Sunday, June 7, 2009

Blogging the Bible part 2

OK, part 2 of what will hopefully be a series that sees me blog about the Bible, from cover to cover.

This does not purport to be an in depth scholarly study. It is merely my own response to Biblical Literalism, as I pointed out in part 1.

I also want to point out that no, I won't be going back to the original Greek or Hebrew or whatever other languages the earliest surviving manuscripts happen to be written in. The reason why is simple - the average Christian (and certainly your average Biblical literalist) doesn't. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that most Christians don't and can't read these languages either. They read the translations. So that is what I will do.

So, objecting that there may be a wrong translation of a particular Hebrew or Greek word is not a problem for my criticism - it's a problem for the Biblical literalist. If the Bible is inerrant, then there can't be a mistranslation or ambiguity about words and meaning, right?

So, if the NIV Bible I am using is wrong, it isn't my problem. I don't think it is the inerrant word of a god.

Genesis 2

Time for the Gaffer to take a day off - he did just finish creating the Universe after all. God takes the seventh day off and declares it to be holy. Which makes me wonder why so many people here in the USA are still working Sundays. (GEN 2:1-3)

Now we're on to Adam and Eve (only we don't actually know their names yet). Hang on, didn't that already happen though? And here is where the Biblical literalist starts to really run into problems. I mean real, no fooling "Wait isn't this a contradiction?" problems. Which means a bit of a humdinger for your literalist, since if there are contradictions then the Bible can't be inerrant.

So in part 1 last week we had Creation Story 1 (CS1), GEN 1:1-31, 2:1-3.

Now we are going to get Creation Story 2 (CS2).

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
(GEN 2:4)

So what was chapter 1, exactly?

This time we are not told how long it took. God creates the earth and the heavens but in this telling, before vegetation or rain, comes man. (GEN 2:4-7) This time man is made from dust (to be fair, CS1 does not mention what man was made from), and God breathes life into his nostrils and presto - dustman lives. Dust? Seriously? Biblical literalists think we are made from dust? Really?

Now, this disagrees with the timeline of CS1. In CS1 man is made on day 6, after vegetation (day 4) and animals (days 5 and 6) and, well, everything else. Here, in CS2, man is made after the heavens and earth but before vegetation, which would mean somewhere around the end of day 2 or the start of day 3 in CS1. Furthermore, here in CS2, man is made on his own. Woman is not made with him. So we have now had three versions of how man was created - first on his own, then with woman (where man and woman are both made in the image of God, depending on how you read the confused wording), and now on his own again.

So which is it Biblical literalists? Which version do you choose to believe and why?

So, woman is in fact not created until a little later here in CS2. Next we get the first mention of the Garden of Eden, which God has created in the east. Odd that it wasn't mentioned in CS1, yet now retains such a central portion of Christian mythology, don't you think? Wouldn't this seem to be a large oversight? In fact, CS1 does not mention the garden at all, yet God puts man in there specifically. Why it is almost like someone has just botched together two different stories by different people under one name. In this garden are trees that are good for food, and the tree of life as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (GEN 2:8-9).

Then we get a rough idea of the biblical location of the Garden of Eden (GEN 2:10-14). A river runs through it that then splits into four rivers - the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Pishon and the Gihon (GEN 2:10-14). And boy have Biblical literalists been getting their knickers in a twist over this.

So we are going to diverge for a little here. Pay attention, we might learn something today.

We know where the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers are, but what we don't know (at least those of us who are scientifically and not biblically minded) is where the Pishon or Gihon rivers were.

We'll start with Christian thoughts on the Pishon. Variously identified with the Nile, the Indus or the Ganges and sometimes others. You don't have to be an expert in geography to see what's wrong there. How big was this frikking garden? Where exactly do the Tigris, the Euphrates and any of those rivers meet? The Nile runs through Egypt and empties into the eastern Mediterranean. The Indus originates in the Himalayas and runs through Pakistan to empty into the Indian Ocean and the Ganges rises in the western Himalayas and runs through India, Nepal and Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

But wait, some Christians have gotten all excited about the discovery of an ancient river bed that rises north of Medina and runs to Kuwait. You can see part of this yourself when you look on Google Earth at these coordinates: 24 30 0 N 41 45 0 E. A pretty cool discovery by a world renowned expert in remote sensing. Note that as far as I could tell Dr. Farooq Al-Baaz does not claim this to be the Pishon, he called it the Kuwait River. Take a look at just exactly how many dried river beds there are in that area. Funny, you would think on reading the accounts of Christians that this was the only dry river bed in the area. But I'll grant that this may very well be a river that the writers of Genesis (or more correctly the author of this particular chapter in Genesis) knew as the Pishon, especially since the river rises in an area where there is gold and this is referred to in GEN 2:12.

Now hang on I hear you say, did Jimmy just admit that there is physical evidence for a Bible story? Well, yes and no (and why should that be a surprise). Because there's more.

The Focus magazine article I linked to also states that we probably won't find the Garden of Eden because all trace of it was removed by the Flood. So why not the dry river beds? Why would they remain when the catastrophic global flood destroyed other evidence? And then there is the fourth river, the Gihon, which is said to "wind through the entire land of Cush" (GEN 2:13).

