The Bible Now

Friedman, Richard Elliot & Dolansky, Shawna
OUP (2011)
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Friedman and Dolansky are distinguished Hebrew Old Testament scholars. Not as distinguished as they and the book blurb say; but distinguished nonetheless. As self-regarding academics they can't emphasise enough - in special sections at the beginning and end of the book and interwoven into its core material - how impartial they are. But they are not so impartial as they say they are. Nonetheless, they are more generous to reactionary dogmatists than the dogmatists ever are to those who disagree with them.

But it isn't so much the intellectual and political stance that gives the game away, it's the very choice of topics: homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, the status of women, creation, these are all issues where there is friction between the 'right' and 'left' in the United States.

It will be no surprise, then, to report that the authors conclude that the Old Testament's objection to homosexuality is merely if it gives offence; that Genesis II is fundamentally a catalogue of etiologies not imperatives or commandments; that The Fifth Commandment deals with killing, not murder, and that abortion may be classified alongside such forms of killing as self-defence; and that trashing the earth in the name of human  dominance is unjustified.

AT the heart of the book is a discussion of the role of women which I read concurrently with following the debacle in the General Synod over the consecration of women bishops. The fundamentalist evangelical position, based on Genesis II/III, notably III.16d, completely misunderstands its source material as commandments when it simply describes the results of Adam and Eve availing themselves of the knowledge of good and evil, not dissimilar to the list of consequences resulting from kingship in 1 Samuel VIII.4-18.

The style is, unusually, both thorough (particularly in the matter of Hebrew/English translation) and light. ON the way we learn that although attitudes to male homosexuality was equivocal, attitudes to lesbianism were relaxed; that males were allowed sex with unbetrothed and unmarried women, that we assume, wrongly, that Adam was absent when Eve was engaged in conversation by the serpent, that the issue in Sodom was violence not homosexuality and that procreation is a blessing not an imperative.

In short, the evangelical penchant for prescription arises not from the text but from individual and collective psychological/cultural orientation; and, PoH Yes, almost all of these people derive their understanding from hand-me-down translation and poor textual criticism, far from the scrupulous source analysis of the authors. I can forgive them all their biases and excesses just for this. If Evangelical fundamentalists are going to take the Bible literally, they need to be able to read it in its original languages, literally.