Hector Avalos: "In Praise of Biblical Illiteracy"

It was a featured article seen on The Bible and Interpretation.

19 comments:

Andre said...

A very interesting read, thanks for the link, John.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Let's see.....was it Jesus who said, "study scripture and commit it to memory and quote it often in order to be saved"???????? Nah, don't think so, but scripturally speaking, the times Jesus made a reference to the Torah and quoted scripture was when He was speaking to the religious and it meant something to them. Otherwise, He just had conversations with people.

Mark Plus said...

Avalos's essay supports something I've thought for years: Studying the bible looks way too much like school work to have mass appeal. Moreover, wasting time on the bible during your educable years just doesn't help you to become more employable or more desirable as a potential mate.

A display of biblical literacy might have signaled status during a few times in Christianity's past, when many of the most capable people wound up working for the church because they had few career options which exercised their abilities. How many of these high quality people in developed countries would want to enter the clergy these days?

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

I have been reading Kael Van Der Toorn’s Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible (Harvard University Press, 2007).

Van Der Toorn makes it clear from Israel’s neighbors (the Babylonians, Egyptians and Syrians = Ugarit) that only elite scholars and priest associated with the Royal Court or the Temple were literate. Likewise, Israelites were highly illiterate as only the Royal Court and it’s other half, the religious cult of the Temple, shaped the world view of the Jewish people.

Based on Van Der Toorn’s study, the historical Jesus would be illiterate himself as were his apostles (who left us nothing except the questionable Epistle of 1 Peter as Peter (himself a Jesus favorite) with first hand knowledge of Jesus‘ life, but who was so illiterate he could not even write a Gospel!!)

To claim that Jesus was born with divine Torah knowledge simply begs the question further just as Jesus was an exceptional boy from a poor family who finds a way to be educated in the scribal arts of the Temple is totally wishful thinking and has not one single supportive text in the Gospels!

Hector’s essay made me reconsider Van Der Toorn’s book in that the fact of Biblical illiteracy was just as much a reality for Jesus as it is today.

The Jesus presented in the Gospels appears as an illiterate man who chooses illiterate apostles and both seem to have little to no knowledge of the complete Tanakh. (The Jesus who read from the Prophets in the Synagogue is a literate creation of the early Church and the Christians who created the Gospels some 30 to 60 years later and made a Jewish Jesus debate Judaism.)

Whether one considers Hector’s facts in the present or Van Der Toorn’s facts in the ancient past, we can be sure the Tanakh illiteracy of Jesus was no different than the very apostles he got to follow him or, as the saying goes: “Birds of a feather, flock together.”

It is little wonder why the Temple literate the Scribes, the Sadducees and the Pharisees rejected this illiterate Jesus and his equals (called apostles).

Chuck O'Connor said...

I really enjoy Hector's scholarship.

MMM, do you not see how referencing scripture as an argument against the preeminence of scripture reference is circular and self-defeating?

Lee said...

I think it's worth noting too that essentially all Christians, at least in the United States, are biblically illiterate in practice, just as they are atheists in practice even if they assert otherwise. Only a tiny minority of any group of believers will have significant knowledge of the Bible and what it actually says; most "biblical knowledge" will consist of a few verses, out of context, and learned or remembered only to support a particular already held point of view. Few Christians really believe key biblical doctrines to the point where they actually govern their lives by them. Where are the Christians who actually believe their loved ones are going to an eternal fiery hell? Why aren't they in a frenzy to save them from that fate?

Mark Plus said...

Some people complain about fads for bad literature like the Twilight novels. But at least the market produced these novels in response to a genuine demand. By contrast, christian organizations have destroyed entire forests to publish mountains of useless and unwanted bibles, including translations into obscure languages, which they can't even give away. Talk about a waste of natural resources!

shane said...

MMM.

