Holy Bible by Anonymous: A Book Review
(The Skeptical Review)
Not for the faint of heart, the Bible is a very long read. Almost 1,300 pages of tiny print, it is a mixture of fierce, bloody battles, scores of twenty-generations-long, mind-numbing genealogies, and quite a bit of indecipherable, symbolic secret code of some sort. There is also a pinch of poetry thrown in for flavor. All in all, though, it is for the most part boring, too often frightfully violent, and at all times very confusing. It passeth human understanding.
I was unable to track down the actual author(s) of the book. Some of the sections have titles like "Mark" and "Joshua," but nowhere could I find who these people were or where or when they had lived. This is why authorship must remain anonymous.
The book is divided into two main sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament, "testament" apparently meaning that the authors were "testifying" to the contents of the book. The problem, though, is that most of these writers never claimed to have witnessed, personally, any of the described events. So I can't really say if this is a work of fiction, nonfiction, or both.
For example, several of the earliest sections, for reasons unclear to me, are believed to have been written by someone named Moses. However, these sections always refer to Moses in the third person--Moses did this, and Moses said that--and there is also an account of Moses' own death. Since the personal pronoun "I" is almost universally used to describe personal thoughts and experiences, and since it is impossible to write an account of your own funeral, we can be fairly sure that whoever wrote these sections was not someone named Moses.
I encountered the same problems in the New Testament. A man named Jesus supposedly did all manner of astonishing things. Yet not one of the authors ever claimed actually to have seen any of those astonishing things personally. (This was a disturbing theme throughout the whole book.) Obviously, some unknown, unnamed third parties had to have told the writers about these feats by Jesus. But this forces the reader to wonder why the firsthand witnesses weren't moved to put pen to parchment and describe what were clearly wonders to behold.
As an example, Jesus supposedly performed miracles (such as literally walking on water), healed very ill people with only a few uttered words, and, most astounding of all, came back to life after being dead for about two days! These are great wonders indeed, but with the glaring omission of any firsthand accounts, the reader will soon find himself doubting all of it. I, for one, find Agatha Christie's murder mysteries far more likely to depict real events.
Discerning readers usually dismiss secondhand accounts of anything, preferring to get it straight from the horse's mouth, like a good reporter. But I'm afraid the Bible cannot be called good reporting. No newspaper editor worthy of the name would run stories such as these without reliable, confirming sources. This book provides none.
So, the reliability of the Bible as history is almost nil, even though undisputed nations and leaders are mentioned. The fact that historically correct names and places are often used in the Bible is the basis for the argument that the entire book is valid. However, this argument is unconvincing because anyone could write an account of, say, a flying saucer landing on a rooftop. Just because the writer might place this improbable event against the backdrop of a correctly depicted 1970s USA, amid the swirling Watergate scandal, would not authenticate the saucer landing. The Bible suffers from this same credibility problem.
I found what I think are far too many grisly massacres and murders, described in gruesome detail, in the Bible. This book should definitely carry a warning that it is not suitable for children. I could see no point in describing such bloody details other than to claim bragging rights for an allegedly mighty group of warriors. But this brings up another problem.
So many battles described in the Old Testament include impossibly large numbers of soldiers. In the section named "Judges" (8:10), there is a battle in which 120,000 Midianites are killed, and in the section named "2 Chronicles" (13:17), 500,000 men were killed. And there are dozens more just like this. These numbers are difficult to accept, and for a very simple reason. In an arid region such as Palestine (Israel), the supply lines for such massive armies would have been impossible to maintain. That arid, scrubby territory could never have produced enough food to maintain hundreds of thousands of soldiers, let alone the civilian population as well. Even if bountiful Egypt (the Israelites' sworn enemies) had agreed to supply those armies, how could the supplies have reached them? And how did they reach them in any case?
Even with a complex railroad system, which these soldiers did not have, or motorized vehicles, which they did not have, such enormous armies could never have been kept supplied. Yet we are asked to believe that battlefields of nearly a million soldiers were able to be fielded, in an arid climate, using only pack mules, horses, and camels. This reviewer found such an untenable scenario impossible to believe. So, although some of the biblical battles may actually have taken place, the numbers mentioned are a human impossibility. And this brings up another problem.
Many people claim that this book is inerrant somehow, that it is the divinely inspired book of God. (There is worldwide disagreement as to the name and nature of "God," but that's another problem for another time.) If this is true, then everything I've written thus far should not be possible. I've checked and rechecked the meanings of "inerrant" (incapable of error; infallible) and "divine" (superhuman), and I am at a loss to understand why anyone would believe the Bible is either. In addition to the problems I've already mentioned, the Bible is often contradictory, often silly (with talking animals) and always confusing.
Moreover, the various groups claiming inerrancy do not agree with each other as to the meaning of this book, which makes their (contradictory) claims of inerrancy even more baffling. For example, one group claims that the Bible teaches, without a doubt, that birth control is a sin. Countless other groups disagree. One group asserts that the Bible is clear in forbidding blood transfusions. Countless others disagree. One group claims that the Bible was "expanded" when God inspired one Joseph Smith to write an addendum. Countless others disagree. And so on. With such irreconcilable disagreements still raging about the meaning of the Bible, "inerrant" and "divinely inspired" must be ruled out.
However, setting aside historical accuracy and inerrancy, how does the book measure up in prose, style and storylines? Well, it's a mixed bag. There are some lyrical elements that are pleasing to the ear when read aloud. These are especially pleasing when read in the Elizabethan English of the King James Version, which is still preferred by most of the book's adherents. However, when weighed against the graphic violence, the inconsistencies, the vagueness of authorship and incomprehensibility of large sections of the book (such as the entire section named "Revelation"), the Bible is not worth the hundreds of hours required to plow through it. In this reviewer's opinion, almost anything on Public Television is a far better investment of one's time.
(Judith Hayes, P. O. Box 77, Valley Springs, CA 95252; e-mail [email protected])
EDITOR'S NOTE: The word "testament" can also mean "will" or "covenant," which is probably the sense it was intended in calling the two divisions of the Bible the Old and the New Testaments. However, this does not materially affect Ms. Hayes's point about many biblical writers' not having witnessed what they wrote about, because, as she noted, much of what was written in the Bible wasn't and couldn't have been personally experienced by the writers. Thus, there is no good reason to believe that their "testimony" was any more reliable than other history that was passed by word of mouth through several generations before finally being written down.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: For almost three years, Ms. Hayes was a regular columnist in Freethought Today, published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. Her article "Let Us Pray," originally published in Freethought Today was reprinted in the the Spring 1995 issue of The Skeptical Review. She currently has a monthly column on the Internet, The Happy Heretic, which can be accessed on the Secular Web (http://www.in fidels.org). She is also a senior writer for The American Rationalist. In God We Trust: But Which One? was published in 1996, and she is presently working on a second book, His Holiness?, which will trace the history of the papacy.
Judith Hayes copyrights all of her articles, but she agrees to allow all of her articles in The Skeptical Review to have the same reproduction rights accorded to all materials that we publish. Skepticism, Inc., grants the right to reproduce its materials for local distribution and postings on the internet provided that nothing is marketed for profit and that the names and addresses of the authors are noted on all copies.
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