What do you know about Noah?

This week I want some help please: I am planning eventually to write a full column in the Catholic Herald on the truth of the Bible. Let me give you an example. The story, starting in Genesis 5, of Noah and the Flood, is generally accepted as not being literally true (although many defend it to the last).There is no archeological evidence of the flood itself – nor any sign of the ark, and the story itself contains details which, through modern eyes, appear to be impossible.

So is it simply a piece of fiction or does it have another purpose? Might some people refer to it as legend or fable or myth? How would you describe it? Elsewhere in Scripture we are familiar with parables – but these are described as such, and take a recognisable shape. But the Noah story takes pains to be complex, literal and precise. It is presented as a literarily true account.

So I would be much helped by you identifying other stories in the Bible which are clearly not true in a literal sense but we must presume were there for a purpose. And we understand them to be inspired. Immediately, we might think of the six days of creation, the account of Adam and Eve or the sacrifice of Isaac at the hands of his father (Genesis 22). Are there similar patterns in the New Testament? And how about the Book of Revelation?

This is not just idle curiosity. If we accept the Bible as inspired revelation and the fundamental introduction to Judaeo-Christian belief we need to know how we should regard its truths.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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42 Responses to What do you know about Noah?

  1. Nektarios says:

    These discrepancies you cite are all true, no contradictions as Holy Scriptures do not contradict itself. Does God the author of Scriptures lie?
    With so many of these issues, the problem is to understand the language in which it is given.
    For example, when thinking or discussing six days the earth was created, it gives a number.
    six days, which is not literal, but written prophetically and simply means a very long time.

    You get the same with 1000 years or those saved at the end numbering 144,000. simply means
    a very long time or an innumerable number. It is a prophetical language.

    When it comes to Noah and the flood. There is proof enough to say it did happen. All over the world, on mountains, they have found the remains of fish and other sea creatures.
    The Ark has supposedly been found on Ararat which is a mountain range, not one mountain.

    I hope this helps us believe the Scriptures more, rather than leaning to our own understanding and doubt.

  2. dsmth says:

    This probably leads to something worth a look: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_geology

    But really, omnipotence means omnipotence. Unless you believe in a God bound by the laws of nature and, hence, eventually discoverable and definable by “science”, it doesn’t matter what “scientists” find or declare impossible: God can do whatever God likes.

    • Alan says:

      dsmith – “God can do whatever God likes.”

      It sounds like omnipotence is straightforward as you describe it. There are some things about it which seem contradictory or strange though. Admittedly, these are ideas I’ve come across looking at the arguments of the more vocal non-believers, but I find them difficult to shake when looking to believers for a solution.

      As I understand it, it is generally accepted that God cannot do things that are impossible. He cannot make a circle with four corners for example. He cannot force people to believe in Him and still allow them freewill. He cannot choose to create only those people that He knows will freely choose to believe/follow Him (I’m not sure this last one counts as impossible. It may be only incompatible with the nature of our existence and who God is reported to be). So omnipotence doesn’t quite mean that God can do anything at all.

      I can lie, I can cheat, I can be cruel, I can make mistakes. There is no logical problem with someone doing any of those things, but it is hard to imagine God being able to do any of these things. It’s inconsistent with His description as an omnipotent, perfect, benevolent being. So omnipotence doesn’t even mean that the usual Christian idea of God can do all possible things. So what does omnipotence actually allow God to do?

      As a solution I’ve heard it suggested instead that omnipotence means that God can do anything that it is within His nature to do. I can do anything that it is within my nature/ability to do. Anyone can!

      • Coconuts says:

        I can lie, I can cheat, I can be cruel, I can make mistakes. There is no logical problem with someone doing any of those things, but it is hard to imagine God being able to do any of these things. It’s inconsistent with His description as an omnipotent, perfect, benevolent being. So omnipotence doesn’t even mean that the usual Christian idea of God can do all possible things. So what does omnipotence actually allow God to do?

        Well, if God is infinite goodness and is infinite in being (so omniscient), God can’t lie, cheat, be cruel or make mistakes due to a lack of knowledge. All these things involve an absence of goodness or knowledge, which would be logically inconsistent with God’s nature.

      • Quentin says:

        So, if God is infinite goodness he could not have ordered Abraham to kill his son, Isaac, as a holocaust (Genesis 22). Which is why I mentioned the incident. God knew the outcome but Abraham didn’t.

