sounding but loosely connected stories and assertions, though, it gives the mind nothing to latch onto, and so tends to just float around in the emotional parts of one’s mind. Moreover,when some people (preachers and priests) insist that it’s plain to them this has the effect of making one feel a little insecure, “maybe I’m too dumb to understand it”, and so more deferential to their interpretation.

      Presenting the Bible clearly and in a way that is easy to understand, like the Lego or Comic Bible earlier, without a lot of gloss (as you find in “Children’s” Bibles), does a lot to lift the scales.

    2. I evidently erred in inserting the link to the video of the Mike Aus talk at the word “here,” so here it is:

    3. Not trying to make a snide comment about the value of the literature, but how does Amazon justify charging more than 25 cents for it?

      Its open source, there are already e-versions floating around, and the only ‘cost’ they should incur is converting it to kindle format ONCE and then sending it to your kindle.

      It seems to me to be highway robbery to charge anything more than their standard transfer cost (which is the 25 cents, I believe).

  28. People praising the bible as a highlight of poetry and wisdom bring into mind Hans Christian Andersen’s tale ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’: a smart tailor makes a new suit of clothes for an emperor and convinces him that these clothes are soooo special and wonderful that it is only intelligent, superior people can see and appreciate them. But then, when the Emperor is wearing his new clothes, a child cries out, ‘Look – he is not wearing any clothes at all!’
    I think this parable applies perfectly to the bible and all those people stupidly repeating that it is sooo special, soooo beautiful, sooo full of wisdom….
    Okay, there is some poetry in the bible, and even some wisdom, – but barely enough for underpants or socks…

    1. The Bible is NOT a highlight of poetry and wisdom. It is, however, woven into the bulk of Western poetry and wisdom, either directly or indirectly, for the last two thousand years. It is like a coarse low quality thread that runs through a silk garment. The garment, to some extent, redeems the thread. If you try to make a garment out of the thread itself, it’d be ugly and uncomfortable. But as an accent line in something better it takes on a bit of interest.

      1. This is actually a remarkably charitable interpretation, since the Bible has also been woven through some of the most odious hate-filled dreck for the past two thousand years.

  29. Jerry I hope you plan to provide commentary as you wade through the bible, and I would suggest you someone organize these posts so people can find them all easily. I have a hunch this “series” is not only going to be a delight to read but a very useful resource for others. Thanks so much for this post!

  30. “Perhaps things will get better at Psalms and Proverbs”

    lol oh boy I hope you’re being sarcastic. Psalms are the hypnotic drums of christianity. They are repetitive to death by design: in my opinion their goal is to induce an ecstatic trance in you, not unlike shamanic drums (and peyote).

    The only good book in the bible is the song of songs.

  31. It is amazing to me that the Creator of the Universe was one of the worst writers on record.

    I, too, strongly recommend the Brick Testament, which you can read on-line:

    http://www.thebricktestament.com/home.html

    Using Legos to illustrate the action is a great way to get to the meat of the Bible without having to muddle through horribly tortured prose.

    I really don’t know how Jerry can read so much theology. It boggles my mind.

  32. I read the thing as a teen. I was always asking questions about “my faith” that neither my priest nor my mother wanted to answer, and it was suggested to me that I might strengthen my beliefs if I tried really hard to immerse myself in “my faith”. So I thought that the Foundational Text was as likely a place to start as any*. I do remember being faintly bored in places but also a little curious, knowing as I did that this was a Blueprint For Life and also must by definition contain all the wisdom in the universe. I slogged through parts, glossed over others and became fairly unsympathetic to this hefty tome. Then I got to “Saint” Paul and his considered words of wisdom about women and their natural place in the grand order of things. After considering this for a minute or two, the book got hurled across the room where it battered into a door and collapsed in a heap with it’s binding not nearly damaged enough.

    I did eventually do a quick page-through of Revelations, but I can’t recommend it. Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman is far wiser, saner and truer account of the End of Days.

    *Note: in general Catholics are not given the Bible as recommended reading. That was an error on my part.

    1. And what’s more, Pratchett has a wicked sense of humour, and a highly readable writing style, which God doesn’t.

      1. Not ‘a True Believer’.

        When French aristocrats started organizing to collect & publish scientific results… One of the things they noticed was that peasants had quaint superstitions, including the notion that sometimes rocks fell out of the sky. Some of these peasants even claimed to have seen it happen.

        Count me as a visiting peasant.

        1. Your smugness puts me more in mind of a parody of an English vicar from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

          Do you have a source for that myth…I mean story about the rocks?

  33. Surely Ceiling Cat will bestow His blessings upon you for such self-immolation. Perhaps He will send some cute little bunnies across your path again.

  34. Fifty loops shalt thou make in the one curtain, and fifty loops shalt thou make in the edge of the curtain that is in the coupling of the second; that the loops may take hold one of another.

    Fifty one shalt thou not make, neither makest thou forty nine, excepting that thou then proceed to fifty. Fifty two is right out.

  35. Wait tell you arrive at Numbers. That is a real BatShit Crazy bible book. Not that the rest aren’t BatShit Crazy but Numbers is reallyyyy BatShit Crazy.

    1. Numbers is where I gave up reading it when I tried (though I had already read all of the NT).

      My favourite “embarassing” passages are Isaiah 45:7, where (like in Job) god says he does evil, and Matthew 6:1-6, where Jesus tells his followers to always pray in private. (When is the last time you heard of a Christian who did this consistently?)

      1. My favorite passage is Deuteronomy 25:5-10, just because it’s so freakin’ weird. I’d love to see the Religious Right live by that bit of biblical advice.

  36. The Bible is boring and insipid

    Indeed, it is. I read it back when I was a teenager. It is one of the best arguments for atheism.

    I know that Richard Dawkins and others tout the Bible’s beautiful poetry, and indeed, there is some, …

    Yes, there are some poetic parts.

    …, but I wonder how much of that poetry was in the original, and how much was value added by King James’s group of translators.

    I suspect that a lot of it came from the translators.

    … there is precious little poetry in there

    That’s correct. It is like a vast desert, with a few small oases.

    God is a horrible megalomaniac.

    I didn’t actually get that impression. What stood out for me, as the clearest impression, was that God was evolving over time. And that did not square with concept of a timeless eternal God. My tentative conclusion was that man had created God in his (man’s) image, and that as human cultures evolved, so did the Gods created by those human cultures. That realization pretty much ended the brief religious period of my life.

    …, but I’m told that Revelation is insane.

    I look at it as of the genre of fantasy. And not very good fantasy at that.

  37. Judges, Kings, Chronicles are rather good as instances of tribal remembering and self-identification. I like the story part of Jeremiah, what is about political decisions that went wrong, and is the only part in the Bible that reads as accurate history written by a participant. Some parts of Hosea or Amos are early calls for social justice.

  38. Wait till you get to the book of Ruth. That is actually the best story in the book and the one they all sort of mean when they say all the good things – you understand all your Jewish friends after your read that book. I also liked the parts about king David. Job is good – you should read some De Sade for a break right in the middle of Job though – the story of Justine by De Sade its like red wine with meat. The psalms are nice you should read them out loud in a fake British accent. when you get to the “new” testament the best book is John its like reading good English science fiction it helps if you imagine Brian Aldis naked – this helps with the needed shame especially towards the end of the book when protagonist dies and you want him to come back to life.

    Stop here Watch Jesus Christ Superstar.

    then read the rest of the the book of John.

    Actually the rest of the bible is really really really boring after that unless your into to justifying slavery or homophobia. Some of the later books dont really make and sense at all – except for Acts which is like McGuiver episodes or Matlock on tv only in bible language. Parts of Corinthians are really good especially the stuff about love.

    When you get to Timothy you will probably say Get a room already! but still keep going. a couple of the “books” are really short. Then of course is Revelations – you should really really only read it aloud – if your read it to yourself its not the same – preferably by candle light in a cave with some dripping water.

    1. Since Revelation was written by a man on a magic mushroom trip (true story!) I wonder if it would benefit from reading it while high.

      Couldn’t hurt…sober, it was excruciating.

    2. Jesus Christ Superstar? Sitting through Andrew Lloyd Weber is pretty much the only thing I can think of more masochistic than reading the Bible.

      As far as the psychedelic visions of one John of Patmos go, I think you guys are underestimating the effects of schizophrenia and malnourishment. It certainly COULD be ergot or amanita muscaria or hashish or dozens of other intoxicants…or it could just be an already schizotypal dude hallucinating from lack of nutrients. (Why do you think fasting is so important to so many independent religious traditions?)

        1. (Damn. I just repeated myself. Didn’t mean to spam this thread. One of the hazards of having comments emailed plus a dash of forgetfulness. Sorry all.)

  39. Perhaps things will get better at Psalms and Proverbs.

    Nope. To wit, Psalm 14 (KJV)

    1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

    2 The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.

    3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

  40. My absolute favorite part about the little section on some poor schlemiel who wanted wood on Saturday (Numbers, Chapter 15):

    Right after the last line, said very somberly 36 And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.

    What is god’s concern immediately following this execution? This was one of their tribesmen, afterall. And each person had to take part in the execution, very traumatic experience imo. God’s concern is having “fringes on the edges of their garments” and the fringe borders be “blue”.

    Yeah, fashion mandates in 15:37-38 when 15:36 was an execution. For crime/punishment that wasn’t even on record (why would Moses have to deliberate on what to do with the offender if there was an established punishment for this “crime”?)!

  41. Been there, done that. I found Paul’s letters aroused my curiosity. If they are any indication, there were some really nasty internal political/doctrinal disputes going on even in earliest Christianity. In the long term, it looks like Paul’s side won and got to write the history, so we’ll probably never know what the hubbub was really all about.

    1. Yes, this is where Paul took Christianity out of Judaism. If he hadn’t done that and it had stayed a sect, it probably would not have survived.

      And it was only after those letters that the Gospels were written, with all their inveighings against “the Pharisees” who have become the Jews of today.

  42. …but I’m told that Revelation is insane

    Yes. To wit, Revelation 19 (KJV; and this is one of the “moderate” parts)

    20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

    21 And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.

    1. If I remember correctly, Revelation was one of Hunter S. Thompson’s favorite pieces of prose. If he found himself in a hotel without anything interesting to read, he would always reach for the Gideon.

