Saturday, November 05, 2005

Whose Bible Is It?

I just finished reading Whose Bible Is It? by Jaroslav Pelikan, who is a professor of history at Yale University. The book describes the history and evolution of the Old and New Testaments from the original oral traditions through current translations in hundreds of languages.

This book will sorely trouble those who believe that the Bible contains the inerrant Word of God, as Pelikan clearly traces the influence of humans with varying agendas on the written text that comprises the modern Bible. For example, the Latin Vulgate version contains editorial departures from the original Hebrew and Greek that are the basis for Catholic doctrine that is difficult or impossible to find in scripture. Even after original Hebrew manuscripts were discovered and printed that highlighted the changes and errors, the Catholic Church refused to correct their Bible, preferring to stay wedded to orthodoxy.

Pelikan talks about the changes to the canon -- the official list of books -- of the Bible over the centuries, and how different strains of Christianity each have their own canon. If the Bible were literally the inspired Word of God, wouldn't you think that there would only be one version? Why would God confuse us about something that is so essential to understanding Him?

Unfortunately when humans are involved in any activity, personal agendas, bias, knowledge (or lack thereof), and politics always seem to corrupt the outcome in some way. Even though this is as true for the Bible as for anything else, fundamentalists still insist that the Bible is to be understood as literally true. Other writers have commented on the perils of trying to interpret every word of the Bible as literal truth, whether it makes sense or not, so I won't cover that ground here.

Unfortunately, religious fundamentalism in the United States has evolved into the politically oriented "religious right," which opposes the influence of liberalism and secularism in American life. This has resulted in the continuing battles in America over topics as diverse as abortion, the Supreme Court, and evolutionary theory, and which has led many to believe that the religious right wants to replace our democratic government and institutions with a fundamentalist theocracy. Pat Robertson is one of the leading proponents of Dominionist theology, and he has several disciples in Congress, who have been leading an assault on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Anyway, I have wandered a bit from where I started. I highly recommend this book. It is clearly written, insightful, and chock full of interesting historical background on the most influential book in human history.

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