Symbols: the Bible

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Scholarship / K. Symbols /
@ K. 2009 08 28 via IonaArc

The Bible was presented to me as a child as the word of God. God was presented to me as the author of the world. The Bible and God are so presented to many of us. We daily hear the din of people insisting that the Bible is inspired, infallible, holy … I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. To my surprise I actually learned from it! He sees the Bible as a human work. So have I: for a long time now. But I’ll say things about that that Ehrman doesn’t say:

Ehrman traces and analyzes examples of Christian scribes miscopying their holy writ. Some mistakes are interpreted as inadvertent; some as deliberate. The Bible was “written” in the first few centuries AD by Christians theologically warring among themselves, trying to resolve, trying to influence what Christianity was understood to be. God was getting altered, Jesus was getting altered, Christ was getting defined.

I’ll give a non-Biblical parallel: some areas of what we now call “America” were settled by “white” Europeans of the type “French” before those same areas came to be settled by “white” Europeans of the type “English.” The French had set up political territories with French vocabulary: things were divided into “provence“s. Along came English speakers. They encountered a political line already called “Province.” That word had no meaning to them. But the English speakers were introducing a Puritan version of their “Christianity.” They were big on Luther, and Calvin, big on “predestination.” So they took the French for Province Border and translated it, mistranslated it, “Providenceline.”

They were trying to make sense of what they found. But only their own culture made “sense” to them. So: seen this way, they took sense, and made nonsense: but a nonsense which made “sense” to them. It was dressed in their clothes. Well the Christians did the same thing.

But I skip to a different analogy. When the French speakers settled they no doubt found political boundaries, reflecting geographical or climactic boundaries no doubt, called something or other in Algonquin, or in Iroquois (here ridiculously spelled as though it were French!) Actual examples could be traced, and actual French modification of Algonquin names analyzed (where the French speakers even knew the Algonquin names). Maybe Algonquin disruptions of earlier language groups could be found with a detail or two still guessable. But I’m already a little too far out on a tangent, however germane and necessary that tangent is. I’m talking about humans altering things to make them fit our hopes. The scribes found a Greek letter which seemed to be part of Greed for “who,” but a mark from the reverse side of the parchment made the letter seem to be a theta: and so the “who” got translated as something divine: then the misreading, the utterly wrong translation, became the basis for an insistence by one sect or another in a “proof” that Jesus was Christ and that Christ was divine … and that “divine” meant whatever they wanted it to mean.

Good. Still, stay with me: the English speakers who took over the French-speaking territory from those who’d taken over the Iroquois-speaking territory, said Let’s make a Republic (Why pay taxes to King George?) (Why indeed, echoes this anarchist.) Iroquois surviving in the 1770s heard of this, and, proud of their great Law of Peace, inherited from the legendary Hiawatha (every bit as legendary and every bit as “real” as Jesus), said, Hey, WhiteMan: let us show you how we work our democracy. And we did. And thus was born American bicameral government, with an executive, a judiciary, a congress, and a senate. Good.

Except that the democracy of the Five Nations already included a sort of “equality” for women. Well, our founding fathers wanted none of that: and they legislated half of the soul right out of the “Indian” gift. In the white European “democracy” women didn’t even have a vote let alone a powerful vote.

The early Christians of the early centuries did exactly the same thing! Woman had an important role in the young religion. Paul’s writings acknowledge this. But later Pauline writings, claiming to be by Paul! shove women back down into their pre-Christian subservient role: blaming the story of Eve, which had been itself edited this way and that over millennia (all with no evidence that any part of it was ever true: except as metaphor).

So. The Bible is true all right: a true account of how humans’ best efforts typically produce ignorance, prejudice …

Do we really expect the Essence of the Universe to ratify our illiteracies? to stand up for our slanders? to be our big bully in the sky?

A module was mounted on this subject first at IonaArc, then at With K. persecuted it should therefore be remounted here; but, I add a newly articulated thought before taking time even to look up what I’d already posted on this important subject:

I’ve been interested in textual criticism since I first heard of it. My training in the matter comes mainly through graduate school where I became acquainted with how scholars had made decisions about texts by Chaucer or by Shakespeare. Still, I’d followed the problems with Chaucer (and the solutions) better because of my life-long acquaintance with problems of Biblical text. I’m now reading, and enjoying the hell out of, Bart D. Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, 2005.

