Why is the Bible So Badly Written?

RejectedMillions of Evangelicals and other Christian fundamentalists believe that the Bible was essentially dictated by God to men who acted as human channelers. Each phrase is considered so perfect that it merits careful linguistic analysis to determine His precise meaning.

If that were the case, one would have to conclude that God is a terrible writer. Although some passages in the Bible are lyrical and gripping, many would get kicked back by any competent editor or writing professor kicked back with a lot of red ink.

Mixed messages, repetition, bad fact checking, awkward constructions, inconsistent voice, weak character development, boring tangents, contradictions, passages where nobody can tell what the heck the writer meant to convey. . . .  This doesn’t sound like a book that was created by a deity.

A well-written book should be clear and concise, with all factual statements accurate and characters neither two-dimensional nor plagued with multiple personality disorder—unless they actually are. A book written by a god should be some of the best writing ever produced. It should beat Shakespeare on character development, Stephen Hawking on scientific accuracy, Pablo Neruda on poetry, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on ethical coherence, and Maya Angelou on sheer lucid beauty—just to name a few.

No question, the Bible contains beautiful and timeless bits. But why, overall, does it so fail to meet this mark? One obvious answer, of course, is that neither the Bible—nor any derivative work like the Quran or Book of Mormon—was actually dictated by the Christian god or other celestial messengers. We humans may yearn for advice that is “god-breathed” but in reality, our sacred texts were written by fallible human beings who, try as they might, fell short of perfection in the ways that we all do.

But why is the Bible such a mixed bag? Falling short of perfection is one thing, but the Bible has been the subject of thousands of follow-on books by people who were genuinely trying to figure out what it means. Despite best efforts, their conclusions don’t converge, which is one reason Christianity has fragmented into over 40,000 denominations and non-denominations.

Here are just a few of the reasons for this tangled web of disagreements and the terrible quality of some biblical writing (with notable exceptions) by modern literary standards.

Too Many Cooks

Far from being a single unified whole, the Bible is actually a collection of texts or text fragments from many authors. We don’t know the number of writers precisely, and—despite the ancient traditions that assigned authorship to famous people such as Moses, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—we don’t know who most of them were. We do know that the men who inscribed the biblical texts had widely different language skills, cultural and technological surroundings, worldviews and supernatural beliefs—along with varying objectives.

Scholars estimate that the earliest of the Bible’s writers lived and wrote about 800 years before the Christian era, and the most recent lived and wrote almost a century after any historical Jesus would have lived. They ranged from tribal nomads to subjects of the Roman Empire. To make matters more complicated, some of them borrowed fragments of even earlier stories and songs that had been handed down via oral tradition from Sumerian cultures and religions. For example, flood myths that predate the Noah story can be found across Mesopotamia, with a boat-building hero named Utnapishtim  or Ziusudra or Atrahasis.

Bible writers adapted earlier stories and laws to their own cultural and religious context, but they couldn’t always reconcile differences among handed-down texts, and often may not have known that alternative versions existed. Later, variants got bundled together. This is why the Bible contains two different  creation myths, three sets of Ten Commandments, and four contradictory versions of the Easter story.

Forgery and Counter-forgery

Best-selling Bible scholar Bart Ehrman has written two books about forgery in the New Testament, texts written under the names of famous men to make the writings more credible. This includes the book of 2 Timothy, the one which claims that “all scripture is God-breathed.” Pseudonymous writing was so common among early Christians that nearly half of the books of the New Testament make false authorship claims or were assigned famous names after the fact. When texts claiming to be written by one person were actually written by several, each seeking to elevate his own point of view, we shouldn’t be surprised if the writing styles clash or they espouse contradictory attitudes.

Awkward Diction

The original language of the New Testament was Koine, a form of Greek spread by Alexander’s army that became a utilitarian lingua franca among the conquered. This is just one reason that the books of the New Testament often lack the poetic beauty of the great Greek epics, which were written in classical Greek. But another may be that for some of the writers, Koine was not their native tongue.

David Bentley Hart, Orthodox theologian, scholar and polemicist, recently produced a New Testament translation that follows the voices and idiosyncrasies of the original text.  Of it, he says, “Where an author has written bad Greek … I have written bad English.” After producing his unretouched version of Revelation, Hart opined, “If judged purely by the normal standards of literary style and good taste, [the Book of Revelation is] almost unremittingly atrocious.”

Histories, Poetries, None-of-These

Christians may treat the Bible as a unified book of divine guidance, but in reality it is a mix of different genres: ancient myths, songs of worship, rule books, poetry, propaganda, coded political commentary, and mysticism, to name just a few. Translators and church leaders down through the centuries haven’t always known which of these they were reading. Modern comedians sometimes make a living by deliberately garbling genres—for example, by taking statements literally when they are meant figuratively—or distorting things someone else has written or said. Whether they realize it or not, biblical literalists in the pulpit sometimes make a living doing the same thing.

Lost in Translation

The books of the Bible were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, though not in the modern versions of these languages. (Think of trying to read Chaucer’s Middle English.) When Roman Catholic Christianity ascended, church leaders embraced the Hebrew Bible and translated it into then-modern Latin. They also translated texts from early Jesus-worshipers and convened committees to determine which should make it into their canon of scripture. These became the New Testament. Ironically, some New Testament writers themselves had already translated Old Testament scriptures in ways that changed their meaning. Dubious translations bolstered key doctrines of the Christian faith, the most famous being the Virgin Birth.

Most English versions of the Bible have been translated directly from the earliest available manuscripts, but translators have their own biases, some of which were shaped by those early Latin translations and some of which are shaped by more recent theological considerations or cultural trends. After American Evangelicals pivoted away from supporting abortion in the 1980s, some publishers actually re-translated a troublesome Bible verse that treated the death of a fetus differently from the death of a person. The meaning of the Bible passage changed.