        Whether God took on goodness as an appropriate attitude or was, by nature, the essence of goodness is a dispute which has lasted over 2000 years. Try Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro.

      • Coconuts says:

        The idea that God is infinite goodness comes from natural theology (one of the derivatives of the unmoved mover arguments), indepedent of any particular revelation. So, from what I can tell there seem to be three options in relation to the story of Isaac:

        a) The argument that God is infinite goodness is wrong.
        b) The story is wrong.
        c) What happened is compatible with God being infinite goodness.

        There was a recent ‘Catholic Stuff You Should Know’ podcast about the Abraham/Isaac story where they discussed whether Isaac was understood as a ‘type’ or prefiguration of Christ, with reference to various Jewish texts that add extra detail:
        https://catholicstuffpodcast.com/podcast/2018/11/01/aha-aqedah.html

        There was a long consensus (1000+ years) among Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims and Jews that God is ontologically simple and completely incomposite so he can’t have attributes, anything he has, he is essentially. It seems like the Euthyphro dilemma becomes relevant if a position of divine voluntarism is adopted i.e. that God’s will is predominant over God’s intellect.

      • Alan says:

        Coconuts – “All these things involve an absence of goodness or knowledge, which would be logically inconsistent with God’s nature.”

        Not impossible things to do then, just impossible for God to do because they would conflict with His nature. So the idea of omnipotence as being “able to do all things that are possible” is flawed somewhere or not appropriate to this idea of God? A deist god wouldn’t have the same incompatible characteristics I wouldn’t think.

      • Coconuts says:

        Not impossible things to do then, just impossible for God to do because they would conflict with His nature. So the idea of omnipotence as being “able to do all things that are possible” is flawed somewhere or not appropriate to this idea of God? A deist god wouldn’t have the same incompatible characteristics I wouldn’t think.

        If omnipotence is defined as being able to do anything that is not logically impossible, God would not be able to do these things because doing them would involve something logically impossible; God, who is infinite in being and lacks no kind of being, lacking various kinds of being.

        I think a deist ‘God’ who was able and willing to lie to humans, make mistakes due to lack of knowledge or understanding and so on just wouldn’t be God. Maybe some kind of powerful angel or spiritual being.

    • Alan says:

      dsmith – “… it doesn’t matter what “scientists” find or declare impossible …”

      This is something that the scientific part of my mind, such as it is, has a lot of difficulty with. I can’t speak for the real scientists out there, but I think it may be at the heart of some of the apparent conflicts between theism and scientific enquiry. Scientists are sometimes criticised by theists for not even considering God as a possibility, but I think that what you describe here points to the reason they don’t/can’t. You propose an idea/theory of creation (God) which is entirely immune to evidence. There is absolutely nothing that we could discover, no matter how hard we looked, which can challenge your proposal. We learn that man evolved from less complex and sophisticated animals through a known natural process? God planned and guided this process. We learn instead that man appeared spontaneously, contrary to any known natural process? God did this too. It makes no difference what the world or nature looks like. God can explain it all. And, when it doesn’t matter what scientists find, it can be applied to anything. Evidence that the Earth is more than 10 thousand years old? Doesn’t matter.

      Karl Popper, whose name come up recently, said “A theory that explains everything, explains nothing”. This is how God often feels to me by way of an explanation. Be it for existence, morals, consciousness.

      • Coconuts says:

        The problem with this criticism of theism is that it applies equally to naturalism, the alternative to theism. This would be equally valid:

        You propose an idea/theory of creation (Laws of Nature) which is entirely immune to evidence. There is absolutely nothing that we could discover, no matter how hard we looked, which can challenge your proposal. We learn that man evolved from less complex and sophisticated animals through a known natural process? This is down to natural processes (ultimately Laws of Nature). We learn instead that man appeared spontaneously, contrary to any known natural process? Laws of Nature did this too. It makes no difference what the world or nature looks like. Laws of Nature can explain it all. And, when it doesn’t matter what scientists find, it can be applied to anything. Evidence that the Earth is more than 10 thousand years old? Doesn’t matter

        This is particularly acute when Laws of Nature are ‘explained’ as ‘brute facts’ (things which have no cause and explanation) or by something like an appeal to an infinite regress of Laws of Nature, whose existence is similarly held to be a brute fact.

