General Question

dausonlovi's avatar

Without answering with: because God wrote it or it's a divine book or that it's the truth, Why is the Bible so successful?

Asked by dausonlovi (23points) June 18th, 2009

I’m posing this question because the Bible is the world’s best seller every year. But why? Sure it’s a literary masterpiece but what else makes it so great?

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162 Answers

Qingu's avatar

Churches buy them in bulk. I don’t think anyone actually reads them, unlike traditional best sellers.

I’d also hesitate to call a book that condones rape, slavery, and genocide a “literary masterpiece.”

whitenoise's avatar

Gideon keeps restocking the ones I nick from hotel rooms to heat my house with.

Well, more sincere: Gideon and other organizations such as the church buy enourmous amounts. Besides religion plays a big role in many of people’s lives and for many of these religious people, a bible comes with that.

I am not religious and I even have three of them in the house. As literature references. (these were gifts, not stolen :-D).

susanc's avatar

Well, God didn’t write it, we know that much.
And yes, the writing is gorgeous, and we all need to be familiar with the stories or we won’t know what people are talking about when they say “lilies of the field” or “the fatted calf” or
“pearls before swine”.
But I think people also buy it to give to people they care about – think of every single Christian child who gets confirmed in the faith every year! And they buy new versions for themselves as they learn of those versions’ existence. Annnnnd…. they pass them out wherever they go as missionaries. That’s big business. What else? I now pass the torch to my jellycolleagues.

eponymoushipster's avatar

because, despite whether a person is religious or simply curious, and despite whether you believe it was God’s Word or not, there are inherent truths in the Bible, and principles which don’t change over time. And people find both comfort and direction in these things, regardless of their religion or lack thereof.

whitenoise's avatar

Inherent truths? It is not a math book. Exegesis of the bible and other religious books is very tricky and these truths are definitely not ‘unchanging’. I do not want to start a religious discusion here, but you can definitely not maintain to regard the bible’s unchanging truths as driving force.

dausonlovi's avatar

Couldn’t “do unto others as ye would have done to you” count as an unchanging truth? I thought that was the gold rule for all three of the world’s major religions….

eponymoushipster's avatar

@whitenoise don’t steal, be honest, don’t kill, more happiness in giving, act with others as you’d like them to act with you. pretty basic stuff.

** and thus begins the anti-religious flame trolls **

Ivan's avatar

Christianity spread across the entire world in its relatively early stages. Kings and emperors and popes and such pretty much forced the population to believe their religion.

whitenoise's avatar

Like I said, I do not want the discussion, But we have been, over time, with the book in hand doing the exact opposite. I will go to another threat, I feel this one is setup to provoke misery. I respect all :D

ragingloli's avatar

even those are not applicable in all situations.

eponymoushipster's avatar

@ragingloli really? so being honest and not killing people is meh, so-so? i don’t want to be around you then.

dausonlovi's avatar

Ok what I’m getting at here is the Bible mysterious? Is that what makes it so successful? Is it its teachings? Is it stories? What is about the Bible that makes it so successful?

eponymoushipster's avatar

@dausonlovi aside from the apparently “iffy” principles, i think people can see things about themselves in the accounts that are in the Bible. People are people.

ragingloli's avatar

if you think a bit, some situations should immediately jump into your mind.
e.g. lying when the gestapo asks if you are hiding jews in your basement which you do.
or killing in self defense

Milladyret's avatar

Removed my me.

eponymoushipster's avatar

** stops following **

tinyfaery's avatar

Imperialism and the destruction of native religions.

Girl_Powered's avatar

Who claims that it is the “Best Seller”? I really doubt that a claim like that can be supported. Far more Bibles are given away than sold. It is not listed in any of the book industries’ best selling lists.

willbrawn's avatar

Because it gives you the ability to learn simply, and by example from others mistakes. The ability to learn from the past and do something better is the best way to learn. Sometimes not the path most choosen though.

Judi's avatar

It offers an outline for me to live an abundant life. It reveals to me the nature of God.

noelasun's avatar

Even eliminating the religious aspects of the bible, It is a great book. Philosophy wise, epic story wise, history wise, happy story, tragic tale. It’s a wonderful way to learn more about ourselves, however much people might deny it. Who’s to deny wisdom found in The Odyssey, Confucius’s teachings, and a great many other writings?

Ivan's avatar


What does that have to do with its popularity among other people?

susanc's avatar

Perhaps Judi is offering herself up as an example of why some people read (and buy) the Bible.
This approach requires you to exercise a process, common to many humans, called “extrapolation”.
It’s not for everyone.

Ivan's avatar


I believe the question forbid us from answering in such a way.

DarkScribe's avatar

@noelasun Even eliminating the religious aspects of the bible, It is a great book

Yes it does have all the right ingredients for a best seller, maybe better as a soap opera.

Perversion, sex, violence, incest, adultery, rape, robbery, hookers, murder, evil despots, science fantasy. Maybe it should be a best seller. Just needs modernising and a some aggressive editing.

SeventhSense's avatar

It has consistently been a best seller for many years. That’s not conjecture.
There are many truths and as @susanc points out, it requires extrapolation.

There are some people who would remove myth. fantasy, poetry, imagination and art from the popular culture as well. They had nice uniforms. ~_~

Judi's avatar

@Ivan ; Others have felt the same way. I just didn’t want to say “you,” because it may not be true for you. It IS true for many.

jumpo7's avatar

Basically it is a best seller because there are a significant number of people who do believe the things within. Whether raised that way or they were persuaded later or came to believe on their own.

There are also many people who appreciate it as literature. Much the same as writings from ancient times like Homer or Socrates. It does have timeless truths that are also found in other religions as well.

They are unchanging in the sense that the person who practices them in balance will find life to be fulfilling. It does not mean you have to follow them without changing for the circumstances.

So lying to the gestapo is not necessary, you can always answer differently. “I saw those people over in the Market” (which you did the day you met them), or “do you think I would allow such people in my home” (maybe you would in fact allow such people). The gestapo will infer what they want. They may perceive you are lying if you try anyways. Especially if you are not good at it. It is not just a Christian thing to not lie.

fireside's avatar

The Bible is so widely published because a third of the world’s population are Christian.

dausonlovi's avatar

@jumpo7 That is the best answer I think I’ve gotten. The question at hand isn’t what keeps selling the Bible, but why do people keep buying and turning to it? It’s mysterious, lovely in its poetry, and filled with stories of human nature that still ring true today. There’s something about this document that contains 800,000 words in its standard English translation that keeps people coming back or brings people to pick up for the first time. The question is, what is that thing? You’ve answered quite beautifully.

Girl_Powered's avatar

@SeventhSense “It has consistently been a best seller for many years. That’s not conjecture.”

It would appear to be conjecture as no publisher lists it as even in the top two hundred. I just did a search on sales volumes. It is not even listed as the the top selling book in Christian bookshops. It is counted as the most common book in existence, but that has nothing to do with sales as many copies will be decades old.

Most bookshops only stock a few copies and they are slow moving. The question interested me enough to do an hour or so of research, both through booksellers and publishers. The New York times list all books by sales volume and does not list the Bible among top sellers.

fireside's avatar

@Girl_Powered – Check this listing

The Bible is one of the best selling books of all time, second is Mao’s little red book. That is also not on any recent lists.

noelasun's avatar

@DarkScribe if that is all the bible can be reduced to, well, I think people should read it a second time. The same description you gave could be said about any history… and though histories can indeed be reduced to a soap opera, most would agree history is far more than that.

SeventhSense's avatar

It’s not listed because it’s common knowledge. There are countless versions and only when there’s a significant new version will it be published. As per @fireside‘s Wikipedia link- 2.5 billion to more than 6 billion worldwide..

filmfann's avatar

Why is the Bible so successful? It is an encyclopedia of knowledge. It is a guide to life. It is a guide beyond life. It is our history, and our future. It is hope and love from a benevolent Creator. It is a gift you give to a child that they will always have.
I still have and use my first Bible. I got it when I was about 7. I have several now, in different translations, but I always refer first to my first one.
And I do read it, unlike a lot of bestsellers I buy, hoping to find the time to read, but never having it (I hope to eventually get to “A Team of Rivals”).

Girl_Powered's avatar


That listing does not indicate sales, it indicates possession over time. As so many Bibles are given away it becomes quite a different thing. You don’t regard sales to Gideons for instance as an indication of popularity.

I mentioned earlier that it was the most common book in existence. A best seller is usually regarded as sales of a single edition from a print series, not sales over a period of centuries.

pats04fan's avatar

Very nice question, I believe they have found a lot of truth behind it, and even though some things sound unbelievable, people love to have someone to believe in. Even atheist, even though they do not believe in a higher being, believe in something unnatural. Plus a lot of churches do buy a bulk of them like Qingu said. Now I know not all but a lot do read the bible.

BlindRadio's avatar

To clarify, the bible is the best selling book of all time, so it is not a current statistic. Secondly, more than the fact that it has been around for so long, it has been translated into more languages than any other book, which makes it easy to sell practically anywhere. Finally, although I don’t know if this can be proven, but I would imagine, that since when the Americas were colonized, and throughout the history of imperialism in recent centuries, it was the always been the first book brought,as I believe the printing press was developed in Europe. Sorry my history isn’t great.

susanc's avatar

@Ivan: You’re right, I apologize, I was very snarky, I don’t know what got into me (or, what was already in there, and jumped out and bit you for no good reason. Maybe it was the devil.)

Qingu's avatar

@filmfann, the Bible is an “encyclopedia of knowledge” in the way Uncyclopedia is. You are talking about a book that claims the earth is flat, the sky is a solid dome that holds up an ocean, and the sun orbits the earth.

It’s also interesting that you call the God of the Bible “benevolent”—he’s the only deity I’m aware of who actually commands you to commit genocide.

Speaking of commanding genocide, I guess “guide to life” is one way to characterize the book. Similarly, the Bible’s great guide to life says that virgin rape victims should marry their rapists, and that non-virgin brides should be stoned to death on the doorstep of their father’s house. I’m guessing it’s not a guide to your life (excepting, of course, the few parts of the Bible you actually agree with).

noelasun's avatar

@Qingu The whole “but the bible says the earth has four corners” thing is getting really old. It’s the same as freaking out when someone says “I was out watching the sun set”, and yelling “NO! NO you didn’t! You utterly false liar. The sun doesn’t orbit, the earth does do!”
If that is the only type of knowledge you subscribe to; well, I guess it works for you.

Try communicating, working to understand what the person is sharing with you, instead of nit picking.

I’ve been reading over to see if I’m bring rude, and I guess I am. But I’m only answering in frankness what I think the way you have in your answer.
(and, this really is in the spirit of discussion generally, I’m not out to defend the bible)

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

You’re completely delusional if you think the bible is anything less than a literary masterpiece. You don’t have to be a believer to see the obvious. The sheer volume of wisdom contained inside its pages is astounding. Men of renown in history have quoted it. Scholars have studied it endlessly. Churches have passed it out. Children have learned valuable lessons from it. We have alluded to it in our currency, our pledge of allegiance, military oaths.. sworn on it in courts. People’s lives have been changed because of it.

