14 March 2008

The Holy Bible (King James Version) and Biblical apocrypha

Source: http://horizons.free.fr/seikatsu/eng/thoughts/religion_holy-bible.htm

I read The Holy Bible in China, Japan and South Korea from July to December 2007 to better understand international events, and Western cultures and countries through their religious background. I selected the King James version because it is a famous and respected reference. I will continue with main texts from Buddhism, Judaism and Islam between 2008 and 2012 to quickly extend my grasp of other sizable populations and of more diverse contexts.

Although born in a country with Christian values, I had never read The Holy Bible before because its length and style were daunting and I assumed I knew its content. In 2007, I read it in detail, although I quickly forgot the family trees. Globally, the book matched my expectations but three passages shocked me because they conflict with French values.

First, in the Exodus, God asks Pharaoh to free people from Israel but prevents him from complying then punishes him by killing Egyptian babies. These actions are deeply unjust.
{Exodus, 4:21}And the LORD said unto Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
{Exodus, 4:22}And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:
{Exodus, 4:23}And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.

Second, in the first letter to Corinthians, equality between men and women is discarded, in favor of men.
{1 Corinthians, 11:6}For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.
{1 Corinthians, 11:7}For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.
{1 Corinthians, 11:8}For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man.
{1 Corinthians, 11:9}Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

Third, in the first letter to Ephesians, slavery is acclaimed.
{Ephesians, 6:5}Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;

I thought the roots of the French motto "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" were Christian. Reading the Holy Bible shows it is much more about modernity.
As a complement to The Holy Bible, I read several Biblical apocrypha:
  • The Book of Enoch (translated from Ethiopic by Richard Laurence, London, 1883)
  • The First Book of Esdras
  • The Second Book of Esdras
  • The Greek Additions to Esther
  • The First Book of the Maccabees
  • The Second Book of the Maccabees
  • The Book of Tobit
  • The Book of Judith
  • The Wisdom of Solomon
  • The Book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus)
  • The Book of Baruch
  • The Epistle (or letter) of Jeremiah
  • The Book of Susanna (in Daniel)
  • The Prayer of Azariah
  • The Prayer of Manasseh
  • Bel and the Dragon (in Daniel)

I recommend the Book of Enoch for its description of the events leading to the flood, the Book of Judith for its interesting apology of treachery, and the Book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) for its dense and detailed listing of values and rules. Most Biblical apocrypha are available on the web site of The Project Gutenberg but the Book of Enoch should be found elsewhere, for example as the 1883 translation by Richard LAURENCE.


Celine said...

Hi Sebastien,

I wonder you get through the whole book. I can only read some short parts from time to time.

I never noticed what you highlighted about women and servants. However, in the Exodus, Egyptian babies murdery happens as an answer to what happened several years before when Moses was a baby. I agree it is not fare, but He helps people who trust Him. People who do not trust do not deserve God's mercy.

Regarding the French moto "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité", it comes from the 1789 Revolution. It belongs to the set of new symbols that were chosen to stop with the Old State and start the new Republic.

For this reason it should not have to follow any religious rules. In fact, it may have to not follow the old rules, since one of the main reasons of the French Revolution was the power of the Church and that of the Aristocracy over people.

DUVAL Sébastien said...

Hi Celine,

The Holy Bible is indeed quite long, and I finished it relatively quickly because I focused on it, sometimes reading eight hours in a day...

Your sentence "People who do not trust do not deserve God's mercy" is either nonsensical or extremely cynical as you refer to babies when you say "people".

As for the French motto, yes, it marked a change in values after the revolution. However I thought it corresponded to changes of priorities from Christian values rather than to the establishment of new values. There was no way to be sure without (1) reading the main Christian texts or (2) discussing with trusted specialists.

Cédric Dumas said...

hmmm... the french revolution is one of the consequence of the century of light, and a long term work from philisopher of the XVIII century (atheist, defending human rights, civil liberties, including freedom of religion) like Volaire, Diderot and others.

My opinion is that to understand religions, it's not enough to read holy books, as these book have been written to proselytize through dialectics. I prefer to read various books (not any books) about religion.

A good and interesting (in French, but probably translated) is "Le Voyage De Theo" from Catherine Clement.

Good readings :-)

DUVAL Sébastien said...

Hi Cédric,

Reading holy books is indeed insufficient to understand religion but it is a good start.

I am sometimes dumbfounded by people who confidently talk about a religion without having read its founding texts. I am however not surprised when misconceptions arise.