        I think a lot (most of?) of the arguments for the existence of God are more philosophical, like deductive arguments, not so much probabilistic ‘inference to the best possible explanation’ of the kind you find in science.

        Finally, demanding explanations for things can be a problem because of the ‘Principle of Sufficient Reason’, (e.g. roughly every contingent fact has a sufficient explanation for the way it is). Accepting the PSR entails accepting the existence of God.

      • Alan says:

        Coconuts – “The problem with this criticism of theism is that it applies equally to naturalism, the alternative to theism. This would be equally valid:”

        So for this point alone, and I say this cautiously having never had a philosophy lesson in my life, if valid it makes either assumption a poor one and if invalid it makes either assumption a poor one?

      • Coconuts says:

        Alan,

        So for this point alone, and I say this cautiously having never had a philosophy lesson in my life, if valid it makes either assumption a poor one and if invalid it makes either assumption a poor one?

        I don’t know, they do seem to come out as poor theories in the light of certain kinds of evidentialism or verificationism (for example, it Karl Popper’s idea of falsificationism was used as a general criteria for truth or knowledge, rather than as a way of trying to settle the demarcation problem in science). But verification, falsificationism if used in the way I just described, etc. are not viable ways of judging what is true or not.

  3. Nektarios says:

    G.D

    Thank you for the link, it was very informative and as close to proof we can get physically.

  4. dsmth says:

    I don’t understand the desire to prove anything in the Bible “scientifically”. That’s playing somebody else’s game. It’s saying, “My God is obliged to act according to your laws”. If you believe that everything in the Bible is true, fine. Why the need for proof? Is it to convince yourself or to make converts? If the first, doesn’t that mean you lack faith? If the second, I think you’re very unlikely to succeed. The proof seems not to meet the unbelievers’ standards.

    Quentin writes:

    “So I would be much helped by you identifying other stories in the Bible which are clearly not true in a literal sense but we must presume were there for a purpose. And we understand them to be inspired.”

    I can’t offer anything. My knowledge of the Bible is abysmal. Besides, you’re only guessing, no? What do Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and non-religious scholars say? I imagine there’s a broad consensus. How does Catholic scholarship depart from the rest? Or does it?

  5. Quentin says:

    Probably the best source is the New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, which has a long article on this. Put simply, it tells us that there were several stories from pre-history which refer to similar floods and for similar reasons. It suggests that the Genesis writer simply used such a story, well known to his readers, in order to illustrate the theological symbolism of human wickedness and God’s redemption.

  6. galerimo says:

    What a huge task. Your example of the Noah story alone would be enough of a topic without tackling the truth of the entire Bible.

    After all when offered to the modern mind much of the Bible is just plain wrong.

    For starters there is not a single original manuscript for any biblical book that is known to exist.

    Earliest manuscripts, some mere scraps of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 in a cave northwest of the Dead Sea, date from the first century BCE. And for more complete documents you just wont find any until the 3rd and 4th centuries CE.

    This is very late material for a narrative that spans the events of a 2000 year period from Abraham, around 1800 BCE, to the time of the Maccabean wars, 140 BCE: all of it most likely written between 1000 BCE to the century before the birth of Christ.

    And that’s just the Old Testament.

    In Noah’s case again, there is a very general consensus only about the highly editorialised authorship of his story. It is described as a combination of two, possibly three traditions J, P and E, – shorthand for which name they used for God.

    And as a part of the pre-history of God’s people it has a lot of similarity with other flood mythologies of the Middle East, which were known to these authors around the 6th century BC. As you point out from the Catholic commentary.

    Let me offer two comments then in response to your request.

    Firstly, biblical texts are primarily theological texts not historical reports, as we understand history today. They do contain historical elements but as theological texts they have a theological point to make about God and consequently an anthropological point to make about human beings.

    If you want to look at the truth contained in these texts then you must remember that each text has its own cultural, historical and political bias and its author was located in a particular time and place with a definite socio-cultural context and was of a particular gender and religious persuasion.

    The more understanding around this then the better the chances of gaining an understanding of the truth of the Bible.

    Secondly the real truth about the Bible is its purpose. It always serves a community of believers gathering under the influence of God’s Holy Spirit. As the living and breathing Word of God it can only really be received as a source of nourishment for that community coming together for the purpose of worshiping and building up the community of God itself.