In short.. it is so successful because there is something to it.

sandystrachan's avatar

Hotels buy them all for people to steal .

mattbrowne's avatar

Why is the Bible so successful? There are many reasons. There’s a lot of wisdom in it, if people have the intellect to spot it. And the new testament tells the story of Jesus who inspired many great people, for example Martin Luther King and Barack Obama. Violence is a dead end.

fireside's avatar

@Girl_Powered – In order for so many copies of the Bible to have been given out, someone must have paid for them. Or do you think they are printed magically at no cost to produce and just appear on people’s shelves?

filmfann's avatar

@Qingu You said: You are talking about a book that claims the earth is flat, the sky is a solid dome that holds up an ocean, and the sun orbits the earth.
That just isn’t true. The Bible has been misrepresented to say many things, but it doesn’t actually say any of that.

Qingu's avatar

@noelasun, did I say “four corners”? I’m aware the Bible says this, but that’s one of the few instances where it’s clearly being poetic. The Genesis account of creation, on the other hand, reflects what Mesopotamians at the time thought about the shape of the world—that it is flat, that the sky is a solid dome, and that there’s water above the sky.

@filmfann, it is absolutely true. See Genesis 1. God creates a dome (hebrew “raqia”—meaning “that which is hammered out) to separate the waters above from the waters below. He sets the sun, moon, planets and stars in the raqia. The raqia is called “Sky.” Again, it’s exactly what everyone in the region believed 3,000 years ago. It’s also false.

filmfann's avatar

If I set a dish on a table, am I saying the dish is orbiting me?
Did you know the Genesis account is actually a good description of what scientists now refer to as big bang?

Qingu's avatar

@filmfann, the Hebrew word is “in” not “on.” Also, Joshua stops the moon and sun both in their orbit around the sky.

How on earth is the Genesis account a good description of the Big Bang?

dausonlovi's avatar

Holy Crap guys- I think you’re missing the point of the question. It isn’t about Statistics of the “sales of the Bible” the simple fact of the matter it is the world’s best seller and has been for years. Why? What about the book makes people come back or even develop an interest in the first place? that’s the question.

Qingu's avatar

@dausonlovi, you’re assuming people are purchasing the book because they develop an interest on their own. Churches purchase lots of Bibles and few people end up actually reading them—as evidenced by the poor understanding of the Biblical text by the majority of Christians.

Of course, there are always evangelical Christians who raise their kids to believe the Bible is the only book worth reading and to never question its truth or authority. So there’s that. In the same way, Muslims raise their kids to believe the Quran is the only book worth reading and any questioning of the Quran is blasphemy. Which probably explains why the Quran is also such a popular book.

(And there is also the fact that the Bible is central to Western civilization and literature. I don’t like the book, obviously, but I’ve purchased a Bible to study. It’s a source text.)

Judi's avatar

@sandystrachan ; The Hotels don’t buy them. A group of people called The Gideons started with a traveling salesman who spent a lot of time in hotels. He was a Christian and had a vision that every lonely person who found himself in a Hotel/Motel room would have access to scripture. He and his Christian friends began collecting money and providing Bibles to Hotels free of charge. They are now all over the world

Judi's avatar

Personally, I have probably purchased 3 Bibles in the last year, and probably purchase at least one a year anyway. One reason is because of different translations and study guides that are incorporated in the Bible. The other reason is because I have this habit of giving them away. If I happen to be in a Bible study or have my Bible out for some reason and someone says something about it like, “That’s neat. I would like to have a Bible like that,” I always give it to them. The one I loose the most is the parallel Bible that gives several different translations side by side.

noelasun's avatar

@Qingu I had rather hoped you’d address the latter part of my comment rather than the former; as it was the point I was trying to make. You can have whatever view of the bible you’d like. And whatever opinion of people who believe in it. But one persons comments on why the bible is popular is no less valid than yours. a little respect?

ragingloli's avatar

filmfann said:
“Why is the Bible so successful? It is an encyclopedia of knowledge. It is a guide to life. It is a guide beyond life. It is our history, and our future.”
He says it is successful because it is all these things.
He didn’t say “because people think it is an encyclopedia, ....” (that would have been correct)
His original claim is not as valid as others because much of the supposed knowledge in the bible has been shown to be untrue.

Qingu's avatar

@noelasun, you can believe whatever you want. That doesn’t mean you get to make unsupported or outright false claims without taking criticism.

If you can’t support your beliefs, why even bother stating them? You might as well be saying you believe that you’re Napoleon. (Which, of course, is another belief you are perfectly entitled to.)

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

because one of the biggest fears humans have is “what happens after I die” religion tells you what happens and people believe it for whatever reason…

Religion is the opiate of the Masses.

filmfann's avatar

@ragingloli If I said “people think” as you point out, it would be like saying the book is flawed. I don’t believe it is. I think people who translate it, and people who try to understand it are flawed.

SeventhSense's avatar

Pure poetry from the Song of Solomon:

Solomon’s Song of Songs Chapter 4

11 Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride;
milk and honey are under your tongue.
The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon.

12 You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride;
you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.

13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
with choice fruits,
with henna and nard,

14 nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes
and all the finest spices.

15 You are [b] a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon.

16 Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread abroad.
Let my lover come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.

DarkScribe's avatar

The problem, one of them, is that popularity is being based on copies printed. (Forget sales as it is hard to decide who bought what.) If popularity is based on the sheer number of books, then a telephone directory is more popular than the Bible, as there have been far more telephone directories printed over the past fifty years than Bibles. That can apply to set school texts, taxation guides, etc.

Numbers do not indicate popularity. Realistically, of all those Bibles in households all over the world, how many are actually read on any regular basis? My belief is that it would not be many as so few people are really familiar with the Bible – they get it wrong more often than right.

I am an atheist and I have Bibles dating back to the sixteen hundreds, as well as concordances as old. I have an original Crudens. I do read it, I know most of it very well. Most Christians in my experience never read it, they rely (if they are still Churchgoing) on the Priest’s interpretation.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@DarkScribe A phone book is not literary… not even a little bit. It cannot be compared to the bible.. not even a little bit.

Even you, a non-believer, were drawn to such a literary masterpiece as the bible. You decided to buy several. How does this not say something about the bible’s success? You won’t find me going out to buy several copies of the flying spaghetti monster’s text.

SeventhSense's avatar

^Ummmm….waiting for lurve—heathen or holy for that great poetic citation from the Bible…—^

DarkScribe's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater Even you, a non-believer, were drawn to such a literary masterpiece as the bible

Masterpiece? Hardly. Whatever merit it might have, it isn’t good from a literary point of view.

My fascination with it is regarding how so many people give any of it credence.

The God described in it is someone to shun, not laud. Why should people fear God? A truly benevolent God would not be feared. What value is there in doing something for reward or fear of punishment? None. A genuinely good person is one who does the right thing without expecting reward.

The Bible itself offers nothing, it is a tool that has been used by ambitious men for eons. If it had never existed before today, and was suddenly discovered in an archeological dig, it would br regarded with derision, not respect. There is nothing in it to demand respect. It is the basis for racial discrimination, bigotry, misogyny, superstition among many other unwelcome things.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@DarkScribe I fear your bias is taking you on a tangent off the question. We aren’t talking about your beliefs with respect to God. We’re only talking about the success of the book. And as you said… a lot of people give it credence. In your investigation of the book, what do you propose is the reason people give it credence?

As far as this statement: “What value is there in doing something for reward or fear of punishment”. I suppose you don’t have any children?

DarkScribe's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater DarkScribe I fear your bias is taking you on a tangent off the question.

My Bias? I was responding to your statement.

In your investigation of the book, what do you propose is the reason people give it credence?


As far as this statement: “What value is there in doing something for reward or fear of punishment”. I suppose you don’t have any children?

Why would you suppose that? I have five children.

Qingu's avatar

@SeventhSense, you’re holding up the Song of Solomon as a great example of poetry?

Because all women love being described as objects of sexual pleasure and compared to pieces of expensive property?

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@DarkScribe How is it you know nothing of rewards and punishment with 5 children?! Never mind.. that’s beside the point..

So… in all of your vast exploration of the bible you’ve come to conclude that believers are just gullible? You are a believer too.. in something else to be sure.. but a believer nonetheless. Isn’t there a possibility that the “non-believers” are the gullible ones?

@Qingu It was worded far better then you put it… and it is beautiful.

SeventhSense's avatar

Because all women love being described as objects of sexual pleasure and compared to pieces of expensive property?
Wrong. The poem is two lovers describing their love for each other and their deep affection. You know love, affection intimacy? Or maybe you don’t

DarkScribe's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater How is it you know nothing of rewards and punishment with 5 children?! Never mind.. that’s beside the point..

Maybe my wife and I have better parenting skills than God. I certainly would not allow a child of mine to be slaughtered if I had the power to stop it. Reward in our family was praise and encouragement, punishment on the other hand, if ever needed, was mild. None of this “stoned until death” the God is so fond of. Maybe if he had reality TV in heaven he could sentence people to sit in front of it, instead of all the stoning nonsense.

Isn’t there a possibility that the “non-believers” are the gullible ones?

No, I don’t think so. But then, if Christians are right, the intellect that makes me chuckle at all these Biblical claims, was God given. Figure it out.

As I have said before – God made me an atheist – who are you to question his wisdom?

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@DarkScribe God did not make you an atheist. That sentence alone makes no sense. You chose to become an atheist no matter how you were created or evolved.

Look, I don’t want to get off track here though. Clearly we disagree on some major things.. but it seems glaringly obvious that the bible deserves some credit.. even some credence. Enough said on my part.

DarkScribe's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater God did not make you an atheist. That sentence alone makes no sense.

You don’t really have much of a sense of humour, do you?
It was not meant to be taken seriously.

(However, if God made everything then he must have made me an atheist.)

I think that the Bible deserves an enormous amount of credit, but possibly not for the same reasons that you do. It has had more influence on humanity than any other single source, the problem is that most of that influence has been extremely negative.

By the way I did not choose to become an atheist, at no stage in my life was I placed in a position as to whether to become a Christian or not. I am an atheist simply because I cannot believe in the nonsense required to become a practising Christian. My intellect stops me. Is God not responsible for my intellect?

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@DarkScribe Ramblings aside you’ve changed your argument from the bible being less significant than a phonebook to it “deserving an enormous amount of credit”. That’s all I was hoping to get from you… admission of a truth.

DarkScribe's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater That’s all I was hoping to get from you… admission of a truth.

I have never said it had no influence, if that was so I would have no interest in it. I do not believe that it is popular. Most people who own it don’t read it.

You should practice you debating skills, it is usual to respond to what was said, not what was imagined. I did not say the it was insignificant, I said that fewer copies of it were printed than of phonebooks.

Would you like me to explain things to you? Let me know if there are any other posts that you can’t grasp and I’ll try to simplify it for you.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@DarkScribe I have no interest in debating. Nor do I have an interest in insulting other people.

DarkScribe's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater I have no interest in debating.

I believe you.

Nor do I have an interest in insulting other people.

I don’t believe you.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – You can’t support your beliefs either. Not in a scientific sense. This is why we talk about beliefs. You believe God doesn’t exist. Fine with me. I believe God exists.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@DarkScribe Wow, you got 2 lurve for that! xD Congrats.

When I say I have no interest in debating it’s because I prefer to discuss things without an agenda.. like two old friends at a coffee shop. If you want to debate, more power to you.

I don’t have any interest in insulting people. I’m sorry if you were offended by anything I typed.

