18 January 2013

Don't Lose Your Head

Pagan Blog Project - Week Three - B #1 – The Bible

It’s been a while since I’ve “stirred by cauldron” as my friend V likes to say, so let’s talk about the bible.

officially canon
A few years ago I decided to read the bible. I read it for a few different reasons. Western culture is Judeo-Christian, and I wanted to understand that mind-set. I wanted to understand the origins of my contemporary American society. I wanted to understand references made in literature. I think it’s worthwhile to read religious texts from many traditions. I wanted to know what the fuss was about. I wanted to read the bible before I read Gnostic texts. I wanted to have a few things to say when confronted with pushy Christians, but also to be able to carry a conversation with loving Christians, too. I also wanted to say “I did this!” and to be able to brag about it, because seriously, how many people actually read the bible?

So I read it, front to back. It took me a year to read the Old Testament, and a year to read the New Testament.

The Old Testament was often strange, confusing, and aggravating. Reading it was like scrying – you kind of let your mind go blurry and hope you get a clear picture when you’re finished. It was great to have context for the stories I was taught in Sunday school. There’s also a lot in there that we were never taught, mainly the racy stuff like incest, murder, two creation stories, trickery, etc. There’s also a lot of names. And a lot of laws. But there are beautiful poems, too, and prayers, and references to the Goddess here and there, if you know where to look. I particularly like the prayers to Sophia/Wisdom.

13 Blessed are those who find wisdom,      
those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver     
and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies;     
nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;     
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways,     
and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;     
those who hold her fast will be blessed.
(Proverbs 3:13-18)

remind you of anyone?
The New Testament took me as long as the Old Testament, despite how short it is in comparison. I think it took me so long because to me it was so much interesting and useful. Not to say I loved every moment (there’s some great sexism and woman hating in both the Old and New Testaments) but I really like Jesus. What a great dude. I really liked reading about him, because he was genuinely nice and loving and caring and inspired.

Other characters are pretty cool, too. Like Mary and other Mary. Crazy-ass John the Baptist. The Romans and the Devil. I even liked the Apostles sometimes, too, even though I get the Peters mixed up with the Pauls, and I can’t remember the other guys.

It also helped that my husband is a Classicist, so when I’d have a question about a word or a passage, he could take out his Greek New Testament and lexicon and we’d have great discussions about translations and interpretations and those moments are always enjoyable for both of us.

Also, as someone who is deeply interested in Gnosticism and Mediterranean mystery traditions, the New Testament was just more interesting to me. It mentions knowing/gnosis and logos and the word  a lot, which is relevant to my interests. I was interested in the very mundane parables of the bible, as well as the hints at mystery and esoteric wisdom Jesus tries to share with his followers. So, I think since I was more interested in the New Testament, it took me longer because I was paying more attention, whereas the Old Testament was pretty much one big confusing blur.

this is how I imagine it happened
I’m pretty satisfied with my decision to read the bible. I’m very glad I did it. I probably won’t do it again, at least not until I’m done reading the Nag Hammadi and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are more meaningful and interesting to me personally, anyway.  And I do understand bible references more, but not all the time because there are a whole lot of them. Pretty much all of those things I hoped to accomplish were accomplished, which is more than I can say about other areas in my life.

And no, reading the bible did not convert me back to Christianity. I’m still Pagan, though I’m at a stage in my life when I have reconciled my Christian upbringing, I’m not angry at (most) Christians anymore, and I even forgave Jesus. These were all important steps in the maturity of my spiritual self, and I can honestly say I’m a much happier person than I was when I was confused and angry about Christianity. Though I realize that not all Pagans are okay with the concept of accepting Christianity, that’s their business just as reading the bible that one time is my business. As Brothers Freke and Gandy remind us, it’s not always wise to throw away the baby with the bathwater.  Sure, there’s a lot of shocking and strange and horrible stuff in the bible, but the same can be said for other myths and stories, too. And just as other myths can be lovely, there’s a lot of beautiful stuff in Christian myths, too. And if one can get past all of that nasty, annoying literalism, the bible has some pretty decent stories, allegories, parables, metaphors, archetypes and all sorts of other useful things in it. It is a holy text, after all.

Though honestly, I’d probably recommend that people just skip the bible and go straight to the Gospel of Thomas, because that’s where all the good stuff is anyway!


  1. Interesting...forgave Jesus for what?

  2. oh gee. that's a LONG topic! hahah. But I will say that he and I are cool now.

  3. Certainly, until I read Matthew, I never properly understood the force behind the title of the White Stripes' album Get Behind Me Satan, which is, of course what you want me to do (have another reason to talk about Jack White).

    Getting at what you were saying about how much stuff is in the bible that you weren't taught in church, how about all the stuff that's not in it? Though I haven't read the whole bible, I am always shocked at how much is just assumed.

    1. Mr. Burns makes a good point. A lot of assumptions are made about the bible. It's not just a matter of interpretation or translation, but a matter of our minds and experiences filling in the gaps, which sometimes creates stories suited to our needs that might not be entirely authentic.

      Like I said. The bible can be confusing and aggravating. Reading it was definitely a lesson in critical thinking, though.

  4. And then there was the day I read a book of Greek mythology meant for adults and learned who Ganymede was. Oops.

    I too, am glad I read the entire Bible, although I don't see myself ever repeating that feat. For instance, until I read it, way too much of my "biblical knowledge" came from watching Jesus Christ Superstar.

    1. Oh yeah. Lots of Greek myths are not PG-13! hahah. and does that mean I should watch Jesus Christ Superstar or not? hahah. Pop culture has a way of retelling and retelling myths. Sometimes the retellings are better than the original! (retelling of Ganymede and Zeus? eh....) hahah. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Kudos! I keep telling myself I'm going to read it, but I never seem to get around to even starting it. >.<