Saturday, April 23, 2016

Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands by Jennifer Bird

The publisher has provided a copy for review.
I agree with Bird that we are constantly exploring the biblical text. We don't know enough about the original cultures of biblical writers to understand all the meanings and truths contained in the Bible.

But I would argue that arbitrarily tagging difficult parts of scripture as myth is stepping away from the text, its intentions, and its history as sacred truth. Bird's approach puts biblical scholars and theologians on the slippery slope of deciding for themselves what is true and what is "a lesson."

On many interpretations of biblical data, I disagree with Bird's conclusions. Two examples follow.

First, she claims that the creation accounts are two separate myths, fairytales to explain how we came to be. However, the scriptures claim to agree on the accounts of creation. One version is poetic, the other more linear. (Can differences be due to genre and intention, two ways to tell the same events? = a simpler and more direct explanation.)

Second, Bird's claim that it is necessary to view God (not the serpent) as deceiver - if one takes Eden's story literally - is startling. Her constant twisting of the text to a modern feminist reading is breathtaking in its daring.

"I'm glad Eve at the fruit," she says, considering it a privilege to know good and evil. She says the story of the Tree of Good and Evil is merely an ancient myth explaining our difference (morality) from animals. (Yet in line with biblical claims, could God's warning not to eat of the fruit be protective because humans were not yet ready for the wisdom God intended to provide them in the future?) Bird calls God sadistic if he actually meant a woman should bear children in pain.

Bird constantly and consistently reads current permissive culture back into the text, judging its accounts as offensive or permissible according to today's societal judgments. She views the honesty of scripture regarding sin and its consequences (for example, accounts of rape) as aberrations of justice or a callous overlooking of its trauma to victims. That is a very modern re-reading: we live in a culture where victims are held up as heroes-for-enduring-pain, who should be protected, rewarded, or avenged. However, historically, victims seldom gained full justice or wrote history. Bird is outraged when scripture notes offenses against God and humans without going into details from the victim's POV.

Bird reads current permissiveness and cultural issues back into the biblical text, judging its accounts as offensive or morally sound according to today's societal permissiveness. Her suggestion of possible same-gender sexual relationships between David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and perhaps Paul and Philemon is downright offensive. She champions redefining "what healthy sex is and looks like today" based on texts outside of scripture.

Indeed, Bird has taken the Bible into her own hands. I do not - and cannot - applaud her for it.

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