Nially_Bob's avatar

I have read each reply and noticed that many have expressed the belief that the bible is ‘successful’ due to being both entertaining and an easy means of learning particular principles. Now I, by no means, disagree with this; however, nor do I believe such is the reason for the bible being as popular a book as it is.
This entire discussion reminds me of a conversation I once had with a close friend regarding the art presented at the louvre (this was a rare occasion in which we were temporarily capable of rising our degree of sophistication above fart jokes and south park references). When mention was made of the ‘Mona lisa’ portrait we both agreed that if said portrait were simply placed in any other area of the gallery (that is, not in a special area designated for it as it is) it would likely be considered just another painting. It is the status that has been attached to the piece which has led people to make additional efforts to analyse it and inadvertently get a better idea of the beauty that is expressed within, this is in spite of the fact that there are many other pieces of art which may indeed be more beautiful and mesmorising given that the same efforts were applied to them. This, I find, is analogous to the bible. There are many books (other religious books included), novels and manuscripts which can offer as much wisdom, guidance and entertainment as the christian bible, if not more, but due to the emphasis that has been placed on this book containing such traits people make additional efforts to read it and take note of them. Alongside obvious reasons relating to the size of the christian population, this, I believe, is why the bible is so popular or ‘successful’ as the question phrases it.

Nially_Bob's avatar

I’m not too certain whether I should have made a second paragraph for that comment. If not I apologise for my poor grammar :)

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, I can’t support what beliefs in a scientific sense?

My belief that God doesn’t exist? You’re going to need to be specific: which God? Zeus? Marduk? Yahweh? The Dream-King? They are clearly fictional characters. Science doesn’t even enter into the question: you don’t need science to support your belief that Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars doesn’t really exist. The burden of proof would be on the person asserting his existence, not vica-versa.

Or do you mean “God” in some vague, cosmic sense where the word’s meaning is basically indistinguishable from the universe itself?

What kind of God are you talking about when you say you “believe in God”? Because I doubt it’s anything at all like Yahweh, the God of the Bible.

Qingu's avatar

@SeventhSense, the poem portrays women as property. It characterizes love using metaphors involving pretty jewels. I don’t see any exultation of either person’s personality, or intelligence, or any sort of actual compatibility. Their “love” is based on physical appearances. One whole chapter is dedicated to complimenting Solomon’s lover’s various body parts.

I’m sure as an old-fashioned Christian you’re quite charmed by such language. Maybe you think intimacy involves poetic descriptions of titties. I think it’s banal and ignorant.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Nially_Bob First of all, excellent response.. It’s refreshing.

I suppose then that we have to expound upon why this “emphasis” was placed on the bible and the “La Gioconda”? The popularity of the Mona Lisa says something about Leonardo da Vinci. Perhaps for the bible it says something about its author(s) as well?

The other thing that strikes me is how the world’s people strive to attain popular things.. yet given time another popular thing will always supersede that item. Popular trends in clothing become outdated (who wears hammer pants anymore?). Music becomes obsolete (not a lot of people groovin to ole JB anymore ). Dance moves become archaic (The twist?).—What is it about the bible that keeps its popularity steadfast? Is it simply the subject matter (because of course the meaning of life is much more profound than “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” circa 1965)? Surely that is an element of the answer.

Why not compare things of like magnitude? What of the texts of other religions? How do they fare in this scale? What similar items exist in these texts? Does the bible still fare well amongst the most popular comparable literary works? If, peradventure, it does indeed fare amongst the top 3… does that not warrant further investigation? Are the texts of Islam in the top 3 (being that they probably rank 2nd in the world as far as number of adherents)?

Why was the bible translated into nearly 3000 languages? Were other literary works translated as such?

World sales of the bible are somewhere near 100 million per year. Christian’s aren’t the only ones buying it. Why are others buying it?

I apologize for all the questions/etc… you just piqued my interrogative nature and I let it spill out here. xD

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – The God not responsible or responsible for the meta-phenomenon of existence itself which led to natural phenomena for us to observe and explain. It’s also called the atheistic or theistic interpretation of the universe/multiverse. Both interpretations are beliefs. They are not scientific facts. Science has limits. Heck, even math has limits.

SeventhSense's avatar

Again you have no idea what you are talking about and you just show your prejudice, bias and complete troll nature. Tghis is only one chapter of the poem. As much of the poem is a women describing her male lover as a male describing his female lover. And the nature of their love is intimate, sensual and full of metaphorical descriptions of their affection for each other. And yes they describe it in a sensual way. Using your PC terms like women as property and the like you try to portray that you have a noble position. You of course are only using that as a convenient argument against the “Abrahamic religions” to promote your bias as always. I do not consider myself a member of any religion so before you point that out as a sticking point to hide your cantankerous argument behind, realize that I’m not on the other side of the fence but all around you.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, defining “God” that way has nothing to do with the characters populating religious texts. My belief in an atheistic self-causal universe would fall under your definition of “God.”

I’m assuming you don’t believe in a God who made humans out of clay and ordered slavery and genocide, yes?

Qingu's avatar

@SeventhSense, I’m prejudiced, biased, and a complete troll because I think an ancient poem, written by a culture that believed women were property… comes off as archaic and portraying women as property?

The affection and “love” the Song of Solomon celebrates is shallow. Feel free to point to a verse that admires something about either character that is non-physical.

Ruthi's avatar

I think the bible is so successful simply because it’s based on principles and people we can still relate to today. I for one love the Psalms which are true poetry. Since I’m very appreciative of nature, I love reading the Psalms that praise God through describing nature. I think the real reason why so many Christians find comfort in the bible is because it offers them opportunities to identify with different and personalized aspects of the religion they believe in.

I couldn’t vouch for non-believers…never been there myself

Maybe it’s time us believers started admitting we’re all archaic in our beliefs ;D

SeventhSense's avatar

Far from shallow it is actually the deepest love possible.It’s very difficult to express to one who is a literalist, but since you show some interest then perhaps you can go a little deeper to it’s real intent which has nothing to do with it’s surface appearance.Not that there’s anything wrong with that or is there anything shameful about the body or sexuality,but it has a greater message.

One could expound for years on this chapter as well as any chapter in the Bible, so full of meaning is contained within it but I will take only the first line from above and then a line where “she” speaks.
The first line:
Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride;milk and honey are under your tongue.
The power of the word is in the tongue, her sweet words. Do you think this refers to the fact that her saliva is dripping honey? It’s called METAPHOR. Consider that nothing in the Bible can be taken out of context but must be cross referenced with many other verses:
Job 20:12
Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, Though he hide it under his tongue

Psalm 10:7
His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression: Under his tongue is mischief and iniquity
Psalm 12:4
Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; Our lips are our own: who is lord over us?

The fact of the matter is that this is an actual prophecy and a foretelling of the body of Christ (humanity) being the bride of Christ-the groom.

Matthew 9:15
And Jesus said unto them, Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then will they fast.

Matthew 25:5
Now while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

So this is an example of one who pleases another by their words which utter truth.

Now consider this “she” says
Song of Solomon
Chapter 5
His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh. 14 His arms are rounded gold, set with jewels. His body is ivory work, encrusted with sapphires.
Is this an ordinary man?
15 His legs are alabaster columns, set upon bases of gold.

Revalation 1:15
Speaking of the Messiah
..his feet were like burnished bronze

This is no ordinary man with “feet of clay”. His love is fixed, permanent and unwavering.
His lips are lilies distilling liquid myrrh Myrrh in biblical times was a healing salve as was it an anointing oil. Jesus is the “Lily of the Valley”. So his lips drip healing? Again metaphor for the great physician/Messiah/Healer.
The anointed and the anointer are in a rapturous love affair.
God and man/woman in infinite embrace.

Qingu's avatar


In six chapters of poetry, that’s the best you can come up with to show this love isn’t merely physical? Honey-sweet lips are actually a metaphor for words? Jeweled body means commitment?

It’s funny how the Bible is the only book that gets to be interpreted so… I’m tempted to say dishonestly, but I’ll just say loosely. Far be it that you should acknowledge the Bible is a product of the archaic culture that wrote it.

(Also, why on earth are you bringing in imagery from Matthew and Revelation, Greek texts written hundreds of years after the Hebrew Song, to interpret the poem? That’s like interpreting Shakespeare by referring to verses from the Beatles. Or verses from J-Pop.)

SeventhSense's avatar

How do you feel about the Tao Te Ching, Kama Sutra, Baghvad a Gita? All holy books coalesce into one body to the awakened mind. To the discursive mind all is divided and suspect bound by the constraints of the sense driven nature.

fireside's avatar

Poor Qingu, stuck in the mud and all there is left to do is to shout at passers-by about the quagmire near the road.
It should be a parable…

Qingu's avatar

I haven’t read the Tao.

I’m only vaguely familiar with the Kama Sutra.

I have strong feelings about the Baghavad Gita. I think it is important to put this text in its broader context in the Mahabharata. It is a conversation between the warrior Arjuna and the god Krishna, who is in the guise of a charioteer—basically a bunch of seemingly sage advice about duty and the nature of reality. But the context of this text is that Krishna is trying to convince Arjuna to go to war against his whole family, killing them, in a battle that really should not be fought in the first place. The moral of the story is basically blind obedience to predetermined duty; Arjuna is encouraged not to question the broader implications or need for his actions, but rather just embrace his “dharma.” Dharma, of course, being determined by the brahmins who wrote the text, and/or the kshatriyas who commissioned it. I think it’s a classic example of a perverted authoritarian religious moral.

That said—just so you don’t think I hate all religious texts—I think my favorite religious text of all time comes from an earlier Hindu tradition, the Rig Veda’s creation hymn:

Whence this creation has arisen?
Perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not…
The One who looks down on it,
in the highest heaven, only He knows
or perhaps He does not know.

Qingu's avatar

Also, @SeventhSense, define “holy book.” Is the Code of Hamurabi a holy book? Like the Bible, the Code claims to have been handed down from gods.

What about the Epic of Gilgamesh? Or the Iliad and the Odyssey? Today most people would call these “myths” because their gods have fallen out of favor, unlike the gods of so-called “holy books.”

What about purely philosophical works, like those of Plato and Aristotle? Or Newton’s Principia? (Incidentally, Edmund Haley’s introduction to the Principia compares Newton to Moses and claims the work “storms heaven” and “unlocks the banquet-halls of the gods.”)

What about Battlefield Earth?

My position is simple: I don’t think there is such a thing as a holy book. All books are written by human beings. Books are just crystalized memes. Some are better at replicating themselves than others.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – I’m always amazed how highly intelligent atheists have trouble grasping the concept of metaphors. Do atheists really swallow their pride literally? If so, please let me know how it tastes and feel free to share the recipe. I love spicy food.

If God created the universe and its laws, you can in a sense deduce that humans were made from clay. It’s a metaphor representing a remarkable transformation: life has arisen from inanimate matter. Today scientists would point to autocatalysis, the iron-sulfur world theory or the RNA world hypothesis. In fact, clay theory (consider the irony!) postulates that complex organic molecules arose gradually on a pre-existing, non-organic replication platform—silicate crystals in solution. Complexity in companion molecules developed as a function of selection pressures on types of clay crystal is then exapted to serve the replication of organic molecules independently of their silicate launch stage. The model was explored by several scientists, including Richard Dawkins. Here’s a link

ragingloli's avatar

I find it more amazing that many modern christians regard the creation myth as a metaphor, when the actual authors most probably regarded it as literally true.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, as @ragingloli put it, why on earth would you interpret this as a metaphor? Lots of Mesopotamian myths portray gods creating humans from clay. Do you think ancient Babylonians and Hebrews actually knew about clay peptides and simply used the language of clay statues as an illustrative metaphor?

Similarly, the ancient Hebrews—like everyone else at the time—actually believed the sun revolved around the earth. They actually believed the sky was a solid dome. These aren’t “metaphors.” They are earnest attempts by pre-scientific people to explain the state of reality.

