Now that I’m done tweeting my way through the Bible, I want to revisit and tweak my abridged Bible reading challenge. To recap: the inspiration for this challenge is pretty well summed up in this image:
Except that the Bible is boring, so the goal is to frame a reading guide to the Bible that will give most of the benefits of reading the whole thing, without the boring.One point from my original post is worth emphasizing:
This isn’t just a challenge to fundamentalists (or “evangelicals”) who believe the Bible is totally without error, whether moral or factual. It’s also a challenge to liberal believers and fence-sitters with vaguely positive notions about the Bible. In fact, they may find such an exercise especially valuable–it’s easy to point a fundamentalist to a few egregiously flawed passages in scripture, much harder to convince someone who recognizes the Bible has some flaws that those flaws are not isolated.
If you’re just interested in the challenge itself (whether to do yourself or push on your friends), you can skip to the “general comments and extra credit” now. However, if you’re interested in helping me tweak the challenge, here are my notes on how this draft differs from the previous draft:
Tweaks to the Old Testament section were minor/ I ended up cutting Daniel 12 and a couple chapters I’d initially included just because they’ve been read as anti-slavery. On the other hand, I added in Jonah, which I’d inexplicably left out the first time around.
With the New Testament, though, I ended up surprising myself with the decision to cut Mark entirely. Reading Mark can be an interesting from a certain point of view, since you get all the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” stuff with far less of the “nice sayings about love” stuff, but mostly it’s *really boring* if you’re also reading Matthew and Luke. I also ended up cutting a couple undisputed Pauline epistles because I realized they were actually pretty boring.
I decided that I’d strictly limit myself to 540 chapters total. Since the cuts to the New Testament section were substantial, that left room for some epistles I’d initially left out. Not sure if I made the right decisions there. It feels odd not having either of the epistles (falsely) attributed to Peter (turns out they’re boring), or Hebrews (gets cited a lot, but it turns out that while it has a few interesting bits it’s mostly boring).
Another option is to radically cut the amount of material I include from the epistles to say, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and James.
And I’m still wondering if there are any good candidates for specific Psalms I should include in the challenge. So if you have tips on that, or tips on which epistles to include, or absolutely anything else to do with this challenge, I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.
General comments and extra credit:
While I have tried to keep boring material out of this challenge, I’ve sometimes let boring stuff slip in rather than make the instructions overly complicated. Feel free to just skim any genealogies you encounter. I’ve also noted the building of Solomon’s temple as something you should just skim.
If you find anything else to be extremely boring, it’s probably better to skim than to let yourself get slowed down by it, but don’t skim too much. The entire point of this challenge is to get you to read parts of the Bible you’re unlikely to read otherwise, and that’s likely to mean reading quite a bit of stuff you don’t find all that religiously edifying.
Believe it or not, I made no special effort to include the Bible’s most horrifying material. The Bible is so full of horrifying material that it would be hard not to include a fair deal of it in any well-rounded reading guide. But if you want to read some of the worst the Bible has to offer, you might read Numbers 5, Judges 19-21, and Psalm 137. Consider it extra credit.
- Genesis; Exodus 1-24 and 31-35; Leviticus 19-27; Numbers 11-31; and Deuteronomy: The first five books of the Bible, also known as the Torah. They have a lot of important material, but also some very boring parts that I’ve indicated how to avoid.
- Joshua 1-7: The famous story of the fall of Jericho. The rest of the account of Joshua’s conquests is kind of boring and repetitious. Violent, too, but not that shocking if you’ve read the genocidal commands in the Torah.
- Judges 13-16: The story of Samson.
- 1 Samuel 15-31 and 2 Samuel 1:1-19:8: The story of David, the most famous of the Biblical kings. I’ve omitted some less interesting stuff that happens after the death of Absalom.
- 1 Kings 1-11: The story of Solomon, David’s son. Just skim the stuff about building the temple.
- Job 1-2 and 38-42: Most of Job consists of a series of long speeches in which Job argues with his friends. I recommend reading just the initial narrative and God’s speech at the end.
- Read/skim Psalms until you get bored. It’s got some interesting material, but there are a 150 of them and aside from a few that are especially popular among believers (like the 23rd Psalm), nothing in particular stands out.
- Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon
- Isaiah 1-22; Jeremiah 1-19; and Ezekiel 1-23. Books that are well-known, and with good reason, but which all get boring after awhile.
- Daniel 1-8: Daniel’s story is famous, and the prophecies in Daniel bear interesting similarities to the book of Revelation, but later chapters can be skipped unless you really want to get into debating Biblical prophecy.
- Matthew, Luke, and John: Three of the four gospels. Both Matthew and Luke copied extensively from Mark, so reading Mark would mainly mean re-reading things you’ll also be reading in Matthew and Luke.
- Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 John: A list of (relatively) non-boring epistles.