Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BLOGGING THE GOOD BOOK....David Plotz, while twiddling his thumbs at a recent bat mitzvah, picked up a copy of the Torah and idly started reading it. He was, it turns out, shocked and repelled by the surprisingly Old Testament brutality contained in the Old Testament, and decided to learn more. How? By reading the Bible to see what's actually in the thing. "What will happen," he asks, "if I approach my Bible empty, unmediated by teachers or rabbis or parents?"

My guess: he'll get bored quickly. For example, he almost certainly won't get all the way to 2 Kings, where he'd be appalled at the famous story of the saintly Elisha:

Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads ["little children" in the King James translation] came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead! When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.

As my Bible dryly notes in the margin, "Not all ancient writers, to say nothing of modern, would have told a story like this to inculcate respect for a prophet."

Well, no, they wouldn't, would they? But the real problem with Plotz's plan to blog the Bible is that while innocence is one thing, simplemindedness is quite another. Yesterday he blogged about Genesis 4, for example, and today he reports that he got some email about this:

Many other readers wrote in baffled about Cain's wife. Who is she? There's no mention of any daughters of Adam and Eve (who would be Cain's sisters, anyway). So, where did Mrs. Cain come from? Anyone have a good answer?

Please. This is like asking whether Adam had a belly button. Children have been tweaking their elders with questions about Mrs. Cain for decades? centuries? and Plotz's emailers surely know this. He's being suckered.

This is really not an experiment that can end well. Christians will assume that Plotz is mocking them, atheists will gleefully deluge him with examples of Biblical inconsistency, and the rest of us will wonder if his ignorance can really be quite as galactic as he's making it out to be. Meanwhile, Plotz himself will be lucky to make it past the two-week mark.

But I guess you never know. Maybe this time next year Plotz will be trying to puzzle out the significance of beryl and sardonyx and we'll all be cheering him across the finish line. But then what will he do the next time he's bored at a mitzvah?

Kevin Drum 5:38 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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Comments

Typical. A bloggers tries to do something to explore Judoe-Christian values, and he gets mocked for it. I doubt you'd feel the slame way if somebody blogged the Koran and documented Mohammed's various adventures (i.e., pedophilia).

Posted by: American Hawk on May 17, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

My question: why did Adam have a penis? I mean, if he was created before Eve, and God didn't get the idea to maker her until he saw how bored God was...

Posted by: memekiller on May 17, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

Who in the hell is David Plotz? And why is he so astoundingly ignorant of what's contained in the Bible?

Any reasonably educated person in the West should know something about what's contained in it, no matter how he/she was raised. Good grief.

This level of ignorance ("Hey, yeah! So where did Cain get his wife?") would almost prompt me to think Plotz is a wingnut, except that they usually are at least passingly familiar with the Old Law, so they can condemn homosexuals.

Posted by: Alek Hidell on May 17, 2006 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

American Squawk:

Pedophilia?

How old do you think Hagar was?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on May 17, 2006 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Alek Hidell:

He was prolly raised an atheist, or by totally lapsed parents.

Look, I'm a fairly well-rounded guy, but my level of Biblical knowledge is pretty piss-low -- most of it I bootstrapped while trying to plow through William Faulkner.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on May 17, 2006 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

Hopefully, he won't go to the original texts and see what was actually written and what was added only later. That would be bad!

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on May 17, 2006 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe this time next year Plotz will be trying to puzzle out the significance of beryl and sardonyx

And yet we'll STILL be waiting for the Rove indictment.

Posted by: Al on May 17, 2006 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

I am not a wingnut and I know zilch about Cain's wife. Count me among the incredibly ignorant.

Posted by: Monkey on May 17, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

I attend lots of B'nai Mitzvot, and find myself reading Torah a fair amount this way. Plotz will probably NOT be bored.

He'll find a LOT of stuff that our rabbi likes to call "problematic" :-).

Reading Torah "unmediated", though, is impossible without a good grasp of Hebrew. If you're reading a translation, it's already mediated and interpretted.

If anyone wants to do this (and, after all, regular synagogue attendees make it though the Torah once ever year), I'd recommend getting at least 2 translations, one of them being Everett Fox's Shocken edition.

Posted by: Steve Stein on May 17, 2006 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Well, my gosh, can he explain the two completely different and mutually contradictory stories of creation in Genesis? I mean, that's just the first three pages.

Posted by: mg_65 on May 17, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

I am not a wingnut and I know zilch about Cain's wife. Count me among the incredibly ignorant.

Count me as the willfully ignorant.

Reading the Old testament often makes me feel like I'm in a Monty Python sketch. Just can't shake it.

DEU 25:10 "And in Israel his name shall be called, 'The house of him whose sandal is removed."

Read the entire passage though -- it makes for a good punch line.

Posted by: E. Henry Thripshaw on May 17, 2006 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

Well if he's already made it all the way to the fourth chapter of Genesis, he's likely read more of the Bible than most Christians (and almost certainly more than 'nuts such as American Hawk).

