Reason #7: The Bible

In a comment below, Tom G. asks a fine question: How’s my Bible reading coming? It’s a good question, since I’m questing a great deal about religion and thus far, my blog has explored several Christian churches. At the moment, I’m not reading the Bible, although I have been reading a lot about all religions.

This actually leads me to another reason that traditional religion has never worked for me. This may seem personal to Christianity, but don’t worry, it applies to Judaism too. That reason has to do with the Bible. Before I explain, though, everyone should keep in mind that nothing I say is intended to denigrate or question others’ beliefs in said Bible. For others, it’s a sacred text and my comments should be read as my own take on that text, not the sacredness of that text for others. I should have a special font for these disclaimers I spill out from time to time.

Anyhoo, the Bible. Here’s the thing. I haven’t read all of it, so feel free to whip several grains of salt at what I say. I have, however, read other ancient texts as well as the Bible. In an ancient Near East history class with Professor Eva Von Dossow at the University of Minnesota, I read “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” a story that predated the Bible but contains a story that’s remarkably similar to the story of the Flood. It is significantly different in several details, but it is definitely the same story.

Similarly, there are Sumerian texts I remember reading, in which one king or another (I took this class in 2001) claimed to have been found in a basket that had drifted down the river. I don’t know whether these texts predated the Bible or assumed written form at the same time as the Bible, but the point was that these were very similar stories that showed up in different forms with significant differences.

Is that the whole of my point? Why, no, I’ve gotta go on a smidgen more. The remainder of my point is that I saw numerous examples of this, where similar stories showed up over and over in different cultures and at different ties in history, with shifts in names, details, and even meaning. To me, this suggests that stories are recycled and reinterpreted according to the needs of the culture that encounters it. (This happened with Greek myths, Sumerian tales, Egyptian texts, and other cultures whose names I can’t remember because the final for this class is long over.)

For this reason, I have trouble treating the Bible as truly different from other texts that existed at the same time or other stories that circulated prior to written records. I don’t deny it as a source of wisdom, but when the same processes affected the Bible as other texts and stories I have a hard time accepting it as sacred above those texts and stories. Why, when one story is so similar to another, is one sacred while the other is just an old tale?


9 Responses to “Reason #7: The Bible”

  1. 1 Gordy February 20, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Here’s an article that might help explain Gilgamesh and Noah’s Ark:

  2. 2 Alien Drums February 20, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Some great points, Holly. I haven’t read much ancient stuff except the Greeks, and I need to do that. But what you said is consistent with the impression that I’ve picked up.

    I wonder, however, if it’s not possible for something to be both similar and different. Let me come at this in a different way. What if God was involved in all of human history, not in every little detail but in the big sweep of things. Of course different people are going to write about those things from a different social and cultural perspective. Each would then be like witnesses to an auto accident testifying in court, with some differences but with the same basic thrust.

    As time moved forward, however, God wanted to do something more specific, more localized. He began to move toward a point. The story would necessarily get more particular and local. That’s what Christians would say about the birth of Christ — that the Bible, while reflecting much of ancient culture and perspective in the early books begins to narrow down to a particular, unique event.

    In short, I think it’s possible to see the Bible as unique or sacred without saying that it is totally other or different from related ancient works.

    Just thinking “out loud.” Does that make any sense?

  3. 3 Alien Drums February 20, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Disregard the first “not” in the second paragraph of my comment. It sounded right at the time.

  4. 4 Just Pete February 20, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    I also have wondered if God is not telling us the same story over and over again. John Eldridge has written a couple books on this subject. I can’t speak to sacredness in this line of thinking, but it is interesting to think of God ingraining this story throughout the Bible, into human fabric, into movie storylines, etc.

    If He does, indeed, desire for us to know Him, it makes sense to me that he would put the story on a loop and put into all of creation, and all of history.

  5. 5 rjlight February 20, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Just wanted to add that I don’t think God needs anyone to “prove” the authenticity of the Bible– I think it takes the mystery and faith out of it. I know it is more than just another old story because I experience it and the only way to see the Bible as something else is to read it and let God do the rest. No that I look over what I wrote it sounds like a simple answer to a very complex and layered issue. I need to go back to humor…

  6. 6 tobeme February 20, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    It is true, that similar stories so up over and over again in different cultures at different times. It is important to remember the limited knowledge base that these cultures had when these texts were written. Stories were the way to explain the unexplained and a way to teach basic life lessons.
    In regards to the Bible, I think it is very important to understand how it was put together and by whom and that also changes on which version you subscribe to. I believe the Bible is a wonderful source of wisdom which has stood the test of time.

  7. 7 Gary February 21, 2007 at 9:19 am


    I think I have your cold…

    neway…about the Bible. One thing I would say in defense of the historicity (not something I really believe, but more of a devils advocate point of view). Even though other texts can be dated earlier, what we are dating are essentially copies. So there is no real way of telling which stories came first, and which are re-tellings of other stories. That is to say, there is no real evidence to suggest that the Biblical story of creation, and other stories, are not the earliest stories from a historical perspective.

    Point to this argument is this: That stuff happened so far in the past, with such a fragile thread of transmission that its really hard to pin down any kind of certainty to any of them. What that means is that even if you end up believing that, say, the story of Gilgamesh is the earliest story…you are still making that leap out of faith.

    Having said that: Those that would argue for the “inneracny” of the Bible are idiots. There are most certainly contradictions and the like, and since what we have are copies and translations of copies you can never reasonably make the argument that they are without error.

    BUT…you can say that they faithfully represent the story of God. I think you can say there is still a sacredness to the Bible that does not exist in any other spiritual writing. Even if in some cases its not the earliest, and even if there are contradictions/inconsistencies…you can say that doulby so for other writings.

    I would say it like this, because I have read other spiritual writings (the Koran, The Talmud, and many others, nothing READS me like the Bible.

  8. 8 Tom Goodman February 21, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    A gentle nudge: you’re still posting about your interaction with material ABOUT the Bible. I’d love to see some posts about your interaction with the Bible, espeicially your reaction to the life/teachings of Jesus. How about a weekly post about your reactions to one of the “biographies” of Jesus? Maybe each Monday you could post your reactions to a couple chapters from, say, the Gospel of John and ask for feedback.

  9. 9 Donald B March 6, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    One thing to consider … rather than condemning one book as invalid because we see the stories in other books … it would seem to me that this would validate a story such as the flood rather than invalidate. Does that rambling make sense?

    I’m reading through your blog at the moment. I started in December, and I am here at the moment. Looking forward to the rest of it.

    Go with God,
    Donald B

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