  43. IMHO the best reason to read the Bible in search of bits they gloss over in Sunday school. You found one of my favorites… God hardening Pharoahs heart. Another is Solomon turning away from God before his death. “Smartest Man in the Bible” according to some Christians.

    I also liked the guy who slayed a 10,000 man army in a single day. What a workout that must have been.

    1. See my earlier comment – “thousand” = headman. A lot more credible than Samson killing a million Shittites with the arsebone of a giraffe.

  44. There’s one very good reason to read the bible.

    If you’re going to be a contestant on Jeopardy!.

    More shows than not, there’s a bible category.

  45. Just be thankful you’re reading the KJ version and not the catholic version I read when I was 12. Then some friend said I should read the KJ version, so I did (though I skipped the begat parts). Slightly better in some areas. I suppose it would be helpful if I’m ever on Jeopardy…

    When I look back and think of the books I could have read, I’m really saddened. There’s so many good books and so little time.

  46. Reading the bible started me on my way out of xianity.

    I was in church one day about 7 or 8 and bored. I’d been told the bible was a magic book and Revelation was about the future.

    How cool is that, a magic book that foretells the future!!!

    I read a few pages of Revelation and decided it was gibberish. So much for the magic book. I’ve since read it a few times. It’s understandable but still gibberish.

    I don’t know why xians pay any attention to it. It’s also wrong. Revelation is about the future and none of what it predicted ever happened.

  47. Someone once said that, if any xtian was to read the KJV from cover to cover three times, s/he would become an atheist. Of course that presumes that s/he could understand what was being read.

    Of course Jerry doesn’t have this problem.

  48. Good heavens, get a grip. Who’s making you read it?

    Having, in my youth made my way through the first several major sections of Whitehead-Russell, Capital, Husserel’s Phenomenology and a few other such classics, little can seem tedious.

    I’d suggest the Everett Fox translation and skipping over the lists. Of course, that’s not why you’re reading it, is it.

  49. The Bible as a whole lacks a coherent story arch or development. Christians have tried to impose one on it, but it isn’t very good. I suggest as companion reading something like Jack Miles’ book, God, A Biography. This book treats God as a character in a book and explores his development as a character. He walks through the Bible to do so, so you can read what Mile’s has to say about the bit you’re currently stuck in. Such a treatment gives you some kind of story arc on which to hang all the rest of it.

    1. This is an interesting post. I often see internet postings with misused apostrophes*, but this is a first. In the phrase “…Jack Miles’ book…”, it’s used correctly to form a proper posessive, but in the phrase, “…you can read what Mile’s has to say…”, an unnecessary apostrophe is inserted where it’s not needed.

      *Some people seem to feel a need to stick apostrophe’s before all word’s with a terminal ‘s’.

      1. That’s my spinal cord. My brain knows better. The chief purpose of editing is to correct what the spinal cord types.

        Hope you feel superior for the day.

        1. I don’t really feel superior. One of my hobbies is the use and misuse of language and its written analogues, and as I said, your comment included a first. However, / snark I’m happy enough to have made you feel inferior / snark.

          1. Grammar trolls are a common blight, so it’s natural to assume the presence of a troll when a comment is about grammar rather than content. If you interest is truly linguistics I sincerely apologize for my knee-jerk reaction.

            I agree that it is a curious kind of mistake I have made here and, if you’re interested in that sort of thing, it’s worth considering where it might have come from. There is no doubt I make many mistakes of correct usage because I simply don’t know, or don’t care to think about, the correct usage. In this case, though, this is not a mistake of grammatical understanding but an odd kind of typo. There is no part of my conscious mind that thinks this is correct usage. Somewhere between thinking “Miles has to say”, and the words coming out on the keyboard, some part of my brain inserted an apostrophe. I type very fast which must translate, at least in part, to offloading a lot of this processing to more automatic parts of the brain. A lot of odd mistakes ensue, mistakes I’d never make if writing by hand (that is, slower). Like the arch/arc in the same post. I know “arc” from “arch”. The sound I heard in my mind was “arc”, but some part of my brain that has been delegated the task of typing the letters outputs the wrong letter combination. I was surprised to see it on the page. The apostrophe error is similarly surprising to see. I suspect the apostrophe error comes from several competing letter/symbol combinations for the same sound being primed in my brain. “Mile” is, by itself, a common word, and “miles” is the equally common plural. So part of the brain wants, really badly, to interpret “Miles” as a plural. Not that that would make “Mile’s book” correct, but I think it may play a part in the competitive activation of different possible letter/symbol combinations. The more things competing to give the answer, the more likely that the wrong one will win out. I did actually pause to think about the possessive in “Jack Miles’ book”, but the thought was not about how to show possessive with a name that ends in “s”. I know that rule very well, as my own name ends in an s. The thought was rather, “Is his name Miles or is it Mile and I am only remembering someone saying Mile’s book?” It only took a second to realize that “Miles” is a more plausible name than “Mile” so that it must be “Miles”, but in that second I nonetheless though about “Mile and Mile’s book”. I suspect that that brief thought primed my brain with the “Mile’s” version. Having been primed by actually thinking about “Mile and Mile’s book”, a few seconds later when I was no longer consciously focusing on spelling and grammar some semi-automatic part of my brain grabbed this primed letter combination and threw it on the page.

            I suspect that this happens with “there”, “their”, and “they’re”, for example. Since they are usually pronounced the same, these letter combinations are competing for activation in the brain when translating the thought into spelling. Of course, many people clearly do not know the difference on any level, so I wouldn’t say that most errors with these words are brain farts instead of genuine lack of understanding, but at least some of them, probably quite a few, are.

            And then there are micro-strokes.

          2. Homer Simpson: I’m really glad you corrected me, Lisa. People are always really glad when they’re corrected.

            Dunno how anyone gets to be an adult without noticing this, but most people are irritated when someone makes a big thing of correcting their grammar or spelling. On the internet, especially, if it COULD be a typo then you should assume typo.

            1. Well, I hate to agree with Dan L, but it is flaming annoying being corrected over trivial irrelevancies. So it is a duty and a pleasure to return serve:

              ‘In the phrase “…Jack Miles’ book…”, it’s used correctly to form a proper posessive…” You need a couple more s’s in there. That should be “Miles’s” though “Miles'” is gaining currency. But “posessive” is just plain wrong.

  50. There is actually a lot of poetry in the OT, but some translations mask it. Poetry can be very open-ended: hard to come to terms with in a translation that is supposed to convey a “message”.

    Hebrew Poetry doesn’t have a regular meter or rhyme. Most of the prophetic books contain a lot of poetry. Also Psalms, Job and Lamentations are primarily poetry.

    Hebrew poetry is often built on parallelism: repetition of thought in two or three lines with different words. There are also a puns and double entendres, some of which are really quite clever. These devices are well attested in other ancient Near Eastern literature, too.

    Some of the metaphorical constructs in books like Isaiah and Hosea are really complex and despite the horrific violence they convey, have a kind of aesthetic appeal, like a good horror movie.

  51. I’m a fan of Philemon. 3rd shortest book in the Christian bible at less than 500 words total, so its manageable. And would wouldn’t love the story?

    ‘Hey Philemon, I met your escaped slave Onesimus while being held in this dungeon. I converted him, so now I’m returning him to you. Please please treat him nicely. Yours, Paul.’

    Now that’s a moral lesson for you! Remember kiddies, always convert the slave before you send him back to his master.

    1. >>Remember kiddies, always convert the slave before you send him back to his master.

      Yet another example of why, for instance, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN seems a more profoundly human book to me, a more deeply moral book, than anything I’ve waded through in the bible.

  52. I read the bible, KJ version, cover to cover, from “In the beginning” to “Amen” way back when I was a teenager (I’m getting close to 60 now). I had to force myself to continue several times. It’s just about the most tedious book out.

    Yes, there may be a few outstanding literary illusions but on the whole, it’s just garbage. This is why most people just dip in and out, picking out the bits they like and ignoring the rest.

  53. If you want poetry (an epic poem) covering similar ground, try Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

    Sam Harris’–“why did god make Shakespeare a better writer than himself?” applies here too.

    Why is Milton’s version so much better than the original?

    1. Why is Milton’s version so much better than the original?

      The miracle of zymurgy.

      Oh many a peer of England brews
      Livelier liquor than the Muse,
      And malt does more than Milton can
      To justify God’s ways to man.

  54. You think the bible is bad enough I read the book of moron I mean Mormon along with the bible and my head almost exploded. Being raised Mormon taught me a few good lesson’s it’s all bullshit and man made and the worst fiction ever written.

    1. Mark Twain agrees with you.

      All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the “elect” have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so “slow,” so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.

  55. I’ve been painfully reading through about half of it over the last few months for exactly the same reasons as you, and you’re spot on. Most of it is incredibly tedious and empty of any valuable lessons. The rest of it is edifying. I’m about halfway through Psalms and although the language is quite pleasant the contents is just praise the lord and may he destroy our enemies. Bleh.

  56. Have you gotten to the Song of Solomon, yet?

    If not, I suggest being alone, in a private room, when you get to it.

    /snark

    Also, I think you should check out all the books that didn’t make it in. They are occasionally better than the official crap. I’m particular fond of the Youth Gospel (shows a childhood Jesus misusing his “powers” for the sake of bullying and getting his own way… I actually don’t remember the correct name for it), the Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. The Dead Sea Scrolls are decent as a post-companion, but are basically just as boring and tedious.

    I have all of it on my iTouch (the Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the rejected gospels) because I’m going through my own read of the Bible now. I’m about to start Revelations, and I’m thinking of growing some ‘shrooms, although I have heard that reading Revelations on ‘shrooms can cause a very nightmarish, extremely unpleasant trip… so I may just slog it out sober.

    For anyone reading… I wonder… if you were to try and put the rejected gospels back in to the canon, what order would you put them in?

  57. “I don’t get this at all. He’s GOD, for crying out loud: omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good.”