But even when scholars scrupulously try to avoid biases, an enormous amount of information is simply lost in translation. One challenge is that the meanings of a story, or even a single word, depend on what preceded it in the culture at large or a specific conversation, or both.

Imagine that a teenage boy has asked his mom for a specific amount of money for a special night out, and Mom says, “You can have $50.” She is communicating something very different if the kid asked for $20 (Mom is saying splurge a bit) versus if the kid had asked for $100 (Mom is saying rein yourself in).

As the mom opens her wallet, the son scrolls through restaurant options on Yelp and exclaims, “Sick!” Mom blinks, then mentally translates into the slang of her own generation which, her son’s perceptions aside, doesn’t come close to translating across 2000 years of history.

Inside baseball

A lot changes in 2000 years. As we read the Bible through modern eyes, it helps to remember that we’re getting a glimpse, however imperfectly translated, of the urgent concerns of our Iron Age ancestors. Back then, writing anything was tremendously labor intensive, so we know that information that may seem irrelevant now (because it is) was of acute importance to the men who first carved those words into clay, or inked them on animal skins or papyrus.

Long lists of begats in the Gospels; greetings to this person and that in the Pauline epistles; instructions on how to sacrifice a dove in Leviticus or purify a virgin war captive in Numbers; ‘chosen people’ genealogies; prohibitions against eating creatures that don’t exist; pages of threats against enemies of Israel; coded rants against the Roman Empire. . .

As a modern person reading the Bible, one can’t help but think about how the pages might have been better filled. Could none of this have been pared away? Couldn’t the writers have made room instead for a few short sentences that might have changed history? Wash your hands after you poop. Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to. Witchcraft isn’t real. Slavery is forbidden. We are all God’s chosen people.

Answer: No, they couldn’t have fit these in, even without the begats. Of course there was physical space on papyrus and parchment. But the minds of the writers were fully occupied with other concerns. In their world, who begat who mattered(!) while challenging prevailing Iron Age views of illness or women and children or slaves was simply inconceivable.

It’s Not About You

The Gospel According to Matthew (not actually authored by Matthew) was written for an audience of Jews. The author was a recruiter for the ancient equivalent of Jews for Jesus. In the Matthew account, the Last Supper is timed as a Passover meal. By contrast, the Gospel According to John was written to persuade pagan Roman prospects, so the author timed the events differently. This is just one of many explicit contradictions between the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

The contradictions in the Gospel stories—and many other parts of the Bible, are not there because the writers were confused. Quite the opposite. Each writer knew his own goals and audience, and adapted hand-me-down stories or texts to fit, sometimes changing the meaning in the process. The folks who are confused are those who treat the book as if they were the audience, as if each verse was a timeless and perfect message sent to them by God. Our yearning for a set of clean answers to life’s messy questions has created a mess.

The Pig Collection

My friend Sandra had a collection of decorative pigs that started out small. As family and friends learned about it, though, the collection grew to the point that it began taking over the house. Birthdays, Christmas, vacations, thrift stores . . . when people saw a pig, they thought of Sandra. Some of the pigs were delightful—lovely and well craftedsome, not so much. Finally, the move to a new house opened an opportunity to do some culling.

The texts of the Bible are a bit of a pig collection. Like Sandra’s pigs, they reflect a wide variety of styles, quality, raw material, and artistic vision. From creation stories to Easter stories to the book of Revelation, old collectibles got handed down and inspired new, and folks who gathered this type of material bundled them together into a single collection.

A good culling might do a lot to improve things. Imagine a version of the Bible containing only that which has enduring beauty or usefulness. Unfortunately, the collection in the Bible has been bound together for so long that Christian authorities (with a few exceptions) don’t trust themselves to unbind it. Maybe the thought of deciding what goes and stays feels overwhelming or even dangerous. Or maybe, deep down, Bible-believing Evangelicals and other fundamentalists suspect that if they started culling, there wouldn’t be a whole lot left. So, they keep it all, in the process binding themselves and our society to the worldview and very human imperfections of our Iron Age ancestors.

And that’s what makes the Good Book so very bad.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

Advertisements

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Musings & Rants: Christianity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

89 Responses to Why is the Bible So Badly Written?

  1. liberalwarrior says:

    Always such a treat to read your comprehensively informed articles/posts.

    Among the many things I will take away from your article is this …’ethical coherence’. I wonder how Trump’s Evangelicals square their so called belief system with Trump’s vile actions. Maybe you have already addressed this subject, so will have to peruse your site to see.

    By the time I was twelve year old, I had already read, completely, the Old Testament and the New Testament, and one Spring Sunday I told my mother, a devout Methodist, that, though, there may be a god, I didn’t like him and felt the same way about religion and that the bible(s) was just a bunch of fairy tales, and I was no longer going to attend Sunday school. She would have none of it and eventually my mother was asked to put me with the adults because I was being disruptive with all my questions, questions they had never heard or could answer. It wasn’t long after that, that I was able spend my time in the nature that surrounded us, and 50+ years later, little has changed since.

    Thanks again, Valerie

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing your story and for your kind words!

      Like

    • koppieop says:

      +++ I told my mother, a devout Methodist, that, though, there may be a god, I didn’t like him+++
      Love that simple reason! Glad you were able to eventually leave that environment.

      —I was no longer going to attend Sunday school. She (my mother) would have none of it

      In my opinion, this is one of the most sinister characteristics of home religion: parents that ignore or, worse as in your case, just wipe away arguments that don’t coincide with theirs on account of an irritatingly misunderstood expression of authority,. Why are children compelled to believe what their parents believe? There must be many more children in the world who would like to, but do not dare even suggest the possibility of disagreeing with others on whatever subject.
      Cheers
      .-

      Like

    • Gunther says:

      I wish I was like you at age 12 liberal warrior in questioning and analyzing things like the Bible.

