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The Bible Against Itself (paperback), by Randel Helms
The Bible Against Itself is a witty and well-informed work of revisionist Bible scholarship, a courageous exercise in the deconstruction of Holy Writ and a healthy corrective to anyone who still thinks of the Bible as the revealed word of God.”
— Jonathan Kirsch author of The Harlot by the Side of the Road and A History of the End of the World
Before the Bible was the Bible it was a lot of little books written by many writers with many different viewpoints.
If you open up the Bible and read it straight through, you will notice two things that should not be true if it had been written as a coherent whole and with a single purpose. First, the Bible is quite repetitious; second, the Bible frequently seems to contradict itself. Readers have often ignored these contradictions, and apologists have long tried to reconcile them. Randel Helms chooses a third course — to understand the contradictions by looking at the cultural and historical factors that produced them. All books are written for or against some point of view, and the books of the Bible are no different. Bible book authors were often motivated to write because they wanted to challenge or correct those who had written before them. As Helms explains, “The Bible is a war-zone, and its authors are the combatants. Paul said of Peter, ‘I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong (Gal. 2:11).’” Helms notes that Jeremiah condemned the entire religious establishment of his time — the very same people that other Bible authors held in highest esteem: “prophets and priests are frauds, every one of them” (Jer. 8:10). Luke felt the need to write another gospel even though “many writers have undertaken to draw up an account of the events” (Luke 1:1). Luke obviously felt that Mark’s gospel was filled with errors and edited it freely. Not even Mark’s account of the words of the dying Christ was left unaltered.
The Bible Against Itself reveals:
- how the author of Chronicles I & II white-washed earlier historical accounts of Saul, David, and Solomon
- how the Book of Ruth was written to challenge the growing racism of religious reformers of its time
- how every apocalyptic book in the Bible struggled to reinterpret some earlier failed Bible prophecy
- the war of “Wisdom” between religious teachings, pagan proverbs, and practical advice
- the centuries-long battle in the Bible between prophets and the Law of Moses, and even between prophets and prophecy itself
- how first and second century Christians interpreted the Hebrew Bible in a new way, to change it into a book that had “really” been written about Jesus
- Jesus of Nazareth’s philosophical conflicts with Jesus the son of Sirach
- the battle between James and Paul — and their followers — for control of first century Christianity.
As Helms concludes, “Before the sacred authors were declared sacred, they were fair game for attack or revision. Not without reason did John the Revelator threaten with ‘plagues’ anyone who ‘adds to’ or ‘takes away from the words of ’ his book (Rev. 22:18-19), for such was all too often the fate of the ‘ little books’ that eventually became our Bible.”
Dr. Randel Helms is a Bible scholar and professor of English at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ. He is the author of Gospel Fictions and Who Wrote the Gospels?
Praise for The Bible Against Itself
With depth and clarity Dr. Helms shows that, throughout the history of their formation, the Jewish and Christian scriptures developed as the by-products of ongoing theological debates. Far from expressing the unity of thought and doctrinal accord that would reflect divine inspiration, the scriptures represent a series of furious and unrelenting disputes between authors supporting often bitterly divided dogmas.
— Tim Callahan, Skeptic magazine religion editor
All too often the Bible polarizes people: extreme fundamentalists insist on the literal reading and inerrancy of the books; and militant atheists revel in the shortcomings and contradictions they find in the Bible. Randel Helms respectfully navigates a thoughtful passage through the books of the Bible to explain how and why it was written, and to reveal who the authors of the Bible were writing for or against. A must-read for believers and skeptics alike.
— Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, columnist for Scientific American, author of How We Believe and The Science of Good and Evil.
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