    I think these characteristics of God were not there from the start. That’s doctrine that has arisen over the ages, but one only gets a bit of that from the text itself, and within the text God develops from a tribal god of limited knowledge and power into an increasingly universal, and remote, figure with increasing abilities. As Borges said in From Someone to No one:

    “In the first centuries of our era, Christians renovated the prefix omni, formerly reserved for adjectives concerned with nature or with Jupiter, and supplied the words omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, which make God into a respectable chaos of unimaginable superlatives.”

    In the creation story, it is obvious that God is not alone in creating the world. Ergo, no monotheism. Early on, for that matter, the Bible talks like rival gods are real, and only later like they are imaginary. In the Garden, God acts like he doesn’t know where Adam and Eve are, so not omniscient. God “tries” to kill moses in the story of the foreskin I mention in another comment. Not omnipotent. It is illuminating to read the Bible from the perspective of an evolving picture of who or what the God character is.

  58. I was a devout christian for 29 years, I’ve read the bible 4 freaking times. The first time I was shocked at this god fellow and thought there was no way this was the god of jebus but sure enough I convinced myself it was. The next two times I was oblivious to it looking for insights. Finally I decided to really study it the 4th time and you know what, I’m an atheist today.

    Thanks, bible for convincing me that there is no way the god of the bible is real!

    Anyways I’m listing to an audio CD of the KJV from Alexander Scourby, this is my first attempt at the KJV (I’ve read NKJV, ESV, NIV, New Living Translation). From being an atheist from the start this time, it a whole different game, I fail to see how I got any inspiration from this pile of boring antiquated rubble. (Although it does get a little better once you get out of the torah….until Chronicles which is even worse than Numbers).

  59. Recently read the thing for first time. Don’t hold your breath for Proverbs, it is boring and repetitive. Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes are the highlights.

    I found myself reading the OT as a long diaryof an abusive, controlling marriage between God and Israel. He claims her as his own, but the moment she steps even trivially out of line there is hell to pay, starting almost immediately with the whole apple thing in genesis; yet He has managed to convince her that she is worthless without Him and that he would show his love if she could only behave better.

    Particularly in the middle and latter parts of the OT, the number of times that the Israelites are referred to collectivelly as a whore is pretty amazing.

  60. But then God hardens Pharaoh’s heart…

    I would be interested in the processed underlying this step. Does he achieve the hardening by thermal processes such as quenching, thereby also making the heart rather brittle? Or is this merely achieved by pouring in some Reinforced Concrete into said heart. I prefer the latter theory, as it would account for the progressive hardening as more concrete is poured in. God must have been a first rate heart surgeon to do this without killing the Pharaoh though.

    Also, what happened to free will when the Pharaoh’s heart is “hardened” by “the Lord”? Wasn’t the deal supposed to be that he would do no such thing?

  61. Don’t get your hopes up on Psalms and Proverbs being an improvement. They are as mind-numbing as the rest! Skip right on ahead to Song of Songs! It has some lovely poetic elements to it and is….ahem….slightly erotic at least! I can’t imagine how that book made it into the bible!

      1. Don’t need the Song of Songs now we have Internet porn. Just another case where the Bible has been overtaken by technology…. 😉

  62. Indeed I have read this tome, many times over in total..as a youth. ‘Favourite’ parts would be the Gospels, least favourite, slavery parts. Psalms and other ‘poetry’ never sounded that good to me.

    The book of Revelation was a mystery which was gripped the imagination and with the ‘help’ of a publication printed by the Watchtower Society, aptly named “Book of Revelation” which graphically illustrates the prophetic visions such as the fall of Babylon the Great, the Wild Beast which I think represented the United Nations, and the Harlot..I can’t remember the exact details but these represented the Harlot of False Religion ‘sleeping with’ Political Powers and how they would be struck down by Jehovah God.

    So, yes Revelation I found to be enthralling..at the time

  63. In my view there are essentially two reasons to read the fucking thing:

    1) As Dawkins and others mention, it’s one of the rocks upon which our modern literary edifice is constructed. It contains countless themes and archetypes that are continually referenced in the western literary canon (although certainly not all of them were invented by the authors of the Bible). A big part of appreciating any form of literature is an understanding of the cultural context in which the language is being used.

    For example, my use of “the fucking thing” above may sound out of place or overly emotional to somebody who doesn’t “get” the reference, but to those in the know, it immediately conjures up imagery, not only of an incredulous Andrew Brown, but also various attendant ideas about atheists and Christians accusing one another of biblical illiteracy. In other words, in order for a community of people to communicate they need to have enough shared linguistic experience to understand the same words, phrases, and metaphors in the same way, and the Bible provides part of our shared literary experience.

    2) The Bible is not literature per se, but an amalgamation of records/laws, history (not all of it true), and literature (not all of it good). In short, it’s a comparatively thorough record of an entire culture that no longer exists – and I think that is interesting in and of itself, the more so since it happens to be a culture that has influenced our own so heavily. To this end I find the Anchor Bible books to be a more interesting read than the KJV. They provide a very detailed translation with painstaking explanations of words and different possibilities for their translation. They hypothesize about the presence of mistranslations, copying errors, deliberate interpolations, and so on; essentially they are trying to provide a historically sound basis for why the words are on the page and what they mean. Be careful though: some authors seem to have a theological agenda, others do not.

    1. Some of the Anchor Bible series of commentaries are quite good academically, but others are quite conservative, eg. Anderson and Freedman on Hosea and Amos. Totally inane in places.

      They say Hosea’s famous line which is usually translated as “They have reaped the wind and will inherit the whirlwind” makes no sense since one cannot sow or harvest atmospheric phenomena. So they translate it as “They will sow when it is windy and reap in a storm”.

      The problem with translations is that they are always selling the original short, sometimes due to inadequacy of English to represent Hebrew idiom, puns, etc. and sometimes because the translators must have an end product that still makes “sense” for modern religious sensibilities or their own lack of imagination.

      1. Doh! Yes. Absolutely. So much for all that crap about words meaning (approximately) the same thing to everbody… It would appear than my own filing system of names and their referents is a bit muddled.

  64. I also decided I would read the Bible, cover to cover, but am now stuck in Proverbs. Psalms and Proverbs are suggested to be poetic. I’m not much into poetry so that may be part of the reason I got bored silly; too much repetition. I started about 2 years ago. Hoewever, I still hope to be able to finish it just so that I said I did; which is more than most of the Christian people I know can say.

  65. Remember Jerry, people in Noah’s time were alot closer to perfection than we are, as they were not so far removed from Adam. That explains why they lived so long.

    1. Did Noah’s family, through generations of vigorous incestuous behavior, really produce offspring from every ethnic group on earth?

      1. I don’t think the JW’s had an official answer for that one, but I heard something about Ham being a black man! That was a satisfactory answer

        1. So, a conveniently negro Ham explains Asians, American Indians, Peruvian Tribes, Eskimos and red-headed Scotsmen? And we should believe that small groups of of each, spontaneously produced by ethnically different parents, migrated across continents and oceans to set up complex civilizations in a few thousand years? Yeah, right. How is it that Old Testament Fundamentalists can’t see the total absurdity of this idea? Has anyone told the Chinese that they are descendants of Noah?

          1. What can I say..Goddy works in mysterious ways, it’s a test of our faith, we must trust that all will be revealed..yadda yadda

            1. Same goes for the Tower of Babel, fundymentals don’t make any connections regarding the similarities and differences in languages having to do with geographical and sociological borders..or if they do they don’t think further into it.

          2. Also, it’s no coincidence that they are actively discouraged from obtaining a higher education, in favour of pursuing the full-time ministry!

  66. I read the whole thing cover to cover too. Bottom line- tall tales of immorality with an over arching theme of deeply sad and thorough nonsense.

    Plus, it should be rated X. Children should not be exposed to that book, its ideas, its god, its savior nor the damnable system called “salvation”.

    The problem with reading the book, Jerry, is when you are done and realize how much this book is entrenched in the psyche of the human race, you will experience deep depression. Have a good bourbon nearby.

  67. It was a painfully dull thing to read, and utterly unimaginative. In many parts it even appears outright schizophrenic (thanks to different authors from different eras inserting text here and there in the older texts which were translated into the KJB + who knows what its authors added).

    What I saw as I read the thing many decades ago were mere creation stories and god fables. This Yahweh was like any number of gods from other religions and his minions were like Hercules and other heroes from tribal epics around the world.

    Wait until you get to the New Testament – things become even more confused.

  68. There was a Biblical literalist on a BBC programme a little while ago who emphatically did believe that people lived to over 900 years old. His reasoning? “Life was different back then.”

  69. Late to the party here, and haven’t even pretended to skim the comments, or even read the entire post.

    But, Jerry, if it wouldn’t be too much to ask…as you come across the stories of the Garden of Eden, the Burning Bush, and Doubting Thomas, would you be so kind as to let us all know whether or not you think my summaries of them are, shall we say, faithful?

    You know — talking animals in an enchanted garden with an angry wizard, talking plant giving magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero, zombie snuff pr0n with intestinal fondling, etc.

    Thanks,

    b&

  70. I’m on the same journey. But chose the NIV not KJV. It’s not as turgid and pseudo archaic and probably a more reliable translation. This serves to obviate the bollocks in it…

  71. Huh. Once again I wish I could see these things from an outside perspective instead of the perspective of someone who grew up Southern Baptist and has heard these stories over and over her entire life. Today’s zinger: I JUST NOW, after reading this post, realized the ridiculousness of the Moses/Pharaoh plot that Jerry points out. Added to the list of things I’d never thought about before…

  72. Even back when I was a good girl, I never enjoyed reading the OT and had to force myself to do it (never made it even close to finishing). The NT was much more enthralling, particularly the later books. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and James were my favorites. They’re all highlighted up in my parallel English-Spanish Bible. (At some point, I’d like to reread them, now with a different perspective to see how dumb they really are.)

      1. Many Christians claim the New Testament is kinder and gentler than the Old. But actually, the New Testament contains the most horrific passages of mass slaughter in the book (in Revelation). And the New Testament probably has more defenses of slavery, while the Old Testament has more righteous denunciations of it. It’s a mixed bag, by authors of many political stripes.

  73. I slogged through the New King James version when I was in college, mostly for the same reasons that you are reading now.