      Like

  2. Good article. What you may have overlooked is the phenomenon of hearing voices, a fairly common mental disorder. No gods ever delivered a manuscript, quite astonishing as that would have been a piece of cake for an almighty deity. Today Facebook,Twitter or a blog would have been a natural channel of communication from the gods. But no, only voices in the head or visual hallucinations. Such voices and hallucinations feed on the content of the subconscious mind. That is the reason why there is never any information in holy books that was not known at the time of “revelation”. No viruses in the Bible, no atoms in the Koran, no electromagnetic waves in the Book of Mormon. Voices in the head have many different causes like sense deprivation (a prophet sitting long hours in the darkness of a cave, probably struggling with family problems, a man sitting on a mountain top for days on end, prolonged fasting), near-death experiences, a whole range of drugs like Peyote, Psilocybin, Ayahuasca. All of these “triggers” have been known to mankind for thousands of years. They produce remarkably similar hallucinations and are, in my opinion, the origin of all religions and a base for all civilizations.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. john zande says:

    I’m of the opinion that The Book of Job is a 7th Century BCE Jewish comedy that was misfiled in the 4th Century BCE. And let’s not forget, Chapter 1 is contradicted by Chapter 2. I mean, come on… !

    Like

    • Ubi Dubium says:

      I’ve always seen it as a morality play. Some ancient playwright was struggling with the problem of why bad things happen to good people. The best answer he can come up with is stupid wagers in heaven, and then god showing up and saying, “Because SHUT UP that’s why!” I think maybe he wanted his audience to find this a deeply unsatisfying answer. But christians usually miss that point entirely. They are so focused on individual bible verses, that they often miss the bigger picture.

      Liked by 4 people

      • elpadg says:

        I read the entire Book of Job in one evening and it was quite inspirational. It told me “never argue with a man who looked like a hippopotamus nor one who looked like a crocodile.” When I got to the last 8 pages I quit reading the words because the words came up off of the page, danced around in the air and read themselves to me. I have had several instances where God would talk to me in an audible voice and tell me what he wanted me to do. Sometimes he would yell at me and call me by name using my full (three) names. I have no idea why it is but none of that type thing has occurred in the last 13 years. Coincidently it seemed to abruptly stop when my doctor started me on antipsychotic medication and it never happened again after that. But I never have argued with a men who looked like a hippopotamus nor a crocodile. So it is a good book with good advice.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Pingback: Vridar » Why is the Bible So Badly Written?

  5. Charlie Fogleman says:

    Thanks to you and the commenters, it is refreshing to be in the company of like minded people.

    Like

  6. Geoff says:

    Valerie,
    Your post should be required reading for high school students. Students need to be critical thinkers. One of the problems we have today is people are unable to form their own opinions and blindly accept the nonsense they are told. I believe it was H.L Mencken who said, “a demagogue is someone who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.” That might explain the political mess we find ourselves in now.

    I never read much of the Old Testament. I did watch the movie Pulp Fiction and enjoyed Samuel L. Jackson’s lines about a quote from the bible in the book of Ezekiel. One night I was bored in my hotel room and tried to find that quote in the Gideon bible left in the room. I read that book. Spoiler alert, the quote isn’t in there. Quinton Tarantino made the whole thing up. What I did realize after my futile exercise was that Ezekiel, or whoever he was, had to be deranged. You are the psychologist and I defer to your knowledge and experience but I wouldn’t want my kids reading something from someone so obviously disturbed.

    Thanks again. You always bring some sanity to these subjects.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Steve Ruis says:

    How about a conspiracy theory? The Bible was written by Satanic inspiration. It was jumbled and awkward to read which prevented and still prevents people (weak readers all) from reading it now! Ah … no. Just kidding. Clearly the “church leaders” know that the Bible was and is a political document. The church for centuries refused to allow its translation into vernacular languages that people could actually read (under penalty of death!). The church didn’t want anyone coming up with the lessons of the Bible, except their “experts.” No wonder the Protestant Revolution was so vicious. The Protestants wanted to interpret the thing themselves!

    Having a great deal of fun reading your book. You are much gentler and kinder than I.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. jakentay says:

    I love reading your commentary. I am deconstructing from a literalist view upbringing. Thankis for this new view. Keep up the good work.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Mriana says:

    Very well said, but I wonder if showing some examples, such as the Hebrew word for hell, Gehenna, in the OT, and the Greek word Hades, for the NT, would be helpful in the poor translation sections.

    Like

  10. Best-selling Bible scholar Bart Ehrman has written a whole book about forgery in the New Testament, texts written under the names of famous men to make the writings more credible. This practice was so common among early Christians that nearly half of the books of the New Testament make false authorship claims, while others were assigned famous names after the fact.

    Actually, Ehrman wrote two books about this: 1. “Forged,” his trade book for popular audiences, and 2. “Forgery and Counterforgery,” his book on the topic for academic audiences. My guess would be that the ancient forgers probably thought God approved of their forgeries (why would they forge them, otherwise?), which would fit with the idea that even God lies by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets. For instance:

    And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so. 1 Kings 22:21-22

    Like

  11. Thank you. I appreciate your informative comments.

    Like

    • And thanks to you. I especially enjoyed your essay “Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science” in “The Christian Delusion.”

      Like

    • Arkenaten says:

      Excellent article, Valerie.

      I used to dialogue with a Christian who considers himself Not A Fundamentalist and Not Religious,but a Jesus Follower.
      One of those when the capitals are very important!
      He once stated on his blog that, even if were proved that the entire bible was a forgery, he would still be a Christian as he would assume that the forgers were inspired by God!