Maybe he can blog about the part where the Israelites beg for a king and God warns them they'll be sorry. Then they are. Maybe there's a lesson there....

Posted by: moderleft on May 17, 2006 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

memekiller,

Adam had a penis because he was created in the Lord's image. Do you think THE LORD has to sit down to take a leak?

Posted by: Vanya on May 17, 2006 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

mg_65:

I dunno if he can -- but Elaine Pagels has a pretty bang-up rundown on it in Adam, Eve and the Serpent.

I wanna know what he makes of all those human women having sex with angels a couple paragraphs later :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on May 17, 2006 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

If his reading habits are anything like mine, Plotz will probably give up somewhere in Leviticus or Numbers. As fun as it is to read about how God hates shrimp, the Law is boooring.

Posted by: Drasty on May 17, 2006 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

Learning to dissimulate and plaster over dissonance about things like Cain's wife, the nasty things said in parts of the Bible, contradictions, etc., is good training for being a Republican, isn't it?

Posted by: Neil' on May 17, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Deuteronomy 20 -- YEAHHHHH !!!

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on May 17, 2006 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't it Alan Bennett who (in Beyond the Fringe) did such a good job with, "And Esau was an hairy man."

Posted by: David in NY on May 17, 2006 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

des anyone read the geneologies? I've always wondered if even the diehard actually sit through whom fucking begat whom.

... pun intended?!

Posted by: Nads on May 17, 2006 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of years ago I took my first Bible class in over 30 years with my Rabbi. We studied Midrash Rabbah on Genesis. In an entire school year (9 months), meeting pretty much weekly for an hour+, we got through the fifth day.

So I wish David a long life.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on May 17, 2006 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

I remember reading a fairly amusing book a few years ago in which it turned out that Aristotlean physics and ancient Chinese physics turned out to be true (so you had things like the Greeks and Chinese having aerial dogfights around the sun). There's also Poul Anderson's charming _Midsummer's Tempest_, in which Shakespeare was a historian and everything he wrote was literally true. But what if the Bible itself was literally true? What would it mean if pi was in fact equal to 3? Would wheels not be round?

Posted by: JakeBCool on May 17, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Prosperity with my "Miracle Spring Water"!

Posted by: Peter Popoff on May 17, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Plotz wrote a good book. And I've always thought it' be interesting if a smart guy who didn't know much about religion "live-blogged" the Bible.

To Alek Hidell: Shut up. Plotz acknowledged his ignorance. Just let him do his thing.

Posted by: Mike on May 17, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Lighten up. So long as he revels in the trivial/weird, it's kind of a fun read. And the only people who should be terribly bothered are the literalists - and there's modest value in demonstrating just how selectively literal the literalists can be.

In any case, Plotz' little project reminded me of some funny things. For instance, beyond the multiple instances of incest required by the Adam/Eve/Cain/Abel arrangement, Plotz reminded me of the one with the two daughters getting their father blind drunk for, yes, more incest.

The contradictions - i.e. Adam and Eve and incest - constitute the parlor game. I'm just hoping that Plotz keeps mining the stuff that's both weird and entertaining.

Posted by: Jeff Bull on May 17, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

Let's continue to mock and drive away people of faith, because we wouldn't want to ever like win an election or anything, right?

Posted by: Larry on May 17, 2006 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

Nads:

Nahh, the first geneology in Genesis is where I bog down, never to return ...

A lifetime's worth of weird crap to puzzle through *before* that, though ...

Like a son seeing Noah naked in his tent -- and all offspring (of Ham) condemned forevermore for it ...

Sheesh, talk about grist for neuroses ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on May 17, 2006 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

I believe it was Alan Bennett; he went on to ask "will this wind blow down the mountains of the earth?" That's enough of Beyond the Fringe trivia for today.

Posted by: ExBrit on May 17, 2006 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Jack, if you can dig up the name of that first book, I'd be grateful. Sounds like a good summer read!

Posted by: Ben Cochran on May 17, 2006 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

1 Kings 12:6-11 is the modern reader's story of the Bible in microcosm: choose your advisors carefully.

Read through the Bible and find as much love and hate as you want. I like the Abraham that settles a dispute with his nephew by letting him pick the better grazing land and occupying it (Abraham goes the opposite direction). I like the Abraham that negotiates with God to spare Sodom. I dislike the Abraham that gets up early to kill his own son.

Having served a Mormon mission for 2 years, I'll tell you that very few people have read the Bible, and I'm not sure they even get around to the Gospels. When they do read, they stick to a handful of verses - sometimes going so far as to memorize passages out of context, which is also amazing.

Note that a Google search of "Abraham sodom OR isaac" yields mostly 'sacrifice Isaac' stories - seems the Abraham that gets up early to kill his son is the more popular of the two.

Posted by: Saam Barrager on May 17, 2006 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

I'm interested in how he'll view "traditional family values" once he sees the biblical norm of multiple wives and concubines.