    You will like Ecclesiastes, which is poetic, short, and the source of many famous quotes (“To everything there is a season” etc.) It is very old; parts of it are near-atheist in perspective and appear to pre-date any belief in an afterlife. It is quite different from any other book in the Bible.

    I like the geology in the book of Job. I also like the nature poetry in Psalm 139. The stories of Daniel and Joseph are interesting because they have so many shamanic and magical elements; I’m surprised they’ve never been edited to remove the good parts.

    Most of the New Testament is a huge turnoff for me. Jeebus comes across as a jerk with narcissistic personality disorder.

    The “woman clothed with the sun” portion of Revelation is very interesting; it seems like part of another (perhaps older) story that was inserted for dramatic effect, and sounds suspiciously like the mythologized version of a meteorite fall.

    For comic relief, you might want to track down a copy of “Not the Bible” by Sean Kelly and Tony Hendra, which is OOP. It’s hilarious.

    1. >>Most of the New Testament is a huge turnoff for me. Jeebus comes across as a jerk with narcissistic personality disorder.

      Especially in “The Gospel of John.” I saw this recently on stage, and the actor playing Jesus caught the whining, manipulative, self-obsessed tone of voice with perfect conviction.

  74. A while back I also decided to plow through the bible. I read a version that was 1600 pages long and thought the first 800 pages were utterly fascinating. I came at the bible as a total ignoramus–I’d never even read or learned about the famous parts. So I was just amazed, totally amazed, at all the morally outrageous stuff and obsessiveness. I was also struck by the parts you picked out. The hardening of Pharoah’s heart is appalling but awfully interesting. You could read that as having all sorts of meanings, so as morally revolting as it is, it’s fecund. I also loved the bit about the tabernacle. Again, it cries out for interpretation. Why on earth did the tabernacle have to be exactly like that? Again and again, elements of the bible seemed 180 degrees from being wholesome moral instruction, so … fun, fun, fun. Once I got to Isaiah the fun had run out. That was the most boring thing I’ve ever read. But now that I’ve had roughly a 10 year break, maybe it’s time to get on with reading the second half of the bible.

  75. The Bible is permeated with the basest tribalism. Take the anecdote in 1 Samuel 18, where King Saul requests 100 Philistine foreskins as a marriage present from (future king) David. It makes you wonder what Saul planned to do with them. The answer would be: probably nothing. The point is that Philistines had foreskins while the Israelites had not. Saul wanted evidence that David had indeed killed 100 Philistines. The biblical Israelites were no better than head hunters. Yet, it is their morality that we are supposed to admire and emulate. These primitive barbarians were after all God’s chosen people.

    Even as a child (I went to Christian schools where the Bible was read daily) this struck me as incongruous and unbelievable. Before I left primary school I was already convinced of the following: If the Bible had indeed been written or inspired by God it would have been a totally different book.

    And what’s this strange obsession with foreskins and circumcision throughout the Bible? Why this unsavoury Leitmotiv?

    1. I loved it when Joshua crossed into Canaan territory with his army, and then surprised his men with forcing them to get circumsised right then and there.

      Classic Old Testament.

    2. And David brought 200 foreskins. You can imagine 110 or so, just to make sure he didn’t give short measure, or Saul didn’t like some of them, but 200? That just sounds kinky.

  76. “Job” is absolutely worth reading, contains much of the best writing in the King James Bible, and might be one of the strongest arguments in the book for atheism — indeed, for anti-theism.

    I’ve also noticed that many of the Christians I’ve known have never actually read the Bible, I suspect for good reason.

    1. I love the book of Job. I love how Yawheh answers the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” with the sublime “Sit down and shut the fuck up, Job.”

      1. “Nyah, nyah, nyah, I created the universe and you didn’t! I am big, you are small, better get used to the chain and ball.”

    2. I like Job too, it contains all the universal answer as to why humans must endure suffering and why God let’s it continue; so that God can prove to the Devil that we’ll be faithful to him whether there’s something in it for us or not! That’s the moral of the story I was taught, anyway

    3. “many of the Christians I’ve known have never actually read the Bible, I suspect for good reason.”

      One reason is fear. Never underestimate the role of fear in religion. When I was young Christian I didn’t read the Bible because it scared me. I had already heard from the preacher that there was an unforgivable sin, blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and he cited verses that I hadn’t seen before to support this. Oh my, a sin that I did not even know how to commit was unforgivable, even by Jesus. And that meant, in my sect, burning for ever and ever in a lake of fire. For all I knew, I’d already committed this sin and was doomed forever and ever. Frankly, I was terrified to look in the book much for fear of what else I might find out.

  77. Dissing the bible is as useless as celebrating it. The world continues to drown in the tide of its foolishness. My interpretation is correct. You are damned for all eternity.

  78. I once read Crime and Punishment and wondered what all the fuss was about, but that is probably just me!

  79. “Moses made it to 120, Noah lived to the ripe old age of 950. Do Christians really buy that?”

    Yes some of them do, I was arguing with one on facebook just last week. His defences of this absurd belief were classic, reproduced below.

    “if a supernatural being (much less author/creator) altered the biology and truncated the number of times a cell can divide, you would have no way of knowing that. You’d be looking at the revised edition with no way of knowing there was a beta.”

    “God mentions them, and many of the other patriarchs when he comes down and speaks to many of the Hebrew prophets, so I’m guessing His word is what I’m going to go with. Pretty simple.”

    “neither of us has first-hand knowledge – but at least mine was written by someone who knew the lineage*…. Again, there’s that testimonial thing verses the test-tube.”

    *As in Adam, overlaps Seth, overlaps Methuseula, overlaps Noah, overlaps Shem overlaps Abraham… – and so therefore the stories are REAL.

    He also said this:

    Let’s say the Old Testament is irrelevant. Why did Christ come? What did he come to do? Save mankind? From what? Bad breath? Bad manors? What defines bad? Where does morality come from? An invention of the human race to balance out the high-level thinking we’ve developed over millions of years? If the OT doesn’t matter, then neither does the birth/death of Jesus and it’s just another notch in a collection of ancient books. Also, that means that Islam, Mormanism, etc are bogus as well – which they are anyway….”

    – so close…..

    Before retreating into an absolutism of creationist drivel:

    “you’ll need to use evidences of long ages that do not use any current dating methods or that are founded on uniformitarianism for me to start listening. ”

    So to sum up – yes some Christians really do buy that and worse- and will warp reality to confirm to their delusion and deny all evidence to the contrary to make it fit.

    1. Some? If only it were merely some. I think it’s probably 143 million in the U.S. alone, the same 46% who are young earth creationists. Does anyone really doubt that the young earth creationists we see in the polls don’t buy it all?

      But then, why shouldn’t they buy super old people? When you bring magic into the picture, all bets are off anyway. God could have just made them old with his magic. You don’t have to explain it materially as some kind of alteration of cells. God did some magic, end of story. Flood waters too heavy for earth’s crust to hold up? Magic holds up the earth’s crust. Can’t rain heavy enough to flood that fast? Magic makes the water appear. Magic makes the water disappear when it’s over too. The possibility of magic disconnects any event in the Bible from any and all checks with reality.

      1. Quite right, I may with permission borrow that list of discontinuities, for when next the topic comes up in debate.

  80. Must feel like pulling teeth, huh?

    Yes, it was during sampling stumbling on the long genealogies that made me realize any good parts couldn’t make up for that. So I gave up. But hey, I was only 7.

    I remember trying to find bad parts later, and I found one with clear magical pre-“monotheist” beliefs. Something about being afflicted by devils, luring them to go over to sheep and kill the devils (how?) by driving the sheep over a cliff edge.

    Also, those as I remember it sometimes mentioned 3 gods (large ruler god, middle god-son, and small god of the gap), supposedly making up a token “monotheist” religion? (If you ask how it should be characterized.)

    That is pretty daft as well.

    1. So how does the Swedish bible translation compare
      a. to good Swedish literature;
      b. to the KJV, or to any other bible translation you may have perused?

  81. I like Numbers 31 where is becomes clear that Moses isn’t Charlton Heston, but Saddam Hussein.

    1. The part where Nehemiah demands ethnic cleansing is fairly inspiring. All that expelling of mixed-ethnic spouses and children.
      Of course there’s other books like Amos, Ruth, or Romans where such bigotry is abused. The collection runs the gamete from absolute fascism to primitive communism.

      1. I think you meant gamut, curse those spell checkers! In any case it’s easy to see how “Christians” have always been able to justify dealing in violent death. There are enough rules and regulations about slaves and witches and such to inspire run a very unpleasant culture indeed. Almost any alleged crime can be punishable by stoning. How is it that so many “Christians” have missed the part where Christ didn’t physically hurt anyone?

        1. Thanks for the spell check!

          How come people didn’t notice that Jesus didn’t hurt anybody? Well, those who did not like that changed the story. They added parts where Jesus comes back to do things right — by slaughtering everyone on earth who does not obey him. Now that’s a messiah who fits the bill for omnipotence.

      2. The collection runs the gamete

        That’s a nice new contribution to the collection of “Freudian slits”.

  82. I can’t help wondering how Andy Schlafly is progressing on his ‘conservative bible project’.

  83. I’m at 1 Chronicles. Even though Numbers is boring things do go deep into the crazy end of the pool in Joshua and Samuel. Oh, I chose to read the NIV 1984 version. That translation is not only one of the crazier ones, but I got the Bible when I graduated college.

  84. Any ancient nation compiling it’s collection of self-defining texts would come up with a similar cacophony of legends, genealogies, supposedly sacred rules, etc. Like most ancient writing, the Bible is mostly boring and pompous to our ears.

    But at least the Bible has a lot of conflicting viewpoints. Some writers demand ethnic cleansing, others praise love for foreigners. Some defend slavery, others rail against it. Some praise great female leaders, others insist women must shut up and stay in the house. Jesus performs some of the most vitriolic anti-clerical rants I’ve ever seen.

    To call this collection “infallible” is like insisting that all voices of American history have been infallible, because America is God’s country — even though those voices have espoused all the conflicting values ever heard.

