Many of us verbalize a desire to read the Bible at one point or another. A common comment made by those who have tried is that there is a lot of who begat whom at the beginning, and, as it’s no one they know, they stop reading.
I’m unusual in that I verbalized the desire, then didn’t stop. And I understand. There are no cliffhangers here. No one is murdered then a trial begins. There are no centrefolds. It is definitely not a page-turner. For me, there was a lot of “I’ll try to make it to page 850 tonight”, or, “I’ll try to make it to the end of this Book before I turn out the light”, and lots of times I didn’t make it.
It is true there is a lot of begatting in the Bible, and this extends throughout its pages. It may be so you know which person they’re talking about. As an example, it is indicated that the prophet Ezekiel was the son of Buzi. So you know it’s that Ezekiel, as opposed to any other Ezekiel you may know about from the Middle East around 600 BCE.
This is not intended as a disrespectful piece about Christianity. The more I read of the Bible, the more respect I have for the minds and the motivations of the people who put it together. Also, I would like to clarify early on that there will be no spoilers here. If you don’t know how the Bible ends, you don’t have to worry. This only goes to the end of the Old Testament.
I must interject with a comment on the pages in Bibles. They are so ridiculously thin they are hard to separate. And reading 50 pages makes little difference to your apparent progress. These are both impediments to success.
So, where to begin? If you take this on, be prepared for repetition. And God said to Joshua, “Be prepared for repetition”, and Joshua told the Israelites “Be prepared for repetition”, and so the Israelites were prepared for repetition. Also, multiple prophets give very similar testimony, such that some Books seem redundant. A good editor could have saved hundreds and hundreds of thin pages, and hundreds and hundreds of thick trees, and hundreds and hundreds of painful hours of reading.
Now about the Old Testament itself. The theme is simple. It’s best to do what the loving God says to do. The theme is repeated and repeated in many forms (narratives, parables, songs and poetry) as the story of the Israelites is told. A summary of that story follows.
The very beginning is Genesis, of course, where the world is created. Then, in Exodus, God chooses his people who were then in slavery in Egypt. These are the future Israelites. God helpfully writes them a list of rules they’ll need to follow as apparently no one at that time knew how to behave. How could they, when there was no Bible and no Christmas? The rules included useful suggestions as to which side of the alter to kill a goat on, the laws of mildew, and how many chickens to sacrifice for crossing the road against the lights. This goes on for pages and pages, and as I was quickly bored, so were the Israelites.
What a recalcitrant group the Israelites turned out to be! Every time God turned his back during the forty years, they were wandering around the desert with Moses, they were killing and fornicating and stealing and worshipping idols. One wonders why He chose the Israelites, as He refers to their stubbornness throughout the Bible. He should have realized early on they were not that into Him and tried another group. This behaviour by the Israelites continued for centuries with repeated threats by the Lord (through 35 Books of the Old Testament) which would eventually be carried out.
And how the Lord was vengeful! (or was He?) He did not take sinning laying down, and a good talking to was not His way. This was a major surprise for me. There are so very many references in the Bible to a loving and forgiving God. I did not find Him in the Old Testament.
The Israelites and others were killed en masse. Women and children included. Innocent, guilty; it didn’t matter early on. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Was He really going to do all of these things He said He was going to do to the people He claimed to love? Well, yes, He was, and yes, He did. These horrific things were done to teach those few who were to survive humility and to remind them of God’s Holy nature. Discuss amongst yourselves.
The story of the development of Christianity in the Bible progresses through the words of the prophets who recorded their interactions with God. These were people God chose to convey his thoughts to the Israelites. You sometimes get a sense of who these people were. Notably, Jeremiah’s love for his fellow Israelites made it palpably difficult for him to spread God’s frightening message of the punishment to come. You could feel his pain in the way he wrote. He would likely be an interesting person to have a beer with. So would David. So would Solomon, though he might be a know it all.
The prophets tell of the Israelites settling in Israel and Judah, and continuing to sin until God allowed the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem, and take the surviving Israelites to Babylon as slaves. The Israelites are eventually allowed to go back to Jerusalem by the Donald Trump of 538 BCE, King Cyrus the Great, of Persia, a nonChristian. Now the table is set for the arrival of Jesus Christ and the beginning of the New Testament.
Much of the Old Testament was painful to read, what with the repetition and the fact it is written in a time and place far away from the here and now. It’s a long way from figs and sheep and wine and sacrifices to Audi’s and space ships and wine and the internet. But there are some Books which stopped me in my tracks. Among these are the Book of Job, the Book of Psalms, and the Book of Ecclesiastes.
The framework of the Old Testament is a history of the Jews. Unfortunately, if you read about each Book online after you’ve just read it in the Bible, you find that historians claim that much of the history is inaccurate. Also, you find that much of what has supposedly been written by a given prophet wasn’t. To say the least, the Bible is a controversial document.
Overall though, it was an excellent adventure, and I haven’t even gotten to the most impressive miracles yet.