      Where can one possibly go after a statement like this?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. godfreydebouillon says:

    Valerie, you have me asking the question, “What WOULD be left after all the dead wood was pruned and the spirit of the debatable Scriptures (miracles and such) clarified a bit?” I’m actually tempted to try and see what happens. I do believe quite a bit more would be left than the fundies think would be. As I don’t consider the ‘physical impossibility’ of any event as a bar to them happening at all, I wouldn’t necessarily toss them out–although I do trust the good ole Carbon 14 dating method, if you follow me.

    Like

  13. hoju1959 says:

    Valerie, great post. God doesn’t talk through a holy book. Turns out, God doesn’t talk at all, at least not in any clear way. When you think about it, the fact we have scripture, written by men, is an admission that God doesn’t talk. Scripture is just us panicking in the vacuum of God’s silence.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. David Philip Miller says:

    The Bible is way past its pull date.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Marjorie Benet says:

    No respect for something revered by millions over centuries. Who appointed you to be a negative voice tearing apart the Bible? It wasn’t written as literature in the first place. So much of “modern literature” is utter trash….worry about that if you want to persist to speak as an elitist.

    Like

    • My parents taught me that respect is something to be earned or merited, not granted simply because others have granted it.

      Liked by 4 people

    • koppieop says:

      —No respect for something revered by millions over centuries.—
      Why should I have RESPECT for people – milions of them, or only one person – that believe in God simply because it is written in the Bible? Since when, pointing out several well-known inconsistencies and contradictions in a work is “a negative voice”? I think it is a solid reason for stopping to believe in an imaginary deity. Which in itself is an opinion that should be respected also, since almost all nonbelievers reasoned that way.
      .-

      Liked by 1 person

    • Michael M. says:

      We are very lucky to have people like Valerie who are not afraid to speak out about all the flaws with the bible and religion itself. All you need to do is look at all the horrid atrocities going on around the world to realize that there is no god, at least no god worthy of anyone’s worship. It is just so unbelievably absurd that people still worship a supposedly all mighty being of love when people are dying of starvation and disease through no fault of their own. And your “god works in mysterious ways” answer does not even begin to explain why a god that lets these things go on deserves to be worshipped. You also do realize that through the centuries many kings and other rulers had the bible rewritten in order to suit their personal beliefs and in ways to keep their ruling family in power. I’m afraid this world will continue to suffer as long as religion maintains its power over the masses.

      Like

      • godfreydebouillon says:

        And yet, for all the futile efforts of kings, emperors and other despots the Biblical theme of justice for the poor and voiceless shines through to tens of millions of people! Phenomenal, isn’t it? I have no words for the hollow and adolescent quality of your post, Michael M.

        Like

      • jbmaverick says:

        “We are very lucky to have people like Valerie who are not afraid to speak out about all the flaws with the bible and religion itself.”
        (rolling eyes) Oh yeah, like it takes a whole lot of courage to adopt the popular view of trashing the Bible. No, my friend – the real courage is found in those who speak up about their religious belief, virtually guaranteeing themselves public ridicule.
        “All you need to do is look at all the horrid atrocities going on around the world to realize that there is no god”
        Your comments in this vein would seem to suggest that you believe that such “horrid atrocities” are evil, morally wrong, but such a thought is nonsensical in a worldview that does not include God. The famed atheist philosopher, Bertrand Russell, was intellectually honest enough to admit that, “Absent something like what we call ‘God’, all talk of good and evil is nonsense.” If our existence is just a cosmic biological accident – and therefore by definition devoid of purpose or meaning (the definition of accidental is “not on purpose”) – then indeed there is no logical ground to stand on and talk about concepts of good or evil – because if our very existence is nothing but an accident, then nothing we do in that existence ultimately has any meaning either. From an atheist cosmology, you simply can’t build a logical argument for why it’s better – or in fact makes any difference – to feed ten thousand children as opposed to slowly torturing them all to death.
        You’re certainly perfectly free to not believe in God, but i respectfully suggest that you carefully think through the conclusions about life that inherently – and inescapably – logically follow from choosing such a belief (or non-belief, as it were), and consider whether those conclusions are actually in accord with what you really believe about life. If you choose to believe that there is no God, and that our existence is just a biological accident, but also believe that it matters one way or the other whether you protect children, rather than killing and eating them, then your philosophy of life is logically inconsistent.

        Like

  16. Jay says:

    Instead of drawing pretty much exclusively from vehemently anti-Christian, anti-Bible sources by atheists, explore pro-Christian, pro-Bible sources like Christian Thinktank sometime. Sources such as that one use information, logic, reason, and rationality to effectively explain away all these alleged problems with the Bible.

    Like

    • Thank you, but I’m a graduate of Wheaton College and spent two decades as a devout Evangelical Christian. I am intimately familiar with how Christians “explain away” the problematic parts of the Bible–and why it can feel so important to do so.

      Liked by 5 people

      • All my life as a Christian (all my adult life) I have sought and still seek to understand problematic parts of Scripture, not to ‘explain them away’! Then again, probably choosing the Episcopal church has something to do with that!

        Like

  17. Reblogged this on World of Values and commented:
    Good post! It reflects many of my views on why the Bible is so inadequate as a “guidebook” or a map of the future.

    Like

    • jbmaverick says:

      “the Bible is so inadequate as a “guidebook” or a map of the future”
      While the Bible does contain prophetic information, I’ve never heard any Christian tout its value as “a map of the future” – that’s hardly its central purpose.

      Like

  18. bbnewsab says:

    The Lying for Jesus movement seems to dislike Valerie Tarico very much. Take a look here above among the comments. And also read this blog post by professor Jerry Coyne: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2018/02/09/salon-deletes-an-article-pointing-out-that-the-bible-is-man-made-and-full-of-flaws/ .

    So I say: Don’t give up, Valerie Tarico. You’re just telling the truth, but some people don’t want to hear the truth. Shame on them!

    Liked by 3 people

  19. It is poorly written because it was originally written by a bunch of desert baked warmongering xenophobes and then poorly plagerised by another series of racist sexist idiots down through history.

