I found this very interesting blog today. A Jewish man named David Plotz is reading the Bible for the first time as an adult and blogging the experience.
I decided I would, for the first time as an adult, read the Bible. And I would blog about it as I went along. For the millions of Jews and Christians who know the Bible intimately, this may seem obscene: Why should an ignoramus write about the stories and lessons that you know by heart and understand well? I don’t intend any kind of insult. My goal is not to find contradictions, mock impossible events, or scoff at hypocrisy. Nor am I quite stupid enough to pretend that Judaism (or Christianity) is just the Bible. Jews are not only the People of the Book but the People of Many Books. There is the rest of the Hebrew Bible�the Prophets and Writings, the vast commentary of the Talmud, the stories of the midrashim, and thousands and thousands of years of other law and story and commentary. This 4,000years’ worth of delving and discussion is totally unfamiliar to me�I can’t hope to compete with its wisdom. Nor is there any shortage of modern advice on how to read the Bible. (Just look up “How to read the Bible” on Amazon.) There are experts to tell you why the Bible is literally true, others to advise you how to analyze it as history, and still others to help you read it as literature. You can learn how to approach it as a Jew, a Catholic, an evangelical Protestant, a feminist, a lawyer, a teenager.
So, what can I possibly do? My goal is pretty simple. I want to find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based. I think I’m in the same position as many other lazy but faithful people (Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus). I love Judaism; I love (most of) the lessons it has taught me about how to live in the world; and yet I realized I am fundamentally ignorant about its foundation, its essential document. So, what will happen if I approach my Bible empty, unmediated by teachers or rabbis or parents? What will delight and horrify me? How will the Bible relate to the religion I practice, and the lessons I thought I learned in synagogue and Hebrew School?
I’ll spend the next few weeks (or months) finding out. I’ll begin with “in the beginning” and see how far I get. My wife, struck by my new biblical obsession, gave me a wonderful Torah translation and commentary for Hannukah, the Etz Hayim, which was prepared by conservative Jewish scholars. I’ll read that and dip into the King James and other translations on occasion. (But I’ll avoid most commentary, since the whole point is to read the Bible fresh.) I’m sure I’ll repeat obvious points made by thousands of biblical commentators before; I’ll misunderstand some passages and distort others�hey, that’ll be part of the fun.
His reactions are varied, sometimes quite insightful, sometimes refreshing, sometimes I want to scream and correct his very obvious misreadings. Here’s an excerpt of one of the funny bits:
This episode captures something fundamental about the male brain: our obsessive categorizing behavior. I once spent a whole spring looking at Washington, D.C., taxicabs to see if I could memorize every cab company�there are scores and scores of them�by the paint scheme on its cars. The bird-watcher, the stamp collector, the guy trying to visit every Starbucks in America�we are all re-enacting in a small way Adam’s introduction to the animals.
And here’s one of the insightful bits:
Why Abram? There is no obvious reason. Unlike Noah, he’s not a “righteous man.” He’s 75 years old and hasn’t done anything with his life. He isn’t pious, rich, or accomplished. He’s not a king, not a chief, not a prophet, not a genius, not a warrior. He’s completely ordinary, and I suppose that’s the point. Abram isn’t special: It is God choosing him that makes him special. He is a regular man touched by God�just like any of us could be.
And another question that struck me as quite profound:
My wife and I have many evangelical Christian friends, and one thing that strikes me about them is that they have this Jacobian sense of God’s interest in their lives. Like Jacob, they feel that God/Christ is with them, and that God/Christ will not leave until He has done what He has promised them. But I don’t know any Jews who feel this way (or at least who talk this way). The Jews I know don’t act or talk as if they have a personal relationship with God. They pray to God and feel that God works in the world, but not that God takes a personal interest in them. (Of course it could be that I am friends with the wrong group of Jews.) Do Christians have more of this Old Testament sense of God acting in everyday life than Jews do? If so, why?
It’s interesting to see where he is influenced by modern sensibilities:
And if brothers are bad, women are worse. The blessing story is a reminder of just how uncharitable the Bible is toward women, who have so far been either invisible, foolish, or vindictive.
and where his lack of agenda leads him to understand quite clearly what so many people sem to find quite obscure:
Why is the Onan story read as a condemnation of masturbation? (Onanism, etc.) It has nothing to do with masturbation. It’s about birth control. Onan has sex with Tamar, but spills his seed�this is coitus interruptus. Onan’s sin before God is not the self-pleasure of masturbation, it’s his failure to breed (and to fulfill his fraternal obligation).
This kind of reading most clearly displays the problem with sola scriptura protestantism. If the Bible alone is enough then he should just get it. But he quite clearly misses the point time and time again. We need help to understand the Bible. Fortunately, Christ gave us his Church and the Holy Spirit to guide it.
(hat tip to People of the Book