    –author of Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story

  85. OTOH, recent Sci Am article pointed out that text presented in hard-to-read font helped engage the rational part of the mind.

  86. Jesus spoke Greek, apparently.

    Secondly, most of your arguments boil down to “this is boring”. You’re obviously unaware that the Bible needs these overly detailed records. They establish Jesus’ lineage, for example. Or give details on how the Jews lived.

    1. Except they can’t agree on the hypothetical Jesus’ lineage. It’s boring, contradictory, generally stupid, and largely a waste of time. If it had never existed the world might be a better place. Heck, without it the Koran might not exist.

    2. Jesus was conceived, so the story goes, by God, or was it Gabriel. 🙂 No amount of detailed lineage is relevant, at least not on his father’s side! Apparently no sperm were involved in the creation of the Messiah.

  87. You’re absolutely right about most of this. The Bible is not great literature, not by the standards of the modern age. So much of it is just the folklore of ancient Hebrew tribes – it was relevant to them, it served as a socially cohesive force, but it wasn’t well written even by the standards of early narrative conventions. You can compare the Hebrew myths to Amerindian or Graeco-Roman myths, and the Hebrew myths are invariably the least interesting or imaginative.

    Part of the reason for this is that the Bible is a total hodgepodge. At least short story compilations have one thing in common: they are all short stories. The Bible is a bunch of edited histories, genealogies, religious laws, theology, etc.; all written by different authors with different sensibilities, agendas, beliefs, and levels of skill; with the sharp differences eroded by the effects of time, retelling, revisions, copying errors, and loose translations (the KJV, although the most visible version of the Bible, is one of the worst examples of bad translation as I understand it).

    That said, if I had to pick out parts of the Bible that are worth reading, I’d go with Ecclesiastes, almost exclusively, but Job has some worth as well. Much of the Bible is just poor, pointlessly barbaric, wrong, confused, or contradictory. Not that I’ve read it recently…

    Ecclesiastes is almost comparable to the Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto of Ovid in the depth of its sorrow and its value as a lament. It’s a decent exposition in a line of thought that runs through human history, embodied in works like “Hamlet,” “Notes from Underground,” the poetry of John Donne, and the writings of the existentialists. From what I can tell, it doesn’t actually fit in with the rest of the Hewbrew books, and some people think it owes a debt to Stoicism and Epicureanism (though dating is disputed), much as the Gospel of Thomas is seen as possibly owing a debt to Indian philosophy.

    Job is historically well-regarded because it is actually narrative, and, if you ignore what it implies for theology (i.e. God is a dick), it’s a decent allegory about a man who tries to hold on to his ideals and his virtues in the face of overwhelming opposition.

    Also, for my part, I was never a fan of Proverbs, and the Psalms are grossly overrated (I like a grand total of about three of them). Both are essentially the barest, most unornamented didactic “poetry” advocating self-abasement and fanaticism.

    1. I think the part about God being a dick is the selling point of Job. Job is kind of an anti-theodicy book. Job’s friends spout all the normal nonsense about why there is suffering in the world, insisting that God is Good and so, if Job is suffering, Job must be Bad. Job, the book, pulls back the curtain and makes it clear that all the suffering is for…. a dare. A simple dare, nothing more. Job isn’t bad at all. He’s the best even. But God lets him be tortured nonetheless. Job, the man, is inspiring, because even faced with a wicked and powerful God he doesn’t shy away from calling God wicked. The best part of the book is that, in the end, God admits that, yeah, Job told the truth about God. Ha. Jokes on everyone. You got me. I am a fiend! God even makes the friends, who spout the normal pious nonsense about God’s goodness go ask Job’s forgiveness for spouting this pious nonsense.

      The book of Job had to be written by an ancient skeptic. It’s a little surprising that it made it into the Bible.

      1. “The book of Job had to be written by an ancient skeptic.”

        I’ve often wondered the same thing.

        Job asks for an explanation of God’s justice, and instead receives a demonstration of God’s power. As if the two were the same thing.

        The moral if the book is that might makes right, God is a jackass and you need to just sit there and take it because you’re a powerless, worthless nothing.

        Unfortunately, the apologetic “explanations” that have soft-pedaled what Job “means” is the equivalent of smearing Vaseline on the lens of the projector at a movie theater. It hides the reality of the story.

        Reading Job for yourself, and then reading what believers say about it, is a demonstration of an incredible intellectual disconnect. God CAN’T be a fascistic jerk, so we’ll pretend it doesn’t mean that.

        1. That’s an excellent description of how people alter the message to make it fit expectations. We can see the revisions piling up in the New Testament, as people added what they expected to see. Of course God would tell women to shut up! Of course a proper messiah would be a superhuman deity! Of course he would have the omnipotent power to destroy everybody I hate!

  88. Oh, and I forgot to add that when I asked my mom why we even had a bible in the house, since no one ever even opened it, not once. She replied, “It’s been blessed by a priest”. Which means, I thought at the time, that its sole purpose was to be used against vampires.

  89. In all the time that I have personally discussed the christian faith and the bible with believers I am always stunned by the fact that they do not know the book that they
    esteem as the word of their sky-father. I read the book and became a nonbeliever, yes indeed.

    1. “I am always stunned by the fact that they do not know the book that they esteem as the word of their sky-father.”

      And for me, even more stunning: they don’t seem to care that they don’t know. Are there any other religions where believers actually seem happy to avoid the central texts of their beliefs?

  90. Why even torture yourself reading drivel that even the raptured can’t bring themselves to plod through. I’m sure every page is every bit as torturous as it was when I was force fed it as a child. Even then I could not bring myself to read more than a handful of pages. I’m not about to abuse myself in old age by again attempting to read it. I will just have to acknowledge that that my scholarship of the worst Good Book ever written is woefully deficient and I hope to keep it that way.

  91. The parts of the Bible I enjoy reading always fall into one of two categories: either moments in which the writer demonstrates some decent poetic skill, like in parts of Song of Solomon, and a few moments in the book of Proverbs, or, the more skillfully structured narrative sections, the stories. I got into the cautionary tale of King Nimrod and his tower of Babel—the age-old story of a monarch’s hubris (in which the moral is Don’t F with Mr. Deity, you lowly humans!). And, the last time I read the story of Samson, I recall thinking it was genuinely kind of moving and sad—not to mention funny: e.g., Samson, on his way someplace, gets jumped by a lion, who is the most unlucky lion ever since he messed with the only human who has God-given super strength. Samson rumbles with the lion, tearing it apart like an animal cracker before casually strolling on his way. Presumably while the theme from Shaft plays in the background.

  92. Some things are not meant to be read, e.g., Shakespeare’s plays. One should not read them, one should see them acted out. Waiting for Godot is a horrible slog of a read, but watching it is a transcendental experience. The same is true with The Book. It is a fairy tale that is not read alone, rather is a series of tales meant to be told, to people lost out in the desert, hoping to reach the next oasis without dying.
    And as others probably noted, (I just skimmed so far) it was put together in committee by illiterate pompous fools. Tell me, when’s the last time you read a bill from some legislative body and said, that’s some good writing. Take it from Dr Boli, Easy reading is damn hard writing.

    1. Though in defence of reading Shakespeare’s plays, they do have a coherent plot and the dialogue is good, so in fact reading them is not a painful experience. Which is more than can be said of the Bible.

      1. >>Some things are not meant to be read, e.g., Shakespeare’s plays.

        In the friendliest possible way, I’d have to disagree! The Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists had a brilliant ear for English, and I’m always thrilled not only by Shakespeare, but also by Webster and Tourneur (or whoever it was that wrote THE REVENGER’S TRAGEDY). For me, their plays read beautifully.

    2. Reading Shakespeare isn’t too bad, Chaucer is a PITA.

      However, if you read Chaucer out loud it makes a hell of a lot more sense.

  93. I am almost sure that someone must have posted this before this website, but several indirect retellings of Biblical episodes can be found in George Bernard Shaw’s short story The Black Girl in Search of God, which chronicles the adventures of an African girl going in search of the Biblical god she has been proselytized about. Interestingly, I remember I read this story on either Wikisource or Project Gutenberg a few years ago, but I can’t find a legal online version of it now.

  94. If, allegedly, God is our father, then isn’t the Book of Revelation a how-to manual for child abuse?

  95. Hi there,

    I too have tried to read the bible from cover to cover. Mainly because I was required to study it at school from primary to secondary school.

    Of course they only present the portions that suit the school and not the graphic, violent or contradictory parts.

    I haven’t been as successful as you and have given up a little earlier. I cannot see the poetry, however Genesis is entertaining if only to realise that the commonly known stories we see on tv, in childrens books or taught in schools are heavily edited and sanitised.

    The version I am reading is the Gideon version found in the bedside drawer of any hotel or motel room in this part of the world. Is this the best version to read?

    If so, why do you think that the fundamentalist believers who take Genesis literally, do not build alters and perform sacrifices? The requirement and rules for doing this are very clear.

  96. I wonder how many visitors here have actually read the damn thing.

    Yeah, I’ve read the KJV right through a couple of times.

    The KJV has a big advantage over a lot of the modern versions – it has something of an ear for the English language.

    The NIV reads like a damn laundry list, and a 1600 page (or whatever it is) laundry list is agony. The story is every bit as bad, but it’s much more boring and bland.

  97. “I know that Richard Dawkins and others tout the Bible’s beautiful poetry, and indeed, there is some, but I wonder how much of that poetry was in the original, and how much was value added by King James’s group of translators.”

    I think that’s a bit unfair to Richart Dawkins. The impression I have from reading his books (and this is an impression from memory, I haven’t gone back to check) is that he regards the Bible as a significant work in English culture, which includes *some* fine pieces of prose. I don’t think he’s ever recommended it as an enjoyable read.

    I’d contrast that with his view (IIRC) of religious music, which does include some very fine and inspiring works.

    I don’t think I’ve misrepresented him here, apologies if I have.

    P.S. I’d say *all* the poetry is down to the translators. Generally, poetry doesn’t translate well.

  98. Of biological interest – I just followed Blueollie’s trackback (at the bottom of this page) and he has a fascinating piccy of a handful of tiny toads. About the size of flies.

