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Prophets & History

I don’t have a lot of time this morning, but I thought it would be interesting to demonstrate how the Biblical histories and prophesies interact. Note, although one does not achieve “levels” of Christianity, one can be a more or less serious Biblical scholar. I am a decidedly amateur Biblical scholar. So, the most interesting part of what I am giving you is the citations to the text to consider.

Both the myths and the histories are often told multiple times with a different spin on them. I’ve written about the creation stories quite a bit, but here is an example of a historical story coming from two places. It is a story about the LORD saving the people of Judah from an attacking army because King Hezekiah had faith in God. You can read about it at 2 Kings 18:17-19:37 or 2 Chronicles 32:1-22.

These accounts are just from different traditions. They have some variations. The story is also told in the book of Isaiah in chapters 36 & 37. Generally speaking, the book of Isaiah will contain more about the prophet trying to convince the kings or the people to adhere to the teachings of God and be faithful. But it this case, it really is very similar to the story in Kings. And, Kings contains Isaiah’s prophesy.

Do you suppose people know that the Bible is put together this way? I was an adult before I really understood it, and I went to church all of the time. I would doubt that my friend who attended a Baptist military academy had such things pointed out to him, although, I don’t know for sure. I does seem to put to rest the notion that God wrote the Bible in the most literal sense.

11 replies on “Prophets & History”

That New King James I bought recently has an interesting feature I’ve not had in a Bible before. For example, you can be reading a verse in the New Testament and next to it, in red, will be the notation for a verse or verses in, say, Numbers. That means the verse you are reading is supposedly making a reference to the verses in red.

That is a really nice feature for a study Bible. Often the stories are exactly the same as the examples I posted here. Sometimes, though, the reference is hard to understand. It sounds like you may have run across such an example.

What portions do you read for poetry? I think a retelling of the book of Judges could be an awesome project for a fiction writer. Set it in space and make no reference to the Bible. You have a prostitute being cut into pieces, a guy being killed by having a stake driven through his head. Sampson.

I think I also went to that Baptist military school. No, I was never taught about multiple stories referencing or retelling each other.

By the way, I have recently begun reading scholarly work on the dissent from the assumption that there was a historical Jesus. Surprisingly, there is a robust academic tradition based on that challenge. It’s not disrespectful, and in fact it’s not even exclusive to non-Christians, and it’s highly, highly academic. It’s often too dry to excite, but it’s fascinating reading.

A lot of the evidence is similar to the kinds of scholarship you employ — seeing scriptural references to events and noting the historical and mythical antecedents to the events, and drawing conclusions about how those events would get recorded. Most of the guys doing this research are reading original works in Sanscrit, Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew and the Christian Bible comprises only a portion of their textual references.

Very interesting.

I think that the different perspectives on the same events that you sometimes see in the Bible give a wonderful insight into the the fact that the Bible was written by human beings, not dictated by God. As such, it makes sense to me to view the Bible as a record of people’s attempts at coming to grips with God, which for me makes for a much more interesting book. The challenge is in trying to make sense of it all. Jack Good likes to think of the Bible as the family album of a community of faith, which explains its variety and which also documents the internal differences of perspective, since family members often disagree among themselves.

Mystic Seeker,

I couldn’t agree more. I’m not familiar with Jack Good; I’ll have to check him out.

Matt,

In some ways the question of the existence of a historical Jesus is the next logical question after investigating physical resurrection and virgin birth. Nonetheless, I have never been particularly drawn to the question.

I do know that there is very serious scholarly work done on it. I also don’t think I would be particularly threatened to find that Jesus was a character created for the Gospels–although, maybe I’m fooling myself.

I’d be interested to hear nuggets that you find in reading stuff about this.

Broadly, Old Testament and Revelations. I’ve been kind of thumbing through the old Testament randomly. I read most of Numbers recently. I have not yet gone to Proverbs, because it is so obvious. The book of the Bible I’ve been excited about recently is Ecclesiastes. It’s such an example of cherry picking. There are several famous verses that I heard over and over in church, but always out of context. When you read the whole book it strikes me as subversive, at least to the doctrine I was taught.

I like your idea about Judges. Jae and I have had the discussion that Peter Jackson would be the person to dramatize the Old Testament.

Josh,

Yes, Ecclesiastes is read as this happy everything will get better book. Really, it’s about a pissed of philosopher.

The Bible is full of surprises. Like any work of literature, or whatever it is, of that size. When looking up Exodus this morning I was a little perplexed at how similar the lay out was to a modern penal code, group certain offenses in one place and procedureal requirements in another.

Okay, Josh’s comment about subversiveness leads me to another scholar I’ve been following lately.

He’s the pastor of a largish church in Canada, and he wrote a book called “The End of Religion” or something close to that. The book is fascinating. His basic premise is that he believes that if you follow closely the teachings of Jesus, you necessarily come to the conclusion that the central message of Jesus is completely subversive to the church. Some fun examples:

After his very first miracle, he made wine from water. This is famous, but the less famous part is that he had the feast attendants use the ewers from the holy water to serve win from — a desecration of the vessels.

After healing a man he told the man to gather his cot and walk away. It was on the Sabbath when it had been made clear that even carrying personal belongings on the Sabbath was wrong.

At the end of Revelation, the author points out that he is in the garden where God has brought the saved, and there “is not a temple in sight” (or something to that effect.

It’s a compelling read. In lots of other ways Jesus is subversive of course, but it’s interesting to consider that perhaps his central message is that there should be no church, no religious leaders, no ritual of any kind.

So in the words of this scholar, what happens? In less than 100 years his closest followers made a religion about Him.

I think this is compelling stuff. For me the question is: Was Jesus anti-establishment on principle, or anti-establishment because of what the establishment was doing.

Cf. Luther, who was opposed to the established Church, but evidently wasn’t opposed to establishment. (Actually, I don’t know much about Luther.)

I removed my last because I mistyped a critical “not” which changed 100% my actual meaning. The edited version appears below:

Luther is a fascinating character for a few reasons. The first is the obvious, he was the fulcrum around which the entire protestant movement hinged.

More subtle is that he never really wanted to be what he was, his original treatise was not a protest (the one he tacked on the wall — that mechanism of posting textual criticisms was well-established and was done every day as a matter of course for monks in his college), and for years and years after his “protest”, he swore allegiance to the Pope.

Most people think he raised an army, posted his protest and waited for the Church to come kill him. In fact, his “protest” wasn’t even very much contested as for content, it was not radical by most measures, and most of his fellow students wouldn’t have batted an eye except that he posted it in German instead of Latin, and the whole argument hinged on that fact, not the textual criticisms themselves.

And even then it probably wouldn’t have caught anyone’s attention, least of all the Pope, but for a wandering bishop who saw it, objected, and ran back to Rome to tell on Luther and start the whole argument.

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