Cush, in the Bible, is apparently associated with Ethiopia. Which is approximately 1, 174 miles away from the northern tip of the Persian Gulf where the Tigris, Euphrates and Kuwait river empty/emptied. Across the Red Sea. Josephus also identifies the Gihon with the Nile. That's a big garden for one man to look after. It has even been argued that the river Gihon no longer exists; that it ran through Armenia; that Cush referred to the Hindu Kush; that it meant the city of Kish (whose first occupation would be around the 30th century BC, not fitting the biblical timeline) or that its course was changed because of the alteration of topography by the Flood! Why would the Gihon and the garden have been altered or extinguished but not the Tigris, Euphrates and Pishon?

So, circumstantial evidence at best. The odds are that the dry Kuwait River may once have been known to the inhabitants of the land as the Pishon river - the Gihon river remains unidentified. What the Biblical literalist won't tell you about the possible Pishon/Kuwait river is that it probably last carried water some 5,000 to 11,000 years ago. Creationists think the Earth was created in 4004 BC, or about 6,000 years ago.

So, divergence over.

God sets the man (note he has no name that we are given yet) in the Garden of Eden to look after it. God tells him he may eat from any tree in the garden but not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because that will kill him. (GEN 2:15-17) Why put it there then? Why even make a tree that could kill someone if they happen to eat of its fruit? Why not just leave the deadly tree out altogether? God seems to be a smart guy, does he not understand what telling someone they can't do does? Does he actually not know what we are going to do in the future?

Then God decides that he needs to give the man a companion, and since he has now made all the animals (another point where CS1 and CS2 differ) God says that the man should pick a companion from the animals after the man has named them all. One man names all the animals. (GEN 2:18-20). Busy day.

Then the man suddenly gets his own name because verse 20 finishes with the man now called Adam. Just like that. And the poor dear couldn't find a suitable helper from the other animals. Yes that's right, God wanted Adam to pick one of the animals to help him as caretaker of the Garden of Eden. And because none of the animals can use a lawnmower or talk about the finer points of the offside rule God invents woman.

A lesser man than me would make a lot of jokes now, but I'm above that sort of thing.

So God puts Adam to sleep, steals one of his ribs (theft of body parts is OK if you are God apparently) and uses that to make woman. Hey, at least she wasn't made from dust. (GEN 2:20-23). And so we have yet another difference between CS1 and CS2. Is anyone still counting? That's two different versions of how woman was created. Inerrant indeed.

And finally, in verse 25, we find out where the Christian obsession with nudity arises - Adam and the as yet unnamed woman are both naked, and quite rightly feel no shame about it. The Victorians weren't around for another 5,800 years (give or take a few) after all.

And another chapter bites the dust.

This is going to take a while isn't it?


  1. -- God says that the man should pick a companion from the animals--

    Um, yes, it does indeed say that, doesn't it. ??????

    --One man names all the animals. Busy day.--

    Answers in Genesis, after a bit of logical wriggling about, reckons that Adam could've done it in "approximately three hours and 45 minutes...if we include a five-minute break every hour". They argue that as the Bible doesn't mention invertebrates or fish, he didn't have to bother with them, and that he didn't have to catch or chase any animals because God brought them to him.

    I invite any "non-literalist" Christian reading this to explain exactly what they find wrong with that literal interpretation. (I'm genuinely interested how Christians decide how and when to "interpret" the Bible.)

    --This is going to take a while isn't it?--

    At a chapter a week, I calculate it will take about 23 years!

    To take that a bit further, at that rate, there would've been enough time for 260 complete Bible readings during the earth's 6000 year history.

    Or, if the earth is indeed 4.54 billion years old, that would be enough time for nearly 200 million complete Bible readings. A rather notable difference in timescale there.

  2. (Above comment from Yakaru, BTW. It looks I can only post anonymously on Blogger accounts at the moment.)

    - Yakaru

  3. I suggest you do what I do with most books - read the first couple of chapters then skip to the last page to see how it ends (SPOILER ALERT - he's not really dead)

  4. Yakaru:

    I'm hoping that I'll be able to get more than a chapter into most entries - but Genesis is central to literalist interpretations of the Bible so deserves some special focus!

    23 years. Ouch.


    WTF. Thanks for spoiling it. Jerk. Next you'll be telling me something stupid like the boat sinks in Titanic, what a lame ending that would be...

  5. Sooooo, you really WERE asleep in Religious Ed classes then...

  6. from Yakaru

    Not complaining! It's worth taking it slowly with comic material as rich this stuff. There is actually an online Bible study class that gets it done in 90 days, but I suspect they don't dwell on certain aspects.

  7. Can we just skip to the bit where Lot offers up his daughters to be gang raped. Then the next bit where his daughters get their dad drunk so they can shag him?
    Just in case you didn't know Lot was deemed to be the only man good enough to be saved from Sodom's destruction by God. There's some pretty wild stories in that book...

  8. from Yakaru:
    My favorite bit is the zombies wandering through Bethlehem after the resurrection, and Revelation, where it turns out that God is bright green...

    But we must have patience. Afterall, Genesis is the book that trumps everything in astronomy, physics, biology, geology, paleontology, archeology, history, etc. We have no cause for haste.

  9. Talking about trumping astronomy, physics, etc

    Saw this for the first time yesterday and had to chuckle.