And they even make sense if you think about them as if you were a pre-scientific desert nomad. Obviously the sun revolves around the earth—why would you think otherwise? Obviously the sky is solid and holds up an ocean above it. It’s blue, like large bodies of water, and rain falls from it. Obviously humans were created from clay, which has a fleshlike consistency. Also, statues are made from clay—kings erect statues in foreign lands “in their image” as an indicator of their reign. That’s exactly what Genesis says God does with humans.

Judging from contemporary Mesopotamian texts, these were all extremely common beliefs in the time the Bible was written. I think it’s absurd, and dishonest, to claim that the authors and audience of this culture actually intended such texts as metaphors for concepts that no human would understand for thousands of years.

SeventhSense's avatar

Supposition based on modern prejudice. All is subjective and that matters little to its efficacy today regardless. As if any knows the actual origins of the universe- Big Bang or otherwise.
I think the definition of a holy book is one that is so far beyond the normal thought processes of one person and has such multiplicity and interconnected thought to be beyond human reason. You presume that we live in a material world that governs our actions and is our ultimate decider. Nothing more than mental constructs and agreements. Name one thing you know for sure not based on a mental concept, shared mental concept or imagined mental concept.
Whence this creation has arisen?Perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not…The One who looks down on it,in the highest heaven, only He knows or perhaps He does not know.
This is a perfect example. It leaves all thought and decision to the individual, which is exactly what all holy books do.

When I read the Bhagavad-Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous.
~Albert Einstein

P.S.- The elements within the human body are the exact same elements found within soil or clay.

Qingu's avatar

@SeventhSense, I’ll bite. What in the Bible—or any “holy book” of your choosing—“goes beyond human reason”?

ragingloli's avatar

“I think the definition of a holy book is one that is so far beyond the normal thought processes of one person and has such multiplicity and interconnected thought to be beyond human reason.”

then there is no book that fits that description

SeventhSense's avatar

The interconnectedness, the thought, the connections, that perfectly jibe with each other over thousands of years of writing even with multiple disparate writers if one dissects it. One could expound on passages and pore over their intent for days and there are Orthodox jews who do just that.
From the perspective of modern day reader it has a flavor that is seen in context of a modern day prejudice as much as it’s interpreting a past ignorance. Allow space in our conclusions, because they never end.
That’s all I say.

Now I’m going out to enjoy this fine day before it starts raining again here in NY. It’s been raining for weeks…
God doesn’t want the US Open to go well apparently..~_~

mattbrowne's avatar

I can’t agree @ragingloli

From Wikipedia: Poetry as an art form may predate literacy. Many ancient works, from the Indian Vedas (1700–1200 BC) and Zoroaster’s Gathas (1200–900 BC) to the Odyssey (800–675 BC), appear to have been composed in poetic form to aid memorization and oral transmission, in prehistoric and ancient societies. Poetry appears among the earliest records of most literate cultures, with poetic fragments found on early monoliths, runestones and stelae. The oldest surviving poem is the Epic of Gilgamesh, from the 3rd millennium BC in Sumer (in Mesopotamia, now Iraq), which was written in cuneiform script on clay tablets and, later, papyrus. Other ancient epic poetry includes the Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey, the Old Iranian books the Gathic Avesta and Yasna, the Roman national epic, Virgil’s Aeneid, and the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.

I think you’re underestimating the authors of the bible and other ancient texts. Working with metaphors does not require particle accelerators or space telescopes.

ragingloli's avatar

Perhaps not, but it DOES require scientific instruments and methods to have autocatalysis, the iron-sulfur world theory, RNA world hypothesis, or clay theory to which the metaphor can point to. If the authors did not know any of the above hypotheses/theories, and it is almost certain that they did not, the metaphor can not point towards any of these.
You need to have A1, A2, A3, etc., known by the author, for which A can be a metaphor for, or show that A is not meant literally, before you can reasonably postulate that A is a metaphor.

Qingu's avatar

@SeventhSense, I asked for an example, not a restatement of your unsupported claim.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, just because something is “poetry” doesn’t mean everything in it is a metaphor.

It certainly doesn’t mean that passages dealing with widely-held, factually incorrect ancient beliefs are actually metaphors for modern ideas about abiogenesis.

SeventhSense's avatar

It was lovely to take a walk in the forest. I hope you enjoyed your day.

markce's avatar

I studied the Bible at a secular university (Sheffield England) and was taught by professors: some christians, some agnostics and at least one atheist. All of them were very intelligent people and all of them were fascinated by the Bible.

The Bible is an extremely unusual book. Actually it’s more of a library (the word “bible” simply means “books”) – a collection of writings coming from least 2,000 years in the life of an ancient culture. It was written in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek). It contains religious writings and laws, yes. Also stories, poems, philosophy, history, private letters – and other types of literature that we don’t have equivalents for today such as “wisdom literature”, “apocalytpic”, “gospel”.

Because it is the full, warts and all, story of the birth and tribulations of a nation (the Jewish people), it contains its fair share of blood and guts. There’s even a 117-line poem about sex.

Most significantly it contains the 4 gospels, accounts of the life of one of the most significant figures in history (right up there with Buddha, Gandhi and Barack Obama); Jesus.

The Bible is a best-seller because, yes, it’s bought in bulk; many people have more than one copy; it has been translated into so many languages and versions.

(Interestingly it has also flourished in countries where it is illegal to own a copy of the Bible, where you can be imprisoned or even executed for distributing Bibles.)

A lot of stupid claims have been made about the Bible, like “every word is historically true” (how can a song be “historically true”?) – or taking lines from the Bible out of context and saying people should obey them now.

But on the other hand, many people who read the Bible experience peace, find wisdom for their lives, even would say they have met Jesus personally. Does this make them better than anyone else? No. Does it make them better and happier than they were? Oh yes.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – I said the clay metaphor points to the transformation of inanimate matter into life. The ancient authors assumed that in the history of the world inanimate matter came first

“the earth was formless and empty”

and life came later

“let the land produce vegetation”
“let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth”
“made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds”
“created man in his own image… male and female he created them”

What I also said was that today’s scientists would be more specific what the clay metaphor refers to, like iron-sulfur world theory.

@Qingu – Yes, just because something is “poetry” doesn’t mean everything in it is a metaphor. Sometimes poetry uses metaphors, sometimes it does not. But since poetry is an ancient human undertaking it’s reasonable to assume ancient humans were also using metaphors occasionally.

It wasn’t a factually incorrect ancient belief that inanimate matter came first and life came later. It was incorrect to believe that God made the sun during the fourth step (fourth day metaphor) after the third step and of course we find other details in Genesis that are not correct in a scientific sense. It doesn’t really matter. It does matter to me though when religious fundamentalists (or some atheists for that matter) think ancient people were not able or did not use metaphors and everything in the bible should be taken literally.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, the problem with your argument is that you are completely ignoring the context of the culture that produced this book.

People in the ancient near east were pre-scientific. They believed the earth was flat. They believed the sun revolved around the earth. They believed an ocean existed above the sky, and below the ground. They had little knowledge of biology or chemistry. Numerous Sumerian, Babylonian, and Akkadian texts portray humans as being shaped from clay by gods.

There is simply no reason to think that either the author or the audience of any of these texts thought such passages were actually metaphors for something else. A major function of stories we call “myths” today was to explain physical phenomena. Just because a myth is factually incorrect does not mean it should be interpreted as a metaphor.

Now, you are right to say that not every element of such ancient myths are factually incorrect. ANE people did not believe in creation ex-nihilo; they believed that matter has always existed and life (and gods) emerged from chaos (often portrayed as the sea). In a loose sense, this idea of emergence turns out to be correct. However, this has nothing to do with metaphors, nor is it a reason to assume that any part of this text is intended as metaphor. Some elements of Aristotle’s cosmology have also turned out to be consistent with modern scientific thought—that doesn’t mean Aristotle’s cosmology is intended to be read metaphorically. It clearly isn’t, and neither is the Bible’s creation myth.

ragingloli's avatar

I did not say that everything in the bible should be taken literally.
What I am saying is that something should not be regarded as a metaphor for something when there is no reasonably probable grounds to do so.

“What I also said was that today’s scientists would be more specific what the clay metaphor refers to, like iron-sulfur world theory.”

They would be if they were the actual authors of the clay story. But since they were not the authors and the actual authors did not know the iron sulfur world theory and the like, then the clay story can not be a metaphor for any of these.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, Eratosthenes who lived before the people who wrote the New Testament came up with a pretty number for circumference of the Earth which he believed was a sphere. Quite scientific compared to modern day atheists who associate bad luck with Friday the 13th and are terrified when they break a mirror, or American architects who design skyscrapers omitting the 13th floor. I don’t see any clear boundary between a pre-scientific and a scientific world.

Referring to the transformation from inanimate matter to life does not require advanced scientific knowledge. Maybe some people passing on oral traditions about clay shaping took it literally, but I’m convinced that other people had a more metaphoric perception of the clay shaping. The concept of metaphors existed at the time. You see, Sigmund Freud created certain concepts and invented names for it and today we might use different names based on new finding in the field of neurobiology. Does it make sense to call Freud pre-scientific and say all his views are a myth? Some of his findings are indeed incorrect while others are not.

I think it makes a lot of sense to interpret parts of the bible metaphorically. If you don’t, you end up with organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church which is a hate group or folks promoting young earth creationism. And personally I’m convinced that many parts of the bible use the power of metaphors and that this was the intention of (some of) the authors. Of course not in every case. So what. To me incorrect statements in the bible from a modern day scientific view do not nullify the value of the books and its hidden treasures. I also find it a pity when the view of the bible is restricted to paragraphs dealing with murder and genocide. Limited view. But this is everyone’s right.

@ragingloli – I see reasonably probable grounds to do so. You don’t. That’s okay. Let’s agree that we disagree.

ragingloli's avatar

“Quite scientific compared to modern day atheists who associate bad luck with Friday the 13th”
I don’t know where you got that from, but I know of no atheist that buys into these superstitions.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, yeah, a select few extremely intelligent ancient Greek philosophers have a more scientific mindset than many Americans. I’m not really sure how this applies to our discussion. Actually it seems to contradict your point—the ancient Greeks, writing only a few centuries after the ancient Hebrews, figured out the earth was round, the distance to the sun, developed a rudimentary theory of atoms, and a few of them even figured out heliocentrism. They weren’t writing in metaphors. Neither were their contemporaries who had ideas that turned out to be incorrect. And neither were the Hebrews (at least, in the case of Genesis’ cosmology), who also had ideas that turned out to be incorrect.

The fact that the Hebrew creation story bears some vague resemblance to modern scientific ideas about abiogenesis has nothing to do with its status as a metaphor. Modern abiogenesis also bears some vague resemblance to the ancient theory of spontaneous generation. The proponents of that theory were not writing/speaking in metaphor.

Freud did have some correct ideas. He also had some bad, non-scientific ideas. And they weren’t metaphors.

Bottom line: I’m not even sure at this point that you know what the word “metaphor” means. You seem to be invoking the word as if it means “not literally true.” A metaphor is an idea that stands for another idea that an author has in mind. The fact that metaphors existed at the time of writing the Bible does not mean that every incorrect statement in the Bible is a metaphor.

And I don’t even know how to respond to your assertion that the only alternative to taking the Bible metaphorically is to end up like the Westboro Baptist church. You are aware that atheists exist, yes? You know, people who interpret the Bible like any other ancient text—as reflecting the values and beliefs of the culture that wrote it—without buying into the idea that the book is a magical, diety-inspired basis for reality and living one’s life?

