Posted by: rusch | April 26, 2007

Watch it, or I will go Old Testament on you!!!!!

For the past month or so, I have been reading the Old Testament.  The last time I read it was seven years ago as part of a goal to read all of the standard works.

That first time through was rough.  The main difficulty was the language of the Old Testament.  Being the traditionalist that I am, the King James Bible is the edition that I prefer over any other translation.  For someone who is unfamiliar with the language, and writing style, it can be very difficult.  It is no wonder that not many Sunday school teachers look forward to teaching from this book of scripture.

Another challenge that I perceive has to do with perspective.  The other standard works, you could say, are objectivist in nature.  In other words, truth is independent of the reader, and is clearly laid out in simple terms. The revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Gospels and epistles of the New Testament, and the verses of explanation in the Book of Mormon that begin with, “and thus we see” are examples of how in a simple manner, things are often laid out.  There is little allegory, and the reader does not have to stretch to far to interpret what is being said.

The Old Testament is different.  While it is does contain objective truth in such things as the Ten Commandments, many of the stories are examples and allegories.  In many cases one must mine, or construct, meaning from the passages in order for them to be relevant.  Otherwise the stories of David, Elijah, Elisha, and others are much like the Iliad and the Epic of Gilgamesh; interesting stories from ancient cultures and societies.

Thankfully I have discovered a tool that has helped me make sense and find relevance to the stories of the Old Testament.  About a year ago, by accident, I stumbled upon a way of interpreting scripture known as exegesis.  At first I did not quite get what this was, but felt that this method would be helpful in making sense out of the scriptures, especially those that were the most difficult.

Strangely, reading Shakespeare, of all things, has helped immensely too.  The works of Shakespeare and the King James Bible were produced roughly around the same period of time.  Somehow reading Henry the fifth has helped me in understanding the book of Job.

But overall my problem is my culture.  I live in an age of instant information.  An age where the journalistic style reigns supreme and literary criticism is left to academics.  We not only want the truth, we want it up front and unadulterated with flowery language.  I think this is one reason why many prefer modern translations of the Bible.  In some cases these editions do away with the poetic language of the 16th and 17th century editions in favor of a reading that is more suited to modern sensibilities.

Since I have overcome my hurdles to understanding the Old Testament, I can say that I will not neglect reading this book as I have in the past.  I think that I will try and read it once a year along with the other things that I read.  That seems reasonable enough.

In the mean time I will continue to read the Book of Mormon, but am thankful that I am now able to make sense and find meaning in a sacred work that might as well have been written in Greek.  But then again, was the King James Bible from the Septuagint, or Masoretic text?  Maybe only Bart Ehrman knows for sure?


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