Friday, July 23, 2010

The Other Bible is not another bible


Jewish date:  12 ’Av 5770 (Parashath Wa’ethḥannan).

Today’s holidays:  Feast Day of Bridget (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Groucho Marx (Church of the SubGenius).

The Other BibleTopic 1:  The Other Bible, edited by William Barnstone.  I wrote about this book over a year ago when I bought it.  This is what I wrote then:
I would like to speak a bit about one of my latest acquisitions, The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone.  The Other Bible consists of religious texts which are not part of the standard Christian Bible from a variety of sources spread over something on the order of 1,500 years:  Jewish apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, mystical, and sectarian texts (including the Dead Sea Scrolls), Christian apocrypha, Gnostic texts, Mandaean texts, Manichaean texts, and even pagan texts.  The groups whose works were utilized are not a single religion, and these works thus form a rather artificial collection.  Also the Pharisaic/Orthodox Jewish contributions, listed under “Haggadah”, “Kabbalah”, and “The Zohar, the Book of Radiance (Kabbalah)”, were never intended to be taken as scripture.  As such, “The”, “Other”, and “Bible” are all rather inappropriate for reference to this collection.  In the introduction, the editor conceives of these works being part of a Judeo-Christian “greater bible” which we now have easier access to.  While I have to agree with the editor that these works are valuable for investigating the development of religious thought, I find the notion of a “greater bible” rather repugnant.  Religion is not a free-for-all with texts playthings to delight in.  To accept a book as scripture is an explicit endorsement of its content.  This is why the New Testament is not part of what Jews consider “Bible”:  they view it as a separate, detached collection and not a continuation of the Hebrew Bible.  Bundling together works from multiple religions under a single rubric to imply they are really part of a greater whole, a collection not endorsed as scripture by any single religion except maybe Bahá’ís (and that is a maybe) is an even worse mistake than bundling the Hebrew Bible together with the New Testament.
These criticisms are every bit as valid now that I have finished reading this collection.  In fact, things are even worse than I thought.  For one thing, it is not whole documents which are necessarily included, but rather sections which the editor thought were interesting.  In some cases, the documents which the editor would like to include are no longer extant, and he resorts to including descriptions of groups written by their enemies—hardly the sort of documents that would be included in a “bible” of any sort.  The choice of materials is also rather skewed.  Most of the Apocrypha, the specific collection of material absent in the Hebrew Bible but included in the Septuagint, are not included in The Other Bible, even though they are the first material one looks at when going beyond the Hebrew Bible and New Testament.  Josephus and Philo are for the most part also ignored.  Rather the emphasis is overwhelmingly on Gnosticism.  To describe Gnosticism extremely briefly, consider the notion of a theological “conspiracy theory” in which the Creator God is evil, this world is a trap for human souls, and one’s salvation is dependent not on good behavior but rather knowing the secrets of the Good God above the Creator God (gnosis).  While the Christian versions of Gnosticism almost always included Jesus as the agent of the Good God, early Christians railed against as a heresy.  It goes without saying that Gnosticism is diametrically opposed to Judaism (“metaphysical anti-Semitism” was the term Dr. Gershom Scholem used), given its denigration of the God of Israel and by extension His Torah and His people.  While I find that a lot of Christianity makes sense of a sort in the light of Gnosticism—with Christianity ending up as a sort of Gnosticism-lite—no one sane deems anything heretical as “bible”.  The Other Bible is worthwhile looking at for getting an introduction to many of the texts sampled therein.  For other purposes, the reader is advised to look elsewhere.

Topic 2:  More contemporary anti-Semitism:  “AP Goes Soft on Hardcore ISM” deals with misreporting on the International Solidarity Movement, which is dedicated to aiding terrorists by acting as human shields.  “Israelis fight terror through US court system” deals with a nonviolent way to deal with terrorism:  suing for reparations and actually winning.  “The Treatment of Jews in Arab/Islamic Countries” deals with how Jews have been treated through history by Muslims and gives sources.  “Rachel Saperstein: Five years after expulsion from Gush Katif, from Women in Green” deals with how Jews who were expelled from Gaza five years ago are doing, and it is not pretty.  Rav Boteach in “Why have Christian organizations remained silent about Mel this time, but supported him 4 years ago?” deals with the current scandal of known anti-Semite Mel Gibson.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  No Laughing Matter.  This is a site which pokes fun at the inanities of Middle Eastern politics through mock interviews.  Let’s face it:  comedians can say the unvarnished truth about anything when everyone else fears to do so.  These are the videos they have up currently:

From a different group is the highly sarcastic “(MUST SEE VIDEO) The Humanitarian Crisis of the Gaza Mall: The Horror!”:

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

Enhanced by Zemanta