Back to the Bible

I am reading the bible through again. Actually, I am not sure whether I will actually get though, but I have started.  Years ago, I did read it cover to cover at least three times. I suspected I might do it again before I died, but every time I have started out, I got bored. There are some really boring spots in the bible. Only people who are anal-obsessive would trudge through Chronicles, for example. But I did because I am anal-obsessive and I because wanted to be able to say, “I read the bible all the way through.” I found out nobody cared.

There are many ways to read the bible. One way is to study as you go. My first time through, I used the Jerusalem bible which is packed with commentary and cross references. I read every piece of background information and followed every reference and read every footnote. Another time, I used a guide entitled, “The Bible in One Year.” The third time, I did a chronological study. This is a little crazy-making, but interesting. Job, for example, is a really old book. So if you are reading Genesis, you get to a particular passage that mentions some seemingly unimportant little event…and this can be in the middle of a sentence in the middle of a chapter…the guide whisks you off to Job. So you take a break from the history section and read Job. If you are reading one of the two Kings books, you may be whisked off to Isaiah because Isaiah wrote during that particular time. For me it was difficult to get back to where I was in the history books after some pretty long detours in the prophetic or poetic books.

Once I read the bible using a book called “The Bible as History”. It was really quite fascinating. I tended to take the bible pretty literally back then. The book gave some interesting facts from scientific and archeological studies about events and practices that might explain some of the happenings such as the great flood and Moses’ dividing of the Red Sea. It made the stories seem like naturally occurring events that were exaggerated by the writers. It created a bridge for me. The author defends the bible as being historically correct, but suggests that the authors colored the stories (a lot) to make them more interesting.

When I went to college in my mid 30’s to get my degree in Religious Studies, I was able to get out of “Scripture 101” by writing a paper on what I’d learned on my own. This freed me up my electives to take some advanced courses on the bible. It was in college that I found out that not all of the books in the bible were intended to be historical records, even by those who wrote them in the first place. I also learned that whenever the scrolls were transcribed (this was before printing presses or copy machines), the people doing the transcribing would make little changes. Sometimes their intention was to bring the script up to date so they might insert new information in the form of a sentence or even a whole big passage. Sometimes a scribe might change a word or phrase that they thought might be clearer or more appealing to the reader, and sometimes they just made a big-old mistake. The work of a scribe has to be boring after a while and I can imagine one’s mind wandering and copying things incorrectly. However, I was taught that just as the original writers were led by the Holy Spirit, each scribe was led to make their changes. Of course, when you start going down that path, one can conclude that if someone today decides to rewrite a passage from the bible, that can be a leading of the Spirit, too.

This brings me around to the reason I have decided to read the bible through again after thirty or more years. I have written a few stories of Jesus just for fun. It has always been a quirky trait of mine that whenever I would hear the gospel read in church, my mind I would begin to create a story behind the story. For example, I found it a little odd that when Jesus chose his disciples, grown men would walk away from their jobs to follow a perfect stranger. Some of these guys had families to support, I reasoned.  So I created little stories in which I imagined Jesus interacting with these men before he actually invited them to follow him. And maybe he didn’t even call them the way the gospels writers reported…just walking along one day asking one after another. Maybe he gathered these friends over a long period of time. Maybe a couple of them were old high school buddies, or rather, friends from synagogue school. And maybe they didn’t really leave their jobs to follow him but just dropped down to part time. Can you see where my mind would go? I suppose was creating stories in my mind that made the scriptures more real, more believable.

A few years ago, I started to write some of these stories down. It was great fun. It stopped being fun when I thought that maybe I could write a book and then tried to organize the stories into a chronology and had to create transition stories. The transitions sounded awkward and forced and I abandoned the project. Recently, I have gotten it into my craw to revisit my stories. I found that some of them are pretty good.  Maybe I can improve them enough to publish, I thought. I still have this sense that they have to follow some chronology. My  instructor at the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference, who read one of my Jesus stories, said maybe I need let go of following a chronology and just write a bunch of isolated stories of Jesus. Easier said than done for an anal-obsessive,  but I felt very encouraged by the fact that she liked my story.

So I have been giving a little time each day to write (rewrite) stories about Jesus of Nazareth. And I am reading the bible to get myself in the right mindset. If my playing around results in a book that I can actually publish, I will let you know.

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