December 4, 2020

No Golden Plates

By Chaplain Mike

One of the better paragraphs I’ve read about the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament)…

Scripture did not appear in the twinkling of an eye or fall from heaven on golden plates. The Hebrew Bible underwent its own convoluted evolution from oral beginnings to edited endings. Its various traditions emerged throughout nearly a millennium of turbulent history and theological toil. Scripture is the product of a community whose identity was shaped by the exigencies of history, on the one hand, and an abiding conviction of divine providence, on the other. Regarding the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, the community in question was ancient “Israel,” whose name, according to the enigmatic story of Genesis 32:22-32, has something to do with “striving with God” (v. 28), bestowed, not coincidentally, upon Jacob, the Bible’s most notorious underdog. Consisting of stories and legal codes, poetry and narrative, genealogies and parables, laments and praise, Scripture reflects the sacred, painful struggle of a community in lively dialogue with itself, the larger world, and God. As the psalmist proclaims about creation, “O Lord, how manifold are your works!” (Ps. 104:24a), so something comparable can be said of the Bible: O Lord, how manifold are your books!

from The Seven Pillars of Creation, p. 11
by William P. Brown


  1. I really like this quotation.

    “Lively dialogue” is right: when you read the literature of the ancient world, the Israelites are conspicuous for a really aggressive habit of self-narration. They’ll borrow a story from Sumerians or Babylonians or Egyptians and rework it so it says something about themselves, but it’s at least as charming as it is chauvinistic (and it is chauvinistic). They seem to have an endless fascination with the fact that they exist, and while that can get unhealthy (e.g., when you engage in genocide), it’s a beautiful thing to just wonder, “Whoa. We _are_. There is a We here.”

  2. I think the painting you posted is so lovely and fascinating. Who is the artist? And what is the meaning of it?

    • “Solitude” by Marc Chagall. Briefly, it was painted in 1933. Chagall was a Russian Jew who lived in Paris at the time, and this painting expresses the alienation of the Jews in Europe at the time when the Nazis were coming to power.

  3. Good quote from Brown. I think it’s a healthy thing for Christians to explore the complex historical origins of scripture, both Old and New Testaments, though, at first, it can be a little painful and faith-shaking — kind of like having a meddlesome little dog pull back the wizard’s curtain on some of the sacred cows in my belief system. But once I subdued my inner fundamentalist, I discovered a whole new dimension of scripture to be explored and discovered.
    And, for all the convolution and historical messiness involved in its creation and evolution, I still think scripture is an excellent place to look for God and His truths. However, I think it can be a very dangerous place if you’re looking for the raw materials from which to manufacture religious laws and rules — or scriptural justification for a course of action you’ve already decided to take.