That was an odd statement you made?....Why would Jesus be telling people to study scripture when no bible or gospel was written yet?....also, if Jesus was referring to the Torah when He said this, then He should take His own advise since He taught contrary doctrines to the Torah and oppossed alot of the old testament!

The bible we have today is a copy of copies!
No original documents exist. It has been translated and revised over and over again.
For centuries only the Catholic priests had access to the scriptures and were allowed to read from them. Many scholars suspect that during that time priests added, extracted, and changed scripture to fit their own ends....
So how can anyone possible know what Jesus really ever did or said?

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Hi Chuck --- you said, "MMM, do you not see how referencing scripture as an argument against the preeminence of scripture reference is circular and self-defeating?"

I use scripture to ppl to whom used it is relative to use it with. Scripture affirms what I have experienced to be true of God and I find it inspirational, but also I divide the word between what is of Jesus and what is of human nature projected upon God.

Bye,
3M

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Hi Shane - I'm not sure if you're the same Shane I've enjoyed talking with before, but nonetheless, I love your profile picture!

you said this, "Why would Jesus be telling people to study scripture when no bible or gospel was written yet?...." Exactly my point! He didn't tell ppl to do that--but He did use quotes from the Torah to address those who had more of a relationship with the Law than a hope for Messiah....

Then you said, "also, if Jesus was referring to the Torah when He said this, then He should take His own advise since He taught contrary doctrines to the Torah and oppossed alot of the old testament!"

Yes, we agree. There are several scripture whereby Jesus makes a reference to sorting through the Torah -- one is where He speaks about Moses allowing divorce because of the influence of his surrounding community (not divinely inspired) -- also there are other scriptures as well. But, in my everyday life, Jesus is working to help me sort out what is of divine inspiration and what is from human nature.

Then you said, "So how can anyone possible know what Jesus really ever did or said?"

There is a way to know because how Jesus saves ppl is by revealing His love for us through the Holy Spirit. Evne though Jesus spoke some harsh words to some pretty villainous ppl, it was to relate to them in a way to grab them away from perishing because He loves them -- ppl you and I might be intimidated by.

At any rate, take care,
3M

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Hi again, Chuck --- my commenting got sloppy here --- "I use scripture to ppl to whom used it is relative to use it with"

What I intend to say is this -- I use scripture because it is how most ppl relate to God and it means something (whether good or bad) to them. I find in real everyday life, that faith is best expressed in acts of love, but here, the act of love is sharing what I know of this good man, Jesus. I love Him and because I do, I respect that He loves you as well and all the others here too.

At any rate, that is all.

3M

shane said...

MMM.

Yes its the same shane, I moved so it took me awhile to get my internet up.
Thanks in regards to my profile pic...!

You said "Jesus said, study scripture and commit it to memory and quote it often in order to be saved"?????????

What im getting at here is that Jesus must have been refering to the Torah since thats really all the Jews had at that time, they definitely did not have the gospel.
But as you have said yourself, Jesus makes many references where He disagree's with some of the Torah and gives new commandments instead........I find this fact contradictory!

Also, the last part of what you said "quote it often in order to be saved"????
Since we agree that Jesus was refering to the Torah when He said this, then that would mean Jesus was suggesting that salvation could be found within the knowledge of the Torah?
Yet according to the gospels, salvation only comes through the knowledge and belief of christs sacrifice and putting faith in Him????.
I see a major contradiction here!

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Shane, I apologize! I was being tongue-in-cheek when I wrote this, "was it Jesus who said, "study scripture and commit it to memory and quote it often in order to be saved"???????? Nah, don't think so,"

I was trying to make a point to that Jesus did NOT say to rely solely on scripture for salvation. But to hear some ppl speak, it seems as though religious scriptures are the only way towards being set free from perishing.

thx,
3M

Harry H. McCall, CET said...