    You can only know the truth of the bible when you are moved by that truth.

    The truth of the Noah story is the covenant. When it is told in the community it reinforces the reality of a carpenter who despite being rejected by his own offers the hope of a salvation from drowning in despair. A rainbow cross.

    This truth of the Bible is a function of the Christ given Holy Spirit for the Church not for the Academy.

  7. Nektarios says:

    The liberal influence in modern-day translations of the Bible is all too obvious and prevalent. The Jews were very particular about what was written down as it was not just a history of events or in this case, a specific event namely the Flood but it was their history of the people of God, warts an all.
    The liberals call this modern scholarship when it amounts to nothing more than doubting guesswork without any real facts to back it up, but because these are Uni Professors with PhDs they demand to be seen as experts and of course, believed without question.

    Of course, everything is not meant to be taken literally, but then these so-called religious experts demand they be heard and of course believed without question.
    If they are not regenerated by God, they have nothing to say to the Church, those positions are full
    of such people. It is a scandal. And those who do understand and know the truth are silenced in most cases.
    It is exactly the same with Global warming so-called experts. Those who are the real scientists on climatology are silenced or risk mockery and being thrown out of their livelihoods.

  8. galerimo says:

    And you ask for other stories in the Bible which are not literally true – well how about the geographical facts in Mark’s Gospel that he appears to get wrong.

    According to Raymond E. Brown, the author of Mark seems unable to identify the geographical places in ancient Palestine. If the author was a native of Palestine and a Jew, then how was he so ignorant regarding the region’s geography?

    Mark 11: shows that Jesus and his group were travelling from Jericho to Jerusalem via Bethphage and then Bethany. Apparently, however, this is quite impossible. Bethany is further away from Jerusalem than Bethphage is.

    Mark does not seem to know the location of the two villages in relation to each other on the Jericho road.

    Mark 7:31 describes a journey from Tyre through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the Decapolis. In fact you go SE from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee; Sidon is N for Tyre.

    Nor is it accurate to describe the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the Decapolis.

    Apparently in Mark 6:45,53 it is not clear how a boat headed for Bethsaida (NE side of the Sea of Galilee) arrives at Gennesaret (NW side) and no one has been able to locate the Dalmanutha of 8:10.

  9. Nektarios says:

    galerimo

    Raymond E. Brown reading of Mark is quite erroneous and if his readers believe him, are equally in error.

    Will take your reference Mark 6:45,53 first. Dalmanutha in Mark 8:10, you will find the other name for it
    in Matthew 15: 39. The name there is Magdala. It is not a town or city but a region.

    Reading the narrative here they set out for Bethsaida on the sea of Galilee. A storm blew up
    and was obviously blown off course. This is where Jesus came walking on the sea and climbed into the boat and calmed the storm. The did not land at Bethsaida but Gennesaret.

    Let us look at Mark 7:31. It tells they left the region of Tyre and Sidon. It does not tell us from where they left, just they left the region. They then came through the region of Decapolis on route to the sea of Galilee. That is not the same thing as the saying the sea of Galilee is in the midst of the region of Decapolis.

    Lastly. Mark 11:1 Jesus and the disciples were drawing nearer to Jerusalem. The came to Bethpage and later to Bethany at the Mount of Olives just prior to His entrance into Jerusalem riding on a colt.

    Raymond E. Brown is rather sloppy in his understanding of Mark’s Gospel, more intent on casting doubt and so doubt on St. Mark and his Gospel.
    It is reprehensible!

    • galerimo says:

      N. Will take your reference Mark 6:45,53 first. Dalmanutha in Mark 8:10, you will find the other name for it in Matthew 15: 39.

      G. – I am talking about Mark’s Gospel here – And Mark does not refer to Magdala but a definite name no one has ever heard of?

      N. Reading the narrative here they set out for Bethsaida on the sea of Galilee. A storm blew upand was obviously blown off course. This is where Jesus came walking on the sea and climbed into the boat and calmed the storm. The did not land at Bethsaida but Gennesaret.

      G. – the storm might be strong enough to blow the disciples off course but not so strong as to change the entire shore line.

