Some Perspective On Old Testament Stories From An Unusual Source

Recently I’ve been reading through some of the Sagas of the Icelanders. For those unfamiliar with these, they’re the recorded histories of how the Vikings settled Iceland, from a thousand years ago, and the oldest novels in existence.

Here’s the tie in to scripture: in the Sagas it is very apparent that there are conflations between the individual and their household/group/warband, and also drastic condensing of conversations and times. And it’s written in exactly the same style as much of the old Testament. So when I reread the stories of those books, now I’m a lot more aware of these things occurring there as well, of conversations that took months getting condensed to a sentence and such.

The Psalm For Our Time

This struck me in a recent day’s reading as being incredibly apt for our situation:

Psalm 55

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.

Listen to my prayer, O God,
    do not ignore my plea;
    hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
    because of what my enemy is saying,
    because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
    and assail me in their anger.

My heart is in anguish within me;
    the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
    horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
    and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
    far from the tempest and storm.”

Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
    for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
    malice and abuse are within it.
11 Destructive forces are at work in the city;
    threats and lies never leave its streets.

12 If an enemy were insulting me,
    I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
    I could hide.
13 But it is you, a man like myself,
    my companion, my close friend,
14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
    at the house of God,
as we walked about
    among the worshipers.

15 Let death take my enemies by surprise;
    let them go down alive to the realm of the dead,
    for evil finds lodging among them.

16 As for me, I call to God,
    and the Lord saves me.
17 Evening, morning and noon
    I cry out in distress,
    and he hears my voice.
18 He rescues me unharmed
    from the battle waged against me,
    even though many oppose me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change—
he will hear them and humble them,
    because they have no fear of God.

20 My companion attacks his friends;
    he violates his covenant.
21 His talk is smooth as butter,
    yet war is in his heart;
his words are more soothing than oil,
    yet they are drawn swords.

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
    and he will sustain you;
he will never let
    the righteous be shaken.
23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked
    into the pit of decay;
the bloodthirsty and deceitful
    will not live out half their days.

But as for me, I trust in you.

In The Image Of God

Genesis 1:27 says that humanity was created in God’s image.

For me, the key revelation here is in which definition is used for “man”. Just like in English, “man” can be the singular, the species, the male gender, or the collective members of any of those other definitions. But the reading I find epiphanous is “man” referring to the collective members of the group. The scripture isn’t informing us so much that God has 10 fingers and toes and all that so he made us that way (i.e. the “species” reading, although I’m sure that reading is also valid), but that God is a community of beings working together in perfect harmony, and so he always intended for mankind to be the same way.

Observation: Ezekiel And Daniel

I noticed in recent reading of Ezekiel that Daniel is mentioned several times, and as a sort of titan of faith. What’s interesting about this is that Ezekiel predates Daniel, but that the references don’t seem to be prophecy. Instead, they’re almost historical.

While there’s a bit of debate about who this mentioned Daniel is, the theory I like the best is that Daniel was more of a title/almost archetypal reference, like when we say someone was a real Paul Bunyan of a man, for example. What I find appealing about this reading is that it then makes some increasing sense of the Book of Daniel and some of the dueterocanonical books: the collection of stories that mention Daniel aren’t necessarily all of the same character, but are more tellings of some small group of people who acted in particularly faithful ways.

Jesus’ Specific Cause Of Death

This is fascinating, and I think that the explanation lines up enough things to make it extremely likely. When John mentions blood and water coming out of Jesus’ side, it’s actually a small scientific clue left in the Bible for us, and it lines up with why he died on the cross so quickly – a type of cardiac arrest that causes the blood to seize and separate. Jesus literally died of a broken heart.

How I Read The Bible – Or The Merits Of “Literal” Truth

I figure I should start with clarifying the view I take towards truth and “literal” truth in the Bible. First, I do believe the Bible is true – but I probably take a different view of truth than many, because I think that there are several things that modify the concept of truth in the Bible.

First and foremost, I believe that while the Bible is God’s word, it was written by and in the voice of the various authors he gave it to. This means that to get at the “truth” of something, you have to filter it through that author’s words. My favorite example is the star of Bethlehem. Was it really a fixed point of light in the sky in the east, when all the other celestial objects in our sky rotate east to west? Maybe – God is certainly capable – but I find it a lot more likely that it was one of the most spectacular and rarest forms of planetary conjunctions, which would have rotated through the night just like all of the other items in the sky. And when a first century apostle is trying to record what happened and some astrologer points to the east and says, “Well, we saw a star…”, that’s how it got written down. A fair number of people even today would probably write the same thing down in the same way.

The second major lens I see towards finding absolute truth in the Bible is understanding the format of the content being read. Poems, for example, I don’t read as being literally true, but instead poetically true. The biggest bone of contention with this view would be Genesis 1, and I’ll record my thoughts on that later, but it comes into play in other areas as well: Job is a play, for example. So I don’t expect it to be necessarily historically accurate. I also believe that the modern understanding of reading something “literally” is essentially a Greek format, and wasn’t as formalized to the ancient Hebrews.

The third major lens is the one that I think all of us have to fight through: what is the context? In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul instructs women to keep their head covered, but the end of 1 Corinthians 10 is entirely about being culturally sensitive – which can significantly alter the nuance of the command.