Hi MMM:

Since the only life Jesus now has is in the figurative “Heart” of each believer; Jesus must take on the personality of that person to live since, apart from the confusion of the many and late Jesus characterizations in the Gospels, the figure we have of any historical Jesus today is nothing short of a black outline on the pages of a coloring book where the believer (you) supplies the different colors to create a Jesus colored as to how each believer sees life and the world.

Thus, for every example you can give me coloring your Jesus based on love and forgiveness, I can use the same Gospels to color a Jesus based on hate and violence; and a preacher of Hell (a word study proves that Jesus spoke on Hell more than anyone else in the N.T.).

Fact is, the wonderfully colored Jesus You (MMM) leaves us here at DC tells me more about the optimistic and positively colored world of your life than about the jigsaw puzzle of a Jesus assembled 30 - 60 years after the fact by Gospels writers and believes who now saw (and needed) a composite Jesus of their own to justify their new found system of faith.

So, MMM, both your Jesus of love and forgiveness and the corner street preacher who preachers Hell Fire and Damnation on any one who does not believe like him are pictures in the same coloring book of faith.

End the end, MMM, you have left us a part of yourself here in your comments provong that you can reconstructed a Jesus colored in postive bright colors.

Thanks!
Harry

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

I wrote a response yesterday - didn't show up so I'll try again.

Anyway, thanks for the kind perspective Harry. But in fact, I have in the past been subjugated by cruelty and acted in cruel harsh ways. Although I didn't believe in God, in essence, the ppl who had indoctrinated me into cruel behavior had become my gods.

At any rate, I understand what you mean when you talk about some of the things Jesus speaks so harshly about. Some are prophetic words, to contrast the difference between the way ppl mistreat one another and others are the words used to speak to the most jaded and morally conceited people. People that we might be tempted to marginalize or actually idolize.

I won't go into detail about my personal experiences and history with faith any more than what I've written previously, but I can use scripture as a reference to say that the most harsh words He speaks have brought about the most freedom from cruelty for me. He does so to speak to ppl in tones that relate to where they are emotionally/mentally/and spiritually in order to upset the status quo of their descent into depravity. He loves ppl that the OT scripture and other faith traditions would portray as demonized and are/were used to exemplify evil.

At any rate,
I wish you the best,
3M

shane said...

MMM.

Thanks for clarifying what you meant, I realize though that my question actually still stands!

If Jesus said "study scripture and commit it to memory and quote it often IN ORDER TO BE SAVED????
Then Jesus must have been refering to the Torah or Pentateuch because none of His words were scripture yet at that time, and no gospels were written!

So if Jesus stated that knowing the Torah or Pentateuch was something we should memorize in order to be saved, then he was implying that salvation can come from those books!
This concept contradicts the christian theology that salvation only comes through believing in Jesus sacrifice, and resurrection, because neither the Torah or Pentateuch give any of that information!

Do you not see the contrary issue here?

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Shane, you said, "This concept contradicts the christian theology that salvation only comes through believing in Jesus sacrifice, and resurrection, because neither the Torah or Pentateuch give any of that information!

Do you not see the contrary issue here?"

Yes, I do see the contrary issue here -- that was my whole point. Because some ppl act as though scripture IS God and some ppl act as though Jesus did say that when He did not say that was the way to salvation. Jesus never said to study scripture and quote it often - He never said that.

He said to be born of the spirit in order to be saved.

If I misunderstood your question, or didn't make what I was saying clear, please let me know.

ttyl,
3M

shane said...

MMM.

Ok, maybe I misunderstood you....? I was under the impression that you were quoting one of Jesus sayings in order to make a point, in which I seen a contradiction?
Its been a while since I've read a bible so I thought maybe Jesus said something like that and I just didn't remember?
In any event my apologies!

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Hey, no problem, Shane! I do the very same thing myself.

And truly, bible reading isn't a prerequisite to receiving the love of God....I find that what I've experienced is affirmed there, and it does provide inspiration and thought provoking issues, but God is still very much alive and at work outside of any religious practice or religious book.