Bible Complexity…And Lots of Angry People

Those of you who regularly read this blog know my despair concerning online discourse. Read the comments following any article on the Web, however innocuous, and you will see example after example of uninformed rage.

Along these lines, I took some solace in Timothy Beal’s latest column. Beal, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book, is a Christian, a Sunday School teacher, and a college professor of biblical literature for over 20 years.

Anyway, he wrote an article for called “Five Things You Didn’t Know About the Bible.” One of them was that there are multiple creation stories in the Bible. In one Genesis story, God creates the world (light, water, land, vegetation, animals) and then adds humankind–both male and female–as the final touch. In the other Genesis story, God creates a single human first (not yet male or female) out of the dust of the earth and then breathes life into his nostrils.

Fascinating, right? Two completely different stories, right next to each other in the same book of the Bible! Beal, who can point out plenty of other contradictions and complexities in the Bible, intended the article to be a discussion starter and impetus to pull out the Bible and–gasp–to even think.

What he got was pure bile. He was called a “gay moron” and “fatass nerd editor” and one commenter wrote “the OP ["original poster," Beal] needs to actually check his facts. You would think one might actually read the books objectively before commenting on them. Seriously??? Differences in Gen 1&2??? Are you nuts!!!” And that was one of the nicer ones.

How hard would it have been for that commenter to take one of his many Bibles off the shelf and actually read Genesis to see that Beal had it right? I wish all of those who responded could read his article and see its conclusion:

“The Bible canonizes contradiction. It holds together a tense diversity of perspectives and voices, difference and argument — even and especially when it comes to the profoundest questions of faith, questions that inevitably outlive all their answers.

The Bible is not a book of answers but a library of questions. As such it opens up space for us to explore different voices and perspectives, to discuss, to disagree and, above all, to think. Too often, however, that’s not what happens.”

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