20 May 2012

Why We Can't Ignore the Disturbing Stories in the Scriptures

There's a post elsewhere that has comments that are making me itchy.  So I'll do a little scratching here, although it likely won't be enough.

There are plenty of horrible stories in the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament.  I realized that I needed a "disturbing" tag in my digital scriptures because that was the only appropriate thing to say about too many stories.  There are many reasons why those stories are there, and I think in general that we usually can see that things have changed, or that people behaved badly in the past, or whatever.

But those stories make us nervous, so we ignore them (how many Sunday School discussions have you had about the daughter of Japheth, or the daughters of Onitah, or the unnamed concubine of Judges 19?), or, worse, try to find some sort of higher meaning in them.  Some even go so far as to use the Bible or justify their own horrible behavior, although I don't think that's typical.

Instead we need to talk about those stories and why they're wrong.  Don't dash past Tamar and her response to Amnom before and after he rapes her.  Don't try to make the abduction of the daughters of the Lamanites a commendable story of forgiveness on the part of the women.  Don't tell me that Jesus thought slavery was acceptable.  These stories tell us a lot more about history and culture than they do about the gospel, so don't try to make me feel good about them.  Instead let's talk about why those things are unacceptable today.

One other reason why I feel strongly about this is that some of the unacceptable-to-me cultural traditions in the Bible aren't so unacceptable in some parts of the world today.  I don't need to see bride kidnapping portrayed as excusable because apparently some women end up happy, thank you very much.


  1. I've been having the same thoughts, Amira. To this day, I remember a discussion we had during family scripture reading when I was a teenager. We had read the story of Lot, when he offers to let the men of Sodom rape his daughters in exchange for them leaving his guests alone.

    My dad speculated that maybe it was "not as bad" for them to rape girls rather than men, because then it wouldn't have been a homosexual crime. Even as a kid who thought my parents knew everything, something in me felt really uncomfortable hearing that from him. If somebody said the same thing to me now, you can be sure I would have a very energetic answer.

    You're right, we do need to talk about these stories. In the right way, and looking at things from the point of view of everyone concerned.

  2. AnonymousMay 23, 2012

    I had been thinking how to reply to this post when I picked up a book I had read months ago and read the following:

    "One dot is not wisdom: You can prove anything you want from a single Scripture quotation."

    "...biblical text also mirrors the nature of human conciousness itself. It includes within itself passages that develop the prime ideas and passages that fight and resist those very advances. You might even call it faith and unfaith -- both are locked into the text."

    "The journey into the mystery of God is necessarily a journey into the unfamiliar."

    "It takes ALL of the Bible to get beyond the punitiveness and pettiness that WE project onto God and that we harbor within ourselves." (my capitalizations)

    "The two-steps-backwards texts (those violent ones -- my note) give us even deeper urgency to go forward and much deeper understanding when we get there."

    "I love the clear continuities between the two Testaments and clearly see Jesus as first of all a Jew, who brilliantly thin-sliced his own tradition and gave us a wonderful lens by which to love the Jewish tradition and keep moving forward with it in an inclusive way (which became its child, Christianity)."

    I wish I could quote all of it. Basically, it's part of the process! :-)

  3. Spalva, thanks for posting those quotes. I liked this one in particular: The two-steps-backwards texts (those violent ones -- my note) give us even deeper urgency to go forward and much deeper understanding when we get there.