An Introduction to the Bible: Revised Edition [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Donald Musser & Clyde Fant & The Reddish
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: "This text provides a comprehensive and definitive introduction to the literature, cultures, and theologies of the early Jewish and Christian traditions. Designed to be read with selected passages from the Bible and the Apocrypha, An Introduction to the Bible offers essential information to students with little or no experience in the academic study of religion. It will help students gain a solid background for future work in biblical studies. The revised edition includes information regarding new directions in biblical studies, a revised bibliography, and a subject index--as well as maps, charts and photographs. This volume is pedagogically self-aware. Here speak teachers who live close to the teaching environment. The narrative account of a great deal of material is patient, attentive to detail, willing to pause to provide small instructional clues, all the time keeping the big picture in focus. This second edition of the book attests both to the vitality of its authors and to the positive reception the book has already enjoyed. Given the large cultural crisis upon us, such instruction in a context that reaches beyond "the choir" is welcome and enormously important. Clear, well organized, up to date, and reflective of reliable scholarly consensus. Most important, I suspect, is the likelihood that its student-users will sign up for more scripture study.... [The book] will help students generate not only a beginning with the Bible, but a long-term interest."--Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2003
Part I -- Introduction to the Study of the BibleChapter 1 -- The Bible and Western Culture
Family stories provide an understanding and appreciation of our family traditions. Children often are fascinated by stories of significant people, places, and events that matter to their relatives. These stories create in children a sense of self-identity and community identity that links them to the past. We are all figuratively "children" of a cultural heritage that includes stories of people, places, events, and traditions of art, music, literature, science, values, and ideas. In Western culture the Bible is a central part of the literary heritage. Thus, to understand and appreciate Western culture one must acquire knowledge of biblical literature.
The Roots of Western Civilization
Every culture is shaped by its traditions and forges its future in the light of those traditions. Western culture is no exception. The three primary sources that have provided the foundations of this culture are Greco-Roman traditions, Jewish and Christian traditions, and the modern sciences.
A "culture" includes the products of human activity that bind people together into a society. Among the products of a culture are language, science, art, philosophy, government, law, beliefs, customs, habits, and technologies. These creations provide a social heritage that one generation passes on to another. Cultures are inherently conservative in that they conserve past human achievements. For instance, Americans celebrate the Constitution of the United States as a valued achievement of the past. But at the same time, lasting cultures are also dynamic, revising and reinterpreting their historical traditions in the light of new challenges. Americans, for example, have amended their Constitution and continue to debate its application in changing circumstances.
For centuries Western culture was influenced primarily by Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions. With the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), Palestine, the Jewish homeland, came under Greek domination. Moreover, Jews had dispersed throughout the Greek-dominated Mediterranean world. Although most Jews resisted Greek ways, some Jews nevertheless adopted Greek ideas during this period. Later, when the Romans conquered the lands along the Mediterranean, their culture became dominant. Few major cultural shifts took place, however, because Roman culture had itself adopted much of Greek culture. Scholars often refer to the cultural traditions of the Greeks and Romans as "Greco-Roman."
Christianity emerged from Judaism in the first century C.E. (Common Era) as an independent religious tradition and quickly spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. In the fourth century the emperor Constantine embraced Christianity. Since then, most Western views of the nature of God, the nature of human beings, and morals and values were shaped in dialogue with Greco-Roman traditions and Christian traditions.
Leading Western thinkers have disagreed over how the traditions of the Bible and the traditions of Greece and Rome should be related. Some, such as the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, saw them as stating essentially similar ideas. He believed that the claims of Jewish faith and Greek philosophy could be harmonized. Others, such as Tertullian, the Christian lawyer-theologian, thought that the traditions of Christian faith had little in common with Greco-Roman culture. He believed they dealt with separate realms. Still others, such as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, sought a synthesis of the two traditions within a larger historical or philosophical framework. An analysis of this clash of cultural traditions leads to the conclusion that most of Western culture's basic ideas and values derive from the faith traditions of both the Bible and Greece and Rome. In law, for example, one finds traces of both biblical precepts and Roman law in statutes pertaining to the property rights of citizens. With regard to values, one finds views that derive from the moral codes of both the Jewish Bible and the Greeks. Dante, for example, defined seven virtues in his Divine Comedy. Four were from classical Greece (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) and three were biblical (faith, hope, and love). Basic conceptions of the divine also reflect both biblical and Greco-Roman traditions. The Western notion that God is holy, merciful, and righteous finds roots in the Bible, while the idea that God is infinite, all-knowing, and all-powerful finds its sources in Greco-Roman thought and belief. Finally, Western views of life after death include both the biblical view of the resurrection of the body and the Greek view of the immortality of the soul.
With the rise of modern physics and mathematics in the seventeenth century, followed by the emergence of the disciplines of chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, and history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the modern natural and social sciences became a third main ingredient in Western culture. The natural and social sciences provided new traditions out of which contemporary people now think and act. The modern sciences have not replaced the older traditions, but they have provided new, alternative views about nature, humanity, and divinity that have challenged and often modified older views. The sciences have offered new ways of discovering truth, fresh views of the natural world, and extensive empirical information about human beings. These sciences and their offspring, technology (the application of science), have stimulated renewed considerations of traditional Western viewpoints.
Western culture has emerged, then, from Greco-Roman traditions, from Judeo-Christian traditions, and, more recently, from the modern sciences. The remainder of this chapter and the balance of this book will focus specifically on the religious traditions that undergird Western culture. The next section of the chapter will illustrate a multitude of ways that the biblical traditions have influenced the culture and suggest that an informed understanding of Western culture requires an acquaintance with the biblical traditions.
