I love the concept of “Atheist Bible Study.” I have several Bibles left over from when I was a believer, and have purchased several others since my deconversion. I also have a Gideon Bible taken from some random hotel room.
(Actually, I consider myself a member of the Abimelech Society. I’ve taken several hotel bibles. Sometimes I leave a copy of Thomas Paine’s “The Age of Reason.” I highly recommend that you read this!)
Now, the Bible(s) I refer to most often are electronic Bibles. It could be argued that they promote laziness in Bible study – you just ‘search’ to the verse you want. A paper Bible requires that you at least browse the pages on the way to your target verse. But I think that finding text in an electronic Bible would actually be harder without a general knowledge of the Bible in the first place.
My favorite electronic Bible is the ironically named NET Bible. No, it’s not an apostrophized ‘net. It’s an acronym for New English Translation. According to Bible.org, the NET Bible is made by, “…more than twenty biblical scholars who are working directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts.”
What I love about the NET Bible is that it is jam-packed with translator’s notes, explaining WHY they took a word to mean one thing instead of something else. This is extremely important, especially since Hebrew words depended on context to reveal their meaning.
The NET Bible also explains other traditional translation controversies. For example, take the quote about how it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter Heaven. (Matt 19:24). The scholars of the NET Bible mention the origins of the camel / camel hair rope controversy by saying:
tc A few late witnesses (579 1424 pc) read kavmilon (kamilon, ‘rope’) for kavmhlon (kamhlon, ‘camel’), either through accidental misreading of the text or intentionally so as to soften Jesus’ words.
This points out that earlier texts did use the word ‘camel’ and that texts written in 579 and 1424 used the word ‘rope’ instead. (The scholars don’t address the likelihood of a supposedly perfect person making a ridiculous analogy that had no discernible precedent in Biblical culture.)
I like that the NET Bible’s scholars talk about the various interpretations that have been posed for difficult (for Christians!) passages in the Bible.
For example, Exodus 20:5 says (about graven images), “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, who visits the iniquity of fathers on children, even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.” (Similar wording is used in Deuteronomy. 5:9.) The NET Bible’s translators admit that this verse may imply that God punishes children for the sins of their fathers – which is held as a heresy by modern Christians. But it was a frequent belief of primitive people.
The NET Bible goes on to offer possible alternative explanations – perhaps the children will be affected by the punishment meted out to a sinning Father; perhaps the pattern of sin is repeated – a sinful father raises sinful kids. This sort of ‘softens’ the message a little – but it still paints God as Scrooge who, by punishing Bob Cratchit also punishes his son, Tim. Scrooge was painted as ‘unChristian’ by Charles Dickens for his pettiness.
Oh, and as long as I’m talking about the 10 Commandments, as always I must ask, WHICH 10 Commandments?! (uh, you DID know that was what Exodus 20 is about, right? Don’t let an Atheist know more about your Bible than you do!)
And that concludes today’s Atheist Bible Study lesson.