B90Days: Reading the Bible in 90 Days

You might remember that my list of goals included reading the Bible in 90 days. I’m doing this with a fabulous group of men and women on Twitter and through the facilitation of the website Mom’s Toolbox. We’re into numbers now and I remember now why I always lose traction at this point in my reading of the Bible. I’ve tried Bible in a year plans before, but as soon as we hit Leviticus and Numbers, I get this feeling that I’m reading a book that’s not meant for me. I’m always disconcerted by the lesser value placed on women.

I’m always left wondering how do I explain to my children that women are equal when the book we use to help us teach them right from wrong clearly identifies women as inferior to men. We have less monetary value. If our husbands become jealous, the wife has to undergo a test to see if she has made him jealous. If she turns up innocent, there is no penalty to the husband for the accusation.

When they’re counting the numbers of people in each tribe and defining duties of the tribes; women are never mentioned.

And do not get me started on the unclean state for women during their monthly periods and post birth. And really, don’t get me started on the fact that if you give birth to a boy, you are ritually unclean for HALF THE TIME than if you give birth to a girl. What does that tell our boys and men about the value of women.

I’m struggling to find the lessons here that are for me. The lessons that I can teach to my son. The lessons I can teach to my daughter. I’m seriously struggling. I know we’re headed toward Esther and Ruth — my two favorite books of the Bible, but getting there is a lesson in sorrow. Sorrow for the patriarchal culture that created this religious text and encouraged the thinking that women are some how “less than” men.

I keep telling myself there’s something for me to learn here, but I get lost in the sadness and the sorrow that this part of the Bible really doesn’t apply to me that I can’t find the lessons I should learn.

Anyone have ideas or suggestions?

8 thoughts on “B90Days: Reading the Bible in 90 Days

  1. I really have a problem with those books of the Bible too…it’s awfully boring, and quite tedious.

    I have no good to tell you…But I am totally enjoying your journey. 🙂

    • I’ve made it out the other side and back into the stories, so I’m happier now in the sense that at least I’m not counting people with every other breath/verse. 🙂

  2. At UCC, we believe that the Bible is a living document, not a “closed canon”, which helps with issues like this.

    I joined this church as an adult and am still learning, but I’ll leave a link to the main website, in case there are some ideas in there that might help: http://www.ucc.org/

    Additionally, if you have any Jewish friends, they may be able to help as well – since the constant study and re-interpreting of the Talmud, in light of our current world, is often part of that faith.

    Good luck. Numbers is not just problematic, but dull!

    • Yeah, Episcopalians are pretty much the same. We subscribe to the “don’t check your brain at the door” philosophy of thought, though, I’ve noticed a more fundamentalist strain cropping up that makes me very, very nervous.

      I think it was a knee-jerk reaction more than anything else. I’m trying very hard, not to apply my literary training to this read through. I’ve found when I do that I do some rather nifty twisting of the words on the page to make them fit what I want them to mean rather than what they truly appear to mean.

      I’m also not super comfortable going with the “thank God I didn’t live then” school of thought because I’ve seen communities that still practice so much of this.

      One of my best friends is an Orthodox Jew, so I have a resource for discussion on some of this, but she’s super busy right now and I don’t want to bug her until/unless I come up with fully formed questions.

  3. No wonder I like momsomniac’s comments so much, we’re both UCC!

    That being said, I think that some of the books are instructive in indirect ways.

    Leviticus reminds me that things for women have improved greatly since the Old Testament. It also makes the great women (Ruth, Esther, Judith) all the more amazing. In these books I see culture and religion mingling.

    Some of it is quite practical (in its age)- like not eating pork. I wouldn’t want to eat anything like pork in those cooking conditions. Does that mean I won’t be making crock pot lasagna with Italian sausage tomorrow? No, because information and improved technology has changed the danger levels of preparing and eating pork.

    One of the things that really sticks with me from Leviticus is the mold laws. Wow. There’s one heck of a cleanup process. It reminds me that we’re reading about a different time, a different place, and a very different people.

    These reminders are critical (to me) in interpreting the Bible. I would hardly expect to live my life by all the rules of an early Boy Scout manual, but contemporary people regularly claim to expect every rule to apply to modern individuals. Truly, parts of the Bible are a health, hygiene, and legal manual for an ancient nomadic agrarian culture. By that standard a 1940s Boy Scout manual has far more relevance.

    When people who say “I live what’s in the Bible” are exposing themselves as entirely uneducated about the book and its breadth.

    As a literature geek, the Bible is a powerful book in its stories. Truly, Jonah is one of the books I understand the most because it fits my native character. Sometimes I will stop midsentence to ask Jim “Is the whale coming for me yet?”

    Reading the Bible in its entirety is an undertaking that I really admire. There are parts that chafe (badly for me), and that discomfort makes me cognizant of the all the hands and editors this book has been subjected to.

    I believe that education is a critical part of religious understanding and acceptance. Contemporary women of faith must reconcile for themselves the faith’s changing attitudes to truly embrace the religion.

    Do I like those early books? Oy, no. But I think there are important messages within them.

    Interestingly enough, I would argue that women are the biggest stakeholders in contemporary American Christianity. It is interesting how the American churches gloss over the changing role of women throughout church history. If we believe that our own worth is much greater than that which the early religion assigned, shouldn’t we question other parts of the book? If we believe the Bible has a living message, what do these ancient books tells us about contemporary faith?

    As book people (and I mean readers of all books here) I think we are to consider the Bible’s origins and filters (editing). We have the gift of retrospection, and I think there are important messages in the contrast between the contemporary and the ancient.

    Sheesh, this is long-winded. Please forgive me for I am the granddaughter of tent revivalists/radio evangelist/foreign missionaries. My great-grandparents met in a Salvation Army band, and they set out to serve in Africa in the late 1800s. Though my religious interpretation varies from my predecessors, their fervor still runs deep.

    • Oh, no. You are welcome to be as long-winded as you like.

      I’ve deliberately tried to turn off my literature geek goggles while I’m reading this time. I’m trying to understand it the way my grandmothers’ would have, if that makes sense.

      It’s not easy and not something I think I would do again, but I envy both of them their faith. They held fast regardless of circumstances and I find my faith wavers much more than theirs. I wanted to see if part of the reason isn’t my own need to analyze everything to death rather than accepting it at face value.

  4. The grandmother perspective makes total sense. I really enjoyed the book “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry Church” which suggests that Christians should try to take every word of the Bible literally. There is value in straightforward subscription for many people, but I am, at heart, a nitpicker.

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