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  • Karl Thunemann


By Mary Strachan Scriver

Jonathan Poletti is a writer on religion who is not afraid of research. He writes at this location: He will tell you the facts that you might not learn in the average “bible college” which depends on one specific translation that has been edited to preserve dogma. These are things one learns in a proper study of religion and that learned clergy ought to be passing on to their congregations.

Let’s look at this in historical terms. The Holocene era began about 11,000 years ago when the last continent-invading glaciers withdrew. As they went, humans began to farm, to form communities, and to store food which was one early source of violence in raids. Thus they were prepared to allow some people to sit down and figure out writing and also to store books, records, though some religions were good at memorizing words, so there were already texts — just not written down.

The Jewish people picked up very early on the idea of the written word as “religious,” “sacred,” and identity-supporting. They also began to have “classes” or meetings where men discussed the meaning of texts.

“Scholars generally agree that the earliest form of writing appeared almost 5,500 years ago in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). Early pictorial signs were gradually substituted by a complex system of characters representing the sounds of Sumerian (the language of Sumer in Southern Mesopotamia) and other languages.”

The Jewish people picked up very early on the idea of the written word as “religious,” “sacred,” and identity-supporting. They also began to have “classes” or meetings where men discussed the meaning of texts.

“The Aleppo Codex (c. 920 CE) and Leningrad Codex (c. 1008 CE) were once the oldest known manuscripts of the Tanakh in Hebrew. In 1947 CE the finding of the Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran pushed the manuscript history of the Tanakh back a millennium from such codices.”

“. . . According to both Jewish and Christian Dogma, the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (the first five books of the Bible and the entirety of the Torah) were all written by Moses in about 1,300 B.C. There are a few issues with this, however, such as the lack of evidence that Moses ever existed.”

First writing that was Christian could not be earlier than Christ! But there is no more concrete evidence that Jesus existed than there is for Moses’ existence. Come to that, God neither exists nor writes books.

Writing is often the Achilles’ heel of Judeo-Christianity and other writing-dependent religious systems. The documents are taken as a book of instructions that will hold things in place, unchanging, dependable, a foundation for the institution and the priests to keep them from being overthrown — but also to maintain their integrity. And also for controlling outsiders who differ.

But time changes everything except writing and soon the rules and stories were out-of-sync with the lived experience of people. Obvious mismatches meant that writing was revealed as old and written by people who didn’t know anything but their own times.

So it is no surprise that Poletti sympathizes with LGBTQ or Feminists and all the others who differ from the “party-line,” especially when it is a couple of thousand years old. But it is a big plus that he is educated and can research translations as they get passed along from one version to another, always tipping in the favor of whomever picks up the bill for all those monks with plume pens.

Here’s an example:

“Christian theology has a core idea, which is that everyone is utterly, horribly bad. It relies for this point on a line in the Old Testament. As the old KJV translates Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

Having heard this all my life, I was shocked to learn that Jewish scholars had been saying it was wrong. In a study, Tzvi Novick suggests this translation: “The heart is more closely kept than anything, and humanity — what human being can know it?”

The Hebrew wording is complex, but the ancient Greek translation called the Septuagint has this: “The heart is deep above all else, and so is man, and who shall understand him?” The Peshitta, translating from Syriac, has this: “The heart is stronger than any man (all men); who can understand it?”

Another writer, Michael Gold, also writes about the Bible in about the same way. In fact, I was surprised at the informed quality of the writing about religion on Sometimes it’s a bit shocking, but that’s religion for you. It’s supposed to wake you up.

“For one thing, different people mean different things when they say the word “Bible.” I am a Lutheran, so when I talk about the Bible, I’m referencing a collection of 66 books split into two testaments. My Catholic friend’s Bible is a bit bigger, containing 73 books, as well as some additional material for some other books. Our Orthodox neighbors have different canons between them, making their Bible much more fluid in size. Finally, our Jewish friends also have a Bible, called the Tanakh, which contains the books of the Protestant Old Testament but not, obviously, anything from the New Testament. The Bible isn’t really a book, but a collection of books, organized into what’s called a “canon” or acceptably Scriptural material for a certain tradition. It’s a small library more than anything else.”

Once the religious education committee (all young mothers) of the Bozeman Unitarian Universalist fellowship decided to read the Bible together so as to find stories appropriate for their children. They were liberal, educated, privileged, sentimental about childhood, and opposed to violence. Imagine their horror when they came to the story about the children who mocked some old prophets with bald heads — who then called bears out of the forest to eat the children.

The Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published in 1946 (NT) and then 1952 (OT). It was supposed to be written for junior high reading level, which I exceeded though I was still in 7th grade so — arrogant child that I was — I sat down to read it. (My father would buy any book that was praised by the media.) I did fine until I got to the part where Noah’s daughters wanted children, so they got Dad drunk enough to inseminate them. (Happy Father’s Day!) I was prudish as well as stuck up, so that was the end of my Bible reading until much later.

The lesson is that no matter the intelligence of the reader, what matters is whether their culture is developed enough to understand what the words mean, ideally from several points of view. Mary Strachan Scriver is a retired Unitarian minister. She lives in Valier, MT


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