    Like

  20. jbmaverick says:

    “Millions of Evangelicals and other Christian fundamentalists believe that the Bible was dictated by God to men who acted essentially as human channelers.”
    Uh, no. At least, that’s not the teaching of any Christian denomination that I’m familiar with. The Bible wasn’t dictated by God – rather, God inspired the writers, each of whom had their own style, tone, voice, and strengths and weaknesses as writers. That’s why the Gospel of John has a completely different “sound” to it than the Gospel of Matthew. The unique voices of the various writers would not exist if the text were all dictation from God.
    In any event, I’ll give you credit for having plenty of chutzpah, to rail on and on about how terrible the most popular book – and the most influential book – in history is. Just a thought, but I don’t think it holds together logically to think that a really badly written book could achieve those two lofty perches.
    Any event, sorry to hear that you and God are on the outs. But, hey, that’s your choice, that you’re perfectly free to make – the freedom to choose what we believe is perhaps the greatest gift our awesome God bestowed on us. Well, that and Bacardi Superior rum. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, even though I have to differ on several points. The fact that Christian preachers spend entire sermons analyzing the original meaning of an individual word or verse would offer some evidence in support of my statement that many Christians believe God chose every word. If you believe that the writers have human weaknesses, then it seems tremendously important for Christians like you to be telling this to Christians who don’t know that–and helping them to understand how we know about these weaknesses.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jbmaverick says:

        Thanks for your reply, Valerie. I don’t have any argument to make with it – I’ll simply reiterate that my understanding – based on familiarity with a number of Christian denominations – is that Scripture is inspired, rather than dictated, by God.

        Like

    • schwadevivre says:

      Then you have not met many of the fundamentalist Christians who insist on the Biblical inerrancy because it was dictated by God. Some do moderate that view by saying it applied only to the original manuscripts and not copies or translations (The Chicago Statement). Others insist that it applies to translations as well, especially the King James Version. Jehovah’s witnesses too insist that their particular translation is largely inerrant

      Like

      • jbmaverick says:

        “fundamentalist Christians who insist on the Biblical inerrancy”
        I was fortunate enough to run across a Christian minister who was able to address this issue with a profoundly short and simple statement that, “The Bible is inerrant in regard to THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH IT WAS WRITTEN” – namely, to tell the Gospel story of God’s plan for man’s redemption. In that respect, it is without error. In regard to things like the chemical formula for motor oil – :) – not necessarily inerrant.

        Like

  21. jbmaverick says:

    Your bit about translation issues is, with all due respect, lame – as is the analogy you use to try to make your point. You use the analogy of a mom telling her son that he can have $50, and note that “she is communicating something very different if he’d asked for $20”. In short, you’re alluding to a SIGNIFICANT discrepancy. But the fact is that, even with all the various translations, there is no variance between Bible translations that significantly changes any fundamental Christian doctrine. Also, there are no variations between current translations and the earliest available manuscripts that significantly change any basic Christian teaching. Differences in translations and variations from the earliest manuscript are more along the lines of something like, “Did Jesus heal one blind guy, or two?”, or “Was that guy a Gesarene or a Gadarene?” – unimportant trivia that changes absolutely nothing about the essence of Biblical teaching.

    You make the statement, “Christians may treat the Bible as a unified book of divine guidance, but in reality it is a mix of different genres”. Newsflash; There’s nothing about being a mix of genres that precludes having a “unified book of divine guidance”. There’s nothing inherently divisive about poetry being combined with history, for example.

    You know what bad writing is? – Well, first let’s just ‘fess up and admit that what’s good or bad writing is a subjective call to begin with. But I’d suggest that, for one thing, it’s using nonsensical terms like “CE”. What IS the “Common Era”, Valerie? What exactly does that mean? Tell me, what point in time, and for what in hell reason, is time divided when it is between BCE and CE? The use of “CE” has one and only one purpose – It’s an excessively disingenuous attempt to try to avoid referencing Christ, who is the true – and the only – reason for history being divided into two sections of time. You can “CE” all you want, but anyone can SEE through that, and knows good and well that it is currently “the year of our Lord”, 2018.

    Like

    • Yes of course my treatment of the topic is lame — It’s a pop media article on a topic that has been the subject of entire books. Bart Ehrman’s books are accessible and actually scholarly; and although i strive for accuracy, my article is merely accessible. Your response, if I may say so, really fails to address even my superficial treatment of the topic. For example, nothing you said about translations addresses the loss of contextual information and implicit information present in all writing. And yes, treating poetry, or origins myths as directive is indeed misguided.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jbmaverick says:

        Valerie,
        The essence of your comments on translations is to cast doubt on the reliability of the manuscript, to suggest that what we’re reading as the Bible today is not a reliable transmission of what was originally written. That charge simply does not hold up, as the work of countless Biblical scholars and archaeologists attests to the fact that there are no material differences between today’s translations and the earliest available manuscripts.

        Like

      • Above all, it is not a reliable transmission because of cultural and linguistic differences.

        Like

    • schwadevivre says:

      You ignore the point. The Bible is a melange, a hodge-podge, a farrago, a mixture of multiple sources often intermingled without any indication that this has happened (e.g. the creation and the flood myths). Legends from other cultures have been added to the stew with nothing to show this is the case while pagan Greek, Roman and Babylonian philosophy and theology were stolen without apology

      Add to this that it was translated many times in it’s history and that these translations often used as original sources before being translated into other tongues. Now consider the forgeries and the gross distortions of history. From this mess it has been edited, multiply redacted and errant copies made and we use yet further translations often made by those wishing to insert “beauty” into this document.