      N. Let us look at Mark 7:31. It tells they left the region of Tyre and Sidon. It does not tell us from where they left, just they left the region. They then came through the region of Decapolis on route to the sea of Galilee. That is not the same thing as the saying the sea of Galilee is in the midst of the region of Decapolis.

      G. – travelling from Tyre by way of Sidon is travelling away from the sea of Galilee not towards it.
      -the Decapolis is mostly modern day Jordan and Galilee is to the north and not central to that region.

      N. Lastly. Mark 11:1 Jesus and the disciples were drawing nearer to Jerusalem. The came to Bethpage and later to Bethany at the Mount of Olives just prior to His entrance into Jerusalem riding on a colt.

      G. – and if you travel from Bethpage to Bethany on the road to Jerusalem you would be heading back to Jericho. Mark has Jesus mostly going the wrong way on his journeys.

  10. galerimo says:

    Like the apple in Genesis the much-maligned innkeeper in the Christmas story never appears in the text.

    Serious doubt too over the timing Luke gives to the birth of Jesus – for two reasons: (1) The earliest known Roman census in Palestine was taken in 6-7 CE, and (2) there is little, if any, evidence that Quirinius was governor of Syria before Herod’s death in 4 BCE. In light of this, many scholars believe that Luke was thinking about the census in 6-7 CE, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

    There was no single census of the whole Roman Empire under Augustus, nor any evidence that Roman censuses required on to go to one’s place of ancestry (unless one had property there).

    Like the Herodian slaughter of the children of Bethlehem there is an absence of historical evidence to support these events at a time in history that was recent enough to justify finding them.

    Again, connecting the reign of Herod the Great and the census of Quirinius is not correct. Herod died in 4 BCE, Quirinius became governor in Syria and conducted the first Roman census of Judea in 6-7 CE and it was not in Galilee.

    Like finding Noah’s ark there are also dubious efforts to trace the remarkable appearance of a star that could come to rest over Bethlehem – a conjunction of planets in 7-6 BCE or the appearance of Halley’s comet in 12-11BCE are both wide of the mark either as stars or likely as heavenly bodies to definitely stop over Bethlehem.

    The serious Biblical studies of our time are a gift to the whole believing community. Their ability to uncover the truth and reach deeper and deeper into the meaning of these birth and infancy narratives, for example, are a blessing to any grown up engaging reflectively with an adult Christ at Christmas time.

    The truth of the Bible is even more fascinating than a lot of the sentimental and misleading accretions most us were brought up on.

    And some of us might still fearfully prefer to hang on to.

  11. galerimo says:

    Those stories you ask for that don’t measure up to literal scrutiny clearly abound throughout the bible.

    Why is Jesus portrayed so uncharacteristically grumpy when he curses a fig tree for not having any fruit when it clearly was not the season? Some trees take six years to mature. Mk 11: 12-14.

    He would have known a ripe tree when he saw one surely, with his clear knowledge of agriculture in his own time. Mt 21: 18-22.

    He literally speaks very harshly to the women showing their grief at his pain on the way to Calvary. Lk 23: 27-31.

    The walls of every Catholic Church portray the passion of Christ as stations. Yet nowhere in the scriptural account is there any mention of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. She “literally” gets a whole station to herself.

    Mark has already demonstrated a “fail” for geography but when it comes to Luke and Matthew there is clear scope for development around their spacial awareness.

    Was that famous and widely known “Sermon” on a mountain or on a plain?

    There is a difference. One is high up and one is low down. Luke says he went down and onto a level plain Lk 6:17.

    Matthew sends him up a mountain Mt 5: 1.

    And then there’s the beatitudinal maths – Matthew’s 10 or Luke’s 4?

    And those oh so non-literal infancy narratives and the birth of Jesus. Only two of the four evangelists even mention them and how little do they even factually agree with each other.

    Matthew (Mt 2:13) sends the Holy Family into Egypt while Luke (Lk 2:39) has them quietly returning home to Nazareth. Were they coming or going?

    If the disciples of Jesus were witnesses to his public ministry and later were able to recall his words and deeds then who was around to witness his birth to the extent that it was recorded? Where is the Apostolic witnessing of Christmas?

    Mark’s gospel was the first written and would have been nearest in time to any such witnesses.

    Mark doesn’t even mention the birth of Jesus. Nor does John, who, if it is the same disciple, traditionally took Mary to his home.

