THE OLD TESTAMENT and ME
The Hebrew Bible, called The Old Testament by Christians, is an extraordinarily difficult sequence of books.1 This difficulty, too easily underestimated, is greater now than it ever was, partly because no contemporary reader, however specialized, shares in the psychology of the original readers and writers of The Bible. The first millennium in which anyone read any of the words in any of the books from 1000 B.C. to the time of Christ or, perhaps more accurately, 600 B.C. to 400 A.D.2
My first memories of The Old Testament come from Bible readings in grade six when I was 11 and my mother reading passages from little booklets from the Unity School of Christianity as early as the mid-1950s. Although some of the quotations had a broad ethical appeal to me even as a boy in my late childhood and early teens, I found the stories abstruse and distant: goats, sheep, tribes, and curious names like Balthazar and Nebuchadnezzar. They all occupied another universe far removed from my little town of 5000 in Ontario in that post-WW2 world of the 1950s. This distance existed then, as it does now, nearly 60 years later.
My individual understanding of The Bible, my biblical interpretations, rely primarily at the age of nearly 70 on my experience of nearly 60 years of intimate association with the Baha’i Faith. My interpretations and those of the Baha’i teachings are provocative, if nothing else. But I have always found there to be a vast distance from the psychic universe of the biblical writers beginning as early as, say, 900 B.C.2 and the contemporary society that is my world. I know I have lots of company; indeed I rarely meet anyone who actually reads The Old Testament any more.
However abstruse the language of biblical prophecy and eschatology, the prophets of The Old Testament, I believe, were given a foreknowledge of the events of our times in their visions, visions which I’m sure they hardly understood themselves. Still, there lies a sure presentation of the times we are living-through, as long as one does not take those prophecies literally. Yahweh's choice of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants as part of the Chosen People story was a permanent decision, intended to prevail into a time without boundaries, into our time.-Ron Price with thanks to Harold Bloom, “Prose and Poetry,” in The New York Times, 17 October, 1982: a review of Dan Jacobson’s THE STORY OF THE STORIES: The Chosen People and Its God, and the final editor, or redactor, after the return from the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BC, put all the books of The Old Testament into something like their present form.
When this review appeared in The New York Times I had just arrived in Australia’s Northern Territory & the heat of summer was just beginning to make me run for cover to air-conditioning in my office, my home & the cool air of the car....The Old Testament was on my universe’s far-periphery.
There it had always been in heat and cold since those first stories when I was in grade six in that little town in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe where everyone I knew was Catholic or Jew or Protestant, or nothing; yes, mostly nothing and there they have remained with that Old Testament far removed from everyone’s everyday life. Still… I have time now to try to get into it in this the evening of my life; however, complex and abstruse it may be, I want to make-up for the decades when it had to remain far out on my life’s periphery.
1 Harold Bloom, “Prose and Poetry,” in The New York Times, 17 October, 1982
2 a review of Dan Jacobson’s THE STORY OF THE STORIES: The Chosen People and Its God.
3 See Frank Kermode, “God Speaks Through His Women,” in The New York Times, 23 September 1990
4 a review of Harold Bloom’s The Book of J.
5 July 2012
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