Disclaimer: I am indeed a Christian, and love the bible, but realize its contextual limitations.

Posted by: exhuming mccarthy on May 17, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm interested to see how Plotz does. I sympathize with him... I too am well-educated yet have never even cracked open the Bible or read any major works about it (other than Thomas Paine, but he had some bias...). I'm curious to see how far he gets.

Posted by: Bolo on May 17, 2006 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

The best way to increase the number of atheists is to insist that believers read their holy texts - all the way through, not just the parts cherry-picked by their priests.

For those interested in a similar project check out skepticsannotatedbible.com.

Posted by: petere on May 17, 2006 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

I'd be surprised if 10% of professed Christians are familiar with the litany of bloody genocide that makes up much of the Bible. It's not just that you get eaten by bears for commenting on a prophet's bald head. God comes off as an angry and insecure adolescent who has somehow been granted omnipotent powers, and on several occasions He orders that entire tribes be destroyed to the last man, though the virgin girls can be kept as booty. Disrespectful children get the same penalty as homosexuals; death is ordered for both.

I recall as a teenager thinking that if this stuff were true, it might be preferable to go to hell than to serve such a monster; I had read Huckleberry Finn, in which drew the same conclusion (he'd been taught that God ordained slavery).

Posted by: Joe Buck on May 17, 2006 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

He could have started with Songs of Solomon....

Posted by: dan robinson on May 17, 2006 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

Consider for a moment how offensively ethnocentric it is to call someone ignorant, simply on the basis that he doesn't know the bible.

Unless you can claim to know your Islamic, Hindu and Greek mythology equally well, your supposed knowledge is of no value on most of the earth. Why should an athiest even care, beyond what is necessary to understand the historical and literature allusions?


Posted by: xyz on May 17, 2006 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know anything about Christianity, but I gave up on my parent's religion when I read a verse in a holy text that, losely translated, says that the low caste, the illiterate, the mentally deficient, the animals, and the women are all deserving of punishment.

Posted by: nut on May 17, 2006 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

Ben--
I believe it is _Celestial Matters_, by Richard Garfinkle.

Cheers,
Jake

Posted by: JakeBCool on May 17, 2006 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

i don't know who Cain's wife was supposed to be. and if i cared, would i be "simpleminded" if i asked?

Posted by: cleek on May 17, 2006 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

xyz: If you'll click the first link in the post, you'll see why it's OK to call Plotz ignorant. It's because that's what he calls himself. However, he also tells us a fair amount about his educational background ("I read parts of the Torah as a child in Hebrew school, then attended a rigorous Christian high school where I had to study the Old and New Testaments") which frankly makes it hard to believe that his shock is 100% genuine.

But hey, it might be fun. We'll see.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on May 17, 2006 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

Is one likely to see a KJ bible at a bat mitzvah these days?

Posted by: K on May 17, 2006 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it won't be "fun" but Plotz's professed ignorance is, I think, a literary necessity in order to set up the summaries in an appropriately neutral way. The guy's doing quadruple-backflips to AVOID poking fun at what many consider sacred.

If you are an atheist or agnostic, its pretty much a mug's game to even try to make sense of the text. At worst, you end up simply offending people.

Really, it requires faith just to sort through it.

Posted by: hank on May 17, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

It's an amusing exercise, and I'm sure will be entertaining. Mark Twain had a good run at this, IIRC.

The human species has an innate need to belong to groups, and Religion--whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, animist or whatever--serves a meta-function as defining the values, uniqueness and superiority of a specific group, The People of this Religion.

The most important thing to remember when reading the Old Testament is that it is the Text of the Hebrew People and records a History that defines them as a unique people. Bloodthirsty, absolutely! Shocking, absolutely! Logical, Modern?? NO! Dash out the brains of those enemy infants!! This Land is MINE!!! MY God promised me this land!!! But there is also a tremendous comfort, nobility, reassurance, love, humor, wisdom, kindness and truth. Plotz would do himself a favor if he didn't start with the Pentateuch, the oldest and most alien of the bible. But once you get through the endless nitpicking of the laws and geneologies, you get into some fantastic stories. The story of Ruth, of course, is sublime--a story, if you will, of an immigrant who assimiliates. And the stories of David are like Persian miniatures in their beauty. The Psalms, Isaiah, Job--these are powerful. The book of Amos, for example, taught me more about justice than anything else I have ever read.

If you take it literally, however, as an outsider, you are doomed either to revulsion, silly parody and cheap shots or to the delusion and defensive selectivity of Fundamentalists. Wise men spend a lifetime meditating on these texts, listening with their hearts. None of it is literally true. All of it has Truth.

Posted by: PTate in MN on May 17, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Amy Sulivan poster earlier on Novak's column on Romney's chances in getting the GOP nomination.http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2006_04/008703.php

"I have heard Republicans who have read the Book of Mormon express astonishment that any rational person could believe that." http://www.suntimes.com/output/novak/cst-edt-novak27.html#

How do they reconcile being rational with the many contradictions and inconsistencies in the bible that a large portion of America that believes is to be taken completely literal (e.g. that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old)?

