This is one of the only books I ever read more than once. It is not linear or chronological, so reading it in order is both difficult and not necessary, but in various forms and fashion I read each book of the bible a minimum of three times. Some books were read perhaps a dozen times. This reading occurred over about 30 years.
I did not do all of this reading because it was an enjoyable story, but out of a sense of compulsion. I grew up Christian and believed for forty years that the Bible held answers and mysteries and was a directly inspired message from God to man. Keep in mind that I was raised as a Fundamentalist, and that we believed in the infallibility of every word, including a literal six-day creation, the global flood, and a universe no older than 10,000 years or so…
I now believe quite the opposite, and thus the one-star review. I would like to break my review into a few sections:
The Bible is horribly inaccurate historically. A few time periods and names line up with reality and can be verified externally, but the vast majority can not. This extends from Genesis through the New Testament. Extensive archaeological expeditions have shown that people and places mentioned never existed, or existed only centuries after or before the time period referenced. There appears to have been no David or Solomon, or Solomon’s temple, for example. No evidence of hundreds of thousands of Hebrews wandering in the desert. No mention of Israel in ancient Egyptian or Babylonian texts. Up until 500BC or so there appear to have been nothing more than a few nomadic tribes wandering around modern-day Israel.
Surprisingly, this lack of evidence extends even to the person of Jesus. What few external references there are are either vague or completely fabricated at a later date. The best evidence suggests a list of ‘sayings’ that were woven into a history by unknown authors a century after the time period in reference. The debate is hot and heavy here, but only inside Christian circles. Serious scholars outside those circles have long since moved on.
There is simply no debate here - the Bible is as woefully ignorant of science as many other ancient texts, perhaps more so. The universe is either 3.5 billion years old or 10,000 years old. A global flood is either impossible or really happened. All life on earth was either created 10,000 years ago or evolved over several hundred million years. These are completely unreconcilable positions. It is either one or the other, both can not be true. To believe the Bible is to outright reject large disciplines of science.
Many religious faithful have managed to hold on to their faith in the Bible by doing a bit of a sidestep. They acknowledge the problems with history and science by claiming that the Bible was never intended to address those areas. Tales of creation and flood and ancient people are merely morality tales in this view, and what is important is the lessons they convey, not the details of time or place. They manage to fit the cosmic life cycle of the universe and of Earth in-between verses of Genesis.
It is a tricky balancing act, but it works for many. However, what about the morality that remains? Frankly, I find it as lacking as the history and science.
Even if you don’t hold the Old Testament to be historically accurate, the depiction of God is one of anger and jealousy and petty revenge, a harsh taskmaster with bloodlust. This stands in stark contrast to the pacifist, turn-the-other-cheek, peace-loving, miracle-working, healing sacrificial Jesus. And yet both Jesus and Jehovah are said to be one-and-the same God. This is very difficult to reconcile, and yet fundamentalism attempts to do just that. The technique is simple, and in modern terms it is referred to as ‘cherry-picking.’
The fact is that the words in the oldest manuscripts of the Bible have not changed for millenia, yet the interpretations have changed as often as the wind. This is why there are so many thousands of sects of religion. Humans tend to pick the interpretation that seems best to them.
This stands in stark contrast to the idea that the Bible supposedly contains absolute truth, especially in moral matters. Atheism is often criticized for lacking any sort of standard with which to guide one’s life. How, they are asked, do you know right from wrong? The assumption is that the Bible is such a standard. However, if one simply takes just one step back and looks at the bigger picture, it is obvious that the Bible is no such thing. It is as rigid as water. Religious people have always differed on major issues, including justice, human rights, abortion, the death penalty and homosexuality. One would be hard-pressed to find a single passage of scripture which all believers agree on and follow closely.
However, if you do find such a passage of agreement (such as ‘love thy neighbor’) it is unlikely to be practiced as such. It is also likely to be found universally in other religions, most of which predate the Judeo-Christian versions. The fact is that the Bible fails miserably as a moral guide.
I will not, in spite of what I just wrote, tell people to avoid this book. I don’t recommend it particularly, but there may still be some value in reading it. This is especially true for those of other faiths. If you want to know why Jews and Christians behave the way they do, and why they say what they say, this is a good starting point. It has value as reference and research, but not much more.
There is one group, however, I do recommend this book to: believers. Unfortunately most of them have never read more than 10% of it. I definitely recommend that they do so, and that they think about what they read in context. But I urge caution here – many a faith has been undermined by such an undertaking. Proceed with care!