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

after reading everyone’s comments it seems the big boundry between you guys is this.

When Matt refers to people forming from clay, I don’t think he’s referring to pre scientific believers saying people were made from clay specifically, but he’s referring to the notion that they understood that life had to originate from something inanimate, yes Qinqu they may or may not have thought it was from clay specifically, but Matt is simply referring to the realization that something living must have came from something with out life.

That said this is one of the largest arguments purely about semantics that I’ve seen in my time here on Fluther and I highly suggest you guys just give it a rest for your own sanity :).

Qingu's avatar

But even that’s sort of a disingenuous comparison. The point of the Genesis creation myth is that a deity actually sat down and crafted living things out of nonlife. The point of abiogenesis is that life emerged from nonlife by natural processes—no creator necessary. Most cultures believed living things were created from nonliving matter; the Bible is run-of-the-mill in that regard.

And also, for the record, the clay surface hypothesis for the origin of life is highly controversial!

ABoyNamedBoobs03's avatar

no one listens to someone named ‘Boobs’.....

SeventhSense's avatar

People in the ancient near east were pre-scientific. They believed the earth was flat. They believed the sun revolved around the earth. They believed an ocean existed above the sky, and below the ground. They had little knowledge of biology or chemistry. Numerous Sumerian, Babylonian, and Akkadian texts portray humans as being shaped from clay by gods.
The assumption that this made them less intelligent is not plausible. Many people have little knowledge of science today and we still have scant knowledge of the known universe. It does not mean we don’t have highly complex minds capable of infinite possibility nor did ancient man.

By the same token shall we assume that the ancient Egyptians had little knowledge of physics or mathematics because they held beliefs about Jackal headed gods and trips to the afterlife. These mental constructs formed their world. In a retelling of history from your perspective shall we assume they were wrong and you are right? By what authority?

In much the same way many hold holy books like the bible in high regard and use them to form succesful and working models of their own universe. So these ancient people were ignorant of some scientific principles which we have collectively agreed upon. So what?

DarkScribe's avatar

@SeventhSense By the same token shall we assume that the ancient Egyptians had little knowledge of physics or mathematics because they held beliefs about Jackal headed gods and trips to the afterlife

They knew one thing that modern man doesn’t. How to built pyramids without heavy machinery.

SeventhSense's avatar

Exactly and many other things we still don’t understand.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ABoyNamedBoobs03 – Yes, that was my point exactly.

@SeventhSense – Indeed. My point also was that 2000, 3000, or 5000 years ago there were intelligent people, not so intelligent people, people capable of creating metaphors, people not capable of creating metaphors, people capable of basic scientific thinking (with the tools available at the time), and people not capable of basic scientific thinking.

Before the big bang theory became widespread, many of our greatest scientific minds assumed our universe to be eternal. Ancient people wrote in the bible: there was a beginning. So even if we view their period as a pre-scientific time, this does not mean they got everything wrong.

@Qingu – You said, the point of the Genesis creation myth is that a deity actually sat down and crafted living things out of nonlife. Well, I’m not sure where you derive the “actually sat down” part from, but the “crafted” part is not in contradiction with modern science. Yes, I too believe that life emerged from nonlife by natural processes. Our world views differ when we ask who created and who sustains the natural processes. I believe in an intelligent origin of the universe. God created the universe (maybe the multiverse) and is responsible that for the way it works. This was his craft. Once the process was underway no magic wands are involved any more. The natural processes are natural. There was abiogenesis. There was evolution. And here we are, human minds spending time on Fluther, enjoying the discussion. At least I do ;-)

ragingloli's avatar

“Many people have little knowledge of science today and we still have scant knowledge of the known universe.”
Yes and many people today believe that genesis is literally true, despite the widespread knowledge that it isn’t. Now extrapolate that on a time where this widespread knowledge was not available, and this number will naturally increase a lot.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – The number of superstitious atheists goes into the millions. Actually, the vast majority of Christians worldwide doesn’t take the bible literally, but they are far less vocal about it. Creationism for example is virtually non-existent in Europe.

Qingu's avatar

@SeventhSense, I didn’t say they were “less intelligent,” I said they were “pre-scientific.” Don’t put words in my mouth, dude.

In answer to your “so what” question—the fact that they were ignorant of the actual state of the world (note that “ignorant” doesn’t mean “unintelligent,” it means “unaware”) means that we shouldn’t dishonestly interpret their texts as if they were not.

@DarkScribe, we do know how to build pyramids without heavy machinery. Levers and lots of slave labor.

@mattbrowne, a deity crafting life from nonlife is in contradiction to modern science. It is in contradiction to your next sentence. The concept of emergence, of layers of complexity arising naturally from more fundamental layers, is in direct contradiction to the concept of creation, or “crafting.” You apparently believe in some sort of clockmaker deity who set up the laws of the universe and sits back and watches it unfold—fine, whatever. This isn’t a deity who “crafts” life from nonlife. (It also bears no resemblance in any sense to the deity of the Bible.)

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – There’s no contradiction if you read my comment carefully. The divine creator crafted the orderly biophilic universe which eventually provided the natural conditions for the remarkable transformation from inanimate matter to life. This world view is called the theistic interpretation of the universe. People like Dawkins might call this world view (and everything related to religion) ridiculous, but many atheists are actually shocked by Dawkins’s aggressive rhetoric. Why can’t we just agree that you and I have different world views? I would never say that your world view is ridiculous.

The failure to recognize the resemblance in any sense to the deity of the Bible comes from an infantile and literal interpretation of the Bible. As I said before, some people who contributed to the Bible (either by passing along oral traditions or by the actual writing) were intelligent, analytical, capable of abstract thinking, and made elaborate use of metaphors to make it easier for everyone to understand i.e. to reach a larger audience.

How many people today understand quantum mechanics? A minority I guess. But scientists are interested getting some of their core messages across and reach a larger audience. How can this be done? Well, for example by inventing a metaphor:

God does play dice with the universe

Now a scientist who believes in God, does he or she really think God is sitting at a galactic table throwing dice to tell electrons how to behave? No, they use the metaphor to enable more people to understand the basic principles of quantum mechanics.

The same was true many thousand years ago. There were intelligent and educated people who knew that God would not sit at a table and take a lump of clay and start shaping living beings. As @ABoyNamedBoobs03 said, they came to the realization that something living must have came from something without life. But how could they reach a larger audience to get their message across?

I wonder how I can get my message across for @Qingu and @ragingloli to understand. Maybe I haven’t found the right metaphor yet ;-)

ragingloli's avatar

There is a huge and massive difference in complexity between quantum mechanics and “something living must have come from something without life”.
In fact, the latter is so simple that it doesn’t need a metaphor to simplify it. the clay metaphor actually makes it more complicated

“There were intelligent and educated people who knew that God would not sit at a table and take a lump of clay and start shaping living beings.”
Sure. But were they the ones who wrote genesis? I doubt it.
I doubt that the religious status quo would even have allowed any influence on the religious teachings.

“The same was true many thousand years ago.”
No. In regards to the origins of the universe, the world, and life, they did not have anything complex enough to warrant a metaphor.

“As I said before, some people who contributed to the Bible (either by passing along oral traditions or by the actual writing) were intelligent, analytical, capable of abstract thinking, and made elaborate use of metaphors to make it easier for everyone to understand i.e. to reach a larger audience.”

Being an intelligent, analytical person capable of abstract thinking is by no means a guarantee to not believe a literal interpretation of genesis. History is full of brilliant people who believed that genesis is literally true.

SeventhSense's avatar

It’s all just supposition. Framing the past within the context of the present makes little sense, but nevertheless we do it all the time. We are in a constant state of Hegallian dialectic(for lack of a better term) with the past and nothing is fixed and permanent.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – Abiogenesis is as complex as quantum physics. In fact, today we know more about the latter. It’s by no means obvious that ‘something living must have come from something without life’. Before the big bang theory many scientists believed in an eternal universe. Why not assume life always existed? I’m sure 3000 years ago some people would have thought so. Yet the people who wrote Genesis assumed a lifeless time before life and that fish came first and humans came later. Yes, history is full of brilliant people who believed that Genesis is literally true, but from that you can’t conclude that the original authors of Genesis did not use metaphors. Like Eratosthenes they could have been ahead of their time. They might even had more sophisticated ideas, but were aware that common people would not understand them. Therefore they used metaphors. Actually I believe the use of metaphors is much older, maybe 10000 or 20000 years. They became part of oral traditions. The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in France features cave paintings even older than that. The human brain craves for visualization. Pictures are powerful. God does “play dice with the universe” is much easier to memorize than the “collapse of the wavefunction” or that “position and momentum cannot both be known to arbitrary precision”.

ragingloli's avatar

“Abiogenesis is as complex as quantum physics”
Yes, but again you are forgetting that the ancient people had no theories about abiogenesis that come even close to anything in modern science in terms of complexity.

“but from that you can’t conclude that the original authors of Genesis did not use metaphors.”
Yes, but in the same way, you can not conclude that they did.

“God does “play dice with the universe” is much easier to memorize than the “collapse of the wavefunction” ”

And “God formed humans out of clay” is much easier to memorize than… what exactly? What complex idea from ancient times about the origin of life is this supposed metaphor standing for?

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, again, your clockmaker deity bears just as much resemblance to Yahweh of the Bible as he does to Allah of the Quran, or to Vishnu of the Mahabharata, or to Prajapati of the Rig Veda, or to Marduk of the Enuma Elish. Any deity—stripped of all personality traits and interactions with human beings described in religious texts that assert their existence, as you have done with Yahweh—could just as easily be your clockmaker deity.

You called my method of interpreting the Bible “infantile.” I’m curious if you think the prevailing interpretation of Greek or Mesopotamian myths is “infantile.” When I look at a text, I assume that the words in it actually mean things. I also try to understand the culture that produced the text and the audience that first read it.

This is how most scholars seek to understand ancient texts. You certainly don’t see any scholars arguing that the Athena’s divine interference in the Trojan War in the Iliad is actually a “metaphor” for modern psy-ops techniques. That would be infantile.

Qingu's avatar

Also, when you say “you can’t conclude that the original authors of Genesis did not use metaphors,” you’re asking us to prove a negative, which is nonsense.

The original authors of Genesis lived in ancient Mesopotamia. Nobody at the time, in the region, knew anything about modern biology. Nobody knew the earth was round, or the sun was the center of the solar system. So, when we read stuff we wrote, we have two options:

1. Interpret it in the context of their culture.
2. Make shit up about how their writing is actually a metaphor for something there is zero evidence they knew anything about.

I choose 1.

Ivan's avatar

“you’re asking us to prove a negative, which is nonsense.”

What he’s doing is shifting the burden of proof, which is still nonsense, but for a different reason.

Qingu's avatar

And finally, please spare us the pedantic explanations for what metaphors are. That is so not the issue and you know it. (Or I certainly hope you know it.)

mattbrowne's avatar

@ragingloli – I can’t prove that the people who contributed to Genesis (not only the authors but also the previous receivers of oral traditions) used metaphors, but from a scientific point of view there’s a lot of evidence that the use of metaphors has existed for many thousand years. There have always been more or less intelligent people. There have always been individuals who were ahead of their time and they had to find ways to communicate their views to a broader audience. It is therefore highly likely that metaphors were used before and at the time of the writing of Genesis (and other parts of the Bible).

