Camels Through Time

Archaeologists from Israel have determined through radiocarbon dating that the arrival of domesticated camels in the Middle East happened much later than the events in the Bible suggest.

In Genesis 12:10-20 Abram goes to Egypt to escape famine and he and his sister–er, wife–Sarai, have their infamous encounter with Pharaoh. In courting Sarai, Pharaoh gives Abram “servants” (that is, slaves) and animals, including camels. The trouble comes when Ussher’s biblical timeline is used. Ussher puts Abram/Abraham leaving for Egypt 1921 BCE. After he gets his camel gift, he returns to Bethel (in Israel), presumably with his camels. The study finds that the first domesticated camels didn’t arrive in Israel until almost a millennium later in 900 BCE.

Is this a big deal? In some ways yes. It challenges the notion that the Bible is perfect and infallible (which, even without this new tidbit of information it clearly is not). That’s only a subset of believers though, so I imagine the Jewish and Christian worlds will carry on as usually.

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Okay, okay, BuzzFeed occasionally does something worthwhile

I’ve grown a bit tired of all the listicles floating around on Facebook these days, but it would seem that BuzzFeed put one together that’s too relevant for Holey Books to ignore. The list is called The 16 Most Bizarre Moments In The Bible. If you’ve been a regular reader you’ll noticed we’ve pick up a number of these and will likely comment on the ones that appear later in the Bible than we’ve currently reached (Judges). Sadly, I think we missed the whole God shows his butt to Moses.

Here’s what we’ve covered so far from the list:

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The Bible and Abortion, Part 2

At Salon, a post about abortion and the Bible gets a lot—although not everything—right:

Given the amount of effort and political capital the religious right puts into trying to restrict abortion, you’d guess that opposition to women’s choice must take up a huge portion of the Bible. But the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.

We have covered a lot of this ground on Holey Books before. For example, during our reading of the Book of Numbers—mentioned in that article—we asked, Is God Pro-Life? Covering many of the same issues, Ryan has produced a series on marriage in the various Old Testament books we have covered thus far, including Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Our conclusions are much the same as the linked Salon article, but we’ve hardly covered the topic extensively, as we are still only partially through the Old Testament.

So stay tuned for much, much more.

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Gideon’s Cellphone (Judg. 6-7)

As we have already discussed, the Book of Judges contains the stories of the Israelites’ leaders (termed “judges”). One of them, who possesses a more memorable name (at least to this blogger), mostly thanks to the Supreme Court case and Anthony Lewis book, is Gideon.

From the tribe of Manasseh, Gideon is called by God again—why else?—to bring the Israelites’ away from their wandering ways. Not having witnessed enough miracles, perhaps, the Israelites have fallen away from God’s ways, and need someone to help them back into goodness.

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The Song of Deborah (Judg. 5)

Deborah

One of the most popular leaders in the Book of Judges has long been Deborah: an early example of a woman leader—and the only female “judge” (read: chief)—she has rightfully drawn a lot of attention because of her unique place in the Old Testament (along with, in a different way, Ruth). But Deborah also serves another purpose: to allow us to see another hole in Biblical storytelling.

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SCOTUS, Prop 8, and the Bible

Today the United States Supreme Court heard arguments on California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state. At this moment it is unclear how the court will rule, or how far. Our hope is that the Court remembers that a civil institution, such as marriage, requires no biblical justification in this country.

Not that there is any clear biblical justification to begin with. We’ve explored quite thoroughly the wide interpretation the Bible offers on marriage, and that it is far from clear that so-called “traditional” marriage enjoys a biblical endorsement.

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The Death of Joshua and the Need for a “Judge” (Judg. 2)

If the Book of Judges is an accurate guide, the ancient Israelites can perhaps best be compared to a herd of sheep: without a shepherd, without a strong guide, they flounder and, inevitably it seems, end up breaking covenants and worshipping the wrong deity.

If, thus far in the Old Testament, we didn’t already understand this well enough, the Book of Judges is quick to remind us: after the death of Joshua, God’s chosen people are having problems.

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Texas Schools Subverting Unbiased Biblical Education

From The Washington Posta guest column by Charles C. Haynes examines how Texas schools may be subverting what is supposed to be unbiased comparative religious education:

Conducted by religious studies professor Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University, the study examines elective Bible courses offered in 57 Texas school districts and 3 charter schools and concludes that “evidence of sectarian bias, predominantly favoring perspectives of conservative Protestantism, is widespread.” (The full report is available at www.tfn.org/biblecourses.)

In other words, school officials in many parts of Texas convert public schools into Sunday schools in violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.

Not all of the schools, though, are guilty—according to the report, at least 11 are providing “objective study of biblical literature.” At Holey Books, we of course believe it’s important to actually study all of the Bible—and, importantly, without any sort of sectarian agenda.

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Who Were the Judges? (Judg. 1-8)

The Book of Judges, I recently posted, is not in fact about judges. While the name stems from a translation issue—the ever-shifting meaning of language—regardless of what we call them, the judges in the Book of Judges will, to paraphrase Juliet, still smell as sweet (or, perhaps more accurately, be as barbarous, at least if Joshua is any guide). So who were these “judges”?

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The Goodness of a Loving God: More Hardened Hearts (Josh. 11:16-20)

As we’ve seen previously, Joshua and the Israelites conquered the promised land with very little regard to the people already living there. That, of course, is a little too kind. Joshua and the Israelites repeatedly wiped out whoever was in their way, including women and children. In Joshua 11 we are treated to another conquest, this time of the Northern Kingdoms. And once again they kill everyone:

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