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A Fascinating Contrast

Posted on February 11, 2010 at 8:50 AM

By Gary Konecky


One of the things that fascinate me is the very different approaches people take to the Bible. 


For bible literalists and Christian fundamentalists, the plain text is all that there is.  There is no need to think, to research, or to ponder.  It says what it says.   If you point out errors in the translation, if you point out apparent contradictions in the text, it does not matter.  Their attitude is unshaken. It says what it says and that is all I need to know.  If you point out that the Hebrew Bible is different than the “Old Testament,” they deny this either with selective quotes pulled out of context or in some cases they deny it without having ever picked up a Hebrew bible. 


The other thing that fascinates me about bible literalists and fundamentalist Christians is that they typically use an English translation of the Bible.  Every Rabbi I know can read and fluently translate the original Hebrew, as well as Aramaic.  The thought of reading or using an English translation would never occur to these Rabbis. There is good reason for this. Hebrew is the original language of all or half of the bible, depending on your religion or faith tradition. Hebrew is a very nuanced language when it comes to matters of scripture, while English is not.  Therefore, meanings are lost in a translation. Critical Hebrew words do not have English equivalents.  Shades of meaning, sometimes entire concepts hinge on a single Hebrew word that does not have anything resembling it in English.


In addition to this, the total approach taken by Christians to scripture is radically different from the Jewish tradition.  The Jewish tradition holds that G-d gave the Jewish nation the Oral Torah and the Written Torah at Mount Sinai.  For many Christians, they look to the bible as their only source of guidance.  For Jews, even though the Written Torah is the word of G-d, they look to other sources for to know and understand the word of G-d one must turn to the Oral Torah or oral tradition.  The written word is only a starting point. 


For example, there is the law requiring “Whenever a census of the warriors was taken, every adult Israelite was to pay a Half-Shekel.”   This seems a simple declarative statement, yet there is an entire volume of Talmud that discusses this.  If the text were to be taken literally, if the text were to not have deeper implications, then there would be no need for a volume of Talmud on the subject.


The Jews have wonderful bible stories.  There is the terrific story taught in Hebrew school about what Abraham’s father did for a living.  Read the Hebrew Bible, search for it, read the “Old Testament”.  Do you see any mention of what Abraham’s father did for a living? If you cannot find it, don’t worry, as it is not there.  It is part of the oral tradition.


Then there is the wonderful story about the sex organs of the original Adam.  Is there any mention of this in the Hebrew Bible or “Old Testament?”  No, it is not there, it is part of the oral tradition.


One of the most quoted passages from the Hebrew Bible “is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus chapter 21, Leviticus chapter24 and Deuteronomy chapter 19).  It is also one of the most misunderstood.  To know its meaning, one must again look toward the Oral Torah.


Are the 10 commandments are the same for everyone?  No! There is the Jewish version, the Catholic version, and the Protestant version.  In fact, there are differences in things as simple and straightforward as the mere numbers assigned to the commandments. 


Then there is the difference in translation involving the commandment:  “Thou shall not murder” that is often mistranslated as “Thou shall not kill.”  In fact, the Torah lays down very specific laws for when it isappropriate to kill. 


I have a book that is over 500 pages long and that only covers the weekly Torah portion involving the 10 commandments.  This book devotes hundreds of pages to discussing and explaining the 10 commandments. If the meaning was self-evident and that was all there is to know, then why was a 500 page plus book written? 


The bible literalists claim that the bible flat out bans homosexuality, yet nowhere in the bible does it say: “Thou shall not be a homosexual.” 


The other funny thing is that many of those who claim the bible condemns homosexuality think nothing of going out for a family dinner at Red Lobster, even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Leviticus chapter 11).


Leviticus 19:19 says: “You shall observe My statutes: You shall not crossbreed your livestock with different species. You shall not sow your field with a mixture of seeds, and a garment which has a mixture of shaatnez shall not come upon you."   Do you know from reading this verse what shaatnez is? 


Why is it that I do not see the Roman Catholics, the Christian fundamentalists, the Mormons, the Orthodox Jews and the bible literalists marching on Congress demanding an end to shaatnez?  Why is there no outcry from these people demanding that the US Department of Agriculture regulate the mixing of seeds in a field?  Why is no one lobbying Congress to close down Red Lobster?  Why is no one is demanding the shutting down of the lobster industry in Maine?  Why did the Roman Catholic Church spend $550,000 to repeal same sex marriage in Maine, yet never say a word about shellfish?


As Rev. Mel White has pointed out:

"Over the centuries people who misunderstood or misinterpreted the Bible have done terrible things. The Bible has been misused to defend bloody crusades and tragic inquisitions; to support slavery, apartheid, and segregation; to persecute Jews and other non-Christian people of faith; to support Hitler's Third Reich and the Holocaust; to oppose medical science; to condemn interracial marriage; to execute women as witches; and to support the Ku Klux Klan. Shakespeare said it this way: 'Even the devilcan cite Scripture for his purpose.'

Even when we believe the Scriptures are 'infallible' or 'without error,' it's terribly dangerous to think that our understanding of every biblical text is also without error. We are human. We are fallible. And we can misunderstand and misinterpret these ancient words -- with tragic results."


Categories: Bible Interpretation, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender

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11:46 PM on February 11, 2010 
Rev Jeff says...
Another very informative and thought provoking message Rev Gary. It is so enjoyable to benefit from your study of biblical subjects. We would enjoy the benefit of your wisdom over at our site as well. Thank you

Rev Jeff,

Thank you for the compliment.


Blessings and blessed be
Rev Jeff
Reply Rev Jeff
11:14 PM on February 11, 2010 
Another very informative and thought provoking message Rev Gary. It is so enjoyable to benefit from your study of biblical subjects. We would enjoy the benefit of your wisdom over at our site as well. Thank you

Blessings and blessed be
Rev Jeff