I like archaeology (can’t spell it, but I like it). I like stuff about religion. I am fortunate enough to belong to a culture where the two get combined all the time, thanks to a book that’s actually a collection of books, called The Bible.
Fact or fiction, God’s actual words, or just men’s. This is the debate about the Bible. Add to that debate the book “The Bible Unearthed”, a very scholarly archaological look at the history of ancient Israel and the version of it that’s in the Bible. Because it is such a scholarly read, it took me a while to get through it. Not exactly a page-turner, but for anyone who wants to know about the buried past of Israel, this book will tell all. With maps.
I finished the book because it had one hook: After all this archaeological digging around (no pun intended) in the Bible passages, the authors promise that there was a reason why the Bible was written after the fact, and therefore ended up with a screwy timeline and some folks doing some things at a time when they just couldn’t have. (I’m sure I’m not revealing anything surprising if I say Solomon did not build the temple.)
The why of it, why those stories, why then, was to help to define a people. The interesting part is that the message is still universal: It’s about the rights of the oppressed, the desire for fairness and democracy, while keeping society and traditions intact. Bet you didn’t know that’s what leaving Egypt and all that fighting was about. I didn’t either.
So, God didn’t write the Bible. People did (I’m sure I didn’t reveal anything surprising there, either). So, does that invalidate the Bible? Or God? Or the religions that rely on the Bible? I don’t think so. It does invalidate claims that the Bible’s words should be taken literally, at absolute face value. It does not, however, invalidate the intention and message of the Bible. Myths, fables, allegories – all hold up a mirror to our human condition, our thoughts, our experiences, showing us the truth about ourselves without demanding that we assume the stories themselves are true. Same thing with the Bible: It contains every human condition, every human problem – and presents us with solutions and outcomes. In “The Bible Unearthed”, the digging around found the seeds of democracy; the Bible is a legal and political mirror, too, and a timeless one.
If you want the alternative interpretations of the Bible, I recommend Emmet Fox‘s (no relation) metaphysical treatments. If you’re interested in the archaeological interpretation, I’d be happy to give you my copy of “The Bible Unearthed”. You can give me something else in return.