    So the standard of historical accuracy along with evident mathematical uncertainty, geographical errors and facts that are wrong all combine to establish the simple truth that

    ….God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
    1 Cor: 27-29.

  12. ignatius says:

    Galerimo:
    “The truth of the Bible is even more fascinating than a lot of the sentimental and misleading accretions most us were brought up on…”
    Enjoying your exegesis here but would you care to spend a paragraph or two expounding this ‘fascinating truth’? I am genuinely interested to hear your conclusion regarding all those geographical foibles of Mark and Luke.

    • galerimo says:

      It’s no different to Thomas’ finding a way to saying “My Lord and my God!”

      At this, Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” Jn 20:29.

      Jesus blesses us here as the ones who believe but, unlike his contemporaries, have not witnessed what they have. Then, through the gift of the Spirit he shows us everything that they saw – in the Gospels.

      And far better for us that it is this way – they didn’t get it (or got little comprehension of the reality they were living with Him) as it was unfolding.

      The Spirit’s gift of understanding Scripture for us is at least to start right at the end.

      Start with The resurrection – where the truth of Jesus and his Purpose (Kingdom?) exploded into history.

      Pow! These poor people were experiencing the most tectonic shift of the meaning of reality ever – neither before in human history or since that Resurrection event.

      It only then began to dawn on them that Jesus they knew all along and whom they are totally experiencing in a new way – was divine – Jesus Christ! He was the Son of God. For Jews – unbelievable – just imagine Thomas’ face.

      That (Resurrection) is what shines the light into all of Scripture (Jesus even pointed to this going to Emmaus). The man who walked with them and scratched his bum on the dusty roads of Palestine is now being experienced as the Divine Son of God – because he is risen from the dead.

      Now they start to look back on their dealings with him, now they see it’s meaning and significance but not without (and still for us not without) a huge challenge to how it matches the way we perceive our world and our reality.

      So these Gospels

      (the “Good News” – a gift, by the way, that Caesar Augustus had claimed for himself for bringing peace to the Empire, and which Luke is keen to put on the lips of the Angels announcing “Good News” to the shepherds – contrasting Caesar’s peace in earlier times with a peace that is “a joy for all the people…and peace on whom His favour rests”. Luke 2: 10,14.)

      – are not biographical narratives – not the life of Jesus I, II, III and IV.

      they are the over heated and excited evidence of people – some barely literate and some slightly more skilled – holding a never before known lens of their reflective experience of the Divine over their experience of living or being around this man. That’s only a start.

  13. Alasdair says:

    “Was that famous and widely known “Sermon” on a mountain or on a plain?” Let me ask you this – would Jesus have reserved this most important of messages only for a single group of people within earshot on a single occasion? Unlikely. It seems to me that, as this was a central pillar of his ministry, it would have been delivered at a variety of locations both elevated and flat.

    • galerimo says:

      Good point.

      But….

      You see no conflicts needing resolution anywhere in the accounts given of Jesus in the Gospels?

      • Alasdair says:

        Yes of course there are conflicts that are seen in the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels. I am aware of them, have considered them, read extensively about them, satisfied myself that there are perfectly good explanations for them, and moved on with my faith intact. I don’t wish to duck out of this theme altogether, but I also do not wish to travel the same road again.

  14. Alasdair says:

    Many of the apparent “problems” in scripture, especially in the NT, have perfectly simple explanations. For example in some cases, what appeared to be an error, has been proved to be correct through, for example, duplication of people’s names and of place names.
    I don’t feel that it’s necessary, or productive to struggle with these problems and allow them to be a challenge to one’s faith. There have been many books dealing skillfully with these issue. My personal favourite is “Why Trust the Bible?: Answers to 10 Tough Questions by Amy Orr-Ewing”.

  15. galerimo says:

    Is challenging one’s faith really an unproductive exercise?

    I’d rather hear what is in your mind Alasdair – like on many occasions before – that what someone else has written in a book – even your own understanding of what someone else has said.

    Faith is never finalised, safe or complete – I need to hear how it is for others, like you, in their lives.

    • G.D says:

      Laurence Freeman in ‘First Sight’ wrote “Faith, as I understand it, means an unpredictable journey rather than a value of fixed content. It is an inborn capacity of humanity that makes growth and development happen. And we grow the more by exercising this capacity. ….. through many micro-cycles of death and rebirth towards the final liberation from the cycle, the great resurrection. …… Faith is mysterious because it is renewable energy of expansion on a self-transcending scale that runs from the personal to the cosmic.”
      that just about does it for my experience ….

