Aaron Gale Essay
Throughout the centuries the Bible has been a source of both inspiration as well as skepticism regarding its perceived message. Different people have obviously interpreted the Bible in very different ways, depending upon the particular analyst’s religious, political, socio-economical, and/or other considerations. Why has this been the case? At least part of the answer might hinge upon the word “history.” Now let me begin by saying that I am not advocating that the Bible is either true or not true. However, it seems that some people put a lot of pressure on the Bible, in so that it must be deemed historically accurate. But what does that mean? Does that mean that everything in the Bible must be proven accurate? How could we even do so, considering that records and archaeological evidence from early time periods is scant at best, and in many instances, non-existent? For example, what evidence do we have that, say, Moses, ever existed? From an archaeologist’s perspective, I can tell you the answer is “none.” Furthermore, we need to remember that the Bible is an ancient document. That is an important statement, since we need to remember that ancient cultures functioned differently than we do today. As I tell my students, you can’t read the 21st century into the ancient world; it simply doesn’t work. For example, in the ancient world it was the norm to write “history” as you wanted it to be, rather than as it really was (the historian Josephus comes to mind here). In addition, how can we account for the seemingly numerous contradictions (e.g. who killed Goliath? There are at least two separate accounts in the Bible).
I think it is possible, then, that the Bible has been both a positive and negative force throughout history, but it largely depends upon how one approaches and interprets the text. In fact, at times it even appears that the authors of the Bible, and in particular, the New Testament, weren’t exactly consistent regarding their own various precepts and principles. For example, the first Christian author, St. Paul (a self-identified Jew), appears to change viewpoints from time to time based upon the situation. He himself even acknowledges this by stating that he will be a Jew to the Jews (those following the Torah, or “law”) and a Gentile to the Gentiles (those not under the law; see 1 Cor 9.20-22)! What did Paul mean by this? Paul also seems to vary his views concerning the validity of the Torah (Jewish law) throughout his letters to the various early churches. Hence, I feel we must be very careful in our consideration of the Bible itself as being a “force.” Maybe it is the interpreters who are the positive or negative forces here? Interpretations of individual biblical passages (“cherry-picking”) can vary greatly, and when isolated excerpts only are considered (rather than looking at the text as a whole), it may lead to the Bible being viewed as both a positive and negative force at the same time!