The Cultural Influence of the Bible
The Bible has had a pervasive influence on Western religion, politics, law, art, literature, ethics, language, and history. Its most obvious influence is in religion. The Bible, or portions of it, provides the basis for codes of moral conduct, theological beliefs, and worship rituals for Judaism and Christianity, the major faith traditions of the West. Jewish faith is rooted in the Hebrew Bible (which is called the Old Testament by Christians). Christian traditions derive from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Islam, the third of the Western monotheistic religions, also considers the Hebrew Bible authoritative, although it has its own sacred Scripture, the Qur'an. Many recent new religious movements -- and even nonreligious movements like atheism and humanism -- often find themselves dependent on, in dialogue with, or in opposition to the biblical literature.
Politics and Law
Other illustrations of the Bible's impact beyond its clear religious influence abound. Many Western communities, for example, have attempted to construct systems of politics and law upon principles found in the Bible. Such attempts began in earnest once Christianity became an acceptable and popular religion in the Roman Empire in the fourth century C.E.. Powerful Christian popes, leaders who were modeled after the biblical kings David and Solomon, emerged in the church, often exercising both religious and civil authority that rivaled and at times superseded secular authority during the Middle Ages. During the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, John Calvin established an ill-fated experiment in Christian political and legal authority in Geneva, Switzerland. In the seventeenth century the founders of New England sought to establish a society conformed to the Bible, believing that God had established a "new world." In later American history various religious groups, such as the Shakers, the Amish, and the commune at Koinonia Farms near Americus, Georgia, have sought to shape communities by employing ideas found in biblical texts. Numerous other social and political movements have based their premises on ideas in the Bible.
A considerable number of Westerners believe that their nation prospers to the extent that its citizens follow the teachings of the Bible. Christian churches in America often display both an American flag and a Christian flag in their worship centers; such displays are intended to indicate the close alignment of the nation with Christian faith. Although the American Bill of Rights prohibits the legal establishment of any particular religion, the predominance of Christians in American culture often has given them an unofficial privileged status. Americans generally consider themselves "godly" people, and a great majority of them believe the Bible is divinely inspired. They include in the pledge to the national flag the phrase "one nation under God" and have placed the words "In God We Trust" on their currency. Historian Sidney Mead's remark that America is a nation with the soul of a church contains considerable truth.
Western nonliterary art (music, painting, and sculpture) widely depicts Christian themes. Much classical music is religious music, often written for church worship. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Buxtehude, and Handel are just a few of the composers who created music for worship. The text of Handel's Messiah, which has become a staple in the American celebration of Christmas, consists almost exclusively of biblical quotations. Western painting has been, until the last few centuries, a gallery of religious painting in which themes were explicitly Jewish and Christian. Even today, one finds explicit religious themes in the works of Picasso, Dali, Chagall, and Rothko. Sculptors such as Michelangelo depicted biblical figures -- see, for example, his Pieta and David.
Biblical themes and symbols appear regularly in Western literature. Both classic and contemporary writers and poets have extensively mined the Bible for resources. Its influence in Western literature is pervasive. Some writers and poets have written with a distinctly Jewish or Christian outlook. Included among this number are Dante, John Milton, John Bunyan, Chaim Herzog, C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Graham Greene, Elie Wiesel, Flannery O'Connor, Robert Penn Warren, and Walker Percy. Other writers, such as Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, John Updike, Mark Twain, and Nikos Kazantzakis, also utilized motifs from the Bible. Some writers of fiction have modeled characters after such biblical figures as Moses, David, Jesus, Jezebel, and Satan. Other writers have employed biblical themes or motifs such as the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, the suffering of Job, or the temptations of Jesus.
The Bible has also influenced Western ethics. The Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and the ethical teachings of Paul and the Hebrew prophets have traditionally set the tone for what many Westerners consider right and wrong. Theories of pacifism and just war both are argued from the biblical texts. Ideas about sexual practice, marriage, property rights, personal rights, justice, love, and family owe a great debt to the Bible. Liberation and equal rights movements have called upon biblical texts for inspiration. Even opposing moral positions are argued from biblical standpoints. Examples might include arguments about the justice or injustice of capital punishment, the legality of prayer and Bible reading in public schools, and the morality or immorality of abortion.
The language of the West is well seasoned with idioms, aphorisms, words, and allusions from the Bible. One sees this in phrases such as "a house divided against itself cannot stand" and "Am I my brother's keeper?" Words and epithets such as "sodomy," "shibboleth," "manna," "jezebel," and "Judas" derive from biblical texts. The names of children, such as Simon, Isaiah, Christa, Caleb, Elizabeth, Timothy, and Michael, are drawn from biblical figures. Towns, cities, and regions are named for locations in the Bible (for example, Mt. Zion, New Bethlehem, Bethany, Nazareth, East Salem, and Emmaus (all in Pennsylvania). Hospitals that were founded by Jews and Christians retain religious names such as Good Samaritan, Mt. Sinai, St. Jude, and St. Joseph. Elementary and grammar schools, colleges, and universities carry biblical names like Resurrection, Ascension, and St. John's. During the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. was seen as a Moses figure who would lead African Americans out of bondage to economic and political freedom. One who suffers an unjust death is often referred to as being "crucified." Symbols and phrases such as the Ark of the Covenant, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the "chosen people," "manna in the wilderness," and the cross are amply utilized in contemporary culture. Even in modern sports one hears of a "Hail Mary" pass in football, a spectacular catch as an "immaculate reception," and the "resurrection" of a team hopelessly buried in last place.
Finally, knowledge of the history of ancient Palestine, the origins and development of Judaism, and the origins of early Christianity depends upon the biblical texts. They are the primary literary sources for these traditions.
Copyright © 2001, Abingdon Press