• I’m a big fan of Joel Duff’s delightful blog “Naturalis Historia,” where he deconstructs young-Earth creationist arguments with detailed patience. But somehow I’d missed this piece from a few years back: “Reclaiming the Biblical Authority of Joseph’s Global Famine.”
It’s a fun piece of parody built on an Answers in Genesis’ piece “Reclaiming the Biblical Authority of Noah’s Global Flood.” Duff’s point — reinforced by his over-the-top “research” of actual supposed “evidence” — is that the famine in the story of Joseph at the end of the book of Genesis is described in the same language as the flood in Noah’s story at the beginning of that book. It was a famine “over all the land” and “over all the earth.” So why do the creationists insist on treating that description as “literal” for the flood but not for the famine?
Duff’s post is good stuff, but since it centers on the story of Joseph, I’m obliged to point out, yet again, that Joseph was not a Good Guy. See: “Joseph and the Appalling Tyrannical Despot.”
And since we’ve mentioned the story of Noah, here’s Paul Davidson on “Noah’s Flood: Competing Visions of a Mesopotamian Tradition.” The Gilgamesh Epic, he argues, only really makes sense in its original polytheistic context. The attempt(s) to retell it in a monotheistic setting gets rid of the whole argument between the gods and thus makes the flood seem, well, pointless.
• The link to that old post of Duff’s comes via Perfect Number, who also shares some thoughtful thoughts about introducing a toddler to the Bible:
There is a lot of good stuff in the Bible. There are a lot of very good and beautiful truths about God. There are a lot of stories that are great for kids to read. BUT. Most of the Bible is not that. So yes, I want to show my child the good parts, but I don’t want to misrepresent the Bible and have him think that the Bible is all about exciting stories, and teaching morality and godliness, and learning good things about God. No, the Bible is very much about foreskins, and genocide, and God sending war and disasters as punishment, and laws that had zero understanding of human rights.
It’s not a G-rated book, after all. Or, to put it in terms my evangelical kin would appreciate, if it’s truly “sharper than any two-edged sword,” then we should be careful about letting little kids play with it.
And we should also be very careful about letting adults play with it. Or, as Prof. Hamori puts it here, it’s “not a matter of accepting or rejecting the Bible wholesale. It’s a matter of figuring out what you think the value of the Bible is. It’s a rich collection of voices, and readers aren’t required to get on board with all of them.”
• Along the lines of this theme, here’s a polite, gentle rebuke to bonkers “Bible prophecy” folklore masquerading as legitimate biblical interpretation: “No, the COVID-19 vaccine is not linked to the mark of the beast – but a first-century Roman tyrant probably is.”
Will this kind of cordial, matter-of-fact presentation of conventional orthodoxy reach or persuade those whose “End Times theology” is shaped by Left Behind and The Omen? Probably not. But it’s good to put it out there every once in a while, just for the record.
Plus, it asks less of those folks than suggesting that they read a 10-year blog series reviewing the World’s Worst Books.
Sometimes, though, if I’m in a perverse mood, I’ll just ask “The mark of which beast?” And then start going through Revelation 13 with them to see if we can parse whether it’s the mark of the first beast or of the second beast, which “exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast.” (“I don’t know.” … “Third beast.”)
• Speaking of first-century Roman emperors, here’s a fascinating story that has nothing to do with the Bible directly, but which ought to have a lot to do with, for example, how we should understand Romans 13: “Tiberius, Imperial Detective.”
This is excerpted from Emma Southon’s book A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome. A taste:
This is, I believe, the only time in recorded Roman history that an emperor decided to investigate a murder by examining the scene of the crime. These things just didn’t happen in Rome because they didn’t have the same ideas about evidence and crimes that we have. Their murder trials didn’t involve people looking at daggers or gloves or other bits of physical evidence. They just involved people reciting really good speeches at each other, each using the same rhetorical strategies, mostly about the character of the defendant and/or victim and their general demeanor in life rather than the actual events of the case in question, until the jury or judge picked whichever person they liked best. Examining a crime scene wasn’t a particularly important part of that process. Tiberius going off to have a look at the window from which Apronia fell was therefore very surprising. So surprising, in fact, that Silvanus hadn’t even bothered trying to tidy up after the murder had been committed.
“The past is a foreign country …” And the Bible is a bunch of very, very old books.