Perhaps if more of them actually read the New Testament they might find that Jesus didnt teach hatred of gays and that he encourage clothing and feeding the poor, and that he wasnt a big fan of war or capitol punishment. Odd that so many right wing Christians seem to push Old Testmment memes over Christs teaching.

Posted by: Catch22 on May 17, 2006 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

"The best way to increase the number of atheists is to insist that believers read their holy texts - all the way through, not just the parts cherry-picked by their priests."

I agree!
And it is not a parlour game to ask about the absurdities of Adam and Eve. What is absurd is using these texts to "prove" how the world came about.

So, what ARE the answers?
And if there are no answers, then don't come near me with your creationism BS again.

Posted by: lilybart on May 17, 2006 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

the comedienne, julia sweeney, did a great routine entitled bible studies. i think it first aired on ira glass'es radio show, this american place.

sometimes it gets aired during public radio fund drives. i don't think ira has ever offered it for sale. push him to do that. it is a great bit on the bible.

Posted by: albertchampion on May 17, 2006 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Re: Cain's wife. There are lots of contradictions and multiple versions of stories in the Bible, but this is really not an example. Try reading Genesis 5:4.

The days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters.

That just goes to show you that even people who think they know the Bible don't actually read it. (It makes you wonder if Mr. Plotz is even reading it carefully at all.) Everyone who has commented on this is quite correct: most people, whether Christian, Jew, or other, have not read the Bible, or at most only parts and not very carefully. Most people's knowledge of the Bible is really just a 'Sunday school' version that they were taught without actually reading the text. Try asking several people (or yourself) how many days the Flood lasted, or how many animals of each kind Noah brought on the Ark, and then read the WHOLE of the Flood narrative and be surprised. And this is a well-known example.

I also don't understand this odd opinion expressed here that trying to understand the Bible means trying to understand it literally. There is no such need. Most Bible scholars/historians/etc. approach the Bible as a text written from various sources over hundreds of years. To gain knowledge of the Bible does not require believing, for instance, that Moses took it down in dictation on Mt. Sinai. Understanding it as the worldview of an ancient people -- the correct view, in my opinion (and that of non-fundamentalist scholarship) -- opens a huge window into the ancient world. It is most certainly NOT a "mug's game". And beyond that, of course, it's worth understanding this book simply for the impact it's had on human history in the 2500 years or so since it was written.

Posted by: MP on May 17, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

Slapstick God In Malachi 2:3 - Behold, I will corrupt your seed and spread dung upon your faces.

Let's continue to mock and drive away people of faith, because we wouldn't want to ever like win an election or anything, right?

Oh, shut the fuck up already. Prove that any such thing has ever happened because someone on a message board somewhere made fun of Christians. Come on, show me some numbers that prove that all these liberal Christians are sitting at home on election days, sucking their thumbs and pouting because someone made fun of their stupid beliefs. Yeah, that's what I thought, you can't do it.

If religious people (fuck that P.C. "people of faith" stupidity) are such fragile little shrinking violets, they aren't meant to be involved in the rough-and-tumble world of politics anyway.

Posted by: John Lenin on May 17, 2006 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

MP.... Most Bible scholars/historians/etc. approach the Bible as a text written from various sources over hundreds of years.

True, but many people in this country are hell-bent on establing national policy based on the belief that this book is literally the word of God, and it is literally true, every word.

Supporters of Israel will tell you that GOD gave them the land. Just try arguing against that.

Posted by: lilybart on May 17, 2006 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Everyone can breath a sigh of relief that I have been unable to find the notes I made on the Bible those many years ago.


Seth was conceived as a replacement for Abel and the King James gives the impression that was quite a while after Cain died.

Of course, if you want to make sense out of it, feel free.

Posted by: cld on May 17, 2006 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

lilybart--

I agree with what you're saying, but that's a separate issue. I'm not telling you to use these arguments against fundamentalists. This all started with one Jew's attempt to read the Bible -- nothing at all to do with fundamentalism.

cld--
Look at the Bible as a hodgepodge of different sources and traditions, and a lot of the problems resolve themselves. In any case, you are making the false assumption that the Bible as it exists works on linear time. After all, the Bible goes through the complete line of Cain down to the Flood before it even talks about Seth.

And of course saying that the King James gives an impression doesn't mean anything -- we're talking about a translation from another language (and one that was dead at the time) of a text written over 2000 years earlier, and not a very good translation at that.

Posted by: MP on May 17, 2006 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

Knew I could find it,

1 Samuel 5: The Ark of the Covenant has been captured by the Philistines so God shows them a thing or two by smiting them with hemorrhoids, 'emerods in their secret parts.'

Posted by: cld on May 17, 2006 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

It was Peter Cook.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on May 17, 2006 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

Cain was sent to live among the people of Nod for his crime of killing his brother.

