Lessons in the Lacunae: The Omitted Scripture

Lessons in the Lacunae: The Omitted Scripture June 14, 2010

While looking up the readings for this week’s Mass in the Catholic liturgical calendar, I noticed that the Old Testament readings skipped around in the chosen chapters. I’ve looked up these omissions before, and usually the gap is just an irrelevant sidenote (a timestamp for the event, some geographical digression, etc). However, this week the meaning of the passage is distorted by the edit. (passage below, cut sections in bold)

7 Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king of Israel. I rescued you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own. I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were not enough, I could count up for you still more. 9 Why have you spurned the LORD and done evil in his sight? You have cut down Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you took his wife as your own, and him you killed with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’ [11 Thus says the LORD: ‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house. I will take your wives while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.'”] 13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan answered David: “The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die. [14 But since you have utterly spurned the LORD by this deed, the child born to you must surely die.”]

The Catholic edit is deceptive. As amended, the story of David and Bathsheba is a model of repentance followed by Christian forgiveness, perfectly matched to the Gospel reading of Luke 7:36-50. The unexpurgated version of 2 Samuel tells a story of vengeance visited by god on the innocent in the form of rape and murder. It’s not for nothing that atheist evangels like Richard Dawkins and The Devil’s Highlighter seize on this story as an example of the immorality of the Bible’s teachings.

Since it was my first week visiting the Catholic church near my work in DC (and I haven’t outed myself as an atheist there yet), I didn’t want to ask the local priest about the omission. Luckily, my boyfriend was willing to take it up with the priests in his home parish.

According to his priests, Christians shouldn’t accept this as a true story about God. Plenty of the Old Testament, the priests said, is allegorical, confused, or flat out false. It was refreshing to hear religious leaders speak frankly about the scriptures, but I wish they’s done it from the pulpit.

The fact that the Bible is a flawed document is not a disproof of Christianity. Although some sola scriptura Protestants may be felled by stories like 2 Samuel 12, Catholics claim Sacred Tradition as a way of winnowing out the chaff. If Christianity is true, it should be sufficiently robust to withstand this kind of discussion and emerge the stronger.

However, avoiding the question by skipping over the challenging parts doesn’t give me a great deal of confidence in the validity of Christianity. It seems to demonstrate a desire to protect the laity from doubt to the point of swaddling them. Makes you wonder how seriously you need to take a faith that must hide to survive.

So, this week’s Call to Arms is for primarily for Christians:

  • Should the Catholic Church include ALL of 2 Samuel 12 in the liturgy?
  • How should spiritual leaders handle falsehoods in Scripture?
  • How essential is biblical scholarship and historical inquiry to your religious beliefs?

I welcome your thoughts either as comments on this post or in posts on your blog that you post links to in the comment trail. If you are ever interested in writing a guest post for Unevenly Yoked in response to a Monday Morning challenge, email me at leah (dot) libresco (at) gmail (dot) com.

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