  16. ignatius says:

    Galerimo, Compare this:
    “they are the over heated and excited evidence of people – some barely literate and some slightly more skilled – holding a never before known lens of their reflective experience of the Divine over their experience of living or being around this man. That’s only a start…”

    with this: Luke ch 1: 1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

    Though I understand your drift I think you need to be a little cautious with it. Luke Ch 1 does not sound particularly overheated and excited does it? I’m a bit more with Alisdair on this.

    • galerimo says:

      You caution is well received Ignatius.

      Nearly three decades after Vatican Council II, much of the council’s teaching that promoted a contextual reading of Scripture and study of the Bible using acceptable modern research appears not to have reached or affected many Catholics.

      As Catholics we seem to be helplessly influenced by biblical fundamentalism and other non-contextual modes of interpretation.

      In response to this obstinacy the Pontifical Biblical Commission published “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” 1993. I don’t claim to have any more expertise than the average catholic but I wonder if things have got much better since 1993?

      Your excellent quote and well received caution around the impact of Jesus’ resurrection on the writing of Luke’s gospel might be seen also as another literal way that needs to take more account of the context in which the material you are using, has been written. Not untypical of contemporary Catholic reading of scripture.

      Among other things Luke’s introduction gives us knowledge of the audience for which he is writing at that time and it prepares us for subsequent material that will carry certain meaning and sense for his audience.

      The sacred truth of scripture is arrived at when it weighs all the different levels of context and impact of various editorial influences – and here is my cautionary note- not just by quoting a sequence of biblical words verbatim in support of an argument for which those words were never intended.

      Luke’s diligence in research, characteristic of his Greek experience, and meant for his contemporary Gentile audience is hardly something that would lessen the impact of Jesus’ Divinity that was witnessed by his sources. It would translate that euphoria even more effectively.

      It was the whole point of all he was about to say.

  17. dsmth says:

    Galerimo, I have the sense that you see a need for a new Bible for a new Christianity. Is that more or less true? What would the new Bible look like? The new Christianity? Are there existing models that you admire? Do you think older, mainstream Christian denominations can or should be reformed, or should they be abandoned?

    – David Smith

    • galerimo says:

      And a juicier piece of bait I have not heard for a while, David. Thank you.

      In Emma Thompson’s new movie “The Children Act” there is a great court scene where all the arguments for and against the use of blood products for surgery on Jehovah witnesses are brilliantly aired.

      But the best line in it ———SPOILER ALERT ——————

      Is when her colleague tells of a Judge phoning to demand from a coroner how he could be sure one of his corpses was clinically dead before performing an autopsy?

      “I know he is dead,” replies the coroner “because I have his brain in a jar of Formaldehyde sitting on my desk in front of me”.

      “That doesn’t mean a thing,” replies the Judge, “That bastard could still be out there practicing law somewhere”.

      So David if you ever sat in church and listened to the magnificent Word of God being announced only to be followed by some sermonising twit whose brain is without doubt floating in a glass of Formaldehyde somewhere you too would be for reinventing a whole new Christianity.

      However perhaps your ardour would be cooled by G. K.’s famous line – “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried”.

      Knowledge of the scriptures is knowledge of Jesus and for Catholics that is difficult.

  18. ignatius says:

    Galerimo:

    I get your meaning now. In a way we are in a bit of a cleft stick. Take one way you are forced into an infantile literalism, take the other and it turns out only Ancient Hebrew/Greek speaking Archeologist- theologian- anthropologist Scholars can be saved…and all those poor stupid fisherman got it completely wrong.

    “Knowledge of the scriptures is knowledge of Jesus and for Catholics that is difficult”

    This is so pertinent. I cannot figure out why it is that we have arrived at the state where the whole church gathers round to eat his body and drink his blood..but otherwise never speaks his name! As an ex charismatic/ evangelical convert, even though I’m now about 12 years a catholic, this has me completely baffled.

    • galerimo says:

      What an amazing life and spiritual journey, Ignatius, well done Brother – I doubt you lack anything to guide you through the beauty of God’s revelation.

      Those who are charged with feeding the lambs and feeding the sheep are the ones who get up my nose.