It's alarmingly like Eddie Izzard's Puritans landing on Plymouth Rock, extoling the virtues of this vast new, uninhabited land and ... who the f*** are those guys?

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on May 17, 2006 at 8:31 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps he should take a tour of scientific literature and wonder at the explanatory power of it all and compare that to the ingnorance and stupidity perpetrated by the religious establishment.

CAn Anyone explain why people read mythology as fact? Perhaps this is a vestigial remanant of ages past... similar to old DLL files that serve no purpose but seem to linger on in the config file...

Posted by: r_m on May 17, 2006 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

A motto for David:

16. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.

Deut. 4:16

Posted by: Buce on May 17, 2006 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

MP,

I actually think the Bible is terrific, but it's not history, philosophy, journalism or science.

Half the time I think people should have to get some kind of license before they're allowed to read it, and they should read it in the context of the literature of the era of its' compiliation, Hesiod through Virgil.

It would be great if there were some enterprising publisher who could put out an edition with Hesiod's Works and Days and The Aeneid in between the Old and New Testaments, which would put it in better perspective.

Posted by: cld on May 17, 2006 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

cld--

You're right in that the Bible really isn't history and certainly isn't philosophy, journalism, or science. I would qualify history a bit because many of the events described in the Bible -- particularly in the books of Kings and Chronicles -- are in fact historical, though the Biblical text isn't exactly what we'd call history. Still, in some respects it is people writing their 'history', however embellished or slanted or fabricated.

I appreciate your point about Works and Days and the Aeneid -- adding that it's certainly helpful to view the Bible as literature -- but the worldview of the Greeks and Romans is really so different that these works don't truly contextualize it.

As for the "hemorrhoids", that certainly is an oddity -- though there is a lot of literature suggesting that this is not what the Hebrew indicates here. For an odd story I would have to suggest Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38).

Posted by: MP on May 17, 2006 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK

MP,

I think you've missed The Aeneid. The New Testament is more realistically a sequel to Virgil than to the Old Testament. There wouldn't be any Jesus or Christianity at all without Virgil.


(And why is there so much reiteration of the idea of 'going in unto your brothers wife' in the Old Testament? It seems to be on almost every other page.)

Posted by: cld on May 17, 2006 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

Heck, to really understand the Bible, swot up first on Biblical Hebrew. And then Aramaic. And then Greek.

"Elohim", which gets translated as "God" is plural. (Seraph, Seraphim; Eloha, Elohim.)

There's a LOT of mistranslations in the Bible.

Posted by: tzs on May 17, 2006 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

I predict he gets stove up in Numbers.

Posted by: pjcamp on May 17, 2006 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

The Bible is best studied by an ignorant outsider. I think a sort of anababtist approach is justified - don't let anybody study it until they are, say, 16 or so.

I think it probably says a lot more about the nature of the human than of the divine.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on May 17, 2006 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

Shitty books for shitty people.

'nuf said.

Posted by: koreyel on May 17, 2006 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

OMG!

Al made me laugh out loud!

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on May 17, 2006 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

You're right, Kevin; the Bible does not deserve this. The only thing it deserves less is to be regarded the way the fundamentalists [pretend to] regard it.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on May 17, 2006 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

Let's continue to mock and drive away people of faith, because we wouldn't want to ever like win an election or anything, right?

Posted by: Larry

This argument makes no sense with public opinion polls are they are.

Posted by: floopmeister on May 17, 2006 at 11:17 PM | PERMALINK

You want bloodshed, ordained bloodshed? Check out Deuteronomy chapter 3 & Ezekiel chapter 9.

We report, you decide.

http://www.biblegateway.com/

Posted by: ahem on May 17, 2006 at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK

SUbdivided We Stand reads Leviticus so you don't have to!

Posted by: Ol'Froth on May 17, 2006 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

As far as the question of where Cain got his wife it's usually answered that he married one of his sisters. Genesis 5:4 says that "the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters".

Posted by: ahem on May 17, 2006 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: shenshe on May 18, 2006 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

Well, if the Bible was non-violent there's no way it would be a historical document. People were violent back then.

No guns, water cannon or stun guns.

Self-defense was bloody melee or an arrow through the skull.

Posted by: McA on May 18, 2006 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

Whether you believe in Judeo-Christianity or not, I think it shows a real lack of education if you haven't read the Bible because a lot of the greatest artists, minds, and politicians of the past 2000 years certainly had read and certainly did believe in its teaching or revolted from those teachings. At the very least, one would think people who wanted to understand about Western culture would take a stab at reading it.

If I said, I'm an expert on the Muslim world, but I've never read the Qu'ran. Or an expert on India, but know nothing of Hinduism, you would laugh.

Posted by: Me2d on May 18, 2006 at 1:59 AM | PERMALINK

And people were executed instead of going to prison, since in an age when famine due to crop failure was a possibility (Egypt) .. the cost of storing someone in a prison doing nothing was prohibitive.

You sound like Modern Fighter Pilots wondering why WWII bombers had so many civilian casulties.
That's because there weren't laser targeters!