      Like

  22. Perry Bulwer says:

    I used to be a fundamentalist evangelical like Valerie, who believed in biblical literalism, but am now an atheist. I read the Bible cover to cover over and over again, and memorized large portions of it. When unbelievers would challenge me by saying the Bible contained many contradictions, I was so blinded by the “truth” that just couldn’t see any contradictions, except for these two verses: Proverbs 26:4 “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.” Proverbs 26:5 “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” I now use my Bible knowledge to challenge Bible quoting believers, citing scriptures right back at them that contradict their point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • godfreydebouillon says:

      I’ve said it before and will doubtless say it many more times: fundies and atheists, to this serious Episcopalian (and NO, that’s NOT an oxymoron, smarty) are just the two sides of the same plugged nickel.

      Like

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        Wrong. Fundies, as you put it are religious believers, so no comparison whatsoever to atheists. That’s like comparing dung and apples. You apparently subscribe to the irrational view that not believing in gods is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.

        Like

      • godfreydebouillon says:

        Dude, if you’d bothered to read my earlier posts on this site you might actually have caught on that while I’m basically unconcerned with WHAT you or they believe (except when one or more of you turn persecutorial, to coin a word), what I AM concerned with is HOW you believe or not–that is, most of both your camps are the sort that say, ‘MY way or the highway’. THAT’S what makes y’all the two sides of the same plugged nickel! But like most of the ‘MY way, etc.’ crowd you’re not interested in listening but only in sounding off with your own second-hand horn which you believe to be new and shiny ‘cuz someone told you so.

        Like

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        Okay, I get it, you’re the type that makes unfounded assumptions and judgments about me, thinking that you know how I think based on a few sentences I’ve written here, and makes broad generalizations about atheists as if they are all the same and think the same. You think you’re so more righteous than any other type of believer because you insist that the Bible demonstrates moral and spiritual progress, which it clearly doesn’t. That’s merely your interpretation, a demonstration of cafeteria Christianity, picking and choosing only what pleases you and you think supports your beliefs, while disregarding the parts that don’t. And that is one of the points Valerie was making in her original article, that the Bible could stand a great deal of editing, something you obviously do in your own reading of it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • schwadevivre says:

        Sorry but that is just a false and ridiculous comment.

        Like

    • koppieop says:

      At 16 years of age, I started to wonder how in heaven (pun intended) the Christian Bible could be such a tremendously important book in a person’s life. I mean, I didn’t struggle with inconsistencies and contradictions, my scepticism shrugged them off in relief. “No further questions, Your Honor”.
      So I am pleasantly surprised to learn how the reasoning of fundamentalist believers has prevailed over their indoctrinations. Theirs must be a greater effort than my own experience,
      .-

      Liked by 1 person

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        I was indoctrinated from birth so it was hard for skepticism to seep into my world view, especially back in the late 50s and 60s when it wasn’t very common for unbelievers to express their views, at least not in my small isolated town. Oh how I wish someone had exposed my teen mind to something like Bertrand Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian”. It could have saved me from wasting my life for a couple more decades, and helped me overcome the cognitive dissonance, which is very extreme when you believe the Bible is the literal word of God. It wasn’t easy to extricate myself from that world view, but it got easier once I entered university in my mid-30s and began exposing myself to the Great Conversation in books, which were previously prohibited to me.

        Like

      • jbmaverick says:

        “At 16 years of age, I started to wonder how in heaven (pun intended) the Christian Bible could be such a tremendously important book in a person’s life.”
        Well, I’ll just thank you for NOT being one of those people who claim that they began to seriously question the intellectual validity of Christianity at the age of 5, 6, or 7. :)

        Like

  23. jimvj says:

    The most ignored – and in my opinion, important – fact about the Christian Bible is that none of the founders of the religion had the faintest idea of such an entity.
    Let me repeat that:
    NONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF CHRISTIANITY HAD A CLUE ABOUT A “BIBLE”.

    It never occurred to any of them that there should be a comprehensive & authentic manual for the new religion. So there was no precise definition of the religion for a long time.
    The first to propose a “Bible” (a canonical set of books) was Marcion, more than 100 years after Jesus’ death. His Bible excluded the OT & most of the NT as we know it.

    Some 300 years after Jesus, leaders of various churches, prodded by the Roman Emperor, tried to define the religion. Decades later, attempts were made to define a “Bible”. By that time the originals or the provenance of the texts included were irretrievably lost. So they just made up names (like the gospels & forged epistles). And since the “Bible” was made up of disconnected texts, it was inevitable that it would have contradictions, and uneven quality.

    Like

    • schwadevivre says:

      Not only that but Marcion was an out-and-out heretic from the point of view of the Jewish and Roman Christians of the time

      Like

    • jbmaverick says:

      “NONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF CHRISTIANITY HAD A CLUE ABOUT A “BIBLE”. It never occurred to any of them that there should be a comprehensive & authentic manual for the new religion.”
      Very true – and yet somehow the writings of dozens of different authors, scribbled down over the course of several centuries, ended up producing a book that presents a very consistent and cohesive message all the way from Genesis to Revelation. Every major story in the Old Testament – Adam & Eve, Noah, Moses, Joseph, David – all prefigure the Gospel story of Christ, despite the obvious fact that none of the Old Testament writers had any knowledge of the exact nature of the life or mission of Jesus.
      I’d say that attests to both the Truth of the Bible, and to its miraculous character as a book. For example – Why, of all the possible stories of itinerant preachers in ancient times, was the short story of Jonah and the whale – which prefigures Christ’s death and resurrection three days later – selected as part of the canon of Old Testament scripture? There’s nothing particularly notable about it (well, other than a guy surviving getting swallowed by a whale), such that one could easily logically see some ancient Pharisees concluding, “Oh yes, this book should definitely be part of our sacred Scripture canon”. It would be one thing if the Jonah story had been selected, or written, by the Gospel writers, after the fact, to bolster their message. But it was not. Rather, this seemingly inconsequential tale, which only really took on substantial significance in light of the life of Jesus, was (A) written down, (B) preserved for hundreds of years, and (C) considered important enough to be included in the canon of Holy Scripture by the ancient Hebrews long before the appearance on the world stage of the man whose life, death, and life would lend such significance to the tale.