It’s my opinion that the human being(s) who invented the ‘God formed humans out of clay’ metaphor was very much aware that the process of transforming inanimate matter to life must be complex. Maybe he or she imagined five steps (as an example the ancient Greek imagined five classical elements Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Aether) and used clay as the basis for the five steps but communicated only the clay shaping as such for people to understand. Of course this is speculation, but again, the use of metaphors when trying to explain the world is very likely. It’s perfectly legitimate to interpret the bible on the assumption that it contains metaphors. If you choose to interpret everything literally, so be it.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – Unlike @Ivan you don’t seem to be aware that your statement “proving a negative, which is nonsense” is nonsense. I will end this discussion here. Words like ‘spare me’ and ‘shit’ are a clear sign this is getting out of hand. There are enough nice atheists around (who don’t fall into the Dawkins trap of resorting to aggressive polemics) and I can have a stimulating and civilized discussion with them and I have a chance to learn something. This is why I like debates. I like to learn. Despite the moderated approach of Fluther (which I appreciate) some debates can still get out of hand.

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, I’m sorry you took my caustic writing style the wrong way. I’d hate for it to be a barrier to an actual discussion. I’d be glad to tone down my, well, tone, if it means you’ll continue to participate. :)

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – I would welcome this very much!

Qingu's avatar

So let me try to restate my beef with you less confrontationally.

Basically, I see a huge disconnect between your claim (that the Hebrews thought of creation from clay as a metaphor) and your support (that ancient people used metaphors.) The existence of ancient metaphors in no way means that every unscientific idea in ancient texts is metaphorical.

The problem as I see it is quite simply that there is no indication, from the text itself or the ancient cultural context that surrounds the Hebrew Bible, that this particular passage is metaphorical.

You brought up the philosophical Greek idea of the four/five elements. This is unscientific. However, I don’t think you would argue that Aristotle was speaking of earth, fire, air, water, and aether metaphorically. In the context of his other writings, this idea seems like an earnest attempt by Aristotle to describe reality. I don’t even think you can honestly say that Aristotle was trying to simplify something he knew to be more complex.

Similarly, almost every ancient myth (including the Bible) portrays a geocentric universe. This isn’t a metaphor, or a simplification of something people knew to be more complex. This is simply what everyone at the time believed about reality. So, despite the existence of other metaphors in the Iliad or the Bible or the Quran, passages that describe the sun orbiting the earth ought to be understood plainly. The Iliad describes a river that encircles the Earth. The ancient (pre-philosophy) Greeks believed this was literally true.

To return to creation from clay, another problem with your method of interpretation is that you may be unfamiliar with just how common the “humans-from-clay” story was in the ancient near east. It is mentioned in several Babylonian myths (including the Atrahasis myth that describes an almost identical flood to the one in Genesis). The Hebrews drew much of their ideas about cosmogony—about the shape of the natural world—from the Babylonian/Mesopotamian culture that they “grew up in.” I think it’s abundantly clear, from studying these other myths, that this broader culture thought quite plainly that humans were made from clay. (This idea actually survived for hundreds of years—Muslims for centuries and still today believe humans come from clay, djinn from fire, and beasts from water, just as the Quran plainly describes).

You are arguing that when the Hebrews wrote this, they meant something else, or at least something more complex. But there is simply no evidence that this is the case. The Hebrews did not appear to know about any alternatives for the origin of life. Their general philosophy—like Aristotle’s—was simple, consisting of simple explanations for complex phenomena, and there is no indication that they understood those explanations to be oversimplified approximations.

In short: I think you are actually doing a disservice to the text when you try to force a metaphorical reading. It means ignoring the incredibly rich cultural context that goes along with it, and it largely seems motivated by a desire to believe the Biblical myth is somehow relevant to modern science.

mattbrowne's avatar

Maybe here’s the reason for our misunderstanding: I don’t require a full scientific understanding to feel the need to create metaphors. The ancient Hebrews did not have the tools available in modern times. But this does not mean they were not capable of some basic forms of scientific observations and thinking in particular a few influential people who were ahead of their time (like Eratosthenes when conducting his stick and shadow measurement experiments).

Let’s take the origin of human beings. The ‘intellectuals’ at the time asked themselves where human beings come from. Mother and father. Grandparents. Great-grandparents and so forth. What does this mean? Do human beings have a common ancestor? Was there a time before human beings with animals only? Only fish and no humans? Comparing what fish and humans can do, they figured humans are more complex and came later. Was there a time when there was only one gender? It probably seemed logical to some of the intellectuals at the times. They could all see sperm and saw a correlation to women getting pregnant. They asked themselves how does this all fit into the bigger picture.

In the communities people turned to the elders to ask for their advice and wisdom (it’s actually an evolutionary reason why humans are capable of reaching old age, see ‘grandmother hypothesis’). So even without a full scientific understanding, wise people had to come up with a way to explain their thinking to a broader audience. It’s my opinion that this was done quite differently from community to community. And what happened can really be seen as a kind of evolutionary process itself.

Which stories survived from generation to generation? I think the most powerful ones and the ones people were able to remember. They survived by the same mechanism in use today: powerful pictures and metaphors. God does play dice with the universe survived many decades because it’s so powerful. The Hebrew intellectual thinkers and storytellers knew they needed to translate their thinking into something people could understand. This does not mean that their level of scientific thinking was on the same level as it is today. Yes, even most intellectuals in Mesopotamia thought the Earth to be flat. They turned out to be wrong. But from that we can’t discount the possibility that many parts of the Old Testament purposefully included metaphors to share the original ideas with a broader audience.

The same is true for the New Testament: the good shepherd, the sheep, the salt of the Earth and so forth. “Whosoever drinketh of this water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” Water probably stands for spiritual knowledge. People taking every world literally would deny this of course.

And yes, the 5 elements were an earnest attempt by Aristotle to describe reality. In this case he didn’t use a metaphor. My point was that maybe a critical thinker thought of 5 steps how humans came into being and this thinking was lost. Instead the ‘clay shaping’ story survived. Why did the Noah story survive? I’m sure many people told stories about catastrophic events involving floods.

Qingu's avatar

1. I agree that the Hebrews were capable of scientific-like observations. Myths are such explanations. They are “just-so” stories. Why is the sky blue? Because there is an ocean up there, and large bodies of water are blue. This makes sense, and it explains why the Bible says the sky holds up an ocean. It’s wrong, but lots of factually incorrect things nevertheless make sense.

Also, what Eratosthenes-like measurements and observations are you asserting the Hebrews did that would lead you to conclude that the Hebrews knew about abiogenesis? Later, you assert the existence of “Hebrew intellectual thinkers”—do you have a single reason or shred of evidence to support this assertion? Doing what Eritosthenes did—figuring out the world is round from first principles—is actually extraordinarily difficult. And happened centuries later than the period the Bible was written.

2. In your second paragraph, you make some completely unwarranted assumptions about Hebrew thinking. It basically sounds like you’re saying the Hebrews looked at the natural world and concluded that things evolved (or at least went from simple to complex). There is simply nothing to support this assumption, and everything in their theology and their myths supports the opposite conclusion—that complex things require a complex creator.

3. I like your “evolutionary” approach to the history of human ideas. (By the way, Dawkins coined the term “meme” for just this purpose). But you seem to be saying that the only ideas that survive are either true or are metaphors for things that are true. This is simply nonsense; there are other “selective pressures” on human ideas than simply truth-value. The oldest and most widespread idea, for example, is astrology, the idea that the movement of celestial objects directly influences behavior and destiny on earth.

Noah’s story survived because it is attached to a complex of ideas—Hebrew religious scriptures—that, in turn, became attached to Christian sacred scriptures, which were propogated by force via the Roman Empire. That said—as I’ve pointed out several times on Fluther—the Genesis flood story is largely identical to an earlier Akkadian flood myth, the Atrahasis epic (complete with a wise man warned by gods to build an ark with pairs of every animal, an earth-cleansing flood, a post-flood sacrifice that pleased the gods and made them vow never to do it again). Is there any truth to the Atrahasis myth? No, not anymore truth than there is to the myth of Ouranos and Gaia copulating to form all of earth’s creatures in Greek mythology. It survives because it (1) attaches to politically enforced religious traditions, and (2) it’s a neat story. Same with the clay shaping story which, like the flood story, existed long before the Bible in Mesopotamian mythology.

Also, you said that Aristotle’s five elements have not survived, but the clay-shaping story did. In what sense? Neither is literally true. You are just arbitrarily interpreting the clay story as a “metaphor.” I could just as easily interpret Aristotle’s five elements as a metaphor. I’d really appreciate it if you could explain why you interpret the one metaphorically but not the other; I think that would really get to the heart of our disagreement.

SeventhSense's avatar

What I would love to know is what axe do you have to grind? So, you’re world view has brought you to a conclusion that these myths hold nothing for you. The metaphor, symbology and poetry of the bible are not something you can appreciate. You wish to eradicate religious thought? Do you think that this is anything less than a fundamentalist anti Christianity zealotry that will only polarize? As humans we create myriad illusions, superiority perhaps chief among them. Give it a rest or give equal time to radical Muslim Fundamentalists, who will more likely give you the Holy war you seek.

Qingu's avatar

1. I actually really like Mesopotamian myths, including the Bible. It’s fascinating mythology, and some of its cooler qualities are, ironically, often overlooked by people who believe in Judaism and Christianity.

2. My axe to grind is basically against the idea that the Bible is a “special” book that deserves legitimacy today. Certainly it’s special in the sense that it has had enormous impact on human history. So has the Quran, the Iliad, and the Mahabharata (and Mao’s Red Book). But it is not special in the sense that a divine being inspired it. Its morals reflect the culture that wrote it, and that culture is utterly barbaric by our standards. Nevertheless, millions upon millions of Jews and Christians will teach their kids that the Bible is a morally superior book that can give special insights into the nature of reality. I hope you can understand why that bothers me so much.

SeventhSense's avatar

I don’t think that they teach it’s specialness to the extent that one imagines. I think it’s more a tradition thing than anything. And furthermore, I think the ignorance is just an extension of general ignorance.
The passages of the Quran are far more indicative of a zealotry that is dangerous. The passages that refer to killing of heretics actually supersede the kinder, gentler Islam in terms of true followers of the book. And there is certainly more evidence that these followers are more dangerous to the social order. For every one abortion doctor killed by a fundamentalist Christian in 20 years, there are 20 suicide bombers a year in the Islamic world.

Qingu's avatar

@SeventhSense, I don’t think you’re being fair to the Quran, or Islam.

First of all, the violent passages in the Quran really pale to the passages in the Old Testament and Revelation. The Quran, unlike the Bible, contains no commandments to commit genocide, or even to kill all the males of towns you conquer. The Quran’s views on slavery—while barbaric by today’s standards—are nevertheless much more progressive than the Bible’s.

Secondly 600 years ago, Christians were far more violent, barbaric and warlike than Muslims at the time. Crusades and inquisitions were justified by the Bible. What changed? Christian Europe had an enlightenment, and today few Christians actually view the Bible as a legal and social guidebook. Those that do cherry-pick. Even evangelicals, at least the vast majority, would probably not support slavery or genocide, despite multiple Biblical laws condoning and commanding both.

Islam has not had a similar enlightenment. Most Muslims view the Quran as an absolute moral and social guidebook. The Quran is the constitution of a number of Muslim countries. Obviously there are exceptions; many Muslims are just as secularized as your average Easter-and-Christmas American Christian. But on the whole, I think the relatively higher “fundamentalism” in Islam vs. Christianity is simply because far more Muslims take their holy book far more seriously than Christians.