Back then, there weren't food surpluses or fancy hi-tech methods of self-defense.

Posted by: McA on May 18, 2006 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

Like much of what I hear in the airwaves from slate or read on their web, there is a profound lack of experience, depth or intelligence. I'm sure they're all very "clever" but, like much of media, shallow. Where's the bight?

I'm not religious but it is a healthy moral exercise. Why would one bother to converse with this totally uninteresting person?

Posted by: notthere on May 18, 2006 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

tzs wrote, "'Elohim', which gets translated as 'God' is plural. (Seraph, Seraphim; Eloha, Elohim.)"

It would be a mistake to infer that Elohim is plural in meaning from the fact that it is plural in form. For example, water is mayim, and takes plural adjectives, e.g. cold water is mayim karim but even if mayim is plural in form, it is singular in meaning.

We have similar words in English: mathematics, physics, nuptials, all plural in form but singular in meaning.

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on May 18, 2006 at 4:48 AM | PERMALINK

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BTW: Christians deserve to be mocked, as do all theists who have built great edifices of theory on foundations of air.

Posted by: The Fool on May 18, 2006 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

I suspect that the Bible is one of the least read books in the world. I mean, there are billions of copies out there but how many people actually sit down to read it?

Secondly, most people get their biblical knowledge from the priests of their church, ho, obviously, are going to avoid the troubling stuff about Cain's wife or what Lot's daughters did or how the Isrealites were punished for not slaying some foe to the last woman and child.

Thirdly, there is a great book published this year called "Misquoting Jesus" which discusses the sources of the New Testament and how changes have creeped in both through accident and by deliberate alterations. It's a pious book but serves to remind us that the Bible is a human work.

Posted by: beb on May 18, 2006 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

So, anyone else pick up the fact that the 2 Kings quote is mentioned in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land? Are we reviewing our bible here, or our science fiction?

Posted by: joe on May 18, 2006 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

The origin of Cain's wife is droll--or unnatural--only if you buy the idea that Adam and Eve were indeed the only humans on earth. But if you start from the hints given in the Bible--the lands outside of the bubble known as Eden or ""there were giants in the earth in those days and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men..."--you can infer that Adam & Eve were not the only humans, but that they were totally self-absorbed.

Eden was like a bizarro Bush White House. It isn't that no one else was there. It's just that no one was worthy of their attention.

I keep wondering about those Giants in the Earth. Do you think they were Norwegian?

Posted by: PTate in MN on May 18, 2006 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

Totally disagree with you on this one. We almost should learn the Bible, inside and out.

The bible is chockful on massive contradictions and logical impossibilities: two stories of creation, two genealogical lists for Jesus, Cain's wife, etc. But Christianity has been the most influential religion in world history. And politicians have quoted the bible to justify some of the most appalling actions in the world.

I think it's a supremely intelligent idea to dig in and find what it actually says. Yes, lots of college boys "know" it's filled with boring stories and funny parts. But cheers for having the courage to actually slog through and understand what it says.

One other note: I hope Plotz will read the Christian New Testament too, because there are a huge amounts of paralells between the New Testament and the Talmud. One could argue that both are attempts to put more moral clothes on the savage beast of the tribal "old" testament.

BTW- every progressive politicain really should memorize Jesus's parables and the Book of Job. And quote them, well, liberally.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on May 18, 2006 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

This is like asking whether Adam had a belly button. Children have been tweaking their elders with questions about Mrs. Cain for decades? centuries? and Plotz's emailers surely know this.

Just because it's an often-asked question doesn't make it a bad one. If Adam and Eve were the first 2 humans, and had only 2 sons, one of which was killed by the other, where did Cain's wife come from?

I don't think there are too many people who still hold that the biblical creationist story is historically accurate (well, except for Al and American Chickenhawk). Even fundies are moving to intelligent design, it gets hard to defend the idiocy of Genesis.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on May 18, 2006 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Arguing over whether the Bible is literally true makes no sense. What's next, trying to figure out whether Hamlet is actual history? Debates over whether Dante really went to hell, purgatory, and heaven, and accurately recorded what he saw? Launching an expedition to excavate Herot?

Posted by: moderleft on May 18, 2006 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, if this is the typical thinking of liberals then it's no wonder that the trolls have such a low opinion of liberalism.

Basically what you have here is a number of people making sweeping generalizations and weighty pronouncements about the Bible when most of them probably have no clue about when or how it was written or who wrote it, and have never even tried to seriously figure it out. I suggest before you comment about the Bible that you might want to learn something about Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic (and Greek for the New Testament) and read up on some ancient Near Eastern literature (and some classical lit for the New Testament). Or if this isn't possible, get yourself a good Bible with commentary.

An example: the word adam is Hebrew for "man" (in the sense of "human"). It is in fact quite clear from the text that Adam is -- rather literally -- envisioned as the ancestor of all humankind.