      Like

  24. Ronald Taska says:

    I have been saying that the Bible is not well written for years but no one will listen to me. Thanks for your article. It confirms what I have thought for a long time, but could not get confirmed by anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jbmaverick says:

      I’ll repeat – with all due respect, it’s a little ridiculous right out of the gate to assert that the most widely read book in history is really badly written. It’s rather like trying to put forth the argument that filet mignon actually tastes awful. :)

      Like

      • Actually, in response to this controversy I’ve been assembling analysis from Bible scholars who themselves say that some parts are terribly written–probably written by folks who had little education or for whom Koine Greek was not their native tongue. I intend to publish a longer and more rigorously documented article on the same topic.

        Like

  25. As a young adult trying to power through a one-year Bible-reading plan, I remember feeling guilty that I skipped endless OT genealogies and arcane Levitical regulations. Excellent article.

    Like

    • jbmaverick says:

      Bradley – I have no earthly idea why all the “Bob begat Sam who begat Larry who begat Elmer” passages are included in Scripture. However, I’ve no doubt that should I happen to ask God about that (doubtful, as I really just don’t care that much – it’s not anything that keeps me awake nights), He would come back with an answer to which my response would be a head-nodding, “Damn..that makes perfect sense.” :) Hey, it could be as simple as maybe Bob, Sam, Larry, and Elmer were all pretty good Christians, so as a minor reward for their faithful service God gave them a mention in Scripture.
      Hey I’m just thankful that it isn’t a requirement for salvation that you have to memorize all those genealogies. :)
      There is the occasional pretty cool trivia tidbit, like there being the same number of generations from Adam to David as there are from David to Jesus. AND the fact that the ancestry of Jesus runs through the originally adulterous relationship of David and Bathsheba (apparently God’s a hopeless romantic for two kids genuinely in love, even when they’re sinners in the course of pursuing it).

      Like

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        You’ve made a lot of ridiculous claims in your various comments, but if you believe that Adam was a real person, that those biblical genealogies starting with Adam as the first generation are valid, then that delusion makes it hardly worth the time countering all your other claims.

        Liked by 1 person

  26. Dave Haase says:

    Your article has so many incorrect statements that lead to incorrect conclusions it is difficult to know where to begin. Your hermeneutics being used have led you to use faulty eisegesis as opposed to proper exegesis of the text. Proper understanding of the Bible must begin with approaching it from understanding the intent of the author. This requires having a basic understanding of the linguistics and forms of communication of ancient near eastern cultures. That understanding must first occur before application for today can be understood. Reading the Bible through 21st century Western eyes will lead to erroneous conclusions. However, the most important element of understanding the Bible is lacking – revelation and illumination by the Holy Spirit. As long as a person approaches Scripture with incorrect presuppositions, the conclusion has already been reached before proper reading has begun.

    Like

    • Ah. “Lean not unto your own understanding.” That carries me back.

      Certainly, as you say, understanding the Bible does require an understanding of the linguistics and forms of communication of the ancient near East. Bart Ehrman does an incredible job of making these accessible to the layperson. So does a lesser known book, The Human Faces of God, by Thom Stark.

      As to the illumination of the Holy Spirit, I myself might suggest that it is impossible to understand the Bible when reading it with an a priori assumption that it is the Word of God. Such an assumption blinds even sincere truthseekers to the internal contradictions and factual errors and other sorts of human finger prints on the texts. See the beautiful visualizations at http://bibviz.com/

      Like

  27. Seapapa says:

    Thank you for this excellent post. My journey started in Evangelical Christianity, to atheism, to something different, a “magical” encounter with God. I now believe Christianity is not the religion of the book but of the experience. Christ in me, my sheep hear my voice, you are “taught of God”. If these verses plus dozens others like them are true, God is found inside. That is the only real God. I found him by chance (or his calculation) and it greatly transformed my life. So the book became almost meaningless. Stories of fellow Christians in the NT started to resonate, while the Old Testament became almost irrelevant. It is an experience that has powered my life for 9+ years, that has taught me who God is. I see him, I feel him, I hear him, all the time. And he is powerful. The same spirit that was in Christ Jesus lives in me.

    I can see why church leaders could simply not have every Christian Tom Dick and Harry figure out their own religion based on Christ in them. So the “Christ in me” was abolished and was replaced by worship of the book. If it is a book.

    If anyone is interested, my blogs are iamadored.wordpress.com and godthinking.wordpress.com

    Like

    • Thank you for sharing. I believe that there are credible naturalistic explanations for your powerful experience of God. I also believe that, while orthodox Christian beliefs including the divine origin of the Bible are verifiably false, that gods can be defined in such a way as to be unfalsifiable, and within those bounds we all make our own best guesses about what is real.

      Like

      • Seapapa says:

        I had in mind very specific exceptional things of an individual nature being predicted 4 years in advance with much detail by a prophet. I wrote down his message to me verbatim from the recording. This happens frequently. Or physical healings in me and others that I could not explain naturally. And a continuous internal dialog and inner world of happiness that many try to ape through addictive substances but I get for free. I did not believe it until it happened when I was not looking. I am by nature cynical and not much a believer in special things, always preferring natural explanations.

        Like

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        Seapapa: “I now believe Christianity is not the religion of the book but of the experience.” Maybe that works for you, but that is an extremely dangerous view for many people. There are hundreds, if not thousands of Christian sects and cults lead by deranged “prophets” who claim unique experiences and base their cult dogmas on those claims, which cause immense harm to their followers, especially children. I know from personal experience, having been in one of those extremely harmful cults, that believing in a form of Christianity based on personal experience, such as you claim, is as much of a delusion as any other form of Christianity.