I do agree that Islamic fundamentalism poses a much greater challenge to the world’s social order than the watered-down Christianity of today. I’m not trying to single out Christians in my religious broadsides or anything. But I don’t think Islam is intrinsically more harmful than Christianity (or Judaism)—though you could certainly make a good argument that the Quran is better at doing what it does (maintaining a strong cult) than the Bible is.

mattbrowne's avatar


1. and 2. No, the Hebrews did not know about abiogenesis in a modern sense, but I find it quite likely that a few of their intellectuals were capable of Eratosthenes-like thinking, perceiving the creation and the development of living beings as a complex process. Without chemistry and microscope fish seemed more primitive to them than ‘creatures moving on the ground’. Unlike fish, sheep and goat and many other animals have four legs and are capable of making sounds. Only humans can speak. Yes, complex things require complex creation and of course the modern theistic interpretation of the universe is very different from the one held by the Hebrews. They believed in a God of the gaps and the gaps were huge.

3. I’m a fan of the concept of memes. In fact 2 years ago I attended a very interesting seminar in Switzerland applying memetics in the corporate world. The course was based on Don Beck, Chris Cowan, and Ken Wilber. Later I also read the related book which I found highly interesting

No, ideas which later turn out not to be true also survive. My point was that good storytelling and the use of powerful pictures and metaphors help ideas to survive, especially in the context of oral traditions. To a lesser extend this is also true in modern times but probably for opposite reasons: information overload. In fact, Einstein did once comment that “God does not play dice with the universe”. The idea with the help of a metaphor survived, but turned out not to be true.

Going back to the bible we will find many examples

Literal statements based on the very same idea which turns out to be true
Literal statements based on the very same idea which turns out not to be true
Metaphors based on a more complex idea which turns out to be true
Metaphors based on a more complex idea which turns out not to be true

Of course there also other type of content like historical events and the description of rituals.

Let’s look at some examples

”(a) Now the earth was formless and empty, (b) darkness was over the surface of the deep, c) and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

(a) is more or less true while (b) is not unless we count dust blocking the view of the sun after meteorite impacts. Of course c) has a symbolic or metaphorical meaning especially the ‘hovering’ part as the intellectual Hebrew thinker probably didn’t assume a holy seagull-like creature. This does not mean that the vast majority of the Hebrews understood this literally. They probably did.

(d) “Let there be light, and there was light.”

True in a literal sense, but false in a sense that planets came first and starlight came later. Even the protosun capable of deuterium fusion is somewhat older than planet Earth.

(e) “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”

And so forth.

4. Noah – Your knowledge about Great Flood myths exceeds mine by far and you are correct to point out that there are other factors determining why stories and myths survive. Powerful metaphors are only one factor. I have a question for you: Do you think the Flood myths are related to the Mediterranean Sea spilling into the Black Sea at the end of the last Ice Age (breaking the natural dam at what we call Bosphorus today? Divers found remains of settlements at the bottom of the Black Sea.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – and @SeventhSense – The question really is about ‘social control’ versus ‘social guidance’, a dogmatic versus a non-dogmatic approach, theocracy versus secular countries with religious freedom or more generally freedom of thought (including the atheistic interpretation of the universe).

Among Christians the view of the Bible are actually very diverse. Here are a few examples:

Some find the Bible to be a book of wisdom. Some believe that every word is literal truth and that Biblical laws govern the life of the believer today. Some find the Bible to be a collection of teachings that have eternal value not only for Christians but for the entire human family. Some see the Bible as an account of the human struggle to find meaning through the dramas of God/human relationships. Some see the Bible as great poetry, drama and literature with a moral foundation going back far into history. Some understand the Bible to have a supernatural origin and others see the Bible as product of human creativity (from Christianitysite).

When you say, @Qingu that “millions upon millions of Jews and Christians will teach their kids that the Bible is a morally superior book that can give special insights into the nature of reality” I wonder why you picked ‘nature of reality’? Because the scientific tools were not available at the time and we, the great modern people proved them wrong? Or worse, we think it’s ridiculous for God to take a rib out of Adam?

Only a small portion of the Bible was intended as a “science” book. Let’s take the serenity prayer as an example: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. What does this have to do with the nature of reality?

I’m also puzzled that you almost never mention Jesus. You interpret the genocide parts of the Old Testaments as “commandment”. Isn’t there a contradiction? Did Jesus promote genocide? Even the Old Testaments features other verses invalidating genocide “commandments”.

And finally we are back to our metaphor debate: “a divine being inspiring the writing of holy books”. Like the ‘hovering’ example intellectual thinkers of the time did not imagine a real conversation in a way that sound waves entered human ears despite the fact that the majority of people probably understood this literally. A more modern theistic interpretation of the orderly biophilic universe is still in agreement with the general manner of divine inspiration. Of course the potential of misuse is huge. Anyone could simply claim ‘God told me to start a denial-of-service attack against the Fluther website’ or ‘God told me to go on a crusade’ (I guess Mr. Bush literally got a phone call from God after 9/11).

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, as I said before, the idea that some Hebrew intellectuals knew about complex emergence is a huge stretch. Flashes of genius certainly happen in history, but they don’t happen out of thin air. Eratosthenes’ insights did not happen out of thin air. He didn’t go from the pre-Iliad Greek mythos of a flat earth and world-encircling ocean to suddenly figuring out that the question of earth’s roundness was not only open, but measurable. He existed hundreds of years into the Greek philosophical tradition which inculcated those kinds of questions and open-mindedness.

There is simply no such evidence of any similar tradition in the ancient Hebrew culture that spawned the book of Genesis. Their “intellectuals” were a priestly caste that left zero evidence of any such examinations or measurements of the natural world. More importantly, their culture grew up in the broader Mesopotamian culture, and there are many man-from-clay myths in that culture as well. The Bible only revises such clay-man myths in the sense that it cuts out the god-blood ingredient.

Regarding your question about the flood, I have several problems with the Black Sea flooding explanation. While I generally am fine with trying to figure out “kernels of truth” that eventually grow into legends and religious stories, I think the Mesopotamian flood story tradition (including the Bible’s) is simply too cosmic in nature to attribute to an exaggerated local event. In order to understand what I mean by “cosmic,” you have to understand something about ancient Mesopotamian cosmology, which is also reflected in the Bible. ANE cultures basically believed that the earth was a flat plate essentially sandwiched between these two great oceans—one above the sky (which the solid “raqia” of the sky holds up) and one below the ground (which is evidenced by groundwater). The events described in Atrahasis and Genesis 8–9 are nothing like what we understand the word “flood” to mean today—heavy rains causing rivers to overflow or some such. Rather, they were literally the Gods “popping the bubble” of the earth. Yahweh opens the windows of heaven and the floodgates of the deep. The entire earth itself was created as a sort of oasis between these cosmic, chaotic oceans, and now it is completely inundated with them. This is also why the arks in these stories make a point of having a roof sealed with pitch—they are submarines.

So, the flood stories really seem much more like cosmic myths than exaggerated legends to me. In other words, they’re more like the story about God’s creation of the world—purely literary, not based on any historical event—than, say, the Exodus story, which may very well be based on (exaggerated) historical events.

(Also, as I understand it, the dates don’t line up exactly right for the Black Sea flood explanation. I remember reading a paper where proponents of this explanation rescinded it.)

Regarding the nature of the Bible and how it’s understood by religious people—I get that there’s a wide range of views. But almost all religious people believe the Bible is special in a way that, for example, the Iliad, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Enuma Elish are not. These other books are “myths” and (in the case of the Code) “outdated but important laws”—whereas the Bible is something else. It’s not. No matter how moderately and secularly you interpret this book, I think it’s a huge mistake to elevate it up and above its historical context. All the good things you’ve said about the Bible also apply to these other myths and texts.

Regarding Jesus: I see a lot of different Jesuses in my gospels, probably because a lot of different sects of Christians wrote them. On one hand, you have turn-the-other-cheek Jesus, who I like. On the other hand, you have “I have come not to bring peace but the sword” Jesus, who says that all the OT laws are still good to follow and anyone who teaches others to follow them will be called “greatest” in the kingdom of heaven. You have the Jesus who is a two-bit cult leader, speaks in parables that are, largely, just naked threats against people who aren’t gullible to join his cult, comparing God (his dad!) to a slavemaster who’s out of town and will be super-pissed (i.e. murderous/torturous rage) if he comes back and finds his slaves aren’t of the right cult. Finally, you have the Jesus of Mark 13, and Revelation, an instrument of basically petty, childishly violent revenge on the part of the authors who look forward to the day when the Romans get oppressed sevenfold.

Apart from a few cherry-picked progressive moral statements, I don’t see much in Jesus that is wholly inconsistent with the brutal God of the Old Testament. I’ve never really bought the disconnect between ancient Judaism and Christianity. I’ve always thought that Christianity is really a natural (if not sudden) outgrowth from several sects of late-antique Judaism (the zealots, the proto-rabbinic traditions, the Hellenized Jews, and the esoteric, mystery-cult-influenced sects like John the Baptist and the Essenes). I think the inconsistencies between these sects, reflected in the texts of the New Testament, are actually more interesting than inconsistencies between the New and Old Testament.

Shit that’s long. Sorry for the wall of text.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – Gotta go to the choir rehearsal. Let me get back to you tomorrow! I will read the whole ‘wall of text’ and I do enjoy our conversation.

Qingu's avatar

No prob.

Just to expand a bit on the flood story—because this relates to creation from clay—I think it’s very important to note that the Hebrew flood story wasn’t developed from scratch by the Hebrews. If you compare Atrahasis to Genesis, it’s very obvious that the Hebrews simply took a widely-accepted flood story “template”—right down to most of the details—and plugged in their own theology into this template.

The template goes like this:
1. Humans responsible for a problem that pisses off God(s).
2. God resolves to kill all humans with flood to solve problem.
3. God (or a god) warns a wise man about flood, with instructions to build ark-submarine loaded with animals. Some of the animals are for sacrifice.
4. Flood completely destroys the world. Waters abate, man in ark releases birds which eventually find dry land.
5. Man lands ark, sacrifices bunch of animals on it as burnt offering.
6. Offering pleases gods, who realize that they actually do want humans around.
7. Gods create new conditions which will ensure humans do not cause original problem again.

In Atrahasis, the original problem was noise pollution and overpopulation. (Which makes sense, because the Akkadians were quite urban). The Gods’ solution to the problem was the invention of various population control devices—miscarriage, death by old age, etc.

In Genesis, the original problem was quite literally blood pollution—too much murder. Yahweh’s solution to the problem was the invention of laws, the so-called Noahide code, which limited murder and bloodshed in general. The Hebrews, unlike the Akkadians, were nomadic, and so did not have the same problems with overpopulation. In fact, the Genesis flood myth explicitly calls on the survivors to “go forth and multiply”—it’s the opposite theological message of the earlier myth, but with the same details.

(I also think the earlier Akkadian myth makes quite a bit more sense than Genesis’, because it’s polytheist, so you have the Prometheus-like God, Enki, warning Atrahasis to build the ark in defiance of the Zeus-like God Enlil, eventually convincing him to change his mind. Whereas Yahweh just comes across as schizophrenic. But that’s neither here nor there.)

So, the idea that Hebrews simply took existing, accepted myth templates and plugged in their own theology is important, because the man-from-clay story is clearly another example. In Atrahasis, the gods create human beings from clay to work as their slaves and dig canals for them. In Genesis, Yahweh creates humans from clay to work as his slaves tending his garden. (There are also garden myths in Mesopotamian literature, and other myths describing the creation of humans from clay.)