  99. A nit-picking point about your sentence, “Remember that the average life span at the time was certainly less than 40 years.”. While 40 years was the life expectancy then, the life span then was exactly as it is today.

  100. (Sorry for my bad english)

    If you want to enjoy the Bible, you have to read that like alien science fiction.

    If you expect love and good things from the bible, it will be boring. If you expect a crazy god with a personality disorder and you want to know the next crazy thing will do (and how the poor humanity will cope with him) it’s a good (not great) book (and the pentateuch the best part).

    Btw to read the gospel and all the new testament (but more important for the gospels) you need to read some Historical introduction or else you will miss the point of the entire NT. I like the Bart Ehrman introduction (link here).

    http://www.amazon.com/New-Testament-Historical-Introduction-Christian/dp/0199757534/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340435355&sr=1-1&keywords=The+New+Testament%3A+A+Historical+Introduction+to+the+Early+Christian+Writings+5+edition

    Without knowing the context, reading the gospel it’s useless and you can’t really understand them (and in fact here in Italy i know 1000 catholics and only 2 of them have read the gospels).

    Read the revelation without a commentary (it’s all figurative) will be pointless.

    I love your posts Jerry!

  101. Plz erase my first comment!

    (Sorry for my bad english)

    If you want to enjoy the Bible, you have to read that like alien science fiction.

    If you expect love and good things from the bible, it will be boring. If you expect a crazy god with a personality disorder and you want to know the next crazy thing will do (and how the poor humanity will cope with him) it\’s a good (not great) book (and the pentateuch the best part).

    Btw to read the gospel and all the new testament (but more important for the gospels) you need to read some Historical introduction or else you will miss the point of the entire NT. I like the Bart Ehrman introduction:

    http://www.amazon.com/New-Testament-Historical-Introduction-Christian/dp/0199757534/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340435355&sr=1-1&keywords=The+New+Testament%3A+A+Historical+Introduction+to+the+Early+Christian+Writings+5+edition

    Without knowing the context, reading the gospel it\’s useless and you can\’t really understand them (and in fact here in Italy i know 1000 catholics and only 2 of them have read the gospels).

    Read the revelation without a commentary (it\’s all figurative) will be pointless.

    I love your posts Jerry!

  102. Obviously the bible should not be read literally. Like many great civilisations, the story of Christianity is largely built upon fables and myths, each with their own morals, morals true in all major religions. It is in this way that the bible should be read.

    1. Are you suggesting that Jesus was not literally born from a virgin, was not literally the son of God, and was not literally resurrected?

      How do you know which parts are to be taken literally and which not?

      What morals do you derive from the tales of genocide, slavery, homophobia and misogyny in your Holy Book? When did you last stone somebody to death for working in the weekend?

      1. Well, I guess we decide these things the same way we decide when reading any book. It’s the same with our national traditions. We’re always deciding what parts seem good, and which seem stupid and outdated. It’s the same argument we see recorded between ancient Jews in the Bible. Jesus was constantly fighting with traditionalists over what was good and what was stupid in Jewish tradition. And Christians oughta do more of that concerning their own traditions.

        1. But isn’t the whole point that the Bible is not supposed to be just any book? Once you admit that parts of it are stupid and outdated the whole fabric starts to unravel. Why not take a step further and draw the obvious conclusion, that it is indeed like any book, man-made, and that Jesus is a fictional character?

          1. Well, we should talk about the book that way, and we should talk about our “exceptional” national traditions like that too. In both cases we have records of long-running arguments over what is good, beautiful true, etc. The culture wars rage through the pages of the Bible and on to our day, despite all claims of infallibility or divine guidance for one view or the other.

            PS: As many note, the Bible itself doesn’t happen to contain any clear claim of infallibility for itself. That’s in the eyes of it’s beholders. And of course the Bible did not exist as the collection we know at the times it’s various books were written.

            1. You are of course free to cherry pick to your heart’s content, but it seems to me that a True Christian ™ should at least accept the divinity of Jesus. Once you do so you inevitably contaminate the Bible with the supernatural. You cannot then reasonably maintain that, for instance, the story of Jonah in the whale must be a myth due to the fact that people can’t stay alive inside a whale for three days. In a world in which dead preachers escape from their tombs (after three days) everything is possible. It would be unreasonable to be reasonable.

              As you point out, the various books of the Bible were written at different times. But the authors of the Gospels, and Jesus himself if we are to believe them, knew the OT in detail and took it extremely seriously. Much of what Jesus supposedly did was modelled on OT content, and to this day many Christians marvel at the accuracy of the prophecies in the OT as revealed in the Gospels. They see this as proof that the Bible is internally consistent, in spite of its asynchronous origin. A reasonable person might suppose that the Gospel authors were simply making things up to fit the prophesies. But I don’t see on what basis someone can accept the Gospels as true and yet discard much of the OT as stupid and outdated.

              1. Maybe you’re right. Maybe neither Amos, nor Jesus, or me, had any right to “cherry pick” the good from the bad in their traditions. But actually, “cherry picking” is something I do every day, in just about every choice I make. How is it that making your own choices on what to use or discard from the past got such a derogatory name?

                If we start on that slippery slope of judging the traditions we inherit, maybe all hell will break loose. Or maybe as Martin Luther King figured, we could make some progress.

              2. I was not talking about cherry picking good and bad, but about deciding what is to be taken literally. You don’t address that.

              3. Gee … seems obvious to me that we judge the factuality of historic accounts by how well they are corroborated by other evidence, be it from other accounts, other historical evidence, or archaeological finds.

                But the Bible is folklore, which is mainly about telling stories that convey the values of the storytellers. In judging folklore, it’s a matter of whether we like the stories, and whether we approve of the values they convey. We pick the stories and values we like best. Actually we cherry pick them. Fundamentalists do the same, as when they emphasize homophobic traditions but ignore pacifistic or socialistic traditions in the Bible stories.

                The power of folklore does not depend on its factuality — not the folklore of the Buddha, or of King Arthur. I just think we need to judge stories as stories, not as scientific theorums. And we should not buy fundamentalist claims that their favorite stories are SUPPOSED To Be seen as scientific theorums. We can just go ahead and cherry pick them as good or bad stories.

              4. That’s all very well, but as I see it there are two possibilities:

                Either the Bible reports on the wishes and actions of a deity, even if in a distorted fashion, or it does not.

                If the first is true, then you can’t treat the book as pure folklore and you are not free to cherry pick it based on your personal preferences. You would better try your utmost to establish what the deity desires, which is not necessarily that what appeals most to you. It might lead to the conclusion that God is a monster, but so be it.

                If the second is true, then the Bible is indeed pure folklore. In that case there is no reason to bestow it any kind of authority, and in particular, no reason to attach special value to the utterances of a Jesus or a St. Paul (which are by no means uniformly wonderful). The good bits are what any decent person in an enlightened society would endorse, and the bad ones merely reflect the primitive tribal morals of the period. The Bible would be reduced, as I think it should, to a curiosity, a strange, Iron Age, Middle Eastern concoction of texts that has had a tremendous influence on a large part of the civilised world because of the unfortunate misconception that it was the word of a god.

              5. “The good bits are what any decent person in an enlightened society would endorse, and the bad ones merely reflect the primitive tribal morals of the period.”

                Okay, that’s how we try to judge all other books in the world, be it Ann Coulter, Karl Marx, or the Bhagavad Gita. Why not use our heads in judging what’s good or bad in the biblical tradition as well? Reportedly, Amos, Jesus, and Abraham Lincoln did so, and I figure it’s all part of an ongoing debate in an evolving civilization.

                I don’t really make a big distinction between divine and human things, or divine and sacred books. To me, there’s something fairly sacred in ordinary human life, and thinking critically about our stories and histories seems more spiritual to me than blindly believing whatever I’m told. Besides, I’m more interested in debating the meaning of a story than in trying to determine how factual it may be. Stories or legends are often way more influential in our culture than historical factuality, and proving that Robin Hood or Buddha did not exist as such would likely have no effect their popularity.

                Please advise me if you feel this fails to answer your question.

              6. Either the Bible reports on the wishes and actions of a deity, even if in a distorted fashion, or it does not.

                There’s only one question relevant to the discussion.

                Has Jesus read the Bible?

                Not, note, “Did Jesus read the Bible during his ministry,” because it wasn’t for centuries later that it finally got canonized and what-not.

                No, what I mean is, has the Jesus who is this very moment sitting at the right hand of the Father and whose job it is to judge the living and the dead — has that Jesus read the Bible?

                If so, and he’s even a piss-poor judge of human character, then he knows that people are going to take it literally. He hasn’t done anything to change it or to tell people to not take it literally, so either he’s happy for people to take it literally or he’s the most useless and / or impotent god ever worshipped.

                And if Jesus hasn’t read the Bible…well, what the fuck?

                Cheers,

                b&

              7. While I appreciate your attempts to explain your position, I’m afraid that I don’t have much sympathy for it. To me it makes a big difference if a story is presented as factual or not. As an experiment, try reading the Gospel of Mark twice. The first time under the assumption that you are given a reliable eye witness account of the rise and fall of the Son of God. The second time under the assumption that it was made up from whole cloth as a specimen of religious propaganda. It makes a huge difference, in my opinion.

                Let me give one example. Jesus says: ‘Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.’ This would be an abject thing to say unless spoken by someone who really is the son of God.

                If the gospel is not factual it is simply an attempt at deceit, portraying a fictional character who is the mouthpiece of unknown people with a hidden agenda. It is not at all the same story.

              8. Since I read all histories or stories with an assumption that it’s partly true and partly fiction, and that there’s always some kind of spin going on, I just don’t bother with that distinction. When I read those Bible stories, I see people arguing and disagreeing. It’s a matter of my opinion which arguments have more validity. It’s basically the same as watching debates in our culture wars today, and deciding who I agree with.

                The fact that people don’t agree in the Bible is basically the best thing about it. I think a report of conflicting views has more integrity than a one-sided report, though the writer always slants things. In our own society, we take debate as a basically good thing, rather than as proving that our whole culture is garbage. I don’t agree with the fundies that the Bible is SUPPOSED to speak with one voice, mainly because it doesn’t.