        Like

      • Seapapa says:

        It is a measure of your lack of faith. If you think your God has power, then you trust him to do the work in me and others. Only a wimpy God needs the help of a book, and a flawed one at that. He certainly did not need a book in the 1st century. Most factions of Christianity do not have a prophet and that does not bring unity.

        More importantly, the proof is in the pudding. The book does not work. It does not deliver as promised, which is the biggest flaw of the Bible, missed by Valerie. In 45 years as an active “Christian”, real Christians were the exception that proves the rule. All that sacrifice f time, money and mental anguish in the forlorn hope of life after death? Which most of us were persuaded we were not going to make anyway?

        You are better off going on a limb and trying the experience of God and forgetting the dissonance of what was written and filtered by church leaders through the ages who were intend on stopping them from doing so.

        Just my two cents.

        Like

    • jbmaverick says:

      Thanks for your great, inspiring comment. Indeed, Scripture is merely a reflection of the Reality of a personal relationship with Christ. It’s the same thing the Zen kids – who were mostly well-steeped in Scripture – hammered away at the time. There’s nothing wrong with the words, but the words don’t ultimately have any meaning without the actual EXPERIENCING of the TRUTH.

      Like

  28. koppieop says:

    @Dave Haase:
    —Proper understanding of the Bible must begin with approaching it from understanding the intent of the author. —
    ===Reading the Bible through 21st century Western eyes will lead to erroneous conclusions.===
    +++As long as a person approaches Scripture with incorrect presuppositions,…+++

    Your advices remind me of a conclusion I have come to recently: Some knowledge (of physics, for example) needs to be acquired by understanding the subject. Since the Bible is based on revelation, it doesn’t need to be understood. Accept the guidelines and just live according to them – after careful cherry-picking, just in case there might be some contradictions and/or inconsistencies.

    I’m afraid it’s too late (in life) to blame my parents on my not understanding the Bible. That is because they sent me to Sunday School before taking me first to the library and then to a literary academy, before trying to explain to me what the author (author? was there only one author?) was wishing to tell me.
    I must have read tens of books with my simple 20th century eyes, without even bothering who had written them in previous centuries, and have nevertheless enjoyed them very much. Something I cannot say of the Scriptures. My fault? Did I approach Scripture with incorrect assumptions? I wonder. More exactly: I refuse to admit that.
    .-

    Like

    • Dave Haase says:

      Properly understanding the Bible is a journey; a lifelong journey. The Bible is about God revealing who He is to humanity and His plan of redemption for humanity, so complete understanding or conclusions do not necessarily come quickly. The Bible consists of numerous different genres, many different rhetorical devices, and numerous language and culture differences from modern day; areas some people are not well-versed in. Some parts of the Bible are straightforward, while other parts are not. All too often, most people are quick to discount or claim what the Bible is not, when it comes to the more challenging parts.

      If a person is truly interested in a better understanding of how to read and interpret the Bible, it is recommended taking a hermeneutics course or study a related book. Hermeneutics is about the rules and practice of biblical interpretation. None of would take our car for repair to a garage where mechanics have not been trained. Or none of us would hire a technician to fix a broken HVAC unit who hasn’t been through training. Yet, many are quick to read the Bible using improper interpretation, taking passages out of context, only to arrive at their own definitive conclusion. Such an approach will not necessarily lead to correct understanding.

      Like

      • To me as a former Christian, it is sad to read so many sensible statements in the service of a faith-based and highly improbable claim about the nature of the biblical text. What does it tell me? That you are thoughtful and educated, and that despite this your thinking is bounded by the walls of faith and handed down claims about the Bible. I am sometimes in awe of how Christian dogma and practice can trigger a sense of knowing and then coopt a person’s reasoning in the service of sustaining and propagating Christian belief. But to a former believer, your comment is all too familiar. I have been there, and so have most of the readers at this site.

        Like

  29. Dr. ALICE MOORE-VILLAREAL says:

    I find it highly amusing that you criticize the BIBLE while writing a barely itelligable article. This article is so poorly written that it did not meet the standards of the publication to whom you submitted it. It is filled with non-sentences, run on sentences, contains a paragraph which makes no sense, to many adverbs, and is just plain silly. It is poorly researched and full of faulty reasoning. Shakespeare found the BIBLE to be the best written book of all time. People will remember his name and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John long after your name is forgotten. What was your name again?

    Like

    • john zande says:

      to many adverbs

      Really?

      I think the word you were looking for was TOO… Double ‘o’.

      Like

    • “to many adverbs”? Sorry, but given the nature of your assault, I couldn’t resist. :)

      As it turns out, Salon withdrew the article not because they found it poorly written but because it failed to meet their new content guidelines, which exclude straight-up criticism of religion. Btw, it was reviewed by a professional editor before going to publication.

      Tangentially, are you suggesting that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually authored the books published in their names? Even the texts themselves don’t suggest that, and virtually all non-fundamentalist biblical scholars believe that these names were assigned after the fact. Your credulity is a tell.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sitting on a high horse today? I find your criticism amusing, obviously trying to hurt the messenger while not having any substantial to say about the message. Would be interesting to know what your Dr. title is about. I don’t believe for a second your statement on Shakespeare, and your suggestion that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were authors of the gospels is plainly ridiculous and shows your lack of knowledge.

      Like

  30. jbmaverick says:

    Valerie – Hey, if the worst critique you get is “too many adverbs”….:)

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Pingback: Volume 02, Issue 03 (March 2018) – Evangelically Atheist Newsletter | Evangelically Atheist

  32. Pingback: Supporting Feminism: with Karen Garst and Valerie Tarico and their new book | Damien Marie AtHope

  33. Gunther says:

    Brillant and logical writing, as usual, Ms. Tarico.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s