As a child the Bible had been held up to me as the inspired word of God. My fellow Protestants put all their epistmological eggs in that one basket; whereas Roman Catholics based their faith on several sources, including Church tradition.

When a Bible-thumper waves a black-bound book in your face he may well imagine that what he is holding is “the Bible.” Before you have been able to explain some of the difficulties with that concept to him he will likely have moved off the pound on the attention of someone else: someone not giving him any resistance, especially resistance that he on the best day of his life won’t understand a word of. Hell, it’s nigh impossible to tell literature students the degree of our uncertainty about secular classics, from Sophocles to Shakespeare; how are you going to argue for caution to people who all their lives have been encouraged to believe that just getting born and walking into a church qualifies them to browbeat others about ancient scriptures? Maybe a “Bible” would be the infallible inspired word of God, if we only had a copy of it! Where is it? Who has it? My King James Bible, given me at my confirmation, certainly is not.

Erhman himself started off as a fundamentalist. (Good, so did I.) He discovered problems. (So did I.) Somehow his books have gotten published, he hasn’t starved, hasn’t been arrested, and censored. (Tough luck on you: mine have, I have, I have been: and you take the consequences, forever; I only temporarily.) Erhman still seems to believe that textual criticism has the potential to come up with a superior text. I see that some texts may be superior to others, but I don’t trust our ability ever to come up with a good one.

Some variations among sources for the Christian New Testament are due to simple blunders. Others have long been accepted to reflect agendas being served: deliberate changes calculated to alter the theology being taught (for example, the precise point at which Jesus became God’s son, or, the precise point at which Jesus became the Christ …) Erhman reports that Catholic theologians centuries ago concluded that the Protestant faith in the Bible was misplaced: those theologians argued that Church tradition was therefore to be trusted!

Less than ever do I now understand that: if the Bible isn’t trustworthy, what makes the Church trustworthy? Pollution is everywhere, what part isn’t polluted?

I’ve been offering testimony all my life as to what God has inspired me to tell my fellows. I’ve been silenced thus far every way there is to silence someone short of actual murder: I’ve been interrupted, my papers graded without being read, my papers read and graded without being understood, let alone refuted … And the people who don’t understand, who go out of their way to misunderstand, want you to believe that our institutions have the truth at hear: vast numbers of people make mistakes, and tell lies, and often deliberately make mistakes, but somehow the bulk of our fabrications are trustworthy.

Meantime, the authorities, while repressing scholarship in all areas, are trying to coax us into accepting something funded by the fed as “science,” something else funded by the fed as “education” …

My mistrust of the authorities’ documents is not limited to the Bible offered by this or that church; I don’t trust any of the authorities’ documents!

2011 12 24 Whether the Bible is true or false, New Testament or Old Testament (or apochrapha), factually, historically, cosmologically, theologically, philosophically, ethically … is important.

But consider ways in which the following question could be more important:

Is the Bible true symbolically?

(Well, that depends very much on how you read it.)

In other words: whether or not God exists, that is, whether or not reality is controlled by Magic (as distinct from whether or not the world is natural) is trivial compared to a question like: did we kill the man we thought might be God?
Was it the Jews who killed Jesus? or was it us?
If it was the Romans who killed Jesus how come we blame the Jews?
Are we in any important respect different from the Romans? or the Jews?

Governments put us all in institutions called “schools”: do they deserve that name? is the “history” taught there true? is it complete? how about “science”?

Does God really love us? Does God really forgive us?

We say Yes; but will God agree? Will we ever give him a chance to speak?

If there is no God, and he never speaks, then shouldn’t we be worshipping a different set of “saints”? Abelard? Galileo? Einstein? Prigogine?

When a university after ten years hasn’t understood a words a scholar like pk says, what business does it have bestowing degrees? or tests? or grades?

In other words: why is our kleptocracy so manifestly not a meritocracy?

Can there ever be a meritocracy where people “vote”?

I made those points endlessly at K., my censored five domains, and now I sum them here: insisting that there are valid interpretations, compelling interpretations.

Unfortunately, those in power will not countenance those interpretations: and misuse the society’s resources to sabotage such.

2013 08 22 I’m deduping some “Bible” files, hope I don’t mess up too badly.

K. Symbols

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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