              9. ‘Since I read all histories or stories with an assumption that it’s partly true and partly fiction, and that there’s always some kind of spin going on, I just don’t bother with that distinction.’

                Yeah, but Jesus either is or isn’t a divine being. He can’t be only partly the son of God. He couldn’t have only partly risen from the dead. There’s little room for fence sitting here.

              10. Everybody’s life is pretty sacred, so where’s this big fence you can’t sit on? Jesus is reported calling God “our father,” so maybe he thought everybody’s life was sacred, and everybody came from the same source. Sounds reasonable to me. This dividing sacred from non-sacred people seems artificial to me. I mean, if I happen to regard Gandhi has a holy man, it doesn’t mean I have to choose between thinking he’s an omnipotent superhuman perfect and infallible deity, or else he’s “not holy.” Maybe he’s both holy and human at the same time.

              11. Yeah, but Jesus either is or isn’t a divine being. He can’t be only partly the son of God. He couldn’t have only partly risen from the dead.

                What if he was only mostly dead?

              12. What if he wasn’t dead at all – or just the figment of someone’s imagination?

              13. ‘Maybe he’s both holy and human at the same time.’

                I’ve no idea what you mean with ‘holy’. Is it some kind of supernatural attribute or what?

              14. “Holiness” usually means having qualities others admire so much that they are seen as saint-like. It’s a human quality, usually attributed to either the Dalai Lama or Martin Luther King Jr. Of course some people think it’s a substance from another planet, possessed only by non-human beings, but that would be some sort of pseudo-Neo-Platonic dualistic garbage.

              15. They’re people who seem to possess the qualities you admire the most, to such a degree that you think they’re the most inspiring people you ever heard of. Like, I got to see Nelson Mandela soon after his big victory over Apartheid, and it was up there for me.

              16. I prefer to think of those kinds as “very admirable people”. It avoids all of the religious baggage that travels along in the word “saint”.

              17. @Brian Griffith,

                But if ‘holiness’ is a human quality you shouldn’t have written ‘Maybe he’s both holy and human at the same time,’ because there you make it seem as if it is not a human quality. I don’t like the word for its religious connotation and agree with gbjames above.

              18. I was referring to the way some people assume that the categories of “divine (or holy)” and “human” are different and mutually exclusive, so that Jesus would have to be either divine or human, but could not be both. For example, the ancient bishops spent most of the Nicean Council arguing over what SUBSTANCE Jesus was made of.

                So I know it’s enormously controversial to say this, but I think it’s quite possible that Jesus was a holy guy, and he was also a human being (!)

              19. Even the most admirable and inspiring people who ever lived were ultimately nothing more than a bag of genes expressed in a certain environment. I don’t see what the attribute of ‘holiness’ adds to our understanding. It only serves to obfuscate and to promote myth-making.

              20. Brian Griffith said: “So I know it’s enormously controversial to say this, but I think it’s quite possible that Jesus was a holy guy, and he was also a human being (!)”

                It isn’t controversial so much as it is either dumb or disingenuous. Dumb if you mean nothing but “admirable”. Disingenuous if you mean “connected with the deity” (or any such common meaning of the word) because they you are just making a traditional Xtian assertion and pretending it isn’t.

                So, which is it?

              21. I’m talking about how it became so intolerable to Christian orthodoxy to regard Jesus as a human being, when that would be the most natural assumption in the world.

        2. Don’t the stories say that Amos, Isaiah, Jesus, and others took that step? They are portrayed denouncing numerous “sacred” traditions of kingship, ritual purity, sacrifices for sin, priestly power, or merciless death penalties, which are defended in other parts of the Bible. These accounts seem to record rather vociferous arguments over which parts of received religious tradition were good, stupid, or morally repulsive, eh?

          1. And yet I seem to remember that Jesus and Paul took scripture (the OT) pretty seriously. I doubt that they would have argued that it was just man-made stuff. They did argue about theology, trying to answer the question ‘What does God really want?’. As a result they may have convinced themselves that eating shellfish is okay, and that perhaps God did not mean it when he demanded that people who work on the sabbath should be stoned to death with stones.

            Besides, Amos, Isaiah, Jesus and Paul had a special line to God, so they were in a position to declare policy changes decided at board room level. Ordinary Christians are in no such position, I guess.

            1. According to the story, Jesus thought it was stupid to kill people for doing necessary work on the Sabbath, though the death penalty was written in the scriptures. He’s also recorded criticizing the scriptural requirements for animal sacrifices by quoting Hosea: “I require mercy, not sacrifice.” Then they quote him asking people “Why can’t you decide for yourselves what is right?”

              Later of course, leading churchmen insisted that such a capacity to think critically was meant for Jesus alone, and the real message was that other people should just obey whatever a superior told them.

      2. Haha, getting fired up. I like it 😀

        You clearly miss the point that the Bible is a historical account with fables interwoven: kind of like your mum tucking in at night (fact) and telling you the story of Jack and the Beanstalk (fiction).

        Also, we learn from our mistakes. Many of man’s mistakes have been documented. This does not mean, just because they are on paper, that we must treat them as *cough* gospel.

        1. You clearly miss the point that the Bible is a historical account with fables interwoven

          History? In the Bible?

          You have got to be joking.

          There’s fuck-all history in the Bible. A James Michner novel has far more history than anything you’ll read in the Bible.

          b&

          1. And the history in a Michener novel is more likely than not closer to the truth than the Holy Babble stories.

  103. Strange but true. I have also started to read the Bible again. I got it free on Kindle. I felt it would help me improve my atheist presentation and it has. I am not sure if I have the strength and discipline to attack the project from ‘page 1’ so I started with the gospels. Deep in my heart I know I will have to do the whole thing. It is a hard read for an absolute disbeliever but I’ll try harder.

  104. The Bible is a terrible book. As literature it is abysmal and as morality it is even worse. When I pointed this out in a comment on one of your earlier posts, I was called a Philistine for my troubles, which struck me as deeply ironic. And that observation brings me to the claim that you have to know it in order to properly understand English literature because the defender of the Bible, who so accused me, clearly did not get the significance of calling someone who dissented from the Bible a Philistine.

    The Bible is so bad, there could only be one justification for it, viz, that it is true; and it is blatantly false.

    1. I just noticed this self-serving fairy tale. The truth is somewhat diffrent. Dawkins was quoted:

      “Ecclesiastes, in the 1611 translation, is one of the glories of English literature (I’m told it’s pretty good in the original Hebrew, too). The whole King James Bible is littered with literary allusions, almost as many as Shakespeare… phrases which any cultivated English speaker will instantly recognise… A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian.”

      You replied:

      “As for the Bible’s literary merits – it does not have any… And even the books that are supposedly literary, such as Ecclesiastes, are only so if you… focus only on the odd phrase or too. The Bible was written by a bunch of ignoramuses and it shows: it drips off every page: they knew nothing of the nature of world and even less about morality. It is a dreadful book. As for Shakespeare – his works are seriously over-rated…”

      I replied quite deliberately with one of those “instantly recognisable” allusions: “You are a Philistine.” [Equivalent to Dawkins’s “verging on the barbarian.”] This is NOT A CHARGE OF DISSENTING FROM THE BIBLE; it is an assessment of your literary/cultural level. You didn’t recognise it, proving both my point and Dawkins’s, and repeatedly hinted that the Philistines disappeared as a result of Hebrew genocide – absolutely wrong again. And now you have the gall to suggest that the lack of understanding was on my part?

  105. It was hilarious to read of how embarassing it is to be seen reading the King James Bible on an airplane. Many years ago, when my daughter was about six, she came home from school one day around Christmas and told me she would like to hear the story of the birth of Jesus. That was a tall order for me, of course, because we had no Bible of any kind in the house. My friend Margie suggested I borrow one from the library, which I did. That night, when I brought it home, my wife Beth said, “What if the neighbors see you carrying that thing?” She was dead serious, worried that I was going to embarass the family by being seen with it. I still laugh when I think about it. [My daughter listened intently to the story, said “that sounds interesting,” and never expressed any interest in religion again.

  106. In Genesis, after the flood, Noah comes out of the ark with his three sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth. Noah gets drunk and falls asleep in his tent with everything hanging out, if you know what I mean. Ham comes in and sees Noah like this, so Shem and Japeth come backwards into the tent so they can cover Noah without having to see him naked. Once Noah wakes up he is so angry that Ham has seen him naked, that he says that Ham’s descendants will be the servants of Shem and Japheth’s descendants.

    The sense of morality here is obviously faulty, and it also looks like an attempt to justify some kind of class system. More powerful people would have said that inequality was justified because the ancestors of the less powerful people had committed a sin (like Ham).

  107. Thank you for posting this, I’ve tried several times to read the bible and simply couldn’t finish it for all these reasons. I too feel like I should read it, but I just can’t…it’s just that bad.

  108. I’m afraid I haven’t the time to read all the comments. However, I have read through the Bible several times — at least twice as an adolescent. Each time I was put off, especially by the first books of the Bible. God, in those books, seems like an unpredictable, almost impersonal force, that might cause death and destruction at any time. I recall the story of David bring the Ark of the Covenant up from Hebron (?) to Jerusalem. It must have been very heavy, and when one of the men reached out his hand to steady the thing touched it, he was struck dead on the spot. Or the time when Moses is ill, and God sets out to kill him. His wife circucises him, throws the foreskin towards the impending doom — it’s all very sketchy — and saves his life. Then there is the case of David and Bathsheba, the taking of another man’s wife, and making sure that her husband Uriah gets killed in Battle, so that he could keep her, and the prophet Nathan (?)tells the story of the rich man who coveted his neighbour’s favourite lamb, and has the man killed. David reacts with rage at this injustice, and Nathan tells David that he is the man. But David suffers by losing the first child born to Bathsheba and himself. (Bathesheba gets pregnant while her husband is away, and try as he might David cannot convince Uriah to have sex with his wife, since he was on campaign, and it was forbidden, so he has to dispense with Uriah another way.) God is simply an unpredictable, impersonal force, which might “break out” at any point.

