Although it has yet to be in Oprah’s Book Club, and therefore has been so far unaided by the one-woman powerhouse who is capable of launching obscure authors into the stratosphere of literary fame, the Bible is considered to be the best-selling book of all time. According to Wikipedia, the collection of sacred texts garners an estimated 100 million sales each year; wholly without the public endorsement of the person considered by CNN and Time.com, amongst others making similar statements, to be “arguably the world’s most powerful woman.” A power that is most easily identified by the surge in book sales once she places the respective titles on her list of recommendations.
Being an insatiable bookworm, and even having worked a few stints as a cruise ship librarian, it seemed almost sacrilegious that I had been alive nearly thirty years without having read the most-purchased, and therefore theoretically most-read, book of all time. I had read snippets here and there in university classes, and was vaguely familiar with some of the stories having watched movies like The Ten Commandments and Jesus Christ Superstar, but for those who have consumed every word of the Bible, Old and New Testament, from cover to cover, they can attest that none of the aforementioned is quite the same. Now, having read the Bible cover to cover, nearly word for word (my omissions to later be explained), I wonder how many people who claim to have read the holy book have actually done so front to back, word for word.
I base this musing on the two following opinions: 1) knowing the book—both Old and New Testament—word for word and choosing to use it as the main part of a religious doctrine on which to devote an entire life is not only ludicrous, but an exceedingly unattainable goal because of the book’s contradictions and hypocrisies, and 2) removing the religious connotations and attachments, and focusing solely on its literary prowess, or glaring lack thereof, results in a truly abysmal read that I think only a handful would follow complete.
To address the first point, I will try to write the following with respect to those who have chosen to practice and believe in Christianity, the predominant religion based on the Bible, as well as anyone else who does not consider him or herself to be a Christian but takes great value from the Bible. As a “believer” in The Golden Rule—that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself—and the idea that as long as no one is expressly harming someone else, we all should let others live how they want. Therefore, I do not decry Christians or any other religious group merely because they align themselves with a particular ideology.
That being said, I think basing an entire lifestyle according to one book, be it the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, Tina Fey’s Bossypants, or even Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (one of my five favorite books), is entirely limiting. The world is complex, multi-dimensional, and full of numerous brilliant minds and countless wonderful authors, and choosing to abide by just one collection of books means discounting an infinite amount of others.
Regarding the Bible specifically, I think devoting a life to following only the information, stories, lessons and allegories it presents lends itself to living a life of contradiction, hypocrisy and naivety. Putting a mere belief in one book, written about people who lived at least two-thousand years ago, that flies in the face of proven, repeatedly-tested and studied, hard evidence is, to me, close-minded.
Taking the Bible literally—and I actually mean to use that word, even though it is so often misused these days—presents problems, as does taking it figuratively. Believing in a literal interpretation means acknowledging that a man named Methuselah was one of many to live more than five-hundred years, even though today’s highest life expectancy is a mere eighty-five years (if you’re Japanese); another man named Noah created an ark in which he carried “two of all living creatures, male and female” to survive the great deluge that lasted forty days and forty nights and “wiped from the face of the Earth every living creature [God] made”—which means it had to contain all the animals that are in existence today because the literal interpretation does not allow for the theory of evolution; and yet another man named Moses heard the voice of God when he went to investigate a bush that was on fire but, confounding to Moses, would not burn up. When people claim to hear voices today we label them “crazy” at best, schizophrenic out of pity, or have them put in a mental institute.
Regarding the Bible literally also means that the praise-worthy God once not only condoned murder, but actually sanctioned it:
Exodus 4:21-23: The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.
The Almighty not only forced a feud between Pharaoh and Moses by “hardening” the Pharaoh’s heart (what if the Pharaoh didn’t originally have a mean bone in his body?), but then told Moses to let the Pharaoh know his actions would result in the murder of his firstborn son. I suppose when God sent Jesus to die for the sins of man, perhaps the Lord should have thrown himself into the lot, since last I checked, one of the commandments the Lord spoke to Moses is ‘thou shalt not murder’.
Finally, giving the Bible literal validity means dismissing the problem of evil: if God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, evil cannot exist. One who is all-powerful, all-seeing and all-good would simply not allow it.
Using the Bible as a book of allegories, lessons and teachings by which to live, results in picking and choosing what parts to follow, which leads to a half-hearted religious belief at best, and helping to dictate how others live at worst, at least in the United States. Even though one of the principles of the First Amendment of the Constitution, created by the forward-thinking Founding Fathers of the nation, states that there is to be a separation of church and state, that is unfortunately not backed up in reality. Many people vote according to their religious beliefs. For example, the Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman, so those who believe that aspect of it vote against same-sex marriage. However, choosing bits and pieces to heed, they are then validated in opting out of, say, loving thy neighbor as thyself. If they did, surely they would rejoice that their neighbor was getting married at all, and not care one iota if it was to a Tom or a Nancy.
To address the Bible from an entirely non-religious context, looking at it solely from a literary point of view, it’s a downright horrible read. Old language aside—which can be cleaned up a bit and somewhat easier to read depending on which version you peruse—it is entirely repetitive, very often boring and considerably far too long.
In regards to not having read every single word of it, as I mentioned earlier, I did not see that I would gain any more insight into the Bible itself, or the Christian religion, by reading each thousandth name of every person’s lineage, or the verbatim itinerary of the Israelites as Moses led them out of Egypt, which is evidenced by the following excerpt from Numbers 9 to 15:
They left Marah and went to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there. They left Elim and camped by the Red Sea. They left the Red Sea and camped in the Desert of Sin. They left the Desert of Sin and camped at Dophkah. They left Dophkah and camped at Alush. They left Alush and camped at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink. They left Rephidim and camped in the Desert of Sinai…
Any author worth his or her salt would simply write something like: “On the epic trek from Marah to the Desert of Sinai, they camped in various locations, sometimes taking time to count palm trees before bedding down, and other times arriving at springs that offered them no water to slake their dehydration.”
Even a bad writer might type: “They walked around the desert from place to place, at times stopping to count palm trees. When they were done with that unnecessary task, they camped. They had a hard go at Rephidim when they found a dry spring.”
In the end, after many painful sentences, passages, weeks and months, I am grateful to have read the Bible. It has given me more leverage with which to bolster my previous belief that it is rife with contradictions, and therefore so is the religion based on it. Plus, now I can finally say I’ve read the most-sold book of all time!