Friday, 4 May 2012

The Most Disturbing Book or Chapter in the Bible

The Bible has a lot to commend it, even if we can no longer regard it as infallible and inerrant, and beyond the impious questioning of mere mortals.  A favourite Gospel?  An inspirational voice of prophecy?  A storehouse of wisdom?  A charming novella? Yes!  I'd pluck for Mark, First Isaiah, Sirach and Tobit (the last two among the deuterocanonical works).  There is a place beyond naive biblicism where the power of these ancient books still works magic on cynical readers in a post-Enlightenment world.  As a cultural artifact, as literature, and as a witness to the faith struggle of those who went before us, this is a corpus that demands not obsequious worship, but simple respect, and I for one resist the call to join in the jabbering chorus of bah, humbug.

But, let's be honest, Mark Twain had a point.
It [the Bible] is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies.  Letters from the Earth
Despite the desire of many well-intentioned scholars to rehabilitate the book of Revelation, for example, sane people find it a noisome bog, a place where many have succumbed to the basest, crudest and frankly stupidest speculations.  Call it the voice of the oppressed as much as you like, it still counts more as 'obscenity' than 'noble poetry'.  D. H. Lawrence summed up it's aberrant virtues better than most.
We can understand that the Fathers of the Church in the East wanted Apocalypse left out of the New Testament. But like Judas among the disciples, it was inevitable that it should be included. The Apocalypse is the feet of clay to the grand Christian image. And down crashes the image, on the weakness of these very feet. There is Jesus--but there is also John the Divine. There is Christian love--and there is Christian envy. The former would "save" the world--the latter will never be satisfied till it has destroyed the world. They are two sides of the same medal.
But what if you were asked to nominate the most disturbing chapter or section in the Bible?  The passage that has been the greatest force for evil, not good.  What would it be, and why?  (My nomination follows in a day or two.)  Thoughts?


  1. A few that I find particularly chilling:

    1. Jepthath carrying through with human sacrifice of his own daughter because keeping a promise to God is more important than his own daughter's life. Of course, this is one of the older parts of the bible, from a time when human sacrifice was common and accepted. Nevertheless, Jepthath is later praised as a great man of faith by Paul in the New Testament, presumably because he put keeping a promise to God above all else. And why didn't God let the daughter off the hook one might ask?

    2. Abraham nearly performing human sacrifice on Isaac. Same comments except this time God stepped in and did the right and moral thing.

    3. The verse where God tells the Israeli army to kill all the men, older women and children but keep the young women for their own use and pleasure. What a caring God, I'm sure the soldiers loved him.

    4. The one where Jesus talks about some disobedient person being sent to the torturers rates pretty high up there on the "chill" scale as well. Jesus talked pretty often about punishment, with "stripes", gnashing of teeth, etc. "Do what I say or you deserve to suffer horribly" seems to be his motto.

    I guess obedience is the most important thing, nay, the only important thing, in both the old and new testaments.

  2. The book of "Judges" - a perfect example of what to expect a "kingdom of God" on earth to be like.

  3. Plagues of Apocalypse upon poor planet earth.
    (for what? for people being human and doing the best they can?)

  4. Gavin said..
    >But what if you were asked to nominate the most disturbing chapter or section in the Bible?<

    Erasmus was responsible for dividing the bible into chapters, so his artificial arrangement must be ignored. Therefore we must focus on line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. This is the divine order of charity.

    However, the following precept is very disturbing for the wicked, but a great blessing for the elect: "For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life."(2 Cor.4-15-16).

    I wonder if anyone here is capable of understanding what Paul was inspired to write!

  5. I wonder if anyone here is capable of understanding what Paul was inspired to write!

    I do, I do - raised hand in the back of the room...Paul is saying that if you believe his nonsense you'll be okay but if you don't - oh, man, it's gonna be bad - real bad. I remember when I left "the church" about 35 years ago I was going to suffer, become a criminal, suffer, drop dead and suffer a whole bunch of other garbage - did I mention "suffer"? "The Elect" - bahahahaha, I've met some of those "Elect".

  6. Can anything be more disturbing than Genesis? Yes Judges is messed up, but in Genesis God kills damn near everyone on the planet himself! He then follows that up by killing most of the citizens in two cities. he then follows that up by protecting Jacob through the land, blessing him, and promising him the land a second time after his sons kill all the male citizens in a city! Not exactly good behaviour...

  7. Without a doubt, II Maccabees 7.