    As for the style, I cannot say, since my Hebrew is only very rudimentary — indeed, almost all forgotten now, what small bits I learned, but I am told that the Psalms, the Song of Songs, Job, Ruth, and some others have exalted poetic language. I do not think this is to be found, except sporadically — for example, the first chapter of Genesis — in the Torah.

    However, I think it is the very unpredictability of God, and the mystery about what is and is not licit, that leads to the kind of unreflective obedience that the text demands. Recall that many parts of the Bible are in tension (even contradiction) with other parts, and yet all is ascribed authority. Thus Exodus speaks of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children to the fourth and fifth generation (? — this is all from memory, I’m afraid) of those who disobey God’s commandments, and yet Ezekiel and Jeremiah say that only the guilty will be punished. And then, of course, Job is “punished” for no reason, thus making God’s purposes that much more unclear.

    It is, however, the threat that underlies the text, and the warnings of those who interpret it, that carries the greatest weight — not just the beauty of sublimity of the writing (which is often not beautiful at all). I grew up at a time and place when the “sin against the Holy Spirit” was taken very seriously, indeed, drilled into us, so that our lives were, in a sense, a terror, since no one knew what this sin was, so it was impossible to know whether we had committed it or not. It was a powerful incentive to a kind of paranoid belief, and underlined, not only the mystery of God, but the unpredictability and uncertainty of being able to know God’s will — a state of mind which, rather than lead to disbelief, tended to make belief more fervent yet at the same time hopeless.

    1. +1

      Oh, boy, I recall the sin against the Holy Spirit (and mention it in a reply before reading this). That terrified me. What was it? Had I already committed it? What other surprise sins might I find out about if I read the Bible more?

      The people who believed in predestination lived in an even more horrid world. For them, whether they were going to Heaven or Hell was decided before they were born, and there was nothing they could do to change that. The predestined would live lives pleasing to God, of course, but this was pre-ordained for them. The obvious logical response to such a belief would be to run out and try to commit some outrageous sin. If you simply can’t do it, you must be one of the elect, if you can, well, now you know, you were never going to make it into Heaven anyway. But no one does that because they are terrified to find out, to merely learn, whether they are going to Heaven or Hell. And so they go to church and try to toe the line hoping against hope that they really are one of the elect. It can be a really sad way to live.

  109. I should add one other point. It is often said — by Dawkins, for one — that the KJV is a masterpiece of English literature, and should be read for that reason alone. This is often, as Hector Avalos points out, one of the stratagems of the biblical scholars, whose position becomes more tenuous every day, as people drop out of belief, or think of biblical scholarship as a form of unfaithfulness. However, a literary critic (whose name escapes me at the moment) once said that the KJV stands as a filter in the development of the English language, since so many words, as well as complexity of style and structure, that had currency before the publication of the KJV (or “Authorised Version”) were simply lost to the English language, which was impoverished when the English Bible came to be the central literary achievement the style and vocabulary of which became the measure of standard English.

    1. Eric,

      Thanks for your comments. I probably was too hard on the literary contributions of the Bible since I haven’t yet finished it and am also largely ignorant of its effect on subsequent language and literature. I have read some lovely things in The Book of Common Prayer.

      1. An, the BCP. One of the glories of the BCP are the collects, which often exemplify the English language at its best: sound, complexity of structure, spareness and suppleness of expression. Cranmer (who is the likely author of the collects) was a genius of the English language. But to get a sense of what is lost, read some of the sermons by John Donne or Lancelot Andrewes, for example. It is hard to believe that people actually listened and understood text that, for sheer intricacy and complexity of thought, are difficult to take in, even when read closely.

    2. Eric,
      Is it not the case that whenever a ‘crucial’ (pun intended) text or corpus becomes canonical, it stifles large portions of concurrent oral traditions? Add to that the multiplier effect of printing and the brainwashing effect of the pulpit.

      In France for example, as an effect of cultural centralisation and regimentation, it feels like the rich and vibrant language of Rabelais’ time was gelded and expurgated during the Grand Siècle. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but the lexical impoverishment was considerable. And that’s ignoring the linguicide of Occitan, let alone non-Romance regional languages. No matter how linguistic standardisation is motivated, we pay a high price for it.

    3. “A literary critic (whose name escapes me at the moment) once said that the KJV stands as a filter in the development of the English language….”

      Mr MacDonald, if you can recall the name of that critic, please post it here. I’d love to read what he has to say.

  110. One other point — sorry to put them up separately! — to make: If the Bible is boring and insipid, the Qu’ran is, by contrast, even more so. I’m told that the language itself is enough to make men weep, but the plain meaning of the Qu’ran is stultifying.

    1. Yes, I have read the whole Quran–an experience I wouldn’t care to repeat–and was horrified at this “holy book.” It’s scary and horrible.

      1. And imagine what it does to the millions of kids, who, starting at a very young age, spell it out, memorize it, are told this is the absolute truth, and often don`t learn anything else. By age 12 they are not only completely brainwashed, but their brains are completely rewired beyond repair. Dito for the children of Bible thumpers, perhaps to a lesser degree. But it explains their strange behavior as adults.

    2. It is perhaps worth adding that one book, Ecclesiastes, is certainly by an atheist, notwithstanding a few pious interjections, and another, Esther, does not mention god at all.

      1. Okay. If I’m ever forced to read the Bible (say I’m stuck somewhere with no other reading matter**) I’ve got my reading list. Ecclesiastes and Job.

        (**I once had to sit in my broken-down car for three hours waiting for the tow truck, with only the Motorsport Regulations for company. Translated (badly) from the French. Bits of it were remarkably like the Bible e.g. the construction regulations. But without the bloodthirsty bits. The overall effect was probably similar – after three hours, I was sick of anything to do with motorsport 🙂

  111. I want to share one recent review that appeared (on Barnes & Noble) about my book “Correcting Jesus”:

    “I used to enjoy reading books about Zombie Jesus. I feel bad that Zombie Jesus is not real. This book has many facts about Jesus and, does a good job of explaining why he was not a Zombie.”

  112. “If you regard the Bible as a book of fiction, one to be treasured for its beauty, you’d put it down before you ever got through Genesis.”

    This is exactly how Christianity was spread, in fact. The Apostles traveled the Near East and the Mediterranean asking people to “Read this, from page one”. Nothing to do with historical events or the person of Jesus Christ.

    1. That’s a most fascinating claim.

      Got any actual evidence to back it up?

      Oh — and do please be sure that said evidence is of sufficient quality to overcome the huge mountains of evidence that Paul knew nothing of the Gospels and that the Bible itself wasn’t canonized until Nicaea — and that, prior to said canonization, the heresies and apocrypha were at least as prevalent as today’s orthodoxies, if not more so.

      Indeed, the standard apologetic line, as recently espoused by Bart Ehrman in his latest book, is that the story of Jesus was an entirely oral tradition, originating in Aramaic, and not set down in ink until after a subsequent oral tradition had been established in Greek. It’s pretty much the least-miserable way to explain away all the laughably ludicrous problems of the Gospels, if one is to assume that they were even vaguely intended originally as historical documents rather than garden-variety religious fiction (of noteworthily bad quality).

      Cheers,

      b&

  113. My absolute FAVORITE Bible passage:

    “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

    One: because it reads like cheesy pornography…
    Two: because it is the END of he goddamn thing, and…
    Three: it’s a great line to circle and annotate in hotel rooms across the country. (I always circle “Surely I come quickly” and scribble in: “no I don’t… and stop calling me Shirley.”

  114. Kudos to you for wading through… and coincidentally, I’m doing at he same is summer except I’m reading the New American edition. Not as far in as you–just beginning Exodus–but similar observations. I’ve especially enjoyed the incestuous, out-of-wedlock relations. Funny that I don’t see protesters at rallies holding up signs about those passages from the Bible.

  115. Interesting since I too have been reading the bible for the first time. I tried a bit of it when I was about 11 or 12 and found it “boring and insipid”. Now I have vowed to get through the whole thing just so I can say I did. What torture! I’m up to the Psalms, but it is a slow slog. I have it on my Kindle to avoid having to haul the thing around in bulk form. Get ready Jerry, if you are only up to Numbers, you have the tedious tripe of Judges and Kings to get through in which an endless succession of rulers alternate between obeying and not obeying the “lord”. Apparently they never could remember what happened to the ones who didn’t follow the rules and so it goes back and forth to no point. Poetry? I don’t think so. Just iron age crap in which the god is identical to some tribal tyrant whose power is based entirely on fear. Currently up to psalm 105 and the endless repitition of how great he is and fear is the reason why. You have my sympathies. Can I have yours?

  116. Back when I was a Christian, I read the Bible through a couple of times (A One Year Bible helps. One section a day from Old & New Testaments and on from psalms).

    As I was reading through it, I found comfort and marveled at the lovely words and tales of miracles. I also ignored the hateful and violent parts, well maybe not ignored, more like I just didn’t give them much thought.

    Looking back on this experience I realize that the reason I overlooked the violence and immorality is that it didn’t fit with my Christian world view of a God of love and mercy. It wasn’t a conscience thing, those evil parts just didn’t register.

  117. I was recently in a hotel in Ireland (so they obviously had a bible in the bedside cupboard) and decided to have a fairly random flick, see what I’d find.

    Now, I live in the UK and there’s this whole kerfuffle going on about gay marriage, with most against claiming that marriage ‘always has been and always will be’ between one man and one woman. I also read that that is definitely not what the OT says. So I thought, let’s check for myself.

    So the first bit I found, don’t recall where, was the bit Jerry describes about what to do with what bit of an ox, which goes on for what looked like a whole page or more.

    Then I bumped into a passage (IRC somewhere in Deuteronomy) that first described what to do if you capture a slave girl that you fancy: something like, change her clothes, let her grieve for a bit (because you’ve killed all her family) and then have sex with her, which makes her your wife. Charming.
    And just below that a passage that started like “suppose you have two wives, one loved and one unloved, and you have a child with both.” One man, one woman? My holy arse.

    And I literally found that shite within a few seconds, not after hours of searching.

    I agree with what has been said, that if anything should make one lose their belief, it is READING the freggin’ thing.

  118. well,maybe you should read the books of
    archaeologists and historian
    Israel Finkelstein and
    Neil Silberman

    there are so