Read the Bible in contextby Don Lacey on Jun. 11, 2012, under Art & Culture, Biblical Inerrancy, Christianity, Critical Thinking, Education, Faith, God & Bible, History, Language, Logic, Reason, Religion, Skepticism
The following post is an excerpt from this Book by Dr. Sthephen Uhl
Editor’s note: In his book, Out of God’s Closet, a former faithful Roman Catholic priest-become-psychologist shares his inviting journey through agnosticism to atheism and The 21st Century Golden Rule. Dr. Uhl’s Journey was quite unique. Yet he clearly shows most of us how to get free and drop childhood prejudices and myths. This can deeply enrich individuals and families throughout our pluralistic society.
If you’d like to get the book or listen to Dr. Uhl read it to you, you can do both right HERE.
Last Monday (June 4, 2012) the excerpt talked about St. Thomas’ Causality Proof, one of his baseline arguments for the existence of God. Inherent in the discussion was the advice to look at these so called “proofs” with open eyes and ready reason. Today’s excerpt applies the same principle to reading the stories in the Bible. Dr. Uhl provides the historical context needed to fully appreciate and interpret the Old Testament.
Read the Bible
St. Thomas’ strongest philosophical argument was based on an assumption of God; we find a similar faith-based creation of God by man in the Bible’s Book of Genesis. In that book, Moses was distilling and reporting a lot of traditional stories handed down from generation to generation. At that distant time, probably about thirteen centuries Before the Common Era (BCE) he could not be expected to show the philosophical sophistication of St. Thomas some two and a half millennia later.
We can understand Moses’ Book of Genesis better when we analyze very briefly how traditions develop, especially oral traditions from the hazy, pre-historic time before much writing. Families and tribes develop various beliefs, convictions, and bits of wisdom over time. These ideas are passed on as traditions within the families or tribes. When families and tribes socialize with others, they learn from each other and tell stories to impress and entertain. As they learn new things from each other, they modify their old traditions to reconcile them with more recent learnings and new insights.
This evolving process of accepting new beliefs and attempting to reconcile them with established traditions is called syncretism. Webster very simply defines syncretism as the combination of different forms of belief or practice. I like to call it the evolutionary results of faiths. The myths, stories, boasts, tales, and reports from the various tribes of mankind interact on one another as they are retold from generation to generation, from tribe to tribe. The result is evolving or living tradition, that which is handed down from the past.
It will be easier to appreciate the important meaning and implications of syncretism if you put yourself in a nomadic group of desert travelers some fifteen centuries BCE. Your camels are staked out, supper is over and your traveling companions are all gathered around the campfire. There’s no television to entertain the group, no newspaper stories to report, no books to read. Here is where the raconteur can shine as he entertains the group by sharing his stories, his experiences, real and fantasized, with his audience.
Similar sources of entertainment and news are likewise being enjoyed in other groups of travelers. And when various travelers’ routes intersect at wadis or watering holes, storytelling competitions are in order for the entertainment and education of all. One tribe learns from the other, and accommodations or adaptations of knowledge bases and belief systems take place very naturally. Tribes and travelers teach each other better ways to find and preserve water, to overcome fears and feelings of inadequacy, to stay healthy and to convince the listeners that our ways are better than the ways of the strangers and competitors.
Most of us who are over fifty years old have known of modern newspaper and magazine reporters who have exaggerated and even made up stories to impress the public. For example, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a masterfully creative liar, Stephen Glass of The New Republic, completely fooled his whole editorial board with his very impressive, but totally fictional “news” reports. He did it for years, because it brought him recognition for his outstanding scoops and reports. Storytellers of old were not immune from similar efforts to build their reputations.
Obviously clans tend to be clannish. So their troubadours and raconteurs easily make their heroes and accomplishments appear as great as possible. Fact and fiction readily combine to make the stories more impressive and entertaining. In this context, our heroes can beat your heroes; our superheroes are greater than yours; our gods are better, stronger than yours. And when one person or tribe adapts old beliefs to accommodate the new, we have syncretism in action. Oral traditions are continually passed on and modified in this fashion.
Moses learned primarily from ever-changing oral tradition, since he had very little written history and no videotapes to refer to. Hearsay, therefore, was extremely important for the cultures of those ancient times.
The concept of superheroes, gods, and religion pre-dated Moses by many centuries. Far back into prehistory, tales and myths of heroes and superheroes were part of the syncretic traditions passed from generation to generation. Such supernatural heroes and creators represent humankind’s boldest attempts to give meaning to this real world. Moses wrote down the received traditions of his day and used them to his advantage.