Here in the fractured United States, the culture wars roar on. On the right, any number of school districts, Florida Governors, and conservative parents have banned books with (broadly speaking) “non-Christian” subjects, such as space and time travel (the much-awarded A Wrinkle in Time), systemic racism (the Newberry-Medal winning Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry), talking animals (Charlotte’s Web) schools for wizardry. (The Harry Potter series) and LBTQR themes. Choose your favorite.
Meanwhile, on the uber-sensitive non-triggering left, some publishers have bent over backwards to “update” texts that might include what modern readers would receive as sexist or racist language. Among other beloved titles, these “updated” books include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Given all that ferment on both sides of the culture wars, don’t you think it’s time to either update or ban-outright the most offensive, controversial, and influential book of all time, a book that moreover has been used to launch countless wars, death by beheading and auto-da-fe, the subjugation of women, and the ownership of other human beings.
Violence, murder, homophobia, mass death, concubinage, talking animals, demons, orgies, genocide, rape, torture, idol-worship, magic, human sacrifice, infanticide, prostitution and adultery: the 66 books that comprise the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament—or what most Christians simply refer to as “the Bible”– has it all.
I’ve studied enough Torah to know that a surface reading of our ancient texts is just that—a surface reading. If you read with a modern lens only—critical race theory, feminism, democratic values—you can work yourself into a lather of indignation, but you kind of miss the point.
Which brings me to Robert Bowers, who in 2018 murdered eleven elderly Jews as they prayed in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg, and whose trial has just begun. Before his murderous rampage, he wrote in his biography on the white nationalist social network Gab a verse from the Gospel According to John that says “Jews are the children of Satan,” ignoring a later passage in John that says “salvation comes from the Jews.” The point is merely that in a book (or rather, series of books) as long and dense as the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, it’s easy to cherry-pick.
That various verses in the Christian Bible, taken out of context, have been used to subjugate, harm, and murder Jews is hardly news. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament introduces the reader to the demonization of Jews, which in turn was used by Popes and preachers a like to blame the Jews for the crucifixion of one of their own and in fact for the murder of God. The Hebrew Bible also includes endless verses that, twisted out of context, could be used to justify violence. In Leviticus, God commands death for those that curse their parents. (Oops.) In Deuteronomy, God orders Moses’s troops to destroy sixty cities, including the killing of women and children. And so forth.
And so it goes. The New Testament is an ancient document that was written during a particular political and historical moment, and the books that comprise the Hebrew Bible are even more ancient, discursive, and written over a great time span; thus they require careful, slow, contextual study. In case you haven’t gotten the point, I am not really suggesting that we ban the Bible. Even the less savory parts of it.
For example, this from Ezekiel (23:19)
Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her lovers there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses.
(“Members” like those of donkeys? Those are some mighty large members.)
Given the nearly endless examples of appallingly violent, bloody, misogynistic and sexually abusive behavior narrated in the 66 books of the Bible—oh, where to start?—you’d think that the same folks who are crying foul at the likes of Captain Underpants might want to examine what their real intentions are. Keeping children “safe” from the despoiling influences of modern American culture? I think not. Here in the United States, we can’t even keep our kids safe from murderers with machine guns.