And yes, simply because parts of the Bible clearly aren't "historically accurate" doesn't mean that the Bible is worthless. The Bible can be valued as literature, among other things. But at the same time, just because some of the stories in Genesis seem ludicrous to many of us today (though they're hardly idiocy, given the general state of knowledge of things 3000-2000 years ago) doesn't mean that the entire Bible is fiction. I have news for you: it's not.

Posted by: MP on May 18, 2006 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Ptate,

Well done! Which means, I suppose that I agree with you.

I remember at about the age of 13 thinking "I'm going to read the Bible cover to cover."

One of my first thoughts was "WTF?" and I'm pretty sure I lost steam around the begats. That was probably the beginning of my understanding that "no way is this thing all literally true!"

To this day one of my bad habits is to stray from the Gospel lessons in Church and read some of the surrounding bits instead. Many times it is incredibly boring stuff but sometimes it is also wacky, and I can see why we never have gospel lessons on the those texts.

Posted by: Tripp on May 18, 2006 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

MP,

Please don't lump all liberals in with the boors.

Posted by: Tripp on May 18, 2006 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Sure, let's mock Plotz for trying to find out what's actually in the so-called Good Book instead of stupidly accepting the double-talking razamataz spouted by religious authority figures. And God forbid atheists should soil everybody's minds by pointing out that the thing actually makes no sense. What bunch of nefarious wankers.

Wait'll he gets to reading the prophets. Talk about your nattering nabobs of negativity.

On the other hand, it is nice to know the god-approved way for beating slaves. I'm sure that information's bound to come in handy some day.

Posted by: Hieronymus braintree on May 18, 2006 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

What about the genocide of the Caananites?

Posted by: Powerpuff on May 18, 2006 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Both fundamentalists and atheists make a grave error when they assume the bible cannot be read anyway but literally by believers.

Reading the whole bible certainly hasn't made me an atheist. It has made me struggle with certain things, But I understand and value it as a collection of thought cobbled together through the centuries that tell of a people's evolving understanding of God, themselves, the rest of the world, and how they all relate.

If you are expecting a linear, cohesive, definitive single narrative, you are going to be grossly disappointed.( Unless you are a fundamentalist, then you will simply pretend it is all those things anyway). However, in my mind this increases its value. It certainly isn't diminished because of the conflict in the text. How could a book that is supposed to be so relavent to our current world not be as conflicted or contradictory as the world itself is? How truthful would it be if everything were in neat categories and tied up in a pretty bow?

Posted by: exhuming mccarthy on May 18, 2006 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

I think this is a great project and am having fun reading it. My mom has become somewhat of a lay expert on the Bible, reading it from a historical context and a liberal-christian view point, and we have some really interesting conversations about it. I too have tried to read the Bible straight through and I think I made it to the long line of geneology and lost some interest. I find all religions interesting, and have studied many religions, as I believe it gives you a better sense of where others are coming from. David's project has actually gotten me interested in picking up a non-King James version of the Bible to read again.

Posted by: Baaaa on May 18, 2006 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

The Lord can summon attack bears?

That's friggin sweet!

Posted by: El Comandante on May 18, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK


If God had a blog would it be the bible (or some other holy book)?

Blogging the bible is like blogging a cookbook. Unless you make something out of it, you miss the whole point. Questioning the ingredients or methodology may (or may not) enlighten you as to the finished product.

You will find in the bible whatever it is you are looking for. Whether it is solutions to your problem or problems to the solution, you will find them. It's not hard to shoot holes in the story of mankind's first family, and it's not hard to see the message in this simple story. God's second greatest gift to you is the ability to reason (You know, the fruit of the tree of knowledge.), don't stop using it when reading God's message.

The bible: inspired by God, but written by humans. God made man in his own image, and man has being trying to make God in his ever since.

It will be interesting to see if David Plotz develops a self-righteous attitude as he digests the bible which appears to happen to a lot of people who do as he is doing. Will he demand tolerance for his beliefs and display intolerance for the beliefs of others? Will he claim he can only be judged by God, but will pass judgment on others? Such is the way of the recently converted.

Yea, verily I say unto thee. Go forth and do likewise.

Posted by: scout29c on May 18, 2006 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

The Bible is a tough and serious book, written by people whose ways of thinking are shockingly alien to our own. Most people who think they "believe in" it have no more business just picking it up and reading it than they have picking up and reading Joyce's Ulysees. And most don't read it. Probably for the best.
Those of us raised Catholic almost never read the Bible. Some years back, the Catholic authorities got worked up over some folks who thought everyone ought to read the Bible in their own languages and then they would be able to understand it themselves, unmediated by the interpretations of professionals. The powers that be didn't think this was a good idea, but their attempts to stop those folks -- fellow named Luther was one of them, if I recall -- didn't pan out.
A few hundred years later, a Protestant friend of my mother's was very disturbed about the New Testament's approval of child abuse. Something about little children having to "suffer" to come unto Jesus. Makes me wonder if those old-time Catholics were on to something.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci on May 18, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Adam got his sons' wives from the land east of Eden. It is the first time we know there are other places and other people. I think that's the Talmud but I'm not absolutely certain.

