The Bible is a ginormous volume made up of 73 different books spanning thousands of years following generations of people. Are there boring parts? Yes. Leviticus is a tad dry and there are other parts that take some determination to get through. As a whole, however, the Bible is an adventure packed rom/com action thriller mystery epic filled with stories that make books like Game of Thrones seem more innocent than The Adventures of Frog and Toad.
How do I know this? Like many, I had plenty of excuses to skirt just sitting myself down and reading the Bible. Being Catholic, there is less emphasis on Scriptura than amongst our separated brethren. We do have quite a bit of exposure to Scripture with three readings each day and four on Sundays, so it gives one the feeling of reading the Bible. In fact, I had heard from multiple sources on the internet that every three years, Catholics read the whole Bible with Mass readings.
However, when I looked it up, all those readings only culminate to having read about 70 percent of the New Testament and only about 13 percent of the Old so I guess feelings and hearsay aren’t always facts. Still, it was something. I figured I could fill in the gaps with a couple of Charlton Heston movies.
And sure there are notable Catholics who tell us to read the Bible. But they’re usually the converts. Of course they’re going to tell us to read the bible. They used to be protestants.
And, yes, Saint Jerome said that ignorance of Scripture was ignorance of Christ but I don’t doubt he’d say that. He translated the Vulgate Bible and probably didn’t want all of his hard work to go to waste by having no one read it.*
Yet something nagged at me. This book has been a bestseller for over 2000 years. There had to be something about it that was drawing in readers. So out of curiosity and also wanting to better understand Indiana Jones movies, I decided to give it a go.
I bought myself a study bible, which I can’t recommend enough. A large part of what makes reading the bible flat is that we have no feel for the cultures of ancient times. A good study bible can really help paint the world as it was and give much needed context to the reader.
Saint Augustine said that the New Testament is in the Old concealed. The Old is in the New revealed. A good study bible also illuminates the connections between the two Testaments which adds yet another layer of interest to the text.
I started with the books of First and Second Samuel because I’ve got a thing for King David and disappointed I was not.
From the plight of poor Hannah to have a baby so that her husband’s other wife would stop tormenting her about being barren to the anointing of King Saul and his eventual flubbing of the kingship, my interest was held. And then when David entered the scene, the story really took flight.
He was a young shepherd but, apparently shepherds weren’t like how we envision them now, all angelic and running around in white nightgowns. They were strong men who had to fight off terrible beasts in order to protect their flock. David was chosen by God, anointed by the prophet Samuel and one of the first things he did was to face down a giant, fearsome Philistine named Goliath that no one else had the stones to fight.
Stones David had. Five of them. But it only took one to the forehead to drop that giant like he was hot. Not one for subtlety, David cut Goliath’s head off to finish the job.
This made David quite popular with the people, thus making Saul want to kill him. People in the Bible, like people in real life, aren’t big fans of giving up power. Saul spent several chapters trying to kill David until Saul eventually died in battle with the Philistines.
David becomes king and there’s a good and holy happy ending right? Not even close. Things go great for a while, sure, but as close to perfect as King David was, (being a fangirl, this hurts me to say) he still wasn’t perfect. At the height of his power, he ended up getting with a married gal named Bathsheba (even though he already had several wives and a bunch of concubines) and getting her pregnant. To cover it all up, he had her husband killed in battle.
Because he was King David, and therefore awesome, once it was pointed out to him how despicably he’d behaved, he was very contrite and even valiantly accepted the loss of his son over the whole ordeal.
And yet that soap opera-esque story was nothing compared to the behavior of his son Amnon -whose story was definitely not taught in Sunday school- and his other son Absalom who tried to usurp David’s kingship. There were a couple of times during those chapters when I had to check the cover to make sure I was still reading the Bible and not some epic fantasy novel that only HBO could make into a series based on the very adult-y content.
After Samuel, I read Genesis. Genesis, alone, takes the reader through the depths of practically every human depravity many, many times. It starts with the beautiful creation story, sure, but it doesn’t take humanity long to muck it all up with The Fall. Eating of the forbidden fruit and trying to assume God’s prerogative for themselves quickly led to an eviction from paradise and eventually to a fratricide and then a banishment and then to the destruction of the whole world by flood.
The narrative stays within the realm of PG until after the flood. With the deluge of water that covered the earth, God has gone to a great deal of trouble to give humanity a fresh start so that they could try it all again without all the debauchery this time. But as soon as the waters had receded, Noah ended up passed out drunk and his son, Ham, saw his nakedness and then he told his brothers how he saw Noah’s nakedness.
Who cares? Aside from Southern Baptists, who hasn’t seen their dad passed out drunk and naked at some point in their life? This is where a good study bible comes in handy. Some folks (biblical scholars) think that a father’s nakedness is a euphemism for his wife’s nakedness and that this whole scene is euphemism for Ham forcing himself on his mother while his dad was passed out drunk in a kind-of ancient Near East power play. (Lying with the wife or concubine of a dominant male was a sign of an attempt to usurp the dominant male’s authority.) This is believed to be the meaning of this bizarrely worded story because Noah keeps cursing Canaan, who isn’t even there nor even yet born. It’s believed that Canaan was the incestuous product of the depraved power play.
Bear in mind this all happens by the ninth chapter of Genesis. There are fifty chapters in that book which, speaking of fifty, makes Fifty Shades of Gray seem more innocent than Harold and His Purple Crayon.
By the end of Genesis, after all the deception, the violence, the lust, the treating people like objects, the envy, the favoritism, the sadness, the humiliation and the death, I did not once think, “That was boring.” Instead, my thoughts were along the lines of “Good Lord! Humanity is a mess and needs someone to pull them out of their muck.”
I’ve now worked my way through Job, Exodus, Leviticus, The Acts of the Apostles and three of the four Gospels. A small percentage of it was tedious, yes. But even the tedious parts had enough bizarre stuff pop up in them to keep the reader awake.
As a whole, however, the Bible is not boring. At times, it’s actually quite shocking even by our cultural standards. I’m starting to think the rumor that it was started by a certain fallen angel who once dressed as a serpent that met a couple in a garden and talked them out of trusting God by telling them paradise was boring.