The Shadow Bible

A commenter on a recent post mentioned the experience of highlighting substantial parts of a work by Nietzsche while working on an essay. Years later, he found the text and tried reading those parts he hadn’t highlighted, to see what was in the sections that he didn’t find significant at the time. He then went on to ask if a similar experiment has ever been done with the Bible.

I’m not aware of something of this sort ever having been done. But I think it would be instructive. What if we took John 3:16 and Isaiah 53 and Genesis 1-3 and whichever other texts typically serve as memory verses and slogans and proof texts, and covered them over for a while – not as a sign of disrespect for them, but as a sign of respect for the rest of the text. What if we took the time to focus on the passages we never read, the ones which, even if we might not actually say so, in practice at least we consider less important, less interesting, less meaningful?

Should someone put together a “Shadow Bible Project” – a reading group to focus on drawing attention to the portions of the Bible left in the shadows even (perhaps in particular) by those who regularly extol the Bible? Those who claim to revere or cherish the Bible have huge blind spots regarding its content (as Pete Rollins’ post I linked to earlier today illustrates). But there are also passages that no one focuses on. Like the one I mentioned on Sunday, which the youth leader at my church asked me about. The choice of proof texts is arbitrary. What would the Bible come to mean if covered over the favorite passages, and had no choice but to discuss Exodus 4:24-26?

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  • Pseudonym

    We already have it. It’s called the Revised Common Lectionary.

  • Travis Greene

    “The choice of proof texts is arbitrary.”

    Arbitrary as in “someone’s choice”, making your statement tautological, or arbitrary as in “random, could just as easily have been otherwise, based entirely on chance and not the result of any system”?

    I agree this would be a very useful exercise, but surely John 3:16, for instance, is a popular verse because it briefly sums up a (the?) major theme of the NT (or at least John), especially as articulated by evangelicalism/fundamentalism. They are prooftexts because they lend support to a theological viewpoint. They are anything but arbitrary as in random. I see no universe where the naked guy who ran away from Gethsemane or God trying to kill Moses are just as easily swapped out for 1 Corinthians 13.

  • Gary

    Shadow bible doesn’t interest me. I’m interested, because I am confused, on the details of Ex 4:24-26. Oxford bible notes, RSV, “An archaic tradition which traces the origin of circumcision to the Medianite wife of Moses…This verse reflects ancient belief in demonic attack warded off by the timely performance of the rite … originally … marriage rite … etc etc.” Plus Moses has the bad guys (? Medianites) all killed, rather ruthlessly, later on. I always had a problem with the OT, but I am beginning to think it needs a warning label…”Could be hazardous to your health, could cause immediate conversion from Christianity to atheism”.  Unless someone has a way to rationalize this, among other items that reflect brutalism. Mine is documentary hypothesis, with varying degrees of inspiration, from zero to ? I personally do not see any other way to rationalize it.

  • James F. McGrath

    @Travis, thanks for your comment, which I think offers some fair criticisms of the way I expressed myself in that sentence. There is a sense in which certain phrases emerge as natural choices to encapsulate the essence not just of Biblical texts but of famous speeches and other sorts of texts and literature. But in all those instances, the quotes sometimes take on lives of their own, bearing less and less relation to their original context. And so I think that a concerted effort to read the context, and even focus on the context to the exclusion if the classic sound bites, can be a useful exercise.

    • Travis Greene

      I agree. The popular verses appear to be in bold or underlined, as it were, because of the tradition. But of course they are no more inherent to the texts than the verse numbers or punctuation.

  • Jeff Carter
  • Doug Browne

    Check out The Year D Project at  He’s doing exactly what you’re talking about.
    (Disclaimer: I am one of Dr Slemmon’s students).

  • James F. McGrath

    @facebook-1342401748:disqus , that’s brilliant – thanks for sharing the link!