The March/April 2007 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review asks four biblical scholars how their scholarship has impacted their faith. I found the article fascinating, and the questions intriguing. Here is my response to each.
What I know about the Bible?
First, the Bible is a human document, reflecting both timeless wisdom and time-bound bias. Second, the Bible speaks in metaphor and should be looked to for wisdom not scientific fact or unchanging sexual mores. Third, the Bible can be read to condone the greatest evil even as it can be read to uphold the greatest good. Hence the Bible is not to be separated from those who read and interpret it; it is a moving target, reflecting what the reader desires rather than what God commands.
How does what I know impact what I believe?
It doesn’t. I try to avoid belief as much as possible, rooting what I know in what I actually experience rather than in some abstract creed or system of belief.
God. There is no one vision of God in the Bible, and I do not take the Bible as theologically binding. My understanding of God is based not on my reading of the Bible, but on my experience of the Divine through contemplative practice. Rather than conforming my understanding to the Bible, my understanding shapes the way I read the Bible.
Chosen People. Scholarship tells me that the idea of chosenness is not unique to Jews. Almost every tribal society feels it is the beloved of one god or another. The fact that the Bible tells me the Jews are God’s Chosen is irrelevant; I don’t believe in a God who choses in this way.
Promised Land. Clearly the Bible claims that there is a Promised Land and it belongs to the Israelites. This is no more surprising that the Book of Mormon supporting the claims of the Mormon faith. What else would it do? I am not convinced by the Bible, and in fact do not believe in a God who values one piece of property over the rest.
So does scholarship influence my faith?
Yes, it frees me of faith altogether. I prefer to investigate What Is rather than what the Bible says there is. I do this through a variety of contemplative practices, and in the end I find the Bible all the more rich once I am free from having to take the Word at its word.