I don’t think the Hebrews thought creation-from-clay was metaphorical, anymore than they thought the flood myth was metaphorical. These were widely accepted ideas at the time the Hebrews lived. They simply changed the accepted version’s account of who (i.e. which god) was responsible for these events, and the moral lesson to draw from them.

SeventhSense's avatar

The basis of Jesus as a fulfillment of the Law is clear from all the Gospels. The basis of God as showing great benevolence on mankinkind is clear in the person of Jesus.
“I am the Good Shepherd, I Lay down my life for the sheep”
“No on takes my life from me, I give it freely”
“Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for the sheep”.
Looking at the words of the New Testament from the standpoint of the secular is to miss their import. All enlightened thought must first be considered from the perspective of absence of “self”.
1 Corinthians 1:25:
25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Matthew 18:4:
4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus was the fulfillment of the law, broke with tradition and misguided Orthodox law and spoke to the heart of man. “They strain a gnat and swallow a camel”, speaking to the hypocritical Pharisees who held their subjects in a spiritual bondage.
“I give you a new commandment Love one Another”.
He denied their authority and declared that the “Kingdom of God is within You”. Far from externalizing the nature of God as a despot from which there was no escape he reverersed the religious order. This was a God bestowing great mercy on man through grace.
This was a quantum leap in understanding and this is why they attempted to stone him for his blasphemy in “violating” the Law of Moses. He was a willing sacrificial lamb. “Take and eat, this is my body given for you”.
Jesus said turn the other cheek, love your enemies and give to those who would take all and give more. He also said that I came not to bring peace but a sword. Did he mean violence?

Well consider that nothing in his life or of his disciples had even the hint of violence. Even under great duress, when Peter(or one of his disciples depending on the Gospel story) cut off the ear of the Roman centurion who came to take Jesus to be crucified he was rebuked:

10Then Simon Peter,(K) having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant[c] and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath;(L) shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Luke 22:
50And one of them struck the servant[h] of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

I came not to bring peace but a sword again is one of those “metaphors” you are so wont to misinterpret either through prejudice or ignorance.

St Paul spoke of “crucifying the flesh daily”(again metaphor) The crucifying of the flesh(illusion of separate self). The Spirit is at enmity with the flesh by nature of the ignorance of man imagining his “self” as a separate and fixed identity. In fact the imagination of anything as an anathema has no scientific basis least of all in describing the nature of man. Furthermore the nature of piercing the veil of your own ignorance will naturally put you at enmity with others still firmly entrenched in this ignorance. Hence he brought “not peace but a sword”. A sword to cut through illusion not enemies. He in no way advocated violence. And that is unquestionable regardless of any interpretation or course of politics which came after him.

SeventhSense's avatar

Now let’s consider the actions of Mohammed which are clearly violent:

1) Massacre of unarmed merchants during sacred month
Date: Late January(Rejeb), 623 A.D.
Place: Nakhla
Victims: 4 Merchants from Quraysh tribe of Mecca, the Tribe to which Mohammed himself belonged

2) Slaughter of Meccans who came to defend their caravans
Date: March (Ramadan) 17, 623 A.D
Place: The well of Badr
Victims: 70 merchants from Quraysh Tribe of Mecca, The Quraysh army which came to defend them

3) Assasination of poets who criticised Mohammed’s murderous ways
Date: Late March-April, 623 A.D
Place: Medinah
Victims: Two of the most famous poets of Medinah, who had the courage to criticise the murderous actions of Mohammed and his gang

4) The Siege of the Banu Qaynuqa
Date: April, 623 A.D
Place: Medinah
Victims: The Jewish Tribe of Banu Qaynuqa

Finally consider the words of a modern day “heretic Muslim”, the Syrian-American psychiatrist Dr. Wafa Sultan in the New York Times.

The Jews have come from the tragedy and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not with their crying and yelling.”

She went on, “We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people.”

She concluded, “Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results.

Qingu's avatar

It sounds like you’re arguing that Jesus abolished the Old Testament law. Is that your position?

I think Muhammad was a barbarian. But I’d rather live next to Muhammad than King David or Solomon, who actually committed genocide. You want me to post some numbers for how many people Yahweh had his followers kill in the Old Testament? It’s in the hundreds of thousands.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – Well, to me the Bible is only one source of wisdom among many. I find nothing wrong with viewing “one source” as special. There are other “special” books. Also, I’m a computer scientist by profession and not a theologian. It’s very obvious to me that there are contradictions. Of course I’m puzzled by the genocide references although I wouldn’t interpret them as “commandments”. The sixth commandment told by Moses reads “You shall not murder.” To me genocide is the most extreme form of mass murder. You point out contradictions in the New Testament as well. But if we take it as a whole, there’s overwhelming evidence that Jesus was promoting nonviolence instead of violence. Take the ’ Sermon on the Mount’ as an example.

From Wikipedia: The historical Jesus is the figure of the first-century Jesus of Nazareth as reconstructed by scholars using historical methods that include critical analysis of gospel texts as the primary source for his biography, and non-biblical sources for the historical and cultural context in which he lived.

Just out of curiosity: What is your background? You sound like a professor of history with deep knowledge of the 5000 BC to 500 AD time frame and a strong focus on mythology. Or is mythology your hobby? You can also PM me and I’ll keep this information to myself.

Qingu's avatar

Here’s the thing about “do not murder.” Note that the commandment doesn’t say “do not kill.” Many commandments proscribe the death penalty (including breaking any of the Ten Commandments). God is clearly not anti-killing. The word “murder” simply means “unlawful killing.” And so if God commands you to kill all the Canaanites so their culture doesn’t lead you astray (Dt. 20:16), that’s not unlawful, it’s a commandment from God.

The Sermon on the Mount is interesting, because it’s where Jesus says that you should follow all the laws of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17). You can interpret some of that stuff as nonviolence. But I think a better interpretation, promoted by some scholars, is that Jesus was trying to “build a fence” around the Old Testament laws. OT says you’re not supposed to commit adultery. So Jesus says that not only must you avoid the physical act of adultery, you also must avoid even thinking about it. Similarly, even thinking about hatred or killing is akin to murder. He’s basically giving guidelines that, if followed, will put that much more space between the territory of OT-lawbreaking, which is really what sin is.

My background is actually in religious studies. Mostly Biblical/Babylonian stuff, but also some Hindu stuff, and some children’s lit. And I guess it’s also a hobby. Helps with Fluther arguments! :)

SeventhSense's avatar

From a Christian perspective, Jesus is the Fulfillment of the LAW of Moses in flesh, the highest priest-the Messiah, the living sacrificial lamb-spotless before the eyes of God. He was born enlightened without sin and therefore his blood was worthy to be recompense for the world’s error. This is where Christians differ from Jews.and can eat lobster rolled in bacon in perfect peace :)

He’s basically giving guidelines that, if followed, will put that much more space between the territory of OT-lawbreaking
...Yes and outside of the realm of any religious or political authority holding judgement over other’s goodness, since it goes deeper than behaviors. I actually hypothesize that an internal dialogue is established in man’s consciousness that may not have existed prior to him. Prior acts and behaviors may have consisted of an externalized God concept alone. Human behavior may have been purely reactive and without an inner consciousness.

Qingu's avatar

You honestly believe people did not have internal dialogues before Jesus?

So did everyone around the world instantaneously get this ability at the second Jesus got crucified? Like a switch was flipped in their brain?

Also, chimpanzees have inner consciousnesses. So do dogs.

SeventhSense's avatar

No but he may have been instrumental in introducing this thought.
As to chimpanzees and dogs well…Does a dog have Buddha nature?

mattbrowne's avatar

@Qingu – Thanks for sharing this. Bible translations are one thing, interpretation is another (although time the first implies the second as well sometimes). If George W. Bush wanted to go on a crusade because of 9/11 he might justify this with certain interpretations of scripture. My interpretations are different. Of all the more than 1 billion Christians on Earth his view seems like a minority view to me. If you look at what the Protestant Church accomplished in East Germany contributing to bringing down the Berlin Wall, to me this looks like a nonviolent interpretation of Jesus Christ’s messages. What really counts as well is what Christians do today. Are they sexist or not? Do they forgive other people? Do they help other people? Ultimately I would also include their manners in online forums. If people don’t walk the talk, everything is just hypocrisy, is it not?

Qingu's avatar

@mattbrowne, I think that when you say “interpretation” you actually mean “ignoring most of what the Bible says.”

Which is fine. I’m glad most Christians today ignore most of what the Bible says. The Bible is primarily a pretty abominable book. Most Christians draw their moral views much more from Enlightenment western philosophy (i.e. humans are inherently valuable, equal rights, slavery is wrong) and cherry-pick passages from the Bible that fit with such moral views.

But calling such cherry-picking “interpretation” is a stretch. I mean, most Christians today aren’t even remotely familiar with the content of the Bible, period.

Qingu's avatar

@SeventhSense, what do you mean by “Buddha nature”?

Dogs and chimpanzees have obvious personalities and communicate using language-like means. They have complex social networks and use reasoning to solve complex problems. Chimpanzees have been observed making and using tools and passing down their knowledge to the next generation, forming cultures.

So I don’t really anything fundamentally different between our natures and the nature of such animals. We’re incrementally different. It just so happens that the incremental difference has allowed us to pass some critical threshold that allows rapid, runaway cultural evolution.

SeventhSense's avatar

Lose your mind and come to your senses.
The discursive brain(marked by analytical reasoning) is extremely limited. There is no independent arising, no cause and effect linear reality since any cause or effect can be attributed to infinite others. This can not answer the problem of what is the original ground of awareness indivisible from all cause and effect. This is original mind that has no limitation to form or attachment to form least of all mental cognition.
You say believe a chimp or dog has attributes based on collective assumptions and agreed upon names and attributes.
None of these have any existential nature save the mind of the beholder any more than one’s conceptual ideations.

Qingu's avatar

I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you are saying.

It sounds like you’re positing some magical “original mind” to explain human rationality, ignoring the fact of evolution and the fact that other animals are also rational.

The brain is a computer that simulates a version of reality based on incoming sensory data. This ability to simulate gives animals an evolutionary advantage because it allows them to plan and choose behaviors. You don’t need to invoke infinite cause and effect or magical minds to explain the way the brain works.

SeventhSense's avatar

It sounds like you’re positing some magical “original mind” to explain human rationality, ignoring the fact of evolution and the fact that other animals are also rational.
No quite the opposite and wiser minds than mine first posited it-Buddha etc. The true rational mind serves a perfect purpose- build, eat, survive and this has nothing to do with that.
This thread “rational human mind” holds no answers and is actually quite irrational and only creates infinite recurring loops or like a ping pong match that doesn’t end.

The brain is a computer that simulates a version of reality based on incoming sensory data.
Exactly so why would you assume that your particular sensory data in interpreting the minds of people thousands of years removed from you holds any more credence than anyone else’s?
It’s meaningless. It’s a futile endeavor. A type of mental masturbation with the same results every time.
Rather than study religion, you should actually try to understand your own thought processes and drives.
The greatest minds have all done this and come to the same conclusions- Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Lao Tzu, Einstein, Gandhi.
These men actually changed their own world and thus ours.

The rational/reasoning/analytical mind holds no “final answers”. It’s basis is the ego or self which is an illusion. There are only solutions but they are not found in questioning but relinquishing dualism. Don’t take my word for it. Sit in quiet contemplative meditation with your thoughts and see if you can reason with them to give you peace. Then you will see the nature of the reasoning mind.

Qingu's avatar

You just blew my mind.

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