November 7, 2014 1

Supplement 39a – BOOK Wrap Up

By in Blog, Podcast

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book-toonHello! This is a BOOK Podcast supplement, and I am Josh Way. Well, we did it! We’ve completed our tour through the writings of the Hebrew and Greek Bibles! I’m sad and relieved and exhausted and excited for whatever’s next. Together we’ve looked at dozens (maybe hundreds?) of stories and songs and legends and genealogies and poems and dreams and apocalyptic visions and gospels and letters, and we tried to say something honest and helpful about each of them. And while I’m sure all of us have more questions than we did when we started, I think that’s a sign of success. We’ve really only begun to scratch the surface, even after two long years. By way of wrapping things up, I have a few things I want to say about BOOK, about my experience putting it together, and then about the bible itself.

First, and I probably should have mentioned this earlier, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Here’s what I mean: I’ve tried my best to provide commentary that reflects scholarship, history, language, church tradition, theology, and common sense, but I’m just one American dude with a Masters Degree who is still finding my own way through the murky waters of ancient foreign literature. From day to day, I have my best educated guess as to how this or that bible passage should be interpreted. Anything I say in a podcast is just one of innumerable possible approaches. I don’t have answers or conclusions so much as I have ideas and hunches and epiphanes and questions and doubts. If I did BOOK again in a year, I’m sure it would take a very different shape, and – if I kept doing my homework and growing as a person – I would surely have new and surprising things to say.

Even along the way, while making BOOK, I’ve changed my mind and my thinking on many topics, and will continue to do so. I don’t have a list of retractions or anything like that, but when I revisit some of the old podcasts, I do wish I could refresh or expand them. For example, I still think that reading creation as a hymn celebrating the order and function of the material universe is the best way to go, but after reading the work of John Walton I’d love to also talk about Genesis 1 as an ancient temple-building narrative. In regard to the whole Hebrew Bible, I’m coming to grips with the apparent likelihood that nothing in the collection was written earlier than 600 BCE. That has a huge effect on how we read it. In the New Testament I’m still wrestling intensely with questions of authorship and voice. These are huge and unsettled issues in my mind. But that’s OK! Everything about BOOK is meant to be preliminary, just a first step to being ready to begin reading the bible again with open eyes. As I said back in the very first episode, my goal has been to make an entertaining and intellectually honest presentation of the content of the bible so that each of us, believer, critic, or curious, would have an informed and productive launchpad for talking more intelligently about it.

I also predicted in that first podcast that BOOK would not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I was correct. Certain Christian friends and relations have, I think, found it offensive and disrespectful to familiar and beloved ways of reading the bible. And I’ve perceived that some of my skeptical and non-believing friends wonder why I spend so much time and energy talking about the bible in the first place. I understand these misgivings, even as I stick to my guns. On the one hand, if the bible represents our religious heritage as Christians, we ought to understand it as best we can from every possible angle. And for non-believers, the bible cannot be avoided as the major literary and religious influence on Western culture. We all benefit from being well informed and intellectually honest about the bible. I reject both religious paradigms that forbid questioning the bible and “secular” programs that would just throw it in the trash. Now, BOOK has always been more about the nuts and bolts of what’s in the bible than my personal religious beliefs, but I do have a blog at bible.joshway.com where I am quite open and talkative about my evolving Christian faith.

As BOOK draws to a close, a couple people have asked if I could give some sort of overview of the bible, say something that puts the whole thing together as a unit. Of course, one of the main themes of this podcast has been, I think, that the bible does not have the homogenous unity that most religious readings tend to impose on it. These authors were not aware that they were writing “The Bible,” and we risk losing their individual voices if we try to pretend otherwise. There is, of course, a certain historical and cultural consistency to these writings, in a broad sense, and there is an essential continuity in terms of the questions these texts explore, even as they offer diverse responses.

I would say, for example, that the central question of the Hebrew Bible is Israelite/Jewish identity throughout the pageant of history. With the possible exceptions of something like Job or Song of Songs or some of the other wisdom texts, I can’t think of a Hebrew scroll that isn’t about the struggle to maintain identity in the face of an historical dilemma (bondage in Egypt, settlement in Canaan, national formation, civil war, exile, or Persian/Greek/Roman occupation). Again, the answers are not always the same (Torah, priesthood, covenant, monarchy, prophecy, temple, rebuilding, new covenant), but the central questions are always about identity – who are we, who is God, and what will save us from this giant threat right now?

In the New Testament, Jesus-as-Messiah is clearly the thematic lynchpin of the collection. And I would argue that the authors of the Greek scriptures have those same basic questions of identity in mind. Jesus’ own teaching explores all of the old questions of Jewish identity, the nature of God, and the hope of rescue. In the wake of the Jesus event, the First Century apostles ask all of the questions again. Who are we? What is God like? What (or who) will rescue us from our oppressors and from ourselves? And they all point to Jesus, even as they offer various creative interpretations of what it means for them and their First Century friends to follow Messiah.

If there’s a center and a “heart” to the whole bible, I think it’s this quest for identity, both self identity and divine identity, which I think are more closely related than most of us realize. I can already think of a million more questions and caveats, but I think I’ll just leave this here for now, and close out this supplement. Here’s the last thing I want to say today: the part of BOOK where I look at all the bible passages one at a time is over, but I’d love to keep going if you’ll have me. If you have comments and questions and topics you’d like me to explore in future supplements, whatever you’re thinking about, I’d love to hear it and offer my thoughts. Have a technical bible question I didn’t cover to your satisfaction? Didn’t follow me on some weird train of thought? Did I lose you somewhere? You can comment here on book.joshway.com, you can email me at book@joshway.com, or you can leave me a voicemail at 801.760.3013. Please make my day and drop me a line. That’s it for now, bible pals, I’ll catch you some other time.

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  • Tom S. Fox

    “I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
    — Josh Way