Before reading the Bible people should take a course in how the books were compiled, edited and rewritten accidentally and intentionally. *Then* they should read the Bible because it is an excellent study of human nature. This is an excellent vaccine against fundamentalism and insipid literal thinking.

Further, no one should ever take anyone else's word for what's in there.

Posted by: Rob Pastorio-Newman on May 18, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Clarence Darrow had a lot of fun asking about Mrs. Cain during the Scopes trial. People should read the Lawrence & Lee play, "Inherit the Wind" or rent the movie.

Posted by: Vadranor on May 18, 2006 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

The Bible has historical elements the way an issue of Sp[ider-Man from 1969 where you see him swinging past anti-war protestors has historical elements.

Posted by: cld on May 18, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

the moral of the story is: don't show up sober to a bar mitzvah. It's a recipe for disaster!

Posted by: scott on May 18, 2006 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I nominate MP as best troll of this thread for begining his diatribe against sweeping generalizations about the bible with a sweeping generalization about liberals.

Posted by: Disputo on May 18, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

This is reminiscent of the Simpsons episode in which Homer, thinking he is about to die (of poisoned Sushi, right?), tries to listen to the audiobook version of the entire Bible before sunrise, when he is due to perish. The best part about this is that the book is read by Larry King! Homer of course falls asleep during the "begats".

Posted by: JMA on May 18, 2006 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

C.J.Colucci, auctually the "suffer" there means "let" or "allow" as in "let the children come to me. On the other hand the New Testament is big on wifely subjection to her husband, equality is unheard of.

I read the NT 5 times through and the whole bible probably multiple times through scattershot reading and study for many years. I used to be able to quote it pretty well but I've forgotten lots by now. My opinion is that unless his life was sanitized for he gospels, which some think it was, Jesus was definitely a radical of his time in preaching tolerance and love. A great man. His condemnation of the religious hypocrites of his day was brave indeed (Matt 23). And his sermon on the mount (Matt 50 is one of the great peices of literature in human history IMO. I wasn't there so I can't say whether his miracles were real, though but I suspect some embellishments of the record occurred. The OT is violent and intolerant, kind of like militant fundamentalist Islam is today wich I find repulsive. I am agnostic on the idea of God but I do think that there is something wonderful, mysterious and perhaps supernatural to the natural world. But lots and lots of evil has been done in he name of the scriptures. I wonder sometimes if religion wasn't invented to discourage bad people from doing bad things to others by scaring the hell into them. People today are afraid to question the religious books. In reading the history of it's putting together, I am not at all convinced that there was a divine hand behind it. More like politics.

Posted by: ahem on May 18, 2006 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

'cuse me not Matthew 50, Matthew 5.

Posted by: ahem on May 18, 2006 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

The Lord can summon attack bears?

Posted by: El Comandante on May 18, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Plus summon a whale to swallow you, transport you to a city and spit you out just so you give a sermon he told you to give (Jonah)


Posted by: McA on May 19, 2006 at 5:19 AM | PERMALINK

ahem:
Exactly my point. I hope someone straightened my mother's friend out about that, but for that to happen she would have had to go to some religious authority figure who knew something and confess her doubts and concerns. Odds are she wouldn't have done that. Score another one for the Whore of Babylon.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci on May 19, 2006 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

"...innocence is one thing, simplemindedness is quite another."

Fundamentalists are literalists: they imagine they can read scripture with without presuppositions. Inevitably, they read their presuppositions into the text and out again from it, but endowed with the text's authority. So, as we see, our American right-wing fundamentalists are sure they find right-wing lessons taught by the Writ.

The tendentiously anti-religious tend to be literalists too, and undertake also to read scripture without presuppositions. The usual result is that they confirm their presuppositions that the scriptures teach vile lessons, promote ignorance, are as stupid as they are convinced the religious people who look to them for instruction must be.

You can't read a text without presuppositions, so a better way to try to read will be aware of what presuppositions we bring to our reading. A couple of thousand years ago, a non-Jew approached Rabbi Hillel and asked to be converted to Judaism on condition that he have to accept only the text of the Torah and not the "oral Torah," the traditional understandings of the written Torah. Hillel began by teaching him the Hebrew alphabet: the first day he taught him ABC...; the second, CBA.... When the would-be proselyte objected that this wasn't what he had learned the first day, Hillel pointed out that as the student had needed to rely on his teaching the alphabet, he would need as well to rely on the Oral Torah to understand the text.

You can only read in a context of handed-down skills, conventions, interpretations. This is truest in the case of scripture. Rather than expect an appraisal of what the texts "really mean" from someone who undertakes to read them in ignorance of tradition (and read them only in translation), but inevitably with all the programming the larger society he lives in could install in him, I wouldn't expect more than a mix of that programming and incomprehension. But may he be granted an especially keen hearing, and then perhaps he may hear some of what is being said to him.

Gut Shabbos!

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