I was reading recently about Victoria’s Bible-reading project and found myself intrigued. She’ll be reading one or two books of the Bible every month until she’s finished, doing it partly for intellectual reasons and partly for personal ones. As you all know if you read my post yesterday, I come from a Bible-reading family; I grew up reading, studying, listening to, memorizing, analyzing, hearing sermons on, and doing creative projects in Sunday School about the Bible. I feel like I know it well.
I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve read it because it was such an ever-present part of my life. I may have tried to read it systematically once or twice, but mostly I read bits and pieces as we studied it in Sunday School or youth group or Bible camp or Vacation Bible school or whatever else I was doing. I’m pretty sure there’s not a sentence of the Bible I haven’t read, but that’s not because I read it in the usual way one reads a book.
There must be a huge value to studying a book in this way as a child; even though my Christian upbringing causes me a lot of trouble and grief in some ways, I’m always grateful for that training in history and theology and myth and language.
And yet I feel like I have so much to learn about it still. I grew up reading and studying the Bible as though it were the inspired word of God — which, if you read yesterday’s post you’ll know I no longer believe — and this is very different from the way I’d read it now. I haven’t read it in quite a few years, except for short passages if I happen to attend a church service, which happens rarely these days.
But I have read some books about the Bible, and I’ve greatly enjoyed doing so. If you are interested in this sort of thing, I highly recommend Jack Miles’s book God: A Biography and Karen Armstrong’s A History of God and anything by Elaine Pagels, but especially Beyond Belief. These books were so much fun for me because I was finally seeing the history of the Bible that nobody had told me about when I was younger — the uncertainty about authors (not God!) and the complicated textual histories and the sheer weirdness of Genesis. When you look into it closely and learn something about the history and cultural background, you’ll discover that Genesis is one of the weirdest things ever written. There’s a whole world of Bible scholarship I never learned about, some of it written by believers and some by non-believers — scholarship that doesn’t take core evangelical beliefs in the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible as a starting point. I find this scholarship fascinating.
All of this was a revelation to me, and it still is in a way; I haven’t read a book about the Bible in a while, but I’ve got my eye on Bart Ehrman’s books and am always on the lookout for others like them.
So I’m just as fascinated in the Bible as ever, and I’m pleased that my life story has a book as a central part of it, even though the role that book has played has changed dramatically. I’m not planning on re-reading the Bible anytime soon, but what I’d like to do at some point, some years down the road, is to read it again and see how it’s changed for me. Right now I’m content to read about the Bible occasionally, but someday I should take another look at the text itself. I may see some surprising things in it once again.