Learning from “Wanderings: History of the Jews”

November 2, 2005

(I do not mean to offend anyone whenever I write stuff like this. It’s my current point of view.)

So last night I started reading Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews. Wow!

Have I told you that my stepdad is an Egyptologist? He’s been telling me for years that most of Genesis is inherited from Sumerian myths and religious traditions (they were first civilization of the world). Many religious people argue with him when he speaks his opinion. Well, seems like one person who would agree with him is Chaim Potok. A rabbi!

His book is based on years of historical reaserch. My stepdad has always told me that history enriches religion. I believe so. The author says that to read and understand ancient texts we must study ancient history.

We’re so lucky! There’s thousands of clay tablets that describe the ancient cultures of the Mesopotamian region.

Well it turns out that all of these accounts existed thousands of years before the Bible was written:

  • The eating of the forbidden fruit
  • The flood
  • A man taken to heaven on the wings of a bird
  • A boy cast into a river who grows to be king

So what are we to do? There’s been much discussion lately on The Ooze about whether the Bible is inerrant or not. From what I read in the posts I think many people believe more or less this about the Bible’s origin:

  • The author of each book is the one that’s printed in the beggining of the book. (For example Moses wrote Genesis and Exodus).
  • God spelled out every word for them. (I mean like in spelling class in school).
  • The historical accounts of the Old Testament are all accurate and to be taken literally.

I used to believe that too. That’s what I was taught in church (Protestant). Any debate that would in any way contradict the Bible would be labeled “worldly” or simply “foolish knowledge.”

I’m hoping that from history I can learn to interpret the Bible better.

For example: Why did Abraham lie to Pharaoh? Why did he behave in such strange ways sometimes? Most of these things can be answered through the study of history. By learning about the customs, traditions and religion that Abraham grew up in I can understand him better and interpret the Bible correctly.

History has many gifts for our understanding. Many “mysteries” and “obscure verses” are still misunderstood because we do not seek the answers where they are: in the past.

As for tonight, I’ve got Abraham to meet. 🙂

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7 Responses to “Learning from “Wanderings: History of the Jews””

  1. kingsjoy Says:

    G, this really interests me. I while back, I watched a show about Noah and his ark. It dramatized the traditional Biblical story, as well as a story as told by another ancient people (can’t remember which one right now). To me, when histories from nonbiblical sources have similarities, it lends credence to Bible stories that some have moved into the myth category.

    It concerns me that lots of preachers explain OT stories based on a modern mindset, rather than digging into the historical/cultural reasons for Bible characters’ behaviors (like your example of Abraham).

    How cool is it to have an Egyptologist in your family? Must be lots of interesting conversation.

  2. Kevin Bowman Says:

    The Old Testament is an ancient story, that though I firmly believe is infalliable, it is not exclusive. I see two ways to view the duplication of stories:

    1. The Jews stole the religion of cultures older than their own
    2. The stories are verified by their existence in the “myth” of other cultures

    I seem to agree with the second. I the myths of the Sumerians and the myths of the Hebrews match up then we must be more inclined to believe them.

    I remember a teacher in H.S. who hated the Bible and used this as a point against the Bible. He also referenced a tribe of headhunters in New Guinea or Africa or something who their myth also told of forbidden fruit and a flood. since these people were able to conjure up the same stories as the Hebrews, on the other side of the world, that proved their status as only myth.

    Even in all my rebellion and angst against God that story did not affect me that way. I said, “Wow, those stories must be true, because they traveled with these people as they traveled around the world.”

    All that to say, Thank you! I think you are right on!

  3. dionpugil Says:

    For quite some time after becoming a protestant christian is was sort of difficult to have someone who studies Egypt in my household. He would point out that Jewish religion as well as Christian religion have so many things that come from Sumerians and Egyptians. I felt that was like an insult to my religion. I thought it was “bad” that my religion wasn’t 100% original (to put it in someway).

    Now I enjoy his company a lot. He’s studied egypt for 30 years. It’s pretty cool.

  4. kingsjoy Says:

    In Mere Christianity, Lewis alludes to some stories that are sort of imprinted on the human psyche, all humans, all tribes. Wonder if that’s true, and if some of the Biblical accounts were simply a record of what humans all “knew” from ancient times.

  5. dionpugil Says:

    Yes, I remember Lewis saying that.

    What Chaim Potok says in his book is that Sumerian culture, religion and laws affected what all other cultures that emerged from the region believed.

    I still don’t know to what conclussion this guy’s gonna come to regarding the writing of the Bible. One thing that made me happy is that Chaim Potok believes like I do, that most of the Old Testament was written during and after the reign of King David. I had once stated that in The Ooze and recieved a little bit of a beating. (I’m exaggerating :))

    I have an essay written by a Jesuit Priest called “How the Bible was written.” In it he explains that the Pentateuch was written during King David’s reign because it was till then that there was “peace” and enough stability as to set up a team of scribes to write down the oral tradition.

    Many freak out at the thought that it wasn’t Moses himself writing stuff down in his laptop. All I can say is, what good does it do to close your eyes to what’s already historical fact.

    As usual. Thanks for answering.

  6. Darla Says:

    When you say this: “By learning about the customs, traditions and religion that Abraham grew up in I can understand him better and interpret the Bible correctly,” it makes me think of the way rob bell teaches. he is amazing at doing just that!! i laugh and joke with michael that it’s because of rob bell that we don’t go to church any more! ha ha…. i have NEVER met another teacher who does this. when we were “exposed” to rob at a youth worker’s conference, we were BLOWN away…. we had never heard teaching like this before, and have yet to hear it again (well, michael teaches like this, but he’s my husband and i don’t want to brag! 🙂 ) anyway….. when we got back to our church, we slowly but surely started to see that everything our pastor was saying was just like regurgitating scripture…. it got to the point that we didn’t even believe that he believed what he was talking about…. rob bell says that he could always tell if a pastor got something off desparatepreacher.com the night before, or if they’ve really wrestled with it, studied it, dug into it… i don’t see how you can correctly interpret the Bible if you’re not researching all the background surrounding it…. i hate it when people make a sermon by a topic, and then listing off scriptures to “back it up.” we listen to rob’s stuff online. it’s amazing.

  7. dionpugil Says:

    Wow, I felt that too while listening to a rob bell sermon I downloaded from his site. He’s like really digging into the “truth behind the scriptures.” He doesn’t just always stick to a literal reading of the texts… he seems like he’s giving you his point of view of some texts and how he interprets them.

    What I find funny (actually I find it sad) is that most christians I know don’t give a shit about history or about digging the past to learn more about texts.

    Sorry but that’s the only way to put it. They don’t give a shit.

    They’re so sure that what they’ve been taught in church or bible school is God’s point of view of everything. Man it drives me nuts!


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