Reading the Old Testament

Growing up in a household that was more culturally Jewish than Christian meant that unlike most westerners I was more familiar with the Torah than the Gospels. This isn’t saying much, as I never made any serious attempt to read the Bible until I was a teenager. But even in my undergraduate years my biblical readings were largely confined to the Old Testament.

The OT has also attracted me for other reasons: it is rather labrynthe. The codex form it inhabits almost belies the dense intertextuality and interweaving of voices. Historical narrative sits alongside legal codes, poetry, etc. It spans a massive length of time. I have always had a liking for texts which seem to contain a whole world within them; hence my interest in Tolkien, Gene Wolfe, the epic poets, Joyce, etc.

From a Christian perspective, the OT as a unit is incomplete. It’s meaning is indeterminate without the New Testament, which unveils the meta-narrative of the whole shebang. The religious experiences of ancient Israel take on cosmic import for all of humanity. And there’s a bit of a paradoxical movement here:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)

The relativization of ethnic lines doesn’t make ancient Israel superfluous or of mere historical curiosity; rather, everyone else is grafted onto that history.

Reading the Old Testament is to enter into a world that is rather foreign and, well, old. Even with all familiar symbols and tropes that have been handed onto us from it, it still often seems unfamiliar and obscure. I have occasionally entertained a thought experiment: if we ever get around to colonizing space, it would seem that future Christians reading the Bible would have an even harder time of it. What would it be like to read about the moon, or a gazelle, for instance, without a good idea of what they looked like? They too would take on the same sort of mysterious hue that so much of the imagery has for us.

And it occurs to me that this doubles as an apologia for the continuing importance of Biblical scholars – someone needs to be well versed enough in Earth lore to explain it to non-terran humans.

If I’m able to conceptualize my academic discipline in a science fiction setting, then I think I am doing OK.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
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