      Well and fine for the Biblical Commission to tell all to read the bible intelligently but what about all the humbug an BS we get served regularly in our schools and churches.

      When Quentin wants to talk about the truth of Scripture he picks a great entry point inviting people to share the things we actually have to presume serve a real purpose in spite of their literal sense.

      And even if the response he gets shows we are better able to talk philosophically about ‘omnipotence ‘ etc. than discuss our Scripture as Scripture – that in itself has significance for the discussion.

  19. galerimo says:

    Oh Dear – I feel I should apologise for taking up so much space on this topic – I didn’t mean to dominate so much – you may even have got the impression I actually know what I am talking about!

    I would however like to add one more post and after that I will shut up. Those of you who have heard quite enough from “galerimo” can just ignore the next post now that I have warned you that it is coming.

    And Quentin it is on topic as it presupposes the apparent disparity that exists among all the different accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion which is the main topic of each Gospel.

    How come all the reported witnessing of the same event gets such range of different descriptions?

    • Alasdair says:

      Q (Galerimo): How come all the reported witnessing of the same event gets such range of different descriptions?
      A: Because that’s exactly what witnesses do – always.
      If anything that should give you more confidence in the main details of the Gospels. It would have been so easy to have edited out the differences and produced a sanitised version without the apparent contradictions – but that was not what was done. That shows the honesty and moral courage of the translators and editors of the bible who would have been fully aware of the apparent contradictions. It also shows their faith – their belief that this was the word of God and should not be altered.

  20. galerimo says:

    The shortest, clumsiest and earliest Gospel, Mark, for all that it lacks in style and structure (and geographical accuracy!) packs the most amazing punch by way of divine revelation.

    Especially the climax of his Gospel, the crucifixion.

    Mark has a gathering of non-descript women far away from the scene, no friends or followers anywhere near the crime– there is only one person looking straight at the bloody mess that hangs there.

    In full view is the body of a young man, all his genitals exposed, having finally choked to death (crucifixion is death by suffocation), with the cold yellowish pallor of death already settling, the bowels open the way they do when you die – there is only one other looking straight at this, barely human, mess – that one is a Roman soldier.

    Imagine it in terms of a Hitchcock movie – the movie stops at this point and Hitchcock totters onto the set in front of the camera, turns to us in the audience and says –

    “Ladies and Gentlemen, the two men you are now observing are this naked victim of torture and his audience of one, a fine man, no doubt, regaled in the dress and paraphernalia of a Roman centurion.

    A roman soldier alone – never mind him being a member of an occupying force in someone else’s country – is a much hated and detested figure in our story.

    Our Centurion is not one of that race specially chosen and specially blessed by God with the promise of a liberating Messiah – he would not have allegiance to anyone other than his Imperial Emperor and if he believed in any God it would be the many Gods of Rome.

    The fact is that you are now looking at a well-dressed nasty individual standing in front of a corpse.

    After all you don’t get to be a Centurion unless you have spilled a lot or blood and are prepared to order others to blindly and viciously do the same. You are presently, Ladies and Gentlemen, even as we speak, watching him callously taking part in the execution of an innocent man.

    And let me take you briefly to another, earlier moment in the life of the victim who has just died.

    A fine figure of a man as he sits, perhaps in the cool of the evening overlooking the great City of David, King David, may I add. As our young man surveys the truly impressive metropolis below, we see a tear well up in his eye, the same bashed and bruised eye you can see on your screen behind me. A tear that wells up from the sadness he feels as he longs so much to hear words from his own people down there in Jerusalem – these are the heart breaking unspoken words you will now hear from the lips of our Roman Centurion – Roll it now”.

    The movie restarts and we all watch the Roman centurion looking up at Jesus and saying, “Truly this man was God’s Son”.

  21. Iona says:

    It’s a while since I looked at Quentin’s blog, and behold, it’s full of interesting questions and observations.
    Might I suggest, as biblical events very hard to take literally,
    Balaam’s ass, turning round and reproaching him in human language
    The sun standing still (I can’t remember where in the OT this is, or why it happened, though I think it had to do with a battle)
    Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt (and at the Dead Sea, there she can be seen still!).
    The extreme longevity of some of the OT characters, the most extreme being Methusaleh who was several hundred years old.
    Probably lots of others.

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