Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Emerging Bible II

What would a bible be for the new era? I'd like to talk more about an emerging bible.

Certainly, the bible is a great book, but there are parts of it that have only marginal value to the modern age. And I realize with careful interpretation you can make those parts of the bible have some value. But is it enough to compensate for the amount of space these books take up, while excellent stories and writings from the post-Christ era sit in secondary status in non-bible books? My editorial eye sees great potential for a second edition bible, one that keeps the best of the old and includes the new.

First of all, my new bible would focus on narrative (rather than theology), just like the current Old and New Testaments, as well as the Gnostic Gospels. I think it would be a mistake to switch to a theology-centred bible. Let's face it: the most read-worthy parts of the bible are those with a storyline. Stories also leave room for spiritual interpretation and insight, thereby giving the reader a role in the book's message. Into these stories I would intersperse major theological characters and enough of their teachings and sermons to spark ideas and responses.

In order to make room for the new material, I would cut sections of the current bible. (Remember, I'm an editor. Cutting is good.) From the Old Testament, I would cut out the major history section starting after the Creation story up to the prophets (keeping the poetry sections). The concept of God in that time period is so far removed from a modern concept of God that the stories are only of historical interest. From the New Testament, I would cut the Gospel of John, the pseudo-Pauline letters and John letters, and the Revelation. All of these cut sections would go in a separate volume, along with some of the Gnostic Gospels, that people can have around if they really want it--the same way that many people have a copy of the Nag Hammadi or the Lost Gospels on their shelf. The point here is to make room for better, more relevant material in the main book.

Thus, the new bible would have three parts: an OldTestament, a NewTestament, and a brand new Christian Testament.

Exciting, huh!

Here is my first draft of what would go into the Christian Testament. As a whole, the object of the Christian Testament would be to show ongoing revelation and spiritual growth through Christian history. The narrative sections would have a largely neutral tone, leaving the stronger spiritual messages in the speeches, sermons, and writings of the historical characters being discussed and in the characters' actions.

Book 1: Book of Constantine

This book would narrate the stories of the Church Fathers and the creation of Christianity, as well as the story of Constantine and the birth of the Holy Roman Empire. It would then move to the first thousand years of medieval mystics and saints, their stories and writings.

Book 2: Book of Augustine

This would be the "dark" book of the Christian Testament: the story of the inquisition and crusades. It would start by narrating the story and teachings of Augustine and move to their influence on the Holy Roman Empire. Quoted passages from contemporary writing, both for and against the inquisition and crusades, as well as descriptions of other spiritual issues (such as the plagues) would help show that Christianity went astray during this period.

Book 3: Book of Luther

This book would narrate the story of the Reformation with all its major characters. It would also describe the beginning of the early major non-Catholic denominations, with some of the major teachings. This section would juxtapose different emerging theologies to show the diversity of thought on revelation and relationship to God. It would also include a description of the Catholic counter-reformation.

Book 4: Book of Galileo

This book would cover the history of scientific discovery as it gave revelation to Christianity, starting with Galileo and ending with Darwin (the scientific method, astronomy, the Green Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, evolution, etc.). It would also talk about the rise of education and of women's voices. Major religious and poetic voices related to science and truth would be included.

Book 5: Book of Empires

This book would narrate the spiritual history of the modern period (1600s to present): wars related to religion, imperialism, slavery, Christian missionaryism, the rise of democracy, WWI and WWII. Simultaneously, it would cover the major religious voices of this time (for example, Wesleyanism, the early evangelical movement, Vatican I, and women's rights).

Book 6: Book of the World

This book would narrate the end of the imperial era, the rise of independence movements, the rise and fall of the Iron Curtain, and major disasters--showing how the world gradually grew out of distinct, fighting nations into a more global outlook. This section would cover 20th-century theologians and prophets of the future, touching on the major theological contributions of this time period: for example, solidarity, human rights, pacifism, global justic, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and poverty. It would also provide a selection of writings on daily life, including marriage, work, family life, and technology, as well as the major religious trends: fundamentalism, universalism, mysticism, existentialism, and agnosticism, and would include theologians from around the world. Since this is the most recent of the books, its content would be more thorough.

Book 7: Book of Questions

The final book would put a Quaker stamp on the whole new bible: a series of queries related to personal faith and practice, the future of religion, and global responsibilities. This would give the end of the bible a definite future focus.

Those are my thoughts. But I'm negotiable.


At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Robin M. said...


A year or so ago, in a parent discussion at the local Friends' School, someone asked about Quaker understanding of the Bible. I explained about a variety of interpretations and the need for reading it in the Spirit it was written, but I said I didn't think anyone was really engaged in re-writing the Bible. Next time, I'll have to word this differently.

I think your books are too long and too few. I think it would be better served to have more different focuses. But I'm quibbling. I like it a lot.

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Hello Robin

Hmm -- subsections. I like it. Yes, really each "Book" would have to be a collection of shorter books or stand-alone chapters.

It might be simplest to take chapters from books already written and revise them to add material. This was what the early church did. Then each book would bear the first name of the main author as the title. The individual books would then go in the appropriate sections.

Someday when I really have just nothing to do, I'll work on this some more!


At 5:39 PM, Blogger Larry said...

Great imagination, Nancy. I'm much more prosaic about the Bible and can only repeat from my blog a reminiscene of a sermon my father preached when I was 9.

"The Bible is a library of books. Read the ones that have meaning to you. If you find something with more spiritual meaning, add it to your Bible."

Dear girl, I've been doing that for years.

At 12:32 PM, Blogger Richard said...

You are risking incurring the wrath of those who view the Bible as a single work ending (well almost ending) with the words in Revelation 22:18-19:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; 19if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

I've certainly been whacked over the head with it a few times.

Like you (I think), I believe that God did not stop revealing Himself to us at the close of the first century AD. Being a Roman Catholic (enough in some circles to have me labelled the spawn of Satan) - I certainly consider some of the writings produced over the centuries to be Divinely inspired. I also find God revealed in the writings of non-Christians as well (it can be argued that I am applying a Christian interpretation to non-Christian texts - which is true, since I also apply Christian interpretation to the Jewish texts of the Old Testament).

I agree with robin m. that the books should be short. I would have no objection to the addition of Tritocanonical books to the Bible.

Revelation is a book that even early Church fathers had problems with (personally, I would have been happier to see the 'Shepherd of Hermas' included instead).

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Richard - Wow! I didn't know about that section of Revelations! No wonder fundamentalists get bent out of shape about continuing the scriptures!

Of course, Revelations was written by the early Church to give the proper hell-and-damnation ring to the last chapter of the book they were compiling. It's a shame that people take these things as the word of God, instead of the word of those who were writing it.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Larry said...

More books? yes. How about a book of the gnostics-- and all the other 'heretics' who were banned because they made the personal experience primary-- up to and including Quakers.

(Sorry I repeated myself in your two posts -- privilege of an old man.)

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Contemplative Activist said...

LOL - brilliant. When's it going to be published?!?! ;)

I love it!

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

. . . but I LOVE the Gospel of John! That's the one where the early Quakers drew so much of their imagery . . .

well, that aside, I like it. I think the Bible should be a living document, always changing, not a dead, static one.


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